To recap for those that haven’t read PART 1 of THIS IS ME…Last Wednesday 12th August I went to Dean Street Express sexual health clinic for a HIV test to confirm that I was HIV negative so that I could begin taking Truvada as PrEP. 20 minutes after arriving at the clinic I was diagnosed as HIV positive and with Chlamydia. Here is what happened next…
By 13.30 I am out of Dean Street Express with Chlamydia and HIV – that’s some buy one get one free deal you don’t get landed with everyday. I have to pop in to their main clinic – 56 Dean Street to book an appointment with a Nurse to get my treatment for Chlamydia. It’s a simple course of antibiotics. I ask if they can fit me in with an appointment today to clear up at least 1 of these 2 STI’s immediately but apparently its not that straight forward. The only time they allocate any time was for the next day at 12.25. I confirmed the appointment a bit disgruntled but relieved again to be anywhere but inside a GUM clinic as I was leaving the clinic at 13.40 I text one of my best friends Glen to check if he could steal a few minutes away from work to take my call. I was relieved he could. Glen has been a friend, a best friend and in fact is treated by my family as a brother to me and vice versa. Needless to say in our 20 year friendship we have had our ups and downs, tight times and our distance but like true family he has always been there and I know always will be. I also text my friend Ian at the same time. He was out of town in the Midlands but has arranged to meet me in Starbucks Vauxhall at 18.30
13.44 – called Glen. We chatted for 10 mins. I love this boy. He made sure I was OK, told me he would keep checking in on me throughout the day and that above all else just wanted me to remember that he loved me, that we had faced tough times together before and that we would get through this together and that he totally supported whatever I needed to do now for myself that would enable me get a grip on this.
13.50 – called Kieran an old friend who is positive and open about his status. He couldn’t speak for long as he was boarding a flight but gave me one of the most invaluable pieces of advice that I have received to date on this journey. He told me that now really was the time to be selfish. That no one else mattered right now. That when he was first diagnosed and until he got round to slowly disclosing his positive status to those close to him in the months and years afterwards that he had exhausted himself by trying to keep everyone else happy by being and doing what they wanted. He eventually just wore himself out and then thought FUCK IT and either cut certain people off or reined others back in kicking them into line to deal with his status, with him – on his terms.
Once I had decided to do what I think you all know I did – out myself as positive on stage the next evening then on Facebook for my 5000 friends and the world to see. I never questioned it again. However he gave me a heads up though that some people might challenge what I had planned to do especially following up the coming out with a full no holes barred blog. As well as making me aware that others would probably try to dissuade me in order to accommodate themselves and what they might need at this point he assured me to not to allow this to happen. To accommodate them before I accommodate myself would be the wrong thing to do for me, KNOWING me and knowing the way I work as a person. It also gave me the strength to stand by my convictions without guilt and with a clear conscience. I knew the news had placed me at the front of his thoughs and in all of his heart. From his seat on the plane before he took off he followed up our brief chat with these 2 texts
Text from Keiran
Greg. You can call me anytime. I’m here for you. I know you say you are ok & I trust you with that as I know you are strong, otherwise I would cancel this trip and walk off this flight. But it is a lot to get your head round. Take things 1 step at a time. Don’t let anyone make you feel less of a person for what’s happened, you are not! This is just another hill to climb in the roller coaster that is life & you are better than most at drawing out the positives (lol) I’m here for you little guy.
Text from Keiran
Sorry if this is information overload, but I wish someone had told me this. You know from your research & work that you do that you are now in the period of being highly infectious. Just be very careful what you do at the moment sex wise (predictive text put seaside lmao) the reason I say this is… You are being very out there & visible as a champion of HIV issues, the last thing you need is someone saying that AFTER (not before so don’t worry) your diagnosis you passed it on. I got too drunk feeling sorry for myself after my diagnosis & didn’t really understand fully what was going on so probably took a couple of risks. Anyways. You know all this, I’m just being your mate & safeguarding you. The end. Love me x
14.01 Message Dee
Dee is another close friend, the 3rd of my best friends along with Glen and Isis and he works in Pimlico so the logical part of me was GPS’ing him if you like as the ‘closest’ close friend to me and I instinctively knew that I needed to go and see someone one that I actually knew and someone who would totally accept what I was about to tell them and offer me a safe zone to breathe in. I was already switching on to the notion that I shouldn’t be alone because I didn’t know what twists and turns my emotions were going to throw at me and I was silently conscious that it was my friends that were going to keep me centred.
I walk a lot anyway but even if I didn’t I could not at this point even bare the thought of being cooped up with other people on a tube or bus journey so autopilot kicked in a bit and I began to walk from Soho to Pimlico.
14.02 Message Paul Fleming from PositiveEast
I met Paul at my first proper public leap into the AIDS Activism arena. It was at Pat Cash’s Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs – TRUTH in April this year, where I spoke the blog HIV the Truth and Me. Which had just that same month been published as a feature in FS Magazine. I was very active in my HIV campaigning online but this event was the first time I’d lent my physical presence to my activism. It was terrify but liberating in equal measures. I was so nervous I couldn’t hold my notes properly and my voice was one I didn’t recognise. I don’t think I’ve ever sounded so timid in my whole life. Little did I know that from this harrowing platform with nerves akin to that of my 4 year old self on his first day at school would I have found such strength, confidence and conviction and indeed a new, clear and unapologetic voice in just a few short months through the investment and support of people like Pat Cash and David Stuart to be able to stand up at the same event 4 months later in front of 100 people, new friends and strangers and be able to say without fear…
YESTERDAY I WAS DIAGNOSED AS HIV POSITIVE.
