PrEP4love: rebuilding a community

PrEP4love

(Image credit and campaign link: Chicago PrEP Working Group  www.prep4love.com )

Something has become increasing and beautifully apparent to me over the last 6 months and especially the last week. We have shifted a gear. For a while we lost a sense of our community, our brotherhood, sisterhood, sibling-hood. Regardless how you define our community, what can’t be argued is that we suffered for a while. We kind of lost ourselves and each other.

The reasons why aren’t important but the impact and implications are. I think we became unkind to each other and to ourselves. We are seeing the real-life manifestations of that right now. We are in a painful and dangerous chemsex culture. Our number of new HIV infections are rising. Year after year.

I think we lost a little bit of hope.

But there is new hope, fresh passion and most importantly LOVE. We’ve started to find our way back now. And I have to tell you a part of the catalyst for this inspiring and encouraging shift is PrEP. My experience is this…

WE DIDN’T HAVE MUCH OF A COMMUNITY. We found one online through social media (a new and incredibly powerful new medium for community to thrive) then we actually managed to take that community and those friendships off-line and into real life. What was hugely important was that Pat Cash and David Stuart offered some of us a safe and loving space in the form of their monthly Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs.

I will tell you how this has all played out for me… when I was diagnosed as HIV positive I refused to suffer in a world I didn’t like and to do so in silence. Instead I saw that PrEP would have as much benefit for me personally as it would for everyone else negative and positive.

What PrEP does is remove the fear.

And without fear stigma starves. And that’s what is starting to happen. Investing in PrEP and my community totally helped me to accept my HIV positive status knowing that it wasn’t gonna kill any bit of me, who, what or how I am.

Today I bumped into 2 PrEP buddies in Brixton. There were lots of warm hugs, plenty of banter and excited and animated talk about PrEP and HIV and our other mates. I was a little overcome. I suddenly realised that I am surrounded by countless gorgeous gay men, not afraid to reach out to each other, not afraid to offer support, not afraid to ask if you are OK, not afraid to say they are scared or in love or having great sex.

This is the kind of amazing sibling love and community spirit that I was surround by in my teenage years. This is what I sorely missed. And I actually cried today. Because this is the community love, respect and sexiness that has returned.

We are not alone.

We are family and we look after our own. But gay men are also great at integrating these days and they have a fair bit of fight and love to extend that approach to everyone. #PrEP4love #whereisPrEP

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Continue reading “PrEP4love: rebuilding a community”

HEP C – and you

hepatitis-c-paper

HEP C (also known as HCV ie HEPATITIS C VIRUS)

I asked a cross section of 50 of my Facebook friends the following questions…

  1. How you feel about HEP C?
  2. How you would feel if you caught it?
  3. Do you know anyone who has it?
  4. Would you sleep with someone who told you they have it?
  5. Would you tell your family and friends if you caught it?

I also requested that they didn’t google or research it.

I was interested in honest, unprepared answers and opinions including those that were uniformed or based on stigma. On the whole the general responses were the same. It didn’t seem to matter who I was speaking to.

In broad terms almost all 50 people said that if they met someone they really liked who had HEP C or if their partner contracted it during their relationship then they would find a way to make it work.

They all suggested that they would learn more about HEP C and how it is passed on, what the infection risks were and keep themselves and their partner safe and healthy.

This struck a chord with me.

It made me look at the data a little more carefully. General knowledge of the virus did vary significant from the various different types of people I asked.

Not surprisingly gay men were more clued up about HEP C facts than any other group.

Also HIV positive men seem to also have a good understanding of HEP C facts. From further research I learned that there are a lot of ‘co-infected’ guys out there (guys who are both HIV and HEP C positive) there is no link to suggest that HIV positive people are more susceptible to catching HEP C. There is evidence however to suggest that these figures go hand in hand as HIV positive guys have regular blood tests which test for HEP C as standard.

Apparently there are twice as many people in the UK living with HEP C as are living with HIV.

We just don’t know it yet because they aren’t being tested therefore aren’t being diagnosed and in very basic terms may still be passing on the virus. This poses a very real and serious public health concern.

What interested me most about the apparent willingness to self-educated ones self on the A-Z of HEP C if ‘a partner or someone I really liked’ caught it was that as people and especially gay men we are so capable of doing a bit of research and taking precautions to keep ourselves safe and protected if it is spurred on by a love for someone else but we can’t seem to get clued up and take these precautions for the love of our own selves?

