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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sigh...

One of the downers for me about life with HIV is when I meet someone, and they don't know I have the virus. I sort of assume that guys in the scene here know about me, but of course not everyone does. I don't automatically tell every guy I fuck with - I don't have to, I just make sure they know we're going to be having safe sex. If they ask, then I tell.

If it's just a casual one-off, then I don't care so much.

But sometimes I meet a guy online, we fuck, we have a great time,  discover we have stuff to talk about,  want to see each other again, and then I have to decide "When do I tell him - and how is he going to react?"
 

Because even for me, telling people about having HIV is still not that easy, even with my years of practice. If I tell people before we get to know each other, they might run before they ever get to know me. If I wait till later, then they can feel like I've been hiding it, and I don't like being thought of that way - I see myself as honest and living with integrity, but some guys react very strangely to it and act like touching me is going to give it to them - and really, I'm over doing HIV 101 education . Some guys  are great, informed, sensible, very calm, not scared, just go "Oh yeah, my ex had it too, do you know him?" or stuff like that.

The thing is there is no perfect time, there never will be. But it's a situation I find myself in 2 or 3 times a year, and I still hate it. It brings up all that shit about rejection, about being "unclean" and of course, HIV always brings up the idea of death. Not fun to be associated with.

It shouldn't make a difference, but it does.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

And They Did it Again! Yay!

Scene/Non-Scene

When I look through hook-up sites (sorry "dating" sites) I notice a lot of ads where guys say they are "non-scene". Isn't gay life online the biggest scene there is now? But I digress...And I say with comfort that I am definitely "scene" - not "non-scene".

If we think of it as all the clubs, saunas, bars and fuck-venues, you get a good idea of the scene. It's pretty universal, you can walk into a gay bar or sauna in Auckland, NY, Melbourne, or Paris and see pretty much the same thing. The scene gives us a space where we know the rules, can be sure we're hanging out with others of the same persuasion, and should feel safe. And you might even meet Mr Right. you do need to have a certain number of people to make it work though.

In the bad old days, the scene was all there was. There were really no other social spaces to go and meet other gay guys, unless you count the beats and the bogs (Public Toilets). So the scene was central to gay life - don't forget, the Stonewall riots started in a gay bar, not somewhere "non-scene".

The gay scene sits there at the heart of much of gay city life. It offers social space, it offers friendship, it offers sex, and it holds the possibility of love. There's also a strong sexual element to it - sometimes I think of it as sort of big humming sexual/social dynamo at the heart of the gay world - it's on all the time, and you can dip in or out of it as much as you like. And whatever your feelings about it, it is often the public face of homo life.

But it can also be a brutal, shallow and vapid place. If you don't fit in, if you don't have the right look, the right body, if you're not the right age, you can feel invisible, marginalised and unwelcome, so it's not surprising that some guys find it holds nothing for them.

Me, I have a love/hate relationship with it. On the one hand, I grew up in it. The scene around the world has provided me with great networks, friends, and fun. I am happy with a drink in my hand and people to talk with, flirt with, and who knows what else with. Sometimes I look around though and think "Why on earth am I here?" 

But I'm nearly 50. I don't have a great gym body. I have grey hair in my beard and not much hair left on my head, so I know there are some spaces on the scene where I simply become invisible. But luckily the scene in Auckland caters for people like me too (thank you Urge!)  - the men who go there are the most welcoming and least judgemental in town I reckon - and you don't have to be a bear to feel at home there.

 I still enjoy getting out on the scene and having fun. You do get to meet all sorts of people from all over the world and all walks of life. It is one of the unifying things of gay life.

So why the desire to identify as "non-scene" ? Like I said, for some it's just not their thing. But there is also a group of guys who really aren't that comfortable with being gay and even though they love men, they don't want to be identified publically that way. Some guys use "non-scene" as a smug label of virtue, which I really don't think holds up.Especially when they say it online - I mean really guys - those sites are now the biggest part of the scene there is - but the trouble is they don't give that sense of community that going to a bar or club regularly can do. The online scene can be even harsher than the physical one.

The scene is pretty much what you make it - I have a life off the scene but I'm glad I've got access to places to hang out with mates, dance, go out and have fun and maybe get laid. I've made deep friendships through it, met lovers and fuck-buddies.Michael Stevens - "Scene".

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

World AIDS Day Thoughts

So World AIDS Day is coming up again, and we'll get a little flurry of articles and some notice in the mainstream media: Not much, but some. In the latest UNAIDS Report there is a bit of good news: the global infection rate has begun to fall - a little - and let's wait a few years to see how solid this trend is - but it's good news.

New Zealand barely rates a mention: we get bundled into Oceania. We have one of the lowest infection rates anywhere, and as they note, as is typical in a high-income country, the majority of our new infections still involve men having sex with men, and most of those are men who report getting infected here in NZ.

We are a small country, with a small population, and what is by most countries' standards a tiny population of HIV+ people. Even when you include those who have died we have only had about 3,000 people infected - and roughly have 2,000 living with it now.

We don't get a hell of a lot of attention from the government, which also reflects the tiny HIV+ population I guess. The recent much-anticipated Miller Report basically said everyone working in the field is doing a good job but they need more money. Well, that's no surprise. Fat chance we'll see any extra cash though. And I'm a bit disappointed it didn't take a more critical view of some aspects, I have to say.

I'm one of those men who got infected with it overseas - probably in the USA when I fucked my way from San Francisco to New York in 1984. Hey, I was 23 and out for a good time. One of the first pieces of safe sex advice I got in NY was to give anyone I wanted to go home with a hug, and try and slip my hands in his armpits to see if his glands were up, and if they were, to make my excuses. No condoms and lube on the bars in those days.

It's hard to remember just how bad it was back then, the level of fear and hysteria that surrounded it all was intense. There was a lot of bigotry, a lot of ignorance, a lot of nastiness. Generally things are better than back then, but you still find the bigotry and ignorance - even in the gay community.

But for most HIV+ people - and I stress the "most", I know there are exceptions - life today is far better than anything we could have hoped for. Most HIV+ people in NZ are doing ok. Some are doing excellently. But some never really recover from the shock of their diagnosis. Some simply can't tolerate the side-effects of the medications.

I look at my own life with HIV, and see how much of an impact it has had. I've been working on my CV, and there is this big gap, from 1994, just when I was moving into a good place career wise, getting into management, and 2003, when I next have real work. I was simply too sick and weak through that time to work. It hasn't done my job prospects much good.

And like many guys who have had it for a long time, I still have that sense that it is all going to come tumbling down around me. I find  personal long-term planning difficult, and at times I still can't quite believe that I have a future, that I'm not an invalid, that I won't be back in hospital in a few weeks. It's weird, because I actually do have a very good life, I feel loved and cared for, I have wonderful friends, I do pretty much what I want, though I'd like more financial security - but who wouldn't?

So my feelings are mixed around World AIDS Day. It's good we get a little attention. Basically, in NZ, if you have HIV you can do pretty well: you will get access to good medication, if you're near a big city you'll get excellent medical care.

But having HIV still sucks. Keep yourselves safe, don't get it. It is really not something you want in your life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who's to Blame?

I saw this piece in Poz saying that 65% of US gay men think anyone HIV+ who barebacks (has unsafe sex in other words) without disclosing their status should face criminal prosecution. In other words, if two or more guys decide to go without condoms, and one is Positive and hasn't told the other(s), he has committed a criminal act.


Now in NZ, if you know you're Poz, you don't have to disclose your HIV status to sexual partners, so long as you take every reasonable precaution to protect them. That means use condoms. But we should all use condoms.

