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January 12, 2015

Your Life is Worth Saving: Get Tested

His recent move to open up about being HIV Positive has led to numerous positive responses. But one question, "Why did he do it?", had haunted him since. And here he explains.

by Amahl S. Azwar

It was liberating, I must say, when I decided to disclose my HIV status on Magdalene a couple of weeks ago. I want to thank the editors for allowing me to share my story here.
I received text messages, e-mails, and comments from old friends (including those whom I haven't been in touch with since, uh, forever), new friends, strangers (or, as I prefer to call it, new friends I have yet to meet!), and even one media asking me to do an interview with them. I haven't said yes to that one media, though. I have my own reasons. I did, however, give an interview to UFM, a local radio station, which is a media partner for Magdalene.
I can't thank you enough for all the sympathetic comments that I've been getting—it's exactly what people like me need: moral support.
In an interview with UFM during their weekly evening talk show “Magdalene’s Mind”, co-host Arif Tirtosudiro, asked me something that really hit me: why did I decide to open up about my HIV status.
“You're a gay man,” he said, “So, naturally you're already being judged by the society. And now, you announced your HIV status to the public. Aren't you afraid of being stigmatized even further?”

To be honest, I forgot what my answer was to that question. I probably babbled (well, in my defense, that was my first time being interviewed live). But having pondered that one question thoroughly, I think I knew the answer. The big picture, at least.
To save lives. Yes, that was the general idea behind my decision to open up about my condition.
I forgot to mention in my previous article that, after being diagnosed with HIV and getting fired from my job almost simultaneously, I decided to join a gay gathering in Koh Yao Yai Island, off Phuket, Thailand early in 2014. The event is called the 12th Asian Faeries Gathering.
I didn't have any goal at the time. Having been at the lowest point in my life, however, I had thought it would be a good idea to just spend some quiet time on that island while being surrounded by people like me.
I didn't have that much money, to tell you the truth. So I let the Universe took the wheel and, as it turned out, fate intervened. A good friend of mine, who at the time was in charge of the gathering, told me that I could apply for a scholarship so that I could join them.
So there I was, pouring my heart out in an e-mail. I told the committee my story (basically what I wrote in my previous article on Magdalene) and how the gathering might help me.
To cut the story short, I got the scholarship.
In this gathering, I met various people (gay men, to be specific) from all around the world. And, sure enough, some of them are HIV positive (and they were, like, in their 50s and 60s) but they were fit and healthy!
I met this one handsome fit guy (and not to mention, hot) who once worked as a firefighter and a police officer (I know, right? It's just like one of those hunks from erotic fiction came to life). And, guess what, he is HIV positive (or Poz, as some call it).
This guy has lost friends because of HIV/AIDS and yet he's still around. He's a survivor. And, after a heart-to-heart talk with him on the beautiful sands of Koh Yao Yai, I realized that I could be him.
No, no, not being a police officer or firefighter like him (I can't even bench more than 25 kilograms), but by being open about my HIV status and the fact that I’m still alive and kicking. I want more people to be aware that HIV positive is not (I repeat, NOT) a death sentence, as long as you get diagnosed early and immediately begin getting medications.
I know some people who died because of HIV/AIDS because it was too late by the time they found out about.
I feel sorry for them, and I don’t want more people to end up like that.
I want more people to smile when they finally face death—knowing that it's easy to die when you know you have lived. Because if you get diagnosed early and take medications soon, you'll have a second chance to live your life.
So, to answer the question on why I opened up about my HIV status: I want more people to know that they still have choices. That they can still have hopes and dreams. And being HIV positive will not stop them from being the person they really want to be. That people who truly care for them will never mind about their HIV status. That they're not alone.
And, last but not least, that their lives are worth saving.
Shanghai, Dec 19, 2014
Amahl S. Azwar is an openly gay writer who lives in Bandung, West Java. Follow @mcmahel on Twitter and blog www.mcmahel.wordpress.com.