Standing on Seapoint Main road in Cape Town has many connotations. More than a decade ago, my friend and I were doing just that, but it was daytime and the prostitutes we had come to know quite well, had long since gone home. We were there to get HIV tests. We’d heard of this place on Seapoint Main road that was offering free tests, and we decided to get informed about our statuses.
We both have a sense of humor that borders on the ridiculous, so before going in, we were buzzing and bounding hyper actively outside the testing centre. I found it difficult not to get anxious, moments before a blood test, and I still feel that way even today. We minimized our anxiety by making one another laugh, which is something we are still really good at. I suspect we did something silly like “mincing” up and down the sidewalk or yelling: “Hey gurrl!” To a particularly tattooed, bemused, and scary looking “gaatjie”, as he drove by standing in the open door of a taxi. The lady at reception was very prissy and her makeup was terrible. She wanted to know if we were “special friends”, which made me have to choke down the laughter already bubbling in my throat.
At that point in our lives it felt as though we had the world at our feet. We were still bushytailed “twinks”, young and popular, and I felt invincible (most of the time). Walking into Bronx, Angels or Detour, I felt attractive and at home. I considered myself good-looking enough to have currency, in what I considered to be an image-obsessed community that was the Cape Town gay clubbing scene. C’mon admit it; many of you felt the same way in your younger days! Vanity was as common as Buffalo shoes and Tiger balm then, and it hasn’t diminished much during the skinny jean revolution.
I’ve spent many years doing HIV, voluntary counseling and testing awareness theatre. I directed shows for Arepp that toured nationwide, and performed a comedy sketch about condoms with Nik Rabinowitz on every floor of the colossal Naspers building, a number of moons ago. Yet, I still get fearful during the moments leading up to being tested. Despite this, I always get it done, because I have learned the hard way that knowledge is power, and any task or challenge in my life has been surmountable once I have gained enough information about it.
The test itself was fine, but the receptionist was another special number. Looking back I think this was because we were relieved and also because the receptionist assumed we were a couple and encouraged us to: “Take care of yourselves and each other. Remember, Jesus loves you.” In a heavy Afrikaans accent loaded with self-righteousness and mock sympathy (the venue functioned predominantly as a charismatic church at night). Her thinly veiled judgment masked as pantomimic concern, made our faces flush blood red; not because we were angry, but because we suddenly found it all hysterically funny. We barely made it out the door, before folding onto the pavement, “gilling” with laughter.
My testing experiences since, have not been quite as entertaining, but just as necessary and not a pain in the ass at all – if you’ll pardon the expression.
Annually I pay the Health4Men Clinic in Yeoville (Kenmere Road) a visit, and get my status “upgraded”. It’s always been quick and incredibly professional, and the doctors I’ve dealt with have been helpful and approachable. HIV is no longer a death sentence; it’s a manageable condition that a number of people that I know and love are living with successfully because they have educated themselves about it. This success depends on awareness, and knowing your status, whatever it may be.
Bruce J. Little is a contributing writer for Health4Men. Health4Men is a project of the Anova Health Institute NPC, funded by USAID through PEPFAR. This article represents the contributing writer’s personal views.