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”

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Review: G O’CLOCK (the film)

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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)”

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”

DO YOU KNOW

do you know

(Photography by Laurie Poole – click here)

I have said from the very start of this journey that I wasn’t going to regret what has happened in my past that led me to this point. That I wouldn’t deal in ANY guilt and that I would be a winner not a victim. I have said it before – no one gave me HIV. I made choices and as a result of those I got HIV. That means, me, myself – I. I am the only person I am holding accountable. But ‘Do you know who?’ is a common and regular question that I get asked by people when discussing my life and HIV positive status. That question pisses off some HIV positive people and I can understand why. I’m cool with the question because I also understand why people ask it and I can always see the huge immediate and potential  future benefits of being kind and straight up enough to allow and encourage ANY discussion.

“Do you know who?”

My answer is always the same. No, I don’t. And It doesn’t matter to me. It’s done now. I can’t change it. Why waste that energy trying to figure it out and drive myself nuts with endless questions upon questions. I don’t need to allocate blame. I can better use that energy and mental capacity to change the things I can. Stigma and PrEP have been the things I identified (even when I was HIV negative) that I could change and drive awareness of. So I picked my battles. They are my battles and I refuse to have a battle with myself. One thing my diagnosis changed in me was my tendency to mope about things and waste my emotions and frustrations on things that really didn’t warrant the gift of my attention. In simpler terms – I went from having a very low tolerance to bullshit to having ZERO tolerance to it!

Another thing that I have said before and that I have expressed my gratitude for is the fact that I haven’t been excessively sexually active this year and although I obviously had been having sex where I and other people would have been at risk of HIV. From the little bit of deduction that I could do, I thought that I could be pretty sure that I hadn’t passed it on to anyone else. There was one guy that I was kind of seeing earlier this year that I got in touch with the day after I found out and he just by chance had been tested the week before and was still negative. As soon as I knew he was OK and informed about the situation and my family knew, I then posted that I was HIV positive on facebook – for 5000 friends. I knew that would indirectly take care of informing anyone else that might have concerns.

But it wasn’t really that simple and that wasn’t exactly the whole truth.

There were 2 guys that I have had sex with in the last year that stuck in my mind as people that I maybe should have got in touch with personally. The first guy – Carl, who I fucked and came inside of at a sex party, wasn’t someone I exchanged contact details with. I didn’t know how to go about finding him. And the other guy – Marco, who I met at a party and spent the best part of a day with. A really sweet, funny, sarcastic guy who I genuinely connected with – even through the haze of chems. Marco was a facebook friend so I guessed he was taken care of.

The truth is I really couldn’t find the courage at that point to make contact. I wasn’t shaken too much by my diagnosis but one of my biggest fears was that I had given the virus to someone else – admittedly without knowing but it still had the potential to kill me with guilt. I don’t like guilt. As life would have it Carl (the guy from the sex party who I came inside) was in my Sainsbury’s local 5 days after my diagnosis! I was not prepared to see him, let alone almost trip over him. I completely freaked. I was suddenly aware and anxious that because of the amount of attention my HIV facebook post got that he would probably now know trough someone else even though we’re weren’t friends. I don’t think I have ever made my way from the fruit and veg aisle to the till and straight back out of that Sainsbury’s in such record breaking time!

I felt cowardly for sure but what were my options?

It’s hard enough to speak to someone you have fucked at a sex party in your local supermarket when you are both sober at the best of times – let alone when you’re trying to drop in ‘Maybe you should go for a HIV test’.

That was back in mid August and over the last few months I’ve let go off a lot of that crazy stuff you do to yourself when you’re first diagnosed. It’s called normalising. But life, circumstances and coincidence weren’t done with me just yet – as I was about to find out….

Last month there was a ‘secret gig’ on at Heaven where I used to work and I was running a guestlist for it. I invited 1000 of my ‘London friends’ on facebook. All they had to do was turn up at the door and give my name.

