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Thursday, December 29, 2011

And It's Another Year Gone...and Happy 2012

The end of another year - and that's not a bad thing. There have been ups and downs, as usual. Personally, it's been a hard year for a number of reasons, so I'm not sad to turn the page on 2011, and hope that 2012 feels better for me.

It's been quite a year really. Huge political changes in North Africa and the Middle East. I cheer on the one hand,  but despair as well, as I read of the persecution of gay men that gets carried out in the turmoil. Scores of gay men have been targetted and murdered in Baghdad, killed just for being gay - this is hideous and barbaric, and it seems like it's not just happening there - we have become a legitimate target, easy to attack with no consequences. Gays don't count as real humans, we're just scum in their eyes. We are so lucky in New Zealand, as bad as things can get here, you won't be pulled into a car, driven off to some wasteland, raped, tortured and shot and then have your body dumped back at your parents' after. You can read more here...

It still amazes me that two men, or two women, or just the fact of an adult being sexually "different" can arouse such hatred and anger, such bile and stupid barbarity. And it's not just the Muslim world, there are Rabbis and Priests, Swamis and Gurus, Buddhists and Hindus who disagree about everything else except on what abominable sinful disgusting things we are.

Closer to home, we had the whole "It Gets Better" project as a response to the publicity around gay and queer youth suicide, starting in the US and then growing and growing. I think it is a great project, so many voices coming out with a positive message. By itself it's not enough of course, but it is a real step in putting positive messages out there for our youth. There was nothing like it when I was a suicidal teenager that's for sure - I had no idea that gay men could lead happy loving lives.

And honestly, life in general does get better as we age. It doesn't get perfect, but we learn how to cope better. I know that's true for me and most people I know. There will always be nasty bullies and shit-heads in the world, but as I get older they affect me less and less.

 I listened to two women in their 80s talking about surviving breast cancer the other day and how they reacted to it, and one said "Well you do just get more balanced about things at our age". I love old ladies. They know stuff if you're ready to listen.

And listening is good, it's the gift of time, and as much of a cliche as it is, giving other people your time, giving them your attention, is the most precious thing you can do. Without time, we are nothing, and being open and willing to share it with others shows you respect and care for them in the way you would like to be. It is the greatest gift. And it runs out. Suddenly that friend you cared for is dead, and everything that kept you busy and stopped you seeing them suddenly seems trivial and a mistake. So where you can, give generously of your time, listen, pay attention, remember you're dealing with someone with a life that is as full of joy, worry and drama as your own.

I turned 50 this year, and I really wouldn't want to be 20 again - ok, I'd like my 20 year-old body back, but I wouldn't want to be that youth again. Or maybe when I was 25, I think I looked my best around then, weighed about 15 kgs less, had more hair and a higher libido. But I wouldn't want that head back.

I have had a tradition of getting laid on New Year's Eve, as the best way to see in a New Year, but I'm not sure if that'll happen this time.  I'll be up at Urge, with old and new friends, and one of my oldest mates is visiting from London. But if you see this guy and he's looking lost, send him my way...

Summer needs books for me, especially when it's been as wet as this one has so far. I've just finished Peter Wells' latest work "The Hungry Heart" about the 19th C missionary William Colenso. I like Peter's work, especially his autobiography "Long Loop Home", but in this work he has really displayed his talent and power as a writer at a new level. If NZ history interests you in the slightest, you have to read this. If people interest you have to read it. It is a fascinating biography and at the same time a meditation on this country and what has shaped it. It grabbed me. Easily the best book I've read in 2011.

Whatever you do, I hope you have a great time on NYE, and that 2012 is a wonderful year for you. Thank you to those who give me their time and read what I write, I love hearing back from people about stuff, and am really humbled by some of the things people have told me. Sorry if I fucked you off, but hey, it gets better - promise!

I'm not a great one for New Year's resolutions, but I will try and be nicer in 2012. Honestly. Just don't piss me off.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yo Ho Ho !

And it's Christmas - again. It keeps coming around every year! I'm doing the usual mix of family and friends. A friend of mine told me this morning "Treasure your family, especially your Mum"  - he's an orphan from another country, so he knows what it's like to only have friends at this time. Family lunch today, then again tomorrow, it's a lot all at once, but generally, I enjoy my family. And I like being an uncle and a great-uncle.

I'm lucky that way I guess, I know it's not the case for every gay guy. Families can be a curse or a blessing, or a mixture.

Another friend from SF told me the other day "You know, I read your blogs and think you sound more like a cranky old man, but I find myself agreeing with you!" So maybe I am cranky - and right at the same time if he's agreeing with me.

I can be a moody shit at times, I know. It's part of the package. I can also be kind, caring, charming and fun - we all have our weak-spots.

Whatever Santa brings you, I hope you have fun and get some time with people you love. I know it's a cliche, but time is the most important thing we can give each other, time to be with those you care about, time to listen, to have fun, just to be there - it's more precious than anything you can buy - cause one day, the time will run out.

Hot summer Xmas means men in shorts and skimpy t-shirts, so much eye-candy, I do enjoy that.

And I am amazed at the people who tell me they read this blog. So thank you for taking the time to read what I write - and keep reading! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Everything Comes and Goes...

I went to my friend Wayne Otter's farewell from the NZAF yesterday.

18 years he'd been there. That's a long time. And he was there through the so much of the bad times, when we were sick and dying. When I was sick and dying. The thing about Wayne is that he was there - he did far more than his job description required. There aren't many people in the organisation on any level today who know what he knows, or have seen what he saw. His instinctive grasp of what it was like for us and the wider gay community and all those affected by HIV was a key asset, and will be missed. They couldn't muster up a single Board member to appear, just a pro-forma speech, which I think was a bit shabby.

But there was a lot of love and respect poured out to him yesterday from people who know what he has done, and he deserved it all and more.

And the two senior managers at NZAF are leaving as well, more change. Simon and Eamonn have both made a fantastic contribution over the years, often the most important work they've done is invisble to the outside, but they have done so much.  Both of them based their work in a real sense of compassion and value for people, and an understanding of the vulnerability of many of the people NZAF works with and I respect and admire them for that. They will be hard to replace.

And Carmen died this morning in Sydney. She was amazing, a force of nature, and she helped lead the way for the changes so many of us have benfitted from. Her courage and strength in being herself and speaking up back in the bad old days when being queer was illegal and could result in going to prison was amazing. She had guts, and she showed us all we don't need to apologise for being who we are.

All this change as the end of the year comes up - but the one thing in life we can guarantee is change.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Love and Marriage

I turned 50 in October, and I'm really happy about that. Half a century. That sounds old.

It did make me stop and think, re-evaluate my life, think about what I'm doing - after all, I never expected to be alive this long,  every year feels like a bonus to me, so I want to make sure I'm making the most of it all.

And life is pretty good. I could do with more money, but materially my life is ok. I have a lot of people who care for me very much, family and freinds who love me, and I'm lucky in that.

It did strike me though, that I will probably never fall in love again. It's not impossible, I know, but let's face it - the odds are getting pretty long that I am going to meet a guy I am going to want to buy flowers for and do all the silly romantic things people in love do. It would be great to have that wonderful feeling in my life again, to meet a man and revel in that sense of joy and silly happiness that being in love brings. But I doubt it's going to come my way again. I think it's just the logic of circumstance - a barely employed 50 year-old HIV+ gay man isn't such a great catch.

And that does make me a little sad - only a little though.

I don't really share this desire that seems so common now, this desire to be married. I can understand the logic of it, the argument that if we really are equal citizens, we should be treated with exact equality, so from a pure human rights point of view, ok, I get it. But I don't get the desire to mimic mummy and daddy in the suburbs, to get engaged, and have a big wedding with a gift registry. I understand, it's validating for a lot of guys, but it still doesn't grab my heart or mind. I can understand wanting to celebrate your love in front of the most important people in your lives, but marriage, hmm, not for me. And really, expecting your friends to fork out cash because you want a new $500 toaster - that's just grasping and mean.

Most of the gay men I know who are married/civil unioned or whatever are still fucking around, so monogamy obviously isn't the driver. And gay men are different from straights, we do build our relationships differently.Celebrating love makes sense - aping straight marriage doesn't for me.

