I never thought of getting tested for HIV. Never thought I needed to. I'm a heterosexual, sexually active Black man living in a world with many obstacles. Being a Black man living in the United States is one of them. I want to thrive and not merely exist.
As a "conscious Black man," I am concerned about my community. However, worrying about contracting HIV/AIDS had not been a major concern for me. For years I didn't think I was in the danger group. Yes, I'd heard the statistics: It's an epidemic. No, I hadn't been tested. And yes, I'd had many instances of unprotected sex -- playing Russian roulette with my life and the lives of my sexual partners. But like most Black men, I wear an "M" for masculinity on my chest, just as Superman wears his big "S." I'm invincible; no Kryptonite can weaken me.
That is, until this past spring, when a former sexual partner called several times and left messages: "There may be a problem, and I really need to talk to you." All I could think was, "What the fuck? Could she be pregnant?" Ignoring her was not an option.
She apologized profusely and told me to get checked out. Her herpes had resurfaced, and I might have it.
I was pissed. At 53, I had never had any STDs, and now someone was telling me I might have one. But I was actually angrier with myself than with her. How could I have had sex without a condom? I really didn't know her.
Then I began to think, "Maybe she couldn't tell me she had HIV." I had to get tested just to know my status, for my sake and the sake of others.
I have several friends with HIV. One, Miasia Pasha, has been a force in the Phoenix area promoting HIV/AIDS awareness. Through her I learned that National HIV Testing Day was coming up. So on June 27, I went to get tested.
Of course she was the first person I ran into when I entered Phoenix First Congregational United Church of Christ. She thought I was there to report on the day, since I work as a writer. I was so preoccupied with my fear about my own HIV status that I barely heard her rattle off statistics and talk about the need for more Black men to get tested.
I had already posted on Facebook and Twitter that I was going to find out my status, hoping to inspire other Black men -- especially heterosexual Black men -- to do the same.
After an excruciating wait, I learned that my HIV-test result was negative. So I posted a photo of myself holding a sign that read, "I Know Mine." After a visit to the doctor, I learned that I didn't have herpes, either.
But after all that anxiety, I've hung up my Superman cape. My games of Russian roulette are over. I will continue to get tested and have safer sex because I am "Greater Than AIDS."
Floyd Galloway is president and CEO of Great Press America, Inc., in Phoenix.