|by R.D. Riccoboni|
Well ok, I know some guys actually don't. I don't know if it's because of the era I grew up in, but I've always loved hairy guys. Yes, even hairy backs and necks - love 'em. A hairy arse - mmmm yes please! And I'm enjoying the compliments I'm getting now I've grown my beard out more.
But gay men and our bodies - such a loaded issue for so many of us. All those hours spent in gyms, eating all those special diets, the quest for perfection - I've given up on it myself - at 50 I can settle into dignified desuetude I think.
I had some good news yesterday - went for my regular 6 monthly HIV check-up, and my CD4 count is up, and my Viral Load is still undetectable.
These things make me happy. It's hard to remember now just how sick I was in the bad old days. I am very, very lucky, and I know it and don't take it for granted. I told my Dr about a new job I'm going for and he asked me if I would be able to manage it. Not because I'm sick, but because of the one thing I really notice about HIV now - fatigue.
I just get so tired, so easily. A lot of other guys who've had it for decades say the same thing. Even if they're fit and doing all the right things, it seems after a few decades HIV takes a toll on you, or maybe it's the meds, hard to say, but it's a very common complaint for those of us living with it.
But if that's the worst that's going to happen at the moment, I can take it. I just nap more.
I guess the other thing with my health that I notice and monitor is depression. It's incredibly widespread among HIV+ people, but not something that gets much attention. It's widespread in general I know, but seems to be extremely high in my peer-group. I have had it at times, and used a variety of techniques to deal with it. Sometimes medical, sometimes counselling, or a mixture. It's just a matter of being aware of it I guess, checking to see if I'm sliding down that slope again, cause it's not fun.
Mental health issues in general aren't things we're good at talking about, whatever part of society we come from. But your mental and emotional health is just as important as your physical health - and having issues is nothing to be ashamed of. My mate Chris Banks does a good job exploring this stuff on his blog, the Bipolar Bear.
Strange that after all these years, fatigue and depression are the two worst side-effects of life with HIV, but both things that can be managed. It's not the physical side of sickness anymore, it these, and the stigma that goes with it.
And stigma - shit that is nasty stuff, as that case of the 4 year-old boy in Whangarei, whose play-centre asked him to be withdrawn when they found out he had HIV. The school and most of the parents all seemed totally dumb - and maybe that's because there's not enough education out there, HIV is hardly making the news these days.
But that reaction is just fucked. Ignorant, bigotted hysteria. But you still find it, even in the gay world, where you'd think people would know better.
A while back some arsehole commented on one of my blogs that "You wouldn't stop and pick up food off the floor to eat, just like you wouldn't have sex with someone with HIV" or words to that effect. Nice. Classy. No wonder we get depressed.
I think we scare other gay men so much because we hold up a mirror to them, and they don't like what they see. But that sort of nasty ignorance is not uncommon.
On an entirely different, and much sadder note, did you notice the story on the death of Roman Skorek in Rotorua?
He was stabbed in the chest by a guy it seems he'd been cruising in a park. Yes, cruising in parks at night is dangerous, but it's a very common practice for gays around the world. And there is something exciting about it, finding a stranger, the hook-up, the semi-public nature of it all, the air of danger.
He was caught looking at "the genital area" of the guy who killed him. His death didn't get much attention in the media.
Why should looking at another person, with sexual intent, because you think he's hot, be a reason to die? To be murdered?
Ask women, they get cruised all the time, straight men look them up and down, undress them with their eyes, they talk to their tits, and act like it's totally normal - it's their right.
Yet if a gay man turns that gaze onto another man, a straight man, it's nearly always seen as a violation, a rape by the eyes almost. And a violent reaction is seen as ok. So often straight men have used the "gay panic" defence - now they can't in NZ, but they used to. That was basically a license to beat up or kill gay guys simply because we looked admiringly at a guy.
I think it's immensely sad that this man's life was ended this way, and sadder still at the lack of acknowledgement around it.
He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't deserve this, and he didn't deserve the embarrassed silence or indifference that his death resulted in.
It's a shame.
And it shows how far we have to go.