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Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Week On

So it's a week since Glenn Mills' death. I for one can take no pleasure in the way his life ended. What I would have preferred is to see him stand trial, and, if found guilty (as I have no doubt he would have been) to do his time.

The trail of destruction he has left will continue to have its effects. We know of the people who came forward, but undoubtedly there were others, perhaps not infected, but at least treated with the same careless contempt by him in exposing them to HIV. And perhaps I'm being too optimistic here, but perhaps there are a number of people who've been infected by him, and we will never know exactly how many.

I've had to ask myself at times, if the decisions I took around all this were the right ones. I was not the first person to alert authorities, but I helped get things going. It has been one of the most ethically and emotionally fraught things I've ever had to deal with, but overall, yes, I did what I believe was the correct thing to do.

Analogies are always imperfect, but what would you do if you had concrete evidence someone was a serial-rapist, or a paedophile, what if in fact you'd been told this by one of his victims? What if you then heard through the grapevine of other victims? What do you do with that sort of information? I think you have a duty to take it to the right authorities, and personally I saw no difference here. But it wasn't an easy decision for me to make.

I know he has friends who love him and defend him. I can understand that. I don't believe he was simply a monster who only lived to infect people with HIV. But he had a part of his nature that did that without, it would seem, too many qualms.

I have heard people blame the men he infected for not taking better care of themselves, but it ignores the fact that even when he agreed to use condoms he had a history of deliberately tearing them or taking them off. The recent reports of his date-raping men also point to how he thought and operated. It wasn't about consent or care or love.

And there is a problem: Our entire safe-sex message, use a condom every time, is built on the idea of "Take personal responsibility for looking after your health". It's built on the idea that people are all in fact able to do this. But when you're newly coming out, perhaps with a family that is unsupportive of you because of your sexuality, you are in fact, more vulnerable, and less experienced. Yes, in NZ legally you are free to fuck from 16 on, but 16 year-olds are not renowned for the quality of their decision making, neither are 17, 18 or 19 year-olds. It's unfair and wrong to lump them all in as adults who are entirely responsible for their sexual health.

I think that those people who blame the really young people who got infected are simply wrong. These were little more than children out in the gay world, and all too easily inclined to trust this charismatic man. to say, as some have, that "They knew what they were doing!" is simply wrong. They thought they were in love with a man who they could trust, and they were young, naive and too trusting. I know he lied to these young men on more than one occasion when confronted about his HIV status.

And it seems that with a number of the other, older men, he deliberately lied, or again, tampered with the condom. I heard yet another story of this yesterday from someone who'd slept with him, but luckily did not get infected. My usual reaction when someone older gets infected is "That's terible, but it's not the end of the world, let's do what we can to support you" but I don't have a sense of blame, so I'm surprised to hear the voices raised here and there that blame anyone for getting infected in this case.

The people so willing to blame, and to, so it seems to me, take some sort of delight in finger-pointing and self-righteously cackling "It's your own fault for not using a condom!" are either totally ignorant of how this all happened, or nasty, vindictive and petty to a degree that is really disturbing.

The picture that emerges here of Mills is not clear, and not simple. While I'm sure he had many good and loveable qualities, he was also devious, manipulative and uncaring in his attitude to many when it came to his HIV. It is, I believe, impossible to interpret his actions as anything other than deliberate and malicious attempts to infect people. These weren't careless one-off accidents, but a pattern, repeated again and again on men and women, and some of them extremely vulnerable young men and women. He knew what he was doing, he had known since 2007. But he continued to do it.

His death means that those brave people who were willing to take the stand against him don't have to, and that has to be seen as a good thing for them. But it means he never has to face up to what he did. His death has left things hanging that will never be answered now, and I think that's unfair.

Was he mad, bad or just sad? I don't know. As I said at the start, I can take no pleasure in his death, but I think what he did was morally and ethically wrong on every level, and for that he deserved punishment.

*Any abusive comments will be deleted*

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places

On NZ Dating the other day, an 18 year old asked me to do cam sex. 18 .

I told him he was a bit young for me (didn't even look like he shaved) but he said "It's just cam and I'm horny". I said thanks, but no. It just would have felt...icky. Yes, I know, he's legal at that age, and maybe he goes for older men. I know I did. But still - it just didn't feel right. And truth to tell, I'm not really big on cyber-sex anyhow. Being on cam doesn't do it for me usually, although the voyeur in me doesn't mind watching others if they want to show the world. I just get too self-conscious to do it myself.

There's no doubt that the net has changed our lives. So many gay men spend so much time there - there are so many sites. I did my MA thesis on how we were using it, and focussed on the chat rooms in Remember It used to be pretty popular, but now I never even think of it, though it still exists and has followers it seems. When I started using it I don't think there were photos - this of course, was before broadband - just chat. And we did chat. And we hooked up.

When the net started up, there were all sorts of excited cries from academics in universities about how this form of communication would finally take us beyond our obsession with bodies and physical appearance, now we would meet as mind-to-mind, in cyber-space, and no one would know or care if you were a man or a woman, ugly or drop-dead gorgeous, 25 or 85 - using the net we'd just, you know, meet in this pure and perfect manner. This idea was, it has to be admitted, largely based in thinkers from the more obscure edges of gender studies, with a vested interest in showing us just how the physical body doesn't matter. Once again academia got it wrong.

One of the interesting things about online socialising/cruising, I think, is the way we try and show ourselves, how we present ourselves to this mysterious audience. In the best possible light of course. I've taken and re-taken photos until I thought I had one that I could stand, being one of those typical people who can't bear their own photos. Make sure the light is flattering, try and lessen the flabby bits, emphasize the good points, all the usual things. In fact, for what is such a transitory and technology dependent place, we really put a lot of emphasis on the body. The internet is utterly overflowing with representations of the physical. But even so, I don't imagine I'm going to do anything more than chat to a few guys and very rarely pick up in there. In fact, I can't think of the last time I pulled a guy online. I just tend to use both nzd and gaydar as letter boxes now. Even for sex, I find the net less and less useful now, or perhaps I'm just satiated. I think I'm far more likely to pull in a bar than online these days.

But when you flick through the profiles, and see so many guys pretty well saying the same thing - in essence:"Done the scene, looking for a partner" - I have to wonder just how effective the net is for really meeting men for more than just a shag. I have heard of some guys who've met and settled down after meeting online, but they seem the exception rather than the rule to me. As for straight acting, well, there is a surprisingly large number of "bi-curious" or "straight" men who hang out on these sites as well. You can't help but wonder how long they just look, and how many jump the fence. I'm sure part of it is the way the net exposes us and de-sensitises us to so much, not least of all sex. I'm guessing a fair number go from looking to trying at least once or twice, even if they don't take it up full-time.

Looking at some of the profiles, they are like shopping lists. you must have these interests, this age-range, this weight-range, skin-colour, ethnicity, etc. Perhaps this is how match-makers work? You give them a list and they go and find the nearest thing? But how long do you hold out for perfection? And of course "Straight acting". Seeking perfection online - it just isn't going to happen that way. And when I look at the solid, long-lasting relationships I know in the gay world, the guys are not perfect, except to each other. These lists seem self-defeating and self-deceiving as well. If the mythical perfect Mr Right suddenly left a message in your mail box, would you really be able to follow through, or would it be like a dog that's been chasing cars for years and finally catches one and goes "Now what?"

And what do you make of a guy who has his hard cock as a profile pic, and says he's "Looking for love" - I mean, is he joking, or does he really think love and sex are the same thing? If you're really after a partner, do you need to show them your hard-on? Or is it just maximising your time use "Yeah, I really really want a lover, but while I'm waiting, I'm horny." Somehow I doubt this strategy is going to work.

Does this whining mean I'm going to stop going online and looking around and chatting to total strangers? Hell no! Because maybe this time I'll get lucky and fall in love, or at least, get laid.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Can See You !

One of the most successful tactics of the Gay Liberation Movement back in the 70s was the emphasis they placed on "Coming Out" as a political statement. The logic was that if every gay man and lesbian came out and admitted who they were, the general public would see so many queers everywhere that they'd appreciate we were just a normal part of the population. If our real numbers were revealed, we'd be stronger. I remember reading somewhere a piece from back then where this activist said he wished every homo would turn purple overnight, so we could all be seen.

