HIV Stigma Inquisition: One Man's Experience With a Cotton Swab and a Medical Un-Professional

Part of the Series Our Stories of Stigma

Brian Minalga
Brian Minalga

This poem was inspired by an experience I had with a medical (un)professional in 2013. The reason for my visit to the clinic had nothing to do with my HIV status. Due to my written intake responses, however, my visit quickly became less about my concerns and more about how the doctor could fulfill her prophesy about what it means to be a gay man.

By sharing this poem, I hope that those of us who have experienced stigma will find recognition, laughter and solidarity. I hope, too, those well-intentioned folks (inside or outside the medical profession) will recognize the stigma of their voices in this poem. This is a poem about listening -- a rare skill in our world.

In Support of Scholarships for Queer Med Students

Some Q-Tip cotton came off in my ear ...

The questionnaire indicates you're an MSM.
Any concerns with your HIV status?

A what?

Man who has sex with men.
Your status?

Right, I'm gay but --

Are you currently involved in a monogamous relationship?

What does that have to do with --

Are you having sex with the same man?

Umm, no? But ...

Your BMI indicates an underweight condition.
Are you familiar with HIV symptoms?

I run marathons and --

Do you bottom or top?

Excuse me?

Bottom. Okay.
We'll get that HIV test ready for you.

Could you look at my ear, please?

Don't swab the ear canal.
Take these condoms.

You clean your ears with condoms, Doctor?

Brian Minalga is a graduate student at the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan. He interns at Unified - HIV Health and Beyond, an AIDS service organization in Detroit. This poem was featured at the 2015 International Conference on Stigma at Howard University.