My response to The Irish Times PrEP piece

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On Thursday 20 April The Irish Times published an article Anti-HIV Drug Removes Personal Responsibility

This article was positioned as an opinion piece and one thing we can be sure of is that opinions have no place and hold no authority over facts based evidence. Presenting accurate facts and providing an opinion based on those facts is fully acceptable but this article failed to deliver that.

Several HIV experts and organisations including Professor Chloe Orkin for BHIVA and Dr Paddy Mallon for UCD School of Medicine have already highlighted the inaccuracies and errors in the very damaging statements made by the journalist.

I will be speaking from a community perspective. As co-founder of the world’s highest traffic and most widely used PrEP website, I am dismayed that a publication such as The Irish Times would run such a piece. As an advocate and activist who identifies as a gay man I accept that our community and its members will have differences of opinions on PrEP, HIV prevention and sexual health initiatives. It is concerning that rather than reach out and share learnings and experiences this journalist instead chose to write what appears to be a click bait vanity piece. This is not responsible. This is not community. This is not healthy. This is not contributing anything of worth to the debate.

Fear based messaging has never worked. It will never work. No one responds well to being judged, shamed or blamed. To further muddy the waters and confuse sound HIV prevention with moralising and toxic internalised personal issues is damaging and indicative of a lack of understand of self and of the complexities of gay life and sexuality on a community wide level.

“What I fear at the moment is a resurgence of the old “gay plague” rhetoric of the 1980s whereby gay and bisexual men are viewed as irresponsible and apathetic in relation to their sexual health.
What PrEP is in danger of promoting, in my view, is a policy of play now, pay later which the gay population can ill afford to embrace.”

We really need to work on deconstructing this concept that at some point we will “pay” for being gay. Being LGBT+ is not wrong. Living as our true authentic selves and all that comes with that, including enjoying the sex we choose is not something we are ‘afforded’ that must be charged back to us at some point. It is what we deserve. We are different as LGBT+ folk but we are not ‘less’. Different does not mean we aren’t equal.

Setting up arguments like these about “being responsible” creates a double bind. The notion that if I get HIV I’m irresponsible, if I try to prevent myself from getting HIV (using THE most effective method) I’m irresponsible.

And as if to clarify completely for anyone who is unsure: the journalist’s closing paragraph is a total contradiction in itself and of his entire ‘opinion’.

“The danger lies in transferring responsibility for risky sexual practices on to a tiny pill taken once a day rather than making informed choices and encouraging a culture of prevention rather than cure.”

I second Professor Chloe Orkin’s proposal below:

“I therefore propose that we [BHIVA] submit for publication a letter of clarification to better inform your readership of the latest evidence and guidance around PrEP.”

The Year of No Fear – HIV today

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What does it mean to be HIV positive today?  

I was diagnosed on 12 August this year and I was lucky. I was diagnosed in what I call ‘the year of no fear’.

Thanks to the PARTNER study and the PROUD study our HIV status, be it positive or negative has less potential to polarize and divide us. The PARTNER study showed that condoms were no longer needed to prevent HIV transmission so long as the HIV positive person had an undetectable viral load on HIV treatment (ART). The PROUD study showed that HIV negative men taking daily PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) were protected against HIV transmission, again even without condoms. For the first time in 30 years we truly have the opportunity to live and thrive as HIV equals.

So I was diagnosed as HIV positive and publicly disclosed my status immediately because I felt empowered by this knowledge and fearless because of these studies. Sure, there would be social hurdles but that’s the amazing part – I’m not a Scientist or a Doctor. They have done their bit by affording me these comforts. Now it’s my turn to do my bit. I’m just an everyday person with no clinical background but what I can do is change people and their preconceptions. I can – we all can.

But the opportunities expand well beyond just deconstructing stigma and establishing equality. We now also have the chance to start winning the fight against HIV and AIDS. It’s time to look to San Francisco for the beacon of hope and pioneering example.

San Francisco is the only city that have stabilised their number of new HIV infections. In the last 3 years they have delivered a 30% reduction. The reasons why are simple. TasP (Treatment as Prevention) where anyone diagnosed with HIV is on effective ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) and are therefore undetectable and non-infectious, combined with PrEP for HIV negative people. 

Always seemingly a step ahead, San Francisco embarked on their RAPID initiative, involving 39 men from July 2014 to December 2014, which implemented a process of treatment at point of diagnosis. This in effect speeded up the process of beginning ART (Antiretroviral Therapy), preventing people from falling out of the system by collapsing some of the steps of the care continuum. Thus reducing the window of onward transmission from infectious newly diagnosed patients.

In the UK the clinical benefits of earlier treatment were shown in an international study called START. It is undoubtedly one of the most important HIV studies of the last decade. It was designed to look at the benefits and risks of early HIV treatment (ART). The results were both exciting and reassuring for people living with HIV today. The following is from HIV i-Base.

Main findings include:

  • HIV treatment was safe for people starting HIV meds with a high CD4 count. Many people in START had a CD4 count above 800.
  • Early treatment led to fewer serious AIDS-related illnesses, even at high CD4 counts.
  • The biggest [negative/general health] impact from early treatment was expected to be on illnesses like heart, liver and kidney disease and some non-AIDS cancers. The opposite was true in that early ART reduced HIV-related illnesses. This is big news.
  • The results were similar in both low- and high-income countries. This should result in making HIV treatment more available in all countries.

Secondly, the results show that benefits of treatment and prevention overlap. Other studies have proven that treatment dramatically reduces HIV transmission. Now people using treatment as prevention (TasP) will know there are direct benefits for their own personal health as well as that of the community.

Ultimately, it’s not about us and our generation. I have two 5 year old nephews and I would love to think that by the time they are in their 20’s that we will have managed to reduce our number of new HIV infections in the UK to such a low level that neither of them need ever worry about contracting HIV as I have. It is for them and our children that we need to take responsibility and action now!

We need to manage and reduce this country’s alarming and unacceptably high number of new HIV infections. Let us put the focus back on the AIDS crisis. There is still an AIDS crisis. Not in this country, here in the UK we have a ‘new HIV infections’ issue – not an AIDS crisis. But in sub-Saharan Africa and even as close by as Eastern Europe and Russia they still have an AIDS crisis.

Our brothers and sisters before us did not die of AIDS so that we could become complacent with HIV and allow ourselves to be immersed in AIDS apathy. It started with them, it can end with us. We have the tools to stop and end HIV and AIDS. We need to use them. 

We can’t allow our privileges to diminish our responsibilities in this global healthcare issue.

Continue reading “The Year of No Fear – HIV today”

ChemSex & me

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The last few months I have been constantly needled (excuse the pun) over the rise of ChemSex awareness and the questions on loop are…

What is ChemSex really?

Is ChemSex really that big of a problem?

