Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dealing With Our Closets

By Jacob Lazaro

My mother looked at me with a kind and gentle smile on her face.

"It's okay. Tell me"  my mother said.

"Ma I think I'm gay" I confessed looking in her eyes. Her smile slowly disappeared and her eyes widened in shock.

Discovering yourself is an ongoing process,  it's normal and no one ever really stops. But when it comes to sexuality and sexual orientation, things get a bit more complicated - that people won't always be so kind.

At LoveYourself Welcome in Sampaloc, Manila, Mark de Castro the community center coordinator organized “Welcome Cafe, Coming Out Stories Night”, an open forum where volunteers and clients could openly share their stories and thoughts about coming out. The following are reflections of what transpired throughout the session.


My coming out story

Three years ago I remember feeling like I was living a double life. I was Hannah Monatana here in Manila, where I study and in Laguna, my province I was Miley Stewart who just like any other teenager, had something to hide.

When I first came out to my friends they were all very supportive and some even said “yeah, we know” which was annoying to me, but made my coming out easier.

My life took a 180° from there. I would date guys, introduce them to my friends, and I felt more confident about myself because I’ve finally accepted the part of me which I’ve tried to hide all my life. And the best thing was I didn’t care anymore about what others might think. But all of that only happened in Manila.

Whenever I was back in Laguna I was back in the closet as well. I was hesitant to come out to my parents because I was afraid it might affect my studies. To make things worse my parents are separated so I had to come out to my mother and father separately.

I didn’t like living a double life. It felt like I was flying high but there were chains pulling me down. I was dead set on coming out to my parents because I didn’t want to hide for anyone, even for my parents. One night I finally told my mother.

"Ma (mother) I think I'm gay" I confessed.

"Job (my nickname) are you sure" she asked with a heavy disappointed face. "Yes" I assured. I remember the exact words she said to me after.

"If you're going to continue being like that you're gonna have to stop recognizing me as your mother" she warned.

Living in the province and being conservative Christians I’ve always known my family, except my sister, wouldn’t accept  me. And my mother didn’t, she went on about how gays will go to hell and how she’s about what our relatives will say.

My father was even worse. “If I ever see you with your boyfriend I will beat the both of you up.” my father threatened.

It hurt for sure but what can I do? I just conceded to the fact that they were a lost cause and I’ll just have to live with it somehow. Actually, I still consider myself lucky because there are those had it harder than me. My parents still provide me with what I need and as long we don’t talk about my sexuality we’re at peace.

The most important thing was finally I attained the freedom that I wanted and I can say that I accept myself.


Acceptance, tolerance, and it’s just normal

Most of the time it’s our family we’re most scared to come out to. Others fear they will be disowned for some they are afraid of potentially changing their relationship with family members. But there are those whom when they came out their worst fears didn’t come true.

De Castro described his coming out as “Para lang akong nag pabili ng suka sa nanay ko” because of how casual his mother’s reaction.

“Ma bading ako (Mother I’m gay)” de Castro texted his mother. Then his mother replied “sino nag sabi? (Says who?)” along with another text about an errand.  “Ako (Me)” de Castro replied and his mother didn’t. It was as if his mother just forgot to send him a message. It was through his brother, whom he also came out to and accepted him, that de Castro found out that their mother accepted him.

Another happy ending story was that of Jonathan. March 4, 2011 Jonathan remembers that day vividly. It was the morning after his mother saw him and his friends hanging out in their house being loud and gay as he described. A friend of Jonathan texted him convincing him to come out because he could tell that his mother knew they were all gay.

Jonathan prepared himself to finally confess to his mother “Ma may sasabihin ako sayo (Mother I’m going to tell you something)” Jonathan Said. And before he could even tell it to her his mother said to him “bakla ka? Alam ko na yan (You’re gay? I know that already”

His mother continued on to say that she’s not going to stop him from living his “lifestyle” but still hopes that he marries a woman and have children.


The Unspoken truth setting

At first I thought all gay people went through the same thing I did. But during the open forum I heard the stories that are so different or even the opposite of mine.

Micheal (not his real name) is in his thirties shared that up until now he’s not out to his family. He describes his situation as an “unspoken truth”, stating that he knows that his family knows but they just don’t talk about it and says that he doesn’t plan to come out.

