This year I had the sad distinction of watching two friends die way too early, and both of them had the equally sad distinction of not getting tested for HIV until it was way too late. Both were on the periphery of the Leather community… and while I was deeply saddened by their crossing over before their time, the fact that both of them were extraordinarily close with my BF Joe made it much harder for me to bear. It was difficult to watch Joe suffer not once but twice, spending countless hours in hospital rooms and comforting their loved ones. I am therefore making a plea to anyone out there who thinks they may have HIV: Get tested. I am not TELLING you to do it, but strongly encouraging you to do so.

As a health care professional, some would say I have a “responsibility” to educate people about nutrition, exercise, bad health habits, etc. But as a sexual libertine and someone who has always believed in personal freedoms first, this has always been a tremendous source of conflict for me. For example, we all know that smoking is bad for you… but I am a bit annoyed at the fact that the government tries to get us to stop by passing laws, rather than simply presenting the facts and encouraging us to make the right choice… or (gasp!) actually coming up with some kind of creative solutions. We all know that fast food is delicious-tasting poison (We all know that, don‘t we?!) …. But I would never deny anyone the occasional cheap thrill of enjoying it, with so few cheap thrills out there nowadays. The bottom line is: Shouldn‘t adults have the right to make up their own minds when it comes to choices about health? For that reason, I would never berate or judge anyone for the decisions they make. Added to that is the fact that I am really turned off by the explosion of “pop culture medicine” shows (Pop culture and medicine DO NOT belong together!) like the product-plugging “The Doctors”, that patronizing “Dr. Phil”, and that creepy-looking “Dr. Oz” who seem to be hellbent on getting people to FIND some kind of symptom or some new exotic disease to call their own. Their audience are usually soccer moms in criminal fashion sets and bad hairdos (accessorized with a martyr complex), who eat this stuff up like opossums in a garbage can. As a practicing Wiccan, I believe in “back to basics”: that everyone knows their own body well enough to know when something is wrong, if we trust our instincts. Our human instincts, combined with common sense and intelligent resources (health care professionals, books, and medical journals; NOT the TV or 99% of what’s on the internet), should lead us to the answer– and it’s not always running to a bottle of pills or listening to a bunch of self-aggrandizing narcissists talk about the “disease of the day” on TV.

You may be asking, “Where is he going with this?” Well, Joe and I had slightly different opinions on the matter of HIV testing. While we both agreed that anyone who has been at risk should get tested (and that, no doubt, early testing and treatment just may have saved these guys‘ lives), I also think that people have to do it at a time when they are ready to do so, mentally… and people have to be strong enough to handle the results, whatever they may be. I also understood what both these guys I mentioned earlier– and countless others– might have gone through. The fear of a potentially positive result can be a powerful force. And yes, Virginia, denial can be an amazing coping mechanism– for a while. What we don’t see can’t hurt us, right? If I say its name out loud, that will give it power, won‘t it? Well, that may work with ex-boyfriends, but not in the case of this virus. There are even those who claim that the virus does not even exist… and that if HIV exists, it may not the cause of AIDS. Yes, West Virginia, it’s true that some people believe that. There’s even an awful movie called “House of Numbers” that does a great job in trying to convince us that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS. It almost convinced ME… However, HIV apparently did not see the movie and continues to make us aware of its presence. My good friend Michael Ramos of The Men’s Sexual Health Project (M*SHP) has always said that smarter sex is only part of HIV prevention. He firmly believes that if we can treat the underlying depression and self-esteem issues that many gay men face, then guys would not have as much high risk sex. In the case of both my friends I spoke of, the underlying emotional issues they faced made that as obvious as can be.

So… here is the bottom line. While I am against “preaching” about health or any other personal matter, I strongly encourage all of you out there with any risk factors to get tested for HIV. I promise you, you will be exactly the same person you were just before you got tested. Do it when you are ready, but just do it eventually. Don‘t do it because I or anyone else is asking you to. Do it because it may save your life or prevent a whole litany of unpleasant problems. Get tested anonymously if you feel more comfortable doing so . And please, please, please, find a doctor you trust… I cannot stress this more. If you are positive and don’t want to take Western medicine, there are herbal alternatives that are worth discussing with a qualified herbalist. A friend of mine who is an RN as well as an herbalist told me (using the book “The Secret Life of Germs” by Philip M. Tierno as a source) that some researchers speculate that HIV, like other viruses and all other living things, is always evolving… and that one day, the virus may “learn” that it can get more benefit by keeping its host (the human) alive rather than slowly killing him. Granted, this is still very “pie in the sky”, but it s gives me optimism, even if only for a future generation.

But the worse thing you can do is nothing. Doing nothing is the only surefire way to get back what you give.

Now, back to the hot Leathermen and Bears!

In pride,
Jed Ryan
Mr. Rawhide NYC 2011

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