Hi! In case you didn’t know I’m Leo Lardie, I’ve been Rainbow Project’s sexual health development officer for a little over a year now! Seeing as it’s World AIDS Day today I thought I’d answer some frequently asked questions and address some common concerns, in the hopes that you’ll #takethetest. If you’d like to get free condoms & lube, get tested or just ask a question about your sexual health you can call (028 90 319 030) text (079 04 864 861) or e-mail ([email protected])

Where are you/How do I get into the building?

We provide rapid HIV & syphilis testing at the Belfast LGBT Centre which is located at 23-31 Waring Street. The entrance is a glass door labelled ‘CQHQ’ to get access to the building you just have to hit 6 followed by the bell sign.  You can either say you’ve got an appointment with X (testing is performed by Gavin, Michael McCartan, John, Michael Gray Sloan or me (Leo) that you’re here for testing.

 

How long does it take to get tested?

An appointment is usually scheduled for 45 minutes, but most appointments are only half an hour long.

 

When do I get my results?

A rapid test gives your HIV & syphilis test result within fifteen minutes. You will get your results in person before the appointment is over. Whilst we’re waiting for the results, the tester will keep you occupied with a monitoring form as well as talking to you about sexual health and how to look after yourself and your partners!

 

Do you tell anyone what my test result is?

Absolutely not. If you have a reactive test result (meaning that HIV/Syphilis antigens were potentially found in your blood sample) we’ll call GUM health advisors, with your consent, to schedule an appointment as soon as possible to get your test result confirmed – but other than that we don’t discuss your result with anyone. Confidentiality of our testing service is very important to us.

 

Will it hurt?

We’ll prick your finger tip with a single use lancet to draw out a few drops of blood for the rapid HIV & syphilis test. It’s a very small needle, less than a millimeter in diameter and most clients I’ve tested remark on how little the finger prick hurt! We usually ask our clients if they’ve got a fear of needles and/or blood before we start the test because then we can work together to make the finger prick less upsetting for you, whether that’s putting on some soothing music (or a banging Cher track, it’s your choice)  or having someone to hold your hand!

 

What kind of questions do you ask and why do you ask them?

We take what’s called a sexual history. This is about: the types of sexual contact you’re having, the number of sexual partners you’ve had recently, the gender of your partners, whether the sex you had was with condoms or not and if you knew your partners’ HIV status. We ask these questions because it helps us give you the advice on your sexual health that’s right for you!

 

Will you judge me for how much or how little sex I’m having?

Absolutely not! We’re a sex positive organization. This means we feel it doesn’t matter how much or how little sex you’re having as long as the sex you do have is consensual, pleasurable and all parties involved have their wellbeing considered! Whether you’ve slept with two people or two hundred people this year, The Rainbow Project will only be concerned about making your rapid test as comfortable and informative as possible.

 

I’m a transman who doesn’t ‘pass’ as male yet – can I still avail of this service?

I really don’t like using the word ‘passing’ as men come in all shapes and sizes - some even have breasts and vaginas, like me! It doesn’t matter what you look like or even what your name is – if you tell me that you’re a man – you’re a man and you’re welcome to come in for testing!

 

I’m a straight/heterosexual man in a relationship who has sex with other men – will you judge me?

We’re not here to judge, only to help! As long as the sex that you’re choosing to have is consensual, pleasurable and all parties consider the wellbeing of those involved, then I’m not going to be concerned about what sex you’re having or even who you’re having it with. My only concern is making sure you’re as comfortable as possible during testing and that I’m giving you sexual health advice that best helps you. 

 

I don’t really think I’m at risk for HIV/Syphilis but I can’t stop feeling worried or nervous that I might just have contracted it somehow – would I be wasting your time and resources if I came in for a test?

This is a really common feeling for a lot of our clients but we’re here to help you. If you want to get tested – then we’ll get you tested! These feelings of anxiety can often come from us not fully understanding the sex we’re having and any potential risks involved. This is why we’ll have a really good chat with you about sex while you’re testing with us. If you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety unnecessarily, I would recommend that you consider attending counselling with The Rainbow Project to work around these issues but, please if you’re worried about your sexual health do not hesitate to contact me and we’ll come up with a plan of action together!

 

Sometimes I feel like I deserve HIV; I drink/use drugs/buy or sell sex/have unprotected sex/have many sexual partners/etc.?

For a start, nobody ever ‘deserves’ to have a chronic illness like HIV and honestly, I don’t think anyone is reckless with their health for the craic. I used to be a heavy smoker, and yeah I LOVED smoking but why did I start smoking in the first place? Long story short, stress! For LGBT people there are a lot of unique stressors – that’s why we’re more likely to suffer from a host of mental & physical health issues (smoking, alcoholism, depression, self-harm, etc.) Stressors like the trauma of being a victim of homophobic or transphobic bullying or hearing our rights being debated on TV like our existence comes second to the comfort of our cisgender and heterosexual peers. Sure, there’s never been a better time to be LGBT – but being LGBT is still no cakewalk. A lot of self-harming behaviours that might put you at risk for HIV or other STIs originates from this ‘minority stress’ and internalised homophobia. When I feel that clients are taking risks because they don’t care about their own wellbeing – I will, with their consent, refer them to other Rainbow Project services like counselling or befriending. These kinds of feelings, that we somehow deserve to be punished are anchored in self-loathing and not fact – and we can help.

If after all this, you've still got some questions or worries about getting a rapid HIV & syphilis test - please do not hesitate to contact me! :)