Paul and I spoke briefly when we met in April and we had subsequently developed a very open and somewhat cheeky friendship on facebook. He had offered to come with me to the clinic for this test but I politely declined as I’ve had countless HIV tests in my adult life since 18 years old to now at 35. I must have had a good 10-15. I considered them a standard component of a responsible sex life regardless of the risk levels of the sex that I had had in the interim between each. For the record I didn’t have anal sex properly until I was 25 and then only barebacked in my long term 7 year relationship and honestly, up until last Easter (2014) practically no unprotected anal sex with strangers but after that point I had been having regular condomless sex – so we’re really only talking about approximately 1 year of high risk, reckless sexual behaviour. So be informed that that small window of a single year of throwing caution to the wind in a sex life that spanned 20 years IS ENOUGH for you to find yourself in this position. Consider this less a preach and more just an offering my own personal facts. I told Paul the news and he was sorry but supportive and frustrated that he couldn’t be there with me and for me. He was in Barcelona on holiday so I expected nothing from him but the kindness and support that I knew he would offer. He didn’t disappoint.
14.06 Whatsapp Isis
Now this really was a deceitful ruse on my part but because I love her. And it was going to kill me to have to tell her this – for so many reasons. Isis is my amazing kindred spirit. She is without a doubt the person that I am closest to in the whole world right now. It’s freaky sometimes!!! We seem to share the same brain. To the point where we can finish each others sentences or already be laughing at the punch line of a funny story that the other is only half way through telling because we are so in tune and not only have the same brain but the same humour, mine is a little darker, more cynical and twisted but its pretty much the same! I would even say that often times in situations where we can’t speak freely that we can communicate shockingly well with just a look. It’s amazing to think you can find someone so identical in such a drastically different form from your own. I am white, Irish, British and Gay. She is Black, German, Egyptian, Somali, Muslem and Trans. But we are 2 peas in a pod. This was going to be a biggie. She was joining me the next night (Thurs) At Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs – a monthly queer space forum and open mic night that I think I am limitlessly supportive and in admiration of. I am speaking during the open mic section again tomorrow night. I was announcing my positive status live on stage and there was no question that it would be totally the wrong way to tell her, let alone hugely disrespectful, insulting and hurtful. To both her and Ian. She was due to come to mine in a few hours to stay over and come to the event with me the next day.
I messaged her at 14.06 saying nothing more than “Hey” I didn’t know what else to say at this point. But our plan was to meet in Soho after my tests at the clinic and go back to mine together. She didn’t reply until 14.44. Here’s how the text conversation flowed over the next few hours…
Greg 14.06 – Hey
Isis 14.44 – Only just got up. How did it go at the clinic?
Greg 14.46 – I have Chlamydia. Lol. Are you coming over today?
Isis 14.55 – Hahaha no you don’t
Greg 14.56 – I do. Gotta go back for antibiotics tmro. You coming tonight?
Isis 14.56 – How did you pick that up???
Greg 14.56 – Duh – sex. I did have a lot of it
Isis 14.57 – Yeah ermmmm aaaaages ago duh!!…No coming Thursday babe. Around 1pm…
Greg 14.57 – Ok cool x
Isis 14.58 – k bbe xx
Shit! This was not good! Bitch was cancelling. My carefully laid plan of telling her face to face tonight was not looking likely. How the hell do I get her here without freaking her out??? Do I say one of my parents is ill and I’m upset?
At that point I lost the ability to try to figure out what to do next about telling her. There were already numerous other conversations going on which you are about to be privy to.
So lets jump back to real time now at 14.16 I had made it down The Mall and was just passing the Houses of Parliament (I was on Old Compton Street 15 minutes earlier – I walk fast, I know) I opened my email inbox and just by chance happened to have an invite from David Stuart at 56 Dean Street, where I had just left. Inviting me to another of their Wellbeing Program discussions. The subject of this forum was ‘Pornography and Young People’. His message was coincidence at it’s best. I accepted the invitation to join the event on Wednesday 19th August and casually just included in the email that I was about to start some PrEP at the weekend so I popped in to Dean Street for my HIV test and it seems that I am a bit too late. I’m now positive. David was brilliant, as always. I mean it IS his job but above and beyond that he’s a decent guy with a passion for his community and an active player in trying to improve (excuse the pun) the ‘wellbeing’ of London’s gay men. He comes from a place of experience and also has a great generosity towards what he does. Laying bare the skeletons in his past to better help others in their present. He did everything right and commended me on just being me. Something that struck me as important and he was the first to do it. I was also going to see him too, in person the next evening at Let’s Talk. I was starting to count my blessings. To appreciate the position I had unintentionally placed myself in through being involved in such events. I was even starting to think I was lucky. Well if not lucky then at least ‘luckier’ than a lot of other guys in the sam situation. Even feeling this frightened me because my mind flip-sided it. I suddenly though…how would I be feeling right now if I didn’t have this safety net that would break my fall?
I was approaching my friend Dee’s work place in Pimlico now and decided to take a break from my iPhone communications. I got to his work, had a look around for him but couldn’t find him. I waited a while then asked one of his colleagues where he was? He wasn’t working today but had popped in by chance earlier. Ok I thought, he’s not here now but he’s awake and about and I will track him down at some point.
Autopilot kicked in again and I was leaving Pimlico and heading to Starbucks in Vauxhall to hang out there and gather my thoughts. On my way over Vauxhall Bridge I spot 2 gays approaching they were my friends Husain and his boyfriend Nikos, also on their way to drop in on Dee at his work. We hugged and kissed and chatted shit about work and my new place and the usual catch up stuff. In my head I was hearing myself speak and laugh and joke with these 2 and was thinking – are you really this cool with this right now? I had just explained to David Stuart in my email that I knew how shock felt. Unfortunately – only too well! But that I didn’t feel like I was in shock. And here I was 20 minutes later confused at my behaviour and my calmness and the fact that I was stood on Vauxhall Bridge laughing and joking with these two and not clambering over it to drown in the Thames. Nikos, Husain and myself said our goodbyes and after I walked on a handful of steps towards Vauxhall, I stopped. I looked back over my shoulder at Nikos and Husain’s asses mincing on over the bridge and I realised. PEOPLE. It’s people that are going to make or break this for me. I had noticed in myself in those 5 or 6 steps that as the physical distance between myself and my friends increased so did my insecurities about being able to cope with this the way I wanted to cope with this. But I knew deep down – I got this shit! And my friends and family – they’ll have my back on this too. I’m going to be OK!!!!