But back to romance, to falling in love - will I ever meet a guy and have that "swept off my feet" feeling again? Like I said, probably not. Someone somewhere said you never fall in love again after 40 because we've lived too long and can't trust in the same way, and that could be true.

To really fall for someone, you do have to suspend a lot of your hard-edged reality-based life, the world is full of butterflies and rainbows - that's the fun of it all, and that sweet, mad, intoxicating feeling of tenderness and the delight in getting to know each other - it's fantastic when it happens. And of course, it wears off over time.

When I look around at my friends, the ones in the successful relationships have been able to move from the "in love" to "love" stage, and that isn't always guaranteed to happen. Because building a loving relationship isn't about being in love really - it's about finding someone you want to be with through all the ordinary stuff in life, paying bills, cleaning the house, all those unromantic things.

I am glad I'm around, and I am lucky to be loved in the ways that I am, but a little part of me mourns that I'll probably never have that feeling again, that all-encompassing, light-headed, seeing stars when he walks in the room kind of feeling again.

But who knows - life has surprised me before.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why is HIV Invisible ?

December 1st is World AIDS Day, the UN's theme this year is "Getting to Zero" but who would know it here in New Zealand? As I write this, I can find zero public notice of the fact. Nothing in the mainstream print media. Apparently the NZAF put out a press release, but that seems to have sunk into obscurity. I can't see any evidence of work from Body Positive or the other HIV+ support groups either, but all of this could simply relate to the way the mainstream media just aren't interested in this topic anymore, not unless it gives them a nice lurid scandal to put in a headline. Or perhaps it relates to a total lack of any media strategy from all these groups.

Maybe the Occupy movement here in NZ are all wearing red ribbons today...or maybe not. The complete indifference from nearly all areas of the social and political world in New Zealand really  fucks me off. People who should be our natural allies don't even seem to konw about it. Public figures are ignorant. Why isn't the Prime Minister wearing a red ribbon? I'll bet (a) he doesn't even know it is World AIDS Day and (b) if he did, he wouldn't because it might offend his more conservative supporters.

A friend in the US said the World Bank puts a huge red ribbon on the front of their building in Washington to mark it every year - do we see any effort like that here?

Part of the problem must lie with the long-standing practice of NZAF to have the World AIDS Day street collection on the Friday before the actual day.

This is a really stupid decision, and one that is disrespectful of what this day is about. You don't move ANZAC Day or Armisitice Day to suit - World AIDS Day deserves the same level of respect and attention, but bureaucratic logic has been imposed on this for years. And the reports show the street collection has gone down again.

A friend who works in public health in a regional centre said it took him ages and to get any material from NZAF to mark World AIDS Day, and even then none of it had the date on it.

This public indifference is not something we can solely blame the NZAF for, but they carry a big share of it. They have an in-house media machine, but it seems particularly ineffectual. Why aren't there stories in all the major papers or news sites? Perhaps I will get a nice surprise later and see TV reports on the main channels about it all, and the news presenters wearing red ribbons. Or not.

Hell, in the past I've had pieces published in the Herald and been interviewed on National Radio for World AIDS Day - all off my own bat. I'm not a media professional, but if I can get that much done why the fuck  can't the people drawing a salary for this get us out there front and centre?

It pisses me off, because if we don't keep HIV in the public eye, we lose out on many levels.

Those of us who have the virus feel even more invisible and marginalised for one thing. Living with HIV is hard enough, a little public support today would be good.

For another, the news that HIV is still a real threat and needs to be dealt with and talked about in public is key to keeping people informed and helping reduce new infections.

HIV/AIDS is different from other epidemics. It is tied up in so many people's minds with issues of morality, shame, and guilt, that it's hard to have a rational discussion about it at the best of times, but today is the one day of the year that we should be able to have our voices heard and be seen, be visible and be heard.

Millions and millions of people have died from AIDS around the world, millions of men, of women, and children - they deserve to be acknowledged today.

Millions and millions of people are living with HIV,and more will become infected as well, they deserve to be acknowledged today.

Millions of us are alive with it right now, and let me tell you, even with all the medical improvements, life with HIV still sucks. We deserve to be acknowledged today.

To all the people I've known over the years who have helped and supported me and others living with HIV, my deepest and most sincere thanks.

To all the people I know who have died from AIDS here and around the world, you live on in my memory.

And to all the people who will become HIV+ today and in the future, I hope you live somewhere you can get good medical care, I hope you live somewhere where you don't have to feel ashamed of who you are because of a virus in your blood, I hope you feel support, and I hope you know love.

There is now a piece on the NZ Herald website - so that is cool.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Round Up

So the NZAF has had its AGM and Board elections - well done to the new trustees, but it's very sad to see no-one with links to Auckland's gay community on the board, and no-one with HIV itself. I asked a few friends who had been active around HIV issues before if they'd voted and their reaction was "What's the point?" The general sense was that the NZAF is no longer connected to the community that established it.

NZAF used to be central to the world of gay men in New Zealand - now, with the number of people living with HIV at the highest they've ever been, they're seen as increasingly irrelevant. Auckland has got by far the largest population of HIV+ guys, yet we now have a board with zero contact or knowledge of this world. Let's hope they can rectify that with a judicious appointment - I think they have one place left to fill. As an HIV+ man, and an ex-Chair of the organisation, I find this development sad and worrying for the future effectiveness of its work.

And we have a national election looming. Do you vote along lines of self-interest? Along lines of what you think is best for the country over the future? For candidates or parties that support queer issues?

Sometimes it's tempting to say "A plague on all your houses"and walk off in disgust but voting really does matter.

I have friends who will vote National - I won't - one of their new candidates, Dr Jian Yang, has said he's against gay marriage. It's not an issue that preoccupies me personally, but I think that from a human rights point of view, you can't get away from the fact that if we are full citizens, we deserve 100% equal rights in all areas. Jian Yang doesn't agree, and he's not the only one in National. National does have one out gay MP, Chris Finlayson, and a few in the closet, but they are not exactly that interested in us. Their "gay strategy" seems to be getting Nikki Kaye to be our new girlfriend in Ponsonby bars.

Labour have been on our side for decades now, but again with limits. They've certainly done more for the rights of queer people than anyone else, and have also been onside with issues around HIV, and they have a number of happily out gay MPs. But while there is a lot of good in Labour, there's a lot of dead-wood too.

ACT - yes, I know gay men who vote ACT. Why? I don't know. It's always worth repeating the fact that John Banks said putting six inches of barbed wire up a gay man's arse was a waste of good barbed wire. He smiles and claims he's changed, but I wouldn't trust him as far as I can kick him.

The Greens - all definitely onside for queer issues, and Kevin Hague MP has almost been the de facto Opposition spokesman on Health during this last parliament. But do you think the rest of their policies make sense?

The Maori Party - forget it - Tariana and Pita look all warm and cuddly, but they "tolerate" the gays, they don't support us. I remember Tariana saying a few years ago that she wouldn't support gay marriage because it was against a Maori understanding of marriage. Fine. I won't support you though.

Mana - a wasted vote, as is NZ First or United Future.

Yes, whoever you vote for, the politicians will win - but get out and do it.

So it will be interesting to see what happens. I'm in Auckland Central, so will give the Labour Candidate Jacinda Ardern my electorate vote, I'm still deciding where my list vote will go.

On a lighter note - Bearracuda was great the other night - so good to be in a room full of hot ,sweaty men, dancing ourselves stupid to great music, seeing friends, meeting new people, just having fun. And summer is coming, so there are lots of hot men in shorts and that is a very good thing. I have a thing for legs...hairy legs...tempting the eye up...

The sun is shining, life isn't too bad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Won't Somebody Think of the Children!

New Zealand has a long history of sad, joyless, puritan wowsers, out to point their finger and tell us what is best for us. 100 years ago they tried to ban booze. They know better than we do what we should read, listen to or see, of course, because...well...just because.

Yeah, I 'm writing about the ban on Odd Future's appearance at the Big Day Out next year.

Apparently the idea that some of their lyrics might offend us gays is enough to get them banned. Goodness knows that we homos are such delicate wee flowers, it is obvious  that hearing people voice nasty words about us will lead to mass suicides.

Or not.

As Craig Ranapia has pointed out at Public Address, the process around this has been disturbing to say the least. Who the fuck gave Sandra Coney and others the right to act as our censors, on the pretext that some people might be offended?