What is the difference between chems + sex and ChemSex the culture?

Let’s start with that last question – it’s similar (in my opinion) to asking the question

What is the difference between having a drink and being an alcoholic?

There is a big difference.

Many people navigate the ChemSex environment very well and enjoy it. They have good and pleasant experiences. But many don’t. I personally enjoyed my time on that scene. There were dark and destructive times but there were great times too. In fact, some of the people I met at chill outs and connected with while high and naked have subsequently popped up in my life recently in unexpected situations – sober and clothed! I have really enjoyed reconnecting with theses guys again. One person that springs to mind is Marco from my Do You Know piece.

I have had a little bit of a drink problem in the past and there were days when I couldn’t function without a strong drink or 5! Previously I found myself waking up and vodka being the first thing I reached for. Not always in the ‘tragic alcoholic’ role but sometimes just in the ‘this hangover is killing me and I need a hair of the dog to take the edge off’ – I think most of us can relate to that last situation regardless if you have had a drink problem or not.

So if I can offer a very simplified insight to the problems associated with ChemSex the culture, it would be to draw reference to that. Imagine if your every waking moment was spent trying to recover from your last big boozy night or trying to get to the same inebriated state you were in the night before. It’s a physical thing and it’s painful. But this situation is quite socially acceptable and visible, we have no shame in admitting when we are hungover.

Chemsex is more complex.

The drugs are mind altering, the sexual components and chillout settings are often tapping into the rawest and most delicate of our issues or personal insecurities under the guise of ‘fun’. And until recently it was an activity confined to the shadows. An underground craze that we dared not speak of.

I will point out – this is all totally unique for each and every individual but when we are together as part of a scene or community, this is when our individual problems amalgamate to become a community health care issue. I would define that further as a community emotional, mental , psychological and sexual wellbeing issue.

Things have changed so much since I was a precocious little freshmore club kid. 

Drugs have had a pretty constant presence in my life. From my first ecstasy pill in 1997 (aged 17) up to now.  I have no shame in admitting that I have enjoyed drugs in my past and will enjoy drugs again in the future. For me it is about finding a balance – not abstinence. I see balance as a more achievable, realistic goal.

I haven’t been high much this year as I’ve been much too busy and the thought of losing a night’s sleep for a chem fuelled bender fills me with dread at the moment. I have had 1 or 2 trashy nights over the last few months but nothing more than a few lines with some mates…no sex on drugs.

There is no point in trying to be something I’m not anymore and fronting for the sake of others. I do what I do, I have done what I have done and I will do what I want to in the future.

I think it is important to be open and honest and encourage our friends to do the same…it’s the basis of how we love and look after each other.

When I look back to my first experiences with other gay men – it is so different to the scenarios that face young and experimenting gay men on today’s scene. 

My first connections with other gay people were quite unique (I think) and rare…There were loads of gay kids at my school. I was one of the last to actually go about ‘being gay’ if that makes sense. After one summer break (the summer of 96) when our little group all caught up again at the start of term, I quite freely confessed to my mate Kieran (who was totally out as gay at school from about 12-13 and who got bullied quite a bit) that I had gone to the Parliament (1 of 2 gay bars in Belfast at the time) a few weeks after my 16th birthday, went home with a guy that I ended up seeing for a few weeks and that I was pretty sure I was gay.

He immediately burst out crying and said “Oh my God no! No! I don’t want you to be gay! I don’t want you to have to deal with all of the same shit I have. Are you sure you have to be gay?”

Bizarrely after coming out for the first time to my already ‘out’ best friend – I had to console him and reassure him that I was going to be OK… not the other way around.

My first sexual contact with gay men was getting off with old guys in the public toilets outside Belfast City Hall as far back as 1993 (at age 13) .

I distinctly remember most if not all of the men having poor personal hygiene and the ever constant and very off putting stench of stale piss.

That’s not quite such a glamorous or fluffy story, is it? But it’s the truth. This was safe and confined and it was limited to that moment in a toilet cubicle. Now we have hook up apps and drugs that fuel 48 hours marathon sessions and a spike in new cases of HIV and HCV. If this is where you are starting from – where the hell is it going to end up?

I was given my first ecstasy pill at 17 and it was fucking amazing! I felt 10 feet tall, euphoric, full of love and invincible – they don’t make them like that anymore!!!

Some of the older guys in my little group at The Parliament were ‘pill heads’ which meant they were off their tits on E every weekend. I was always quite open to new experiences even from a young age and so when the opportunity arose and I was curious enough to ‘want’ to try a pill, I just did.

It was a very different scene back then. I had been a regular at The Parliament for about a year before the opportunity to try drugs presented itself as there was a real sense of community, responsibility and brotherhood back then. The older gays really did look out for us younger gays.

I knew that there were drugs in the club and that people were taking them but the club/scene/community knew me and knew that I was kind of a baby and actively kept drugs and the offer of drugs away from me for almost a whole year.

I still remember when some of the older gays including some DJ’s and other gogo dancers (yes, I was a cage dancer in The Parliament from 16/17 years old) who saw me as a little brother were seriously pissed off and super protective almost like parents when they found out that someone had given me my first pill.

I remember being irritated and patronised by this reaction and restricted in my reveling. But looking back at that now – it warms my heart that that was the community that I came from and that that love is so desperately missing from our gay scene today.

Back then drugs were not for sex. They were for friends and for fun. I miss those days.

It’s not all been a picnic of love and rainbows though.  I have had some very dark times. But I don’t think drugs caused those. Actually I can say they didn’t. Life threw me some shit hands. Really shit hands that I couldn’t ever have foreseen or prepared myself for and so I found myself using drugs in a way I never had before because my life at those points was something I’d never known before.

I’d never ‘suffered’ from life. I’m a glass half full kind of guy. But when the glass is fucking empty and lying smashed in sharp pieces all over the floor – there is no way on earth, regardless of your usual disposition that your glass can be anything other than properly fucked!

And so that then informed my drug use – which for the first time became drug abuse.

It got so bad and I was so distraught and emotionally raw and suffering from crippling insomnia that I actually slammed crushed up and dissolved zopiclone (sleeping pills). Yep – that actually happened.

So where am I with ChemSex today? I am on a ChemSex break but I can’t deny part of me misses that version of me because I had a lot of fun and good times on the ChemSex scene.

I want something different now. I was in a period of mourning my 7 year relationship with the guy that I have loved more than anyone else and I was healing. But I’m a different person in a different place now with a different set of needs and desires and perhaps with a new ability to allow myself to be intimate, vulnerable and fully engaged with another guy in another relationship again…That is not to say that I won’t want to get high and go to a sex party again in the future…I most likely will…and I will happily – without shame discuss it as freely as I am my current sobriety.

