I have AIDS—probably, maybe, I think.
To be honest, I don’t know. These scares happen every so often; I’ll look down at my crotch and find something, anything that looks a tad off and start to panic.
“Why is there a giant Kirby-looking thing on my dick?” I scream out, frantically typing “weird penis bump” into any given search engine. I always hope to find similar bumps and sores like my own on sites like WebMD or Mayo Clinic, but the only images that EVER pop up are ones of genitals that look like volcanoes had previously erupted over their pubic areas.
This is it. This is my destiny.
I silently close my laptop and curl into a ball; this is my gay-ass life.
It’s a hard one, and doesn’t always get better: High-five, Dan Savage. Every time I have a sexual encounter, I look for signs of an STD flaring up, fully equipped to consume and destroy my rather hell forsaken lifestyle. It’s something I was taught to fear. It’s something I have to deal with as a man who has sex with men.
And perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to conclude that every bump is indicative of an STD or HIV. I once went to the doctor after a sketchy little bump appeared off the base of my penis only to have him laugh in my face and tell me it was an ingrown hair. I’ve learned from my childish, petty concerns, but still like to be overtly cautious.
This sponge of emotions is constantly being drenched and squeezed dry. I found this wariness to be the only way to thrive as an adolescent. After all, the wretchedness embedded within my sexuality was reinforced repeatedly by my surroundings.
I came out to my mother almost five years ago at the tender age of sixteen. We were trekking home from a Regina Spektor concert and I spurted out, “I’m gay,” as Delilah spun the night’s most requested tunes. She looked over after a moment of silence and told me, “Please be careful.”
I knew little about sex at the time. My Catholic high school’s Health class curriculum—I kid you not—covered “Stop, Drop and Roll,” among other mildly important innate life skills, skipping over any and all conversations relative to sex. However, the topic of AIDS came up once in an English class when my teacher proclaimed—as we read Dante’s “Inferno”—that all homosexuals die of the disease and then reside in the seventh circle of hell.
It was written in the stars essentially: You will get HIV and die of AIDS just like your then-heartthrob Freddie Mercury. The virus aligns with your genetic makeup, don’t you know?
Embarrassingly enough, I was so painfully uninformed when I lost my virginity, I asked my boyfriend at the time, “What if we make AIDS?” Thinking it was a joke, he laughed, and pushed me back on my back.
Since that very bodily exchange, I have had sex like a billion times—most sessions going totally unprotected. Now, before you get all judgmental, 98 percent of that sex took place in committed relationships with men I considered to be the loves of my life. Condoms aren’t any fun, anyways.
Undeniably, it’s a bit hypocritical. I’m living in a constant state of fear while simultaneously exposing myself to various potential diseases that may inhabit any ol’ dick I invite into my ass. I still do it and don’t know why.
The risk is everywhere, pretty much. Yet, I feel judged and mocked for my incessant trepidations and overwhelming, looming fear. This past week, I went to get tested for STDs—from herpes to the clap—and HIV after noticing a yucky skin tag-like thing on the base of my penis.
It was u-g-l-y. The little thing made me not want to be seen—especially in the waiting room which was basically a make-shift gallery filled with box beautiful queer men. I couldn’t stop thinking they all knew about my dick’s weird ornament friend and newfound, yet predestined diagnosis.
I’m currently awaiting the results. Regardless of my status, I know there’s only ways to go up from here. It’s when those potentially at risk take the initiative to test—regardless of lingering fear—and begin to address the epidemic with a treatment as prevention mentality can those who were fed this anxiety—like ten-year-old me—truly stabilize and put our health first.