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.

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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”

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!
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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
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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”

THIS IS ME – PART 3

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Thursday – the day after the diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

TEXT TO SEAN 09.18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 August

12/08/2015 16:21 Greg Owen – Hey

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

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

13 August

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

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

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

LATER THAT DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13/08/2015 16:51 Greg Owen – xx

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

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

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

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

lol

I can’t be doing with puffy eyes lol

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

13/08/2015 16:53 Greg Owen haha

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

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

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

13/08/2015 16:56 Greg Owen – lol

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

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

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

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

AIDS SHITS AND GIGGLES

Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs – ALIENS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued…”Eh? Greg?”

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

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

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

AIDS IS NOT ALIEN!

Thank you

*The audience then applauded

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

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

I wore this vest for a reason…

hiv front HIV back

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

STAND TOGETHER – MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Thank you

END OF BLOG

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

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

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

I was suddenly really pissed off.

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

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

FACEBOOK STATUS

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

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

PART 4

Continue reading “THIS IS ME – PART 3”

THIS IS ME – PART 2

To recap for those that haven’t read PART 1 of THIS IS ME…Last Wednesday 12th August I went to Dean Street Express sexual health clinic for a HIV test to confirm that I was HIV negative so that I could begin taking Truvada as PrEP. 20 minutes after arriving at the clinic I was diagnosed as HIV positive and with Chlamydia. Here is what happened next…

By 13.30 I am out of Dean Street Express with Chlamydia and HIV – that’s some buy one get one free deal you don’t get landed with everyday. I have to pop in to their main clinic – 56 Dean Street to book an appointment with a Nurse to get my treatment for Chlamydia. It’s a simple course of antibiotics. I ask if they can fit me in with an appointment today to clear up at least 1 of these 2 STI’s immediately but apparently its not that straight forward. The only time they allocate any time was for the next day at 12.25. I confirmed the appointment a bit disgruntled but relieved again to be anywhere but inside a GUM clinic as I was leaving the clinic at 13.40 I text one of my best friends Glen to check if he could steal a few minutes away from work to take my call. I was relieved he could. Glen has been a friend, a best friend and in fact is treated by my family as a brother to me and vice versa. Needless to say in our 20 year friendship we have had our ups and downs, tight times and our distance but like true family he has always been there and I know always will be. I also text my friend Ian at the same time. He was out of town in the Midlands but has arranged to meet me in Starbucks Vauxhall at 18.30

13.44 – called Glen. We chatted for 10 mins. I love this boy. He made sure I was OK, told me he would keep checking in on me throughout the day and that above all else just wanted me to remember that he loved me, that we had faced tough times together before and that we would get through this together and that he totally supported whatever I needed to do now for myself that would enable me get a grip on this.

13.50 – called Kieran an old friend who is positive and open about his status. He couldn’t speak for long as he was boarding a flight but gave me one of the most invaluable pieces of advice that I have received to date on this journey. He told me that now really was the time to be selfish. That no one else mattered right now. That when he was first diagnosed and until he got round to slowly disclosing his positive status to those close to him in the months and years afterwards that he had exhausted himself by trying to keep everyone else happy by being and doing what they wanted. He eventually just wore himself out and then thought FUCK IT and either cut certain people off or reined others back in kicking them into line to deal with his status, with him – on his terms.

Once I had decided to do what I think you all know I did – out myself as positive on stage the next evening then on Facebook for my 5000 friends and the world to see. I never questioned it again. However he gave me a heads up though that some people might challenge what I had planned to do especially following up the coming out with a full no holes barred blog. As well as making me aware that others would probably try to dissuade me in order to accommodate themselves and what they might need at this point he assured me to not to allow this to happen. To accommodate them before I accommodate myself would be the wrong thing to do for me, KNOWING me and knowing the way I work as a person. It also gave me the strength to stand by my convictions without guilt and with a clear conscience. I knew the news had placed me at the front of his thoughs and in all of his heart. From his seat on the plane before he took off he followed up our brief chat with these 2 texts

