When I picked it up, it was amongst shelves and shelves of plain brown paper bags, the top folded over. Looked like Mother Hubbard’s lunch pantry instead of a specially controlled pharmacy at a hospital. I wanted to joke with the pharmacist—“Gee, thanks for the lunch. I hope it’s PBJ.”—but, with her horn-rimmed glasses, stern face and monotone voice, I worried she’d withdraw the prescription. You strike me as overmedicated as it is.
So no lunch chat. Just an amusement in my mind to make light of an embarrassing situation. You see, I don’t like going to pharmacists. They know too much. That foot fungus from last summer. The pesky hemorrhoids. But worst of all, the ever-changing cocktail of mood stabilizers and antidepressants my psychiatrist is convinced might eventually make a difference in my quality of life.
This was, however, a different pharmacist and the issue involved a different circumstance regarding a better life. During my physical last month, I’d asked my family doctor if I could go on PrEP, otherwise known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or Truvada. We’d talked about the drug on a couple of other occasions, but it was not a drug covered by our generally strong Canadian healthcare system. The result was that it would cost close to a thousand dollars a month if I wanted to go on it, a silly expenditure for a man who isn’t sexually active.
But, as of January 1st, the provincial government began covering the entire cost of the medication for persons deemed at higher risk. (I contend it should be available to anyone. By the government’s logic, someone with who is considered as having only a moderate risk of becoming HIV+ gets no PrEP and then, if the risk becomes a reality, he remains a further cost to the system while also suffering emotional strain. I don’t see people storming pharmacists for—Woo-hoo!—free PrEP like it’s the world’s tastiest candy.)
Anyway, my doctor went through a series of questions with me. The system’s questions. I needed a certain number of points but I scored zero. We went through them again and made the black and white a whole lot grayer to get me past the threshold.
What got my doctor on board was how I’d introduced my thoughts on sex in general. I came out in the mid- to late-’80s (same as him) when, at least as far as I saw things, sex meant a significantly higher possibility of death before thirty. I’ve carried a high level of inhibition with me ever since. “I never went through a period where sex was fun,” I admitted. “I’ve always been too scared.”
In truth, I don’t know that I will ever overcome my early fears. (Doesn’t help that I grew up in a repressed, conservative family and that my first attempts to step out of the closet were in the Bible Belt.) I’ve listened to other gay men and all their stories, all their men. I’ve read many a novel and memoir where the gay sexploits might as well be science fiction.
If I could let go of decades of fear, I can imagine some pleasure, maybe even surface-level validation. He waited almost five minutes before asking for the lights to be turned off! And hey, kudos, things went past five minutes! I just need to eliminate whatever roadblocks I have to achieving sexual intimacy, whether with a guy whose name immediately escapes me or with a man who could become a longish-term boyfriend. (Husband? Life partner? I’m not so bold to let my mind go there these days.)
I’m well aware there are still STDs out there. Apparently, they’re on the rise among gay men now that fewer are using condoms due to PrEP. An STD would come with embarrassment and yet another piece of too-personal information for the pharmacist. But we’ve come so far from the peak of the AIDS crisis. Sex might come to be a healthy part of living, something I might even enjoy. Along with my own PBJ lunches.