The G Tales. Anonymous HIV Testing (Part 1 of 2)
Anonymous HIV Testing: Or, Personal Politics, Fluid Bonding, and Public Health
by Serena Anderlini
“safety in amorous, erotic, and sexual expression is the measure of one’s love for one’s partners and their health, and of one’s commitment to protecting it by modeling the well-being one wants one’s erotic communities to reflect”
from Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet
I have this friend, her name is G. G for gentle. G for giddy. G for “gay.” G . . . for g-spot, or was it g-string? Anyway, she’s like a little girl, I mean, she’s a bit like a thirteen year old, still has the intensity, the trepidation, the relentless, the hubris, the utopianism of that age. Bless her heart.
She often gets in trouble, of course. But she has many friends who know about that and rescue her. Bless their heart.
She tells me everything about herself. And yet I don’t really know her. She’s a mystery to herself. She’s a philosopher, and yet, she’s still a little girl . . .
Well, to make a long story short, but not too short, I’d like to introduce you to her with a story.
At one point G is in a strange place. She finds out the trans partner she has been fluid-bonded with has not told his other female partners about that. A foreigner. From Jamaica. A bit confused. Doesn’t know the rules very well yet. Indeed, M, one of these partners, accidentally found out about this indirect fluid bonding from a friend of G’s, who took for granted that M was aware.
G is poly, but she’s a fairly honest girl. She would hate to be indirectly fluid bonded to someone without her knowledge. She likes to be aware of who her lovers exchange fluids with. One has to keep track of what gets in and out and where. It’s a question of health. And emotions: secrets, especially amorous secrets, put you in bad emotional space. Then the immune system stops working, it stops doing its job of clearing your inner space of toxins, and you can get sick, you can even die!
G is also bi, and she “prefers” girls. She would hate to make a woman feel less important than a man. She’s not bi because she likes to entice men by having them watch her with girls. No, she’s bi because she feels that being with a woman is so much more intense, that women are so much more beautiful and graceful, and that no woman really knows herself until she knows another woman like her. How can you imagine your own pleasure until you know the pleasure of another like yourself? And if you don’t know yourself, how can you really know the world and love it?
So G decides to honor these women who have been offended by secrets inadvertently kept from them with a whole set of health and STD tests. There is so much fear of disease today. So much to go around one can catch. It’s kind of scary. Especially if your immune system doesn’t function well. G is typically not afraid though. She had a terrible disease when she was young. Used to drive her crazy. Bad enough to drop dead. She got trained to heal herself by keeping a safe emotional space around herself, and she avoids the medical system altogether. She knows the alchemy of remedies, and keeps the doctor at bay with exercise, meditation, yoga, reading, creativity, and self-pleasuring. But not everybody is as lucky and perseverant. She understands.
So G goes about getting her tests. There is a bit of trepidation in that. She’s a bit hesitant. Will they turn out all right? If not, then her theories about self-healing might be proven wrong. She begins with regular blood and urine tests. All turn out in a regular range. Then it’s Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, a Pap Smear, and Syphilis. Also ok. So now she’s ready for HIV.
“To test or not to test?” as Hamlet would say. If a disease has a certifiable remedy, if it has been, through various generations of patients, understood well enough that a time-proven cure is in place that has, over and over, resulted in complete recovery, then there is no reason not to test, even if the disease is considered shameful per se, or socially unacceptable. For example, syphilis, which was for centuries treated with mercury unsuccessfully, is now completely curable with antibiotics. You test, you turn out to be positive, you take the antibiotics. That’s the end of it. You don’t become a public peril. A threat to public health. No. You’re simply a person who made a mistake and fixed the problem via a proven method of allopathic medicine.
But for a disease that’s still in limbo, testing could make things worse in terms of personal health. Especially if anonymous testing is not available. You’d go on record as someone “infected” with an illness that is just as incurable as it is contagious. In other words, you’d turn into a threat to public health, unless of course your every move can be monitored or you can be locked up in a leper colony where others share your shameful destiny. This sense of yourself as a pariah, an untouchable, could seriously affect your health. It could put you in such a bad emotional place so as to stop the functioning of your immune system altogether.
Who can tell?