In a free society we have freedom of speech, and that means that sometimes we will all be offended by what others say. Is it mean? Are those words cruel? Are they sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic? Are they the complete opposite to everything I hold dear and believe? Tough - that's the price we all pay for a free society.

Yes, of course I am aware of the damage done by bullying and homophobia - I have spent a good deal of my time as an adult fighting it. Banning speech, music or songs that can be classified as homophobic is not the way to go. And if they believe that banning OF is the right thing to do, why don't they go further? Why don't they try and get their music banned totally in the country? Or is it all just a little bit of sanctimonious grandstanding? What next? Will our self-appointed moral guardians start burning the CDs and books that also contain language that can be seen as offensive and bullying? Because there are thousands of them out there. That's a lot of bonfires.

You don't have a right not to be offended.

And the pretext that what someone might say, or has said before, is enough to deny them the right to say what they want is characteristic of totalitarian states, like the old USSR, the old South Africa, or Iran or North Korea today.

Noam Chomsky said it better than I can:

"If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don't like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise." (Chomsky 1992)

And for your aural pleasure...

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Was A Gay Hippy - Then I Started Thinking

When I was young - such a long time ago gentle reader - but when I was, way back in my early 20s, I was a gay hippy, a believer in all sorts of fringe New Age ideas, like shamanism, the Radical Faeries and all that went with it like homeopathy, astrology, shakra-alignment, karmic choice, all sorts of crap.

The Radical Faeries appealed because they are the ultimate in gay hippydom really. They take the idea that gay men have a special spiritual gift, and we are ntaurally more inclinced to being spiritual healers/leaders/ whatever. All based in pretty piss-poor anthropology and re-interpreting other cultures to fit what was basically a cozy American middle-class identity of gay hippy.

But it was attractive in its own way. It provided community of a sort, I met some great guys. I was even a professional tarot card reader for a while. Yes, I've had a rich and varied life.

Part of it was based in that general questioning and rejection of mainstream society that came so naturally to me after figuring out I was gay.

If they were wrong about this major part of me, if being gay was actually ok, then what else had they got wrong? It did lead me to quesiton all sorts of things, and try out all sorts of shit. Maybe Western Medicine was all a big rip-off and con, if we looked to nature and led a pure life we wouldn't get sick! Reality is just a perception that we choose to perceive! Think differently and you can change your reality! You can be anything you want to be! We all chose to be born where we are to learn life-lessons this time round! All that crap.So comforting if you are relatively well-off in a developed country, but it doesn't really offer much to a 2 year-old orphan starving to death because of famine and civil war. "You're suffering now because of your past incarnations." But I know people who still believe that shit.

I sat in circles with other men, chanted, wept, re-birthed, invoked the Goddess, did seances, lived in a gay hippy commune, all that stuff. Some of it was good, some of the emotional work, and one of my dearest friends is from that time in my life. But the rest of it - nah, not so much.

You see, I don't believe in a soul, I don't believe in reincarnation, therefore I don't believe in karma. I don't believe there is anything divine or supernatural to the world. No God, no Devil, no Heaven, no Hell. The stars are out there in the universe being stars - astrology is delusional. No-one has psychic powers, because there is nothing psychic in the universe. The dead are dead, we can't communicate with them, they are gone; spiritualism and seances were invented in the mid 19th century.

I know that homeopathy, astrology and all that other New Age stuff is just a major con-job, but it is comforting because it lets people have the illusion of some level of power over their lives, it adds some sort of mystery to our ordinary lives. It is comforting to think that we can connect with a loved one after they die, but it's just self-deceit. It's comforting to think that after death bad people will be punished, and the good rewarded. We like to imagine a perfect world, and as we can't get it here, we push it out till after death. I know it pisses some of my friends off, but I just don't share those belief systems. I don't believe in any of the Maori spiritual stuff either, I regard it as just as much a con-job as the rest.

You can't be anything you want to be, and you can't do anything you want to do. There are limits that no amount of positive thinking will change. (Pic ganked from lolcubs)

There was never one turning point, in my move away from it all. Living overseas in a radically different culture helped me see just how limited and privileged the entire "Alternative Lifestyle" things is. It picks and chooses as it exploits little bits and pieces of other culture's spiritual beliefs, and shapes them to suit a largely white, middle-class audience.

And then I got sick with AIDS. Really sick. And this was at the time when medicine wasn't able to do much, so there was a lot of interest, and desperation, from a lot of guys looking for anything that would help them.

People I know tried ozone-bagging (look it up) , Chinese medicine, Ayuravedic medicine, colour therapy, all sorts of herbal cures - and they stayed sick and then they died. Some of got hold of the belief that western medicine was bad, and they were killing us with it. And it did give guys who were often desperate a sense of control over what they were doing, I can't deny it. It felt like we were taking an active role in our health, in fighting this virus that western medicine had failed with.

Then the new meds came out in the mid-90s, and suddenly, things changed. I started on the new meds and I stopped being so sick. So did lots and lots of other HIV+ people. Western medicine worked.

It wasn't my chakras, it wasn't thanks to Chinese medicine or positive thinking. It was thanks to rational, science-based medicine. I love western medicine, it saved my life.

Some people think this is a bleak way to view life and universe, but I don't. I think the universe is amazing! I love it! I don't find it a bleak way to view my life, I would call it realistic, and I'd rather look at life calmly and realistically, than wrap it up in all sorts of comforting delusions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

So many things swimming around to write about, things I've been thinking about. Life, politics, HIV, horror.

Life: I turned 50 last week - that was amazing - and I celebrated with family and friends. It was a lot of fun, and I am very glad, and I am very lucky. And I was very hungover...

Politics - well the election looms, and I have opinions, but I'll get to them in another blog. But to be clear, National and ACT and United Future are shit. Perhaps I'm getting old and grumpy, but none of the parties actually inspire me.

HIV - why are young guys not getting the message? Part of the blame must lie at the feet of the NZAF. They are supposed to be experts at connecting with the gay community, that is what they were established to do, and what they get millions of dollars in government funding for and pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries for, but they have dropped the ball here. As they have moved away from being a community organisation to a generic Wellington style bureaucracy, this was inevitable though. Infection numbers continue to rise, young people aren't being reached by their programmes - not exactly a success story for NZAF at the moment. And part of the blame must lie with we older men not being able to pass the message down as well.But I'll come back to that another day.

And horror - real horror. The story from Scotland this week of Stuart Walker being beaten then burnt alive is unutterably disgusting, enraging, and saddening.

Imagine the agony, the terror, and the pain of his final hours.

This was an act of pure, deliberate and unspeakable evil.

Was it an act of homophobia? It is hard to be sure, but the indications are strong that it was. The vicious and dehumanising nature of the assault suggest it was much more than just a random drunken assault. It has chilling reminders for me of the way Matthew Shepherd was slaughtered in 1998.

There is the same sadistic delight in humiliating and tormenting a gay man, and the same contempt for his body. To burn someone alive - what sort of person can do that? To pour out such contempt on his physical shell - what lies behind this thinking?

What is there about being gay, about being sexually different, that can inspire such hatred, such blind and meaningless torture? Make no mistake, there are people who feel that way in this country too. Some of them used to be in Parliament - the ACT candidate for Epsom, John Banks, once famously said that shoving six inches of barbed wire up a gay man's arse was a waste of good barbed wire. That is the kind of evil that lies behind these sort of acts.

These people have the ability to regard as something far less than human, simply because we are not straight. They see nothing wrong with torturing us, they see nothing wrong with harassing us, they see nothing wrong with killing us. We are such scum in their eyes, that we do not matter.

Yes, NZ has come a long way. But it is not hard to find blind, unreasoning hatred of us out there. I really hope I'm wrong, but I will be disugusted and enraged when something like this happens here, but I won't be surprised.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Love, Lust and Intimacy

I was trying to think of the last time I spent the whole night with a guy, going to bed, fucking, and waking up together - it's been a while. So long in fact that I can't remember. It's not that I haven't been having sex - I have. But actually sleeping with someone - that is something that happens rarely. It seems to me that in the past it used to happen much more. You'd go out, pick up, go back to his or your place, and stay the night - it was common in my youth. Maybe in the morning there'd be an embarassing rush for clothes and insincere mumbles about seeing each other again, or maybe you'd have coffee, meet the flatmates, and go. But staying the night was normal. Perhaps it's just me, but now it's not really part of my life.

