PrEP 2015: a very blue year

blue year

2015 has been quite a year. A brilliant year of developments on PrEP (HIV prevention) and deconstructing HIV stigma.

It hasn’t been an easy year by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve had a few personal curve balls thrown in for good measure. But such is life.

I want to take a moment to look back on our progress particularly in the PrEP arena.

At the start of 2015 there was a considerable amount of noise being made in the US by Damon L Jacobs and his facebook crew of PrEPsters in the PrEP Facts:Rethinking HIV Prevention group. This family of HIV prevention enthusiasts, users and advocates is currently sitting at a substantial tally of 12,500 people. The group’s significance within and contribution to the PrEP community even caught the attention of WHO (World Health Organisation) this year.

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But here in the UK it didn’t seem like we were making that much noise at all. There were a few random mentions from scene magazines and the odd share of an article here and there. I shared and posted as much as I could find and it was being well received as a concept.

I felt reassured that PrEP would catch on here in the UK when it was made available. I was perhaps a little too naive in making that presumption at that point. In hindsight, it was being well received as a concept because it was nothing more than that.
A concept. Not a practice or an option that was available or likely to be available in the near future.

I know this now…but I didn’t know it back then. Discovering hostility towards PrEP was unexpected and came with a hefty emotional price tag for me.

My own PrEP journey was a very short lived one indeed! Late one Tuesday evening (11th Aug). I managed to get hold of 2 months of Truvada from a HIV positive friend who had changed his meds. I decided that I would document my experience, every sexual encounter, chill out, sex party and screen for STIs every month for 6 months and write my Truvada Diary.

The next morning I hopped on a bus to Dean Street Express to have a HIV test to confirm that I was HIV negative (last tested negative Easter 2014) I had written the opening section of my PrEP journey by the time I had arrived at the clinic. 20 minutes later I was diagnosed as HIV positive. The irony! So that put an end to my PrEP diary. Instead I began writing my diagnosis diaries – This is Me part 1, part 2 and part 3.

My public disclosure on social media and the subsequent publishing of my diaries raised my visibility and awareness of PrEP and the immediate necessity for it so much that I just couldn’t cope with the amount of enquiries that I would receive on Facebook, Twitter and email.

This is when the option of importing generic PrEP was brought to my attention and really took hold. After a few
discussions with my buddy Alex Craddock and meetings some knowledgeable friends, the idea for www.iwantPrEPnow.co.uk was born.

We were going to build a website with all of the info you needed on PrEP and with links to buy genuine and legitimate generic PrEP from trusted sellers. We knew the website would take us about 4-5 weeks to build in our free time so we set about that with immediate effect.

What I identified I could do in the interim between that point and our launch was to raise awareness and test the waters. I want to gauge exactly what the feeling towards PrEP was.

We would be making access to PrEP a reality and not just raising awareness of some unobtainable new HIV prevention concept.

The reaction was not what I expected and not what I wanted to deal with at that time in my life but there wasn’t much choice.

PrEP was being smacked down quite regularly and quite aggressively.

Here I was, a very newly diagnosed HIV positive gay guy being berated and attacked for pushing for PrEP.

It was a little heartbreaking.

Why couldn’t these people see the potential of PrEP?

Why were they so averse to the idea?

I realised I had to reconcile that within myself and find a way to relate and connect to these people. The solution presented itself quite clearly and promptly. Just be honest. Just tell your story.

No one wants to catch HIV. There is a tool that is almost 100% effective at protecting you from HIV.

I managed to get hold of it. But I was a few months too late. Just state the situation and leave it there.

It seemed to work.

I was also aware that people don’t like to read pieces of text. Especially on something they are not too interested in. So I went with some very simple, very basic images. I am no graphic designer! These memes were created on an app on my iPhone. And here they are…

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It passed by without too much controversy. That wasn’t to last! Next up was a play on Apple’s incredibly irritating auto-correct of the work fuck to duck! If you use the word fuck as much as I do then this little text amend is DUCKING annoying…

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Again, I thought this was palatable. It’s a blue duck – who can have an issue with that? Quite a few people it would seem! Instantly the cries sprang up of

“Are you saying we should abandon condoms?”  