14.39 message Dave in Starbucks
Dave is the young guy that I had offered support and advice to over the last few months on his recent HIV diagnosis. He is the guy known as FB User in my blog The Facebook Guide To Your Recent HIV Diagnosis. Funny now how I was reaching back to him to return the favour in the light of my super-recent diagnosis. Isn’t it funny how life is never linear. It is cyclic. And if ever there was proof of the old adage that in life you get back what you put in, then this was that proof. He was great. A bit shocked and surprised but I was proud of him for being able to take what I had given him in his hour of need and make it his own and re-gift it forward. Again it was bizarre that the person he was doing this for was ME! Not so much re-gifting as simply returning. He asked me if I knew who, when and how. Well the how was easy…SEX. But I explained to him that I wasn’t about to waste my energy on who and when. I just didn’t see the point. Obviously I was going to contact the one guy that I had casually seen for a few weeks in the spring but just to tell him to get tested and to make sure he was OK. But for me, I didn’t need to allocate my HIV to it’s source. No one had ‘given’ me this. I ‘got’ this and it was now mine to take responsibility for and ownership of. Bless him, he panicked a bit at my reply in the fear that he had upset or offended me. Our relationship had developed from ‘lost souled little brother’ and ‘party ravaged old brother’ to equals and just ‘mates’ in the last month or so. I assured him that he had not asked anything out of line and that I was very grateful to have him there today and a little sorry to have to break my news, I guess I’m still in big brother mode with Dave.
In between my message ping pong with Dave I gave up trying to get hold of Dee and knew that ours was the kind of friendship that would permit me bouncing this information over in a text. So that’s what I did.
14.41 message Dee
Greg – Hey. Didn’t wanna send this by text. Just been dean st. Got a poz result. I’m actually ok. Could do with hanging out for a bit though if you are around. X
Dee – OMG are you ok?
Greg – OMG?? Lol – don’t be so dramatic. You’re turning into Mama Drama! It’s no big deal. I am surprisingly fine and in quite good form. Actually I just bumped into Mama Drama with Nikos on the bridge
Dee – I’ll call you later as soon as I’m free
15.10 decide to head home to Clapham. As I leave Starbucks I suddenly decided to pop in to the Tannin Shop in Vauxhall on the off chance that Michelle Thornber-Dunwell might be around and free for a coffee. I was looking for a distraction and company but also Michelle was on my ‘face to face’ list. The people that I wanted to tell in person. As my luck that day would have it, Michelle was not at the shop and it now looked like I would miss my window to see her before everyone else found out at Let’s Talk or on Facebook. I was disappointed but starting to feel a bit weary so headed up South Lambeth Road on my way home. As I got to the Comfort Inn (the scene of many a crime for me!) There was a guy with his back to me, standing at the bus stop. He bent down and picked up his kid. As the kid’s face appeared over his shoulder he started to smile and wave at me. OH FOR FUCK SAKE! REALLY! THIS IS WHAT WAS GOING TO SET ME OFF????? Am I that predictable? Seeing the dad with his kid made me think – ah well, that’s the option of kids GONE. Not that I wanted kids anymore. I did until I was about 30 but the fact that the option had been taken away from me stung a bit.
I was on a learning curve now. It’s going to be the random things that trigger my emotions about this. I had learned all I could learn as a negative guy, lived as a negative guy in a positive world if you like but I still hadn’t until today LIVED as a positive guy and I was in for a few hard lessons – make no mistake. I had no doubt. A sinking feeling set in, abreast a wave of dread. This came on very quickly, without warning and was an intense and new emotion. Feeling a new emotion at 35 – I didn’t think it possible. The only other time I was shocked by feeling a new emotion was at 30 – when my brother lost his legs in Afghanistan. That emotion was a combination, of regret, sorrow, guilt, anger, love, frustration and helplessness. It was none of those things individually but all of those things in one. This new HIV emotion was a similar mutant/hybrid ‘combo-emotion’ of fear, dread, disappointment and mourning with a little bit of panic. I’ve come to refer to this as ‘THAT HIV FEELING’. The father/child moment and the sucker punch of emotion that followed must have caused me to ‘zone out’. I have no recollection of walking the final stretch home from Comfort Inn, Vauxhall to Clapham North. I presume from looking back at this log now, the bullet points of which I was keeping in my iPhone notes and through text logs, that I got home about 16.00. I must have eaten something because I have a vague recollection of doing the dishes but I do know from my message history that I turned my attention back to the list of those that I needed to tell personally in the midst this foggy and confusing time. With it’s impending public deadline steamrolling it’s way towards me…The 24 hours where ebbing away.
The order of this is a bit jumbled. Some of the messages were sent on that ‘missing 40 mins’ spent drifting home from Vauxhall and some when I got home but here is what unfolded between approximately 15.30 and 18.00…
I messaged my brother Brendan who was working on a building site in Greenwich asking him if he would meet me tonight for a drink and a catch up. This was sitting ok with me as we had had a night out together last week and so nothing would seem out of the ordinary to him and I knew he wouldn’t freak out. I messaged my brother Sean in Belfast who was also working until about 18.00. He was my priority. I asked him to call me when he finished work for a chat – in hindsight this was glaringly obviously going to be a phone call of not such good news…if it were not something I was dreading doing or behaving strangely towards then I would just have picked up the phone and called him! I suppose on a subconscious level again I was giving him time to prepare for what he has since told me he knew he was going to hear. He was my priority because my parents were my priority and he was in Belfast living at my Mum’s and 5 minutes away from my Dad’s. There was no doubt that they needed to know before this went public and there was never any question that they needed to hear it face to face from me but that was geographically impossible. It was simply too cruel to even consider telling them on the phone so I begrudgingly had to unburden this onto my brother Sean. I was running out of time now before my 18.30 meeting with Ian so I needed to deal with Isis too. Let’s jump back to the texts…
TEXTS TO ISIS
Greg 16.43 – Hey. It’s OK if you can’t but do you think you could come over this evening?
