Jabar Esmael, a person living with HIV, answers questions we’re hesitant to ask

Gil Cadiz

A tipping point is defined as the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.

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Jabar Esmael’s tipping point happened in 2015 – by far the most difficult year in his life.

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Jabar is the youngest of a family of four. After earning a degree in Psychology, he spent the first few years of his post-student life hopping from one job to another. He came out of the closet at 26, an experience he describes as liberating. In 2011, he started attending leadership and self-empowerment training that would make him an effective salesman and eventually help him create better opportunities for himself.

Before he knew it, he was reaping success in the life insurance industry. He was, at one time, recognized as one of the best-performing financial consultants in his company.

His burgeoning career in sales enabled him to buy his own condo unit and have his own car. He was also enjoying a happy personal life with his partner at the time. He dreamed of being on national TV and he made that dream come to pass by joining a pageant for handsome gay guys called “I am Pogay”, which was a segment in “It’s Showtime”, a popular long-running noontime show on ABS-CBN.

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He seemed to have figured out his life… until 2015 happened. His partner broke up with him and fate rubbed salt in his wounds when he was forced to leave his company on account of a legal case he lost. He was caught off-guard and left devastated by the dramatic reversal of fortune.

Having lost what seemed like everything, he joined a few friends on a trip to Puerto Galera to go crazy wild and careless; to rebel against the world. One night on the beach, with reckless abandon, he allowed his drunk and wasted self to be sexually taken advantage of by a man he didn’t know.

Three months after his Galera adventure, he tested positive for HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

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We the Pvblic reached out to Jabar to ask him questions gathered from millennials who are well-meaning but not as informed – the ones who are not immersed in the HIV/AIDS movement.

WTP: How do you get HIV and is it contagious?

Jabar: HIV is transmitted in three ways – blood to blood transmission (e.g. sharing of used needles), unprotected penetrative sex, and mother to baby (before or during birth, or through breast milk).

WTP: Is there a cure for this virus?

Jabar: There’s no cure at this point but there are medications called ARV (antiretroviral drugs) that treat HIV and they’re very effective. They don’t kill or cure the virus but they slow it down and prevent its growth. Early detection is key.

WTP: What’s the difference between HIV and AIDS?

Jabar: AIDS is the late stage of HIV. When you have HIV, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have AIDS. In fact, when you’re HIV-positive, you can avoid AIDS by taking antiretroviral drugs religiously.

WTP: Can you still do normal and/or strenuous activities if you’re a person living with HIV?

Jabar: Absolutely!!! A person living with HIV who takes antiretroviral drugs religiously and maintains a healthy lifestyle can live like any normal healthy person does.

WTP: When you tested positive for HIV, how did you break the news to your family?

Jabar: On the very day of my diagnosis, I called my mom. It was a very empowering experience. She said, “Okay na din yan, anak, na alam mo. Since early detection naman, mas mama-manage mo ng tama at maayos yan.” Then she called my siblings and then they called me and by nighttime, everyone knew.

WTP: What were the initial reactions of your friends when you told them?

Jabar: I received nothing but compassion and respect. I first told trusted close friends then eventually went public.

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WTP: What struggles did you have to hurdle when you tested positive?

Jabar: The depression and the constant overthinking about death and what’s going to happen to me, my career and my love life. Would I still be able to find a partner? Haha!

WTP: How would you describe your life now?

Jabar: I think I’ve been given an opportunity to see life from a more grounded perspective. Every single moment of my life right now is a miracle. I’m now more sensitive and empathetic to the struggles of other people especially the PLHIV (People Living with HIV) community.

WTP: What’s the one thing that you want the world to know and understand about HIV or about people living with HIV?

Jabar: That it is not a death sentence. That it is just a condition and not a disease. That there is life after being diagnosed with HIV. And, that we can do more in life and choose to be better instead of bitter.

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WTP: As an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness, what’s your advice to millennials who are either still exploring their sexuality or currently in their sexual peak?

Jabar: ASK – Ask, Seek and Know! Don’t be afraid to seek answers. Google the stories of Olympic diver Greg Louganis who has been living with HIV for 33 years and NBA legend Earvin Magic Johnson who has been HIV-positive for 25 years. Use technology to equip yourself with the right information about HIV and sexuality. Surround yourself with wise men who have big enough hearts to care for you and guide you. Steer clear of people who are nothing but trouble. If you’re HIV-positive like me, know that your spirituality is important to your ultimate healing. You need to be completely honest with yourself first and be able to deal well with self-shame and self-stigma.

WTP: What can you say about Pia Wurtzbach’s being an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness?

Jabar: She is a wise woman. Using her fame as a platform to spread awareness about HIV is not an easy thing. She actually inspired me to be stronger and come out, and I hope someday we can have coffee and just enjoy having a chat. By the way, I gifted her with a portrait I painted myself. I hope she remembers.

Jabar 5Jabar is now 36 years old and aside from being an outspoken HIV/AIDS advocate, he’s also a trainer, a financial planner, a property consultant for a real estate company and an aspiring life coach. He maintains a healthy lifestyle, keeps an attitude of gratitude, and remains a life enthusiast and a love enthusiast. In fact, he’s happily committed to the new love of his life.

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