I realised that sleeping with a man is now a much greater act of intimacy for me than fucking with one, which is a little strange, but when I think about it, maybe it's not that weird.

I know that my life isn't a replica of how all gay men behave, but I'm not that unusual either, and a lot of us do have a lot of sex, and often with a lot of different guys. It's fun - shit, when it's good it's a hell of a lot of fun. Sex is revealing too, it shows a lot about who you are, fantasies, reactions to things, good sex needs you to be comfortable and happy in your skin.  We open ourselves to another, we make ourselves vulnerable. But it isn't always emotionally intimate, even though physically you can't get much more intimate than getting your dick up some guy or having his up you.

Sleeping with another man - to me, that is way more intimate. When we sleep, we trust someone else to lie there with us as we drift off into unconsciousness. You are helpless, and defenceless when you sleep. The personality is gone, it is just the body, at rest, exposed, vulnerable. And the body does what the body does, even the most beautiful of us snore, or drool on the pillow, we lose all control over how we present ourselves to the world, we lie there revealed, like a baby.

There is something lovely about lying there, holding and touching and another guy as I drift off. I don't like sleeping all cuddled up though, I need some space, but I love that feeling of drowsily brushing up against a man's body in the middle of the night, the slight touch, then rolling over and drifitng off again. And there is a special intimacy to lying there with a lover, holding hands, touching, talking about the deep stuff, together, naked in bed, as sleep rolls in and you both drift off.

So I guess it's not surprising to me that I do this so rarely now. Who do I trust enough to open myself up to so much? Who do I love enough to bring into my life this way? At the moment, no-one.

And it brings me back to that point, that central defining issue for me about being a gay man. That is, it's not the sex that makes me gay, it's that I want to share my love with another man. The sex is just the easy part, the fun part, but it's not the same as love. And for me, being gay isn't about who I fuck, it's about who I love. And who I sleep with.

Monday, September 19, 2011

When Silence Isn't Golden

A student came up to me after a lecture last week to thank me.

I'd been doing my annual guest lecture on "Gay Auckland" and, among other things, talked of the way gay men tend to move to cities from small towns, and how that affects Auckland, and often then we move on overseas, to Sydney, or New York or London.

This guy came up and told me how I'd described what he had done by coming to Auckland, and now he planned to move to Sydney or Melbourne when he graduated.  He recognised part of his life in what I was teaching, and that's important.

Earlier this year, I had an email sent in the name of some queer students in another class of mine, who said how much they'd appreciated me working gay/queer themes into aspects of the course, and how this never happens normally.

It made me realise just how invisible we still are, and reminded me just how important visibility is.

If we don't see ourselves represented, whether it's on TV, in movies, or in the classroom, it makes it seem like we don't matter, like we're not really there - just ghosts, hovering on the edges of "real" life. In fact, there are queers in every layer and level of life, from tow-truck drivers to  theatre directors, investment bankers to accupuncturists. As the old slogan says "We are everywhere."

But why are we so invisible? Why even in the University of Auckland, in disciplines that might be expected to pay attention to us, are we ignored? Why do my students feel invisible until I incorporate our stories into my teaching?

That's why being "out" is still important. Some people have said it doesn't matter anymore, that we shouldn't care if someone is out or not about being gay. I say bullshit. Especially if you are a public figure. It's just cowardice to hide behind "Oh it doesn't matter, we're all just people."

If we're all "just people" and it really doesn't matter, then why be so coy about honestly describing yourself?

We do have to put up with shit from the wider world for being queer, it's called homophobia, it's real, it's nasty, it damages people's lives and it's not ok. And people who stay in the closet add to that.

Yeah, I know, it's not easy for everyone - some people have huge family or professional obstacles to face if they do it. But it's never really been that easy for most of us. it was hard for me back when I was a teenager too. But I came out and am glad I did.

None of the political changes we have got would have happened without people standing up and saying "Yes, I am gay/lesbian/queer and I'm just as good as you."

Silence, or that polite "Let's not make waves" attitude that we see is actually bad for us as a whole. We have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide.

I'm glad I can make a little bit of difference here and there, but it just shows how much remains to be done as well. My students shouldn't have to write me emails of gratitude because they see themselves represented in what they are studying with me - that they do is gratifying to me on one level, but it also shows just what limits we continue to live with.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Middle-Aged Angst

A friend died the other week, a lovely, warm and kind man, he was younger than me, and it was out of the blue. Heart attack while doing something he loved, so as deaths go, I guess it counts as a good one. Not for his husband or family of course, it was just awful, but I'd rather go like that with no long decline of sickness and hospitals - when I go I hope it's fast.

At his funeral there was a lot of talk about enjoying life now, seizing the day, not putting things off. These are things we all say, but they became far more real and relevant in this setting.

So that, and the fact I will be 50 next month, have made me sit back a bit and take stock, consider my life and what I'm doing and where it's heading.

I am still surprised to be alive - I never thought I'd make it this long after getting my HIV diagnosis in 1988. I've been told twice by doctors to get ready to die, and I'm still here. You'd think I'd be pretty good at living in the moment, at seizing the day, at directing my life in ways to make me happy, but I'm not so sure I have been doing that lately. And I have been so lucky to keep on when so many others didn't, I feel a sort of obligation to them to live well, not to waste this amazing second chance I've been given.

I see 50 approaching, and I'm happy - I'm going to throw one big party I can tell you - but am I doing what I really want to be doing with this life?

Is this my mid-life crisis? If I was a straight man maybe I'd get a divorce and a Harley and 20 year-old girlfriend. But I don't know how to ride a motorbike and most 20 year-olds bore me after a bit.

It seems like so much of my life has been based around HIV - either dealing with it as it nearly killed me, slowly getting over it, and being involved in the politics of it. I wonder now if I want to follow that pattern over the next ten years. It has taken up a huge amount of space in my life, but I think I need to make room for other things before I die.

And realistically, I probably do only have ten years or so left - the meds are great at tackling HIV, but they are intensive daily chemo-therapy, they put a burden on the body - I know I'm far more likely to die of a heart-attack brought on by my the side effects of my HIV meds than to die of AIDS now - I find that quite grimly amusing.

In the meantime, I have to keep a roof over my head and put food on the table - but after meeting those basics, I'm left with this "Now what?" feeling.

Something will change, that's how it feels to me right now. I'm not sure just what, but I can see the signs in myself of something shifting, something moving.

I'm lucky - I have a great family, wonderful friends, I am loved and I know it. But something else is there niggling away...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sexual Healing

My regular fuck-buddy and I have been rooting each other for over 5 years now. That's longer than a lot of other relationships I've had. He's 11 years younger than me and he's so good for me.

We go through phases where we see each other lots, and times when we're busy and a few months go by, but it always feels the same when we meet up again.

We laugh, we chat, have some wine, we cuddle and kiss, and we fuck, and then we cuddle, and... you know how it goes. There is a genuine affection for each other there too, we know each other pretty well  by now. Last week he said to me "I know your body so well, I know how you will respond when I touch you like this...or here, and I love it!" And I can do the same to him. And hey, he's hot, athletic, hairy and hung - what's not to like?

He's HIV negative, and my status isn't an issue for him at all. That's something I really value. When you're HIV+  it's a lot harder to meet guys who can relax like this. So often if I tell someone I'm poz they put their guard up, and sex with the guard up is not good sex; and so often we guys who are poz feel undesirable, unsexy, marked by "the plague" especially when it comes to getting naked. With him I feel desirable, I feel hot, and I feel cared for. These things matter.

Gay culture puts a lot of emphasis on sex, and HIV+ guys often feel excluded from that side of things. Having someone I can just relax with this way is such a good thing in my life. He is very well-informed, and completely at ease with all we need to do to keep him HIV negative while we have fun. We've never even had a broken condom or any kind of scare in all this time, so I know from personal experience that safe sex and great sex do go together.

It's an interesting dynamic for a relationship. It really is based on sex. Good, sensual, athletic, fun sex. He is exhausting at times, but in the best possible way. I even found myself in a new position the other day - and at nearly 50 I thought I knew it all.

Neither one of us really wants it to go beyond this either. We genuinely like each other, but we both know the limits to what we have, how and why it works.