While it is indeed heartwarming that there is that compassion out there, it is slightly concerning that people aren’t being smart or kind with themselves first. And of course there is a difference between negotiating HEP C within a relationship and negotiating it with a random fuck off Grindr. And here is where stigma rears its ugly, bastard head once again. A significant proportion of gay men will drop another guy straight away if the guy either discloses that he is HEP C positive or if the guy had disclosed and it’s worked it’s way through the gay grapevine.

One young guy I spoke to who is co-infected explained to me that his HIV is rarely a problem but telling people he has HEP C has pretty much destroyed his sex life. No one will have sex with him.

And this really hit home for me and most likely all of you reading this. As gay men (rightly or wrongly) so much of our lifestyle and some of our self worth is based on our sexiness and our confidence levels are kept high by being reminded that we are sexy and desirable…you only have to look at the amount of time wasting, ego hungry guys on Grindr that are on there for nothing more than to watch their inbox light up with the “you’re hot” reassurances.

So HEP C it seems can really fuck a guy up…sexually, socially, emotionally and mentally – long before it will medically or physically.

But don’t despair guys, this is not a doom and gloom story. It is however a situation that requires a bit of work…from us all!

Let me break it down for you in simple pieces so we’re all on the same page.

1 – there is existing treatment(s) for HEP C. It’s called Interferon (plus a handful of other drugs that sometimes go along with Interferon). These treatments do work but not in everyone and not in all cases and it comes jam packed with a long list of ACTUAL, not possible but actual and unpleasant the side effects. It isn’t so good for people living with or prone to meant health problems either.

2 – there is a new treatment/cure for HEP C called HARVONI or Sofosbuvir. Pamela Anderson has just announced she has been cured using this treatment. This is where part of the work is required.  is new and not available to everyone through the NHS yet. In fact it is really only available (again through a fight) to the most ill and dying. There is a case to argue that if you are HEP C positive you shouldn’t have to wait until your liver is damaged or littered with tumours before you get access to this drug.

This drug is expensive. It was originally pitched to the NHS at a cost of £50k to treat a single person.

It is almost 100% effective in almost 100% of people with little to no side effects and can cure you in 3-4 months. There are a few drug interaction issues with people on HIV meds but these can be addressed and worked around. I personally have spoken with 2 co-infected guys that are now on HARVONI. So there is a solution.

3 – regardless if you are HEP C positive or HEP C negative…HEP IS YOUR ISSUE! I’ll explain. It seems that most people don’t bother to educate themselves on HEP C, risks of transmission, impact onto health and treatments available until they actually have HEP C (as is the case with HIV too) but look at it like this…if there are all these people out there that have HEP C and don’t know or do know but can’t access the new drug to get cured then your chances of catching HEP C are high and higher than any of us currently know. But by encouraging people to get tested and be responsible and safe or get the new drug HARVONI / Sofosbuvir and get cured then the number of people out there with HEP C who are able to pass it on is reduced and therefore your likelihood of ever catching HEP C is also reduced in accordance.

It’s called ‘Treatment as Prevention’

And it’s the strongest case we have to argue and push for the new drug to be made available to EVERYONE – IMMEDIATELY. Extending that concept…if there is a cure that is available TO EVERYONE and isn’t very taxing on the body. Then the comfort of this knowledge should surely help us to reduce the fear and stigma of HEP C. That is if we choose to, we first of all have to be open, supportive and kind to each other, empowering us all to get tested regularly, to get treated early and to keep each other safe and happy.

Like I said – this is not a doom and gloom story…but it is a situation that requires us all to put a bit of work in!

Look after yourself and look after your mates…’mates-mates’ or ‘play-mates’ show them all some love and consideration equally.

Stay happy . Stay healthy Continue reading “HEP C – and you”

Can a ChemSex fuck ever be a sober buddy?

sober buddy

Can a ChemSex fuck ever be a sober buddy?

Some of you might remember Marco from Do You Know. He seems to keep popping up here and there and we had this conversation. This is what happens when you start to talk about sex and drugs and insecurities and even your HIV meds. You find support and love and a little too much sass at times! Say hello to Marco AGAIN!