I’d like to paraphrase David Stuart from ChemSex – the film here. He puts is so perfectly. ChemSex came from a perfect storm. Hook up apps, new drugs, a fragmented community, a dissolving gay scene and a community in shock at the fallout from the trauma of the AIDS epidemic. Vulnerable gay men in a difficult time and place with no road map to help them navigate. This is all new and we are all learning….as with most things….in order to learn we need to make some mistakes…

Recently a friend of mine asked me if I was happy.

Yes, I’m happy. I truly am. And I am so glad to have been asked that question. I don’t think anyone else has actually asked me “Are you happy?” in years!

I have a lot of people who ‘question or challenge’ if I am happy or as happy as I appear. That is fucking irritating.

To have to justify or assure others of your happiness – robs a bit of that happiness from you.

So yes, I am happy, for the first time in a long time. I can honestly say I’m happy. There are still plenty of things about my life that I’m not happy with but that’s just life…there is always work to be done. And happiness isn’t just a right. Like you wake up in the morning and have a God given right to be happy….You don’t! If you want to be happy you first have to choose to be happy and then you have to put the work in to become happy and stay happy.

If someone you know is struggling or has come through a difficult period in their life and they are brave enough to open up to you to and ask for your help in trying to move on and become happy again or just happier than they currently are – we owe it to them to be kind. Not judge, just be there.

Sometimes just telling someone that you are struggling is the most terrifying thing. But reaching out to each other is how we learn and how we invest in our friendships and our community.

There is still an amazing community out there – you just have to go find it.

If you are based in London or the surrounding areas why not pop along to Pat Cash’s Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs event on the first Thursday of every month. Downstairs at Ku Klub.

Or check out 56 Dean Street’s Wellbeing Programme

Stay happy – stay healthy!

 

Continue reading “ChemSex & me”

FUCK other STIs

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It has become clear to me over the last few months that we have a very real problem as gay men. We really don’t talk about our sex lives HONESTLY. Particularly with regards to sex and condoms. This is one of the main reasons why we have seen new HIV infections rise and rise – year after year. 6000 new HIV infections were diagnosed in the UK last year alone (and countless others that are yet undiagnosed). I’m going to go way out there and just state it as I see it. Put moral judgements aside and stop debating what we (gay men) should and shouldn’t be doing. The simple fact is that people do not always use a condom for penetrative sex all the time, every time. Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend of mine who had told me previously and several times that he “doesn’t really ever bareback” but he did at the weekend. He’s now on PEP for the next month. In my own case, even though I had spells of busy sexual activity, I didn’t bareback that much or over a long period of time. And when I did have condomless sex I always tried to box clever. I of all people am very real proof that no matter how HIV aware and educated you are – you can’t outsmart HIV on your own.

If I had have been able to get PrEP I would still be HIV negative.

PrEP is only about HIV protection – it doesn’t claim to offer protection against any other STI. So it’s infuriating for me to constantly hear this “what about other STIs?” sensationalism and attempted counter claim to the benefits of PrEP. It’s like saying wearing a seat belt won’t stop you getting cancer! Of course it won’t! It’s not designed to protect you from getting cancer – it is designed to help protect you in a car should you have a driving accident. PrEP and HIV protection is exactly the same. PrEP is amazingly effective at protecting you from HIV! That is what it is designed for – nothing else. Every other STI can be immunised against or cured – even Hep C (Harvoni is the new treatment). Yes, drug resistant gonorrhea is obviously a concern but you can catch that from oral sex. And realistically…how many people wear a condom for oral sex? Very few. You can catch every other STI from oral sex.

So please stop and think about this before screaming about ‘other STIs’ when discussing PrEP.

In my experience people who want PrEP don’t want it to START barebacking – they want it because they ALREADY ARE barebacking.

They are aware that they are taking risks and they just want to protect themselves. Personally I think that is amazing and that these guys should be commended.

I have so much interaction with the users of our website. It’s incredibly inspiring and exciting. This has been an amazing year for HIV awareness, anti-stigma and HIV prevention developments. Next year is going to be a hugely transformative year in the HIV arena. The future is PrEP – the future is here!

Continue reading “FUCK other STIs”

PrEP is NOT about SEX

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PrEP is NOT about sex. PrEP is about HIV prevention and the deconstruction of HIV stigma.

Too often online I am met with PrEP shaming. In fact all variants of shaming. You name it and you can be guaranteed that someone will directly or indirectly set about trying to shame you for it. This is our first battle. The battle within ourselves and within our community. Just STOP IT! It’s not helpful or constructive. Fuck it! I will go as far as saying it’s darn right destructive and obstructive!

Why do we do this? And why is bareback sex BAD sex? I’ll tell you why! Because no matter how much we think we may now be accepted and integrated into a mainstream society we are still conditioned to believe that we should not be free to enjoy the kind of sex that we like. It’s a case of…

“Yes, you can fuck that guy up the ass but you better do it with a condom – otherwise you will catch HIV as punishment for being a bad gay”

Or…

“You can fuck that guy up the ass but how dare you ENJOY that sex without a condom because you are using PrEP”

This is in essence what other people are conditioning us to accept. And you can see how ludicrous those statements are.

Originally condoms were used for pregnancy prevention. Condoms were for straight people. Then when AIDS arrived, condoms were for gays and AIDS protection. The kind of sex gay men were engaging in ‘pre-AIDS’ was condomless sex. This was natural, good sex. Now condomless sex is seen as bad bum sex! Barebacking – it even sounds dirty, dangerous and feral.

I honestly couldn’t give a fuck who chooses to wear a condom and who doesn’t. That is each person’s own choice and to be negotiated with whomever he chooses to interact with sexually on a situation specific basis. No one has the right to impose their moral judgements on anyone else. Especially not when it comes to something so personal and intimate as the kind of sex we should or should not be having. As long as we are all responsible and considerate. PrEP is both responsible and considerate.

I find with people in general (not just gay men) that they don’t respond very well to being told “DON’T do this” or “DON’T do that”. Instead what they respond to positively and embracingly is been offered something they ‘can DO’ ie be given the choice of opting in for PrEP.

Here is an unused section of the interview I gave to HIV Equal. I thought it was worth sharing .