Isis 16.49 – Not sure if I can, why hun? I’m spending some time with the fam
Greg 16.49 – OK
Isis 16.50 – Anything Important
Greg 16.50 – Kinda but would rather see you f2f
Isis 16.52 – Nothing worrying I hope?…I will be with you tomorrow if it can wait til then
Greg 16.54 – OK. I hate myself for doing this now. And like this. But I don’t want it to shake you before we go to Let’s Talk. My HIV came back positive. Don’t panic. And don’t be upset. I am TOTALLY cool. I’m not freaking out or upset
Isis 16.54 – Whaaaat
Greg 16.55 – Yep. HIV+
END OF MESSAGES
Then she called me. The conversation was strange and the dynamic odd. Not because we as friends or people were any different but because I guess large portions or our roles towards each other had suddenly flipped. To help you understand… ‘Isis’ didn’t really exist before our friendship had sparked up just over a year ago. Get this – Isis was out on a date and I was out partying with my mates – as usual in a club in Vauxhall. We met quite by chance after I spilt a vodka cranberry down her beige trousers in the smoking area. We instantly clicked and got along and joked around from that first moment the way we still do now. Because I have been out and on the scene for 20 years now (Belfast and London) and she had just stepped out as Isis it was natural and easy that she looked to me for a bit of gentle guidance. It always came with a free side of ‘protective’ quite naturally and easily from me. So in a way she had always known that whatever she was going to encounter on this new adventure as Isis, that although I’m not Trans, I have been round the block enough times to be able to at least save her making my rookie mistakes and have her back while she figured her own personal shit and navigated her way through the party scene. Of course as our friendship deepened and strengthened it ran much deeper than that. However here and now in this instant, we were – for the first time – faced with something that neither of us had been through before and which I’m sure she doubted I would be able to navigate us through. So it was new waters for us. But as all good friend will testify, your actual friendship throws you a bone here and one person will crack on with stupid jokes. That was my turn today. She was freaking out and I could hear she was crying. I told her to calm down but cry it all out now because if she was coming out with me tomorrow to Let’s Talk I could not be seen with a Tranny in bad make up. Either fix up or at the least get her ass down to Boots ‘toot sweet’ and invest in some waterproof mascara. She laughed and then I laughed. She was like “Why are you laughing?” This made me laugh even more. I have a tendency to be ‘naughty’ if there is something that I shouldn’t laugh at or a joke I maybe shouldn’t make I probably will go right ahead and do both so this was fuelling my giggles. She got a bit indignant with me about this ‘crazy laughing’ and then pleaded “Babe!?! – What the fuck?” Oh god, I am actually laughing again right now typing this. The more she tried to pull this in so she could comprehend it, the more I was cracking up. I felt a bit bad now so I chipped in “Listen babe, what can you do? It happened. You can either carry on laughing or lie down and cry! And I only lie down when I’m having sex and that’s off the agenda for a while now” So now we were both laughing. She titters “You are the strangest person I know” “Oh God! That is summthin!!! When YOU tell ME that I’M strange! Wow – I really have a problem there!” We both carry on pissing ourselves laughing. At this point I can hear her down the other end of the phone barking at her nephews to go down the other end of the garden and play. She comes back “Sorry babe but those kids are looking at me like I’m fucking crazy! I’m dripping with tears and covered in snot and all the time laughing like a deranged person while walking around and around in a circle” I couldn’t keep a lid on the laughter or our bitchy banter so I told her to keep walking in that circle that she still has a bit of Aunties home cooking to work off!
That disclosure started of very alien but it snapped straight back to me and her – her and me. Job done WE were going to make sure that WE were ok.
The laughter seemed to dissipated the amnesiac cloud that I had been engulfed in for the last couple of hours. Back to the task at hand. I am about to introduce you to Marios. I just now (Thursday 20th 18.16) checked my facebook message history to check when Marios stepped into play on that day of the 12th. It seems that I have found those missing few hours! Between 15.30 and 18.00…I was chatting with him on facebook. Ah! The satisfaction of at least knowing what I was doing even If I can’t fully remember it! Let me tell you how I know Marios before you jump on the crazy train that’s about to depart…
My equals=equals HIV anti-stigma campaign had been getting a good deal of press and attention online, on Facebook, and on it’s Crowdfunder page. It still needs funds for the record and I will be back on the fundraising trail and pushing to make this project actually happen once all of the attention around this situation has died down a bit. But the campaign got the thumbs up from a good friend that works quite high up in Chelsea and Westminister Sexual Health and he reposted the links to the facebook page and the crowdunder page. A big thank you to him for doing this (I wont mention his name as his work is his work and I want to respect him and the rest of the guys that work in that field with their time away from being the care givers. But thank you). His support and subsequent sharing gave a bit of gravity and momentum to the campaign thus far. As well as doing that it caught the attention of one of his pals – Marios who was introduced to me on Facebook and who expressed an interest in getting on board and lending support where he could. We had our first exchange on Facebook on 23rd July 2015 – a mere 3 weeks before my diagnosis. I just wanted to state that so you understand what a diamond Marios is and how he came out of nowhere. Here are our messages – included with his permission
I joined the club today! 2 dots!
I am strangely totally cool and in good form
Yep. I’m a poz boy now
Ok. Um. Shit.
You wanna chat about it?
And welcome to the club.
Lol – god all you queens been goin loco about it much more than me. It’s cool. I was gonna start Truvada as prep this weekend anyway so now I just take 2 pills instead of 1.
The only reason I’m surprised is because I perhaps made some erroneous assumptions and not knowing you very well didn’t know how you’ve been behaving or your view on it i.e if it was expected.
I know you have no problem with it but it can still be a surprise.
I had been expecting it every time I got tested every three months for 7 years. Still was a surprise when it happened and had a far greater impact than I expected it to
Why thank you madam. What’s the uniform? Something in leather?
What’s your email? I will forward you a chat I’ve just had as it’s too much to type again
And my phone number is 07070707070. Apple fan boy so iMessaged up the ting yang
Ying yang even.