Coming out did work. It took brave people at the start, but over time it become more and more ordinary, and now it is hard to imagine a world where it doesn't happen, in the West anyway. By making ourselves visible, instead of quietly hiding away, we made ourselves part of the landscape. It was a very clever political move.

Even now, unfortunately, there are queers in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world who are still too scared to admit they are attracted to the same sex. People in Sports, Politics, Business, the Arts, on TV and everywhere else in our world who, in spite of all we've gained, even in liberal homo-friendly NZ, are terrified that someone will find out that they are somehow "different" and have to hide this part of their personality.

I have to say I find it weird that people today find it hard to come out as gay, but if you're in professional sports, trying to make a career on TV, being same-sex attracted is still seen as a weakness. Of course, if they all came out, well, it wouldn't be seen in the same way: That is the basic argument for Coming Out as an act - it makes us visible and normal.

But it can't be denied, it still takes courage to come out as gay. Those people these days who don't come out, I do tend to think of as just a little bit cowardly, but I understand their cowardice. One friend recently recalled the fear and terror of it all and referred to coming out as "stomach-churning", and I know what he means. It is opening yourself up and taking on an identity that is stigmatised, looked-down on, and saying, "Hey, I'm just as good as you!" when a number of people still think that we are sick, sinners or just evil.

But in reality we are just as good, or bad, or ordinary, as anyone else, gay, straight, queer, whatever word you want to use.

I wonder how well it could work for making HIV seem less fearful and more normal. I wonder how it would be if every HIV+ person came out, so everyone around could see that we are just normal people going about our lives. I'm not suggesting right now that every HIV+ person tell all to the world: It takes time and preparation and support before you can do that, and some people will never get to that point. But more of us could I'm sure.

One night back in the 90s at Volt (long gone alas) I was chatting with a guy, and said to him "I guess you should know I'm HIV+" and he said to me "You really don't need to tell me that, in fact, you shouldn't tell people. We should all just assume everyone is HIV+ and always play safe."

That has always been the basis of the "Use a condom every time" message. We just don't know for sure who has it or who doesn't. And that message used to be very strong in our world. This was all just after the new drugs came out, and things were starting to turn around for us, but there was still a strong communal knowledge of how bad things can get with HIV, so many of us had seen friends get so sick, and then die.

But that safe sex message has remained the same. And it does make sense still. We don't tell people "If you smoke 5 cigarettes a day you'll be ok". Even though people continue to smoke, we still don't encourage them to risk a few, we tell, with damn good evidence, that the best thing they can do is stop completely. And of course, realistically, we all know that these messages won't be blindly followed. So even though, you might be fine risking it having unsafe sex 9 out of 10 times, you might also have been exposed to HIV each of those 10 times you didn't use condoms. It's a brutally simple message, but one that is still factually true.

But I think one thing that has changed a lot is that now people who think they're HIV negative are placing a far greater responsibility of those of us who have the virus to tell them. It used to be all of us together - now it's seen more and more as the HIV positive person's job. With the numbers of people living with the virus here in NZ going up all the time, living well and not looking as though anything is wrong, and fewer and fewer of us dying, in fact the opportunity to be exposed to HIV has increased significantly.

The other advantage from that old way of behaving was that it didn't stigmatise HIV+ people as much. The burden was shared, and that was a good thing.

Today, if you're a fit, healthy looking gym-bunny who just happens to have HIV, as so many are, there is now I think even more fear and stigma about admitting it to others. And that's a shame. It used to be Poz and Neg together, not , as we often seem now, in two differing camps where the HIV Negative think the HIV Positive should shoulder all the responsibility.

Because having HIV is nothing to be ashamed of. It's a virus in our blood. It's not a moral judgement. But the weight of social judgement and stigma, not least from the gay world, is such that most people with HIV feel a need to hide it, so as to avoid the pain of rejection, pity and ostracism. And this leads to more invisibility, more fear and shame felt by those lving with the virus.

But maybe if you knew just how many of us are out there, perhaps you'd think differently.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Life, Literature and Politics

I read a lot. So I go to bookshops a lot, and love spending time and money in them. If you're ever stuck on what to give me for a present, book-vouchers are perfect. But I have to admit that it took me a while to figure out that Unity Books here in Auckland had moved their gay literature section to another part of the store. On reflection, this surprised me: not that they'd moved it, but that it took me so long to notice.

Time was I couldn't wait to get my hands on any books that dealt with gay life. Fiction, poetry, biography, research, theory, whatever, they just seemed so important and so necessary to me. When I first enrolled at University, one of the first things I did was find out where all the gay books were kept in the library. I used to have that catalogue number memorised. The first time I went up there I remember looking at the books, pulling a few off the shelves, and looking down the aisle to see a guy with his cock hanging out, using the gay section as a cruising area. Now there is shelf after shelf of work on gay/lesbian/queer stuff and I barely bother to give it a glance, and I haven't noticed any hot undergrads hanging out cruising there either.

The old OUT! office in High St (very near to where Unity is now in fact) was my first source of gay literature. I still have some of the books I got there. Felice Picano's poetry "The Deformity Lover" and a few others. I wish I'd kept hold of my copy of the first edition of "The Joy of Gay Sex" though. That office was a strange place. They had porn under the counter, and serious literature on the stands. I bought works put out by the Gay Sunshine Press from SF, which I still treasure, because I do treasure books.

At one time, anything written to do with being gay was seemed esential to me. I read, and by reading heard of other books I should read. By reading I learnt whatit was to be a gay man. "Giovanni's Room" made me cry. "Dancer From the Dance" made me want to live in New York, dance, fuck and take lots of drugs. "Faggots" made me re-evaluate that, temporarily. I loved Rita-Mae Brown's work, and others from that era. Books helped me learn about how gay men lived in other places, gave me models for what to expect, how to dress, how to behave, what drugs did, styles of sex, all of that. They gave me an education, when one was hard to find locally, and showed me that I belonged to a much bigger more exciting world than 1979 Auckland.

Now there are hundreds of books, by many different authors available. And yet I feel little compunction to follow the latest trends in gay fiction or poetry. It just doesn't seem to matter to me any longer. Yet once it was central to me discovering who I was and how to negotiate the world. Perhaps internet dating sites fill that function now? I can't help thinking that they can't do it quite as well, but technology is always socially transformative.

I suspect that here we can see the effects of the normalisation of queerness. As we have won our rights to live as couples in the suburbs, adopt babies or bring them into the world with surrogates, or adopt unwanted puppies instead, and generally join the hegemonic world of day-to-day dullness that straights inhabit and so many of us now seem to crave, I suspect our literature (if it is indeed "ours" any more) has become less interesting, less challenging. We've moved from being a group of people demanding social change based on strong political analyses to suburban conformists shaping arguments on the premise that "Hey, I pay taxes too". We're in the system, not trying to change it.

Our communities have suffered as well. Once HIV/AIDS was a central part of who we were, at least for gay men anyhow, but today interest in this has nearly disappeared too. The communities that fought for better treatment of those of us living with HIV have largely dissipated. Instead of HIV and the welfare of HIV+ men and the care of us all being the central unifying issue for gay men, it has become of marginal interest for most, even when they become infected. A bored "Whatever, take the pills" seems to be the response to HIV today in the gay world, here in NZ at least.

So we've made spectacular gains in some areas. We can have our relaitonships officially recognised. We can't lose a job for being gay. We can fuck legally just like straights, at 16. We can take our pills, and manage our HIV pretty well for most of us.

But what unites us? What holds us together as a group now? And do I care? Maybe not so much, which is why I didn't notice they'd moved the gay books. And I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or not.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sweet Ass Bro !

I think I was 16 the first time I was rimmed. It was an utterly mind-blowing experience. Nothing I had ever heard or thought about had prepared me for the fact that my arsehole could be so exquisitely, delightfully, sexily sensitive. The tongue working away down there, in that most forbidden of areas, the waves of pleasure sweeping over me, and then even more shocking to my youthful mind, his tongue actually going up inside me! A man's tongue up my arsehole ! Feeling so good ! Taboos broken left, right and centre. Shock, but no horror - shock and delight. A pleasure which continues to this day I might add.

Of course, at 16 I had such a sweet arse too. Pert, firm, ripe, all those good things. it stayed that way pretty well through to my late 20s I guess. These days it has given in to gravity a bit. But I still admire a good arse on another guy. Sometimes those cheeks just call out. And if you want to freak a straight boy out, tell him he's got a cute arse.