Text from Keiran

Greg. You can call me anytime. I’m here for you. I know you say you are ok & I trust you with that as I know you are strong, otherwise I would cancel this trip and walk off this flight. But it is a lot to get your head round. Take things 1 step at a time. Don’t let anyone make you feel less of a person for what’s happened, you are not! This is just another hill to climb in the roller coaster that is life & you are better than most at drawing out the positives (lol) I’m here for you little guy.
Text from Keiran
Sorry if this is information overload, but I wish someone had told me this. You know from your research & work that you do that you are now in the period of being highly infectious. Just be very careful what you do at the moment sex wise (predictive text put seaside lmao) the reason I say this is… You are being very out there & visible as a champion of HIV issues, the last thing you need is someone saying that AFTER (not before so don’t worry) your diagnosis you passed it on. I got too drunk feeling sorry for myself after my diagnosis & didn’t really understand fully what was going on so probably took a couple of risks. Anyways. You know all this, I’m just being your mate & safeguarding you. The end. Love me x

14.01 Message Dee

Dee is another close friend, the 3rd of my best friends along with Glen and Isis and he works in Pimlico so the logical part of me was GPS’ing him if you like as the ‘closest’ close friend to me and I instinctively knew that I needed to go and see someone one that I actually knew and someone who would totally accept what I was about to tell them and offer me a safe zone to breathe in. I was already switching on to the notion that I shouldn’t be alone because I didn’t know what twists and turns my emotions were going to throw at me and I was silently conscious that it was my friends that were going to keep me centred.

I walk a lot anyway but even if I didn’t I could not at this point even bare the thought of being cooped up with other people on a tube or bus journey so autopilot kicked in a bit and I began to walk from Soho to Pimlico.
14.02 Message Paul Fleming from PositiveEast

I met Paul at my first proper public leap into the AIDS Activism arena. It was at Pat Cash’s Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs – TRUTH in April this year, where I spoke the blog HIV the Truth and Me. Which had just that same month been published as a feature in FS Magazine. I was very active in my HIV campaigning online but this event was the first time I’d lent my physical presence to my activism. It was terrify but liberating in equal measures. I was so nervous I couldn’t hold my notes properly and my voice was one I didn’t recognise. I don’t think I’ve ever sounded so timid in my whole life. Little did I know that from this harrowing platform with nerves akin to that of my 4 year old self on his first day at school would I have found such strength, confidence and conviction and indeed a new, clear and unapologetic voice in just a few short months through the investment and support of people like Pat Cash and David Stuart to be able to stand up at the same event 4 months later in front of 100 people, new friends and strangers and be able to say without fear…

YESTERDAY I WAS DIAGNOSED AS HIV POSITIVE.

Paul and I spoke briefly when we met in April and we had subsequently developed a very open and somewhat cheeky friendship on facebook. He had offered to come with me to the clinic for this test but I politely declined as I’ve had countless HIV tests in my adult life since 18 years old to now at 35. I must have had a good 10-15. I considered them a standard component of a responsible sex life regardless of the risk levels of the sex that I had had in the interim between each. For the record I didn’t have anal sex properly until I was 25 and then only barebacked in my long term 7 year relationship and honestly, up until last Easter (2014) practically no unprotected anal sex with strangers but after that point I had been having regular condomless sex – so we’re really only talking about approximately 1 year of high risk, reckless sexual behaviour. So be informed that that small window of a single year of throwing caution to the wind in a sex life that spanned 20 years IS ENOUGH for you to find yourself in this position. Consider this less a preach and more just an offering my own personal facts. I told Paul the news and he was sorry but supportive and frustrated that he couldn’t be there with me and for me. He was in Barcelona on holiday so I expected nothing from him but the kindness and support that I knew he would offer. He didn’t disappoint.

14.06 Whatsapp Isis

Now this really was a deceitful ruse on my part but because I love her. And it was going to kill me to have to tell her this – for so many reasons. Isis is my amazing kindred spirit. She is without a doubt the person that I am closest to in the whole world right now. It’s freaky sometimes!!! We seem to share the same brain. To the point where we can finish each others sentences or already be laughing at the punch line of a funny story that the other is only half way through telling because we are so in tune and not only have the same brain but the same humour, mine is a little darker, more cynical and twisted but its pretty much the same! I would even say that often times in situations where we can’t speak freely that we can communicate shockingly well with just a look. It’s amazing to think you can find someone so identical in such a drastically different form from your own. I am white, Irish, British and Gay. She is Black, German, Egyptian, Somali, Muslem and Trans. But we are  2 peas in a pod. This was going to be a biggie. She was joining me the next night (Thurs) At Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs – a monthly queer space forum and open mic night that I think I am limitlessly supportive and in admiration of. I am speaking during the open mic section again tomorrow night. I was announcing my positive status live on stage and there was no question that it would be totally the wrong way to tell her, let alone hugely disrespectful, insulting and hurtful. To both her and Ian. She was due to come to mine in a few hours to stay over and come to the event with me the next day.