I guess I’m only really a bit bothered about the fact I know my mum will be upset
I’ve not told me dad yet. Two years and counting.
I’ll save that for when we meet.
Look. It takes a while to sink in. I know you have a great support network but if you ever want to talk to a relative stranger please feel free to call any time.
My coming out strategy is already in place now. I’m meeting 1 bro tonight to tell him. I’m speaking to another this eve to ask him to tell my mum and dad- in the stated outlines that I will brief him on. I am speaking at Let’s Talk tmro night and I will be tagging on a very concise bullet pointed account of what has happen in the 24 hours leading up to the event. I will then be publishing the article that was meant to be Truvada Diaries as the story of HOW I missed the boat. That will be released on Friday. I know that all seems intense and extreme but I’m gonna take the opportunity that this situation has presented and use it as a vehicle to stress the need for prep to be made available NOW
Also – I know me…the only way I am going to be able to get on top of this is by throwing it out there right away and not making apologies for my situation and status
All sounds good to me love. Good luck with it all sorry I’m missing your talk tomorrow.
We need to arrange to meet properly soon as well
18.00 My brother Brendan hasn’t replied to my messages and I cant get hold of him on his phone now. As I hang up on the voicemail for the 3rd time Lena my flatmate comes home with her daughter. I suddenly now feel very uncomfortable. My mind is racing again with…When I tell her is she going to freak and worry that I’m a health risk to the kid? Is she going ask me to move out right now? How is this going to pan out? Luckily I have to leave as she arrives as I have to meet my friend Ian at Starbucks in Vauxhall at 18.30 to tell him as he’s coming to Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs. Lena and I haven’t spoken all week as we had a bit of a disagreement and have had a bit of time out from each other. I went upstairs to my room to grab my jacket and brush my teeth. As I picked up the toothbrush from its little holder stuck to the tiles above the sink I just stopped and stared at it. It’s segregated bristles. WOW. I was feeling very odd towards my toothbrush and I thought of how I would log this moment in my diary and the words ‘segregated bristles’ sprang up visually as text in my mind – not to dissimilar to how Ron Howard presents text appearing for Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, the same cinematic device he reuses for Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon in The DaVinci code. The word ‘segregated’ lingers a bit longer and I shake the thought out of my head. I actually don’t feel like brushing my teeth right now so opted for a gargle of mouthwash instead. I walked the length of the bathroom to have a quick check in the mirror and realised I still have my toothbrush in my hand. It became clear this wasn’t an accident. I was feeling odd towards my toothbrush because I didn’t want it existing in the same space as Lena and the kid or their toothbrushes. With that realisation I glanced at the bath where my razor currently rested, in its protective cap on the side. I certainly didn’t want that there either. I honestly don’t know if I was feeling this because I, myself genuinely didn’t want it here or if I was going into uber self-protection mode and removing anything of mine that might be considered contaminated, that she might take offence to or be alarmed at noticing. I was still fully aware that I was being a touch manic and a bit ridiculous but I didn’t really give a shit what I was ‘thinking’ I was just ‘feeling’ that those items needed to be in my room and not just in the room but in a drawer too! There is ‘THAT HIV FEELING’ again! Really did not want to be in the house right now. Could feel a sharper pang of pure anxiety a very small spark of pure panic on top of this too. I grabbed my jacket and headed back downstairs. In the kitchen as I pick up my bag and my keys to leave she asks me if we can have a chat and clear the air a bit as she’d like to try to sort things out. I told her yeah sure of course and that I needed to speak to her later anyway as I needed to talk through some stuff…some not so good stuff but I was running late and I’d catch up with her when I got home. I couldn’t get out the door quick enough – I’m sure she thought I was being a supercharged fuckwit today after I had, in effect, dismissed her olive branch. I didn’t have the capacity to consider this any further at this point. It was shitty timing but it would work itself out at the right time. I walk back to Starbucks Vauxhall. I called Dee and we touched base properly. I wasn’t worried about telling at all because as much of a drama queen as he sometimes is… he always has a way of cutting through the bullshit of any situation and getting to the issue at hand and if not helping to sort out the issue he at his very least usually can decipher what exactly the issue IS. So we were cool and that was him ticked off my list for now.
18.35 meet with Ian
I arrived at Starbucks a bit before Ian and was working away on my Mac when he popped up outside on his phone as usual. This is one bitch that is always as busy if not busier than me. We sat down and chatted about the Act Up stuff that he is possibly going to support. He then asks me about tomorrow night’s Lets Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs. Ian will be attending for the first time so his quizzing me on this event gives me my well cued opening to tell him that this is actually why I wanted to meet with him this evening. As he is a good friend and will be there tomorrow night I needed to let him know before he hears it from me on stage at the event. That I had a HIV test this afternoon and that it came back positive. I stayed locked on his eyes for the micro expression to flicker across his face but boy! He was good! Not a flinch – mind you that might have something to do with the industrial volumes of Botox that he has had pumped into his face! For the record – I love you Ian. I know you’re reading and you won’t mind taking one for the team here and allowing us a little bit of light relief. So he comes back, totally unfazed as I knew would with “Well girl, I’m not surprised. You dodged that bullet for quite a while” I was like “Really? You think? I’m quite disappointed with my innings. I’ve only been single again for the last 2 and a half years – I thought I’d have bounced a bit longer” he ponders “Yes I suppose, I managed a good 10 years before I got caught” I offered “Yeah but I suppose it’s a very different world we live in now, it’s everywhere and we make it a bit easier from it to jump to the next guy. Crystal, Mephadrone, G, slamming, Grindr, BBRT, sex parties and a bit of AIDS apathy I suppose”. “Yeah Greg, you’re right. But don’t panic darling, you will be fine”. “Oh, I know – I above most know this” He added “Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have some fucking shit times but you’ll be good”
Ian didn’t once press the question of was I OK – he simply assured me that I would be. That I should expect to hit the wall at some point but that it’s OK and totally normal. And it happens at different times for each and every person. And of course he is totally right. To further that point I had to tell him that from my experiences with positive guys and their stories and from some first hand experience of being on that journey with several friends that I noticed there always seems to be a ‘double dip wobble’ as I’ve coined it. I think the initial wave hits then you go into a kind of shut down or a fight back and then once that initial shock subsides – however long that takes. Somewhere down the line, when everything’s settled a bit you start to deal with how you actually FEEL about this. Not how you reacted to it but how you FEEL about it. I had discussed this with Elizabeth my Health Care Advisor a few hours previous and she said that yes, indeed she sees that a lot too. She gave me some further insight into this by explaining that after the initial shock and acceptance of your positive status you might still not be OK with it in a few months and at that point question yourself as to why you are not OK with it and make unnecessary demands of your self to be OK or that you’re not allowed to still be adjusting. She explained that this is something that presents more often and more severely in men as they are conditioned to believe that they should shoulder any burden or that they are unable to reach out and ask for help. As she was telling me this it all seemed very familiar to me somehow. I’ve only just realised now as I am writing this that I was already familiar with what she was saying as those are the same issues that presented themselves in the findings of a study I had read a good while back on suicide among men and the alarmingly high statistics. Disproportionate statistics from what I can remember. I digress.