I was outside Heaven in the smoking area having a cigarette on my own when all of the sudden Marco walks into the smoking area. There were only 2 other guys and then Marco and I. I had just lit my cigarette and he had just lit his – there was no option of fleeing this situation ala my Sainsbury’s sprint from Carl. I looked at Marco square in the eye as he did me and we both smiled and said ‘Hey’.

Inside I was not saying HEY! Inside I was screaming and praying that it wasn’t flashing up on my face like a neon sign.

I could tell from the look in his eyes that he KNEW.

He knew and he wasn’t going to bring it up. I could feel he was going to be kind. I could tell he was nervous but I also didn’t find him as shocked to see me as I was him.  I was genuinely happy to see him again but my smile was pure fronting. I couldn’t allow myself to do anything other than front some sort of cool HIV confident calmness.

No one prepares you for these moments. There is no way to. All you can do is hope for kindness.

It was over to him now. Before I knew it there had been a hug and a polite and friendly kiss on the cheek. I told him that I was really surprised to see him out in a gay club (he’s not out to his family, they are a very prominent Catholic Italian family and not so cool with the whole gay thing). Marco said that he’d seen my facebook post and he wanted to check out the gig – so he was actually here on my guest list! I found this a little bit hilarious too! A non-out guy – at a secret gig for a new boyband that was also being hosted by a drag queen from Ru Paul’s drag race – which he loves!

I was hoping for his sake that he didn’t let his family flick through his Sky Plus ‘recorded programmes’ or the cat might be out of the bag and ‘sissying that walk’! I was pleased that he’d felt confident enough to show up at something that was so out of his comfort zone. We had a really pleasant chat and the usual banter. I explained that my date was inside and that I needed to get back to him. It was all very courteous and I thought – cool. That’s that all done and wrapped up now. Wrong again….

Last week I was invited to the re-launch party of Gay Times magazine. I was pretty nervous because big industry events make me kind of anxious. I’m standing at the bar – drinking too much free prosecco and replying to an email when I look up from my iPhone and see Marco strutting towards the bar! Oh for fuck sake! Like I’m not anxious enough already!? – this dude is here too! I couldn’t figure out how the hell he’d actually managed to get into an ‘invite only’ gay media event as someone who….

A – isn’t out as gay and B – doesn’t work in media!!!

It’s also totally bizarre because I had just been thinking about him during the week and how I was a bit proud of him for deciding to try to start owning his situation and his sexuality a bit more.

I remembered that I’d inadvertently hurt Marco a little bit at the party we met at earlier in the year by too harshly proclaiming that I would NEVER have another boyfriend or even date another guy that wasn’t out to his family. As soon as I said it I could see his heart sink. Not because I’d dashed his hopes of dating me – we fucked that was it. But because I had shamed him and removed a bit of his value and worth – just because he hadn’t managed to navigate that part of his life yet. That was totally unintentional but none the less quite mean and a bit cruel – I should have been more mindful and kinder. But at that point in my life as a result of the pain I’d endured because my ex had struggled with this same thing, I really could not see any valid excuse why an educated, funny, confident, clever and very emotionally intelligent man in his 30’s could not have ‘the balls’ to be out to his family.

Without disclosing too much of Marco’s personal circumstances, after he licked his wounds for an hour or so, he told me why he wasn’t out to his family. And it had nothing to do with being cowardly, it was out of love.

Despite the fact that he was noticeably disappointed by my ignorant and quite arrogant dig at him earlier – he didn’t lash back. Instead he settled himself and afford me the privilage of hearing his story. Which must have been hard for him to tell. I knew it was not a story he told often and I appreciated his honesty, vulnerability and openess. He taught me about him and his situation and more importantly he taught me about me and changed me a little bit.

This is something a lot of people don’t understand about gay men. Sometimes we are in episodes of taking drugs and having reckless sex but there is always a reason why. Usually a very simple and understandable reason why we are behaving in certain, sometimes reckless and often unhealthy ways. For me it was because I was heart broken from the fall out of a 7 year relationship. For Marco it was the struggle to be gay without the option of coming out to his family and establishing solid foundations for himself as his true self.