I messaged her at 14.06 saying nothing more than “Hey” I didn’t know what else to say at this point. But our plan was to meet in Soho after my tests at the clinic and go back to mine together. She didn’t reply until 14.44. Here’s how the text conversation flowed over the next few hours…

Greg 14.06 – Hey

Isis 14.44 – Only just got up. How did it go at the clinic?

Greg 14.46 – I have Chlamydia. Lol. Are you coming over today?

Isis 14.55 – Hahaha no you don’t

Greg 14.56 – I do. Gotta go back for antibiotics tmro. You coming tonight?

Isis 14.56 – How did you pick that up???

Greg 14.56 – Duh – sex. I did have a lot of it

Isis 14.57 – Yeah ermmmm aaaaages ago duh!!…No coming Thursday babe. Around 1pm…

Greg 14.57 – Ok cool x

Isis 14.58 – k bbe xx

Shit! This was not good! Bitch was cancelling. My carefully laid plan of telling her face to face tonight was not looking likely. How the hell do I get her here without freaking her out??? Do I say one of my parents is ill and I’m upset?

At that point I lost the ability to try to figure out what to do next about telling her. There were already numerous other conversations going on which you are about to be privy to.

So lets jump back to real time now at 14.16 I had made it down The Mall and was just passing the Houses of Parliament (I was on Old Compton Street 15 minutes earlier – I walk fast, I know) I opened my email inbox and just by chance happened to have an invite from David Stuart at 56 Dean Street, where I had just left. Inviting me to another of their Wellbeing Program discussions. The subject of this forum was ‘Pornography and Young People’. His message was coincidence at it’s best. I accepted the invitation to join the event on Wednesday 19th August and casually just included in the email that I was about to start some PrEP at the weekend so I popped in to Dean Street for my HIV test and it seems that I am a bit too late. I’m now positive. David was brilliant, as always. I mean it IS his job but above and beyond that he’s a decent guy with a passion for his community and an active player in trying to improve (excuse the pun) the ‘wellbeing’ of London’s gay men. He comes from a place of experience and also has a great generosity towards what he does. Laying bare the skeletons in his past to better help others in their present. He did everything right and commended me on just being me. Something that struck me as important and he was the first to do it. I was also going to see him too, in person the next evening at Let’s Talk. I was starting to count my blessings. To appreciate the position I had unintentionally placed myself in through being involved in such events. I was even starting to think I was lucky. Well if not lucky then at least ‘luckier’ than a lot of other guys in the sam situation. Even feeling this frightened me because my mind flip-sided it. I suddenly though…how would I be feeling right now if I didn’t have this safety net that would break my fall?

I was approaching my friend Dee’s work place in Pimlico now and decided to take a break from my iPhone communications. I got to his work, had a look around for him but couldn’t find him. I waited a while then asked one of his colleagues where he was? He wasn’t working today but had popped in by chance earlier. Ok I thought, he’s not here now but he’s awake and about and I will track him down at some point.

Autopilot kicked in again and I was leaving Pimlico and heading to Starbucks in Vauxhall to hang out there and gather my thoughts. On my way over Vauxhall Bridge I spot 2 gays approaching they were my friends Husain and his boyfriend Nikos, also on their way to drop in on Dee at his work. We hugged and kissed and chatted shit about work and my new place and the usual catch up stuff. In my head I was hearing myself speak and laugh and joke with these 2 and was thinking – are you really this cool with this right now? I had just explained to David Stuart in my email that I knew how shock felt. Unfortunately – only too well! But that I didn’t feel like I was in shock. And here I was 20 minutes later confused at my behaviour and my calmness and the fact that I was stood on Vauxhall Bridge laughing and joking with these two and not clambering over it to drown in the Thames. Nikos, Husain and myself said our goodbyes and after I walked on a handful of steps towards Vauxhall, I stopped. I looked back over my shoulder at Nikos and Husain’s asses mincing on over the bridge and I realised. PEOPLE. It’s people that are going to make or break this for me. I had noticed in myself in those 5 or 6 steps that as the physical distance between myself and my friends increased so did my insecurities about being able to cope with this the way I wanted to cope with this. But I knew deep down – I got this shit! And my friends and family – they’ll have my back on this too. I’m going to be OK!!!!
14.39 message Dave in Starbucks

