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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Love, Trust, Marriage and HIV

So all things being equal, it looks like we're going to get the right to get married, if we're all reading the tea-leaves in the right way. It seems like it's going to get through.

Marriage. Love. Intimacy. Trust.  

If the point of marriage is a public, legally binding declaration of love in front of all who we love and recorded officially by the power of the State, then is it ok for the married couple to stop using condoms? 

After all, if you've decided to make that commitment to another guy and maybe you're going as far as buying a house together, merging your finances, getting a mortgage, sharing a credit-card, all the things you see in so many straight marriages - surely if you're doing all that with each other, you can consider whether you need to still follow the old rule of  "Use a condom every time!"

Looking at the NZAF's latest condom campaign, they seem to be saying  "No!" 

And it's not just here in New Zealand. I think the issue sits there as a point of contradiction, a place of tension, everywhere marriage between two men is becoming accepted. 

What does it mean for safe-sex programmes? What does it mean for HIV prevention? 

If you look at this image from their new campaign, it looks like two men who know each other are getting ready to fuck,this doesn't look like a casual Grindr or Scruff hook-up. They seem comfortable and relaxed with each other, they seem loving as well as horny. They look like a couple. And that's a wonderful image. 

And there is no doubt that in a lot of situations like this guys will choose to use condoms, and that's a good thing. Especially in the first months or years of a relationship - but it is entirely natural that at some stage you'd think about being able to simply make love to the man you love with no interventions. 

If you are going all out, and getting married, making a promise to love and trust each other for life, then I think it's totally understandable that men will stop using condoms within their relationship, after they've both tested and checked they're both either negative or positive.

In fact that strategy is already wide-spread. Most of the guys I know in New Zealand in long-term loving relationships who have the same HIV status don't use condoms at home. Typically if they have sex with others they have an arrangement to use them outside the relationship - this isn't new. And I've certainly talked with men who work for the NZAF who follow that pattern. And I can think of couples who have successfully done this for over 20 years.

If we are moving to a stage where we stand up in front of all our family and friends and the state and say "I love you, you are the one for me, now and forever." but still insist on putting out a public health message that even married loving male couples should use condoms, then part of what is being said is "You might be married but you can never really trust him!"

It carries a sub-text that gay men can never truly love each other, because without trust, there is no love.

I don't accept or believe that. I am confident that we can love and trust our partners, our husbands, just as much as heterosexual husbands and wives can. And yes, some guys will be hurt, let down, lied to, and possibly even infected with HIV by trusting the wrong man. But that could also happen to straights. Do all the straight men who work at the NZAF always and automatically use condoms with their wives or girlfriends? After all, who knows what they've been getting up to behind their backs. Straight women can be as slutty as gay men. Or do they accept that they love and trust each other, and there are some things you simply assume when you're married?

Because without trust in a marriage there is no love, and surely then there is no point in all this work we've been doing to get our relationships recognised as marriage? 

To insist that we must all use condoms everywhere every time made complete sense back in the bad old days, but it doesn't seem to fit as neatly into our changing circumstances. I can remember being told years ago by a guy I was gong home with that I didn't need to tell him I had HIV, in fact I shouldn't have told him, not because it put him off, but he just assumed every gay man did and always had safe sex. Those days are gone. 

And this is not to criticise the NZAF. I think it's a difficult issue and one that no-one around the world has really engaged with yet as far as I can see. It will be a tricky job figuring it out and I don't envy them that task. NZAF likes to claim it's ground-breaking in so much of what it does - perhaps dealing with this is a topic they can lead the world on.

No, love won't protect you from HIV. But saying that you can never fully trust the man you've married, the man you're paying the mortgage with, the man you plan on getting old with, means saying you can never really love each other. It's supporting the old oppressive message that gay men are just sex-mad cock-fiends, that we don't have "real" relationships, that in fact, we'll never be truly "married". 

And I think that's problematic in all sorts of ways.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Post Parade

Queer Auckland took to the streets to show our pride on Saturday, and it was a lot of fun.

