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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.