Back to Ian.
We chatted through the A-Z of HIV. What a godsend Madam Massa-Harris McFeely was this evening. He gave me full and frank accounts of what to expect from here on in on everything from my lifestyle, my health, my meds, the control I can have over the choice of care I receive, tips on keeping up to date on new meds and advances and finally on relationships. And on this we disagreed somewhat. Actually rather than disagreed we simply accepted that we had very different outlooks, conditions and expectations on relationships. As we had also had when discussing this as a neg mate and a poz mate. Now that we were both poz, should that have meant that suddenly we would agree on those things we all must navigate when we find ourselves in a relationship? No, not at all and it would seem that (for me at least) it is unlikely that just because my stauts might have changed that my relationship expectations would or should – unless for the better, I feel I should tag that on! It’s about 20.10 and I’ve caused Ian to miss his gym session so he decides to take the stroll back to Clapham with me. Since we seemed to leave the ‘business’ of HIV in Starbucks we were a bit freer to start to chat to each other on our usual terms and were soon back on catty banter and topics ranging from bad sex to messy sex to who’s in rehab to who’s out of rehab – when am I gonna end my detox and start my retox etc etc. The usual duologue of 2 aging queens! For the record Ian can be – in his own words ‘one mean bitch’ and so he didn’t once sugar coat a single thing for me. And again in his own words he can also be ‘one fabulous bitch’ tonight he was the perfect blend of both as he usually and regularly is. That’s why he is my friend. We part company at the tube station at 20.40
My heart has been warmed by my few hours with Madam Massa but again THAT HIV FEELING comes back again as we part. Half way between the tube station and home I find a discreet quiet back alley and call my brother Sean at about 20.42. He picks up the call with “Hey, I was just about to call you, that’s weird. What’s up?” “OK bro, Listen, I need to just square with you…” I talked him through the set up ie that I was due to start PrEP this weekend and popped in for my test…blah blah blah…positive…it was starting to feel a bit blah blah blah right now but I was very, very calm again compared to that weird sinking feeling that was smothering me before the phonecall and although I had not prepared exactly what I was going to say to him, I first of all apologised for having to ask him to do this but that I needed him to go and see both Mum and Dad (separately obviously) and tell them in person for me. That I needed them to know now – tonight or at the latest by tomorrow afternoon. I had enough immediate memory of the small things after my ex’s diagnosis that had brought me some comfort so I worked through those things for him. I was fit and healthy, I had a negative test only a year ago so it’s early diagnosis which is good. I haven’t been sick or run down so they aren’t immediately worried about what my bloods might throw up. Above all else I am ok. I am good and the HIV aside – I am in a good place and happy. So if this was going to happen at any time in my life. Now was the best time for this curve ball. Had it have come anywhere else in the last 2.5 years since my relationship ended – I might very well not have coped. I explained to him too how things were going to pan out now for me and my disclosure over the next 48 hours. He seemed really calm and good about this. Perhaps he genuinely had prepared himself as he said he has done since my text earlier in the day and he also admits for much longer than just today – from as far back as me being vocal about HIV and stigma. Well over a year now. Perhaps though as prepared and educated as he was… he was just in shock as I now realised I probably was too. And he almost carried it off flawlessly apart from I could hear his breathing was a little irregular and his usual slightly sparky tone and vibe was dampened down somewhat tonight. For putting him in this position, to have to tell our parents this and for dulling some of his sparkle I felt pure guilt and a tightening across my chest and a hollowing of my heart. I was sending my gay brother to tell our parents that their other gay son ‘has a gay disease that that can’t be cured that countless other gay men before him have died from’ Of course I – PERSONALLY have never thought and never will think like that nor would my insanely intelligent, empathetic and diplomatic, Pharmacist brother every relay this news like that. But for my parents THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY WILL HEAR. And so the guilt increased as did the tightening and the hollowing. Now was the time I was doubting myself. Not for any other reason but the fact that I was putting my family through this. To crank this all up another level my brother dropped in at the end of our conversation that he would have to tell Claire – my baby sister. She is 22 years old but she is the youngest of 5 boys and 1 girl. Sean had to tell her tonight because she was leaving early in the morning for Australia and he wouldn’t see her before she left in the morning. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!!!! I knew she was flying off sometime this week because she text me last week to tell me. But did it have to be tomorrow morning on the back of this!? And here you go people! Here is another example of one of those little unforeseeable external factors that you don’t think about when you see 2 dots and you hear POSITIVE. I am about to ruin my little sister’s trip of a life time by giving her the shittiest news of mine. Just bang, bang, bang. This one hit me with a triple but it was worse than THAT other ‘combo-emotion’ – this pure version of guilt is the heaviest of them all. I had lived with it or quite sometime over the last 2.5 years. I simply decided this time around that I was not playing host to it again. Those feelings came and those feeling left. I allowed myself to feel sad for the situation but refused to crumble under guilt again. Not this time – no way!!!