And part of it is, of course, the fact that our anus is such forbidden territory when we are growing up, and even for most adults. It is, understandably, associated with dirt, with our shit. We are taught to be ashamed of our arses and our arseholes. The idea that they are a source of pleasure undermines such training. And the arse itself was often the site of punishment - I'm showing my age but at school we got caned on our arses, another way to mark it as a place of taboos and bad things.

When you think about it, all the organs that give us sexual pleasure are excretory. You piss through your penis, women menstruate through their vagina, we eat food, breathe and vomit through our mouths, and yes, we shit through our arses. Yet the idea of talking about it openly is anathema to so many, especially in the straight world. I think gay men as a whole are much more at ease when talking about our arses. Even those of us who don't go in for fucking still are living in a world where it's normal and so they're exposed to the ideas around it. And it seems more guys in NZ are learning to douche properly, which is a very good thing indeed. Accidents are not enjoyable, but occasionally come with the territory it has to be admitted.

We men are all being reminded now to be aware of our prostates, and it's a good thing that we are. Anal health is important, and gay men should be the ones who are most in touch with any changes in our prostates. No-one wants prostate cancer, and we should all be able to be aware of any changes going on there before we need to see a Dr. And taking care of your arse's health also involves thinking of good lube, of being aware of how relaxed or not you are. There is a huge range of anal toys out there, but don't forget, the colon is about as strong as wet tissue, and lined with blood vessels, so take care up there.

Let's face it - the arsehole is a source of great, deep and intense pleasure. Especially for men, because we have a prostate. That is the joy of getting fucked for guys, well, part of it. The way another's cock stimulates the prostate, it intensifies so many of the rest of our sexual feelings, just sends the body, or mine anyhow, into some sort of sensory overdrive. Yes, I love being fucked. I love my arsehole and all it can do for me. I'm a homo: arse-fucking is one of the things that defines what we do in bed. The great erotic tragedy of HIV is the way we now have to protect ourselves in this most intimate and delightful of acts. I still mourn that loss of spontaneity that we had before safe-sex, as much as I support the message and need for rubbers now.

It is amazing though, how the idea of anal sex scares so many straight people. And why, as I mentioned above, telling a straight guy he's a got a hot arse will freak him out so much. Part of that reaction comes from the idea of associating the arsehole with shit and dirt. But an equally important part of their reaction comes from the idea of a man becoming "unmanned" - by getting penetrated, and enjoying it, we are certainly not fulfilling the dominant cultural model of men as conquerors, inserting our cocks into women. We are, in the straight mind anyhow, somehow becoming women by doing this and enjoying it. But I don't see it that way. I don't think it makes me any less of a man because I enjoy it up my jacksie. I'm just a lot more in touch with the pleasure I can get from my physical home, more than most straight people, that's for sure. I know my body better, and know how to give and get pleasure from it, and how to do the same for other men as well.

I know that some straights are into arseplay as well, but for them it's more of a fetish it seems, something extra. To me, and I guess I uneasily stand along President Clinton here, sex isn't really sex unless it involves one of getting into the other. The rest, however much fun it is, is just the buildup. I've never been one of those guys who just lives for blowjobs - for me they are a starter, something before the main course.

So let's enjoy our anuses, our arseholes. Let's take some pride in being uphill gardeners. But let's do it with care for each other. Love your ass and it'll love you back.

And the way to this man's heart is not through his stomach, I'm telling you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

That's So Jewish !

Yeah, well I wouldn't say that or even think it, because it's offensive. In New Zealand, why hasn't "That's so Maori" as a term taken off? Or "That's so Samoan"? In the States, why haven't for example, "That's so Black" or "That's so Latino" to equal "That's so lame" become popular? Maybe because people would find those terms just a little offensive and you'd get your head kicked in if you tried it?

So why do more and more people think it's fine to say "That's so gay!"?

I've heard the argument that "gay" used this way has nothing to do with me as a gay man - but that's deceitful self-serving bullshit. It does, and it's oppressive and insulting. What people do, when they use the word in this way, is take a word that is associated with a minority group in society, a group that has regularly and continues to be targetted, beaten up, murdered and have their basic rights denied, and then use it "jokingly" as a term for lame or poor quality. Well, fuck you.

It does seem most popular among younger people. Ah, young people these days. But not among all young people, some I know consciously avoid it. Some think it's fun to be offensive a bit, and push the boundaries. Do they go and make Auschwitz jokes to their Jewish friends I wonder? Or would that be going too far? Probably.

But it's ok to make fun of gays, and then claim you're not, because, well, we don't count. The simple fact that they don't make use of terms such as "Jewish" or "Black" in the same way shows just where we rank as a group. If we object, if we complain, we're being kill-joys, we're not seeing the joke, no sense of humour, not moving with the times. Yeah, right.

Those were the approaches used years ago to justify racial jokes and other forms of subtle, snide oppression. They were seen for what they were then - why is it so hard to see them for what they are now?

This use of the term gay as an insult shows minds that have no political awareness. To me it seems they have never fought for anything in their lives, except perhaps for Daddy to pay their bills usually. With no understanding of the political fights that have gone before, of the sacrifices made and hard work that it took to get us to this point, they feel free to trample over us, and then claim they didn't. Hypocrisy, ignorance, laziness and a sense of entitlement reek from those who use these words so blithely.

I've been told I have "no right" to censure their free speech. I disagree. I have every right, and will express it. They tend to think, when they do think, that they are entitled to say and do anything they like, so long as no one says or does anything that hurts them. Their own pompous outrage when criticised or mocked is often comical to see. Perhaps it comes from years of schooling where they've always been told how special they are, and how clever, even when most of them are, in fact, decidely average.

What about the argument that we "stole" gay in the first place? Actually, it had a history in slang for quite a while meaning queers and those on the edge of society for quite a while before Gay Liberation took it over in the 60s. And there was a clear political reason behind our use of it, just as there was a clear political reason behind the use of "Black" rather than "Negro" or "Coloured" in the same era.We were, in fact, reclaiming words that had been used to attack us, words used to put us down and keep us in our place.

I do not, and will not accept that using "Gay" to mean stupid or lame is acceptable. I am a gay man. We didn't spend years fighting for the few rights we now have to have it all subverted and be put back in our place by this casual form of linguistic insult.

Words matter. Words are powerful. Words can hurt, and words do have a political and social message attached to them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bimbos and Bodies

A friend gave me some back issues of gay mags the other day. DNA, Attitude, Gay News etc. All choc-full of images of beautiful men. Men who obviously spend hours every day in the gym and live on wheatgrass juice, tuna and rice - I know, I know, they're models, but even so, they're held up to us as the image of what a gay man is supposed to be. These images are powerful, and their common-place use to depict gay men tells us something about our world, and I'm not sure I like it. And really, let's face it, these guys are our equivalent of busty blonde bimbos for straight guys. Hasn't Gay Liberation been a great thing? Baby, we've come such a long way...

So many muscles and such sharp definition that the split in their abs starts to look like a vagina, a friend noted. Ridiculously slim waists. And, with one exception, no body hair. So even though they're supposedly what gay men aspire to be like, if we're not already there, they actually look more like perpetual teenagers, stuck in early pubescence forever. They don't look all that masculine to me. I'm not immune to the charms of youth and beauty, but this sort of airbrushed perfection (and let's face it: these shots will have been enhanced) leaves me cold.

And what is wrong with body hair? On the one hand we have people prattling on about "nature" and "being Green" and then they rip their hair off with wax and look totally unnatural. Did you know you can buy "green" hair removal products? Why? Yes, I am hirsute. So I do have a personal axe to grind on this one. I like my body hair. And I like hairy men, I think they can be very sexy. And yes, so can men with very little body hair and all the gradations in between. I just don't get this desire to pretend that men don't have chest hair, hair around our cocks and balls, hair on our stomachs ( I just love following a treasure trail down ) facial hair, even... hair on our shoulders and backs! I just can't measure a guy's hotness by his hairiness, or lack of it, which is the image the magazines keep pushing.

As I look at the ads for the next dance-party, or the photos used on most gay websites, it gets harder and harder to find a piece of body hair, or a body that doesn't make Michaelangelo's David look flabby. Look back at some older porn or erotica and well over half the guys that were thought sexy in the 50s, 60s and 70s just wouldn't make it today. Instead we've somehow ended up with this hyper-muscular baby-bottom smooth twenty-something as our icon, and I'm not quite sure how it happened.