I'm just a little bit torn on this. On the one hand, yeah, if you know you have HIV, (and remember, about 30% of HIV + people DON'T know they have it )  you do, I believe, have a greater moral responsibility to protect the people you have sex with. So, in the first place, if you're poz you shouldn't be barebacking anyhow, unless maybe it's with someone else who is poz too, but even then, it's not recommended. And most HIV+ guys are very careful and concerned about protecting their partners.

But it takes two to tango, and if you believe you are HIV Neg, what the hell are you doing having unsafe sex anyhow? It's not all our fault or responsibility. HIV Neg guys have a duty to look after themselves - if you take the risk and get infected, I think you have to accept some of the responsibility here. It's as if they think they should be able to fuck without rubbers because they are HIV Neg, like it's some sort of a right, and HIV+ guys should exclude themselves from the sexual scene.

And here's the trouble with this approach. It breaks our world in two. There are those of us on the one side who know we have the virus, and we are supposed to act in one way, according to this logic, and those on the other side, who are allowed to act in another. This weakens the whole idea of safe-sex, that it's not just about protecting yourself, it's about protecting the community, and not picking on people with HIV to carry the whole burden. The original safe sex message was for everyone to use condoms, HIV+, HIV Neg, no matter what your status. That way everyone can have fun, and people with the virus aren't singled out. I still think it's the best approach.

Turning one part of the population into criminals for doing what the others do just leads to stigma and injustice.

But what about when someone knows you are HIV+ and has unsafe sex with you anyhow? That's happened to me, I've been fucking with guys who know I have HIV and then realised that he's no longer wearing a rubber. It pisses me off when that happens, immensely. But it has happened, and more than once. Usually they justify it with things like "Your viral load is low and I've read..." or "You look so well..." . It feels like a violation to me.

Am I too blame if he gets infected? And how would we prove it any how?

If someone knowingly sets out to infect others, lies about it, and persuades them into unsafe sex, that's a different story, and thankfully it's a very rare story too. But even then I think that if you are HIV Neg and take that risk, no matter how charming and persuasive he is, you have to take some level of responsibility.

The simplest and best answer: Use a condom.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

It Gets Better - Even With HIV

I have really loved the whole It Gets Better project - I think it's so important to reach young gay/queer people and let them know that in fact the terrible shit we often have to deal with as teens doesn't last and life can in fact be pretty damn good even if you don't fit the normal patterns.

Some people have criticised it for being too simplistic, for not acknowledging the crap and bullying that can happen all through our lives, or for being too white and middle-class, and while I get that point, I think it ignores the fact that for most of us life does get better.

I've wondered if there would be any point to doing something similar but about living with HIV. Because, as shitty as it is to have this virus in us - and it is - it does get better over time. And again, there are exceptions to be kept in mind - it's not a bed of roses, but it's not as bad as it was in the old days.

Now I don't know how I'd cope if I were living in a small town and had HIV. I imagine it would be very lonely and difficult without good friends and other HIV+ people to share stuff with. Having a network of HIV+ mates and knowing how to use the services around, and just being in a gay community that is supportive of me and looks past my HIV makes a massive difference. I know I'm lucky. And some poz people have very limited choices about where they can live for all sorts of reasons, so they can't just up sticks and move to a bigger city with better access to support. I'd love to see something effective done to give those poz people better support somehow.

There is something lacking in support for HIV+ people in NZ, and to be frank none of the groups or organisations around are doing that good a job at meeting those needs right now, with the exception of Positive Women, and even they have their critics.

But, after that initial shock of diagnosis, which  can often take a couple of years to get over, or for some even longer, life with HIV does get better for most of us. You can travel. You can work. You can have a sex life.You can fall in love. You can lead a good life. Maybe it won't be the life you would have had without HIV, but you can still have a very good life.

It's important to hold onto hope, especially in the bad times. When I was diagnosed in 1988 I was told I had about 2 years to live - but I'm still alive, working, loving, playing, and enjoying my life mostly. I've had times of being incredibly sick, and for a long time I never imagined that it could or would get better - but it has.


Hold on through the bad times, ask for help and support. It does get better.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Still Standing

Hmm, haven't been here for a while have I ? Life has been busy - and I'm not complaining about that, well, just a little.

But the big news I turn 49 tomorrow. It's big news for me anyhow. In 1988 I was told by a Dr in London that I probably had 2 years to live, so I'm glad I'm still here. I've been so lucky compared to so many.

I was talking the other day with a family friend, a woman in her late 70s, who buried her son in the early 90s, before HAART came out, he died about the time I was told I'd die in fact. I always enjoy seeing her, she's a lovely woman, and she always asks me how I am.

We were talking about her son's situation compared to mine, and agreed it was nothing more than luck. I was able to just hold on long enough until the new meds came through in 1996. I was already very ill by then, and without them I would have followed him to the grave by now I'm utterly certain.

I don't believe in destiny or fate. I don't believe I'm alive because I've had the right positive thoughts about myself. I know I'm not alive due to the "alternative" medicine I tried in the early 90s.

I am alive because I was probably infected a little bit later, and my body was able to keep going till Western Medicine came up with effective medications.

I often say (jokingly) that I want drugs tested on puppies by scientists in white coats - but it's only half a joke. I actually DO want effective medication, I've seen the benefits. I don't want some crystal-waving  herbal hippy shit, or loopy pseudo-scientific rubbish like ozone-bagging. It doesn't work.I'd be dead without Western science, so I'm a big fan.

So many wonderful men I knew weren't as lucky as me. So many men I danced with, fucked with, fought with, laughed with, dreamed with - dead and gone, often in their 20s or early 30s.

When things get me down, and they do just like with anyone else, I remind myself that at least I'm still here, at least I've got this far, and I thank my lucky stars. I've got great family, fantastic friends, and most of all, I've got a future, with future plans and dreams. I am so lucky.

It won't be a big birthday party - that's for next year, but every birthday feels like a little victory for me, and a little memorial for those who didn't get this far.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Can We Talk?

Because there is something we're not really dealing with in Homoland. It's not HIV, but I'd argue a lot of our new HIV infections are caused by it.

I'm talking about the generally poor state of gay men's mental and emotional health. Britain's Attitude magazine recently did a story on it, which got picked up by The Observer. I see no reason to doubt the situation is any different here, in fact what I know of my own life and the scene I move through confirms this for me.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a gay man here in Auckland about the same problems. Gay men have higher than average rates of depression, of drug and alcohol dependency, of STIs, of emtoional and mental health issues in general, and, tragically, of suicide.
Yet it's a topic we don't seem willing or able to address.

I've been to far too many funerals of friends who have committed suicide. And I confess, it's something I've thought about often myself. That began for me as a teenager, realising I was gay at 14 or 15, and thinking it was the worst possible thing in the world and that I couldn't possibly find a way to live with it, that my life would be marred by shame and isolation, that I'd be rejected by my family, that I'd never find someone to love me - all those horrible and destructive thoughts weighed down on me as I look at the world around me, and only saw gay men portrayed as sick, sad perverts to be laughed at or attacked. At 16 I went around for several months with a razor blade in my pocket, wondering if I should use it. I never did.

And suicide is a thought, a theme, that still sits with me, the idea that I could end my own life one day. Before anyone panics and calls in emergency counsellors, let me say, I have never actually made an attempt, or even planned it, and I'm fairly content and planning on staying around to piss people off for a while yet. But I've thought about it - especially in the worst days of what AIDS was doing to me in the 90s. And I know I am not alone in this.

But we don't talk about it. Or when we do, a lot of guys seem to blame themselves, to wonder what they've done wrong, what it is about them that makes their lives this way.