Greg Owen: When do you get back from Italy?

Marco: I’m back, I landed an hour ago!

Greg Owen: How was your trip? And your family?

Marco: It was great thanks. And the family are all well and happy

Greg Owen: Yesterday I was in a room full of European and International sexual health experts – lol. Was very surreal to be addressing a room like that. Oh and with art imitating life….You pop up AGAIN ffs

“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.”

Greg Owen: Marco you are like Groundhog fucking gay….

Marco: Hahaha. Is that what you said in that room full of Health care people?

Greg Owen: No! Not in the room dumbass, they don’t need to know about my ChemSex past life in that kinda detail! It’s from my blog ‘ChemSex & Me’

Marco: Yeah I meant there , I thought you said that at the event yesterday!

Greg Owen: Jesus Christ – gimme some credit

Marco: That’s asking a lot

Greg Owen: “I’m worth it”

Marco: Haha. Flick that hair…Oh wait you can’t

Greg Owen
thor

Greg Owen: You did not just make a thinning hair joke! Mofo

Marco: Hair loss is no joke – For those without

Greg Owen: If I get too low on hair I could make a weave or 5 out of your body hair….You got plenty to spare

Marco: Please…mine is fitting. And looks good

Greg Owen: ‘Fitting’??? Yes, perhaps – like a fitted carpet! I found your Grindr pics…lol

sei

Marco: Haha at least I look like a man and not the Major of the Munchkin City

Greg Owen: Man beast! Bitch please – you made no complaints! #justsayin lol

Marco: Minimal impact

Greg Owen: hahaha! Well in hindsight I think we can agree that that may not have been the case lol and you can’t backtrack now. That moment played out – you can’t try changing the facts…Leprechaun lover!
xx

Marco: Haha as long as you admit you’re a leprechaun

Greg Owen: haha. Thats Irish luck for you

Marco: Hehe you have a loose definition of luck

Greg Owen: You have a loose definition of ass and morals but hey ho or hey hoe

Marco: That’s why you met that criteria

Greg Owen: hahahhahaha – oh god…We are never going to graduate to ‘kind and sweet friends’ are we???? This is the dynamic
lol

Marco: It’s established

Greg Owen: Indeed- and cemented. You are quite relentless. I would have worn most others down by now

Marco: Hehehe that made me laugh

Greg Owen: Good! It was half a joke and half serious lol But I like a challenge….I WILL break you eventually

Marco: Many have tried, all have failed

Greg Owen: Many and all ARE NOT ME…

Marco: You’re hardly the upper quartile. I’ve met many a great mind

Greg Owen: Its not my mind you need concern yourself with – my tongue is steely

Marco: I guess there are other bits you need to compensate for

Greg Owen: haha. Not in the slightest. I’m happy with my lot and my skills exceed any physical confines….

Marco: You’re not the first bitchy munchkin I’ve come across.

Greg Owen: I don’t believe you came across nor in me….I recall….very well. You skulked home – tired. Lightweight

Marco: You’d have been the 8th dwarf if you weren’t jealous of Snow White

Greg: Hahahahaha. That’s hilarious

Marco: 😉

Greg Owen: Thank you for that – I actually laughed out loud
Ok – I need to get out of bed and do something productive today

Marco: Oh dear. It’s noon. That’s a good idea

Greg Owen: I changed my meds on Wed (last week) have had a little bit of a bumpy ride. But nothing serious

Marco: Aww. Physical or mental? Actually mental may be hard to tell

Greg Owen: Physical but because I’ve not been ill or had any side effects previously it affected me a little bit emotionally last night. Mainly just because I’m tired. It was nausea at first but that went after about 3-4 days. But then the tiredness!!!!!! Bouts of fatigue are horrible and so out of the norm for me. But I feel ok today for the moment anyway

Marco: How long is it expected to last?

Greg Owen: It can last up to a month but I progressed through the nausea in a matter of days not weeks so I’m hoping it will be the same with the fatigue. A lot of guys I have spoke to who are also on Triumeq said about 2 weeks then they were back to normal….so I got a week left.

Marco: Hopefully. Try taking B100. Plus vitamin D tablets

Greg Owen: Thanks. Someone else said that too. How come you went home to visit the family anyway?