“You don’t have to come out. All you have to do is to come out to yourself.” He said

Not having to come out was the most dominant thought during the open forum. How self-acceptance is all that you need in order to be free and you don’t have to hide. There were many people that shared his opinion and his situation.

Warren (not his real name) who’s in his early twenties also believes that coming out is not necessary. He himself is someone that is very open about his sexuality to his friends, acquaintances, people he works with. But when it comes to his family he’s in the same situation as Micheal. He doesn’t see the need to come out to them too.

The closet presented itself different to everyone in the group. One can only ponder how many other ways people have dealt with it. Coming out is never a requirement, and is not the epitome of being gay it’s just one of the many paths you can take to live the life you want. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter if you’re in or out of the closet, or maybe somewhere in between what matters the most is that you accept and love yourself.
___________________________________________________________________
Jacob is a front lines kind of man. In my advocacy and passion I've always been vocal and one to take action. As an openly gay man who is also a Marvel fanatic I live by the words "Mutant and proud".

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Love Beyond the Status


By Ronald Bugarin


In this month of love, what can signify as the true essense of love is a relationship that is caring and accepting regardless of HIV status.  

The term serodiscordant is made up of two root words: “Sero” which means blood and “Discordant” which means different or non-matching. A serodiscordant relationship, also known as a mixed - status, is a term usually used to refer to relationships where one partner is living with HIV and the other is non - reactive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation published last April 2012 mentions that there are potential benefits for serodiscordant couples who get tested together for HIV infection and mutually disclose their HIV status.  Among the benefits mentioned are that the couple can make informed decisions together about HIV prevention since most serodiscordant couples adopt behaviours to protect their partner.

Another potential benefit of couples testing together and sharing their results is that they can support each other, if one or both partners are HIV-positive, to immediately access and adhere to Anti-Retroviral Theraphy (ART)

UNAIDS recommends that serodiscordant couples should have access to the full range of HIV prevention options such as (condom use and PrEP) and other health services like tuberculosis screening.


An Unconventional Love Story

Theirs is a love story not for the faint hearted. Spidey and Supes (not their real names) met from the most unconventional of means, through a gay online dating site.  It was love at first site for the couple since both are in a relationship left to be desired.

And before engaging in any sexual activity, both got themselves tested for HIV.  Both are hopeful that the result will be non-reactive/negative. But alas, Supes turned out to be reactive to HIV.  And the first thoughts he had upon seeing the result was did he infect Spidey? And will Spidey continue with the relationship despite his HIV status? Together with thoughts on his work, family and over-all well being, it overwhelmed Supes.

When he finally got the courage to open up about his status, Supes told Spidey he can choose not to be with him if his HIV status will be an issue. And he will never forgive himself if he got infected. Luckily Spidey was non-reactive/negative from HIV and reassured Supes that he will stay in the relationship despite the latter’s HIV status.

Treatment was tough  for Supes as side effects on mood swings and constant dizziness and nausea plagued him every single day.  But through it all Spidey stood by Supes patiently, constantly reminding him of his strict adherence to his ART. He likewise ensured that Supes is treated like any normal person without an infection/disability.

They still enjoy having sexual intercourse, ensuring they are constantly protected especially when Supes’ HIV viral load was still detectable. Thankfully Supes is now undetectable and their relationship couldn’t have gone any stronger as both are now active HIV advocates.

The journey of Supes and Spidey should be a reminder that HIV should never define who you are and are still worthy of loving and being loved in return. HIV isn’t the end of the journey, it is but a beginning of another chapter of life that may turn out to be more enjoyable and exciting.


The Triangle Self Care for Serodiscordant Couple

Despite differing HIV status, serodiscordant couples can still enjoy sex if they follow these self care tips:

Timely Testing and Treatment

Serodiscordant couples should regularly get tested (for PLHIV, viral load testing to ensure their Undetectable status and HIV testing for the non-reactive partner) to ensure their status.
Also, immediate access and strict adherence to their ART is crucial for the PLHIV partner to prevent transmission to the non-reactive partner.

Safe and Satisfying Sex

Non - penetrative sexual activities that are safe but satisfying can be explored by serodiscordant couples.  These may include frottage, mutual jack-offs, fingering or even use of sex toys.

