I do not write fiction on this blog. I write autobiographical happenings. Here is another one.
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I do not know any of the people around me; this is a cloak-and-dagger society. Entry at the door is dependent upon your ability to produce your six-digit number. We carry our number around on a plain white laminated card, a card with no other markings save a blue logo in the corner. The logo resembles three torsos being blown away. Oh, I know what blows us all here. I will probably never see any of these people again.
Surnames are anathema. We have our number. If someone must be called, it is by their first name and the month in which they were born only. Pseudonyms are welcome too. You’ll never really know who anyone is here. Unless of course, you were to see an acquaintance from the outside world. It could happen. After all, who are we? We are everyone, really. Students, young professionals, migrants, workers, the unemployed. Probably, some people you know very well come here.
Welcome to this clandestine Mecca of sin and vice: The Melbourne Sexual Health Centre.
Up an unassuming staircase nestled on Swanston Street you can find our lair. Maybe you will even join our ranks. Everyone is here for the same reason: to get tested/treated for sexually transmitted infections. As I glance around at my comrades, a thought hits me. This would be the ideal place for an accomplished swinger to pick up. After all, you can be pretty sure of two very crucial things about all the people here:
1. They’re sexually active
2. They’re responsible when it comes to monitoring their sexual health
What more invitation could you want?
But no, this isn’t happening at all. Something is wrong. A blanket of distance, suspicion, maybe even shame, is lying thick upon the whole place. Nobody makes eye contact, nobody is smiling. People play on their phones or read a book. We could just as easily be early-morning commuters as the liberated sexual adventurers that we presumably are.
But of course, I know the reason. Despite the reasonable bet that any given person here is sexually open, it’s also the one environment in which you can’t help but think “-and there’s a damn good chance that they have a venereal disease.” Is that cutie opposite you just here for a check-up, or because they’re oozing something from their nether regions?
So we sit and wait in our isolation.
Names ring out one after the other, as triage nurses and doctors poke their heads out of doorways and hallways to call in their next sample – Jason, born in December; Maple, born in April; Sigfried, born in July; Lucy, born in December. An efficient production line of genitalia being inspected, scrubbed clean and flung back out into the world to wreak further mischief. Help yourself to some condoms and lube before you go.
A man walks past carrying a clear plastic jar of his own steamy urine. Chlamydia test, probably. He’s clearly feeling awkward about carrying his urine past a bunch of strangers. I want to tell him: there’s no judgement here, hombre.
When you first arrive you have to sign in at a touch-screen computer using your 6-digit number, and there are some questions to answer. You then get to sit, wait, and watch other new people arriving up the stairs. You observe their body language and you can pretty much guess which question they’re up to.
A tall girl squints in concentration and counts off on her fingers. How many sexual partners have you had in the past year? Two dreadlocked traveller-types glance at each other. Have you ever had sex with someone overseas? A freckled red-haired guy sways his head side to side indecisively. Have you ever had male-to-male sex? An older gentleman glances around. Have you ever had sex with a sex worker?
I have some friends who also come here. Everyone’s got their own little system. For one of them, it’s a 6-monthly routine. For another, it’s every new sex partner. The nurses know her by name. You could argue that she’s wasting state-funded resources, but I guess it’s better than spraying Gonorrhoea around.
On this visit, I have to give blood because of a medical procedure I had while overseas. Oh that’s right, you can get Hepatitis C like that. Goody. But blood is satisfyingly high-info: they screen you for HIV and syphilis at the same time, which they’ll normally only do if you have symptoms or probable cause. I’m not deprived of peeing in a jar either, so who am I to complain?
You get to phone up in a week for your results.
Good luck not winning the reverse lotto, and I’ll leave you with a timeless reminder from the U.S. government: