Bring the drama! Bring the therapy!

HappyCOVERedit-690x326

HIV and ME.

When the initial shock of being diagnosed as HIV positive passes and you realise that the world didn’t immediately end at that point, you are left with the reality that at some point you are going to have to address those 3 words…HIV and ME. HIV and ME is never going to be the same as HIV and YOU. Just as everyone’s life is totally unique to them. Even if our shared experiences are similar, our emotional reactions will never be identical due to so many factors ranging from our upbringing, faith, ethnicity, culture, place of birth, age etc and each of our past’s have made us total individuals. So everyone’s HIV journey will be equally unique. That isn’t to say that there isn’t common ground, of course there is. And it can be amazingly comforting common ground and practical too.

When you speak with other HIV positive people who are a bit further along in their journey than you, you can learn so much about things that you maybe haven’t even considered yet or things that are too overwhelming for you to think about on your own. Like sharing experiences and knowledge of HIV meds (ART) with each other from a personal perspective. What it’s like ‘coming out’ as positive to your friends and family. What it’s like the first time you have sex again after you find out you’re positive. How ignorant and uneducated some people can be and how sometimes random little things that you didn’t expect can trigger huge emotional swellings in you.  It’s that last point that I want to expand a bit further. Coming to terms with your HIV status is totally yours to own. There is no right or wrong way. The only right thing to do is to make the choices that allow you to own your status, for you. No one else – you. It’s great to have buddies around for this support. But what happens if you don’t have buddies that you can turn to? Or you are just not OK enough with yourself yet to start talking about it? This is all totally normal.

Most of us live in a little bit of healthy denial, it’s a survival technique. It becomes less of a survival technique and more of a risk if we allow it to snowball and suffer in silence, alone. Even in a relationship you can still be very much alone with your true internalised emotions and reconciliation with your situation.

So my point is this, cut yourself some slack. Don’t be too hard on yourself. You will be OK. Better than OK… Try not to deal in guilt or what if’s – they will feast on your energy and happiness.

There are options out there for you too. Know this. If and when you are ready, check them out. For anyone based in London, 56 Dean Street runs a Wellbeing Programme with a diverse and varied range of topics and settings. They are predominantly free sessions and open to all. All you need to do to register your interest is check out the link below.

Click here for Dean Street Wellbeing Programme

IMG_1306-0

As part of the Wellbeing Program, 56 Dean Street have enlisted Simon Marks to facilitate a 10 week dramatherapy course for HIV positive gay and bi men, all welcome. This is a free course and the full details and criteria to qualify for a place are all on the flyer below. Check it out. If it looks like something you’d like to be involved with then contact them at the specified email address. They do require you to be available for each of the 10 weekly sessions.

Continue reading “Bring the drama! Bring the therapy!”

PrEP: I’m not HIV negative. I’m HIV SMART

ky ly

Last week Kyle posted a super cool, HIV stigma busting, PrEP praising video on facebook and it went viral. Rightly so! Props to you our friend! Obviously as we are totes about anything like this we tracked down the hotness that is Mr Kyle Goffney for a little chat…here’s how that went…

Hey Kyle. Thank you for talking to us at iwantPrEPnow. Your video was great. Can you tell us a bit about you and your relationship with PrEP and HIV safer sex.

Yeah sure. I’ve spent all of my twenties in 3 serious relationships and in most of those relationships condoms were not used. After I split from my last ex, I had to push myself to get back out there and start dating and having sex again. Which meant I had to get used to rubbers (condoms) again.

I hooked up with this couple for a threesome where the top guy took off his rubber while I was topping his partner and topped me bareback, without me realising. I was a wreck for a while after that. I went and got tested every 2 weeks, each time praying I was still negative. Fortunately, I didn’t catch anything and heard about PrEP at the same time and immediately got on it.

I have a very nice sex life and I’m OK being sexual and single. I’m cool because I now have extra protection besides a rubber (condom) when I’m having sex.