PrEP and slut-shaming
PrEP has been stigmatised here but attitudes are changing quickly, people are really switching on to the idea now… here is a post that I put on facebook…

“It seems our PrEP website users are as capable of taking matters into their own hands as much as we are… We haven’t managed to secure ANY funding yet and so currently have no promotional and marketing budget to allocate to producing some branded items… But Mark (our first IWPN user to post his PrEP delivery) has decided that he’s got this covered! He took the artwork and logo and created (and paid for) his own www.iwantprepnow.co.uk  t-shirt that he is proudly going to wear on holiday!!! You see this is what PrEP is all about!!!! Forget about ‘little blue pills’ forget about ‘sex’!! It’s not about that – it’s this simple…PrEP can help our mates stay HIV negative and help kill stigma towards HIV positive people like me. It’s a community thing that benefits ALL of us. PrEP ‘shouldn’t’ be my fight!!! It’s too late for me to take it…so that is EXACTLY why it IS my fight and YOURS TOO. We all want to help our mates stay happy and stay healthy… We ALL support PrEP – it might just take some of us a little while to realise it – but that’s cool too Xx”

How www.iwantprepnow.co.uk came about
I started a big push on raising awareness of PrEP at the beginning of this year. No one else was really doing that here in the UK. As the momentum and interest grew so did the volume of messages I was getting in my facebook and Twitter inboxes. More and more guys were contacting me directly asking for info and where/how to get PrEP. I was struggling to keep up with the enquiries and so I spoke with my buddy Alex Craddock the co-founder of IWPN who was and is currently using PrEP (daily) as HIV protection and we agreed that it was a bit ridiculous that there wasn’t 1 place/site with all of the basic info you need about PrEP, supporting documents and links to trusted sites to purchase tested and verified generic PrEP. And that was its point of conception. Neither of us had the capacity to continue acting as an online PrEP help desk or call centre for PrEP info and access. We did some research and had some guidance from the right people and within 4 weeks we were live.

PrEP and the NHS
It is frustrating of course because over the last 30 years in the battle against HIV and AIDS, despite everyone’s best intentions and efforts – what we have been doing has not worked. That is not to diminish the huge amount of work, passion, heart and soul that my peers and predecessors contributed. Until recently the use of condoms, abstinence or remaining in a totally 100% monogamous relationship with another HIV negative person were the only options. Recently though with the release of the findings from The Partner Study we have discovered and begun to acknowledge and accept that condom-less sex with a HIV positive and undetectable guy is also HIV safer sex, it is practically impossible for an undetectable guy to pass on the virus.
Now we have the option of PrEP as another tool for HIV protection. The protection PrEP offers is close to 100%. A guy in the Damon L Jacob’s Facebook group ‘PrEP FACTS’ worked out the figures…here they are from his calculations…

“Almost nothing in medicine is 100%, probably including PrEP. But the research suggests that daily Truvada reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by 96% or even 99%. At 99%, that takes your 1.4% per incident risk down to 0.014%. If an HIV-postive partner is on effective HAART and virally suppressed, there is additional 96% risk reduction (at least), bringing the 0.014% down to 0.0006%. This is very close to zero.”

To put it very simply and at the risk of setting myself up for attack from ‘condom advocates’…

Condoms – even readily available FREE condoms aren’t working to reduce new infections.

If you don’t use a condom every single time you have any sex even oral sex then you are not 100% protected and even if you do manage to use a condom every single time you have sex – it can still break.

And this is the beauty and game changing potential of PrEP. If you take PrEP daily – you are HIV PROTECTED!

Here in the UK it costs the NHS about £20,000 per year to treat a HIV positive person. But to provide Truvada as PrEP for a HIV negative person would only cost the NHS about £5000 per year. If you want to take that a step further, generic PrEP can be purchased through our website for about £45 per month. So a year’s supply would only cost £540. That is one hell of a price comparison.

Of course these are just figures and price tags. The human/emotional value of helping someone remain HIV negative is priceless and on that front we can no longer shrug our responsibilities.

For the first time in 30 years we now have the chance to start winning. Winning against stigma too. If a negative guy is on PrEP he doesn’t need to concern himself with anyone else’s HIV status because he is protecting his own HIV negative status (and his sexual partners HIV negative statuses) by using PrEP – he is in total control.

San Francisco is the only city that have stabilised and are now reducing their number of new HIV infections. The reasons why are simple. TASP (Treatment as Prevention) where HIV positive guys are on effective ART (Antiretroviral Therapy) and are therefore HIV undetectable and non-infectious combined with PrEP for HIV negative guys. Can you see how perfect this combination is?

Positive guys can’t pass on HIV and negative guys can’t catch it. This is how we are going to win.

It’s not about us and our generation. I have two 5 year old nephews and I would love to think that by the time they are in their 20’s that we will have managed to reduce our number of new HIV infections in the UK to such a low level that neither of them need ever worry about contracting HIV as I have. It is for them and our straight friend’s kids that we need to own this and take responsibility and action NOW!

My long term goals for PrEP and TASP are to manage and reduce this country’s alarming and unacceptable number of new HIV infections then once we have our house in order lets put the focus back on the AIDS crisis. There is still an AIDS crisis. Not in this country, here in the UK we have a ‘new HIV infections’ issue – not an AIDS crisis. But in sub-Saharan Africa and even as close by as Eastern Europe and Russia they still have an AIDS crisis. We can’t allow our privileges to diminish our responsibilities in this global health care issue.

Continue reading “PrEP is NOT about SEX”

THIS IS ME – PART 3

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Thursday – the day after the diagnosis

08.25 – I’m tired. A bit hungover and very weary. I need to decamp back home. Fuck the Chlamydia appointment at 12.20. It’s only a bacteria, It’s not going to kill me. I’m not going to be having ANY having sex until I’m undetectable anyway so I won’t pass it on. I’ll pick up some antibiotics later. I’m tired and I need to get some beauty sleep before coming out tonight! Nothing as powerful as looking hot when you drop “I’m positive”. It’s time we lost the association of poz as unclean and dirty. Something to think about on the journey home. I grab my jacket and my iPhone charger and hot foot it out of Marios’ bear cave. Again I’ve opted to walk from Elephant to Clapham. Mostly because right now I’m finding the space and time to think beneficial. I hate being on the tube at the best of times let alone when I’ve hardly slept, haven’t showered or brushed my teeth and am stinking of stale vodka and amaretto! Can’t deal with that anxiety right now.

This morning the walking is not so well paced. In fact it’s bloody sluggish. Probably because I’m still pissed and the fresh air has intoxicated me further. I am without doubt on an adrenalin comedown….there is no urge for flight nor fight now. There is just the dull throbbing  urge to get home. To get into my bed and forget for a few hours while I sleep before fixing myself up and throwing myself into the world again until I next hit something solid and take stock. I have a plan – yes. But I have no map and no idea of the journey.

09.05– I made it as far as the huge church opposite Oval Tube station. I can’t walk any further right now. I sit down on steps of the church. I could feel a wobble coming but it passed pretty quickly. I felt uncomfortable sitting on the steps of a church, pissed and positive so I moved off to the bench to have a cigarette.

09.07 I was feeling fine and ready to start walking again but decided to sit a while longer and reply to Marios’ frantic Facebook messages asking where I was. Told him I just needed to get home for some sleep. He was cool.