I hadn’t been in contact with Marco apart from a couple of facebook messages in the few days after we met at that party, had great sex and great conversations. But Marco and the insight he gave me has stayed with me. And here he was at the same party as me again for the second time in a month. There was the standard smile and a hug. I asked him if I needed to block him from my facebook? If he was going to keep turning up to events that I was at. Stalker much???

He informed me that actually my DJ friend Chris who was playing at the party had invited him. I thought – how cool! You came to one gig, met some of my friends and made them your own friends and now you’re doing your thing. I was really chuffed.

When Chris had finished his set. I told him Marco was here somewhere and that I didn’t know they had become friends. Chris then just casually dropped in ‘Oh yeah Marco! I’m kinda seeing him, he’s here as my date’

FOR FUCK SAKE!!!!

I thought all my HIV bullshit and anxiety was wrapped up and packed away….but here it was again!!! Biting at my ankles now!

Marco – a guy I fucked bareback while I might have been HIV positive was now seeing my mate and I haven’t had ‘that’ chat with Marco yet!

I felt physically sick at the series of possible knock ons that I could see unfold in front of me. I don’t know what part of me kicked into gear at that point but it was clear that Chris, Marco and I were all going to spend the next few hours hanging out together. Now was not the time to try to address this situation but it became very clear to me that now was certainly the time for me to stop running. I could see the direct implications this might have on my friend Chris and his health if I didn’t own this at some point really soon. I think total temporary denial kicked in. I would deal with this tomorrow when I could pin Marco down privately on facebook.

So the day after the party, with a stinking hangover and pure dread in my belly, I reluctantly opened the discussion and most likely the can of worms with Marco. It all started very cautiously…

Greg Owen : Hey Marco was nice to see you again last night. I’m pretty sure you know all of my shade was in good humour but just thought I’d make sure. It’s actually very sweet to see you hanging out with Chris..he’s a really nice guy. It is a ridiculously small world!! X

There was a good 20 minutes of messages back and forth. Finding any sarcastic, borderline offensive or shady thing throw at each other before I could pluck up the courage to make my opening. I don’t know Marco well but I know him well enough to know he knew exactly what was coming. I made a pitch with…

Greg Owen: So I was a bit freaked out when Chris told me you were seeing each other

Marco reassured me that he had told Chris that we’d hooked up before and Chris was fine with it but he was sorry if  that made me uncomfortable but why was I uncomfortable?

I still hadn’t found the momentum to drop HIV into our thread yet so it reverted back to me saying that I just get uncomfortable about things like that because I don’t like upsetting anyone or muddying the waters with my friends…I was trying every creative version I could think of to address the elephant in the room without actually having to say it – I got the feeling he was doing the same thing.

Eventually the anxiety got to me and I just took a leap of faith.

Greg Owen: It’s ok, it’s cool. I don’t mind you talking to him about it but I’m gonna be a bit honest now…I was a bit freaked out because I haven’t asked you if you got tested since I found out I was HIV+. I didn’t ask you when I saw you at Heaven because that’s a really personal thing and I didn’t think it was appropriate for me to ask you that, especially in a club….

Do you mind if I ask you if you have had a test since? Because I don’t know when I contracted HIV and we fucked bb. And I kind of really hope that I didn’t put you at risk but I don’t know.

Btw this is incredibly hard for me. I haven’t actually had to have this conversation with anyone until now.

Marco: I have since and you don’t have to worry. 