It's not us. That's something I'm very clear about.

We live in a world that marginalises us and makes us fight for every scrap of acceptance we get. Yes there have been massive and important legal changes - but society in general is still not that friendly towards us. And most parents would tell you that if their son is gay they'll "deal" with it, but even that tells you it's something they'd not choose for their son, it's not their first, best option - it's something that has to be coped with. Every time I read a news report about a teenage boy killing himself and family and friends are trying to understand the tragedy, saying how it doesn't make sense, what a good student/sportsman/friend he was, I always wonder "Was he gay? Was he like me at that age, but he actually did it?" And I've spoken to young gay men who have found the way their family reacted to their coming out so difficult they've embarked on behaviour I can only see as self-destructive, at times with terrible results - and yes, I do blame the parents to some extent in those situations. Your 19 year old son got HIV or killed himself? What did you do to set up his life so he wouldn't? How did you react when he came out to you?

We live in a largely homophobic world, and that takes its toll. We rarely get to see positive images of gay men on TV, in film, in pop songs - and these things matter. If we can't see ourselves in the everyday culture around us, and see ourselves depicted in a positive light, the unspken message is that we don't count, that we are in fact not worth it, that we can't have stories of love and happiness played on the radio or shown on the screen. That's a deeply corrosive and harmful message. And as I've said before, when I talk to young gay guys coming out, they typically say that they want a boyfriend, but the gay scene offers them bars, drink, sex and drugs. We don't seem to have the social infrastructure to offer them, or older guys, ways to meet and to be outside of highly sexualised settings. I love sex, love a party, as anyone who has been paying attention to knows, but they are the icing on the cake - not the cake itself - or they shouldn't be.

Do we need an institutional response? These mental health issues are just as important as HIV, we do have a real mental health problem as a group, but as they are less visible they attract far less interest. Could the NZAF do more in this area? Not without extra funding, and just whether it is where they should be working is a debate in itself. Could we get a campaign like John Kirwan's one on depression up and running?

I'm not sure what the answer is, I'm not sure how we make our world better for us and for the younger generations coming out, but I do think we need a conversation, I do think we need to start talking about it, and considering just what we can do.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

And the Runner-Up Is!


Me.I have never entered a competition like this before, and I very much doubt I ever shall again, but I have to say it was a lot of fun. It was the persistent bullying of the owners while I was in a mentally weakened state that pushed me into the contest in the first place "Go on... ! Go on!" - that and my admission I can fit into my leathers again - with a good belt to help things in place.


The thought of winning a free trip to Melbourne to represent NZ over there was tempting, but the thought of having to compete again was less appealing I have to say. I do not have a gym-toned body, as much as that may surprise some of you, and feel my advancing years keenly. And the winner in Melbourne gets sent to IML (International Mr Leather) a contest that's been going for 32 years, in Chicago.


But the cool thing about the leather community is that it is very broad in how it defines itself and who its members are. This year, the winner at IML in Chicago, Tyler McCormick, was the first winner in a wheelchair and the first FTM guy to win it as well. So what happened to the stereotypes about the leather-scene being this place of muscle men who are so wrapped up in their dead-cow and egos they don't notice or care about anything else? Not true. Like any other part of the gay scene, you can find idiots and bastards in the leather community, but it's a pretty friendly and non-judgemental place by and alrge I reckon.


I've been in and out of the leather world since I was first introduced to it in Melbourne when I was 18. At that age I was a little amibvalent, a little scared (and fascinated) but I think the men I met in that world then often treated me better as a young gay man than those in the wider scene. There's nothing like being in a minority in a minority. Do you have to be into filthy kinky sex to be into leather? No. Though I guess there is a higher chance of encountering more sexually adventurous men in this crowd that elsewhere *cough*.


And I like my leathers, and was surprised at how much I had when I pulled it all out of the wardrobe: some of it I bought, some was gifted to me and carry memories of the friends who gave it, and I did have to borrow a couple of things as well in the end.


But anyway, Friday night! The tension ! The excitement ! OK, there were only four of us this year - one contestant had pulled out the day before - but you work with what you get. And we had the added glamour of Mr Leather Australasia who'd come over from Melbourne to guest-judge. There was a bit of horror when we saw the complete hanky-code colour chart on the wall and realised we might be exmained on it - an utterly ridiculous number of variations, but luckily I don't think that question came up. (Did you know that pale pink is for those with a toe fetish - pale pink = shrimp = toes)


Now, it was a friend's birthday that day too, so I'd had a few drinks in the evening with him and some mates, then headed home to get ready, headed up to Kamo for Furry Friday with the Bears, and a few more drinks, then onto Urge and free drinks in the changing room. Yes, no mention of food in that list is there - so yes, I was pretty hammered before I got on stage. I am still trying to remember just what I said on stage, but I'm pretty sure I was for world peace.


But, it was fun. The Urge crowd was great, all very encouraging, and when we rushed around collecting funds for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, we raised $720 in 25 minutes - not bad at all. I think that is me for such contests though - like sky-diving, good to do once in your life, but I wouldn't make a habit of it.


Jamie Gates won, and deserved to, congratulations and have fun in Melbourne - he did really well. Murray and Mal, thanks, you were worthy foes. And while it was a contest of two rounds, I think we can say that leather was the winner on the night.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Putting the "Sex" back into homosexuality.

I haven't written about sex in oh, at least an hour, so why not start again. Actually, it's part of my job, doing my PhD, writing about sex and how gay men have sex - and I usually enjoy it - the writing I mean. Oh, and the fieldwork.

I've been thinking about what it was like when I was a baby-gay, back in the 70s when I was in my teens and coming out. Nearly all my initial contacts were sexual, until I was about 17 and started making gay friends, and as a teenage boy getting all that sex, I was very, very happy with that. Young, dumb and full of cum, as they say. Yes, I also wanted a boyfriend, and love, but like most teenage boys, I tended to think with my dick.

Suddenly there was a whole world of fun in front of me. And Gay Liberation actually had the message of sexual freedom at its core. We aren't heterosexuals, so why form our social and sexual patterns on their models? If you want to go and fuck till sunrise every day, well why not? And a lot of guys did that.

That's putting it a bit crudely, but there was a sense that we needed to move away from the judgmental and anti-pleasure aspect of so much of how the straight world saw us.There was a strong message of celebrating the body, celebrating the sexual. This didn't mean you couldn't fall in love and have a partner, but there was so much negativity about two (or more) men getting naked and having fun that Gay Lib thought it important to stress that there is nothing wrong with it.

Instead of the old message from society 'You are evil sick perverts for doing that' we took on a new "sex-positive" message instead, saying two (or more) men getting naked and having fun was a very good thing indeed - if that's what you wanted. I remember at one of the first Gay Lib meetings I went to at uni being told how lucky we were as gay men - we could screw around as much as we liked and no-one would get pregnant, the worst that could happen was syphilis and that just needed some pills.

And then, along came AIDS.

And with it came a whole lot of finger-pointing and moralising, and an awful lot of people saw it as God's punishment on filthy homos. Quite a lot of self-hating gay men did as well. And some still do - I've met them.

But there's a mistake in their logic. HIV can be transmitted by sex, but it's not caused by sex.

Yet that old stupid, anti-pleasure messages keep coming through. I think NZ has quite a strong puritan streak to it - all those bloody missionaries had a bad effect. Christianity really doesn't like anyone having a good time with their body. And I am surprised at how often I come across the attitude even today among some gay men, this idea that sex is bad, a sin, something that shouldn't be talked about, shouldn't be mentioned and the cause of all our woes. Then they disappear into a sauna, have sex, and feel terrible about themselves again. Sad really.