It's a relationship, but we don't want to meet each other's families or friends, we don't want to live together, we aren't in love. We like each other, we turn each other on, and we fuck really well together. We give each other pleasure.

And I really enjoy that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eight Years On & I Still Miss You

Eight years ago, on July 26th, I sat by the bedside of one of my most loved friends as he lay dying in the scummy, dank AIDS ward in Athens.

David Turner was so lovely, so kind, so smart and funny. He came into my life in the 1980s when I was living in Istanbul and he brought a group of US students over who were studying Byzantine history - he was a historian and a scholar. David was old friends with another friend of mine from my youth, John, who was visiting me at the time, so we all met up. David has spent part of his youth at school in Auckland where he'd met John, but his mother was Greek, and he was always happiest there.

That first day we met we three had an uproarious slightly drunken lunch together, filled with such lewd and vulgar sexual jokes and stories that we actually made a group of English tourists get up and leave the restaurant in disgust.We didn't care. David loved to shock, loved to confront, but tried hard not to hurt. We had a fairly immediate sexual frisson. But he lived in Athens, and I lived in Istanbul, and although we got naked and had fun a few times, we soon decided we were going to be friends, not lovers, but I loved him.

It was a friendship I treasured, because of who he was. He'd stay with me when he could on a his visits to Turkey, and I stayed at his flat in Athens a number of times over the years, and we'd stay up drinking and smoking and arguing, with David excitedly insisting on listening to one more album, one more piece of music. He had a tendency to play Bruckner, very loud. All sorts of people would wander through, Greek and foreign -  theology students, historians, anarchists, guys he had fucked, old lovers, archaelogists and scholars from the British School in Athens who were experts in their areas of speciality, and usually experts at drinking litres of wine as well. It was a fascinating, cosmopolitan and and multi-lingual group, slipping from English to Greek to German to Turkish depending on who was there. We were young, we were living in a great part of the world. We had so much fun together.

David was a strongly believing Greek Orthodox Christian who saw no conflict with that and being gay. He even got us an audience with the Patriarch of Constantinople. We had some great arguments over religion, and he really knew how to argue. And he knew how to laugh. Every time he visited Hagia Sophia in Istanbul he'd make a point of going to the grave of the Venetian Doge Dandolo just to spit on it. Dandolo had led the Fourth Crusade which had sacked Constantinople. The Greeks have never forgiven Dandolo.

I went back to Turkey in 2003, travelled to Syria, and then was going to visit him in Athens, stay again in that familiar flat. He'd been unwell for a long time, with all sorts of strange little illnesses, but no-one thought to test him for HIV, and he never suggested it it seems. That's sad, as he had been  one of a group who had fought  to set up some basic HIV care in Athens. The assumption was that he was so well-versed in it that he would have been testing, but he hadn't been.  By the time he'd finally been diagnosed with HIV, he was incredibly ill. And in a move I still do not understand, even though his Drs knew he was allergic to penicillin, they gave it to him anyway to treat one of his infections. He developed Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a truly horrible condition where your skin peels away from the underlying tissue, even the mucous membranes in your nose and the interior of your eyelids can come away.

I didn't realise just how sick he was till I got there. At the time I was still Chair of the NZAF, and his friends all looked to me as someone who could help, someone who knew more about HIV and AIDS than they did, but as soon as I saw him I knew he was dying.

His body, that beautiful sexy body I'd kissed and held and loved and fucked was doubled in size, thanks to the steroids they'd put him on to counter the Stevens-Johnson. His skin was a mess, coming off in sheets. His mind was wandering, he was confused, but we had stretches of lucidity where he told me how envious he was of me getting to Syria, to Damascus and Aleppo - we promised to go to Mt Athos together. I stayed in his flat, so strange to be there alone, no partys, no loud music, just his books, icons and music all around. Strange to lie alone in that bed where we'd fucked so many years ago. He was surrounded by friends, and that was a blessing. He had an American colleague down the street who was deeply involved, and his friends from the British School, and they were good to me too, but I felt alone, bereft. My trip had so far been full of excitement and renewing old friendships, and here with one of the men I most valued, one of the friends I most wanted to see, I was only in time to watch him die.

Every day I had the routine of going to visit him, to sit by his bed. It was through him I had come to love Athens as a city, but now it seemed hard and unforgiving. The AIDS ward he was in was in a shabby old piece of a hospital, an early 20th Century red brick place is what I remember, with just a few rooms, there was a gaunt African refugee dying in the room next door. It was a deeply depressing place to be. I hope they've changed it since then.

And then he died, as I and his American friend and his girlfriend sat there that evening. I could tell it was coming, I'd seen it before, I've watched enough friends die to know it. He died. And after we sat and gave the Dr on duty the information he needed, he told us we had to help take the body to the morgue.

That was particularly brutal, just minutes after watching him die, to be told in an off-hand manner that we were expected to do this. I remember us using a sheet to move his body onto a gurney, then pushing it through the ward and down a ramp to a strange, cold little morgue with a few icons hanging on the walls. And that was where we left him. It was brutal, but it was also right somehow I guess, that people who loved him helped took him on that journey.

Then there was the aftermath back at the flat. The phone calls from his friends, Greeks speaking in broken English, trying to understand. "Dead? What do you mean - no, he can't be dead!" Their disbelief, their sorrow, his brother arriving from the country, dumb with grief, looking for clothes to dress him in. I got stoned and went out to a gay bar, Aleccos, got drunk and picked a guy up and took him back. It wasn't the best sex, but I guess I needed some skin contact, there in David's bed. He would have understood.

And I couldn't stay for the funeral, I had flights that I couldn't change, had to get back to Istanbul, then London, to get back here. I took one of his icons from beside his bed as a memento, an icon of the prophet Elijah being fed by ravens in the wilderness, and I see it every day and think of him.

But eight years on, and the grief has dulled, but my darling David, you wonderful, funny, outrageous man, I still miss you, I still think of you, I still love you.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Is It You or Is It Me?

What years of agonising aversion therapy, hormone treatment for some, being prayed over and beatings and prison couldn't do, Shortland Street scriptwriters have managed. Again. They turned a gay character straight. Again. Jonathan McKenna on his return to the show has now fallen for Gabrielle, when years ago his youthful  character was hailed for helping break down sterotypes about gay men.

Obviously the ex-Gay movement, homophobic religious types and the few remaining psychiatrists who claim we are mentally sick should get on a plane and find out just what their secret is, because they succeed in turning gay men and women straight with remarkable frequency.

I know, I know, it's a TV soap opera and has little to do with reality, but still, I find something nasty about the way they do this. Australia isn't much better, with "Home and Away" nicknamed "Homo Away" as any gay character they ever bring in is quickly moved on. It's like the way the Soviets used to re-write history, air-brushing inconvenient leaders out of photos and history. And even though it's fiction, it tries very hard to pretend that it represents New Zealand. Just without the sodomy.

Given the number of gay writers involved in the show, you'd think they could keep one gay character going in a reasonably realistic manner - they do it for everyone else.

Why can't the lesbians stay lesbian on Shorty? Why can't the poofs stay poofs? Or is being gay really just "a lifestyle choice" as our enemies like to maintain? That is certainly the message you get from Shorty. "Yeah, you're a guy who likes guys at the moment, but don't worry, we'll cure you!" Part of it is obviously financial. The show needs advertisers, and gay men just don't sell that well. Straight men like looking at pretty lesbians and imagining themselves with them, so you can get away with that a bit more - but obviously not too much.

Do people really change from gay to straight with such ease? Not in my experience, and certainly not if you look into any of the research. Changing people's sexual orientation is largely seen as impossible for most, and uneccesary as well. Now, I do know that for some women, love is more important than the physical gender of the person they are with, so some women do move from loving women to men and back - it happens. But most who call themselves lesbians tend to stay that way in my experience.

A long time ago I knew a couple of straight men who decided to "turn gay" out of (I am serious) deeply helpd political convictions based in a radical style of feminism. They thought being with men would help undermine the patriarchy. Last I heard they'd both gone straight again. It didn't take, because where you sit on the spectrum of human sexuality is pretty deeply wired in. And yes, it is a spectrum, but most people tend to be clustered either at the straight end, or the gay end - there really aren't that many occupying the middle ground.

