Testing Often: The Road to Self-Love and Healthy Relationships
As a gay Asian immigrant, Ted's perspective on HIV testing may be very different to that of many people living in NZ. In this post, he discusses HIV risk, growing up in a conservative environment and what he's learned about the virus while living in Christchurch.
Growing up gay and Chinese was like being stuck in an endless puzzle. I knew I was gay since junior high school - I had a big crush on a boy in my class. He was good-looking, good at study, and was a bit of a hero to me. I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I even wrote an essay about him – my teacher read it out to the class because I did such a good job. But for the most part I was in the dark – I had no access to information about being gay throughout my adolescent years.
Things changed when I got to university. In the first year of my master’s degree, I met the first real love of my life. However, the relationship did not end well. There were a lot of lies and hurt. In the end, it felt like it had been fake love. I always used to put him first when we were together; but since then I have learned that I need to look after myself first. I now believe that if you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be happy.
I didn’t know that the risk of HIV was so high in New Zealand until one of my friends tested positive for HIV. This was one of my best friends. I knew that he was having a lot of sex because we talked about everything. The way it happened was that his boyfriend tested positive for an STI, so he thought he’d better go and get a check-up. He did a full STI test and as part of that he tested for HIV. His test for HIV came back positive. Although HIV isn’t life-threatening anymore, it was a tough time for him. It took him quite a while to come to terms with the diagnosis. I was his main support person during that time.
After my friend’s diagnosis, I went to NZAF's Te Toḵa clinic in Christchurch for the first time. I was concerned that I would find testing really embarrassing – but that was all in my head. It went really well. The staff were very friendly and put me at ease. It took about 20 minutes to get the results of the test. From that time onward, I committed to getting tested regularly – so now I go every three or four months. It’s a way that I look after myself and my current boyfriend. We share our results as a way of building love and trust.
I think a lot of people in the Chinese community grow up in an environment that is very conservative about sex and being gay. So, it’s not easy to come out and work out who you are. I have a few reflections about it. First, it’s very important to be yourself, live your own life, and never mind about other peoples’ opinion of you. On dating and social websites, there are often discriminatory comments and prejudice against Asian men. I always encourage my friends to ignore the comments or report the individuals – especially if they are on Grindr, which has a report function.
The second thing that I think is really important, is to put yourself first, particularly if you are in a relationship. I had the experience of putting all of my effort into my partner, and not looking after myself. It didn’t end well. It takes time to work out how to trust your partner and take care of yourself at the same time, but it’s worth it. The last thing you want to do is settle for a bad relationship. I see being single as a great opportunity. You can take the time to improve yourself mentally and physically, and put your energy into friendships, which will be a good thing for any future relationships. It’s also time to develop your inner life – stay connected with yourself, catch up on that reading list, exercise, treat yourself with a yummy dinner or concert. I know guys can sometimes feel lonely when they are single, which makes them a bit vulnerable, and in some cases, more likely to take risks. So, getting tested regularly is really important if that is the case. But I think being single can be great – if you have the right mindset.
Coming out is another really challenging thing to deal with for many members of the Chinese LGBT community. Most Chinese parents do not have very much knowledge or experience of the LGBT community, since homosexuality is only just tolerated in mainstream Chinese society. It’s tough, because family bonds are so important in Chinese culture, and coming out is so important if you are gay - so a lot rides on how your parents react to finding out you are gay.
In my experience, it’s usually not a good idea to come out to your parents without laying some ground work. I think if possible people should give their parents some way to get emotionally prepared or think about a way to soften their attitudes. It could be some information about the gay community, or even a TV show with LGBT characters. Part of my strategy was to get a career happening, since financial security is really important to my parents. They would really worry about me if they didn’t think I had a plan for a career as well as being gay. So coming out isn’t easy, and at the same time you are working all that out, you need to be playing safe, and testing regularly if you are sexually active. It’s a lot to be dealing with all at the same time. So reach out for support if you need to. In fact, lining that up before you come out is a really good idea.
There’s lots to think about if you are a Chinese gay man, but I think my main message is the importance of looking after yourself, really putting yourself first and growing your sense of self-worth. Testing and staying safe are two really good ways of doing that. It puts you in control – makes you the ruler of your own life. It’s all about self-love, not just because it’s more likely to attract others to you, but for its own sake. You are worth it – you have to believe that.