It doesn't have to be like that! Sex is great ! Or it can be. No - It's not the be-all and end-all of life, and sex is different from love, something a lot of gay men know very well. And when sex and love come together, well, that's magic, that's probably what we all want I guess. But even if I had the perfect partner, I suspect I'd still want to fuck around, and would expect it not to be a problem.

I'm still often utterly entranced by the random beauty of men I end up in bed with. Some are regular fuck-buddies, some are casual one-offs - but it's rare that I end up naked with a guy and don't find something beautiful and sexy in him. I hope that they feel the same way. And I know, I'm getting older, greyer, saggier, I'm not as desirable as I once was, but I don't care too much.

It's my body, and I like my body, and I like what I can do with it, and what can be done to it. And that's enough for me.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Like Dykes

I listened to a couple of guys I know the other day making jokes about lesbians. Not nice jokes. These were gay guys too, not idiotic straights - and it made me wonder: Why do some gay men seem to find lesbians hard to deal with?
I've always had dyke friends, since I was 17 or so and just coming out. Maybe that's exposed me to their world more, so I'm comfortable around it, I don't know, but some of the stuff I hear from other gay guys really repels me. It's nasty sexist bullshit, and I doubt they'd tolerate it if a straight guy talked about them that way.

And I remember the way so many dykes stepped up and got so deeply involved in HIV/AIDS: They didn't need to - it's not a virus that lesbians tend to get infected with. But they stood up for us in a huge way. Way more than some of the closety bitter queens that are still around. Lesbians helped protest for better care and treatment, they helped in a practical on-the-ground sense of getting food to people, driving them to hospital appointments, and they took care of us, they looked out for gay men sick and dying with AIDS in a way that most of the rest of society wouldn't.

How many gay men are interested or even aware of any health issues in the lesbian world?

I suppose one thing is that lesbians in general tend to be much more politically switched on than gay men. They get done over by society twice: first for being women and then for being same-sex attracted. And yes, society still treats women unequally - look at the pay gap over a lifetime's work if you want a simple example of it. While all the technical and legal disadvantages to being female might have been removed, the social and cultural ones are still strong. But most gay men never really understand that side of things. The old message that came out of lesbian-feminist politics "The personal is political" still holds, but it's something that a lot of gay men don't have to engage with - we're still men at the end of the day.

Part of it shows the weakness of trying to build a community based only on sexual orientation. Gay men like men - lesbians like women - so some assume that we should all be the same, but we're not. Being part of a group attracted to the same biological gender doesn't make a community. Shared history, shared ideas, and shared rituals do, and so does shared oppression - yet now that we've become so mainstream in so many ways, and a lot of that social oppression has lifted, that sense of connecteness has been eroded.

So I guess I just want to say I like dykes. I have strong, intelligent, funny and kind lesbians in my life, and I think you're great. You make my life richer.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Caught in the Net

Every now and then I get an email from some dating site I joined up and lost interest in, telling me someone has left me a message. They're usually from Ghana or somewhere in the old USSR, telling me how much they loved my profile and that distance is no obstacle to our love - I don't even bother checking those emails now. But thanks guys anyhow. I've looked at, and joined, and forgotten, a lot of sites over the years.

Just how many gay dating sites are there? Here in New Zealand nzdating has things pretty well sewn up, but gaydar can get pretty busy. They're all a bit different, but with a fair amount of crossover too. Damn, admitting I know that shows how much time I spend on them. Well, I did do my MA on gay men's online sex-lives, I'm just maintaining my research interest, honest.
Let's see - what comes to mind first? - NZDating, Recon, Gaydar, Gay.com, Grindr, Manhunt, BearWWW, Hairy Turks, GayRomeo, Squirt, Silver Daddies, Adam4Adam - that's just a little list, and they all have their own characteristics.

Some seem to attract certain age groups, and some are designed to target certain groups. Some are more geographically specific, some are international. You can find sites for just about any kind of gay identity it seems: You're a gay Mormon? There's a dating site for you. You're in your 20s but like guys in their 50s & 60s? Try Silver Daddies. Have you moved beyond vanilla sex? Recon should do you just fine. You're a total Mac-geek? Grindr is already on your iPhone I'm sure. There are of course sites that deal only in bareback sex - you 'd better know what you're doing if you go to them.

And we tend to call them dating sites, but let's face it - most of the time they're not. NZDating is widely known as NZFucking for good reason. But sometimes people do meet up on them and fall, not just into bed, but in love, and create a relationship. I've known men fly across the world for someone they've met online - always a bold move, and not one that always plays out so well.
Then there are the sites like X-tube, not officially gay as such, and more about sexual display, but even there gay men reveal all sorts of strange things about themselves, often providing intimate glimpses into their lives and hearts along with the money-shot.

The net has changed so much of our social world. For gay men, I think it's been a two-eged sword. On the one hand, it's made it easier for a whole lot of guys in small isolated places to feel connected. It's also made it easier to hook up. And it's made it easier for a lot of guys who don't like the gay scene, or who are deeply in the closet, to get a bit of nooky in their lives. And there can be a sense of community online, but I think it's pretty thin. There are people on various sites I've been chatting to for ages, but will most likely never meet - I'm not sure I would want to spoil the illusion by letting reality intrude.

But I think it's also had the unintended consequence of weakening the gay world. It does seem harder for bars and clubs, the traditional centres of urban gay life, to keep going. Without the need to actually hang out with a bunch of other homos, we get less of a sense of ourselves I think, we become a bit more isolated, a bit more fragmented.

And sometimes it just seems so lonely and hopeless, seeing so many men out there with their impossible wish-lists for their perfect partner. So many men, sitting at home, typing out messages to each other, opening up their hearts at times, sometimes just their flies, but so often expressing a real desire for affection, for connection and for love to some stranger. And then they meet - and then? As I said, I know some happy stories, but they seem to be in the minority.

Apart from the lucky few, I don't think life online is going to bring those things. We get this false sense of intimacy when we're online, but you don't really get to know people unless they're sharing the same air as you, unless you can see them and hear them.

I won't be going off the grid, but I do wonder just what it's doing to us all at times.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Could Be You or Me

Some of you will be aware of this story that has been doing the rounds this week.

Two men, lovers, in Malawi, have been sentenced to 14 years in prison for getting engaged, for publically acknowledging their love for each other and for being public about the fact they are men who love men.

Malawi is an old British colony, like us, and like us they were governed under British laws, and it is under these laws that these men have ben prosecuted. One of the weird things about so many ex-colonies, and old cultures that have rushed to embrace the modern western way of life is how puritanical sexual ideas have taken such strong root in them. When Catholic missionaries got to China in the 16th C they were appalled at how people regarded men having male lovers as not even worth commenting on. China after the revolution became sexually more puritan than the Seventh Day Adventists. We know that in Africa all sorts of different forms of sexuality were seen in the many different cultures there: Today we see a restrictive, and often hypocritical level of adherence to "Christian" morals and compulsory heterosexuality largely underwritten by nutty American Christian fundamentalists.

The strangest part of the hypocrisy I see is the way they use the bible to justify their stance. yet it was the bible that was used to justify both slavery of Africans in general, and aparthied in the old South Africa: God had ordained that Blacks should serve Whites, or that was how they interpreted Genesis 9:25 - 27. I wonder if anyone has reminded them of this fact.

And I feel powerless to do anything meaningful. In the past I have boycotted products from countries I opposed, or written to their ambassador, or taken part in protests, but I really don't know what to do here. I probably will write to someone there, expressing my anger and disgust.