Correct and Consistent Use of Condom

The WHO guidance states that couples can stay HIV serodiscordant indefinitely when they consistently practice safer sex using condoms. Correct and consistent use of condoms and water based lubricants are essential in ensuring the status of serodiscordant couples especially if the PLHIV partner is still detectable.

For any relationship to work, communication is the key.  Just like how Supes and Spidey was able to adjust to their serodiscordant status, it is important to constantly talk to each other and make a conscious decision together whether it be getting tested or accessing treatment.  It is important that we better our partners towards a healthier version of themselves. And above all, accept each other regardless of status.



Illustrations by: TJ Gellada Monzon
_______________________________________________________
Ron is a true blooded Banker who does events and hosting on the side. He has volunteered at LoveYourself because of his former partner was diagnosed as PLHIV

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Valentines in a Safe Space

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Change up your Valentine’s Day while feeling safe and secure with these hot spots in Metro Manila. Blocleaf Cafe, Butterfly Bar Manila, and Altermale are just some establishments that have joined in the Safe Spaces PH Project Whether you’re looking for somewhere new to take your significant other, are in the search for that special someone, or just want to treat yourself to a good time, try out these Safe Spaces.

Blocleaf Cafe

Blocleaf

Having trouble brewing up ideas? Tucked in Del Pilar Street in Malate, Manila, Blocleaf sets the mood with natural light, warm wood detailing, good music, and lush indoor greens. Pair that up with their sunny cups of Philippine Specialty Coffee from Kalsada Coffee and you can have yourself a great start on the day of hearts.

Blocleaf makes sure that their space open to everyone as possible, so adapting to the Safe Space Program was one more step towards inclusivity. “Safe Spaces PH gives us a discrete platform to inform and educate our guests about safe sex and sex positivity” Vincent Africa of Blocleaf.

image3.jpeg
Butterfly Bar Manila
Butterfly Bar Manila

Searching for a duet partner? Well you’re in luck, because Butterfly Bar Manila has a special event for those who want to sing to their heart’s content this Valentine’s day! Dateoke! a blind videoke date can give you your High School Musical momment, and who knows, maybe it can be the start of something new.

Just on the corner of Sct. Fernandez and Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City, Butterfly Bar Manila offers great drinks along with fun videoke. Partners can enjoy their couples’ drink special witha  Gin or Vodka Tonic, and if you’re going out with friends, they have promos for beer and food too!

Altermale

Want something a little more exclusive? Altermale is a members’ only bar situated on Sandejas Street in Pasay City with plenty of amenities. It has saunas, a massage clinic, and it even has an amphitheatre inside!

On February 16, their members can enjoy a post-Valentine show where they can join three sets of dating games. When things get a little heated, Altermale looks out for their members and offers free condoms and lubricants through Safe Spaces PH.

The Safe Space app is available on Google Play store and App Store for download. For more information, one may also visit the Safe Spaces PH website.

If you know of a place that's interested in making safer sex become more accessible to everyone and be part of the Safe Spaces PH community, just send an email to info@safespaces.ph.
_____________________________________________________
Carlos Diego is an HIV counselor and the Head of Editorial for LoveYourself. Outside of volunteering, he is a clinical audiology student and a registered psychometrician. He aims to facilitate a deeper meaning to health by discussing the importance of aural, sexual, and mental health.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Batch Meraki, LoveYourself’s 21st Batch of Volunteers, steps up in the battle against HIV

By Mark Angello C. Ganon

On October 6, 2018, 50 promising individuals completed Batch Meraki, LoveYourself’s 21st batch of volunteers. Held at the People’s Hall of SM Aura Premier, the orientation, led by HIV Counselor Bryan Galvez, welcomed the new volunteers as they embark on a new role as advocates of HIV and AIDS awareness.

Meraki volunteers are welcomed by fellow LoveYourself volunteers in the batch orientation at the People’s Hall in SM Aura Premier last October 6, 2018 (photo by Jay Soliman)
As new volunteers in the advocacy, Batch Meraki will take on the mantle of spreading consciousness on HIV, its prevention, and its treatment, all the while creating ripples of positive change in our community. With an exponentially increasing number of new HIV cases in our country, volunteers, both budding and seasoned, will all take on the challenge of promoting education to erradicate stigma, advocating preventive measures and treatment, and securing a safe space to foster love and care in our community.