Dave is the young guy that I had offered support and advice to over the last few months on his recent HIV diagnosis. He is the guy known as FB User in my blog The Facebook Guide To Your Recent HIV Diagnosis. Funny now how I was reaching back to him to return the favour in the light of my super-recent diagnosis. Isn’t it funny how life is never linear. It is cyclic. And if ever there was proof of the old adage that in life you get back what you put in, then this was that proof. He was great. A bit shocked and surprised but I was proud of him for being able to take what I had given him in his hour of need and make it his own and re-gift it forward. Again it was bizarre that the person he was doing this for was ME! Not so much re-gifting as simply returning. He asked me if I knew who, when and how. Well the how was easy…SEX. But I explained to him that I wasn’t about to waste my energy on who and when. I just didn’t see the point. Obviously I was going to contact the one guy that I had casually seen for a few weeks in the spring but just to tell him to get tested and to make sure he was OK. But for me, I didn’t need to allocate my HIV to it’s source. No one had ‘given’ me this. I ‘got’ this and it was now mine to take responsibility for and ownership of. Bless him, he panicked a bit at my reply in the fear that he had upset or offended me. Our relationship had developed from ‘lost souled little brother’ and ‘party ravaged old brother’ to equals and just ‘mates’ in the last month or so. I assured him that he had not asked anything out of line and that I was very grateful to have him there today and a little sorry to have to break my news, I guess I’m still in big brother mode with Dave.

In between my message ping pong with Dave I gave up trying to get hold of Dee and knew that ours was the kind of friendship that would permit me bouncing this information over in a text. So that’s what I did.

14.41 message Dee

Greg – Hey. Didn’t wanna send this by text. Just been dean st. Got a poz result. I’m actually ok. Could do with hanging out for a bit though if you are around. X

Dee – OMG are you ok?

Greg – OMG?? Lol – don’t be so dramatic. You’re turning into Mama Drama! It’s no big deal. I am surprisingly fine and in quite good form. Actually I just bumped into Mama Drama with Nikos on the bridge

Dee – I’ll call you later as soon as I’m free
15.10 decide to head home to Clapham. As I leave Starbucks I suddenly decided to pop in to the Tannin Shop in Vauxhall on the off chance that Michelle Thornber-Dunwell might be around and free for a coffee. I was looking for a distraction and company but also Michelle was on my ‘face to face’ list. The people that I wanted to tell in person. As my luck that day would have it, Michelle was not at the shop and it now looked like I would miss my window to see her before everyone else found out at Let’s Talk or on Facebook. I was disappointed but starting to feel a bit weary so headed up South Lambeth Road on my way home. As I got to the Comfort Inn (the scene of many a crime for me!) There was a guy with his back to me, standing at the bus stop. He bent down and picked up his kid. As the kid’s face appeared over his shoulder he started to smile and wave at me. OH FOR FUCK SAKE! REALLY! THIS IS WHAT WAS GOING TO SET ME OFF????? Am I that predictable? Seeing the dad with his kid made me think – ah well, that’s the option of kids GONE. Not that I wanted kids anymore. I did until I was about 30 but the fact that the option had been taken away from me stung a bit.

I was on a learning curve now. It’s going to be the random things that trigger my emotions about this. I had learned all I could learn as a negative guy, lived as a negative guy in a positive world if you like but I still hadn’t until today LIVED as a positive guy and I was in for a few hard lessons – make no mistake. I had no doubt. A sinking feeling set in, abreast a wave of dread. This came on very quickly, without warning and was an intense and new emotion. Feeling a new emotion at 35 – I didn’t think it possible. The only other time I was shocked by feeling a new emotion was at 30 – when my brother lost his legs in Afghanistan. That emotion was a combination, of regret, sorrow, guilt, anger, love, frustration and helplessness. It was none of those things individually but all of those things in one. This new HIV emotion was a similar mutant/hybrid ‘combo-emotion’ of fear, dread, disappointment and mourning with a little bit of panic. I’ve come to refer to this as ‘THAT HIV FEELING’. The father/child moment and the sucker punch of emotion that followed must have caused me to ‘zone out’. I have no recollection of walking the final stretch home from Comfort Inn, Vauxhall to Clapham North. I presume from looking back at this log now, the bullet points of which I was keeping in my iPhone notes and through text logs, that I got home about 16.00. I must have eaten something because I have a vague recollection of doing the dishes but I do know from my message history that I turned my attention back to the list of those that I needed to tell personally in the midst this foggy and confusing time. With it’s impending public deadline steamrolling it’s way towards me…The 24 hours where ebbing away.