I'm old enough (here we go again..."The good old days") to remember when the gay media contained a level of self-critical reflection and political awareness that didn't simply centre on our right to imitate straights by getting married and having kids. I know, I know, consumption is everywhere and we've been swallowed up by it. These gay mags tell us about how to spend money to fit into certain social groups. And they all assume we have a disposable income, live in the city, are under 30 (or idealise youth) and are happy uncritically taking part in a political system that is, actually when you peel back the veils, not exactly on our side. We've had to fight hard and long for the rights we've gained, they weren't simply a gift by a benign system, and now we've been swallowed up by it. Yeah, I'm on a kind of a doom and gloom kick.

These images might be pretty, they might be hot, they might handsome, but what they also do is exclude a lot of us. Look around a gay bar or club, and the number who fit that images is way smaller than those who do. But the number of people trying to fit it and not making it is often quite high. And it just looks a little sad and a little wrong when some guy in his mid 50s is trying to look like a 29 year-old and not pulling it off (err, the look I mean, you dirty-minded filth).
What those of us who don't fit into these dominant advertising-driven models of gay bimbos get told is we're not quite up there, not as good, not worth as much. "Here is an image of what a gay man is supposed to be if he wants to be successful and loved" these ads say. "Ooops, you don't fit, so you're not going to succeed", is the hidden message here.

So remind me now, who else has to put up with relentless Body-Fascisim, pressure to look "right" and bimbos in ads showing them up all the time? Oh yeah, straight women. That's what we fought for, isn't it, to be just like them.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Michael Stevens: Sexual Consultant?

I was at Urge again the other night and noticed a poster from The Basement. for those who don't know, The Basement is a sex-club. Anyway, the poster read something like "Thursday Night is Fetish Night at The Basement".

I looked at it and knew I wouldn't go. I just don't think I have any fetishes these days.

I used to. The feel and smell of leather used to be a fetish. Hairy chests used to be a fetish. B&D and role-playing used to be a fetish. Actually, without boasting, there are few things that men can do to each other sexually I haven't tried, and only a few of those I haven't really enjoyed at some stage in my life. Not that they were all fetishes I guess. But now, I just don't seem to have any. I know guys who just about cream their pants when they see a guy in the right sports kit. For some it will only be Adidas, never Nike or any other brand. Others are just into sports-kit in general. Other guys get all hot and bothered over tatts, or facial hair, or cigars. And some fetishes we just won't mention in public...

When I was 24 and living in NY, The Mineshaft, the grand-daddy of all gay sex clubs was still open. The things I saw there, the things I did, the things I was! Happy memories. Couldn't be bothered now.

No particular item of clothing or set of actions, no childhood memory or adult-inspired one gives me that sudden tingle and automatic sexual rush that fetishes do. I feel a little deprived. After all, I used to have them.

Is it just middle age? Well, I know guys older than me who are happily playing and exploring their fetishes still. Some quite a bit older than me - lucky bastards. Am I just blase? Jaded? Maybe I am. I listen to other people describing their fantasies and fetishes and mentally tick them off in my head, and then get the "Can I be bothered?" reaction. Not a good sign when an exotic night of sex seems like too much work.

And there are so many wannabes, who don't have the experience but they have the fantasy. A friend of mine once hooked up with a guy on line, and this was back before broad band when pics online were a rarity, who seemed experienced and into the wild and kinky side of extreme leather and role-play my mate likes. My friend was all dressed up ready, and opened the door to see this plump, blonde-bouffant, pink cashmere cardigan wearing 50-something all a quiver on his doorstep, saying "I've never actually done this before". My friend slammed the door in his face. never lie about your experience to a serious fetish-player.

A few years ago, chatting online, as one does, and this guy got in touch, saying he was training to be a hooker and needed some guys to practice on. Seriously. he was interested in me because I was both HIV+ ( something he needed to feel happy working with) and (b) experienced in fetishes. So I volunteered, after all, he was very hot. Beautiful sexy body etc. I thought to myself "Could this be a new line of employment : Michael Stevens, Consultant to Hustlers". It wold make a great business card, but I haven't put it on my CV. By blogging it have I just put it on my CV?

The session wasn't that great, again, in spite of my years of experience, it just didn't click for me, nor for him I think. He was a really nice guy though - I ran into him on the dancefloor at Urge a few years later and he reminded me of the whole episode. He hadn't gone on with the career change, figured out it wasn't for him after all.

It's not that I don't think about sex - I do. And I have it as well. And enjoy it - a lot. I look at hot guys on the bus, as I walk aorund town, in bars and clubs, everywhere, of course. Bring on summer and scantily clad sweaty men - wait - is that a fetish? But I can't see myself heading down to The Basement for Fetish Night any time soon. For those who do, I hope you enjoy it!

But what a shame I can't turn this into a career path. All those years of experience, so much to offer, so much to teach, maybe I should get the cards printed after all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Mating Rituals

Why is it that so many wonderful men that I know are single? And, for that matter, why am I ? Not that I am necessarily all that wonderful.

Is it the pool of men around? I mean, I have so many friends in Auckland, but I can't see myself falling for them, not when we've been mates for so long. And then you look on-line and see, well, all sorts of guys, some, let's admit it, seem just a bit sad and desperate, or wildly unrealistic. Guys who post entire shopping lists of desired characteristics on their profiles are not going to be my choice. I mean, how could you ever live up to it?

A few weeks ago an 18 year old messaged me on NZD and asked if I wanted to do cam-sex with him. I mean, really - 18!? Do his parents know what he's getting up to in his bedroom at night when they think he's studying? Shit - imagine if they walked in just as we were reaching the point of the whole thing. But most parents of teenage gay men have no idea what their sons are up to, let's face it.

I pointed out the age difference (nearly 30 years) and said no thanks, he didn't even look like he shaved yet, and he replied "Hey, I'm horny and it's just cam-sex mate."

Somehow I didn't find that flattering. Though I guess he must have found me attractive if he wanted me to jerk off on cam with him. An idea that I must say I really don't find erotic. I know some guys get off on cyber-sex, or cam-sex, but for me - nope, it doesn't float my boat.

So if not online, well, what about out on the town? The thing is, Auckland is just too small: it often seems that we all know each other, or at least, have heard about each other.

Every now and then I think "Maybe if I got in better shape, worked out, lost the gut etc... or changed my hair... got my eyes lasered... " but would that make that much difference? I might get more roots, but I don't think it'd get me true love, or even a semblance of it.

If all the gay men from NZ who've moved away came back to Auckland, just imagine what that would do to our social world. We'd be the gayest little city in the world if all those kiwi fags who moved away to live in a big city came back, if they all left SF, LA, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, NY, Sydney and Melbourne, and came back here, just think! Or just dream - I guess they did leave for a reason. It is small here, and the pool is limited.

But even though there is this pool of smart, sexy, desirable, employed gay men out there, why are so many of us single? I guess part of is habit. As I get older it seems more and more difficult to imagine combining my life with someone else's - difficult but not impossible (to any future husbands who read that and got put off please note the "not impossible" bit). I mean, I have all the furniture I need, I have somewhere to live, I have my routines - do I want to risk unbalancing all that for another guy? Well, yes, to some extent, I do. Because sharing life, love and all the day-to-day hassles it brings with someone else is fun and rewarding. I know, I've done it before, and I expect I'll do it again before I die.

Till then I 'll keep looking around at all my eligible smart, sexy single friends, and wonder why they're like that, and why I'm like this, but hey, life is basically good, right? I can wait. I'm happy.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Mike, Glenn, Alan, Peter, Alan, Andrew, Chris, David: I used to have a list somewhere of all the names of the men I know who’d died. Then it got too long. And now I can’t remember everyone I knew who died of AIDS. I hope their families still do, but it is over 20 years now since many of them sickened and died. Even to their brothers and sisters they will be turning into misty memories, the sadness and grief now all but worn away over time, as they look at old photos and remember the good times. I suppose this is what it is like after a war. Twenty years on who wanted to hear talk of the trenches of WW1 and their horrors, or who in the 1960s really cared about the agony and brilliance of the Battle of Britain pilots? Who cares today about the veterans of the first Gulf War? But in all of these, families were destroyed. Young loved men in the prime of their lives disappeared into some distant land or city, and returned, if at all, either plague-wracked and waiting to die or already dead, to the fear and grief of their families.