Then my mum, more specifically an image of my mum flashed up in my mind. I know how my mum deals with grief. She has had her fair share of grief and heartache to deal with over the years. She is the mother of 6 kids and as much as she will admit to us that certain things get to her or upset her, I know that deals with a lot of her grief alone, on her own. I know this because being the oldest of those 6 kids, you are more aware of your parents and their adult world than your younger siblings are. They exist in graduated stages of blissful ignorance throughout their childhood. Blissful ignorance that I as the oldest was not afforded. For that I am actually very grateful. It has done me well in my life. My mum often doesn’t sleep at night and there have been times in my life when I have suffered horrible insomnia too. As the image of her flashed up it developed further into the setting of her awake in the middle of the night all on her own while everyone else was asleep, crying, sobbing over me and this situation. I felt her frustration that I was not only the ‘victim’ for whom her tears fell but the perpetrator of the crime against the ‘victim’ too. I didn’t HAVE to go out and catch HIV. It’s not like Cancer that just randomly appears. I actively had to go out and ‘do’ something ‘stupid’ and ‘reckless’ to put myself in this position and to land myself with this virus. It must be so hard for a parent to hear this news about their child. Their child that they love and have raised and supported and steered through most of life’s obstacles. Their child who has gone out on their own free will and caught this virus. This virus that is going to deconstruct their beautiful, perfect creation. I know this frustration personally as well as empathetically . It’s what I felt when my ex was diagnosed. I loved him so much. Harder and deeper than anyone else. Yet there I was two and a half years ago faced with the same conundrum. The person I loved most in the world – had gone out and set about his own demise. If any other person had dared to threaten or endanger him, without a doubt I would have killed them to protect him. But there he was standing in front of me telling me that he had done this to himself. I feel like I had failed him. I could not protect him from himself and I had nowhere and no one to focus my anger on. I could only keep loving him and reconcile my anger and frustration internally – away from him. Now, being the newly diagnosed positive person I know that it’s not that simple or straight forward. Nor is it that bleak or dramatic. But when you love another person like a mother loves a child or any of us loves a fiancé it is so easy to get swallowed up in the emotions and forget the much brighter FACTS and the task at hand ie no one has or is about to die. Learn to deal with this and move on. Things will get better and easier. However this morning on that bench, none of this awareness made a blind bit of difference!!! I was sobbing and needed to send my brother Sean this…

TEXT TO SEAN 09.18

When you tell Mum and Dad can you make sure you tell them IM HAPPY. I’m honestly happy. It’s shit but it’s just a bump in the road. I’m still back on form and I’m still happy.

My mind turned from my mum to Dan, the guy that I was kind of seeing in the spring. I had discussed informing Dan of my situation when I spoke with Ian the evening before but was in a flap about how and when. I couldn’t face a call. I hate speaking on the phone anyway. And I didn’t have it in me to send a text last night, alarming him and causing him to lose a night’s sleep. Instead I thought it best to wait until today, mid-morning to send the text so he could either leave work or process the info at lunch time and if he needed to come and meet me when he finished at 3.30pm or go straight to Dean Street for a walk in HIV test. But the logistics weren’t the things that were bothering. It was the dawning awareness of the real life implications this situation would have in other people’s lives. People that I cared about. This bit was hard and taxing. I lost track of time for a while. When I started to zone back in I realised I was crying hard and had been for some considerable time. My face and vest were drenched in tears. What started as sobs had reduced down to primal grunts. I got a grip and forced myself to breathe. I closed my eyes. I could easily have been listening to the audio of a heavy porn as much as my grunts of distress. This perversely made me smile. Ok, I think I can handle the next stretch of Clapham Road that will take me home. On that final walk of shame back to my place Isis was on loop in my mind. I replayed our text chat and our phone conversation over and over. I projected what I imagined our meeting later that day would be.

09.52  – I’m almost home and for the first time I am scared. Really scared. I don’t feel brave and I don’t feel prepared. I just feel scared and like I want out! But how do you get out of your own life? You don’t.

10.00  – I was home, came through the front door and into the kitchen to get a glass of water before bed. This was going to be my first face to face disclosure to someone who wasn’t a long term/close friend or positive. Lena and I had only lived together for 6 weeks. She was watching TV with her daughter in the living room and she asked how my night had been? I nodded yeah good but could she come into the kitchen so I could talk with her. I’m not quite sure how the words came out or what I said but I know I just spat them out. Then the dam burst. I was a fucking mess. Yes I was a mess…she was amazing. She just turned me around – for some reason I couldn’t face her. Straightened me up – I was bent double crying and hugged me so sincerely and solidly. I could feel her compassion and her strength. I was so grateful as I had totally drained my tank of the latter. I don’t remember any specifics from our exchange apart from she did the right thing for me – whatever that was and she tapped into a part of me that I thought had scarred over and healed but was secretly bleeding raw again….”Do you think now would be a good time to try to speak to your ex?” This floored me. I both nodded and shook my head in equal alternation. It was most definitely time for me, my puffy eyes and my snotty nose to chill the fuck out and go to bed…and at 11.00 I fell asleep

15.00 – I woke up in that hazy fog where you forget what you are waking up to. But this was a short lived respite and the world came flooding back in and settled around me once again. Dying with a hangover. That’s one thing I’ve noticed. I never normally get hangovers but the last month or so my body can’t handle me drinking so much. I thought I was just getting old, now I know it’s probably my viral load or the Chlamydia. I leaned over to my beside table and swallowed 3 paracetamol.

15.05 Lena offered me lunch which I initially declined but she insisted. This morning was the usual African scrambled eggs, which is scrambled egg with salmon flakes, caramelised onion and chilli – a lot of chilli and some freshly baked honeyed baguette. It was daunting to take the first mouthful but by the time I had finished my plate the hangover was sweating out of my pores, the headache subsiding and drive dripping back in.

15.15 – I started thinking about this whole coming out thing tonight at Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs. I didn’t doubt that I would or should do it. I just did not want to have to go through the process. I wanted it all to go away but I have a message waiting in my Facebook inbox from Paul Fleming wishing me luck for tonight and apologising that he can’t be there at the event but never doubt that he is always there for me.

Around this time I pick up last night’s private Facebook conversation with my Great Aunt T who lives in Canada and despite belonging to a generation so far removed from mine she has never been anything but passionately support of me, who I am and what I do. A wonderful woman.

12 August

12/08/2015 16:21 Greg Owen – Hey

12/08/2015 17:29 Theresa Martin Finamore – Hi Greg. Sorry was on the phone Hope things are good. Looks like things are happening x

12/08/2015 17:30 Greg Owen – Yes – things are heating up What time is it there?