The order of this is a bit jumbled. Some of the messages were sent on that ‘missing 40 mins’ spent drifting home from Vauxhall and some when I got home but here is what unfolded between approximately 15.30 and 18.00

I messaged my brother Brendan who was working on a building site in Greenwich asking him if he would meet me tonight for a drink and a catch up. This was sitting ok with me as we had had a night out together last week and so nothing would seem out of the ordinary to him and I knew he wouldn’t freak out. I messaged my brother Sean in Belfast who was also working until about 18.00. He was my priority. I asked him to call me when he finished work for a chat – in hindsight this was glaringly obviously going to be a phone call of not such good news…if it were not something I was dreading doing or behaving strangely towards then I would just have picked up the phone and called him! I suppose on a subconscious level again I was giving him time to prepare for what he has since told me he knew he was going to hear. He was my priority because my parents were my priority and he was in Belfast living at my Mum’s and 5 minutes away from my Dad’s. There was no doubt that they needed to know before this went public and there was never any question that they needed to hear it face to face from me but that was geographically impossible. It was simply too cruel to even consider telling them on the phone so I begrudgingly had to unburden this onto my brother Sean. I was running out of time now before my 18.30 meeting with Ian so I needed to deal with Isis too. Let’s jump back to the texts…

TEXTS TO ISIS

Greg 16.43 – Hey. It’s OK if you can’t but do you think you could come over this evening?

Isis 16.49 – Not sure if I can, why hun? I’m spending some time with the fam

Greg 16.49 – OK

Isis 16.50 – Anything Important

Greg 16.50 – Kinda but would rather see you f2f

Isis 16.52 – Nothing worrying I hope?…I will be with you tomorrow if it can wait til then

Greg 16.54 – OK. I hate myself for doing this now. And like this. But I don’t want it to shake you before we go to Let’s Talk. My HIV came back positive. Don’t panic. And don’t be upset. I am TOTALLY cool. I’m not freaking out or upset

Isis 16.54 – Whaaaat

Greg 16.55 – Yep. HIV+

END OF MESSAGES

Then she called me. The conversation was strange and the dynamic odd. Not because we as friends or people were any different but because I guess large portions or our roles towards each other had suddenly flipped. To help you understand… ‘Isis’ didn’t really exist before our friendship had sparked up just over a year ago. Get this – Isis was out on a date and I was out partying with my mates – as usual in a club in Vauxhall. We met quite by chance after I spilt a vodka cranberry down her beige trousers in the smoking area. We instantly clicked and got along and joked around from that first moment the way we still do now. Because I have been out and on the scene for 20 years now (Belfast and London) and she had just stepped out as Isis it was natural and easy that she looked to me for a bit of gentle guidance. It always came with a free side of ‘protective’ quite naturally and easily from me. So in a way she had always known that whatever she was going to encounter on this new adventure as Isis, that although I’m not Trans, I have been round the block enough times to be able to at least save her making my rookie mistakes and have her back while she figured her own personal shit and navigated her way through the party scene. Of course as our friendship deepened and strengthened it ran much deeper than that. However here and now in this instant, we were – for the first time – faced with something that neither of us had been through before and which I’m sure she doubted I would be able to navigate us through. So it was new waters for us. But as all good friend will testify, your actual friendship throws you a bone here and one person will crack on with stupid jokes. That was my turn today. She was freaking out and I could hear she was crying. I told her to calm down but cry it all out now because if she was coming out with me tomorrow to Let’s Talk I could not be seen with a Tranny in bad make up. Either fix up or at the least get her ass down to Boots ‘toot sweet’ and invest in some waterproof mascara. She laughed and then I laughed. She was like “Why are you laughing?” This made me laugh even more. I have a tendency to be ‘naughty’ if there is something that I shouldn’t laugh at or a joke I maybe shouldn’t make I probably will go right ahead and do both so this was fuelling my giggles. She got a bit indignant with me about this ‘crazy laughing’ and then pleaded “Babe!?! – What the fuck?” Oh god, I am actually laughing again right now typing this. The more she tried to pull this in so she could comprehend it, the more I was cracking up. I felt a bit bad now so I chipped in “Listen babe, what can you do? It happened. You can either carry on laughing or lie down and cry! And I only lie down when I’m having sex and that’s off the agenda for a while now” So now we were both laughing. She titters “You are the strangest person I know” “Oh God! That is summthin!!! When YOU tell ME that I’M strange! Wow – I really have a problem there!” We both carry on pissing ourselves laughing. At this point I can hear her down the other end of the phone barking at her nephews to go down the other end of the garden and play. She comes back “Sorry babe but those kids are looking at me like I’m fucking crazy! I’m dripping with tears and covered in snot and all the time laughing like a deranged person while walking around and around in a circle” I couldn’t keep a lid on the laughter or our bitchy banter so I told her to keep walking in that circle that she still has a bit of Aunties home cooking to work off!