It is obviously not such an important event as yet, as the Prime Minister didn't bother to cut a ribbon, but we got David Shearer and others from Labour and Kevin Hague from the Greens. The Catholic  Mayor of the city, who considers being gay "a lifestyle choice" was there eager to hoover up some PR.

Was it good to be back after 12 years away? 

Yes it was, definitely.

I marched with the Bears from Urge, and it was a lot of fun walking down Ponsonby Road with a group of handsome men, being led in our impromptu cheer of "1 2 3 WOOF!" at hot guys in the crowd. Some of the straight boys loved it, some didn't seem to appreciate the compliment so much.

I have to say an hour beforehand Ponsonby Rd was looking very empty, and the crowd that did show up in the end was tiny compared to what we used to have. 30,000 seems to be the accepted figure. Things filled up by 4, the start time, but there were still patches along the street with practically nobody standing there, which was a shame. Given the heat though, you wouldn't have wanted 100,000 like we used to get - it would have been unbearable.

The GABA Glamstand didn't look full to over-flowing either, but those who were there looked like they were having fun.

At work today friends and colleagues said they hadn't really heard about it, there was no advertising, and that 4pm was the wrong time. I think they're right on both points. It was pretty much all over by 5:30 or so, and then what? A lot of people said it needs to be held at night again, and they're right.

But the vibe from the crowd was great. The reception we got was overwhelmingly positive, and there was such a sense of genuine good-nature and happiness that we were back. Pulling a parade together in such a short time was a lot of work, and it's a good start for the next one.

Does that mean everything about the parade was fabulous? 

No, it doesn't. 

There was a distinctly amateur feel to most of the floats. And drag queens never look that great in the harsh daylight, and it was a very sunny day indeed. Who knew we had a Gay Wakeboarding Association? I still don't entirely believe they exist ...

I didn't understand why a straight woman who has HIV was using our queer parade to sell her book, good cause, wrong place. 

I waited for "the Remembrance Float" to come by that we had been promised would be wonderful and moving, and I didn't see it. I was later told it was the one with GALS on and the white drapery, but it looked kinda boring, a whole lot of people singing inaudibly and from where I stood by the side of the road there was no indication that it was "the Remembrance Float" at all. I certainly wasn't moved by it.

And no real mention of HIV/AIDS anywhere - the one thing that has done the most damage to our community over the last 30 years got marked by a few cursory red ribbons in white drapery.

It was a lot of fun though. I had a lot of fun. 

But let's face it -  there was no Wow! factor anywhere, no pzazz, and no glamour. It was fun, it was nice, inoffensive, bland and devoid of anything political. 

So devoid in fact that the organiser took it upon himself to invite a radio shock-jock known for his homophobic comments along. A stupider idea I haven't heard in a while. Stupid comments like this guy has made, as dumb and harmful as the Prime Minister's "Red shirts are gay" comment, undermine everything we have fought for, and only expose the most vulnerable from our communities to more fear and shame. You'd think a Pride Parade would work to foster our pride, not undermine it this way.

The Marching Boys got an A for effort, but obviously hadn't had quite enough time to get their routine down, and they needed way more guys in there to make it look effective.

As one mate said "If this was Timaru, it'd get a 10 out of 10, if it was Sydney, a 3."

I heard some Ponsonby queens saying we don't really need this sort of thing now as everything is fine.

They are wrong. Do you regularly hold your partner's hand on the bus or walking through a shopping mall, do you stand on a busy beach on a summer evening hugging and kissing each other like all the straight couples around you do?  Until we can do that with the same ease and comfort we are not equal.

Until we don't have to pretend to be different from who we are for our own safety, we are not equal.

So events like this parade are important - they give us visibility, they show to others that we exist and we're part of the world. They show those who are in fear that there are alternatives to a life of lies and shame.

It was a fun day, a great start, it had problems, and that is probably inevitable, but as a first step back it's something to celebrate.

The crowd of people watching is what made it for me - there weren't that many, but they were so welcoming, so positive, that even with all the flaws, you'd have to say it was a good time.

Just put it back on at night when we can really show them something amazing!

Edit: And the Defense Force were fantastic !