13 August

13/08/2015 01:07 Theresa Martin Finamore – It’s 8.10pm here. Was out at a pot luck supper with some co-workers. Just got home

13/08/2015 01:46 Greg Owen – Still up? I need to give you a heads up on something I got a HIV positive diagnosis today I’m totally cool and ok I’m about to announce it at an event tmro night and on FB on Fri Just wanted you to know x

13/08/2015 02:23 Theresa Martin Finamore – If you are cool with it I guess I have to be too. Thank God for the great strides in meds. Just want to tell you I am so proud of you and the work you are doing Greg. I’m with you in spirit. I think you know that. Talk to you soon. If you have international text on your phone my cell number is 123 123 1234.   You would have to add more number of course. I’m glad you have friends who care. I hope you have family too besides myself. Love you Gregory Mc Geown  x

LATER THAT DAY

13/08/2015 15:24 Greg Owen – I’m good Had the most crazy funny coming out party last night Gotta love the gays Any excuse to get pissed lol

13/08/2015 16:37 Theresa Martin Finamore – I’m sure you are hungover. Lol. Big day ahead. Straighten up and fly right lol

13/08/2015 16:37 Greg Owen Love you. Just told Brendan…I’m a bit upset. I’m ok but these bits are hard really hard

13/08/2015 16:38 Theresa Martin Finamore – Love you more. I’m sure he is OK. He will have your back. What about your mom?

13/08/2015 16:38 Greg Owen – I called Sean yesterday and asked him to tell her. Couldn’t do it on the phone. Too much. Too cruel

13/08/2015 16:39Theresa Martin Finamore  – It is. Does Dad enter into the equation?

13/08/2015 16:39 Greg Owen – Yes, of course. When I say Mum I kinda always mean them both. It’s odd – they aren’t together anymore but I still see them as one.

13/08/2015 16:40 Theresa Martin Finamore – He will have your back too. They are more together than when they were together. You kids are the glue

13/08/2015 16:45 Greg Owen – I am actually ok – it’s really just that I’m putting them through this that is killing me. But I’m on stage in 2 hours…coming out and my article is released Fri lunch time

13/08/2015 16:46 Theresa Martin Finamore – Yes I know but you’re right. They have to be told before it is common knowledge
13/08/2015 16:46 Greg Owen – EVERYONE will know this time tomorrow. I can’t wait to free of that fear

13/08/2015 16:47 Theresa Martin Finamore I found it hard to sleep last night.   I’m sure your parents will have a few uneasy days too

13/08/2015 16:47 Greg Owen I’m sorry. I just wanted to give you guys your place and the respect of hearing it from me

13/08/2015 16:48 Theresa Martin Finamore – Give me your moms landline number. If she has one. Don’t be sorry. I’m glad to have it processed today
13/08/2015 16:48 Greg Owen – I don’t have it. Sean will

13/08/2015 16:48 Theresa Martin Finamore – I appreciate that Greg. I am really glad you told me. Ok if you can get her number I will call her maybe tomorrow. We spoke when Colum was injured too. She needs her mom and I’m the closest thing to it

13/08/2015 16:51 Greg Owen – xx

13/08/2015 16:52 – Theresa Martin Finamore You will be fine love. You will be the example of how to live with a HIV diagnosis with class and respect.

13/08/2015 16:52 Greg Owen I know I’ll be fine and I hope so

13/08/2015 16:52 Theresa Martin Finamore – You show them how it’s done Sweetheart xxx

13/08/2015 16:52 Greg Owen – Thank you. I need to stop crying now. Pos guys should still look HOT

lol

I can’t be doing with puffy eyes lol

13/08/2015 16:53 Theresa Martin Finamore – Yes me too. You will look hot

13/08/2015 16:53 Greg Owen haha

13/08/2015 16:53 Theresa Martin Finamore – Cucumbers out of the freezer on your eyelids

13/08/2015 16:53 Greg Owen – At least I’m not wearing mascara – small blessings

13/08/2015 16:53 Theresa Martin Finamore – True. That shit stings

13/08/2015 16:56 Greg Owen – lol

13/08/2015 16:56 Theresa Martin Finamore – Onwards and upwards Gregory. The time has come for you to lead by example. Now show the world how it’s done with class and respect. Let me know how it goes. Love you to the moon and back and forever and a day. Now go break a leg xxxx

13/08/2015 16:58 Greg Owen – THX Auty T xxxxx. Here we go – fasten your seatbelts

13/08/2015 16:59 Theresa Martin Finamore – Fastened and ready. Go get them.

18.00 – I arrive at Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs a bit dazed and confused. I somehow had gone from having 3 besties i.e. Isis, Ian and my brother Brendan there for support to having none. Brendan and Isis were running late and Ian was kept back at work. Great! But I knew I was arriving to a room of friends and like minded people so I wasn’t feeling the pressure too much. After freshening up in the toilet, the first person that I bumped into was David Stuart who gave me a huge hug and a kiss and asked the expected but appreciated questions. I’ve learned he’s a great mix of friend and professional in these situations. I was able to tell him that my biggest worry was that I had unknowingly passed the virus on to someone else since I picked it but that I was feeling lucky because I hadn’t had sex with anyone in over 6 weeks and not had very much sex in the few months before that either. The only guy that I was worried about was Dan, who I had sort of been seeing for a few weeks in the spring. As it happens, when I text him that afternoon that he had replied straight away to let me know that quite by chance, he had been to a sexual health clinic the week before and all of his result had come back clear. This was a huge relief for me. I also explained to David that I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t noticed any sero-conversion in myself. I always thought that anyone who got a positive diagnosis would have noticed some sort of symptoms and were just bullshitting and bullshitting themselves by claiming that they hadn’t. I know I was stupid and a bit naive to think that. I carried on reassuring David that I was actually OK, I wasn’t too worried about what lay ahead and if anything I was genuinely feeling blessed mostly because of my lack of sex in recent months coupled with Dan’s week old negative HIV result, and the fact that I had educated myself about HIV and involved myself so heavily with HIV and positive people that I didn’t now suddenly have to deal with ‘HIV’ itself as a threat or shock. I could simply just deal with me and what this diagnosis would mean to me. I think that is a key message in my story. I was also so grateful that I had started this journey as an advocate/activist from a place of proactive love rather than reactive anger. It seemed that the universe had thrown something back. A kind of karmic gift, I had the luxury of being afforded a ‘guilt free sero-conversion’. I was looking better than I had done in a good while and was busier and more active too and in apparent good health. I think David’s reply was just ‘Wow, I’m kinda just impressed. To hear you speak like that and to hear the language you use. Keep on doing what you’re doing Greg. You’re doing something right. And good luck for tonight. It’s a brave thing to do what you are about to. As long as it’s right for you, you have my support.” – like I said, the perfect blend of friend and support giver. The next person I had to have a quick word with was Pat Cash. There is always the standard welcoming hug but today I needed to tell him the news and ask for an extra 30 seconds after my speech to announce my status. He also wanted to make sure that I was certain I wanted to do what I was about to. I confirmed 100% that I was sure and it was right. He graciously accepted my decision and granted me the extension to my allocated time slot. I was supposed to speak 3rd or 4th but was taken off guard when Pat called me to the stage straight after the first speaker…a blessing in disguise…there was no time for nerves. The full speech from the night is below.