I sure as hell didn't "choose" to be gay, and I get really pissed off when people talk about it as a "lifestyle choice" - it's not a choice, it's an integral and natural part of who I am, just like my height and eye-colour. And it's not something that you can suddenly change by flipping a switch.

Do soap operas have a duty to tell the truth? Yes and no. Obviously it's fiction. But if they only portrayed Maori as drug-dealing gang-members who kill their babies, there would be a justifiable outcry. If they portrayed all nurses and doctors as drug-addicted lazy and incompetent, there would be an outcry.

But if they turn a gay man straight - well, who cares? And have they ever turned a straight man gay? I don't think so. I'd love to see TK and Owen realise their mutual antagonism really stems from their long deeply-held love for each other. But we won't see that.

Visibility matters. It is important that we queers are seen on TV, and seen as normal and part of everyday life - because that is the truth. We are normal. We are part of everyday life. As the old Gay Lib slogan said "We are everywhere!" It is important that young queers of whatever stripe see ourselves represented and know they aren't freaks, and know they aren't alone in the world.We are not something to hide from, to be afraid of, or something to wipe out.

I guess the main imperative is commercial, but that's really not a good enough excuse. We need to be seen. We need to be shown to be part of mainstream NZ culture. Because, that is what we are, and we deserve nothing less.

Monday, July 4, 2011

More Life Online

Yes, I have been assimilated by the Apple Borg, and yes, I love my iPhone, but it does make me stop and think. Most gay men who have an iPhone or Android will know at least one of these icons: Scruff, Grindr and Recon. And there are lots more, Manhunt, Gaydar, Adam4Adam to name just a few.

All designed so we can get a root, or maybe love, not just in the privacy of our own home while online, but when we're out and about through the apps on our phone.

New technology = new ways to  hook up. Is this what happend when they invented paper and ink?

It is kind of weird to have my phone chirp at me from my pocket while I'm walking to work and find someone in Texas thinks I'm hot and will be out here in 3 months and do I wanna hook up? Weird, but cool in a strange sort of way. Hey, it's flattering even if it will probably never happen. (He was HOT btw).

I love the way I can monitor the different time-zones on scruff, as the screen fills up with people from different parts of the globe. You can see the changes in time as the population on the screen alters over the day - Asia, Europe, the Americas, back to our part of the world.

And there are the guys you see on different sites, presenting themselves slightly differently. Scruff is a bit more bearish, grindr a bit more gym-bunny, but I often see the same guys on lots of sites. A mate joked with me the other day that we chat on five different platforms now. Then he told me I hadn't logged into scruff for a while. Sometimes the phone can go crazy with messages coming - so good for the ego - some days no-one woofs or says I'm hot - sad face.

I have a friend I've never met, we only chat on recon, and we've been talking for nearly 2 years now I guess. He just had a (non-HIV related) health scare, and we've been talking about that; I really like him, and was quite concerned for him, so it's been a real relief to hear he's ok - and that's kind of strange when you sit back and think about it. Here is this guy I've never physically met, contacted through a gay fetish site, and we now have a friendship that involves a lot more than anything sexual. He's an academic too, so we often talk about ideas as well. It's a bizarre way to know someone. But I'm glad I know him.

Of course, there is the joke of being in a gay bar and watching half the men sit there, beer in one hand, phone in the other, busily looking at who is hot on whatever site they're using and ignoring the living breathing men around them. Sometimes it seems like nearly the whole bar is doing it. And you have to wonder just why we can't get off the phone and talk to a man who is sitting close by. It connects us and disconnects us at the same time.

It is very similar to online hook-ups, but it feels even more pared back, leaner. Messages tend to be shorter, more to the point, because it's harder to write on those keyboards I guess. One mate said the question he gets most often on his phone is "How big's your cock?"

I know some guys have met the love of their lives through online dating/hookup sites - I haven't heard of it happening via these phone apps yet, but it's bound to have happened by now, and nothing wrong with that - how you meet is not important.

How much is real and how much is fantasy, or a carefully shopped photo? A mate was talking about someone he'd just met in real life the other day and said "He really has to stop using that photo on scruff, it must be 10 years old at least!". You never can be sure just how it's going to be until you meet in the flesh, and then, well, sometimes it just doesn't work. And sometimes it is a blast.

The thing is, and I guess it's to do with NZ's small gay male population, that I tend to use these apps for socialising more than anything. I can't think of the last time I actually picked a guy up with one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How Clean Was My Valley...

A friend put a post up on facebook asking where he could buy a douche while he and his partner were on holiday - they'd  forgotten to pack one.

I thought some of the reactions were interesting, that it was "TMI" or "ewww...gross". Shit is shit, and not many of us like it, especially when you mix it in with sex. Don't forget though that all the human sex organs are also rubbish outlets, there's no need to get extra squeamish about the arse.

Not all gay men fuck or get fucked, but I guess for most of us, fucking is the defining sexual act. Sodomy. Taking or giving it up the arse. We're bum-bandits, and it's one of the things that straight men find so scary about us - that we can get fucked and enjoy it. It unmans us and is also intensely masculine.

It is an incredible amount of fun, it feels fantastic, it is deeply intimate and personal, and physically it's the closest we can get to another man, to be there, inside him or have him inside us.

And to make this all really good, a thorough cleaning out beforehand is a very good idea. I don't understand why guys get so "ewww" about it. A lot of us are happy to rim a nice clean arse, or get rimmed, but we seem to want to pretend that it's clean by magic. It aint. Gay men know much more about their arseholes than most straight men ever will, yet there seems to be this horror at the idea of talking about it all.

Maybe I'm biased due to experience. Once, a long  time ago, I was fucking this guy who was bouncing up and down on top of me, it was the morning after a long night of fun, and then he went up and... it all came down.  As we both looked on in horror, suddenly there was a voice in the corridor - his dad had dropped by for a Sunday morning visit. "Don't move, I'll get rid of him and be right back" he said as he threw a towel over me. I wasn't planning on going anywhere, trust me.

Of course, we laughed about it later, after he'd cleaned me up. But let's say it left a lasting impression.

So I think we should relax and feel more comfortable about the whole process. Douching is a good thing, something we should encourage. Young men might need to be taught about it, there is a certain skill that you only get with experience, judging when it's really all over, or when it's just the calm before the storm.

But a little warm water and care goes a long way to increasing the joy and intimacy of a good fuck. Like a good boy scout - Be Prepared.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now...

I have never been all that confident about my looks - like a lot of gay men I guess. I tend to see the negatives, all the things I wish I could change or hadn't been born with. When I was younger I genuinely thought I was ugly - and  now I feel sorry for that teenage boy who couldn't see how cute and hot he was, and wish I could sit down with me then and explain how wrong I was about how I saw myself.

I don't think I'm unusual in that. So many guys I know have their anxieties about how they look, whether it's physically or their clothes, and so many of us have worked hard to come to terms with our bodies and faces - learning that we won't be as perfect as the images in the magazines takes time - some of us never really learn and keep beating ourselves up over our failure to look like a cover model.

And I can think of men I know who are drop-dead handsome, fantastic bodies, and lovely personalities, but they still think they are ugly and undesirable. And for some guys I think their beauty becomes a cage - I know I  look at some guys and think "Wow - he's so hot - but he'd never look at me so I won't even bother." Some of the most beautiful men I can think of around Auckland are single, and I think part of it is that others are afraid to approach and get to know them. But as they say "Beauty fades, dumb is forever", so maybe we should all learn to be a bit braver.
I can safely say that I've accepted I will never have a six-pack or be covered in muscles. Thank God I have a 10 inch cock or no-one would want me.

There is so much pressure on gay men to look right, to look good. And looking good means youth and muscles, neither of which I have much of today. I've tried going to the gym, and I will probably join up somewhere and try again in the next year, but I just get bored with it after a few months and stop going. I think I've been a member of 3 different gyms over the past 7 years, and each time I fade out after my initial enthusiastic start start in 3 - 6 months.

Part of my dislike of gyms comes from the horror of school PE and my constant failure there. I know other guys who had the same experience but got over it and love their gym now, but for me it still brings back a few nasty memories. And it's just so boring!

