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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Transitions...

After getting diagnosed with HIV in 1988, I spent most of the 1990s getting ready to die. I was so weak I couldn't get out of bed, down to just over 50 kgs at one point, miserable, angry and sick so often, bouncing between hospital and Herne Bay House, until the new drugs came along and I started to get better. But a lot of my time and energy was built around being HIV+, around medicine and illness, and the idea of death. 

Even with the new meds though, and the gradual improvement to my health, I always had this sense in the back of my mind that it would all fall apart, that the meds would stop working and I'd go back to that time where my death seemed so close and obvious.

And even now I still find it hard to trust the future, to imagine I have one. But logically I know that I do, and realistically the meds will keep working for me if I keep taking them correctly.

I've been thinking about all this lately as I try and re-shape my life and search for a career - again.

Physically I am in pretty good health - a bit porky maybe, not as fit as I'd like, but that's not unusual for most guys in their 50s. Like nearly all of us long-term HIV people, I get tired, really tired, so fast and so easily. It's not surprising I guess - after all I am on intensive daily chemo-therapy to control the virus - living with medication like this means you pay a price, but it's still better than the alternative.

Emotionally though I think the toll has been great. HIV has shaped my life in ways I wouldn't have chosen - I've adjusted and worked to make the most of it where I can, but that's not been easy. 

I have suffered depression at different times, again, something very common in HIV+ people, I've been suicidal at times in the past, again, not that unusual for those of living with the virus, and have found so often that guys see the virus before they see me, it feels hard to form a relationship or find a lover.

I also feel like it wiped out my 30s and early 40s.  That's a big chunk of my life to have lost to the virus.When the new drugs first came through I was taking 47 pills a day, my entire life and what I could do, where I could be, was built around my medication. At least 15 years of my life was totally dictated and dominated by HIV, sickness, pills and the thought of death. That's a lot to live with.

And HIV is different. On the one had you could say it's now "just a manageable chronic illness, like diabetes" - that's the line we hear all the time. And technically it's true.

On the other hand, I can't think of a medical condition that carries the same level of stigma and fear. Even today. Even from people you'd think would know better, like health professionals, or gay men. And I do understand -  that to some extent - HIV brings death and sex together, and that's a really explosive combination. HIV frightens people in a totally illogical way.

Generally speaking, most people know next to nothing about HIV or living with it, and run old stereotypes and images through their minds when they think of it. It's hard for those of us with it, which is why so many poz people keep their HIV status to themselves. People just don't understand, and it's not our job to educate everyone we meet about it. 

It just feels like a paradox, that I've been lucky enough to come through this terrible plague, that I nearly died, and here I am, 50,  unsure what to do with my life or where to direct it.

I'm not complaining, I'm glad I'm alive, trust me. And I know so many wonderful guys who died, who were just not as lucky as I was, so whenever I start feeling too sorry for myself about all this I remember that at least I'm still here.

But no matter how much better things are for my body, it's still tough, it still takes work. It's taught me a lot, and I think the overall experience of it has made me both kinder and harder. Kinder as in more compassionate and empathetic, but also tougher, harder, as in "Don't waste my time with bullshit!" 

It's taught me to be more assertive I guess. I speak as I find, and if that offends some I don't really care. I don't feel some Christ-like need to shower everyone with love - some people are shit and I'm happy to call them on it.

Sometimes I daydream about what my life would have been like without it - whether I'd have returned to NZ or not, what else I would have done. But that's not reality, and being as intimately acquainted with death as I have been has made me very clear on the need to stay in tough with the real.

Everything changes, I know, nothing is certain but death and taxes, yadda yadda yadda. But living with HIV is different. It does go on having an effect long after the worst aspects of the physical side are gone. 

But we keep going.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Growing Old Disgracefully

Turning 50 seems to have changed my online audience in a way I hadn't imagined.

Suddenly I find 20 year-olds sending me lust-filled messages online - I guess I can now officially be put in the "Daddy" category. And I also get guys in their 60s getting in touch - I suppose I seem close enough in age that they feel more comfortable approaching me than they do a 30 year-old.

It's been interesting, and some fun as well, and even though their skin is lovely at that age, 20 is just too young for me, it feels creepy somehow. 25 and up I can cope with. And I've had some wonderful hot times with men in their 60s too.

Gay men and age though - we don't deal with it that well I reckon.


We talk about "the gay community" a lot, but one thing about successful communities is they have links over generations, the older members pass down their experiences and knowledge to the younger ones, and we don't seem very good at that, we're not good at giving time, space and respect to older gay men, and that really weakens us as a community I reckon. 


I remember when I was first out and about in my late teens, and guys in their 20s seemed so mature and onto it. Shit - some of them had even been to Sydney! You have no idea how exotic that seemed to me when I was 17. I think I've always been attracted to guys around their mid-30s, and that's continued over my life. At first I was attracted to guys older than me, now I'm attracted to guys younger than me, but they're still the same age - it's me that's changed.



There are times when flicking through an online profile I see that "No old guys!" line, or "No-one over 45" and it hurts a bit. Being rejected, being eliminated from consideration really, just because of age seems nasty to me. But the online world is a harsh one.

There's such pressure out there in society in general to stay young and fabulous, and it's hugely amplified in homoland. You don't see many ads for bars and clubs, still our main social spaces,  featuring older men. I was chatting to a visiting American the other night at the Urge Leather Night, he had a good body, white hair and a white beard,  and I asked him if he always travelled with his leathers.