Marco: It was my nephew’s christening and my best friend who lives in Australia was there this week too so I wanted to catch up with him

Greg Owen: Wicked – so you had a buddy and it wasn’t all family

Marco: Yeah – I haven’t seen my best friend in 2 years so it was so good to go out and party and go a bit crazy with him

Greg Owen: That’s sweet. And how is work?

Marco: Going really well. I got promoted to group project manager and loads of exciting stuff coming up

Greg Owen: Good – Im pleased for you
x

Marco: Thank you. Great holiday though. Went out a bit too much I think but really fun

Greg Owen: It’s really important to do that. I’ve been making friends with my sex life again….at last lol

Marco: Hehe how so?

Greg Owen: I just felt a bit better in my skin now since I got my ass back in the gym and time to trust the science – undetectable ‘n all
lol. Nah…seriously I just thought it was about time. Had some lovely experiences and sober sex. And the guys were too hot to pass by

Marco: Haha that’s good

Greg Owen: It was good

Marco: Were you only have sex on drugs before now?

Greg Owen: Yes, only chemsex from 2013 til this Oct and since Oct only sober and 1 on 1. I prefer it

Marco: Wow that’s great. Well done

Greg Owen: It wasn’t totally intentional

Marco: How hard did you find the transition?

Greg Owen: I have too much anxiety to be on Grindr with this level of visibility. Not hard at all really

Marco: The old fashioned way is better

Greg Owen: It’s a re-learning of previous pleasures for sure but purer pleasures and I’d like a relationship again at some point. Sober sex has to be a part of that. So I guess it was sex in training for a boyfriend!

Marco: Haha – like being in training for the sexolympics

Greg Owen: ChemSex-ers Anonymous lol. 12 steps instead of 12 guys at once haha

Marco: Haha

Greg Owen: It’s an enjoyable programme hehe

Marco: I can imagine 🙂

Greg Owen: Nice to know I got some skills in myself and not just in a Jiffy bag. Slightly daunting at first but worth the plunge

Marco: The sober sex you mean?

Greg Owen: Yes – everyone can fuck like a porn star on chems…
good to know I can bring the filth sober too

Marco: Hahaha

Continue reading “Can a ChemSex fuck ever be a sober buddy?”

ChemSex & me

chemsex

 

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”

Review: G O’CLOCK (the film)

GOCLOCK_poster_A

G O’CLOCK (the film) by Mitchell Marion

A super-slick slither of London’s current ChemSex culture. Mitchell Marion offers us an insight into what is arguably the UK’s sexual buzz subject of the moment. His short but tightly packed 10 minute film serves up a sexy, seductive veneer of glamorous, erotic hedonism but don’t allow the six packs, pecs and penises on display to distract you from the ugly truth that is bubbling and boiling underneath.

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It’s great to see an alluring, almost irresistible representation of ChemSex. That in essence is the very danger and potential pitfalls of the epidemic after all isn’t it? The film has a clear narrative executed incredibly well by it’s cast and steered beautifully by Marion’s style and shot choices. Although the story is clear the message is open to interpretation. And that’s what this film does excellently. It challenges you to question, to discuss, to reflect and to explore.

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There are no judgments or sermons from this film. If you are a ChemSex-er or not, there are situations and scenarios here that you will recognise and there are issues raised that you will be faced with time and time again.

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I enjoyed G O’clock. It kind of makes sure the sexy stays in sexual debate and sexual health. It felt like a very well delivered introduction to something much bigger from Marion. I hope that hunch was right. Make sure you catch a dose of G O’Clock when it drops…

Continue reading “Review: G O’CLOCK (the film)”

ChemSex – the film

ChemSex (from VICE and 56 Dean Street)

Watch the official trailer!

Directed by Max Gogarty and Will Fairman

matt spike

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

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

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

Watch the trailer below…

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

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

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

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

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

David raised another great point in the film…

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

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

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

Drugs are dis-inhibitors.

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

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

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

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

So what is the ‘problem’ with ChemSex?