It wasn't that long ago that here in New Zealand I could have been arrested for this sort of thing. Every time I went to bed with a man in the pre-Law reform days I knew I was breaking the law. We've made huge gains, in both legal terms and terms of social acceptance. But what has been achieved can also be lost - don't forget that. Seeing gays as a generally accepted part of the general NZ community is something quite new, and while we take it for granted, there are those who would like to see the same position that the judge in Malawi has taken employed here.

I'd just like us all to stop and think for a moment what it would be like to be in these men's shoes. Imagine their bravery! Imagine their sorrow and despair now at this barbaric and unjust punishment.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Homo ! Dyke ! Poofter ! Gay ! Leso ! Fag ! Queer !

Which label fits you best? Which one do you use for yourself ? Or do you hate them all? I think a number of us have had these words spat out at us as terms of hatred at times, and that's always nasty.

I generally tend to call myself gay, but will also use poof or fag at times, just for the hell of it. In lectures at Uni where it's appropriate I sometimes call myself a big old homo: Because let's face it, I am. But the full word "homosexual" (only invented in 1867, heterosexual came 10 years later) now is seen as clinical and less appealing to many. It sounds like an illness to many, so it seems less popular as a personal term.

There's an old political idea that by taking over the words our enemies use to attack us and using them ourselves we rob the words of their power as weapons - the growth of Black Pride in the USA in the 60s & 70s (in contrast to the older, more respectable "Negro" or "Coloured") is an example of this, and so is the recent appropriation of "queer".

Yet many older gay people, especially older gay men, hate the term"queer". For them it is associated with the fear, misery and bullying of their youth, but a lot of younger gay people seem to prefer it. And hard as it may be to believe now, "gay" itself was once a radical term to describe same-sex attracted people. Today it seems a bit boring and ordinary as a label, safe and conventional. The growing use of "fag" just shows the growing influence of American culture on us all. I never used to hear it when I was a teenager. And if you think it's somehow based in the use of the bundles of sticks to burn homos at the stake, well, you're wrong.

Many lesbians dislike "gay" because it's seen as too closely tied to male issues and ignores them and the issues that go with being a dyke. And "dyke" was also reclaimed by lesbians in the same way I talked about above: for many "lesbian" seemed too technical, too clinical and dated.

Does it matter? Some people say "Don't label me! Who I sleep with isn't who I am!": Yeah, well I think they're just kidding themselves. Society labels us all the time. We live in a world of symbols and labels, everywhere, and how they are used can often have a deep political and personal effect. And my first reaction to those who reject any label based on their sexuality is that they still haven't really come to terms with who they are.

So what about "queer" then? Well let's start with this nice neat idea that there are two sorts of human sexuality - hetero and homo. A nice idea, but it's flawed; there are all sorts of permutations and shades of grey in how and who humans fuck. If gay is solely for same-sex attracted people, then what about bisexuals? (They actually do exist). What about people who have differing gender identities from the norm? Transexuals or Intersexed people for example? They're not gay, but they're not straight either. "Queer is useful in being inclusive of all types of sexual/gender difference.

"Queer" also took strength as a label from academia, and the invention of Queer Studies in the last 20 years or so. Personally, it's not a project I have a lot of sympathy for, but it has its place. The beauty of "queer" as a social identifier is that it gives space to those who are marginalised even within the gay world. If you call yourself "queer" you're stating that you are sexually different, that you're not straight, and that's a useful tool to have.

In New Zealand you will often see the letters LGBTTI used (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Takatapui, Transgender, Intersex) and let's face it - queer is easier if you're trying to be that inclusive. But it also can cover so much ground that it loses force; it sort of assumes too that everyone who is queer will share a common set of interests, and that just isn't so. For instance, I'd argue most gay men have little interest or understanding of what it means to be a transperson. Their interests are not necessarily those that we fags share, beyond that of basic Human Rights.

Names can and do have the power to hurt or help us. Being abused by people on the basis of who we (or who they think we are) sexually attracted to can be deeply painful. But it's fun to turn it round at times too. A while back at a cocktail party I was asked if I was married or if my girlfriend was there and replied "No, I'm a cocksucker." It made the party a bit more interesting.

And even while writing this I stopped at times and thought" Which word do I use here?" They are slippery things, nowhere near as neat and obvious as we'd like to think, but they matter now and will continue to.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Who Speaks for Me?

I was interested to read this article on gaynz about the magazine "Collective Thinking" and how Body Positive (BP) and others view it and where it should be.

Now, let me declare my potential conflicts of interest up front: I have written for the magazine a number of times. I have close links to NZAF as an ex-Chair of the organisation. I have also served my time on the Board of Body Positive back in the 90s, and I have helped run a number of support groups for BP over the years, I think I co-facilitated five of them in the end, as a volunteer. I also carry out research at University into life with HIV for gay men in New Zealand.

So I'm sort of in the thick of it to some extent.

Do HIV+ people in New Zealand need some sort of magazine or forum where they can connect or at least feel as though they matter? Yes, definitely, and like Ray Taylor I'm a fan of the idea of turning it into an online resource.

Is BP the right group to be running this? Well, personally, I don't think so. They like to claim that they are the national organisation for those of living with HIV, and that claim is typically unquestioned. But there have been bitter fights in the past between BP and people trying to set up HIV support networks in other parts of the country. Yes, I'm airing some dirty laundry that none of the gay media have ever picked up.

We don't all get on. We don't all agree. Just because we have HIV doesn't automatically mean we form a community.

A lot of the resentment from people out of Auckland in the past came from people thinking BP was doing a typical Auckland take-over, trying to take ownership of their groups yet being blind to the needs of local people, or even HIV+ people in those places who do not think BP does such a great job in the first place. In many ways the relationship has a strange echo of how BP complains about the NZAF. To be blunt, not everyone living with HIV respects and listens to Body Positive, yet they get to claim they are our voice.

They do in fact do a lot of good things under difficult circumstances, but their main problem is one outside their control. More and more people who get diagnosed with HIV find that after the first shock, which may last months, or years for some, they don't actually want to be in a group of HIV+ people. Simply having the same virus in your body as someone else doesn't create a single coherent group of people. And today more and more of us are getting on with life, and actually have no need of the services they provide.

BP was set up in a time of crisis, when people were getting horribly sick and dying. When I went to my support group there one of the facilitators died 3 weeks into our 12 week session. It was 1994, and it was a different world. In those days there was a clear and obvious need for peer support groups, in those days you knew you would get sick, and need help, and die from AIDS. I spent 3 years focussing on my impending death, was sure I'd never be able to have a meaningful career again or form loving relationships. Well thanks to the power of western Medicine, I got all that completely wrong, I'm glad to say. But in that time it did feel important to be with others who understood, who were going through it as well. But that was a different time.

HIV+ people in New Zealand do need strong advocacy, especially around maintaining access to the best quality medication, and in dealing with bigotry, isolation and stigma. And for some people, an HIV diagnosis is still something that overwhelms everything else in their lives and changes it in such a way that they find returning to "normal" life impossible. All of these things are important, and BP does what it can in these areas.

But lots of us aren't in that situation. Frankly, and I say this without malice, BP is not relevent to me as an HIV+ gay man today, and I know a lot of other guys in the same position. As we actually have a very small pool of people living with the virus here, it become even harder for them to stay relevent to people who are getting on with their lives.

We do need some sort of national organisation for all HIV+ people, but every time it has been attempted, it has collapsed at the first hurdle due to personality clashes and differing ideas of what it should be. BP ends up as the voice, but they aren't my voice, they don't speak for me, and I know an awful lot of HIV+ guys around New Zealand who are in the same position.

