Yang Chen tells us about his experience of discovering his HIV status and how Colorful Sky, an outreach group for men who have sex with men in Yunnan, China, has helped him. Colorful Sky is funded by USAID as part of its ‘Rapid and Effective Action Combating HIV/AIDS (REACH)-Asia’ programme and is supported by Alliance China.
June 1, 2009 had special significance for me. I went to a hospital, where a gay friend of mine took me to take an HIV test. I was greatly surprised when the test came back positive. The result showed that my CD4 count was only 339, and the doctor said that it was time that I started antiretroviral therapy (ART).
Meanwhile I was a second-year postgraduate student at a university in Yunnan. I was working on my graduation thesis on the one hand and had to cope with the great shock on the other. I was at a loss what to do. I lived under great pressure and I could not tell anyone about my painful experience. I felt like my life was pointless.
Luckily, I had a female friend who knew that I was gay, so I told her about my HIV status. Talking to her made things seem better. A few weeks passed before I learned about the Colorful Sky group on the message board of a Yunnan gay website. I decided to give it a try and joined the group. The group had more than 100 members. I got to know about some facts about ART and made friends with some people who were in the same situation as me. Fearing exposure of my privacy, I didn’t have the courage to meet with other group members in person.
FINDING THE COURAGE
One day however, an online friend named Kong said we could go and collect our medicines together. He was the first group member I met face to face. After that we often called each other and met up regularly. One month later, there was an announcement that a group activity was being organised. Since I had met with Kong previously, I had the courage to participate.
On our way to the venue, all sorts fears welled up in my heart. Thankfully, I did not give up and met with other group members at the meeting place.
“Hello! Are you here to participate in the activity?” a young man with glasses said to me before I had any idea about what to do. He asked me to sign my name on the attendance sheet, letting me know that it was OK to use my username from the website if I wanted to preserve my anonymity. Seeing as everyone else was signing their names, I also signed my name.
Later I was told that he was called Mu Rong. There were about 20 participants. I noticed that some of them knew each other, but that there were also a few first-timers like me. We new comers appeared somewhat reserved.
We sat in a circle in a big room. A man began to facilitate the activity and asked us to introduce ourselves. He introduced himself as Ziqing and he was living with HIV and a staff member of the Colorful Sky group. I thought it was very brave of him to tell others that he was living with HIV. After lunch some of us began to chat and a few members were playing a game called “Sanguosha,” and I joined them. I spoke little during the activity, but after returning home I told myself: “I am no longer alone. There are so many other people like me.”
Before I graduated from the university, I was offered a teaching position, but I had to give up the offer because I knew that the HIV test was part of the physical examination. I had to lie to my family about why I did not accept the offer.
VOLUNTEERING TO HELP OTHERS
After attending another few activity sessions organised by the group I decided I would like to work for the group as a volunteer. I was going to graduate soon, I thought, and my parents did not push me to find a job, so I could have a try and work as a volunteer. After some communication, Ziqing and his colleagues approved my application. That’s how I became a volunteer with the Colorful Sky group.
I have participated in a number of training and learning activities and have greatly improved my knowledge of HIV/AIDS since I became a volunteer. I have come to understand the issues facing gay communities, the indispensible role played by grass-root organisations in HIV/AIDS prevention, and what capacities are required of a volunteer. I have been a member of the Colorful Sky group for one year, and I like this team. It is a ‘school’ where we can learn many things; it is a ‘home’ where we can communicate with each other and develop ourselves in a non-discriminative environment. I love volunteering for Colorful Sky, I love being with everyone else in the group and I will try to improve myself and serve the others.