At least in a war, the dead are honoured. But for us, our dead were not so welcomed, not initially. The fear of contagion surrounding even a corpse was strong. To have to admit to friends that the funeral was for a son who’d got sick and died, here or in Sydney or London was shameful. Shame, guilt, ostracism, doubt and fear: HIV is marked with all of these in ways that other diseases are not. And if you nursed people through those days, watched them sicken and waste away, become demented, forget who you were even though you’d been spending hours every day with them, this was heartbreaking. It seemed a whole generation of beautiful young men were cursed, and we all wondered when our turn would come, because why should we escape?

Today, it is all so different, in a medical sense anyhow. For most of us, if you take your pills and do what your Dr says, you will be ok. Medically ok that is. But those deep currents of shame and anguish linger and are strong. Grown men still weep in fear and at their folly in getting infected. Even though they know in a rational sense that they will most likely not follow the same trajectory as we did back in the early days, still that sense of fear, of shame and of guilt is there, still strong, perhaps even stronger. After all, that little voice inside your head says “They knew the risks!” And it’s true, they did know what they were doing, and even so, in spite of all the safe-sex campaigns they’d been in, in spite of all the condoms they’d thrown off floats in parades, in spite of having manned AIDS hotlines, even they got it eventually, and they cannot help but ask themselves “Why? How?”

They will not die in the same way as all those men did 20 years ago. Blind, demented and lying in their own shit. They will be able to lead fairly normal lives. Travel. Have relationships. Have sex. Maybe even have kids. All this is possible now for those of us with HIV. But still, the shock is there, the trauma, the agony.

And for those of us old enough to remember the really bad days, for me anyhow, there is that sense of “Why did we have to go through all that horror?” along with a feeling that, in some ways, that is when in fact we were most alive, most useful, most worthy as human beings. We were in there, up to our elbows, dealing with sickness and death and grief on an almost daily basis. It was horrible, debilitating and sorrowful, and yet it felt for many of us as though we were doing the most valuable and important things that could be done.

And who remembers that now? Did it all happen? Did it matter? This generation today – they have no idea. And why should they, in fact, I want to protect them from it, but still I resent their blithe ways and their lack of understanding, their lack of history.

But then, go through small-town NZ and look. You will see them there, small memorials from WW1 or WW2; in my school chapel we even had a memorial for the Boer War dead. Think of the heartbreak every one of those deaths caused, the devastation and distress on receiving that letter or telegram, knowing that son was never coming home. And now, who remembers the person behind those names? Who recalls their laugh, what made them special. All gone, generations ago. And so will all this be gone too. Who will remember them, with their good points and flaws? Who will recall how they were loved?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

God Save the Queens !

"It's easier to hide an elephant in your armpit than a queen in a crowd" : apparently a popular saying in Constantinople in the 10th Century or so.

OK, so I'm fudgeing the date a bit, but the friend who told me this was a Byzantine historian from Athens, and a big old sodomite to boot, so I believe him. I've always loved the saying. It's not always the most popular observation, but the queen does seem to be a pretty unviersal human type, and one we can recognise whether you're in the streets of Moscow, Cairo, Beijing or Dunedin. I swear that in Jerusalem a few years ago I saw two screaming mincing queens dressed up as Orthodox Jewish women, wigs, head-scarves and all.They seemed to be having a great time, though causing some level of puzzlement to those around them.

Queens are powerful, and that's how I use the word queen, not in a disparaging way, but they are strong. Think of Quentin Crisp. Think of Philippe, Duc d'Orleans in 17th Century France, and according to Saint-Simon "the silliest woman at Court" yet a soldier who won huge admiraiton for his courage on the battlefield, even if apparently he was prone to run shrieking when there was a thunderstorm.

Edmund White in his biographical novel "The Farewell Symphony" notes the change that went on in the gay world in the 60s as the Gym Body moved in and the old queen style moved out - "Gay boys who just ten years earlier had hissed together over cocktails, skinny in black pegged pants and cologne soaked pale blue angora sweaters, and had disputed Callas vs. Tebaldi now lumbered like innocent kindergartners in snowsuits of rosy inflated flesh..." But really, when you think of it, we don't call them "Muscle Marys" for nothing now, do we?

And as we've just passed the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in NY, it's worth remembering it was led to a large extent by the queens who lived in the area and used the bar.

So we are we now so quick to disown our royal pedigree? Why are queens so out now, and why do people claim (and puh - leez! it so often is just a claim) to be "straight -acting" or "discreet". What's wrong with being In-Your-face? Why is there so often the unease in the gay world around the obviously and effeminately gay male? They did, to a large extent, pave the way for us, yet now we seem ashamed of them as we try and sink into decent, dull, suburban, gym-toned obscurity.

You don't have to be a rabid screecher, you don't have to do drag, or wear makeup to be a queen. You can have a great body from the gym, a moustache, a deep voice and a hairy chest and be one too. Some of the campest queens I've known were some of the most aggressive tops I've come across too. The stereotypes just don't apply. I suppose it's the attitude. The confidence, the "Don't-Fuck-With-Me" to your enemies and the warm, loyal friendship (if sometimes expressed behind a veil of rapier like sarcasm) to those you love.

Queens are subversive and threatening. They pose a challenge and don't fit neatly into the current nice boringly beige model of gayness we live with. Queens, just by their existence, ask us "Do you really believe this shit they are peddling? Is this what we fought for? Is this what being a fag is really about? " Their bullshit detectors are flawless, and their hearts are deep.

And if they have airs and graces at times, well darling, don't forget, life in a palace changes one.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Why Isn't Life More Like Porn ?

Well, it's probably a good thing it isn't, or nothing would get done, but the thought came to me as I was sitting here waiting for the plumbers to arrive.

If life were like porn, the plumbers would be hot, maybe one in his 40s, dark and hairy, strong but a little gut going on there, one in his 20s, friendly, eager and smooth, both wearing overalls undone down to the crotch cause of the heat, and that are somehow constantly threatening to fall off and reveal that big hard tool that all plumbers always walk around with. After fiddling with their tools and a couple of subtle comments and some serious eye contact, well, it'd all be on. But would your loo ever get fixed? After you'd all had so much fun together, would it even be possible to say "The tap over the laundry sink is dripping too" - bit of a come-down really.

Just think of all the trades that'd be so much more interesting if they were just like in the pornos: electricians, pizza delivery boys, mechanics, and we all know about the Police and what they like to do when they stop a car with a single man in it. That is if everything I've ever watched on TVs in gay bars and clubs is true, and why would TV lie to me?

Of course, if it were true, the Army, Navy and Air Force, Police and all manual trades would be known for being filled with homos, in the same way that people now joke about interior designers or hairdressers. It could be fun - "Oh, David", in a knowing but butch tone "He's a Police Officer now" with a pregnant pause after allowing everyone to know exactly what this meant.

But so much sex would get tiring all the time. And irritating as well. I mean, what if you just wanted a new power-point put in? There are times when no matter how hunky the sparky that arrives on the doorstep in his shorts and tool belt that you'd just think "Oh come on - I've got to meet my mum in half an hour!" The thrill of the erotic Policeman could dull over time too. What if you really were only doing 45 kmh in a 50 k zone, and actually you had to get home to feed the dogs? He's already got the cuffs out and his truncheon is ready and you're just like... "What? Sex with a big hunky sexy cop again! Not now!"

Of course, some of these guys in real life are hot, but then, so are some hairdressers, interior designers and dental-hygenists - we just don't give them the same sexy labels. Or has someone made porn about dental-hygenists that I haven't heard of yet? Because if so I'd love to see it. Though the idea is slightly disturbing. "No, I just want my gums looked at!"

But, then again, if we could turn it off and on at will, the supply of living porn, well, that could work. But that, like all porn, is just a fantasy - aint' never going to happen. And life isn't like porn, for which I'm glad.

And the plumbers arrived, were perfectly nice and efficient, and I wouldn't have wanted to do either of them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I Like What I See

Straight guys often make me stop and think. And not just because I'm looking admiringly at them.

Now I have to say I've come to find visual porn does less and less for me now as I get older. I am not sure why this is. I far prefer reading something erotic or pornographic and making up the pictures in my head than watching it on dvd or in a magazine.