I've watched my body slowly spread into middle-age, with my waistline broadening, hair falling out, skin getting flabby and wrinkly, hearing weakening, all the usual stuff time and age brings. And while I don't look all that pretty, I'm not complaining too much.
So it was a real treat to find some old footage of me on youtube, at the tender age of 18. Damn but I was cute, but I had no idea - I was this total mess of insecurities and fear around how I looked. If only I'd known then what I know now...

So here it is - don't worry, I kick in  at about 00:10 and am over pretty fast.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Did You Miss Me ?

I haven't blogged for a while - just been busy I guess.

I'm sitting here on a break from my PhD writing and once again thinking to myself "Why the fuck did I decide to write a PhD about HIV? Why?"

I ask the question because it takes up so much space in my life anyhow, so having to read and think and write about it as well in an academic way may not have been the best move for my sanity.

The answer is obivous of course. It matters. What HIV does to the men I count as my community matters - the stories that poz guys have so generously entrusted to me about their own experiences matter and deserve to be heard and to feed into our work on controlling the spread of it. They also simply deserve to be heard, and I hope I can help do that. This morning I was re-reading the interview I did with a young guy who died earlier this year.

We just had the annual Candlelight Memorial here in New Zealand - I used to go to them but I don't any more. I feel like I remember the dead on a daily basis, and a gathering like this doesn't do it for me any more. I don't wear a Red fribbon much these days either, unless I'm doing something "official", but I used to have one pinned to my coat all the time. I just don't need to be reminded of it all the time now - I don't want or need HIV to take up so much space in my life.

But it still does of course. every day I take my meds, morning and night, and I know if I stop, I die. It's that simple.

As soon as I read these words by Marguerite Yourcenar, from her work "The Memoirs of Hadrian", I fell in love with them, they moved me and spoke to me:

To say that my days are numbered signifies nothing; they always were, and are so for us all…

Like a traveller sailing the Archipelago who sees the luminous mists lift towards evening, and little by little makes out the shore, I begin to discern the profile of my death”

That has been part of the mystery - we all die - but we pretend we won't. Trying to look at our own death is like trying to look into the sun - we can't do it - but as my friends died around me, and as I got sick, yes, I began to see the profile of my death.

When I look around my living room, I see some of my dead friends. Glenn Morris, who set up the old NZ Countrymen's Institute (a sauna) looks down at me from a work done by the artist Alan Brown. We were all friends - I met them when I was about 17 I guess, they would have been in their early 20s. They were both mentors of mine, like big gay brothers, who looked after me and showed me so much. I took my first acid trip with Alan. In fact, I think anyone who knew him would say life with Alan was like being on acid anyhow whether you were or not. he was just such fun, so naughty and mischevious.

Glenn and I flatted together in Herne Bay in the 80s, before it was "nice" - we called ourselves "The Empresses in Exile of Sodom and Gomorrah" and called the house "The Palace of the Red Queen". We had such great times there, and he really was such a wonderful man, loving, kind, gentle and wise. Glenn died in 1993, and Alan died, I think, in 2002, but I could be wrong on that. Even the dates of the important deaths start to blur in my mind.Alan made the portrait from a photo - people always notice it and ask if it's me.

Steven Lovett is another old friend, and a wonderful artist - one who is thankfully still here and HIV negative, but he did a beautiful work of a friend of ours from our youth, dear Tintin - we used to sneak into the loos at Alfies and get stoned. Tintin died of AIDS in 1989, I think.

Mike Creelman - when I first met him He was Alan's lover - God he was handsome. He died back in the mid-80s in SF. He was ex-NZ Air-Force, tall, muscly, and camp as a row of frilly pink tents at times. One thing I recall is how he cut my hair a few times, sweet intimate moments of fun and friendship. I used to fancy him so much, but never had the nerve to try and make a move.

I could go on. So many men I know who died from this. Men I'm sure who are loved and remembered by their families, often families I never met, because back in those days being gay often meant some form of exile from the rest of our world.

Thinking of them as I sit here writing does bring tears to my eyes, it makes me cry, sitting here in my office remembering them all, and then thinking of the millions around the world who have died of this terrible, disgusting plague. But I don't let myself cry too often. Probably not enough.

  This disease will be the end of many of us, but not nearly all, and the dead will be commemorated and will struggle on with the living, and we are not going away. We won't die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come.
That comes from Tony Kuschner's Angels in America - watch it if you can.

It all makes me sad, but it makes me angry too. Angry at the ignorance and fear that still surrounds us so often; angry at the empty, pompous, ignorant pontificating of authorities who think they know better. Angry at the cruelty and sorrow that has been inflicted on so many of us, straight or gay, men women or children, here and everywhere on this planet. So many lives damaged and lost. So much pain. So much death.

So yes, writing my PhD is hard work, I try and pretend otherwise at times, but it's deeply personal, and it's confronting and exhausting. But I believe it's worth it - I hope it will be when I get there, though some days I want to walk away from it all.

So I don't go to Candlelight, I don't wear a Red Ribbon much, I don't feel the need. But I remember you, I miss you, and I love you. And I still don't understand why I have survived and you didn't, and fuck how I wish you were still here and now I'm crying again.

And these are some final words, not mine, not even about us, but to me they speak so eloquently and truly.

I have dreamed vividly of you – I have walked with, spoken to, loved your shadow so often, so much, that nothing else remains of you – nothing remains for me but to be a shadow among shadows, the shadow who will come and come again into your sun-drenched life. ~ Robert Desnos, engraved on the interior walls of the monument honouring those deported during the Nazi occupation of France

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I Have a Confession to Make

I bareback. A  lot. Every time I fantasise I do it bareback. I never imagine condoms being used in my jerk-off fantasies, and  have never met any guy who does.Condoms just don't feature in my ideal imaginary sexual scenarios. In my head I break all the safe-sex rules and don't worry about it and no campaign or sanctimonious finger-wagging is ever going to change that. And I don't know any guys who act differently.

How is this different from watching bareback porn? Well, it's fantasy, it's not real - no-one else can get infected through my fantasies, but part of the logic that condemns bareback porn is the claim that watching it undermines the safe-sex message and teaches guys it's ok not to use rubbers, but in fantasies that's just what I do, I watch and take part in wild  hot fucking without condoms, yet I am still able to look after my sexual partners safely in real life.

And for some social and historical context for those who need it, let's remember that the new breed of bareback porn was invented by poz men for poz men, within our particular sub-culture in the wider gay world.

Let's be honest - Bareback porn is popular and watched because it's hot, because it comes closer to our fantasies. And this is a fact too - a lot of guys, HIV+ or HIV-,  are able to manage their porn the same way I manage my fantasies - they can get turned on by one thing and know when to use condoms in other situations. Gay men do not need the patronising message that they cannot make safe and sane sexual decisions for themselves, but must be lectured to and treated like children; we stop listening, and that is just what should not happen.

I kicked off more than I intended with my comment that supporting bareback porn at Mr Leather "didn't sit well with me." Condemning and stigmatising men who like bareback porn was not my goal. I think I understand Mark's argument - I'm not sure I agree with it, especially in that setting where it has been so explicitly and officially made unwelcome.

Comparing them to people who drive their car through a shopping mall is singularly unhelpful, inaccurate and ignorant. Adding more stigma to an already stigmatised group is not going to make them respect you or listen to you.

But there are some good reasons to hold bareback porn up to scrutiny, instead of needlessly inflaming a moral panic.

Porn is an industry, and the actors in it are often exploited and put at huge risk of all sorts of sexual diseases, not just HIV. They are often pressured into having unsafe sex, and told they won't work if they refuse. Porn from some parts of the world is basically a form of slavery. There are in fact much clearer moral grounds to condemn the porn industry in its entireity rather than  bareback porn between consenting HIV positive actors.

The gay porn industry is different from the straight one in some respects, but even there it's a dangerous place to work, as Mason Wyler found out. And even though he'd been making bareback porn, when it turned out he was positive he lost his work. Until he started working with actors who were alos poz. The argument about poz-poz unprotected sex is for another day.

This video gives a good example of the risks porn actors run, and why it is now a dangerous job to be in, especially if you're "gay for pay".

There is some strength to the argument that that watching bareback porn can lead to men imitating it and putting themselves at greater risk of infection. Monkey see, monkey do. But this has its limits - I didn't start making crystal meth after watching Breaking Bad. None of my mates have run off to join a bikie gang after watching Sons of Anarchy, although a few have shown serious lapses in dress sense since Desperate Housewives came to air. What we watch influences us, but only so far, and audiences today are accustomed to sifting reality from screen life. 