“This is totally irresponsible and reckless of you”

“You are sending out the wrong message here Greg”

“What about other STIs. PrEP doesn’t protect you from those”

I wasn’t really prepared for that reaction and I hadn’t formulated a response. Little did I know that a few short months later I would be so sick and infuriated by that ‘other STIs’ question that I would have lost my patience and found the balls to write an article titled ‘Fuck other STIs’. But at that moment it shook me a little so I tried to dampen the argument with this.

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It immediately silenced those critics. So we were learning and we were on to something. By introducing the word ‘extra’ into the positioning of PrEP we could get people to start thinking about PrEP itself and not what using it implied – ie abandoning condoms. I tested it out with the next image.

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This one went down really well! The very same people who were busting my ass over the barebacking rubber duck were now on board and thanking me for behaving responsibly with a healthy and inclusive message. So I took it a step further.

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Then I put PrEP in the tool kit.

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It seemed too simple but it really was that straight forward. Use the word ‘extra’. Make PrEP an additional tool and position it with condoms – not instead of. People stopped trying to run me out of town! But again, I had a feeling that would be short lived. We hadn’t introduced the sexual element yet. So I ran with this.

smurf

As expected the pitch forks came out again.

What is it with people in the UK and the horror that sets in when something appears to be sexual? I’m still getting my head around that one.

But now the comments coming in were accusing me of trivialising safer sex by releasing the sexy Smurfs. In fact that couldn’t be further from the truth. PrEP is HIV safer sex. So is condomless sex with a HIV positive undetectable guy.

At that point I realised that I wasn’t ever going to be able to please everyone. So I stopped trying.

And that was liberating! For the sake of the objective at hand I decided to revert (temporarily) to inoffensive, non-sexual subject matter.

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The lightbulb was safe and for some reason people liked it. It’s one of my least favorites. I had given up trying to predict what would and would not be received well! The watch was up next.

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When this image went out on Twitter a good friend and colleague from a HIV charity tweeted me to say that he loved the image but that it was factually incorrect.

PrEP is not here as it is not accessible yet.

Little did he know that in a few weeks PrEP would be here and accessible through www.iwantprepnow.co.uk – admitedly not for free but it was here! The images were getting  a fair amount of attention now and I started getting requests. Here are a few of the requests.

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I know this tag line is from Sesame Street but it kind of worked here.

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Who knew gay men loved The Smurfs, The Muppets and Sesame Street?

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And it was no surprise that the Diva went down well!

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Then I changed the direction slightly as the reaction towards PrEP warmed.

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This next image has the wrong tag line again – my mistake. ‘You Got a Friend in Me’ is from Toy Story. The song from Aladdin is ‘You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me’. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal until I happened to catch Aladdin on television a few days ago and watched Genie and Aladdin in that number and in fact – you ain’t never had a friend like PrEP!

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The set isn’t complete without drawing a little attention to slut shaming….

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And realising that the way a person chooses to protect themselves from whatever is and always should be totally their choice and they should be fully supported in the choices they make for themselves.

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Recently I have been able to release a few images that need no disclaimers or pacifiers.

It’s nice to see David Cameron get involved with PrEP…

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And push it real good…

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The website www.iwantPrEPnow.co.uk has even been discussed at BHIVA by Dr Mags Portman.

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At BHIVA’s European HIV Hepatitis Co-infection (EHHC) Conference by Dr Andrew Hill.

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And most recently Alex Craddock (iwantPrEPnow co-founder) featured on Channel 4 News alongside our PrEP siblings and their site PrEPster

In my opinion this year has seen the UK MSM community stop slut shaming and challenging the benefits of PrEP. In the summer most of my conversations about PrEP were loaded with shaming, ridicule, dismissiveness, divisive statements, fear, resistance and a lack of knowledge.

Today with just 2 weeks left of 2015 I can tell you that the amount of interaction and conversations I have with people about PrEP has more than doubled – perhaps even tripled.

Now those conversations are predominantly from people wanting PrEP now with well constructed questions on the finer details and specifics of being on PrEP or preparing to start PrEP.

This is amazing. We have turned a corner and the road ahead looks promising. 2016 is going to be a very exciting year. 

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Continue reading “PrEP 2015: a very blue year”

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PrEP ain’t for you…or is it?

 

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Jake: I just wanted to ask a PrEP question.