A while ago I was at a largely straight function, and in conversation I mentioned I was gay. It just came up. No really negative reactions, but one of the guys said he wasn't interested in that sort of thing, but hey, two girls going at! Whoar! The other men agreed. Why is this "Two Girls" thing (I won't grace it with the name of lesbian) thing so popular in their fantasies? Because it sure is. All that"girl-on-girl"porn, which is designed for men, and they think is just perfect, if only they were there in the middle, has fed the image in their minds for them. It's not often you hear a straight man, no matter how homophobic, say he hates "girl-on-girl" por. And the idea is very much that they are "girls" not women. Not adults. Fantasy figures. And of course, the gay world is rife with fantasy figures as well in our porn. Yet I don't think we get nearly as upset about it all as straights can.

I mean, I didn't say how much I'd like to see two of them going at it, ( wish I had now) but there were a couple of hotties there who would have been fun to see naked and enjoying each other. But I have to say seeing two straight guys go for it isn't one of my usual fantasies.

Now of course I do enjoy looking at what's around. Eye candy - if you're gay, bi or straight - who doesn't like it? And in summer, some of those men on skateboards - meals on wheels a friend calls them - well, they have distinct erotic appeal. Not to mention some of the various sports starts and other icons that are constantly paraded before us. Not to mention hot guys in the supermarket, on the bus, and all those DILFs out there. But I don't think they know I'm looking at them that way.

But so many straight men tend to get so pissed off if you even mention that you think they look hot. Yet they're more than happy to speculate about the sexiness and what they'd like to do with women and girls, so long as they don't actually overhear them saying it. It's their guilty little secret I guess. They look at their wife's best friend's daughter and think "She's 19 and legal and I'd do her". Think of the whole MILF phenomenon: it came from straight guys considering boundaries they'd like to cross, beause after all, identifying someone as a "Mum I'd like to fuck" (MILF) is just a bit transgressive,just a little Oedipal. I find it interesting because they're not identifying the woman as a hot woman, but as a "Mum". But of course, we have our DILFs too, as I noted above.

But if we even voice the same thoughts about any of them, or any man in the area, we're called sick, lecherous, or even worse. The old double-standard.For so many straight men, our sexual admiration is a threat.

Looking, and enjoying what we see, is a pretty normal part of being human. When does it turn to lechery though? I guess when it's obtrusive, and clearly unwelcome by whoever we're admiring.

With straight guys I guess there's always that little bit of fear, that if we find them sexy, maybe they could find men sexy too, and then their whole world would come crashing down around them. Not to mention the idea that it's ok for them to look on with lust, but not for anyone else.

Just because we enjoy the view doesn't mean we want to buy the property guys. You do it, you look, you leer, you think lecherous thoughts of those pretty girls and what you'd like to do to them - so don't be surprised that we do the same thing to you and your mates as well.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Let's talk about sex, baby...

Let's talk about you and me. Or, more generally, all of us fags out there in the wide world.

Gay men have a reputation, deserved or not, for being sexually adventurous, and for having way more sex than straights. Just how far this reputation matches reality is hard to say. There is certainly more than a grain of truth to it, although not a few gay men do lead dull suburban lives just like so many straights.

But overall, I'd argue, we have historically been more sophisticated and wide-ranging in our sexual behaviour than not. After all, it was, and is still, easy for two guys to get together for nothing more than a shared orgasm. No worries about pregnancy and marriage, just a bit of fun between consenting adults. Or even a group of consenting adults. Or two bored consenting adults filling in 15 minutes of lunch break.

And the bigger the city, the more developed, the more sophisticated the range of venues, types and activities that are available. Let's face it - Amsterdam is to Auckland as Auckland is to Twizel. Gay men know their bodies intimately, all the bits that nice suburban straights think of as "yucky" we take in our stride, as it were.

And even if the urge to get out and spread your stuff around does lessen as we age, there is always a new generation coming through, who were as we once were: Young, dumb and full of cum.

I do hope, however, that they aren't full of the shame that so many of us used to have. Because shame is the big killer around sex. It robs it of joy. It shows a viewpoint that is "sex-negative" as they say now. The body, sex, bodily pleasures, all become suspect in this view, and something to be disciplined instead of enjoyed.

Shame does get very hard for those of us living with HIV (I tried to write a column that doesn't bring HIV in, honestly...) . Shame, fear, self-loathing, a sense of being dirty and somehow wrong. Not to mention completely sexually unattractive. And from my observations, the more deeply religious the childhood background, the more shame and sense of sin that comes to the surface.

But we HIV+ poofs can have, and deserve to have just as rich and satisfying a sex life as anyone else. Living with HIV does not mean that we must now automatically commit to a life of celibacy. This has long been one of the core claims that AIDS activists have made. We are still human. We are still hot. We are still shaggable. We are still lovable.We are still horny.

And we have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

Yet so many of us act as though we do. So many HIV+ guys are terrified of admitting their status, of the stigma that goes with the diagnosis. And I understand, that stigma is real. But I suggest the only was we are going to get over it, or get our peers over it really, is to be more visible. The number of HIV+ gay men is going up every year. Your chances of coming across one of us (pun intended) are higher than ever. Yet so many of us are paralysed with fear over rejection, over labels, over that sense that we have somehow done wrong by becoming HIV+. We haven't done anything wrong. In fact, we have nothing to be ashamed of. It's a bummer, it's shitty, it's not what you'd want, but it's nothing to be ashamed of either.

The more visible those of us are with HIV, I think the better things will be. Think of the Mental Health Foundation's "Like Minds" campaign, or the brilliant and public campaign that Positive Women ran last year. Visibility, when you're ready, helps: shame and hiding cripple us.

And so back to sex. And the recent discussions around the responsibilities of poz guys to disclose their status every time. The idea that it is the responsibility of poz men to always disclose is superficially tempting, but I think ultimately self-defeating. So many guys with the virus simply don't know they have it. If you get men making their sexual choices along the lines of "He told me so he must be neg" they will have plenty of opportunity to increase thier risks of infection. Far better to leave the brutal but simple message we have: "Use a condom and lube every time".

Because, we will continue to have sex, poz and neg men alike. Some will disclose, most will not. Many simply won't know. But if we all wrap it up, we can all have fun safely. And that beats the alternative.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

You've Got to Have Friends

One of my oldest friends, Paul, in Sydney, sent me an invite to his 50th. Luckily I was able to go. But 50! I can remember going to friends' 21sts, 30ths, 40ths but this is the first 50th I've been asked to. And my own 50th is a few years off yet, but I am looking forward to it. I guess the oldest gay friend I have is in his 70s, and the youngest in his teens: I enjoy having that range of people and views in life.

But it made me think about how long we've known each other - it'll be about 30 years now. We met when we were both going to Auckland Uni, he was a couple of years ahead of me. He was flatting up the road from my family home, and I can't quite remember now how we met. All I know is he forms part of a core group of my dearest and oldest friends. When we meet up again it's always just so easy and warm and funny and joyful. He's a great guy. 30 years is along time to know someone, especially from our generation when so many of us died so young. We're lucky we're both still standing, and even still dancing at times.

Then he moved over to Sydney, as so many of us do, and has stayed there ever since. In fact a lot of my oldest friends live overseas, Australia, the UK, and the USA account for most of them, but I have others in Brasil, in Turkey, in Italy and France. It makes it it cheaper when you travel that's for sure. But old friends are about much more than just cheap beds when you're out around the world. There is something to having known someone for years and years, even when you don't see each other as often as you'd like, that makes life richer.

I know it's been said before, but gay men tend to create our own family groups, especially if we felt our own families weren't able to support us the way we thought we needed: it seems to be a common feature of gay life around the globe. And I think a lot of gay men have a talent for friendship, we're forced to really, because of the ways we socialise and how wider society views us. We seek out allies, we form networks - and we're damn good at it. You can tell how good the networks are by the way news moves through them, suddenly people are linking over crises or celebrations, word gets round.

It's not uncommon in our world to fuck, then to discover that you like the stranger in your bed and become friends, but in my experience once the friendship is real I find it nearly impossible to go back to a sexual relationship. I can't combine the two, though I know other guys who have no trouble doing so. For me the friendship becomes more important than the sex - you can always get sex, but you can't always get a good friend - so I tend to take my mates out of my sex life.
You don't always have to stay in close touch with old friends - often you reach a stage where the contact might be minimal on a day to day basis, but when you meet up again it's just like you saw each other yesterday. I guess for me that is the sign of a deep and easy friendship - the way it all just flows and picks up again. I can think of about a dozen people like that in my life, and I think I'm lucky to have that number. Of course the internet and cell phones have made it so much easier. Where we used to have to sit down and write a letter, or budget an international phone call, now I can send a text to mate in London, or check out their facebook page or drop a quick email and it is so much easier to stay connected.