I’ve slept with men and women and still enjoy sex with both. I say ‘the sex game has changed now’ because no one is just one way in bed anymore. There are more out gay and bisexual people than ever before – which is great. But there is still a huge unknown number of the down low guys and girls. It doesn’t matter how ‘hot’ or ‘perfect’ some couples appear to be, a lot of couples have sexually open relationships. I’ve been in bed with girls and their dudes at the same time. The sex game has changed because we tend to be more sexually liberated, and less conformist and in turn it’s less simple to figure out who’s fucking who.

The excitement and exploration of sex, has now elevated to extraordinary measures. I know so many people who are positive, I used to lie awake at night thinking ‘damn will I be next?’ I got so afraid at one point that I even stopped hooking up, but the horny side of me always won.

Today, prep is one of the most important things in my sex life.

A couple years back I hooked up with a crush of mine. I wanted this person for so long. He was the very reason I got into the gym and got myself and my life together so I could finally have the confidence to approach him. Well, that opportunity arose and the night we hung out things got heated – sexually and we ended up with nothing on but socks. He stopped me and said wait I have to tell you something. My heart raced and I knew what was coming… I even held my breath and when he told me he was positive.

I didn’t feel fear, I felt an overwhelming feeling of respect.

I mean he could’ve kept this to himself because I was ready to go hard as a motherfucker in the sheets! But this was now just a moment between 2 people, nothing sexual, nothing forced. Just real honesty. I grabbed his face and kissed him slowly and I got hard again. I realised that after all the casual hook ups & un-invested sex I’d had, this was the 1st time in my life where the sex was honest. He liked me enough to give me a choice and opened my mind and made me look at sex in a new way which I had never expected or seen before and that will stay with me forever.

Was there a specific incident or series of events that made you think – OK enough is enough…time to do something?

I know so many people who lie or who won’t tell you their status. Particularly a former good friend who is very sexually active but still won’t reveal his status out of fear of rejection. I suppose it’s the mentality of ‘well nobody told me, so why should I tell them’. It’s sad that we have this vicious cycle. I have positive friends and I value honesty over anything. I don’t care how good you look, how many followers you have, or how straight up he or she comes off, you never really know who you’re taking to bed.

Like I said  – the sex game has changed and I live in the real world.

After my post about this went viral, I received so many messages and so many people shared their stories with me. It’s refreshing to know I’m I having honest conversations with strangers.

Everyone wants the truth but no one wants to be honest.

I can’t relate to ignorant ass people many of whom commented some terrible things. These will be the same uneducated and arrogant people putting themselves at risk because they think HIV doesn’t apply to them, they think HIV is a gay thing or bisexual thing.

I didn’t start PrEP to stop. I didn’t speak up about this to stop. I will carry on – I can’t worry about what fools say. If I save just one life, if I protect someone’s health, if I decrease the stigma for HIV+ people in my message, then I have done and will keep doing my part!

Thank you Kyle – we think you are winning. Keep it up buddy and you have our full support!

HERE’S KYLE’S VIDEO

Continue reading “PrEP: I’m not HIV negative. I’m HIV SMART”

ChemSex – the film

ChemSex (from VICE and 56 Dean Street)

Watch the official trailer!

Directed by Max Gogarty and Will Fairman

matt spike

(Image by Matt Spike, who features in the film)

There is no other way to start this piece than to say I found this film incredibly necessary for our community right now. Its potential to open a much needed, shame-free dialogue on ChemSex and its educational benefits can’t be challenged. Personally, as someone who has a ChemSex past (and no doubt a ChemSex future) it was very difficult to watch at times. It is uncomfortable to observe what actually goes on in ChemSex, sober and in a nice cinema. To see this behavior in a context outside of its natural environment amplifies, some might say purifies the deep rooted suffering that so many guys who are caught up and lost in this scene are struggling with.

The film opens with a Brady Bunch style visual of a screen divided into about 16 individual blocks, each containing a guy talking about ChemSex and the party scene, direct to camera. From this group of talking heads we are eventually dragged along for the ride on a handful of the featured individuals journeys. Different as these stories were – the theme was the same – ChemSex and therefore each person’s social, emotional and personal battles were very similar. Different symptoms of the same condition.