21.00 I get home and have the good sense to know not to speak to Lena in this state so open the door and dash myself up the stairs and into my room without providing an opening for interaction. In my room I’m contemplating a seriously large drink!
AND BING THE UNIVERSE STEPS IN AGAIN!
21.01 – receive a Facebook message from Marios insisting that I join him at the Duke of Wellington for drinks. There is a bit conflict here for me. I have only ever spoken to Marios on Facebook and only over the past 3 weeks. I have not yet actually met they guy in person. He share a mutual friend who I credit with good enough judgement of character but where the fuck is my head right now? Do I stay here at home holed away in my bedroom. Shut off in an enclosed, safe but uncomfortable and anxious environment. Or do I take a leap of faith here and face the tube. At least it will be empty and quiet now and face Soho and 2 strangers? Marios keep messaging – insisting. Then I simplified the whole thing for myself. Sit at home and get pissed by myself knowing that guilt and ‘THAT HIV FEELING’ would be regular visitors or just fuck it and go spend time with a guy you kinda know, who for sure is funny and for sure has been in my position before. Life isn’t so difficult when you think about it like that. So I literally grabbed my phone charger and my oyster card and headed for the tube station at 21.15. I’m almost at the tube when I receive a text from Sean with a stream of emojis blowing kisses. Pangs of guilt again and the first wave of real uncontrollable emotion. I knew these bits were going hit me the hardest. The real emotions connected to my family.
Now on tube feeling fuzzy headed and confused. There is a Mum with a kid on each side sat opposite me . The little girl on one side is asleep sucking her thumb. Her little brother is on the other side in his mum’s arms yelping and squealing over excitedly. Normally this would irritate me so much I would get of at the next stop and change carriage. Instead today, I just observe him and smile. He hugs his mum – right, tight into her face and I think about my own Mum. That dull sadness swells a bit more.
21.24 change at Kennington for Charing Cross branch. I’m relieved not to be sitting with the family anymore. Strangely thinking of my ex now as I stand alone on the platform waiting for the tube. Feels like I’m reconnecting to him and his diagnosis and walking through the internalised processes he must have silently navigated by himself. Why did he shut down and have to go through all this by himself? He must have been screaming inside and now I understand him a bit more and why I was never going to be able to reach him in that situation. But I know my journey is going to be different.
21.27 the Charing Cross branch tube arrives and snaps me out of my thoughts of the ex. I now have a full tube carriage to myself, which is poetic in a way as I imagine this is exactly how some recently diagnosed guys must feel. In a carriage on your own, travelling through the dark to a place you have been before but somehow as a different person to meet strangers you are now vicariously connected to by a virus in your blood. I certainly had shades of that sentiment myself today.
21.30 I’m aware that I’m indulging my writers floweriness and over romanticised thought processes. Smirking now at doing this and being aware that I’m doing this is oddly amusing me! At least I’m still aware of what a wanker I can be sometimes Lol
21.33 I’m off the tube at Leicester Square and en route to meet Marios and his friend Micky for the first time at the Duke of Wellington.
21.37 received Facebook message from Ian reminding me that he is always there if I need anything.
21.38 decide to stop logging my thoughts while I’m with Marios
Ok – So I decided to stop logging my thoughts while I was with Marios but now I can tell you exactly what mischief we got up to. I arrive at the Duke of Wellington with 4% battery left and started to panic that I only really have a thumb nail image in my mind of Marios from Facebook to identify him with. And he was kind of not the only ‘shaved head with beard, bear-y type guy in the bar. In fact I definitely more than ever felt like goldilocks with her cave full of bears! I message him saying ‘I’m by the toilet’ 3 mins went by. I was starting to look like I was cottaging or about to swoop unsuspecting drunk bears and steal man bags. Then I saw in my messages that for some random reason he sent me a picture of his retro Adidas ZX-800 style trainers in green and orange – I had a very similar pair but in blue and pink! Result…I could now identify Marios the bear among bears from a kindred trainer! How gay is this!!?? I’ve now gone from looking like a bad cottager to a dodgy bag thief to a foot fetishist. I see where tonight is going. Luckily the first pair of trainers that I inspect are said green and orange Adidas! I suddenly realise Marios is very fucking tall! I sheepishly approached the online friend and physical stranger with a “Hey Marios?” ‘Oh Greg Owen! Oh my God!” With this he clean picks me up and literally ‘bear hugs me’. I’m kind of a little embarrassed and shy sometimes. But with this big old jolly bear jug I decided to leave the shit that’s going on inside me at the door and try to exist in the now. With Marios it wasn’t hard. He kept my mind busy with good challenges or useful information or just had me pissing myself with his ridiculousness! What a winning combination! As he returned me to the floor of the Duke of Wellington he remarked how ‘little and cute’ I was…Why is that always the first thing people say to me the first time they meet me after chatting to me on Facebook? I also got to meet Marios’ Georie friend Micky who not only sounded like Cheryl Cole – which I’m mad about. He is both HIV and HEP C positive (or co-infected) Micky was a sweetheart too and we had a chance to chat a lot about HEP C in particular as I had come fresh of the back of a HEP C forum and a HEP C action group meeting that same week. So I offered him any interesting bits of info that I had picked up that week and we discussed Interferon which he can’t be treated with due to other contributing factors and then we talked a bit about the new treatment for HEP C – HARVONI. Which all being well he hopefully will be able to use as treatment – as and when it is available. Although we were discussing pretty detailed health care stuff, the boys were both sharing with me their knowledge and experiences with their HIV meds but we barely ever made it through 3 sentences with out cracking up at something. It’s worth pointing out we’d move to another pub on Compton Street by this point and as Marios was telling me a meds related story when I say ‘telling’ I mean ‘slurring’. He was slurring his way through and he said “so my viral load was 100 thousand.” The bouncer walked past and said ‘fuck you had it bad’ I was confused, Marios said “What? Listen, when you get the news you have this virus NOTHING else is EVER bad. The Bouncer was shocked. He said “Oh my God guys, I’m so sorry, I though you said my viral LOAN was £100,000. I didn’t mean any disrespect. Don’t you guys just take some medication then it’s all OK? Well that was it both myself and Micky who we had since renamed ‘Feral Cole” were in stitches again. High on laughter and fully stocked on drunken messiness we sensibly decided to wrap up this leg of my ‘coming out party’ and take an Uber back to Marios place in Elephant and Castle to carry on the party. Just to be clear.