What's the solution? I'm not sure. But we need to adapt to a very different world and a very different population of people living with the virus. BP, or any other group that claims it can speak for people with HIV needs to ensure they are relevent not just to one small group but to the majority. And that may be an impossible task, but it's worth pointing out.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So How's the Family ?

It's easy for a lot of us to think that now we've got all those legal battles behind us, you know, we're legal now, can't be discriminated against for being a homo, can get a Civil Union if you want, to think that it's just fine and dandy for everyone else who's gay in the country, but as I've been reminded a few times lately, it's not the case.

It's pretty hard for most of us to avoid family and the impact they have on us. And if you're queer, it can be really hard if the people you've grown up with and known since you were born freak out when they find out that you're not going to follow the straight and narrow path they just assumed you would naturally take.

Family matters. Their opinions of us are important, even when they're negative. And I don't know why but I've heard quite a lot of stories recently from people who have had really shitty experiences with their families.

Outright rejection is the most obvious and hurtful. I am actually stunned to hear that people's parents have refused to speak to them since they came out - this still happens today. And it can go on for decades, or till death in some cases. My parents were pretty shocked back in the 70s when I told them, and it took my Dad a long time to come round, but he did. Even then I was never excluded from the family, he and I just wouldn't talk when we met at Xmas or birthdays. I was lucky, my brothers were great, and my Mum was able to adjust and after the shock of the news, there was no problem.

But I've been hearing such hideous nasty stories from so many people lately - it makes me realise how lucky I am. I just can't imagine what it would be like to be totally cut off from family, but a number of people go through that, and it must be shit.

Then there's the other form of family cruelty, where they never really accept you, but still see you, but refuse to acknowledge your partner, or demand you never talk about the important things in your life as a queer - what you do, where you go, who your friends are, why you have a broken heart. They only want to accept a limited, sanitised version of you, one that won't embarass them in front of the neighbours or at work or in Church. And of course, it's always your fault for the pain and embarrassment, not theirs. They've done nothing wrong, but they sit there stewing in guilt and silent condemnation. Man I'm lucky I didn't have to put up with that. I thought we'd all got past that now, but I was wrong. It still seems surprisingly, and unhappily, common.

Another form I've been hearing about from people is when you think your brother or sister is fine with you being queer, their partner, wife or husband is cool with it, you go to their place for dinner, baby-sit the brats, then one of their kids turns out to be one of us - and bang! You're a demon. And you mustn't talk about it ! Even if your niece or nephew has come and talked to you about it. "Back off! This is something we'll deal with ! Keep your nose out! And don't you dare tell Mum and Dad!"

That response, to me, shows that in fact they were never really cool with you being a homo in the first place. They were able to put on a good front, they probably even really convinced themselves that they had no issue with queers - until their own offspring suddenly force themselves to confront the mess of bigotry that sits there like a leaking sewer under a nice tidy garden. In fact the brother or sister you thought loved and accepted you never really did; or why react this way?

And yet we listen to people constantly telling us that "The Family" or "Whanau" is the building block of society, the best safest place to be for kids, a warm sheltering place of love that will take you in no matter what. Yeah, right.

As I said, I have been lucky - a few nasty moments when I was a lot younger with my Dad, but we moved beyond that. And it's easy for someone like me to think that things are so much better than they were.

But for a lot of people that's not the case. They are rejected and emotionally abused by the people they should be able to trust the most. No one can exert the same power over us that family can. They know all the buttons to push in ways that others don't. And when they turn on us, withdraw their support and love, leave us because suddenly we are sick scum in their eyes, the result is devastating for many, and the consequences can be terrible.

It's good to remember that with all the legal and social gains we've made, it can still be a nasty cold unwelcoming and unloving world for a lot of us who don't fit the straight model.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WTF? Ricky Martin is Gay??

So, whoever would have guessed that Ricky Martin was gay? OK, all of us really. But it matters. And it shouldn't matter - that's the trouble.

I can remember years ago as a scared gay teen desperately looking for any sign of gayness in singers, actors, public figures: I just wanted to know there were others out there like me, and they'd been successful. But of course, so many successful queers have had to hide who they are in a way that straights don't. And that's not right.

There have been some really nasty homophobic comments on message boards and youtube since Ricky made the announcement.

The saddest thing for me is that it still seems necessary for success in the entertainment industry to pretend to be someone you aren't. The general public are the problem more than the industry itself, yet it's a vicious cycle: if people in the public eye are warned that coming out will kill their career, they won't, and so the hypocrisy continues, and instead of queers seeing that being gay is normal, and in every part of society, they arre left without the songs, the films, the general culture, that reflects us and who we are.

Imagine if Ricky sang "He Bangs" or used "He" instead of "She" in La Vida Loca? Why hasn't Elton done a strong song that is about two men loving each other? It just seems ridiculous and sad that these things just aren't possible. The Pet Shop Boys are the first group I can think of that unambiguously sang about gay ife, but even they were tentative at times. I want to hear songs that talk about my life, not straights.

When are we going to have the first openly gay All Black in this country? And don't pretend there's never been one - there has. But the NZ Rugby Union would rather stop playing than admit it.

Why? What is so threatening about us? Why are we seen as such a profit-killer (cause that's what it's about - money) and a curse for popular entertainers? Even Ellen took her time in being public about it loving women instead of men.

If queers of every stripe are ever going to have real acceptance, real success and happiness in this world we need to be seen as part of it, not something to be denied. We need more visibility, not less. Gay Pride was about exactly what its name said - taking pride in who we are, not apologising for it, not accepting discrimination, not accepting being second-best.

There is nothing wrong, unnatural or sinful about same-sex attraction, or any form of being gender or sexually different. Yet the fact that ricky Martin thought he had to hide it for so long shows the power of social conformity, the way we are told to present ourselves instead of who we really are.

You only get one go around in this world, why should so many of us feel the need to pretend to be who we aren't, and how can we change it? No, who we are attracted to isn't everything about us, but it is an important part of it.

I live in the hope that more and more people in the public eye will be able to pursue their careers without fear and homophobia stopping them being who they are, and that those of us in the general public can do the same, but I wonder how long it will take, or if it will ever really be that way. We need to stop accepting soceity's opinion that we're second best - we're not.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Human Frailty

Once again I am forcibly reminded, I am my body. Crossing Queen St on Wednesday on my way to a meeting at the AIDS Foundation, I felt this sudden Bang! like someone had slammed the back of my left calf with a hammer. I'd pulled a muscle, just by running across the road. Pain! And not the fun kind! I rang my Dr, got an appointment. Rang my boss and told her I wouldn't be back in. Staggered onto the Link and got to the meeting. The Dr couldn't see me till after 2, and they're only 5 mins away from my Dr and home, so I thought, "Just go for an hour" and I managed.

The Dr said "you've pulled your left calf muscle near the top." Gee, really ? A compression bandage (so not sexy) and panadol - not even a decent opiate-based pain-killer. Although a surprising number of friends have them in their medicine cabinets it turned out, offers of all sort of things came in - thanks for that! An awful lot of people have walking sticks lying around too it seems.

But now, 2 days later, and only slightly mobile, it takes me back to those bad old days years ago in the mid 90s when I was based at Herne Bay House and had to learn how to walk again. I had been so sick, had lost so much weight (down to 50 kgs at one point), that even getting from room down the corridor to the dining room there was a major effort, resulting in exhaustion and breathlessness. It was a triumph the day I could walk all around the house. After a while I could even, slowly, walk down to the shops. I bought a pie and doughnut at the bakery. Nothing ever tasted so good.

But being that sick, for that long, made me conscious of just how much we (or is it just me?) take our bodies for granted. Just simple things like being able to walk to the shops, being able to stand up in a shower and wash myself. All of those little things we normally just assume we can do.