Greg Owen: www.iwantprepnow.co.uk If it’s not on there I’ve failed. lol

Jake: You didn’t fail but I want an answer in slightly more detail. Event based PrEP. Say someone like me who never has unprotected sex… and I can’t remember the last time I slept with someone who didn’t know their qualified status… I don’t want or need to take PrEP. But say I wanted to try unprotected sex with my boyfriend or someone else on one occasion… so taking PrEP just when I needed it. Is this safe? Is it enough to stay neg. I just read all the options… and you say that taking a pill a day is the safest.

Greg Owen: I have a burden of responsibility to actively promote the safest – ie large study (PROUD) tried and tested daily method. That is why it is positioned like that on the site. The EBD (event based dosing) system has been trialled in France. It is called IPERGAY and yes – it is safe. Official figures suggest 86% reduced risk of HIV infection. However there are variables with this method and so therefore requires a conversation like this so that the PrEP user can be educated properly.

I don’t have capacity to do that with everyone and I really would want to because this method opens up the possibility of risks. I hate the word risk used alongside the word PrEP. The variables are the time between 1st dosing and actual sexual interaction (because studies and tests have found that there is not sufficient HIV protection in the anal tissue until about 8 hours after the 1st dose of PrEP) and you also need to address and fully understand doseage etc and by that I mean the number of pills taken, when and duration. And some people say that the study was based on the minimum amount of time and PrEP required for protection so you could expand on your protection by increasing the time between the 1st dose and sex and the length of time you dose after the sex.

The problem I have with this is that info gets relayed from gay to gay and gets muddled in the middle – a bit like chinese whispers. That makes me uncomfortable when the thing being jeopardised is a person’s HIV negative status.

Jake: I’ll refer other gays to your website – I promise.

Greg Owen: I don’t go into these details on the IWPN site for that reason. At the point when it becomes technical and requires someone of authority to advise on this method we direct our users to their local sexual health clinic to discuss it face to face with a clinician. You are a friend , someone I know personally which is why I am discussing it now.

Back to the point… with event based dosing you don’t have that 100% peace of mind that comes with daily PrEP. So in a way you are running the HIV gauntlet again and that negates one of the key benefits of PrEP. But EBD/IPERGAY is a tried and tested method and the whole point of what I do is to share information and although I don’t personally feel comfortable promoting this method of using PrEP, it still offers protection (up to 86% if used properly) that might very well work for someone and so I put it out there.

I guess it boils down to this – any HIV protection is better than none.

But for you Jake – I don’t think PrEP is perhaps the best thing. It’s people who are already involving themselves in high risk behaviour that need to think about it imminently.

If you like using a condom every time you have sex – stick with it. It’s working for you. 

Don’t muddle it. You have good condom adherence. I’m happy that is the case with you. I would be conflicted in advocating PrEP for you if it were to potentially diminsh your condom use.

Jake: Of course. That’s how I feel. It’s not an issue for me. But I’ve never had unprotected sex with my boyfriend. Just thought it might be nice to try. We both think that we’re negative and of course we both need to get tested. But it would be reassuring for both of us if we also did PrEP.

Greg Owen: I disagree. If that really is the case then you don’t need PrEP. Unless you – or you suspect your boyfriend is having BB sex and not being honest about it. If you aren’t and you trust he isn’t…get tested (full screening) and go for it. You really need to weigh up the landscape on a person (or couple) specific basis. If you don’t trust him and don’t wanna discuss that within your relationship there is another option. You can take PrEP on an EBD/IPERGAY system and just don’t tell him.

PrEP empowers the individual.

Jake: He’s not having BB sex. And he doesn’t lie to me. There’s absolutely no reason for him to lie because we’re totally open. That’s the sole purpose of having an open relationship, so that we don’t have to tell lies.

Greg Owen: If that’s how it works in your open relationship I’m happy for you. That is not the way it works in all open relationships.

Jake: Really?

Greg Owen: Yes – from my personal experience and from what I have ascertained through discussing sex and sexual behaviour with many different types of guys in various different situations.

Jake: Why not?

Greg Owen: I’m generalising now but here we go –

Gay men LIE (some not all)
Gay men take risks (most not all)
Gay men do not tell their boyfriends any of the above (some not all)

Also – I can’t imagine you would be too happy informing your boyfriend that you have had sex with me – a HIV positive guy. Protected or not, undetectable or not. You might not feel 100% comfortable telling him this and I understand that.