Watch the trailer below…

What I loved about the film was that there were no victims. Just people being honest, who may be struggling but who were trying their best to get on and get over their issues. Even Miguel (the French guy) who provided the most uncomfortable viewing moments via a slamming scene where we see him sat on a sofa emptying out a rucksack full of beautifully multi-coloured slamming syringes, rummaging through the 10 or so pins that he has tipped out of the bag, we suddenly become aware that these aren’t new pins…They aren’t as pretty as their rainbow colours might suggest. They have various amounts of previously used M and T mixed with his now cold blood. He tries to re-use one of the old needles for a hit and stabs at his left arm continuously. Over and over again trying to find the least battered vein that will enable him to get his high….I was squirming in my seat. Yet I couldn’t judge him or shame him. I was squirming so much because I recall myself being in that position and several of my friends too. And he is no different to any of us. Not at all. We find out a few frames later that he just wants a ‘normal life’ with a partner and a garden and a cat. But he says “This is a disease. I don’t have the ability to stop”. And we all know how that feels. In fact, I connected with Miguel a lot. I had the partner (fiancé), the garden and the cat. It was losing all of that, the things I loved that catapulted me on to and into the ChemSex scene. Love and the lack of love….

That is the real message and raison d’etre of ChemSex (the film).

David Stuart from 56 Dean Street who features heavily in the documentary clarified a few things…

“ChemSex is nothing more than a health syndemic experienced by a vulnerable population; not in any way, something shameful or best kept secret.

Though there may be an expected backlash from the odd Daily Mail reader (nothing surprising or unmanageable there), the only backlash so far has been from within the gay community; people who are understandably concerned, that gay equality and societal homophobia may be set back by airing our dirty linen in public. There were similar fears in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. But HIV is just a disease, not a punishment from God or an indictment of promiscuity. And ChemSex is nothing more than a public health syndemic, affecting a vulnerable and lovely population of gay men. Alarm, though understandable, is not justified. Community support, and dialogue is what is required to address this problem within our community.”

David raised another great point in the film…

“Something about our sex as gay men – is causing harm. And that needs addressing”

With that in mind, this film allows us to safely explore for ourselves why ChemSex has become ‘a thing’. We all know, no matter how much we try to style it out with a gym ripped body or sharp hair cut or a fresh pair of hi tops or a ¼ of T, 2 grams of Meph, 100 mils of G and a handful of Viagra. That we all act up and behave questionably for the same set of reasons that are pretty much applicable to us all and constantly at play in all of our gay lives.

Growing up isolated and/or bullied. Or if we weren’t bullied we were still always aware that we were ‘different’ and so always existed on the peripheral of society. Constantly just outside of the norm.

Drugs are dis-inhibitors.

“There is a definable reason these gay men are using drugs in this way”

But when we start accepting this as the standard, that’s when things start to escalate. We live in a gay culture of excess. The biggest cock, the longest fuck session, the marathon bank holiday clubbing, the endless party.

“The problem is on the inside. We are normalizing behaviour that isn’t normal”

I have actually had a lot of fun as a ChemSex-er. It was something that I threw myself into in the aftermath of the break up of a 7 year relationship. It had it’s benefits. I was emotionally unavailable but I needed some contact and interaction. ChemSex parties were ideal. I could get intimacy without investment. And that suited me (and a lot of the guys featured in this film) very well. But not as a long term set up. I don’t think you can sustain this. It’s too physically, mentally and financially draining and unfulfilling.

So what is the ‘problem’ with ChemSex?

I was at a press screening of this film which had a Q&A session afterwards and a very well known individual from the gay scene asked “How real a concern is ChemSex? I don’t know anyone who does ChemSex”. I almost fell off my seat! I thought “What the fuck! Are you for real? I don’t know anyone who DOESN’T do Chemsex”. While I seriously doubt that this guy has a group of friends that never touch drugs during sex, it did make me consider that some people participating in ChemSex perhaps don’t identify themselves as ChemSex-ers or feel comfortable or able to disclose and discuss that they have ChemSex. The potential pitfalls that come along with ChemSex are just as real of a threat to these guys as they are to an ’out’ ChemSex-er.

