Make This The Year You Change Your Tune

The turntables are warming up, the shiny disco balls are gleaming and ready. That fabfest we call Mardi Gras is fast approaching, and with it the promise of parties, great music and hot men.

We want everyone to have the party they deserve this Mardi Gras. That means being footloose, fancy-free and enjoying a night with no cares. We’d like to suggest a way some of you could make your night even better. Get tested.

Did you know that around 10–20% of sexually active gay men in Australia have never been tested for HIV? That’s a sizeable part of the dancefloor harbouring a tiny, niggling feeling of uncertainty.

If you’re one of this group, rest assured that every guy has been where you are now. We’re here to tell you that testing these days couldn’t be easier, quicker or more sympathetic. Just hear us out – or rather, in the spirit of Mardi Gras, let these party anthems do the talking …

Born This Way

You feel fine, you’re young and healthy, why should you test? It’s not like anything’s wrong, right? The thing is, often the symptoms of HIV aren’t noticeable, so feeling good and looking great is no guarantee that you’re negative. In fact, up to 20% of people living with HIV may be unaware of their infection. “Part of me thought I was okay but then there was always the doubt,” admits John, one of several Sydney guys who shared their testing experiences with us. John put off getting tested for 10 years – “I lived not knowing, and I didn’t really want to know.” Today, he sings a different song. “The best thing about testing is knowing. Why wouldn’t you want to know?”

Better the Devil You Know

It’s natural to sometimes be scared of hearing the results, but testing isn’t the big production it once was. “It’s really friendly, and really quick and easy,” says Erroll, who visited one of the four fast, free a[TEST] sites now operating in Sydney. Some of the guys we talked to found the process so simple they’ve made it a part of their life. “It’s a routine for me,” says Kon, who goes every three months. “I actually get a reminder on my phone every time I have to get tested.”

If you can’t get to an a[TEST] site, most clinics can now deliver the results in 24 hours via SMS. And it’s not only testing that has changed dramatically but treatment , too – today, HIV is a manageable disease with treatment more simple and effective than it used to be. Not only can a positive guy on treatment have the same life expectancy as a negative person, but being on treatment needn’t change your sex life at all.

I’m Coming Out

Or are you? Not everyone wants the world to know about their sexuality; not everyone is ready to talk about it, which can make the prospect of getting tested seem even more daunting. “What’s most important to me is confidentiality,” says Tristan, who faced the added challenge of taking his first test at a medical centre run by his family! You should know that what happens at the doctor’s stays at the doctor’s – whether you’re tested by a private GP or at a public clinic, all tests are confidential by law. At Sydney’s a[TEST] sites, which are run by gay men, confidentiality and a non-judgmental approach are central to the service.

Go West

Or east? Maybe you don’t even know where to go for a test. Don’t let this put you off – use our online tool to find the nearest location . And remember, if you’re in Sydney, you can visit one of the free a[TEST] sites, which offer HIV testing and your results in just 30 minutes – half the time it takes to get through Kylie Christmas.

A Little Respect

“You owe it to the person you’re sleeping with to be confident of your status,” says Aaron, who gets tested every two or three months. For him, testing is a mark of respect for others but also for himself, “you’re doing something proactive, taking control of your life,” to which Erroll agrees: “It’s better to know for your own health and for the health of the people you’re involved with.”

Relax

Frankie said it all. There’s no need to stress out about getting tested – that image of the torturous process, the judgmental looks and the long wait is now pure myth. Today’s tests are simple, confidential and respectful; the results far speedier and easily accessible. Advances in treatments even in the past few years are such that an HIV-positive result needn’t affect your health or your sex life. What is important is getting that first test and taking that first step towards making testing a part of your life – so you can enjoy your life. As Tristan says, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

So go to it: get tested. Then party!