“Oh, you don’t need that.” This was the reply from my family GP when I asked for a HIV test for the first time. He was our family doctor and someone who had known me for most of my growing up years.
At the time, I was still not completely out to everyone but I recall the feeling as I realised I had to come out to my doctor. The experience of coming out to people was still all quite new to me, and was usually accompanied by an overall rush feeling: increased heart rate, and that ‘anxious’ feeling.
My doctor’s response was remarkable, and immediate: “Which arm do you prefer? Left or right?”
I remember walking away thinking my doctor had also learnt a valuable lesson that day. Our patient-doctor relationship had entered a new chapter: one of absolute honesty enabling a more complete access to health care, appropriate to my life and behaviours.
Today I sit here and think, ‘what if I was not on the journey of coming out? What if I did not want people to know I enjoyed having sex with men? What if I did not tell (or want to tell) my doctor I was gay?’ I believe I would have walked away that day, without a HIV test. I look back and wonder when (or if) I would have found the confidence to go and ask for a HIV test again, particularly if I was seeing the same doctor.
At the time, I was not connected to the inner city gay life. I was not aware there were medical practices with gay and gay-friendly doctors and nurses. I was living in the suburbs disconnected to the gay community and I was not accessing the information I needed, so it was all a learning curve for me.
The lesson I learnt from this experience is: do not be afraid to ask for a HIV test.
Now I am able to look back and understand my doctor was always bound by confidentiality, so I really had nothing to worry about.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking your regular doctor for a HIV test there are plenty of testing services available, some of which are free, or you can always find yourself a new GP for your sexual health needs. Once you connect in, the whole experience of getting tested becomes surprisingly ordinary in no time at all.