AIDS SHITS AND GIGGLES

Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs – ALIENS

Act Up London are an AIDS activist group billed on their facebook page as a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the HIV pandemic. Until recently AIDS activism was an ‘alien’ concept to me. However far from being the ‘angry’ bunch of individuals that I was expecting to encounter at this group, they were warm, open, welcoming and fun if not regularly fucking hilarious!

Last Tuesday afternoon on a mere 2 hours sleep after working all night at Popcorn at Heaven, I wearily made my way to Angel for the Act Up summer fair at the Positively UK offices. To say that I was less than my bouncy, usual self is an understatement. I was pro-actively 30 mins early for the 3pm kick off. As I posted my obligatory check in and promotional post on facebook, Dan Glass replied to the thread to let me know he was going to be fashionably late by about 20 mins so it was looking like the day was going to be a longer, more draining ball buster than it was already feeling like.

My brother had arranged to join the event after work to catch up with me and get a glimpse into what his ‘Social Outlier’ big bro actually got up to at these intriguingly ‘alien’ aids shin digs!

Towards the end of the meeting, after my brother a few other latecomers arrived and joined us, Dan Glass decided to throw another one of his impromptu icebreaker activities of name and statement rounds. The theme of this round was “state your name and something that no one else here knows about you”…

This is where hilarity broke out! I honestly almost pissed myself laughing…leading me seamlessly on to shit…Yes, shit. Tom our wonderfully fabulous cis-male joker proceeded to tell a story of when he found himself in KFC in Hackney – bursting for a poo that he had been in labour with all day. He deposited said poo in the KFC toilets, which he then tried to flush away. However the gods of the porcelain bowl were against him and the poo refused to go! So he flushed again further filling the blocked loo causing the monster poo to float up and over the toilet rim and land firmly at this feet – which he now takes the time to point out were dressed in 6 inch stilettos, below his ra-ra skirt! In a panic he decided to take action and leave the KFC, however as he opened the door the poo decided that it wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Tom just yet and surfed out of the loo and onto the main floor of the restaurant alongside six and a half foot Tom in heels and a ra-ra skirt!

Tom’s shit story seemed to have totally broken the ice beyond all expectation and we quickly arrived at sexual tales of the most graphic and amusing nature.

We soon arrived at my brother’s moment to share his name and chosen story, I was starting to feel nervous and uncomfortable! And I think he knew…He begins….

“Hi everybody, I’m Brendan and I’m Greg’s brother. And eh…I’m straight….And…”

He was then greeted with the not too unexpected heckles of “Ah ha!?” “Uh Hum!?” “Yeah! OK GUUUURL”

He continued “ Yeah so….I’m not really sure how sexual to go here…I have some right WRONG stories…but I dunno…”

I think the chorus then pitched in ad-libs to the effect of “go on straight boy…get nasty” and “wrong is always right gurl”

He continued…”Eh? Greg?”

I then shared a story about my brother that I maybe shouldn’t have but that was right for the moment and that he was gracious and sporting enough to allow me to tell. Bless him, I loved him for jumping in at the deep end so unconditionally and I was so proud of him holding his own and shining in a world so alien to him.

So as to keep with the tone and the theme of unapologetic sexual confessions…I admitted or bragged actually, to the group that I can suck my own dick… Which luckily I didn’t discover I could do until about 2 years ago…Otherwise I would never have got an education, got a job or left the fucking house! Mind you, though no one in THAT particular room knew this self-sucking selling point, a good proportion of Grindr and South London’s sex party fraternity DO!

Stepping into an arena that is alien and embracing people that may seem alien to us can reward us with the greatest gifts sometimes. Regardless of what gender we are, what colour, what religion, what sexual orientation or what status. Alien to each other or not, we are all joined by common ground by sex and sexuality. The ability to love and the need for love and of course the joy of being able to laugh with and at each other.

AIDS IS NOT ALIEN!

Thank you

*The audience then applauded

One more thing guys…I asked Pat Cash for 20 seconds more to speak with you after I finished my piece. He very kindly allowed me that extra time. That’s like gold dust at these events so I’ll crack on. I just wanted to take a moment to point out why groups like Act Up and events like  this are so import for us right now.

I had managed to source some Truvada to use as Prep that I was due to start taking this weekend. Now I’m well enough clued up on Prep to know that before you start taking it you need to make sure you are definitely HIV negative so you don’t cause yourself problems with creating drug resistance issues by taking Truvada if you are positive and don’t know it. So off I went to Dean Street to take my test to confirm I was negative so I could start taking the meds that would KEEP me negative. 20 mins after arriving at the clinic yesterday – I was diagnosed as HIV positive. The irony is not lost on me. This is why us coming together and sharing and making changes in our world is so important. Prep needs to be made available to everyone and now!!! So someone else doesn’t find themselves in my shoes.

I wore this vest for a reason…

hiv front HIV back

Last week this vest was ironic – this week it’s uniform.

STAND TOGETHER – MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Thank you

END OF BLOG

On the first break in the event I was approached by a guy from i-base who was interested in finding out a little more about me and my situation. He very kindly offered me some advice and information on meds, new meds, unreleased meds and a few studies that are currently taking place that I wasn’t aware of. Here is another lesson that emerged from tonight. By standing up straight away and informing people of my recent diagnosis I had inadvertently created a support network that no doubt would be keeping an eye on me and offering to help me as and when I should need them. They are only able to do that because they are aware of my situation. If no one knows what you are going through then no one can help you especially if you need support but are struggling too much in your own head to even realise that you need help. By being open about my HIV positive status the guy from i-base was able to give me advice that I hadn’t even thought to ask for yet. The meds thing was a few weeks away at the earliest so I hadn’t given it much thought. But he gave me more than just information – he gave me hope. I will always remember him saying this “There are some really impressive developments happening right now in the ARV field and some really exciting things happening over the next 2 years. We are really getting there now in regards to totally pinning HIV down as a manageable condition. Don’t worry buddy, you are going to be just fine”

21.30 – As I was leaving Let’s Talk I had a chance to thank Pat and say goodbye to David. He quietly whispered “Well done – you nailed that”. With David’s parting words spurring me on I set off on foot from Baker Street to work at the club in Charing Cross.

