Guys, I might have accidentally fallen in love with the guy who gave me my HIV test. What’s the proper term? HIV tester? Test administrator? Precept? Docent? Whatever. Whomever. I love him.
It really must be love because I’m not usually one to talk about my, um, sex life. And, okay, testing is actually just responsible behavior and self-care, but baby with the bathwater, I say. While in theory I believe in normalizing regular testing for sexually active adults of all stripes, I am also a prude. Philadelphia, where I live, has a great number of sex-positive organizations, which is all well and good, but I have a long history of sex-negativity. I’m all for sex, but don’t like to talk about it, think about it, or acknowledge that it happens. I’m kind of a Puritan at heart; I’m still not convinced that The Crucible and The Scarlet Letter weren’t black comedies about appropriate responses to rips in the moral fabric of a level-headed community. My parents used to tell me that they tried for so long to have me and I honestly thought that that meant that they prayed really hard.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, my impending nuptials!
The other night, I popped into a local testing center run by a wonderful organization called GALAEI because it was time. I’ve been in a monogamous relationship for two years. It ended in July and I figured it behooved me to restart my regular practice of getting tested every six months. Climb back on the horse, as it were. Okrrr?!
I wasn’t looking for love, but they say that’s when it strikes. Like a serial killer in a movie. The super cute scrub-clad doctor led me to the private room, pricked my finger (like Cupid!) and started the clock. All doctors are hot, aren’t they? Like physically attractive. Their faces are symmetrical or whatever it is that makes people hot. They have small pores. I don’t know what it is. But they have it. Even the ones with slightly less than symmetrical faces are hot. And it’s not just the money; it’s the confidence, I think. They’ve got that Fitzgerald Grant Alpha-personality going on. And I’m a firm believer in making all my life decisions as if I’m Olivia Pope. Live every week like you’re wearing sharkskin gloves.
I twiddled my thumbs. In previous HIV tests, I’d been ushered out to the lobby (is it really a lobby if there isn’t a concierge desk?) and browsed through old issues of Entertainment Weekly while the test developed. Clearly he wanted to keep me around.
“What do you do for fun?” the doctor asked. I immediately got confused. What was he looking for?
“What do you mean, fun?” He cast me a look askance. I was like, Gurl, don’t come for me, gurl. It’s unclear whether you’re asking me about possible risky behavior or just shooting the shit. I’m not sure whether I should answer “Well, for fun I like take home intravenous drug users I just met on the street” or if I should say, “You know, brunch.” Is this a first date or an interrogation?!
He’s like, “I was just making conversation.” Okay, okay. Okay. No need to get snappy. Okay.
He took off his glasses, leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk. “I hope you don’t mind; this is my 14-hour day.”
I said, “Make yourself comfortable!” But in the back of my mind, I thought “Honey, if this test comes back sideways, you’re going to need to adjust your bedside manner right quick.”
We chatted for a bit. I told him I work in theater; he said he recognized me from advertisements for a show I’d done. I flipped my hurr.
The conversation turned to dating. I told him I was recently out of a long-term relationship and I was surprised by how soul-sucking dates can be. We take each other apart and judge the pieces. It’s a consumer activity or, worse, a clinical one. We forget that these boys we’re assessing at an arms length are people. And then, in turn, we forget that we’re people, too. He agreed with me. “I dated someone for a 6 weeks and then he just stopped calling,” he said. Out loud, I said, “Aww, that’s terrible!” but inside I was screaming “HE’S LETTING ME KNOW HE’S SINGLE! Ooh! Look at his pretty hair.”
I asked him whether testing was his full time job. He said it wasn’t and his eye lit up as he told me about his day job working with teens at a non-profit. It sounded wonderful and good for society and totally not medical. I was shocked.
“Wait a minute,” I said, “You’re not a doctor? Why am I being honest with you?”
“Why would you think I was a doctor?”
“Um, maybe because you’re wearing scrub bottoms and an expensive plaid shirt, and you’re handsome and I want to marry you.” I mean, is it even legal to wear scrubs bottoms if you don’t have a medical degree? Can I just wear scrubs? This changes everything. Most of my dating criteria are contingent upon the question “Is he wearing scrubs?” I’m not TLC; I want some scrubs. I want all the scrubs. A scrub is a guy who can pay my student loans. He can get some love from me.
Still reeling, I asked him about how he got into testing and what the training was like. “The training was a breezy two weeks,” he said. “There’s not a lot of support.” He told me that’s why he found it so important to make a personal connection with the people he was testing. A lot of the community’s needs extend far beyond a diagnosis and it’s hard to talk about serious issues with a stranger who had only been through nominal training. It was important that when a person got tested, they felt like they were still a person for those 20 long minutes. I swooned, even as a small voice whispered in my ear, Fool, he’s just doing his job. He’s not flirting with you! BTW, do you think maybe you should maybe get a Frosty after this?
Let me just say, that voice is an asshole. And, of course, I’m getting a Frosty. What are you, new?
I have a long history of falling for anyone who is nice to me. Salesmen at J. Crew, convivial ticket-takers at the movies, bright-eyed busboys–they all made my heart go pitter patter with tiny acts of kindness. It really doesn’t take much.
Tell me that this expensive sweater you want me to buy looks great on me and I will start a wedding registry for us at Target with a quickness.
Whether or not he was in love with me (he was) and whether or not he was actually a doctor (I’m still not convinced. There were scrubs!), his friendliness was a welcome tonic to most medical experiences I’ve had. Getting tested, even if it’s just out of practice, can be a nerve-wracking 20 minutes. And one that’s shrouded in shame. As much as we talk about sex in America, there’s not actually a lot of sex-positivity going around. I got into an argument on a first date a couple weeks ago with a guy who said he could never date someone who was HIV-positive. He said, “It would freak me out. And it’s not fair. They’ve had their fun; that’s how they got it.”
That’s the kind of attitude that keeps people out of their friendly neighborhood testing places (that and the fact that they don’t clearly advertise that there are hot “doctors” inside). The logic goes: good people do good things and that’s what keeps them “clean”. They don’t have risky behaviors. That’s not true. All sex is a risk. Morality exists in the ether; bodies exist in reality.
At the end of my 20-minute dream date with the doctor, I told him “This was the best testing experience I’ve had in all my 9,000 years of being gay.” He laughed. “I like that, 9,000 years of being gay.”
“I’m serious,” I said. “I’ve been gay since before the dinosaurs. I used to kiki with this triceratops who would do drag at Bob & Barbara’s under the name TriSara Vaughn. Fierce bitch. She’s dead now. Ice age. When will they find a cure?”
He wrote me a reminder for my next test. 1/24/14: Our second date.
“Normally, every 6 months is a good frequency for getting tested,” he said. “But with the breakup and the likelihood of increased sexual activity, I’m going to recommend you come back in 3 months.” I was like, “Well, thank you, but you highly over-estimate my game. But okay. I’m picking up what you’re putting down, you sexy sumbitch.”
He smiled at me, “Have a good night. See you in 3 months.”
Clearly just a ruse to see me again. Guys, this means we’re engaged, right?