Esteban (49) has been campaigning for years for widespread access to PrEP in his country. We asked him to write down how he has been over the last few months.
I will start the story with the part I like the most and that is talking about myself. I am an artist interested in the perverse, religion, mysticism and pleasure. This range of possibilities has made me a curious character and open to the possibility of knowledge based on experience over academia, without the one detracting from the other, it has simply been the way things have been given to me. Knowing has been my leitmotiv in all its presentations. This obviously hasn’t left my sex life aside, in fact it’s where I’ve been most interested in exploring and letting myself go with the flow, it may sound like a total cheek, but it’s always been a learning exercise, a way of exploration even for my work, to feel proud discovering cruising trails in the cities I travel to, trying glory holes in every possible version I’ve ever heard of, fisting for the first time, penetrating a body to my fullest potential, which, has never really been an erotic experience for me, but is still a conscious experience of exploring the other. Exchanging sex for English lessons – I’ve never done it for money, there’s nothing moral hidden, I’ve just always been bad for business -, sex clubs, BDSM, saunas. I’m not trying to be special, I’m talking about things that may be common for many and in which I’ve found not only possibilities to satisfy pleasure, but also material to create. What I want to get to is to talk about a conscious attitude towards the free exercise of my desire and how it does not operate as something alien to my interests.
I have been aware of the responsibilities that all this implies, the information and the precautions that have been necessary, also of the limits to which I can go and when I have exceeded them, also of its risks. And to be honest with myself, I came to good terms with my condition as an easy person and the taste for eating anything that moved. I had been condom-dependent all my life, until I came across a reality in the circles in which I moved in Bogotá where ‘a pelo’ is better and where ‘venga lo preño’ becomes like music to the ears that began to tempt me and to free me from a burden of fear and mental and moral dependence that I felt when I left the house without a condom in my pocket and also to realise that I wanted to exceed my own limits.
I began then the search for PrEP as my safety alternative, after obviously checking if I was still zero positive at a local HIV prevention foundation, asking for PrEP was like invoking the devil, there was more alarm than if I had tested positive, I was told that if I used it I would have more chances of contracting HIV as the PrEP medication would severely damage my immune system and that the only way of prevention was condoms. I already knew about PrEP, thanks to having known Love Lazers for several years. I decided to invite them to do the first PrEP campaign in Spanish in Latin America here in Bogotá, we talked about its pros, cons, care, prices and how to find it – without intending to, I was already doing activism in the city – I thought that the more information and the more people knew about PrEP, the more we could lobby for it to include this method in our health system.
Aware of this whole scenario, I then went to my EPS (basic health insurance) to look for possibilities to obtain treatment and to be able to continue with the sexual life that suited me, there was a little more knowledge, but there was still a lack of information, but they simply told me that they could not help me, and that they could not possibly assist me with the necessary regular check-ups if I started taking the drug on my own, because although PrEP was already registered in Colombia, it was not approved for marketing and its inclusion in the health system was going to take a long time or years. Thanks to the circles in which I move in Bogotá, and which I mentioned earlier, I was able to obtain PrEP through a doctor I knew, who prescribed it for me after doing the relevant tests and who promised to follow up with me to monitor the evolution of my body’s response to its components. This was like entering paradise again: freedom, information – and all under medical supervision! A stage that I enjoyed to the maximum and that I would have liked to last much longer, but because of the Covid pandemic my economic situation was seriously affected at the beginning of the pandemic which made it impossible for me to continue, first, covering the costs of my doctor and examinations and second, buying the medicine, which is expensive. Even if I have a job, it is not something that a regular Colombian can afford to include in his or her ‘basic basket’. Besides, PrEP is a serious thing and so is my body, and the idea is to keep enjoying it. I understand how the black market has become the means for all of us to access PrEP.
Now I am HIV positive, my sexual habits have become stronger than my will and condoms are no longer the first option to assist me in my rages, not that I seek to hold the state responsible for my current situation, I assume my responsibilities, but I do question their interest in assisting us and providing us with health possibilities that allow us to choose freely – not being able to have access to PrEP obviously made me more vulnerable to contagion – nowadays I no longer need a drug to prevent but to survive – there are still a lot of morality and economic interests involved in all this. In my experience I have realised that the health system in Colombia is not committed to or interested in ‘prevention’, its immediate interest is ‘illness’ and the profit it makes from it. It seems that a sick country is more governable.
Bogotá, July 2021
© Love Lazers 2021. All rights are reserved by the author of the text and Love Lazers. Photo: “Tiempos Gloriosos IX” von J. Betancurth, Artist from Bogotá/Colombia.
We, Love Lazers just started the project UNHEARD VOICES OF PEOPLE WITHOUT ACCESS TO PREP. We collect short written reports of people wanting, but not getting PrEP (or didn’t get it the lately). It is great for us that you want to contribute to it! Please just write a little report in your mother tongue, translated in english (we can help with that if it’s needed) and send both to us! E-mail to: info AT lovelazers.org