That disclosure started of very alien but it snapped straight back to me and her – her and me. Job done WE were going to make sure that WE were ok.

The laughter seemed to dissipated the amnesiac cloud that I had been engulfed in for the last couple of hours. Back to the task at hand. I am about to introduce you to Marios. I just now (Thursday 20th 18.16) checked my facebook message history to check when Marios stepped into play on that day of the 12th. It seems that I have found those missing few hours! Between 15.30 and 18.00…I was chatting with him on facebook. Ah! The satisfaction of at least knowing what I was doing even If I can’t fully remember it! Let me tell you how I know Marios before you jump on the crazy train that’s about to depart…

My equals=equals HIV anti-stigma campaign had been getting a good deal of press and attention online, on Facebook, and on it’s Crowdfunder page. It still needs funds for the record and I will be back on the fundraising trail and pushing to make this project actually happen once all of the attention around this situation has died down a bit. But the campaign got the thumbs up from a good friend that works quite high up in Chelsea and Westminister Sexual Health and he reposted the links to the facebook page and the crowdunder page. A big thank you to him for doing this (I wont mention his name as his work is his work and I want to respect him and the rest of the guys that work in that field with their time away from being the care givers. But thank you). His support and subsequent sharing gave a bit of gravity and momentum to the campaign thus far. As well as doing that it caught the attention of one of his pals – Marios who was introduced to me on Facebook and who expressed an interest in getting on board and lending support where he could. We had our first exchange on Facebook on 23rd July 2015 – a mere 3 weeks before my diagnosis. I just wanted to state that so you understand what a diamond Marios is and how he came out of nowhere. Here are our messages – included with his permission

12/08/2015 15:29

Greg Owen

I joined the club today! 2 dots!

I am strangely totally cool and in good form

12/08/2015 15:29

Marios

What?!

12/08/2015 15:30

Greg Owen

Yep. I’m a poz boy now

12/08/2015 15:30

Marios

???????

Ok. Um. Shit.

You wanna chat about it?

And welcome to the club.

12/08/2015 15:32

Greg Owen

Lol – god all you queens been goin loco about it much more than me. It’s cool. I was gonna start Truvada as prep this weekend anyway so now I just take 2 pills instead of 1.

Lol

12/08/2015 15:33

Marios

Ratelgravir?

The only reason I’m surprised is because I perhaps made some erroneous assumptions and not knowing you very well didn’t know how you’ve been behaving or your view on it i.e if it was expected.

I know you have no problem with it but it can still be a surprise.

I had been expecting it every time I got tested every three months for 7 years. Still was a surprise when it happened and had a far greater impact than I expected it to

12/08/2015 15:37

Greg Owen

Why thank you madam. What’s the uniform? Something in leather?

What’s your email? I will forward you a chat I’ve just had as it’s too much to type again

12/08/2015 15:38

Marios

myemail@myemail

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

Ying yang even.

12/08/2015 15:40

Greg Owen

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

12/08/2015 15:42

Marios

I’ve not told me dad yet. Two years and counting.

I’ll save that for when we meet.

Look. It takes a while to sink in. I know you have a great support network but if you ever want to talk to a relative stranger please feel free to call any time.

12/08/2015 16:00

Greg Owen

My coming out strategy is already in place now. I’m meeting 1 bro tonight to tell him. I’m speaking to another this eve to ask him to tell my mum and dad- in the stated outlines that I will brief him on. I am speaking at Let’s Talk tmro night and I will be tagging on a very concise bullet pointed account of what has happen in the 24 hours leading up to the event. I will then be publishing the article that was meant to be Truvada Diaries as the story of HOW I missed the boat. That will be released on Friday. I know that all seems intense and extreme but I’m gonna take the opportunity that this situation has presented and use it as a vehicle to stress the need for prep to be made available NOW

12/08/2015 16:01

Greg Owen

Also – I know me…the only way I am going to be able to get on top of this is by throwing it out there right away and not making apologies for my situation and status

12/08/2015 16:35

Marios

All sounds good to me love. Good luck with it all sorry I’m missing your talk tomorrow.

