check ups

Diary of an HIV Test

Whenever I go for my regular HIV/STD testing, I’m tempted to use the pseudonym Dorothy Zbornak. On one episode of The Golden Girls, Rose has an HIV scare (from a blood transfusion during gall bladder surgery, not unprotected anal sex) and goes to get an HIV test. She’s embarrassed so she gives the nurse Dorothy’s name which leads to a classic Bea Arthur slow burn to camera. Rest assured her test comes back negative. So as Sophia would say, “Picture it” …


Clients begin congregating outside the door of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Men’s Wellness Center in Los Angeles a half-hour before it opens at 5:30pm. Only the first 17 men can be seen in one evening, so, with my competitive spirit, I hauled ass to get here. When I arrive at 5:35, nine other guys have already scattered throughout the room. There is a chair or two between each of them. I’m just relieved I made it. It seems Friday evening is not a popular time for STD/HIV testing.

“LA’s hit music channel” is blaring from a miniature boom box questionably plopped in the middle of the floor. “One two three four/uno dos tres cuatro!” It sounds like a circuit party in here. Am I poolside in Miami Beach? Or about to get checked for unusual genital growths? I’m tense. It’s making my scalp itch.

I cruise the blonde guy sitting in front of me. I should not be cruising at an STD clinic. Or maybe I should. Perhaps this is the perfect place to meet a responsible man. Perhaps, the worst.

This fella is leaning forward, playing on his BlackBerry, revealing turquoise Calvin Klein underwear. I love turquoise — it’s one of my signature colors. Turquoise and coral. He turns around and looks at me. He could be Neil Patrick Harris.

Mmmph, a sexy guy just walked in wearing all black. He’s either a waiter coming directly from work or some symbolic Angel of Death like Richard Burton’s character in the movie, Boom! His hands are on his hips like a runner after a race trying to catch his breath. Like me, he’s glad to have made it here in time to be tested. He scratches his head.

The occasional ring of a cell phone dares me to come unhinged. If they don’t silence it by the second ring, I will kill. I’ve been here for an hour now and have yet to see a counselor or doctor. This is a multi-stage process: wait to see the counselor, meet with the counselor, wait to see the doctor, see the doctor, wait to see the nurse, see the nurse, wait to see the counselor again, see the counselor again and receive the results of your rapid HIV test. It’s like waiting at the airport only more interactive. Expect delays.

I’m finally called in to meet the counselor. He was my counselor the last time I was here. “How many people have you had sex with in the last six months,” he asks once we’re alone. I remember he’s the abrasive type. When I asked him to clarify what he meant by sex, “ANY ORAL OR ANAL SEX” was the answer. Oral sex is sex? Oh yeah. Shit.


Determining one’s risk level begins with you deciding what you’re trying to avoid. For me, it’s HIV. The STD/HIV counselors I’ve seen are either somewhat nonchalant (“You’ve only been receiving blow-jobs? Don’t worry about a thing”) or they use scare tactics (“You’ve received how many blow jobs? You can get HIV from receptive oral sex, you know”).

I always get an HIV test if only to get in the routine of doing so. My counselor hands me a padded swizzle stick and tells me to swab the front of my gums, top and bottom, then place the stick in a tube filled with magic solution. Now I’m Roseanne and it’s the episode where she takes a pregnancy test and the whole family waits impatiently to see the results. The difference is I don’t have the blue-collar comfort of John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf. And if my test does come out positive, what are my options? I can’t abort the HIV or give it up for adoption.

Back in the waiting room there are no Family Circles, no Redbooks, not even the therapeutic yellow of a National Geographic. All of the literature is HIV-related. I’m reading a story about a man who gets tested after his aunt tells him he looks like he has HIV. His results come back positive, of course. He freaks out in the counselor’s office and says he’s going to commit suicide. She makes him stay until he promises not to kill himself and somehow he comes to the realization that his life isn’t over just because he’s positive. The story is surrounded by ads for HIV drugs that reiterate the man’s realization. Is it a drug manufacturer’s wet dream: a captive and target audience? The ads make HIV seem manageable; people are smiling in the pictures. Today, one pill does what five used to. Today, pills don’t keep you on the toilet shitting your brains out. Today I am straddling the fine line between reassurance and panic.

A May-December couple sits down next to me. It warms my heart to see lovers get tested together. It also makes me feel more alone like the maybe-pregnant girl at Planned Parenthood. I’m Mo’Nique’s fat daughter in that new movie, Precious. The older man in the couple is telling his child-like boyfriend to “just relax.” YOU RELAX, I want to interject. The boyfriend is called in and the older man plays with beads that I recognize as a rosary. “Are you nervous,” I ask him, ready to provide comfort. “They’re prayer beads,” he tells me, “I’m Buddhist. I pray when I have nothing else to do.” He’s missing a front tooth.


I’m at the two-hour mark now. It’s like a goddamn sex club in here: hyper-deodorized air, a techno-ballad thumping from the boom box, nobody talking. The only thing missing is the occasional moan of ecstasy. The door flings open: “MATT SIEGEL,” the man shouts. I am the only patient to be called by first and last name. So much for anonymity, but the loud announcement brings back the airport charm.