Catriona Gray, LoveYourself volunteer and Ms. Universe 2018, shares her insights and experiences as part of small group discussions that foster learning and sharing (photo by Gello Ganon)
A Love That Transcends Borders

Branding with a name and pairing it up with a tailored emblem hashave been LoveYourself’s legacy in welcoming new volunteer batches since the organization’s conception in 2011. The names of LoveYourself batches ranged from native terms like Kinaadman from Visayas and Magayon from Bicol, to English words like Sensation, Absolute and Originals. For the three batches of 2018, the core group of LoveYourself chose the theme “love all across the globe.

Sanskrit of India was the first language explored for the first batch of volunteers in March of 2018. From this ancient language came, we adopted the termword Atma-Prema (pronounced as aatma prem). The term Atma literally depicts "the self" while Prema is defined as "[divine] love". When merged, these two concepts became the inspiration for the batch name, Atma-Prema, (pronounced as aatma prem), a term that translates tomeans "unconditional self-love", a very timely happenstance to the organization's namesake, LoveYourself.

Batch Meraki logo created by TJ Monzon of LoveYourself Creatives
From the ancient texts of the Indian peninsula, we travel farther south into the parched lands of Africa for the inspiration for the name of the 2nd clutch of LoveYourself volunteers. Swahili, one of the vast languages of Africa, is actually more familiar than most people may have initially thought. It is the language that paved way to popular Disney songs like “Hakuna Matata” and “The Circle of Life”. From this rich African language also came Upendo, the name that was chosen for July’s batch of recruits. Upendo, whose English translation is “love”, has been used as names of foundations, causes, and women’s groups in Africa, a testament that love is a very powerful force that drives passion and defies borders.

For the last group of 2018, a Greek word was chosen as the batch name: Meraki. Despite having no direct translation in English, Meraki is a meaningful concept that entails a value that each and every one of us must possess. It can be interpreted as “doing something with soul, creativity, or love”. Simply put, it is the spirit of one’s self that we put into our work and actions; it may be as simple as preparing a meal or doing simple acts for others out of love and care. In essence, the three batch names of 2018 can be interpreted as the three loves that LoveYourself volunteers must possess: “love [for others] (Upendo), love for self (Atma-Prema), and a love that is placed in every little thing we do (Meraki).”

A Heart Full of Love

Rick James “TJ” Monzon of LoveYourself Visual Communications was tasked to develop the logos that will bear as much relevance as the batch names they will represent. For Batch Atma Prema, he designed a tiger in a green and white Anahata (Heart Chakra) background. The tiger represents strength and power, whereas the Heart Chakra means "unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten." These two concepts, merged into one image, was the insignia for Batch Atma Prema, signifying a love that is unswayed, resilient, and strong.

For Batch Upendo’s logo, a young giraffe can be seen enclosed in yellow and brown leaves embellished with African-enthused patterns. The giraffe was chosen as the batch’s spirit animal for its height and compassion, and the colour scheme for the border leaves depicts the parched lands of Africa. When fused, these two images represent a heightened sense of compassion and love amidst a bleak and harsh environment.

To complete the 2018 logos, TJ chose one of the most well-loved aquatic mammals, the dolphin. Known for their intelligence and playful behaviour, dolphins have been seen following ships and occasionally leaping out of the water, much to the amazement of wildlife watchers. But unbeknownst to most, the dolphin possesses a trait that makes it stand out in the animal kingdom: altruism. There have been accounts of dolphins staying with, and helping out injured animals and even humans. The desire to be the modern ‘Good Samaritans’ is the drive that LoveYourself volunteers imbibe as they begin and continue the journey in providing a safe space for the community.

When merged, the logos of the three LoveYourself batches of 2018 form a heart, the greatest symbol of love.
On their own, the logos convey messages that is relevant for each of the batches, but together, these three logos form the greatest symbol of love: the heart, reminding everyone that love is the force that unites us in our mission for the community, to not just have the heart for service, but to be the heart who loves and serves.

Join our growing community by signing up here.

________________________________________________________
Gello is an infection control nurse who is utterly useless before his 2nd cup of coffee. Unbeknownst to most, he’s a closeted otaku and has a deep obsession with eggs. Despite being 30, he still secretly waits for the owl that will finally deliver his acceptance letter at Hogwarts.