We need to arrange to meet properly soon as well

18.00 My brother Brendan hasn’t replied to my messages and I cant get hold of him on his phone now. As I hang up on the voicemail for the 3rd time Lena my flatmate comes home with her daughter. I suddenly now feel very uncomfortable. My mind is racing again with…When I tell her is she going to freak and worry that I’m a health risk to the kid? Is she going ask me to move out right now? How is this going to pan out? Luckily I have to leave as she arrives as I have to meet my friend Ian at Starbucks in Vauxhall at 18.30 to tell him as he’s coming to Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs. Lena and I haven’t spoken all week as we had a bit of a disagreement and have had a bit of time out from each other. I went upstairs to my room to grab my jacket and brush my teeth. As I picked up the toothbrush from its little holder stuck to the tiles above the sink I just stopped and stared at it. It’s segregated bristles. WOW. I was feeling very odd towards my toothbrush and I thought of how I would log this moment in my diary and the words ‘segregated bristles’ sprang up visually as text in my mind – not to dissimilar to how Ron Howard presents text appearing for Russel Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, the same cinematic device he reuses for Tom Hanks’ Robert Langdon in The DaVinci code. The word ‘segregated’ lingers a bit longer and I shake the thought out of my head. I actually don’t feel like brushing my teeth right now so opted for a gargle of mouthwash instead. I walked the length of the bathroom to have a quick check in the mirror and realised I still have my toothbrush in my hand. It became clear this wasn’t an accident. I was feeling odd towards my toothbrush because I didn’t want it existing in the same space as Lena and the kid or their toothbrushes. With that realisation I glanced at the bath where my razor currently rested, in its protective cap on the side. I certainly didn’t want that there either. I honestly don’t know if I was feeling this because I, myself genuinely didn’t want it here or if I was going into uber self-protection mode and removing anything of mine that might be considered contaminated, that she might take offence to or be alarmed at noticing. I was still fully aware that I was being a touch manic and a bit ridiculous but I didn’t really give a shit what I was ‘thinking’ I was just ‘feeling’ that those items needed to be in my room and not just in the room but in a drawer too! There is ‘THAT HIV FEELING’ again! Really did not want to be in the house right now. Could feel a sharper pang of pure anxiety a very small spark of pure panic on top of this too. I grabbed my jacket and headed back downstairs. In the kitchen as I pick up my bag and my keys to leave she asks me if we can have a chat and clear the air a bit as she’d like to try to sort things out. I told her yeah sure of course and that I needed to speak to her later anyway as I needed to talk through some stuff…some not so good stuff but I was running late and I’d catch up with her when I got home. I couldn’t get out the door quick enough – I’m sure she thought I was being a supercharged fuckwit today after I had, in effect, dismissed her olive branch. I didn’t have the capacity to consider this any further at this point. It was shitty timing but it would work itself out at the right time. I walk back to Starbucks Vauxhall. I called Dee and we touched base properly. I wasn’t worried about telling at all because as much of a drama queen as he sometimes is… he always has a way of cutting through the bullshit of any situation and getting to the issue at hand and if not helping to sort out the issue he at his very least usually can decipher what exactly the issue IS. So we were cool and that was him ticked off my list for now.