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

But I think the real problem with Chemsex is this…

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “ChemSex – the film”

LET’S TALK ABOUT GAY SEX AND DRUGS – BODIES

BODIES

gay bod

(read at Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs, Ku Klub, Soho, 9th July 2015)London – the city where muscle, ripped, VGL, hung, bisexual and straight are the currency and start up traders or those with low stock value in the above are quick to fall foul of its sexual politics and cut throat heartlessness.
These labels are flung around regularly with a seemingly blissful lack of awareness on the users’ part of the base level, negative impact such apparently acceptable sexual attacks – no, sorry – ‘textual attacks’ cause and the underlying erosion of self-worth that they actively generate. And most cause the recipient to revisit any previous, now dormant past abuse. It is without question, certainly compounding any existing hangups those receiving said attacks have, we’re talking about other gay men here!Gay men who, let’s face it, might fix up in the latter part of their teens and early 20’s with maybe… a set of veneers – yes my front 6 teeth are made out of the same stuff as your Nan’s best china – that’s porcelain you’re looking at now.And those same gay men may have done a course of steroids or 8. Yes, that’s ‘all gone on’ right here over the last 10 years. You wouldn’t think it to look at me now though; I’ve been slacking lately and not been to the gym in over a year. And before one of you thinks it or says it – yes “I woke up like this” or as is usually the case with me “I never went to bed” – “like this”. There are a few of you in here tonight that know me – that happens!Now that I’ve outed myself – apart from the 1 Botox treatment about 3 years ago – that is all of my fixing up – fessed up. Apart from – I dye my eyebrows and eyelashes in the summer because as a blond Irish guy – after a few days in the sun they disappear and rocking the “Chemo Chic” look is not a good look. Yes! I went there! But that really is it now.

Back to my point. Those comments and thinly guised ‘textual attacks’ within our own community which – is fundamentally a community consisting of grown up and fixed up, bullied school boys, that are now living the grown up and seemingly acceptable 2015 version of bullying – totally acceptable online but ask yourself this – as in most online versus real life comparisons… would you really behave like that face to face? If you were in a bar or club or cafe actually chatting with another guy?

Here’s how those things would sound if they were they real life conversations:

Muscle only – You’re fat and out of shape and you really need to go to the gym

Ripped only – I mean have you ever seen the inside of a gym? Carbs are not your friend

Very Good Looking only – I’m totally up my own arse and only ‘up-date’

Into hung only – I’m a ‘bottomless bottom’ That is not an admission! Or a confession by the way! It’s in keeping with the rest of the examples! Like I said there are some of you in here that know me – not that well! Anyway – and will most likely be thinking I should have held out a bit longer for a bigger guy than you.

Into bisexual or straight only – This really is how out there gay men can be sometimes – “I only sleep with or date straight guys”…if you are dating or screwing him is he actually ‘straight’? Come on! And can someone please gift that gay a fucking dictionary!

These are observations not judgments. To judge would contradict the point I’m trying to make.

I know I’ve slightly exaggerated those statements for the purpose of the exercise but is it really that far from the truth? If you even vocalized anything of those things at 20 percent of that abruptness then I’m pretty sure you would qualify as a sociopath? No? So why do we do it?

Why also is there the need for the ‘not into’ information that guys like to push on a profile? This is pretty much exclusively reserved for the fems, the twinks, the chubs, the Asians, the Blacks, the gingers and the poz guys. Leading me on to HIV.

Surely there is some sort of cause and effect here? Most of my positive mates picked up the virus while on some sort of life spin out – not all of them but a substantial proportion. I can’t help feeling that the general endemic use of such broadcasts – although perhaps unintentional is unfathomably unacceptable and regularly erodes say 50% of this community’s self worth be that consciously or subconsciously. And it has to manifest itself somewhere at some point down the line. And it does! Often with a vengeance and at a hefty cost.

Maybe its time we all took as much responsibility for our words online as we would when face to face with another person of the same sexual preference. Who has already faced enough hatred for being ‘different’ in his life up to now from those that are different. Let’s not make him face it all over again from those that are the same. Instead broadcast and post what you celebrate and what you are ‘into’ not ‘not into’. It will play its small part in changing the future we can hopefully enjoy in a supposedly equal Western World.

If straight people have shown their support for us being given the right to live as equals, can’t we at least match that as a gift to each other and allow ourselves and all the other gays to be equals – consciously, actively, and freely.
You can decide for yourself with your own actions the next time you’re online.

I’ve just talked about gay sex and drugs – BODIES!!!

See you all on Grindr boys!

 

Continue reading “LET’S TALK ABOUT GAY SEX AND DRUGS – BODIES”