New Zealand has been able to maintain a relatively strong condom culture, when guys hook up here we tend to go for the rubber, and we do not want that culture eroded and more men infected - we're not recruiting. Yet if we are honest we know it's not uncommon for sexually active gay men to make the choice at times not to use them. Encouragement and support rather than  moralising and finger-pointing is a much better approach to take.

The thing is, I'm not a great fan of porn videos - I'm nerdy, I prefer to read my porn and make up the pictures in my head - I only keep a few films at homes to be hospitable to guests.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thank You Melbourne

Mark Stpehens from Adelaide, Mr Leather ANZ 2011
I have a new-found respect for the people who enter beauty paegents and body-building contests and that sort of thing.

It's fucking hard work! You really have to put yourself out there.

The contest is in Melbourne because it's really the heart of the leather scene in Australia now. Sydney doesn't even have a dedicated bar or venue for this group anymore.

My flight over was paid for me courtesy of the great guys at Urge, and I arrived, at 9pm on   Thursday, Melbourne time (11pm for my body-clock) met by my  friends Nick and Graeme who dropped me off at Joy FM, the  gay community radio station,  where I got to sit and wait (we did a lot of waiting...)  till the charming, hot and irrepresible Dean Beck was ready for us on his late night show Hide and Seek, along with Mr Leather South Australia and Mr Sydney Leather. It was fun, but shit I was tired, and not up to my usual sparkling best.

Friday was the shift to the competition accommodation, who didn't have my name at the desk. And then put me in the wrong room. One of the many screw-ups that went on behind the scenes. The organisation of the event is done by volunteers, but please, some more attention to detail in future guys.

Yes, I'm going to bitch a little.

Leaving contestants sitting around with no food, not even some bottles of water, for hours, unsure of what they are supposed to be doing, no idea just what we're waiting for - that was the pattern. We all noticed it and were all justifiably pissed off. Making the contestants set up the hall, fold the programmes, put up tables, put out the chairs etc, well, ok, I didn't mind that so much - it helped keep boredom at bay while we waited...and waited...and waited...with no communication from the organisers as to what was happening. On Friday night after the first judging panel half of us got sent off  to Sircuit Bar for a "Meet and Greet" but the bar had no idea who we were or that we were coming. We had to to pay for our drinks,  there was no-one there for us to meet or greet, so we headed over to the Laird who knew who we were immediately and gave us drinks and made us feel right at home. Thank you guys, you were great.

Saturday wasn't much better on the organisational front. We did get some free public speaking training, but nothing I hadn't heard or done before. And again, we spent hours sitting around with nothing to do, wondering why we were there, and again, food and drink were absent till very late in the day. Pay next year's guys a bit more attention and get better organised please.

Now, the big event for the contest itself is the 2 minute speech in formal leather-wear (yes, we have formal leathers, I'll get to that) where we display our passion and committment, and we got extra training for that. I had a good speech, but for some reason kept freezing up in rehearsals. And they cut the microphone off at 2 minutes, so you have to time it just right or you look like a fool - I was getting scared I'd freeze when I had to be at my best, but it all came together when I needed it to though.
I am a lecturer, I'm a fairly experienced public speaker, used to talking in front of Prime Ministers, Governors-General, MPs, and big conference audiences - but this was probably the scariest gig I've done. Luckily the speeches were after the jockstrap section, I think that could have been just too difficult to carry off.

Speaking of clothes, my case weighed nearly 17kgs, so that was a few t-shirts, some undies, socks and about 15 kgs of leather. And I was seriously under-supplied with gear compared to the others.

So there was a  Jockstrap section,  that was after the Full Gear section and before the Formal Leather section.

Three changes of kit all told. For Full Gear most of us chose chaps, a jock, and a harness, gauntlets or gloves, and got interviewed on stage with some serious questions. The Jockstrap section was light-hearted and fun, and we had to dance down the red carpet for that, I splashed out on a new Nasty Pig jock for the event,  and then came the Formal Wear. Leather pants, shirt - a lot of us in a Sam Browne, some in leather ties, biker caps, looking just like you'd expect a group of gay men into leather to look.

Cliches? Nah, raunchy sexy men having fun. The leather community is a real community - it's international, inclusive, edgy, and let's just say we know how to have a good time and I have to say the six of us all up there like that looked pretty damn fine.

Overall, it felt great to take part, it felt great to be in a crowd of men like this. It took me back to New York in the early 80s when I was there and the scene I knew then, when the Mineshaft was still open and like my second home.

After the results (where they forgot to give the winner his sash - details guys ! Come on!) we had to get our gear back to the hotel, then hit the Laird again for a party. It was fun to relax, I got some really great support from some Kiwis and locals there and saw some friends I hadn't seen in ages. Now you might think a night of wild partying and sex would follow, but we were all just too tired, even the winner. As the Laird closed down, we all just wanted to get back to the hotel and chill.

I didn't win, I didn't place, but I did have fun, met some great guys in the other contestants, and my goal was to have fun, so I'm happy.

Now, out of the six of us in the contest, I know that four including myself were HIV+, and one was on PEP (the "morning after" pill that you have to take for a month if you think you might have been exposed to HIV) because his condom came off at a fuck-club two nights before the contest. He was not enjoying the PEP, felt sick, had the runs, weird dreams - and it isn't a guaranteed fix anyhow - I hope he comes through it ok.

The fact, that so many of us in this group have HIV says something about the level and style of sexual activity in the leather world. As I said in my speech, we do things other guys are scared to  fantasise about. We're serious about sexual fun and push boundaries, and we've lost a huge number of men to AIDS over the decades, a disproportionate number I'd argue.

So I was more than a bit surprised to hear the winner, Mark, a lovely guy, make a speech in support of bareback porn, and getting applause for it too. I thought we were in support of protecting our community, not encouraging members to take risks that lead to HIV. Perhaps it's an Australia/NZ difference, but it didn't sit well with me, and I don't think it will play well in Chicago at the International Mr Leather contest either.

All the complaints aside, I am really glad I did it - in spite of some slack organisation behind the scenes, it was fun. I met some great guys, made some new friends, and faced a new challenge.

Next time I want to judge!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

First, Kill a Cow...

So remember how last year I got cajoled into entering the Mr Urge Leather contest, and was Runner-Up? Well as I was leaving Wellington a few weeks ago after the excellent Outgames Human Rights Conference and Urge Black Party, I discovered that the lovely Jamie who'd won the title was unable to make the contest in Melbourne this weekend - so I am heading over the Tasman tomorrow to represent my country on the international stage.

Now, I won't be looking as good as the guy on the right, a photo that was taken in the 1950s, and that shows just how long leather has been part of the erotic world of gay men. I nicked the pic from a blog about gay leather history, and there is quite a bit of it.

Just why some of us have a thing for leather is hard to pin down. It's something I've moved in and out of over my life. It's kind of cool for me that this is in Melbourne, because it was there, way back in 1980 when I was just 18 or so, that I first got involved in this world.

And it is a world of its own really. There is something about the Leather Community that does make it a community - a strong sense of identity I guess. And you can find this group in just about any city around the world that has some sort of gay scene in it. It's not just about fucking, though that's a core part of it - and often adventurous, kinky, fetishy fucking - but not always. I've had some beautiful tender loving times with guys in leather as well as some hard-out (I won't go into details here) athletic kink.

Some people laugh and say it's just another form of drag. Yes and no. It's a deliberate choice and way of presenting yourself as hyper-masculine. Drag has an element of parody to it that the leather world doesn't, but they both play around with mainstream ideas of what it is to be a man - and that's fun - I like fucking up people's expectations. If you get it, you get it - it's one of those things.

Leather men were a key part of that big change in what it means to be gay that happened back in the 60s and 70s. Instead of everyone stereotyping homos as weak girly-boys, they presented an alternative, and the raw sexuality they embodied was disturbing to many, but they celebrated it. They were the backbone of the old 'Clone' style of that era, and carried a huge weight through the worst years of the plague. Probably most of the guys I knew from those days are gone now.

I'm nervous about it all I admit, but I'm also looking forward to it. It's going to be a challenge, it's going to be a bit stressful, but it's going to be fun as well.

Fingers crossed !