I look around hoping someone will grinningly acknowledge this breach of privacy. I should have used the name Dorothy Zbornak.

The doctor asks if I’m there for anything in particular. Just do everything, I say. I gag during the throat culture for gonorrhea. “This is why I don’t give many blowjobs,” I explain to him. I’m glad for it, too — anything that keeps dicks away from my orifices. A nurse takes multiple vials of blood to test for syphilis and HIV. “Oh you have good veins,” he tells me, grinning. Is he daring me to pass out? No vein talk, I tell him. He hands me a little sealed cup and a long Q-tip with a vial. He wants my pee and a swab of my anus. With all of my unabashedness, I am still weird about ass. I go into the toilet and decide how to proceed. I will save you the image of me crouching on a bathroom floor swabbing my anus.

It’s 8pm and I’ve given blood, urine, and some anal lining. I await the final step of this process: the result of the HIV rapid test.

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  • galefan2004

    Try being in a small town anywhere in this entire country where you don’t have access to a clinic and you have to go to the hospital to get blood work done (with a prescription from your family doctor) and wait one week for the results.

  • tone

    Thank you for your contributions, Matt. You’re perhaps the only gay writer who really seems to identify my experiences as a gay man. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of your pieces here.

    Or update your own damn blog more frequently! We love reading it.

  • Leonard

    Matt, you slay me. Next time I hit up an STD clinic, I’m going to make sure I at least come home with a phone number.

  • Nico

    Wow, what a great read! Thanks Matt :)

  • stephan

    The first time I got tested was when I was 17
    The counselor assessed my risk and told me that it was high and that I needed to change my lifestyle practices if I wanted to reduce my risk of contracting HIV or STIs, which would include not having sex with men. I felt so ashamed and dirty. And THEN I had to wait two weeks to get my results

    getting tested in a small TX town is probably one of the worst places anybody can get screened

    Also, I LOVE Matt’s articles for queerty. They’re always very clever and interesting

  • Dennis

    I give this site crap about a lot of stuff, but this is a great article/post. Thank you. Not an easy read, but real, very real and moving. Certainly brought up memories for me…How many of us have gone thru the ordeal of Hiv testing…recounting every semi-risky or actually risky sex act we’ve engaged in…or perhaps making some “bargain” w/God hoping to get the ‘right’ test result.

    Of course, times have changed, treatments have definitely improved, and (IF you have access to good health care) a positive diagnosis means you have a chronic “health condition” to manage, not a death sentence. Which also brings up the point that there are a lot (A LOT) of gay men out there NOT getting tested regularly…still relying on their last negative test result (often YEARS ago) claiming to be Neg, while in reality, who the fuck knows what their real status is…they sure don’t.

    If you’re neg and want to stay that way, caution still rules. Great post.

  • Kevin Gotkin

    Thank you for this great article. I’m a testing counselor at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York and we are so often confronted with the biting traps that talking about HIV presents: make it sound serious, but don’t naturalize a stigma, encourage sexual expression and practices, but don’t encourage unsafe sex. Your article renders a certainly tough experience, but doesn’t cheapen or unfairly depict the issues at stake. THANKS!

  • TomEM

    Very well-written. Thanks Matt.

  • AndTom

    Great post, as for cruising test centers always call back the ones that leave looking relieved.

  • uforik

    I had a Muslim psychiatrist tell me I wasn’t gay and a week later I requested an HIV test, when she read me my results as positive she had to have someone from the local clinic with her as she was uncomfortable/unenlightened to read the test results to me. It was an awful experience that was cold, she didn’t bother to console me (much less give me a hug and say it was going to be alright) she left me without any information about how I could learn about HIV and my resources but was happy to prescribe me heavy doses of Xanax… I took it upon myself to find resources and get help, find a doctor, get on meds, go to the RIGHT counselor. I never went back to her. She was an awful experience.. I have nothing against Muslims but she puts religious tracts in her office, and her convincing me of my already well aware sexuality really bothered me.

  • HendryTan

    In Singapore, an NGO ActionForAids runs a pretty successful Anonymous Testing program.

    They got this online Youtube showing exactly what to expect during Anonymous Testing and to encourage more people to go get tested.

    Can see how they do Anonymous Testing in other countries.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for another great piece, Matt!

  • mz. vendetta

    you are biting us with those rainbo lips lady girl. eat me usa

  • Danny


    That’s like saying the cold is caused by being outside in the rain, instead of a virus. Yes, you can get exposed to the virus by behaviors (unprotected sex/no umbrella), but the virus you catch still causes the disease.

    You’re as bad as all these African heads of state, leading their countries into ruin by telling them they can get rid of HIV after sex with a shower.


    It’s too bad that all those infants with AIDS got it from their promiscuity, drug use, and partying as opposed to a viral transfer during birth from their mothers.

  • Ryan

    I’m straight but chanced upon this site to further educate myself on the risks of STDs and the such. I find this site to be very informative and the write of this article to be very talented (I myself am a professional journalist.)

    Just got tested and came up negative. So very relieved for that, but my heart goes out to everyone who wasn’t as lucky. Sites that promote healthy behavior are necessary to educate the masses about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

    Best regards

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