Even here in Auckland I still often hang out with guys I've known since I was in my teens or 20s, as well as more recent friends. I'm glad I'm still making new friends too.

You know about their history over decades, you have shared experiences, some good, a few bad. You understand how they think, how they move, why they do certain things, and they know the same about you.

Make friends, treasure them, and you'll have something wonderful in your life.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A History of Violence

I was talking with various friends the other night in the bar, and the topic of abuse and violence in gay relationships came up. I was amazed at how widespread it is. Some guys viewed it as an inevitable part of men being together, and not too damaging. Others were less sanguine about it.
For me, violence in a relationship would equal the automatic end of it. It's over. Locks changed. Police called. It's just not acceptable for me. And then later this week I was talking with someone else and he told me of being in a violent realtionship when he was younger. I still just have this visceral reaction - you leave if he hits you - it's that simple. Easy to say I know, but I think that's how I'd react.

But violence and abuse can take many forms, it doesn't just have to be physical. Emotional and mental violence, manipulation, guilt, insults and undermining can also be powerfully aggressive ways to attack the person you're with, the person you're supposed to love and who's supposed to love you back. And emotional violence can be harder to counter, it can be passed off as "Just joking" . Constant lying, deceit, can also be seen as a deliberate act of abuse, something that will hurt the other person, and is equally shameful.

I had a relationship that turned out to be built completely on lies. The guy was leading a double life. He was, and is, a shit. I was astounded when I talked to others to discover that my experience was not that uncommon. I can't say it was hundreds of guys, but far more than I'd expected reported a similar experience. Men who present a charming front, who seem to be so wonderful and loving, but then, when it all crumbles, reveal their true nature. And usually not a hint of regret.

We have another form of violence as well, that combines physical harm with lies. That is the act of lying to someone about being HIV+ and then luring them into having unprotected sex, pretending to love them, manipulating them, and when they eventually find out they are infected, promising to still be there for them, even though they're infected. It is disgusting, it is criminal, and it is intolerable, but it happens. I'm not talking about two guys getting a bit out of it and forgetting to use a rubber, I'm talking about HIV+ men who deliberately enticing someone into their lives with the aim of getting them infected. They exist, unfortunately. You only need one or two to produce a rash of new infections. Unless someone complains though, very little can be done to stop them.

So then there is the added burden of dealing with a new diagnosis, discovering the man you thought loved you in fact has betrayed you on the most fundamental levels, shortened your life-expectancy by 20 or so years at least, and left you not knowing where to turn or what to do. That is a real act of life-destroying violence.

I know that a few years ago there was research being carried out into aspects of sexual violence in gay male realtionships, but, if I recall my facts correctly, the researcher ended up finding the stories too traumatic to continue (apologies if I have that wrong).

I don't really know how to view all this. Is it internalised homophobia ? Perhaps in some cases but I doubt that explains every case. Is it something inherently masculine? Again, I don't think that stacks up - I've heard too many reports of the same behaviour in lesbian relationships. I do think part of it comes from the way NZ is actually quite a violent society. But I don't know what the answer is. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stop asking the questions.

And if you're in a violent abusive relationship, you don't need to be. You don't need to stay there. I'd suggest calling OUTline on 0800 688 5463, or one of the other help lines such as lifeline.
We have enough in our lives to put up with from the straight world - when those who are closest to us, who are supposed to love us abuse us, then we have to bring this out in the open, and get them out of our lives. Abuse is not acceptable or normal ina loving relationship, in fact it shows the realtionship is anything but loving.

We don't have to take it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

HIV & Me

I was having "the talk" with a young gay man recently. Trying to make sure he looked after himself, explaining about how HIV works, how much it sucks to have it etc, and after a bit he said to me:
"But you've had it for years and you're fine!"

It was one of those moments, when you think "Arggghhh!"

Yes, I am living well. Yes, compared to where I was 10 - 15 years ago, I feel like the Six Million Dollar Man. I never thought I'd be alive at this stage of my life, and neither did my Drs. In the mid 90s I nearly died. I was in and out of hospital with PCP and other nasty conditions. My body weight dropped down to 50 kgs and I'm in the mid 80s now, where I should be.

I can remember one of the worst nights in hospital when they were trying to get my temperature down, and I had my hands in basins of ice water, a fan blowing chilled air over me. I was delirious. I couldn't get out of bed to shit. I couldn't move. I was weak, powerless, and scared. I'd tried acupncture, Chinese herbs, all sorts of alternative meds and they did nothing. At that time Western Medicine didn't do anything much either, not until the new drugs that have saved my life and so many others'.

I spent weeks and weeks in Herne Bay House, no longer sick enough for hospital, but so unwell I couldn't walk down the corridor to the kitchen, and it wasn't that long a corridor. Lying in my bed there with an oxygen bottle attached to me - not fun. Then I'd be sent back to hospital for something else. Then I'd be back at the House. I'd seen other friends die there. People died while I was there. I was sure I would too.I had my funeral planned. I was angry - so angry, with everything and everyone. I can remember that anger so clearly. Cold, intense and uncomprehending.

I was able to change my attitude, over time. Now I love my life. But I know how lucky I am. So many of the men I loved died in the worst days of the plague, before the new drugs came out in the mid 90s. They changed everything. from getting ready to die, I had to get ready to live.
And I think I've done a pretty good job of it since then. And HIV still affects my life every single day. I have to take my pills regularly. At first I was taking 47 a day, and it didn't leave time for much else. Some had ot be taken with food, some you had to wait 2 hours after you'd eaten and take, everything was measured for me by the medication. And it still is. If I go out to dinner I have to remember to take my pills with me, or go home early. Luckily my latest drug regime is for some reason easier on my stomach. In the past I always carried a spare pair of underwear in my bag, "just in case" and I needed them quite often. I knew, and still know, where every available toilet is on my regular walking routes, but I no longer seem to need to rush into them in the way I used to.

And as much as I value the drugs for all they've done for me, I know that they are also taking a toll on my body, on my heart, my liver and kidneys. I have friends who have had their body shapes changed by the drugs, deposits of fat around their necks and shoulders, thier cheeks wasted away. HIV meds do strange things to body fat. And I know people for whom the drugs just don't work. They are a tiny minority, but like any medication, there are some people who just don't respond.

Emotionally HIV has changed me as well. I still find it hard to trust that I have a future, I still have a little voice saying "This could all go back to how it was" but I try and stifle that. Because focussing on it does me no good at all. Life is for living, and for enjoying where you can.
Men react very differently to you when you tell them you HIV. As much as they say they understand safe sex, it is still a deal breaker for many. And I suppose I hold myself back as well due to this.

So there is the paradox - a young gay man says "You've had it for years - you're fine!" and how do I convey to him that in fact I am, but I'm not.

In fact, once you get HIV, it's like adding a tiny drop of ink to bottle of water - you can't see the drop once it's added, but it's there forever and you can never get it back. My life has been altered beyond recognition, my plans, my hopes, all have been shifted and changed because of this. I hate it, although I don't hate what I've learnt from it, but it's a really shitty way to learn a lesson like this. I don't recommend it to anyone.

Realistically, HIV is here to stay. It is highly unlikely that we will ever live in a world without it. So we have to find ways to live with it. And I'm glad I have. But I wish I hadn't had to do all this. I wish I'd been able to lead the life I thought was mine.

So never ever think that just because so many of us are living better with it these days that it isn't an issue. It is, it imposes a huge burden, physically, mentally and emotionally on us all.
Yes, compared to where I was, I'm fine. I'm alive. I never thought I'd see in 2000, now I'm pretty sure I'll get to 2010, and beyond. Life's weird. I didn't do anything special to get here, I'm not a saint, most people with HIV aren't, we're just ordinary people who learn how to cope. I probably won't die from an AIDS related ilness, but from something brough on by the medications themselves - I'm aware of this, but it is still so much better than it was before.

I think for me one of the worst things is the amount of control over my life I've lost.

But this reaction - it threw me - what do we do? Do we downplay just how well most of us are doing these days? Do we cease celebrating the good things that have come our way in an effort to dissuade young people from putting themselves at risk? I think now - I'm bloody happy I've got to where I am, and I can't be responsible for the ignorance of others. I intend to enjoy what life I have left with gusto.

