Getting Tested in the Early 90’s

Michael Kaplan

Michael Kaplan shares his personal experience of what it was like to get tested for HIV in the early 90's—the wait for an appointment and then another wait for the results—and coming to terms with being HIV-positive.

It was spring of 1992 and I was 23 years old. I'd been out as a gay man for about two years, and found great acceptance from my family and friends. I had dated here and there, went to the clubs, and had been in one year-long relationship with another man. For a number of months I had not been feeling well, stomach problems mostly. On my regular check-up with my doctor, I told him about my symptoms and he noted that my lymph nodes were also swollen. He asked me if I was gay, which I found ironic, since for the last few years every time he placed a heterosexist assumption on me, I did my best to correct him. "Yes, I'm gay." With that affirmation he told me I should get tested for HIV and offered to do the test there. I'd known friends in those days who had challenges with insurance, and didn't want to risk testing positive and having it in my records; so while I took his advice, I took it out of his office and to a public clinic, where I knew I could get anonymous testing.

It was 1992 and Magic Johnson had just announced that he tested positive for HIV. The back log of folks trying to get tested was huge, and it took almost a month from the time I called to schedule my appointment before they could actually get me in to get tested. During that month window, my last partner called to let me know he had just tested positive. During that one month period, I remember going to the Metrodome in Minneapolis to wander around panels of the AIDS Quilt that had been laid out for some event. I remember how raw it all felt, that I would be among them at some point. I finally got to the Red Door Clinic in downtown Minneapolis. Back then, testing was not a one day event—two weeks after the blood draw I waited with anxiety building, wondering what my results were … though in my mind, having heard the news from my ex—I knew what I would hear.

I was right, and in a surreal experience, I remember sitting across from the counselor as she told me my results: I was HIV-positive. In the moment, it was too much to deal with; it felt so huge that it filled my entire mind. For a few days I just moved around in a daze, and then started calling past-partners to let them know they should be tested. As time moved on, the space occupied in my mind with this knowledge became less and less, and now, though it never leaves my body, it does not always occupy my mind. It comes up—in dating, in planning for the future, in seeing doctors, in living—but living, more than living with HIV, has become the primary lens of my life now.

Appreciate our work?

Rewire is a non-profit independent media publication. Your tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.


Topics and Tags:

HIV Testing

Load More

We must defend reproductive rights at every level. That includes staying informed. Sign up for our email list now.

Thank you for reading Rewire!