And now here I am, stuck pretty much at home until I can move more easily. My life is limited again in a physical sense. And that is one of the things I remember from being so sick: my life being constrained to one room, dependent on nurses, (I love and admire nurses,double their salaries I say: anyone who can wipe your arse and still treat you like a dignified human being 1 minute later is a fantastic human being and valuable professional), waiting for friends or family to visit, measuring the day by when meals arrive, being sick and being so dependent on others - that sense that my body had betrayed me - hideous. And when you're body is crapping out on you it's pretty hard to keep your mind and heart in good shape too.

People talk about keeping a positive attitude, and fuck that used to piss me off when I was that sick. But I did learn the value of it eventually. Life does hand you shit at times, and you have to deal with it. I liken it to having to change a tyre on the motorway in the rain. You can bitch and moan about it as much as you like, but you still have to do it, so why not calm down and just get on with it.

But it was a horrible time in my life, one when I and most around me thought I was dying. Now, a pulled muscle is nothing like coping with PCP and other AIDS related conditions. But it reminds me of those bleak sad days in my past. And of how far I've been lucky enough to come.

And I am lucky: friends have been offering all sorts of support (enough with the jokes about keeping my legs elevated though guys) and I feel cared for and that's a lovely thing to know.

I've had to cancel a few dates, one in particular I'd been looking forward to; I feel like a kid who's been told Xmas is cancelled dammit. I won't be dancing for a while, and that is a bummer. I won't be able to walk to work as I usually do, and I probably won't be propping up the bar for a while. But this will pass, and I will get back to normal, again.

I'm lucky, and it's good to be reminded at times of how lucky I am.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Acting My Age

I was out dancing the other weekend and "Forever Young" came on. I was dancing with a small group of old friends, some of us have been dancing together for 30 years. I'm 48 and I often go out dancing. Do I want to be forever young, as the song says, or not? Should I have taken myself off the dancefloor in shame?

Gay men are often accused of having a Peter Pan complex. And while we visible ones on the scene help create this stereotype, it's often applied to all homos with thin-lipped disapproval, to show we aren't really serious or mature somehow. We don't want to grow up, apparently. We like to do "young" things, like dance, dress up, go to parties, sleep around, and worry about our appearance, apparently. We spend money like teenagers, apparently. So we are judged by some, including some of our own, to be immature.

Well what's mature? Holding down a nine-to-five job till you retire? Getting to bed at 10 on a Saturday night because you're really too old at 50 to be out in a bar and dancing, it's just not seemly.

And so what if parts of this accusation are true? Most people are forced to grow up because of the needs of families, children, buying a home, all the stuff that typically goes with being straight. As gay men, we don't tend to follow this path. Our lives are different, because most of us don't have kids to worry about, and we can do a lot of things without having to put a whole group of other people in our calculations. I can remember a few years ago my mother saying to me, out of the blue "You know, I don't feel any older inside than I did when I was 20, it's just my body has aged." I hope I can say that - imagine feeling old inside. I don't want to.

Often it seems to me that the criticism of gay men not acting their age comes from our own, from other gay men, who for whatever reason, feel uneasy at the prospect of men in their 40s, 50s or 60s still going out and having a good time. Do we remind the young ones that they too will age, and do the older ones disapprove out of envy? I think so. But who decided that everyone had to retire to the suburbs at 39 and behave like their grand-parents?

You know, our generation watched an awful lot of friends sicken horribly and die, and while I was dancing with that small group of old friends the other weekend, we were all aware of all the ghosts on the floor who hadn't made it. I think, far from being immature, we're very mature: we grew up pretty damn fast in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic. We had to. And I think that experience helps us value now, value the joy and fun that is in the world, because we've seen how fast it can all disappear.

I know the scene is not for everyone, I know it can be shallow, vapid, and heartless and so can some of the men on it, and I've been through times in my life when I haven't been interested in it, but I've enjoyed coming back into it as well. I'm lucky because of the friends I have. And while some of those friends the other week were my age, or older, and dancing till 3 in a sweaty shirtless frenzy, they all have real grown-up jobs, and are strong clear individuals.

I don't care that I don't have a gym-buff body (well, if I could take a pill for one I'd do it but you know, I'm lazy...) and I don't think I'm having a mid-life crisis by having riotous weekends at 48 when most of the men I went to school with are fast asleep in the suburbs next to a woman they married 20 years ago. They are the ones who will wake up one day and have a mid-life crisis, I won't, because I've been lucky enough to lead a life that allowed me a lot more choice: I have very few regrets. I will get a new tattoo this year, and probably another piercing. And I will keep on dancing like a fool. Because life is for living, you only get one go, and I just don't care what anyone else thinks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Summer Homo Fun

Last Sunday saw well over 10,000 people at the Big Gay Out here in Auckland. Over 10, 000 assorted quuers in one spot. It was a lot of fun, as it is every year. And it's the last big LGBTQ community event in Auckland. The days of HERO are now over, for all sorts of reasons. And before HERO, we had private celebrations, but really it was only our protests that were public. Things have changed. When was the last time you heard of a gay protest?

So we've gone from a mega dance-party with huge shows, and an in-your-face street parade that offended many, and both with a strong and obvious emphasis on HIV, to a happy family picnic day that the right-wing Prime Minister of NZ thinks it is a good strategic move to appear at, along with the obnoxious born-again Christian Mayor of Auckland who believes we will all burn in hell as we're filthy sodomites, but hey, he still wants our votes.

In short, the BGO is a huge success. Everyone wants a piece of it. And yet it also holds onto its community roots somehow. I guess it's because its the one day in the year when we're out in public and know we are in the majority, and that's a great feeling. When you look around, you see thousands and thousands of queers, dykes, fags, whatever word you like to use. We're there, and it's good to be in a crowd of our own for a change, where the straights are welcome but in a minority.

The other thing that strikes me about it is that huge number of people, especially gay men, that I never see elsewhere. There are a lot of homos leading quiet lives in the suburbs who don't need to go to clubs or the other commercial venues. I suspect many are happily partnered, and worry more about their garden and the neighbours new fence than what happens on K Rd. And looking around the BGO it would seem these people actually make up the silent majority of homos here in Auckland.

Although it's not that obvious from the outside, the BGO is in many ways a "stealth" public health event. The NZAF runs it, and part of the thinking around current public health practice is that strong confident communities encourage and support members in staying healthy, so the BGO helps maintain our condom culture by helping gay men stay confident and proud.

Getting 10,000 queers together for a picnic is actually part of a deep safe-sex campaign, and I think that's a great thing.

The BGO does encourage us to celebrate ourselves. It offers a lot of room for people to take part however they want, from bringing a picnic and sitting with friends to dancing like its still Saturday night, even though it's Sunday afternoon, to engaging with the local MPs, or just wandering around and looking at the stalls and eating fairground food.

So many of us grew up isolated, afraid, and unsure until we came out and linked into the gay world somehow, usually through commercial venues. What the BGO shows us is that we can actually come together just for the fun of it. It's such a good feeling to be part of the majority, even if its only for a day.

One of the highlights for me was watching Mika's opening number for the Aroha Festival. He's always such a clever artist, I'm looking forward to seeing how this all goes. And along with that we have the Ourfest festival going on. Can gay Auckland support both? It will be interesting to see how they go, and good luck to them both: I know a huge amount of effort has gone into both of them.

And now we have the first "Bear Week" running next week, courtesy of the men at Urge. I think it's really good to see a resurgence of this sort of activity around us. I know my summer has felt busier than ever this year, and I like that, but hey, I'm a scene queen from way back.

