Thursday, June 6, 2013

Will You Wait As Long As This AIDS Educator To Get HIV Tested?

The following is a guest post from Isabel Berney from who shares her experience of getting tested for HIV in New York City. Like many of us, she did not want to think about the possibility that she could have been exposed to HIV but did not know her status. It’s so easy to think you are immune but getting tested is the only way to know for sure.  

I don’t know what compelled me to wait 23 years to get tested for HIV. Fear played a factor (at 16, I’d already had a few wild nights under my belt) and self-delusion, presumably. It’s not something you went around asking people, but I’d bet that many of my other sexually-active friends had never been tested. We all labored under the misconception that people like us— White, upper-middle-class Jews from Long Island—simply don’t get AIDS. It wasn’t until junior year when one of my classmates—a good-looking jock from an ├╝ber-wealthy family— was discovered to be HIV-positive that our attitudes shifted. But even this traumatic event, coupled with my decision to become an AIDS educator and go around to middle schools teaching younger kids about the virus, didn’t convince me to get tested.  

I persisted in my stubbornness another seven years, through a few broken condoms with my college boyfriend, and later a broken heart that led me to perform oral sex on a couple of random dates against my better judgment. Had a slept with a ton of men? Hardly. But I wasn’t a virgin, I knew the risks involved, and yet I convinced myself that AIDS was so horrific it was better not to know. That stuck until I met Daniel. He’d grown up in a “ghetto” part of Miami where many of his friends had become parents in high school, and, as someone who had worked hard to better his situation and attend Columbia University, had a totally different mindset about STIs/STDs. I remember his eyes widening when I told him I’d never been tested. “That’s impossible!” he insisted, musing about the time he’d visited the hospital to get treated for burn and they’d unexpectedly offered him an AIDS test. It was true: these days you almost had to make an effort not to get tested, especially if you live in a big city like New York where free clinics and STI/STD testing centers abound.

Go and Get Tested!
Image by Aloha Angelo Cavalli/Corbis cc

Daniel refused to sleep with me until I got tested. Unlike the men in my past, with him I couldn’t sweet-talk my way out of it. As our romance blossomed, I found myself tormented by thoughts of sickly AIDS patients, of the possibility that I’d contracted the virus and had been living in ignorance. That one slip of paper could spell out my face—positive or negative—terrified me. But I needed to face reality, and give this new relationship a fighting chance, so I agreed to go.

A few days later on one of those perfect fall mornings Daniel and I decided to play hookie from work and mosey on down the Chelsea STI/STD clinic. The enormous concrete box of a building with its peeling gray walls looked like the place one might receive bad news, but I hid my anxiety.

After filling out paperwork, we sat in a waiting room for a good twenty minutes, maybe forty. My fears mounted as the time ticked on and I kept looking into Daniel’s rugged, open face for support; he squeezed my hand. My name was called first. I could feel my stomach somersaulting as I inched down the hallway to the testing room. When the nurse started taking blood, I completely lost it, recounting through tears all the potential times I could’ve contracted HIV, making her promise (which she wasn’t even permitted to do) that I was clean. Thankfully, the wait to receive that slip of paper wasn’t as long as I’d expected -10 minutes max. My results had me jumping up and down, smothering Daniel in hugs, and on my own little high that lasted well into the following day. Even if I never truly thought I had HIV it was important—no, crucial—to know for sure.
Do you want to share your STI/STD testing experience in the city?


  1. The word 'clean' in regards to a negative HIV status is simply wrong - HIV positive people are NOT 'dirty'.
    How can an AIDS educator use such a derogatory term?

    1. However you are - your comment left a big impact on me today. You are absolutely right and stress the importance of companies like BeforeWeDo to also fight the stigma around HIV/STDs. Thank you for reminding us!

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  2. Thank you for commenting! I think our culture has gotten so used to using the words "clean" and "dirty" without the intention of coming off as a derogatory. It is almost engrained in us as a society that one is positive and the other is negative. Perhaps we can learn to use other terms when we talk about our HIV/STI status but this also has to deal with the social stigma around HIV/STI to begin with.

  3. Every day someone's light bulb comes. Knowing that HIV is a sexually transmitted disease is different that knowing your own status and understanding your sexual behaviors and that of your partner.
    Making the decision to take an HIV test is definitely matter what you think your risk may be. Knowing your personal status is a responsible thing to do.
    In 1991, I learned I had HIV. The feelings that I had around testing scared me profoundly. I went in to test because someone I had slept with was HIV positive. I needed to know my status at that point. Knowing my status, though it of course, was not the answer i wanted, was liberating. I don't have to have it hanging over my head AND I could do something about it. Twenty two years later and Im still here. Enjoying a very hectic and fabulous life and LIVING, in spite of HIV.
    Be your own advocate.

  4. Thanks for commenting. I think its true that its hard to get that first test..perhaps its because we tend to be in denial about our exposure or we don't know where to go that would make us feel comfortable to get tested in first place. But mostly its because, we just don't talk about it the way we should. Its really inspiring that you despite having tested positive are saying how liberating it is because I'm sure it gave you the opportunity to take care and get the treatment. We're really trying to get people in the mindset of regularly getting tested so if you're sexually active, that its apart of your routine and it doesn't have to be so awkward. I admire you sharing your experience and I hope that others feel motivated to do the same. Thanks!


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