It is a hard thing for sure but nothing you can take responsibility for. It’s a choice both parties make and in that scenario choices may be skewed

But that’s why you are fighting to put preventative measures in place – like PrEP

Greg Owen: Oh god! Ok….I actually felt really sick asking that question. I still feel a little sick

Marco: Really you cannot take that onus upon yourself. I was of sound mind and choice

Greg Owen: I know

Marco: Maybe less sound mind but definitely choice

Greg Owen: Lol. Ok thank you. I just panicked. I could see a chain of upset linking straight to Chris and I didn’t like the concept of that. But I’m glad it is not the case

Marco: It also isn’t a difficult chain to connect. You weren’t good at board games were you

Greg Owen: Lol. Fuck off

Marco: Hehe

Greg Owen: I‘m ‘bored’ of this game you mouthy fucker

So I was relived. But after an hour, when my anxiety had settled down a bit, something about that last set of messages was niggling me….so I read them back…..Then shit got REAL…..

Greg Owen: Btw – I just read your messages back and I didn’t realise that you didn’t tell me you were negative. Just that ‘I don’t have to worry’ I presumed that meant negative. You don’t need to tell me either way. It’s not my business but I do want you to know that if you are positive you don’t have to worry that I’m going to think ‘you gave it to me’ no one ‘gave’ me HIV – ‘I’ got it – I take full responsibility for that

Just wanted you to know that too xxxxxx

Marco: I did check and yes I am positive. It’s something I’ve been trying to deal with and have mentioned it to Chris

I would appreciate if others didn’t know until I’m ready I guess to accept and share

Greg Owen: Ok. That’s cool. Thank you for telling me. I NEVER discuss anyone else’s status

Marco: Hehe I’m sure 🙂

Greg Owen: It kind of goes with the territory. I need to adhere to good practices

You do it your way. YOU are the only person you need to worry about in regards to this

Marco: I had wanted to talk about it but the most important thing for now is baby steps

Greg Owen: It’s yours to own xxxxx

Marco: Thank you xXx

And you are a great guy. And I Admire what you are doing – That stays on here though, never to be repeated! LOL. I’m not going to start being nice to you

Greg Owen: Yes….everyone’s journey is different and no one does it ‘wrong’

Right for you is right for you

I’m actually really really glad you told me

Did you get tested after you found out about me?

Marco: No before. I had been acting a bit recklessly

Greg Owen: Well, we both had.

You on meds yet?

Marco: It’s quite common these days. Yes – I am on meds

Greg Owen: Speak for yourself – I’m not common! 🙂

Marco: Haha it’s just second nature for you. It’s best to start meds as early as possible

Greg Owen: What meds you on?

You know what, I haven’t tried to figure out the who and when

To me – it really doesn’t matter

It’s a waste of my energy

Marco: Me neither, no benefit really

Ritonavir, Truvada and Prezista

Greg Owen: It’s kinda a bit nuts cus only 1 person has cum in my ass since I tested neg last Easter. And I been 60-70 % top since too

Marco: Most likely that but not necessarily

Greg Owen: Just goes to show – you can’t always box clever

Precum has the Virus so it can be that too

It’s been weird that we bump into each other again

Marco: It really is. I don’t classify that day as a random chill out or sex party

Greg Owen: I’m sure life makes people collide for a reason

Marco: I believe that too! – I did enjoy it. Had a good time and enjoyed connecting, talking, etc

Greg Owen: Wow – so we were thinking the same thing

I’m gonna square too so this is out of the way…I was kinda shocked to see you a few weeks ago… you threw me

Marco: Why’s that?

Greg Owen: Because there is only you and 1 other guy that I thought I should have got in touch with

Marco: It was hit and miss. I had palpitations the way there. Only went because I had my therapy session before hand and agreed I should check it out

Greg Owen: Palpitations why?

Marco: I was just very nervous

Greg Owen: Seeing me (HIV related) or attending that kind of ‘gay’ event?

Marco: Attending that kind of event but no I felt relaxed to see a familiar face

Greg Owen: This is gonna sound weird… We can’t really tell if our HIV was exchanged between you to me or me to you when we met…. IF AT ALL. Could easily have been other people.

But in the oddest way…if you exchanged it in my direction…I’m kind a little comforted to know that the exchange was from a person who’s actually kind of a decent guy

I say that cus I had a bit of a horrible situation/experience with a guy earlier this year and it makes me kind of a bit sad if it happened in that situation.