We were not celebrating that I had been diagnosed as HIV positive.
No not all. We were instead raising a glass in acknowledgement of it’s shitness and the shitness that any of us were positive but what we were celebrating was that because we are all recently positive here in 2015 and not 1985 that we weren’t going to die from HIV. We were celebrating that we were standing together like brothers, we were celebrating that we could because of those that have fought before us, many of whom did die, that we could share a joke about our HIV with a straight negative bouncer. We were celebrating the new world that we were slowly beginning to be accepted in as people not leapers and I know Marios was celebrating me, for the what I had chosen to do with my recent diagnosis by going public as public can be – first on stage and then online, going ‘viral’ if you like and doing this all tomorrow.
But privately I was celebrating that I was sure now that I was going to be OK.
I wasn’t alone and I didn’t need to be afraid and most importantly that I would not be banished back to that awful dark place that I rattled around in for well over a year after my ex’s diagnosis. I would take the wobbles when they crept up on me but tonight proved to me that I might cry and cry a lot – I don’t know but I was damn sure I was going to laugh too. And I had… And honestly this unexpected sense of liberation and brotherly love felt very similar to what I felt all those years ago. Almost 20 years ago when I first came out as gay in 1996 when being gay was SO NOT COOL. It felt very very similar.
We got back to Marios’ place shortly after 23.00. Feral Cole stayed true to name and chucked up most of the fried chicken and amaretto she’d just practically inhaled! Bless her. Off to bed for her. Marios and I stayed up until after 02.00. We stayed up way into the night talking about life and love and all different things and how it really isn’t right that ‘someone like me’ should find myself in this position. I get where he’s coming from but we establish that really I’m not different from anybody else. We jokingly agree that I’m a drug loving, filthy, barebacking whore – just like the next queen! Tonight had been my coming out party. I didn’t foresee this as I was sat in Dean Street Express 12 hours ago staring and 2 blue dots. I truly, truly felt like I was looked after and cared for tonight. Earlier another of Marios’ mates joined us unexpectedly. His mate asked what the party was in aid of. Marios asked me in front of his mate “Do you mind if I tell him why we are partying?” I was still laughing on the back of one of his random and hilarious one liners and nodded my head to go ahead. And here is where I noticed his language and how he used it. He proceeded “It’s not so much a party, we just thought a bit of solidarity tonight wouldn’t go amiss. Greg got his positive diagnosis today” This might not seem strange or stick out in anyway to you. But to me as a writer and a person who pays extra attention to how people structure what they say it really hit home. Marios didn’t say Greg got ‘A’ positive diagnosis he said Greg got ‘HIS’ positive diagnosis today. The origins of this choice of structure rang clear for me. If I got ‘A’ positive diagnosis then the opinion on it would have been that it was something not predetermined. A surprise diagnosis. But the fact that he said Greg got ‘HIS’ positive diagnosis today says – from it’s structure that my positive diagnosis was ‘predetermined’ and just a matter of time. An eventual actuality rather than a shock surprise. This was mirrored by his mate in his reply with ‘Ah well, never mind’ I laughed, in a good way…these boys are all pos and all being super supportive and making me feel safe. The mate continues ‘Ah well, never mind. 11 years and counting”.
5.51 just woke up on Marios couch. He has so sweetly camped out on the sofa opposite to keep an eye on me like a mama bitch looking after her new puppy! Intentional or not. I’m feeling the love. I asked him about the use of ‘HIS’ instead of ‘A’ when he spoke earlier of my status and then shared my interpretation of his phraseology. He corrected my deduction by informing me that no, it was not a foregone conclusion on his part that at some point I would become positive. Instead it was his acknowledgement of the personal nature of each individual’s status and his support in my taking full ownership of it. Ok. He had a point. He continued on – past what I thought was the natural conclusion of the discussion. He didn’t know why he should have been but that he was surprised by my news and didn’t expect it. I was a bit confused. But why would you think I of all people would be less likely to catch HIV than any other person or more to the point any other sexually active gay guy in London? I was expecting him to attribute it to my involvement and above standard knowledge of and ‘working relationship’ with HIV. It seems I misjudged Marios once more and his surprise at my becoming positive. It was not based on anything more than – we’ve only known each other through Facebook for a few weeks and never met before so he had no idea of the kind of sexual activity that my sex life entailed. Before reducing me to fits of laughter again, for what felt like the umpteenth time by finishing with…
“I had no idea you were a dirty, riddled, barebacking, drug loving whore.”
Of course he had referred to himself as this many times through out the evening but what he either really grasped or perhaps hadn’t even been aware of was that by jokingly and lovingly bombarding me with every typical shaming tag that some ignorant negative people would inevitably at point think about me if not actually verbalise to me, that he freed me of the fear of hearing those words and in turn diminished their potential power to shake me. This guy was a gift. A true gift. In fact everyone should have a Marios in their life…I had lucked out today. And I knew it.
06.35 after more giggles and foolishness with Marios we decide to have another sleep.
07.57 Marios has gone to bed. I’m on my own again. Thinking.
8.17 I’m sitting on Marios’ sofa listening to the buses and HGV’s get raped by the speed bump outside and I’m looking around his beautiful apartment and realise I AM BLESSED. Oh my god! Actually welling up right now…. AND BANG!!!
The first tear has dropped.
It might be a tear full of vodka but it came. Sweetly and gently. I have now shed my first tear. I have only known Marios about 3 weeks – online through Facebook and only met him in person for the first time tonight. And he has shown me more love and kindness and ‘sister hood’ than some acquaintances have shown me in a life time.
The first day has passed. I’m still alive!