I think this trajectory, from protest movement in the 70s and early 80s, to party and parade and an "in your face" attitude that charcterised much of HERO, to the calm fun of a massive summer picnic that the BGO is interesting. It shows us how we've moved in society, and how society has changed over the years.

It's more mainstream than before, less offensive to the wider world, less politically charged, but it is a valuable day and a hell of a lot of fun.

Many thanks to all involved and long may it continue.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Desire

I always loathed PE at school. Anything to do with sports made me shudder. Except of course for the communal showers afterwards. But I hated playing rugby, cricket, going for runs, doing workouts - all of that. I've never had a great sporting relationship with my body. But I was lucky, I was able to get by on youth for a while and good genes, although, like so many of us, I never considered myself that handsome or attractive when I was younger. I look back at photos of me in my 20s and realise how mistaken I was. Now, the years are definitely showing, as are the effects of long-term use of HIV meds.



I was having a little pity-party for myself last week. "I'm nearly 50, I've got a gut, I have HIV, no-one looks at me and thinks I'm hot or handsome anymore" that sort of thing. And let's face it, it's not that unusual. Hotness and desirability don't last forever.

But we homos try to make it do that. The birth of gym-culture is at least partially related to the massive growth of baby-boomer city-living homos in the 70s and beyond. All those young gay men, all working out to look hot and stay attractive so they could get each other in the sack. Such effort! When the body will give up anyhow, or so the lazy ones like me thought.



I've joined a gym at least three times in the last decade, but I never get beyond a few months. To be frank, going to the gym bores me, even if I like looking at the results.



Yes, it's superficial to put so much emphasis on how we look, I know. But all human societies and cultures have valued beauty and attractiveness. Why would gay men be any different?


It is good for the ego to be desired, to feel desirable, to feel hot, sexy and attractive. It's a good feeling when another man shows interest in you that way. And I can remember when men did, when they'd tell me I was hot, I was desirable, and I turned them on. I liked that feeling. And there I was sitting in my office, thinking "Well, that's gone, that part of my life anyhow. But I'll manage."



Then my phone beeped. It was a fuck-buddy I hadn't seen for a while, asking me what I was doing that evening. He's ten years younger than me, he's definitely handsome, great body and basically we didn't take our hands off each other from when he walked in till when he left about 5 hours later. He finds me sexy and desirable. We curled up and talked and touched each other between sessions, it was sweet, warm and intimate. And hot. And my HIV doesn't worry him in the least. As he was pulling his socks on, about to leave, he asked "So, how's your health? You're looking great! I don't understand all the medical stuff but are your blood counts ok?" He is always totally relaxed around the whole thing, which matters.



Because for me, and for a lot of guys I know with HIV, simply having the virus in one's blood is enough to put up walls about how we see ourselves and how we act sexually. And this can lead to us actually setting the scene so we don't hear or notice the men who do find us attractive. We don't believe that we can still be seen that way, or we ignore it or dismiss it when men do tell us.



Why? In part it's because of the way HIV brings sex and death together. We all know, on a logical level, that condoms stop you getting infected, that safe sex can be great sex, and that HIV doesn't equal death in the way it did 20 years ago, but I think a lot of that stigma is still there. In fact I know it is. And often the biggest barriers are the ones we put in place around ourselves. A diagnosis often shakes the sexual confidence of even the most beautiful and gym-buffed men, for a while at least. And trust me, there are some very sexy men out there with HIV, but often after diagnosis it takes us a long time to reclaim that side of ourselves.

I was talking about this the other day with a very handsome young guy I know who is poz, and he said how it is hard to make the first move. It is for me too, but it didn't use to be. I put it down to the virus, the whole "I've got this potentialy lethal virus in my blood so you probably wouldn't want to get to know me and sleep with me anyway, so why bother asking?" attitude that is so hard to shake. And as my visitor the other night reminded me, really not that accurate.

A lot of poz guys I know say they always feel more comfortable fucking with other poz guys if possible. The fear of unwittingly infecting someone is strong for most of us. But here in NZ the population of gay men with HIV is very small, so it's often not an option.

Being desirable, feeling that one is desirable, is not just about sex. It's about acknowledgement. It's about seeing something in the other person, or having that seen in you. It's good for us.



So it was good for me to be reminded that in fact I don't know who finds me attractive or who doesn't. It was good to be reminded that there are gay men out there who are able to have great sex with HIV+ guys like me and not freak out over it, but enjoy it. And it was good to be shown once again, that just when I think I know something , the world can surprise me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forwards

Another year over, and already into the next. I'm not complaining, I'm glad I'm still going. I know it's a bit artificial to think of each year as somehow separate and distinct from the other, but it's how we humans work.


What will I remember 2009 for? Personally, the pain and chaos the Mills affair wrought was not fun to deal with. But that's over now. Work has been OK. Study has been OK. I've made a few new friends, which is always a plus. It's the first year in ages I haven't been out of the country, but that's OK too. And I had my first brush with the Censor thanks to my "full and frank" discussion of anal sex in a previous post. The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, set up by the mad ex-nun Patricia Bartlett, but still apparently going in its own little echo-chamber, complained about it. The Censor's office didn't uphold their complaints, but they did want an R 18 warning on it, which is fine by me.


I'm often a bit sarky and suspicious when it comes to ideas of community, especially in the gay world, but I have to admit that there are real elements of it that enrich my life here in Auckland. Unlike "the old days" when we all seemed to go to the same places, dykes, poofs, trans and friends, now we're more split up, but there are links and bonds that matter.


Take my local, Urge, as an example. (No, I don't get paid for mentioning them). In 2009 they raised around $14,000 or so for charity. Around $7,000 for Outline, for example. Together with Caluzzi at the BGO they raised about $4,000 for NZAF. And they've run events for Prostate Cancer and Body Positive as well. To be able to pull together a group of gay men and get us to fork out that much cash over 12 months is pretty damn exceptional and praise-worthy I think.
Especially when you look at the size of the place.



It's actually quite a small bar physically, 80 people makes it feel crammed, 100 and you can barely move. On New Years Eve it was probably more like 150 and nearly impossible to move anywhere for a while. But most of the time it's far less crowded, yet over 12 months, with planning and hard work from the owners and staff, they are able to put back a sum of money into the community that most larger venues don't come near. So a big shout out and thanks to Urge for all it does for us all. I shudder to imagine gay life in Auckland without it.


We finally buried HERO. A twinge of sadness there, but it had had its day. Another sign that the community just isn't as cohesive as it once was. We don't seem to have the interest to all band together and create a huge festival like that at the moment. So it'll be interesting to see how the Aroha Festival and OurFest do. I'm still not exactly sure what they are, but I'm looking forward to finding out.


The Big Gay Out is coming, and will, I am sure, be the biggest gay event in the country for the year and as usual a hell of a lot of fun. And courtesy of Urge, we have NZ's first Bear Week, which will be dependent on volunteers helping make it work. Here's hoping we get a nice crowd of men from overseas to join in and make it an event worth repeating.


And now we get to revel in summer for a while, which is always great. So many hot men in shorts and tight t-shirts on the streets. I'm doing a few hours work every day, trying to get my head back into PhD mode, and looking forward to another year. I've had my first cohort of old friends from overseas staying, which has been great. we've known each other since our late teens, and one of the great things in life is to have friends you've known for decades. Watching the changes, seeing what remains, and just having that sense of a deep rich warmth that comes from such long acquaintance is something I love.


There's bound to be some shit along the way this year, as always, but at the moment I'm feeling remarkable upbeat. I hope you all are, and that it lasts for us all.