Btw – this is ONLY between you and I

I don’t share these thoughts with anyone else

Marco: Of course…I confided in you too remember

You can be assured I hold what you say in utter confidence

What an interesting and weirdly sweet thing to say

I guess it’s part of 21st century ethics

There’s your story next time you write something

Greg Owen: I know…I trust you. I should probably explain. It’s more that I haven’t had this conversation before with anyone and it’s not thrown me or upset me. So it’s more a case that I think this is the most personal conversation I’ve had about my HIV. I don’t think I could share/write about how this conversation just played out

There are little bits of me and the HIV thing that I want to keep.

I mean it’s heartwarming to know that we have been able to have this conversation without any fear or anger. And I truly appreciate that x

Wow – I didn’t read your message until now

That’s a little freaky that I was typing about not being able to write about this as you suggested I should lol

Marco: Of course. I understand that you are sharing and want to be there for others. But there’s an element of personal journey to it. As opposed to just personalised

I appreciate this too x

It is a bit freaky we just had the same but different thought! 🙂

Greg Owen: I think you might be right (for once) maybe when I process how I’m feeling right now it would be worth sharing this story. It is so worth sharing. I need to let it sit with me for a bit. Xx

Marco: X

Greg Owen: I honestly have to say – this has been the strangest 24-36 hours

The amount of coincidence is ridiculous

Marco: Hehe what else did you do? WHO did you do?

Greg Owen: Lol. Shut up. You know what I mean – This conversation NEVER would have happened if you hadn’t been seeing Chris

Marco: Very true

Greg Owen: So out of a lot of panic and anxiety came a nice thing. Cus we just talked and were honest.

Marco and I wrapped up our conversation and then I was suddenly really emotional…..

Greg Owen: Ok…I’m not sure why. Genuinely don’t know why but our conversation just made me cry – properly like floods (about me) for the first time since I found out that I had HIV. I’m pretty sure this is a healthy release but very unexpected and I feel really really weird right now. Totally not sure if I should be sharing this with you either but as it was our chat that caused this reaction I thought would. I’m OK just a little overcome. I guess I should thank you.

Marco: That’s sweet and I appreciate you sharing that. No need to thank. It’s being able to share that makes us understand and deal with things

Greg Owen: I’ve stopped crying now!!! Lol. Thank god

I only cried for half an hour

But that was enough

Marco: It Sounds like a healthy release and it is lovely to be a part of. I wasn’t there physically but the communication and bonding are the same nonetheless. 🙂 Aww x

Greg Owen: It wasn’t so lovely for me today lol

It was a bit traumatic

But I am glad it’s out and done now

END OF CONVERSATION

I think the reason I was so emotional that night after our conversation was because Marco released a few of my internalised fears. I could have infected him…or he could have infected me or our HIV could have come from another situation. We really don’t know but that doesn’t change what we DO know…..

We both DO know that we aren’t angry people. We’re not gonna hate on each other.

Instead, we are most likely going to build on what looks like the start of a healthy friendship. Having already established respect, understanding, support and most importantly the liberation and unburdening that comes from being honest….nothing more – Just honest.

I can rest easy now knowing that my friend Chris is not at any risk from my HIV through Marco.

But above all, and this is as honest as I have ever been. I have had a constant niggling anxiety since I was diagnosed. That one day me being cool with being HIV positive would pass and that I’d be filled with some malignant hidden anger that was lurking in the shadows. I was truly petrified of becoming that person. Thanks to the chat I had with Marco – who may or may not have been the exchange point for my HIV…the fact that I didn’t have it in me to be angry with him. That I just wanted us both to be cool, released that horrible anxiety that I have been carrying around and afraid to admit for the last couple of months. I cried a whole lot that night and it felt really good and I feel like I put down a bit of baggage that I hadn’t realised was so heavy.

Thank you Marco and thank you Chris.

Continue reading “DO YOU KNOW”

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”