"Oh yes" he said "Otherwise I'm invisible, I'm 62, I'm too old for most, but in leather I still get attention and to talk to guys and break through the age barrier."

I hadn't thought of it that way, but I saw his point. Age, authority and leather all have some interesting crossovers.

Even though so many older gay men did so much to get us where we are, the mainstream gay world doesn't value them, purely because of their age and looks. They are discarded, ignored, seen as embarrassing if they go out to a bar or a club. And that's a shame, because one day, unless you get hit by a bus, it's highly likely you'll be old, wrinkly and with more hair coming out of your ears than on your head. But we're not that great at putting ourselves in others' shoes.

Maybe it's the population issue again - NZ is so small to start with, and so many guys have moved overseas - the gay population is tiny really, so perhaps we're less diverse in our outlooks.

Another friend who is younger than me, in his early 40s, a bear,  just came back from SF and said how he was amazed to get so much attention there from younger guys, something he doesn't get so here. The whole "Bear" thing is much bigger and more popular overseas, and it does seem to offer more opportunities for a wide variety of types - let's face it - as wonderful as this country is in many ways, it's quite provincial and uptight too, even in the gay world.

It's not just about fucking either, it's about love too. It's not unusual to hear people making snide, nasty remarks about couples who have a big age gap, as though there is some expectation that if you're 25 there is something wrong with you if your lover is 55, it's the same sort of double-standard we see in the straight world. An older man can have a young girlfriend and people are able to believe they really love each other, but if it's an older woman with a younger man, people often show their nasty side.

I don't understand why there is that need to judge someone or their choice of a partner because of age. Love is love, and you can never tell when it's going to strike but some guys react as though a big age difference is something obscene. I know couples where there is between 20 and 30 years age difference, and they seem just the same as other couples I know - they laugh, they bitch, they fight, they have fun, they pay the bills, they just get on with life and they love each other. I don't see the issue.

One thing I do know - I'm not getting any younger - and I'm glad I've found a few new fans as I mature.






Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Who Do You Tell?

Gay men fuck differently.

We do.

No matter how many prissy or self-hating homos there are who don't like to talk about it, as a total group, gay men have much more sex, and many more sexual partners, than straight people. It's a fairly clear and simple fact, and it has no moral value whatsoever. If you like to fuck with strangers 10 times in a week, that's cool, and if you have only ever had sex with your partner in the last 10 years, that's equally cool.

But overall, even gay men in loving long-term relationships have more sex than straight guys. Whether you're 20 or 50, this is the case. And we typically don't place the same value on sex as straights do. It's just a bit of fun with someone who's sexy and up for it.

That's a pretty hard fact to get across to straights though.

And I think it's even harder for straight women to get than straight guys. For a woman, sex has the possibility of creating a new life as well as the joys of the physical side of making love.

I've been thinking about this since the ruling that came out this week, that by not disclosing his HIV status to his female partner, a straight HIV+ guy had removed her informed consent, and had effectively violated her sexually - even though she did not acquire HIV from the sex.

And now the Dominion-Post in Wellington has come out with an editorial saying those of who have HIV simply have to disclose each and every time.

An an HIV+ gay man, I think I understand where they're coming from, but I totally disagree.

For one thing, it takes two to tango, and if you want to fuck around in the floating world of gay male sex, you need to take responsibility for your own well-being and health. So it's up to each and everyone of us to set the boundaries, and to insist on safe-sex if you want to stay HIV negative.

A lot of gay sex happens in fuck-clubs or through online hookups - conversation is often not a key part to these encounters. If you're getting all hot and horny with a guy in a fuck-club, there's often not that much chat. The same goes with online hookups. And if you both make sure you're using rubbers and having safe sex, in fact you don't need to discuss it all - using rubbers and lube correctly works.

In fact most HIV+ guys are highly aware and careful to make sure they do nothing to infect their sexual partners. You are far more likely to get HIV from a guy who doesn't know he is carrying it than from someone who is positive and taking their medication. With so many HIV+ guys around who don't know they have it, how can you reasonably rely on disclosure to keep anyone HIV Negative?

So disclosure doesn't actually protect anyone, it has no practical health benefit - it just stigmatises HIV+ people even more. And we don't need that.

If it really bugs you that much, you could simply ask - I can't see the point of lying, I'm not ashamed of being HIV+, it's just a virus in my blood. But a lot of guys have suffered terrible discrimination, and that is not ok - I totally understand why they don't want to disclose - and there is no need to.

Will you tell me if you have Hep C? Syphilis? What if I go to bed with you because I think you're a millionaire, and you turn out to be on the dole - have you taken my informed consent away by lying to me?

It's still not clear what the legal implications of this ruling will be. At the moment, the law has said as long as an HIV+ person takes all reasonable precautions, we do not have to disclose. It's only having unsafe sex, putting a sexual partner at risk of catching the virus, that is seen as criminal. This new ruling might change that - let's see.

But the mainstream reaction, as seen in that editorial, will be based in how straights think about sex and fucking, not how our culture practices it, and that could be very bad for us indeed.

And remember - every guy who is HIV positive today was once HIV negative - and with very few exceptions that is because they chose not to have safe sex. If you want to stay HIV negative, you know what to do - and it doesn't involve blaming those of us who have the virus.