But I think the real problem with Chemsex is this…

It’s not a problem until you want to stop or change. Then the problem becomes very clear. What was once your pleasure becomes your prison

Which is why a lot of prolonged chemsex participants find their lives punctuated with quite dramatic and serious accidents/events such as a trip to A&E, getting arrested, being raped, losing a job, losing a partner, rehab, contracting HIV or HCV or even death. The problem isn’t ChemSex itself. Some people navigate it skillfully and exist on that scene very well. So you really only become aware that you have a problem with ChemSex when you want to break the ChemSex pattern but by then it might be too late. I hope not. I really hope it’s not too late for any of us.

We need our friends. We need the help of support services such as ChemSex run by the Wellbeing Programme from 56 Dean Street. Other agencies like Antidote can help. Through these avenues we have options and if we have options then we have a choice. It’s up to you and me and each of us to make our own choice. Make it a good one. Keep healthy and keep happy guys! x

ChemSex is released in cinemas from December 4th 2015 and will be available on DVD early 2016. This film is about our scene and what is happening on it now. Regardless if you do ChemSex or not – you need to watch this film. We all do.

Continue reading “ChemSex – the film”

Get free P(r)EP on the NHS – NOW

12071688_10153636930852052_1357661762_n

You can get Truvada to use as PrEP for free on the NHS – NOW. Here’s how…

There IS actually a way to get PrEP for free on the NHS. It means working the system! And being a little bit dishonest. But if a little white lie is going to get you some free drugs to keep you HIV negative – is it forgivable? This process is called ‘clinic hopping’ more specifically ‘clinic hopping’ for PEP. And claiming a false risk of exposure to HIV

PEP is 4 weeks of treatment that is offered free if you have been at risk or exposed to HIV in the last 72 hours. They will test you for HIV at your appointment and do all the base line liver and kidney tests etc. Some sexual health clinics will give you the whole month of pills straight away at your first appointment. Others will give you 1 week of treatment and then you have to return for a check up at the end of that week and be given your remaining 3 weeks of PEP. So the system is simple. PEP consists of 1 Truvada and 1 Raltegravir pill in the morning and 1 more Raltegravir pill in the evening. So if you do the math and you are scamming the system for 3 pills a day and only taking 1…you are wasting 2/3 of what it costs the NHS to provide that. PrEP guys only need/want the 1 Truvada daily. So you can get PrEP on the NHS but you have to work them by getting them to give you PEP. This ‘clinic hopping’ is already a thing and is already happening in London (a lot) and with the rise of PrEP awareness and the knowledge of this method of accessing it…it will happen a lot more, at a lot of wasted expense to the NHS….Surely someone in the NHS can see this coming and behave proactively NOW to prevent this waste of much needed funds instead of reactively once we’re another year down the line….with thousands of pounds being wasted.

I know of people who will spend 1 day going around 2-3 clinics or A&E departments collecting 3 month’s supply in one day because sexual health clinics here in the UK operate a ‘confidential stand alone service’ and don’t communicate data with each other or your GP without your permission. You can in effect be anonymous at each clinic as you don’t need to provide any ID or proof of address. So at 1 clinic you could be John Smith at another you could be Peter Pepper. Some of these ‘clinic hoppers’ take their PrEP pill every other day so 28 pills actually lasts them 2 months.

I asked a representative from a leading London sexual health clinic about ‘clinic hopping’…

Are you as a clinic aware that ‘clinic hopping’ for PrEP is happening in London?

NHS availability (or otherwise) of certain drugs regarding Hepatitis C (Harvoni/Sofosbuvir ) and HIV protection in the form of PrEP have created a climate of people sourcing their own medicines their own way or sometimes ‘scamming the system’. This is entirely understandable; even heartening that people are being inventive and proactive in their desire to protect themselves and partners from infection. However, it can be dangerous when done in the absence of medical supervision, and so cannot be condoned.

So if a guy managed to get his Truvada as PrEP through this method but had queries or concerns about taking PrEP or his HIV status, what support is there for him?

