|Written by AnDroid|
|Thursday, 24 September 2009 16:20|
I've always been really anal about STD testing. The first time I got tested I was seventeen. I'd gotten into a relationship with a girl, and she was on birth control, so I suggested to her that we both get tested before we had sex, and then we could safely do it without using condoms. We'd only been together a couple weeks and were taking it relatively slow. I had a feeling we'd be together for a while, so I figured a couple more sexless weeks waiting for test results wouldn't hurt. This is probably one of the most mature and responsible things I've ever done in my life. I was such a grownup back then. I'd only had sex without a condom once, a year prior, but it had been with a particularly nasty skank, and since then I'd had this nagging paranoia that I was tainted in some way. I'm a bit of a hypochondriac, sure, but with sex most people really aren't paranoid enough. It was a huge relief to dispel my fears once and for all. My girlfriend and I both tested clean, and for four and a half years we had tepid, condom-less sex about once a month.
After we broke up I was like a rabid animal. I unleashed my sexual rage on Boise, and a year later took it to Portland, where there were sex clubs and glory holes and drag queens – oh my! I used condoms for intercourse, generally, but there were slip-ups, and now throat swabs were in order. Somehow I'd lost the mature, sterile view of sex I'd had when I was seventeen, but I was still scared as hell about getting an STD. I had also become a bit of a drunk. My sexual decisions were always impaired to some degree, and the hangover that followed was always accompanied by regret and anxiety.
One night I had an incredibly passionate lovemaking session with a drag queen who was very popular both on stage and in bed. A week and a half later I got a phone call from him saying that he'd come down with something, and he wasn't sure if he'd gotten it from me or someone else he'd been with the same week, but I should get tested to be sure. Shamefully, I flipped out on him over the phone and hung up. I spent several days quietly freaking out. My throat had been kind of sore. I had some kind of rash on my chest – was that a symptom of something? Good lord.
I called Planned Parenthood, but they had impossibly expensive rates for male STD testing. In the corner of my bedroom there was a flyer I'd picked up at a gay bar somewhere. It was folded and creased so that it kind of popped up at me, and now the text took on a new importance: Men's Wellness Center – For Men Who Love Men – Free STD Screening & Rapid HIV Testing Every Tuesday 5-9pm. There was no alternative. I had no money. I needed to do this.
At the time, the Men's Wellness Center (MWC) was located in a nondescript building downtown, and you had to take an elevator up to their office. I passed a man in a business suit in the lobby on my way to the elevator, and I was immediately self-conscious about my ripped jeans and tattered t-shirt. I felt sheepish as I stepped into the office, which looked a lot like any other doctor's office, except with gay-oriented posters on the walls and a jar of free condoms. The guy working the front desk was friendly and cute with a smart haircut and hip glasses. He gave me a clipboard with a little paperwork to fill out.
The form included a question about which pronoun you associate with, which gave me a moment to consider my ignorance about gender identity. It also had a check-off list of the locations in which you had recently engaged in sex or found sexual partners. I thought back to the crazy couple of months I'd had in Portland so far and also spotted a few places I'd have to check out in the future.
The screening included a throat swab, the always-uncomfortable urethra swab, and a blood test. I already felt better after having gotten it done. My results came back surprisingly fast: Negative on all counts. I called my drag queen friend to apologize for freaking out on him and found out that he didn't have an STD after all, just a sore throat. I thanked him for having had the guts to warn me of the possible danger, and I apologized again. I still consider him a friend today.
A short time later the MWC moved to a new location on Stark Street that was so nice I actually looked forward to going there. The place was brightly lit with art on the walls and now had a huge selection of condoms and lube and a nice waiting room with coffee and movies and lots of very interesting gay literature. They'd also started hosting informational events and support groups. Going there the first time I remember thinking, “Man, if this was a coffee shop I'd hang out here all the time!”
Now the MWC is moving once again to a bigger, better location to support the growing needs of the community. Cascade AIDS Project (CAP), the umbrella organization that's responsible for the MWC, has already moved their office into the eighth floor of the Lincoln Building, which straddles SW 4th and 5th Street between SW Oak and Pine. This Saturday the MWC will open the doors to its new space on the ground floor of the same building, so the two organizations can finally work in tandem with each other. The MWC's new space is 3,000 square feet, twice as big as the Stark Street location, and will feature three exam rooms to handle the crowds on free testing days.
The new Men's Wellness Center is located at 209 SW 4th Ave, Portland, OR 97204 and will reopen at 4pm this Saturday, September 26th. In addition to free condoms and lube, the center offers free STD screenings and rapid HIV testing on a first come first served basis for men who have sex with men. Testing has been available every Tuesday from 5pm-9pm and Wednesdays from 11am-2pm, as well as just HIV screenings on Saturdays from 5pm-9pm. The center also hosts weekly events and support groups. For more information visit http://www.cascadeaids.org/page.php?id=190