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Sunday, January 17, 2010


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.