What we don’t want to happen is for people to be frightened to tell us that they are scamming the system; because even though we may sometimes be limited in the medicines we can prescribe for PrEP and HCV treatment, there is still very helpful advice that our staff are able to give people doing that. No one is going to get reprimanded or told off for telling us how they’re ‘scamming the system’ or how they are trying to stay HIV negative. If someone has a supply of PrEP (regardless of how/where they sourced it) and they need advice then we can give that very practical, medical and lifestyle advice to people wishing to stay negative. We don’t want people to avoid us or omit truths because they are frightened they are going to get in trouble. We are aware there is a climate of  scamming or ‘clinic hopping’ for medicines and – though we can’t condone it – we encourage people – guilt free to come and tell us what they are doing to try to stay HIV negative. The desire to protect ourselves and our partners from infection,  is always an admirable and commendable one; full disclosure, can help us to help you.

Continue reading “Get free P(r)EP on the NHS – NOW”

It’s cheaper to stay HIV neg. HIV+ is expensive

12166061_10153636500637052_2108621771_n

I’m writing out of pure frustration today. The more involved I become in the HIV/PrEP arena the more it seems that the solutions we are desperately searching for are already here! We just aren’t joining up the dots.

I’m going to kick off trying to defuse my frustrations by starting with PrEP. Particularly in light of last Friday’s News headlines.

The Guardian, Fri 9th October 2015

“NHS hospitals’ £930m overspend prompts calls for urgent funding”

“Fears grow that hospitals will run out of money and care standards will deteriorate unless chancellor injects more cash”

BBC News, Fri 9th October 2015

“NHS deficits hit ‘massive’ £930m”

“NHS trusts in England have racked up a £930m deficit in the first three months of the financial year – that is more than the entire overspend last year.”

“Regulators said the problems were the “worst for a generation” and demanded immediate action be taken.”

So the NHS have over spent! Big surprise… Well wake the fuck up people! If you haven’t been given enough funds to start with – and you only spend what you need to – YOU WILL TECHNICALLY OVERSPEND! I’m not exactly sure why this was worthy of such sensationalist headline attention on Friday. Although £930m is a substantial figure – we need to put it into context. They overspent by £930m in the first quarter. So if we multiply that by 4 to get a projection of what their total overspend for the year would be (at current performance) that would be an annual deficit of £3.72 billion. The NHS has a total annual budget of £95.6 billion. So that equates to an overspend of 3.6%. In any budget I have ever compiled in my previous career in accounts for staffing and marketing – we always had a contingency of 5%-10% of the overall budget to allow for the unknown or to cover things that might go wrong. However…

 “The NHS are projected to overspend on their annual budget by 3.6 percent” – isn’t such a punchy headline.

Semantics aside. £930m is still a lot of money. It’s clear that the NHS needs to save money. And this is where I keep getting frustrated. Especially in regards to HIV treatment and PrEP HIV prevention. Time for some more figures (please stick with me on this)

Every single day, here in the UK, 10 ‘men who have sex with men’ – that’s gay or bi men (cis or trans) catch HIV.

10 gay/bi guys a day get HIV.

Let that figure settle in for a moment.

HIV treatment for a positive guy (drugs + health care ie seeing Nurses and Consultants + any counselling that might be needed) costs approx. £20,000 per person, per year

So if we say 10 guys per day get HIV…there are 365 days per year…

10 x 365 = 3650 guys per year

3650 guys x £20,000 = £73,000,000 (per year)

So with our little series of calculations we can all agree that new HIV cases will cost the NHS £73m per year.

With that £73m figure in mind. Let’s work out the cost of giving 3650 guys PrEP for a year.

I’m using the price from Dean Street’s PrEP clinic website…

1 month of PrEP costs £400

 So 1 year’s PrEP costs 12 months x £400 = £4,800 per person

3,650 guys x £4,800 = £17,520,000 (per year) to keep these guys negative. Negative guys generally won’t need to be in clinics regularly or require on going health care and support for HIV – if they haven’t got it.

Now we can work out how much the NHS would SAVE if none of these 3,650 guys ever got HIV because they were all on (free NHS supplied) PrEP

£73m – £17.5m = £55.5m

STOP THE FUCKING PRESS!

We could actually (in theory) save the NHS £55.5 million per year just by getting our mates on PrEP and keeping them HIV NEGATIVE…..

Doesn’t take a genius to work it out…..

MAKE PrEP AVAILABLE FOR FREE NOW….

JOIN THE FUCKING DOTS…….

Continue reading “It’s cheaper to stay HIV neg. HIV+ is expensive”