The hard thing is that to some extent, this young man was right. Yes, I've got this virus in my body, but I work, I travel, I go out, I fuck, I have a happy and interesting life. Having HIV for most people today really isn't anything like as bad as it once was. But that's not the point, is it? With all the improvements in our health and treatment, it still places a huge burden one you.

Please - Don't get it. Yes, we look so much better, and live so much better - but believe me it still sucks. Please, look after yourselves out there and don't add to the stats.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Random Thoughts

Young men often do not realise the dazzling power of their beauty, of a smile, or of a forearm carelessly draped on a thigh. Possessed of such unwitting power, I can’t help but admire it. I once had it. I didn’t know I had it though. I doubt they do either.

I would love to fuck Robert Downey Jr.

And Sean Penn.

Or get them to fuck me. Getting spit-roasted is always fun.

I’ve been thinking about the punk/disco wars in Auckland of the late 70s, early 80s a bit. It was a real mark of who you were, how you saw yourself, depending on what look you took, what music you listened to. I remember Ruff (RIP – burnt to death in a fire in London rescuing her Chanel suits -seriously) going to a concert in just a black garbage bag, torn fishnets and black stilettos, and lots of makeup. I wore makeup, eye shadow streaked on my cheek, and my hair was high and hard. There were fights outside Babes, one of the main discos, in Eliot St? I can’t remember. We sneered at Billy Idol for being a fake punk. We loathed Abba. We wore op-shop 60s black suits, with narrow ties, and listened to sad serious music. Now I love nearly all music. Funny the natural fascism of youthful bonding and protection.

I’m old enough to remember hair mousse in a can as a new product.

I had my hair dyed black with pink stripes for a while, and wore a woman’s black lame suit jacket on top of my jeans. Then I dyed my hair bright green (my hairdresser, Sheridan, stole the Krazy Kolor dye from her flatmate’s stock) with a big floppy pink triangle hanging down to my nose, a triangular fringe of cerise.

I can remember the sudden advent of DJs as celebrities in their own right, not just record spinners.

I remember staggering through the streets and alleys of Manhattan in my black leather jeans, my Docs, a white T and a black leather jacket, going to the Mineshaft after being at the Spike. I remember staggering home reeking of all sorts of fluids, amyl and that general raunchy smell of sex. I remember dancing under the stars at the Saint, totally off my face on coke and God knows what else, surrounded by Gods posing as men, and loving it.

I remember when I was first in Turkey, being in this town called Malatya, and hooking up with this mad Irish guy who lived there, and turned out to be gay. We went on a picnic, to a waterfall, the water pounding down the cliffs into a big pool, with families sitting around, cooking shish kebabs, eating melon, drinking tea, some quietly having a raki, people talking and sharing food. And then we decided to climb the waterfall. Going up wasn’t too bad, but coming down, I panicked about half way down this crumbly cliff and froze. It seemed like hours but I guess it was just a few minutes of complete and utter terror. Then I got down, and no one else had seen how freaked out I was. Lesson: People often never know what’s going in our lives, even though to us it is amazing. And I never got to fuck the Irish guy. But he was hot.

Whatever happened to the smell of amyl in gay clubs? It used to be so pervasive, now it’s so rare.

I love libraries. I remember being the library at Auckland University, before the year started. Such a geek I went in early to explore, especially the library, where I looked up all the gay books. They were in one shelf, a tiny group now compared to the metres and metres of shelf space we take up. Anyway, I think I was looking at something on Gay American History. I was amazed – here I was at 17 and there were serious academic books about being gay that were positive, uplifting, showing wee actually had a history and therefore a culture. So there I am, enthralled, I stop to think, look up and then down the aisle. There’s this guy standing there. I look down at the book again then look up – yes he does have his cock flopped out ! And it’s huge ! Or it is to me at that age. He looks at me, I blush, put the book back, and follow him to the toilets for a great fuck. I love libraries.

I have been hit on by 24 year-olds twice since New Year. I’m not complaining, just puzzled. Aren’t I too old for them? The lust of the young is so refreshing to be around. They have so much careless energy. But it always takes me a while to figure out they’re actually after me, not just politely chatting to me. I’m slow on the uptake at times.

I once spent a night on a fisherman’s boat on the Golden Horn, in Istanbul, with four fishermen. I left a little after dawn. You fill in the blanks.

I have a remarkable knack for falling for the wrong men. You’d think I’d learn, but no, not yet anyhow. But I’m cool with it; I know myself, warts and all. I have fun.

I remember being young: inside I still feel it, but my body doesn’t seem to agree.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Moving Like Angels, Thinking Like Devils

I seem to have rediscovered dancing. It’s something I used to do so much, when I was young (er?) . I could spend hours on the floor, working up a sweat, just letting rip and having a great time with friends and strangers. But then, as I got older, I seemed to have less interest in it. I’d stand around the walls and watch other men dance. I’m not quite sure why that happened. But I seem to be back into it.

And lets face it, dancing is a lot like sex with (some of) your clothes on, so while I have been having sex, it was puzzling me a little that I wasn’t dancing in the way I used to. Was I too old? Too unfit? Too ugly to hang out with the shirtless gods on the floor?

I remember going to dances at Auckland Uni in 1979 when I was 18. We’d have a room at the top floor of the student union, where Shadows is now I think, and someone would bring in a stereo from home (seriously) and others would bring records, and we’d dance happily thinking it was just great. The unsophisticated fun of youth. And watching men back from overseas to see the latest moves. God when I was 18 men who were 24 seemed so old and cool. The punk/disco wars were still on at the time, and there could be a little tension when the style changed.

The Aquarius (later The Staircase) was still in Fort St, and I would spend hours there with friends, having to leap up and get on the floor at the opening bars of a favourite song. I remember dancing my arse off to Blue Monday in Alfies.

New York was where I saw the most spectacular clubs in the 80s. The Saint stands out as the most extravagant, beautiful space filled with beautiful men. They had installed a full planetarium projector so suddenly you would look up and think you were dancing under the stars. Hundreds, thousands of sexy, sweaty beautiful men dancing with our shirts off. It was great. That sense of being part of a group, part of a, dare I use the word? part of a community.There was the Limelight, in a big deconsecrated church just over the road from where I lived, and also the Area, though the last was straighter and way more fashionable. All palaces of indulgence and fun, music carefully choreographed, bring the crowd up and up on waves of more and more excitement, then just when you thought it couldn’t go any higher, it did, and there would be an ecstatic crowd, almost like being in an evangelical church service, hands in the air, men simultaneously being in their own world of dance and also connecting with all the ones nearby.

The sheer joy of being in a room full of men, all dancing together, being nice to each other, sharing space, acknowledging strangers with a few moves in their direction when you like how they move, the smiles and good will. It’s fantastic.Whether it’s with 20 or 5,000, when it works, it’s just great. And part of what makes it great is the feeling of sex, of sensuality, of being connected, and all the potential that goes with it.

I’ve spent some great nights on the floor at Urge too, I used to go with a circle of friends, now mostly dead, and we’d dance sexy dirty dances, Dominic would inevitably ‘lose’ all his clothes by the end of the night, dancing in a leather harness and nothing else, Charlie would be his elegantly sleazy self, reeking of sex.

But as that group dwindled, I think I sort of stopped dancing. Not in my head, but I just lost something.

But lately, it’s been coming back. Rather reluctantly at first, I hit the floor at Urge a few weeks ago with a friend who insisted and we just clicked into it the way you do sometimes, but in a way I hadn’t for a few years, and I realised “Hey, I’m dancing again and loving it!” All those voices that say “You’re getting too old, your body isn’t hot enough to take your shirt off, you look silly” they seem to have shut up. So what if my middle aged spread wobbles while I dance?

And last night, again at Urge (no I’m not running their PR, but it does function as my other living room) I was struck by the power of being in a room full of gay men, gay men having fun, a sweatbox with men of all shapes and sizes, poor, rich, gym toned and gym avoiders, HIV+ and HIV - some good enough to be in porn, most of us not, age range from 20s to 60s I’d guess, most shirts off, moving like angels and thinking like devils.

There is something potent about that sense of masculine joy and exuberance, of ease and comfortable togetherness that struck me last night with force, and me, I’m glad I’ve found my dancing shoes again. And the ghosts I dance with are happy.