All this is of course rolling into G’s head. But she wants to come clean. Her dignity is at stake. Self-respect. She didn’t bring disease to the emotional systems that sustained her. She brought health. The health she earned with all her holistic practices. She wants to prove it. So she asks about HIV tests. She asks her chiro. He refers her to a male gynecologist, his friend. She thinks, “I’d rather talk to a woman.” She goes back to the female gynecologist who ordered the other STD tests for her, S. Very kindly, S explains that anonymous testing is done at the Medical Center, only. The Medical Center is connected with the Department of Health, so that every positive test can be reported for statistical purposes. Any clinical laboratory that runs the test is obligated to report any positive results to the Medical Center, to be added to the statistical log. But the option of testing anonymously, of having only a number attached to the blood sample and eventual results, is still open, S assures.
Stubborn G goes to the Center. The nauseating smell of hospitals and medicines gets to her. The depressing spectacle of people devitalized by participation in a system that focuses on combating illness (rather than generating health) are present to her. They’re on automatic behavior. Their auras are bruised, shattered even. It’s all about procedure. They look at her strange. What animal is this? How come she’s not afraid? Doesn’t look sick enough for this place. G is finally admitted to a counselor.
“What do I need counseling for?” G thinks. She already feels treated like a patient/peril. The counselor is patient, and intelligent. She’s used to people like G, non-compliant, know-too-much, difficult to herd. G asks about anonymous testing. “Is it available?” The counselor tries to pass confidential testing for anonymous testing. “Your name will be attached to the result, but it will be confidential, it will stay in our system only. The statistics we send to the Central Administration only have numbers, no names are sent.” G shows the counselor her other health tests. “My results are perfect” she says, “I take good care of myself for a 45 year old. It’s not that I’m afraid of testing positive,” she goes on to explain, “it’s that anonymous testing is the only way to guarantee that public health is not enforced at the expense of personal health.” The counselor looks at G, “articulate for a patient,” she thinks. “Death recipes,” G mutters. In Latino cultures, medical prescriptions and cooking recipes share a word, “recetas.” The counselor keeps her cool while the offensive metaphor makes its creepy effect. “I understand” she says. “It’s a touchy issue. You’re not alone.” G explains that she has studied and written about the history of this disease. “You seem very informed,” the counselor acknowledges. “Thank you.” “We used to offer anonymous testing. It has been discontinued because if someone turned out positive, then they did not know what to do with themselves. But you seem quite self-possessed, in charge of your own well being and doing a good job, so I will ask the Health Department to allow an anonymous test for you.” “Thanks.” “I’ll call them tomorrow.” “Good.”
The counselor takes a business card out of her desk and offers it to G as she writes down her cell phone. “Call me at about three pm, I will let you know what’s possible.” G looks up in the air for a moment, thinking to herself, “What am I supposed to do tomorrow at three? Why does this person think that I am available and can arrange my schedule around the needs of a medical system that does not serve me well and seems reluctant to even respect me?” Then she remembers the many times that she, as a government employee as well, has to wear two hats and play the safe game. She looks the counselor in the eye and says “Ok.”
The counselor looks back and comments, “but tell me, why ‘death recipes’?” “Medicine is not well served when medical institutions don’t respect patients. It’s my emotional space. Suppose I attach my name to a sample to be tested for HIV. Suppose it turns positive by laboratory error. The burden of proving that mistake will be on me, while at the same time I’ll already suffer from being demoted from respectable citizen to public peril. How healthy is that?” The counselor looks at G, perplexed. “That’s what I mean by ‘death recipes’.” Silence. “I’m sorry if it was offensive. Metaphors are necessary. They help us vibrate with the meaning of our emotions. I hope you understand.” The counselor looks at G, “No offense, we are highly imperfect, I think I know. Sounds like for you medicine is literary.” The counselor and G giggle together, knowingly. “The Latina experience,” G thinks. “Call me tomorrow.” G gets up and picks up her purse, shakes the counselor’s hand “Hasta mañana.”
How does the story end?
I wish I knew. G hasn’t called to tell me yet. You’d think G lives in the former Soviet Union or another country based on state surveillance. I remember at the onset of the Aids epidemic and scare, people used to talk about Cuba and its internment camps for the “infected.” No. G lives in a liberal democracy. Progressive, supposedly. She wrote me that she browsed the web for online anonymous testing , and found some in Europe and California, among other places. Maybe by now she’s dead. That would serve her well. “Disobedient,” as some would say. Not enough of a good “patient.” Oh, well . . .
Serena Anderlini is the author of Gaia