I had promised my brother Sean that I would call our parents after the event and before work but I didn’t really have enough time to go through that conversation twice over and put myself in that head space and pull myself back out of it again before facing a club full of excitable and drunk gays. I decided to give it a miss until the next day when I could properly allocate them both as much time as they needed. Somehow my brother must have been telepathically on to me because as soon as I had made that mental decision my phone lit up, it was him. I took the call. The conversation was very polite and measured so I had a suspicion there was something else going on with my brother that he was leading up to. I had presumed that it was probably going to be a polite reminder to actually call and speak with Mum and Dad. He brought me up to speed on how he had fared breaking the news to my olds. It turns out they took it as much in their stride as he had. They were obviously concerned about me but didn’t seem to freak out or go to pieces. We talked some more before he asked. “So when are you putting this out on facebook?” We’d already had this conversation the previous day so I wasn’t sure why he was asking again. “Tomorrow evening, I should be able to compile the diary logs that are in my iphone and flesh it out into a full blog by the time I start work at 10.30pm.” He then kind of asked but more insisted “Do you maybe think that you shouldn’t do that tomorrow?” I was a bit taken back “No, I’m pretty sure I’m fine to do that tomorrow. I just told a hundred people an hour ago, pretty soon another hundred people in my social circle will know as a result. You’ve told Mum and Dad. So the facebook thing is the right thing for me to do.” He pressed a bit further “Well, I just think maybe it’s not the right thing to do. I don’t think it would be good for Mum or Dad.”

I was suddenly really pissed off.

In hindsight, I wasn’t pissed off with my brother. I was just totally unprepared for this twist in our conversation. I had been so regimented, almost militant about this whole things so far. Everything had an action. Everything had an allocated amount of my time, emotion and energy. That system was allowing me to cope. But suddenly someone that I respect a lot, that I always listen to and consider my actions in line with his opinions was throwing me off plan, off schedule, off course and off balance. My snap reaction was irritation and panic at being caught unaware. He continued “It would be better you waited a while – maybe a week to give our parents some time to get used to the situation.” My mind went into overdrive. I have a nasty tongue when I’m rattled and a horrible temper. Thank God I have trained myself to very rarely lose it these days. I was aware it was my manic reaction to this situation and not umbrage with my bother. During the frenetic scrambling of my mind and the turning in my gut a few things crystallised very quickly for me. Instinct I suppose. I could hear Kieran’s words of wisdom from yesterday booming in my head. “Now is the time for you to be selfish Greg. To do what you need to do for YOU. Fuck everyone else and what they need from you and this. It is you that is living and dealing with this and it is you that is the priority to keep right – right now.”That coupled with the sudden gravity of how taxing this might be on my parents. Gravity that came dressed in guilt. I’ve point blank stated several times before in PART 1 and PART 2… GUILT WAS NOT SOMETHING I WAS EVER GOING TO ENTERTAIN AGAIN. I managed to calm the panic, take control of the ship again, rein in my tongue and choke off my temper before it broke. Seamlessly but abruptly I shut this whole thing down with… “Yes Sean. I hear what you’re saying. I acknowledge it but – NO. Not on this occasion. I will be posting the full blog tomorrow as I intended. It’s out now and I don’t want to have the anxiety of double guessing who knows and who doesn’t. It’s facebook, Mum and Dad aren’t on there. I know everyone else is but I don’t care, I couldn’t give a shit about everyone else. Listen, I actually can’t get in to this discussion now. I have not got it in me to keep it together and to start bending over backwards for everybody else at my own expense. Not this time. I’m sorry. And what would be the point of me making sure that everyone else is ok with this if doing that is going to fuck me up and break me? That’s no use to anyone. I’d rather everyone got their heads around me staying on top of this and supported that. Rather than everyone having to piece me back together if I break. I’ve been that person, I’m not that person anymore. And I don’t want to be that person ever again. So, this discussion has to end now. Sorry Bro.” I could tell I had pissed him off. He didn’t fight back though, just closed with “Well, you know what my thoughts on it are”. “Yes I do Bro. Thank for looking out for me. Gotta go” Then we hung up. Ouch…I didn’t like that conversation one little bit. Of course I wasn’t being such a hard faced stubborn bitch just for the sake of it. I wasn’t marching my pity parade out under my HIV banner. Not at all. The reasons I reacted like that were simple. I wanted to be free of this bind and the ‘Who knows’ the ‘How do I tell him/her/work/whoever’…I could already feel the potential of its destructiveness and that was another road I actively decided not to go down on this journey. Fuck that shit. The other reason – more emotional that intellectual was that I couldn’t bare the turmoil of thinking that my parents would spend days or weeks or months beating themselves up about this and adjusting to it while worrying if I was going to be ok. Instead of entertaining that scenario I decided to take full control of it and put paid to all of that unnecessary bullshit. I was more sure now than ever that this shit was going down my way and 100% on my terms. As much for me and myself as those people that I love who are worried about me right now. People I have sucked into this circus.

By the time I got to Charring Cross 10 minutes later. I had decided to fuck off the idea of waiting to write a blog to hit this head on. I wrote this status and posted it about 30 seconds before I started my shift at 22.00.

FACEBOOK STATUS

I AM HIV+. So that was easier than I thought. I made a very personal and public announcement at LETS TALK ABOUT GAY SEX AND DRUGS tonight. Yesterday afternoon at about 1pm I had a HIV test that came back as POSITIVE. Full details on that in the form of an article on its way tomorrow. The text that I spoke tonight will be available online tomorrow too. Aren’t you all lucky! I’m spoiling you with TWO articles in one day! I’m so kind. And a huge thank you to 56 Dean Street for looking after me yesterday and who collaborate with the fabulous (and great hug giver) Pat Cash. As always lovely to see David Stuart who was super sweet tonight too. For the record. I’m cool. I’m good mentally, emotionally and physically. And in surprisingly good form too. Xx

I didn’t pick up my phone again until my break at 02.00…I was not expecting what happened next…

PART 4

Continue reading “THIS IS ME – PART 3”

THIS IS ME – PART 2

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

12/08/2015 15:29

Greg Owen

I joined the club today! 2 dots!

I am strangely totally cool and in good form

12/08/2015 15:29

Marios

What?!

12/08/2015 15:30

Greg Owen

Yep. I’m a poz boy now

12/08/2015 15:30

Marios

???????

Ok. Um. Shit.

You wanna chat about it?

And welcome to the club.

12/08/2015 15:32

Greg Owen

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.

Lol

12/08/2015 15:33

Marios

Ratelgravir?

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

12/08/2015 15:37

Greg Owen

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

12/08/2015 15:38

Marios

myemail@myemail

And my phone number is 07070707070. Apple fan boy so iMessaged up the ting yang

Ying yang even.

12/08/2015 15:40

Greg Owen

I guess I’m only really a bit bothered about the fact I know my mum will be upset

12/08/2015 15:42

Marios

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.

12/08/2015 16:00

Greg Owen

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

12/08/2015 16:01

Greg Owen

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

12/08/2015 16:35

Marios

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!

Continue reading “THIS IS ME – PART 2”