Jake: But that’s the structure of my relationship. We said we didn’t want any lies or games. So we’re open from the outset and we’re totally honest. It really works. I don’t understand being open and then lying about being open. Makes no sense.

Greg Owen: I agree Jake but you can only be accountable for yourself. You cannot control or dictate what another person does. Regardless if you have made an agreement or not. If your relationship is structured and works like that I am happy for you both. I’m just saying that some people find certain topics difficult to discuss with their partner. That’s why I mentioned the HIV thing as an example. You in effect removed his choice of introducing HIV into his sex life.

Jake: I totally don’t understand what you’ve just said to me. Introducing HIV to our relationship?

Greg Owen: My point is that some guys wouldn’t sleep with a positive guy and that is totally cool with me. If your boyfriend wouldn’t sleep with a positive guy – if that is just one of his sexual boundries and then you sleep with me as an extra in your open relationship, in effect you introduced HIV or more specifically a HIV positive sexual partner into the mix and I don’t think that’s 100% fair. You took a little bit of his choice away. Of course we are speaking hypothetically here as I don’t know your boyfriend or his opinions or prefernces on HIV positive sexual partners. But I find that when it comes to HIV – even though it’s ME that is positive and not you or your boyfriend, we all still need to mindful and considerate towards each other and that extends to how your boyfriend would feel about you having sex with a positive guy ie me. Regardless if you were at risk or not – which you weren’t because I’m undetectable and we wore condoms. I’m just saying some guys dont like it. And that’s not some strange manifestation of internalised HIV shame on my part. I have none. It’s just being considerate towards other people’s feelings. That’s all. I’m just trying to illustrate a point. Sometimes what we get up to in our sex lives isn’t always easy to discuss with one another for a lot of very understandable reasons.

Jake: Well, as I demonstrated. I’m not like that. But I might be introducing HIV every single time I have sex with another man. If I
sleep with a guy who doesn’t know his status though… which is more dangerous.

Greg Owen: Bingo! But an undiagnosed guy is not stigmatised. Even though 80% of new HIV infections come from undiagnosed ‘negative’ guys. You are preaching to the converted.

Let’s put it this way… when I was HIV negative I happily slept with HIV positive guys that I knew were undetectable and who I knew well enough to know that they took their meds regularly and I was even aware enough to try not to put myself in that position on the Tuesday after a Bank Holiday weekend when a HIV positive guy might have been out partying and high since Friday and not taken his meds for 3-4 days therefore resulting in a viral spike above the (generally accepted) 400 mark which starts to become HIV infectious again. I KNEW all of this stuff and I played by those rules ‘most’ of the time but I also slept with other ‘negative’ guys who were ‘definitely sure’ they were negative. I knew the risks and I took them. I’ve told you I can’t pin down the point when I contracted HIV but what I can categorically tell you is this….

I did not get HIV from a HIV positive guy…. I got HIV from a HIV negative guy!

Of course the exchange was from a person that had the virus in their system and technically was HIV positive but there is no doubt in my mind that he was still under the illusion that he was HIV negative.

So I get you. xx

Continue reading “PrEP ain’t for you…or is it?”

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
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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

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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?”

The Year of No Fear – HIV today

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What does it mean to be HIV positive today?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main findings include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

Get free P(r)EP on the NHS – NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS IS ME – PART 3

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Thursday – the day after the diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

TEXT TO SEAN 09.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 August

12/08/2015 16:21 Greg Owen – Hey

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

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

13 August

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

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

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

LATER THAT DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13/08/2015 16:51 Greg Owen – xx

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

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

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

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

lol

I can’t be doing with puffy eyes lol

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

13/08/2015 16:53 Greg Owen haha

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

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

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

13/08/2015 16:56 Greg Owen – lol

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

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

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

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

AIDS SHITS AND GIGGLES

Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs – ALIENS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued…”Eh? Greg?”

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

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

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

AIDS IS NOT ALIEN!

Thank you

*The audience then applauded

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

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

I wore this vest for a reason…

hiv front HIV back

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

STAND TOGETHER – MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Thank you

END OF BLOG

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

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

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

I was suddenly really pissed off.

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

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

FACEBOOK STATUS

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

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

PART 4

Continue reading “THIS IS ME – PART 3”