18.35 meet with Ian

I arrived at Starbucks a bit before Ian and was working away on my Mac when he popped up outside on his phone as usual. This is one bitch that is always as busy if not busier than me. We sat down and chatted about the Act Up stuff that he is possibly going to support. He then asks me about tomorrow night’s Lets Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs. Ian will be attending for the first time so his quizzing me on this event gives me my well cued opening to tell him that this is actually why I wanted to meet with him this evening. As he is a good friend and will be there tomorrow night I needed to let him know before he hears it from me on stage at the event. That I had a HIV test this afternoon and that it came back positive. I stayed locked on his eyes for the micro expression to flicker across his face but boy! He was good! Not a flinch – mind you that might have something to do with the industrial volumes of Botox that he has had pumped into his face! For the record – I love you Ian. I know you’re reading and you won’t mind taking one for the team here and allowing us a little bit of light relief. So he comes back, totally unfazed as I knew would with “Well girl, I’m not surprised. You dodged that bullet for quite a while” I was like “Really? You think? I’m quite disappointed with my innings. I’ve only been single again for the last 2 and a half years – I thought I’d have bounced a bit longer” he ponders “Yes I suppose, I managed a good 10 years before I got caught” I offered “Yeah but I suppose it’s a very different world we live in now, it’s everywhere and we make it a bit easier from it to jump to the next guy. Crystal, Mephadrone, G, slamming, Grindr, BBRT, sex parties and a bit of AIDS apathy I suppose”. “Yeah Greg, you’re right. But don’t panic darling, you will be fine”. “Oh, I know – I above most know this” He added “Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have some fucking shit times but you’ll be good”

Ian didn’t once press the question of was I OK – he simply assured me that I would be. That I should expect to hit the wall at some point but that it’s OK and totally normal. And it happens at different times for each and every person. And of course he is totally right. To further that point I had to tell him that from my experiences with positive guys and their stories and from some first hand experience of being on that journey with several friends that I noticed there always seems to be a ‘double dip wobble’ as I’ve coined it. I think the initial wave hits then you go into a kind of shut down or a fight back and then once that initial shock subsides – however long that takes. Somewhere down the line, when everything’s settled a bit you start to deal with how you actually FEEL about this. Not how you reacted to it but how you FEEL about it. I had discussed this with Elizabeth my Health Care Advisor a few hours previous and she said that yes, indeed she sees that a lot too. She gave me some further insight into this by explaining that after the initial shock and acceptance of your positive status you might still not be OK with it in a few months and at that point question yourself as to why you are not OK with it and make unnecessary demands of your self to be OK or that you’re not allowed to still be adjusting. She explained that this is something that presents more often and more severely in men as they are conditioned to believe that they should shoulder any burden or that they are unable to reach out and ask for help. As she was telling me this it all seemed very familiar to me somehow. I’ve only just realised now as I am writing this that I was already familiar with what she was saying as those are the same issues that presented themselves in the findings of a study I had read a good while back on suicide among men and the alarmingly high statistics. Disproportionate statistics from what I can remember. I digress.

Back to Ian.

We chatted through the A-Z of HIV. What a godsend Madam Massa-Harris McFeely was this evening. He gave me full and frank accounts of what to expect from here on in on everything from my lifestyle, my health, my meds, the control I can have over the choice of care I receive, tips on keeping up to date on new meds and advances and finally on relationships. And on this we disagreed somewhat. Actually rather than disagreed we simply accepted that we had very different outlooks, conditions and expectations on relationships. As we had also had when discussing this as a neg mate and a poz mate. Now that we were both poz, should that have meant that suddenly we would agree on those things we all must navigate when we find ourselves in a relationship? No, not at all and it would seem that (for me at least) it is unlikely that just because my stauts might have changed that my relationship expectations would or should – unless for the better, I feel I should tag that on! It’s about 20.10 and I’ve caused Ian to miss his gym session so he decides to take the stroll back to Clapham with me. Since we seemed to leave the ‘business’ of HIV in Starbucks we were a bit freer to start to chat to each other on our usual terms and were soon back on catty banter and topics ranging from bad sex to messy sex to who’s in rehab to who’s out of rehab – when am I gonna end my detox and start my retox etc etc. The usual duologue of 2 aging queens! For the record Ian can be – in his own words ‘one mean bitch’ and so he didn’t once sugar coat a single thing for me. And again in his own words he can also be ‘one fabulous bitch’ tonight he was the perfect blend of both as he usually and regularly is. That’s why he is my friend. We part company at the tube station at 20.40

My heart has been warmed by my few hours with Madam Massa but again THAT HIV FEELING comes back again as we part. Half way between the tube station and home I find a discreet quiet back alley and call my brother Sean at about 20.42. He picks up the call with “Hey, I was just about to call you, that’s weird. What’s up?” “OK bro, Listen, I need to just square with you…” I talked him through the set up ie that I was due to start PrEP this weekend and popped in for my test…blah blah blah…positive…it was starting to feel a bit blah blah blah right now but I was very, very calm again compared to that weird sinking feeling that was smothering me before the phonecall and although I had not prepared exactly what I was going to say to him, I first of all apologised for having to ask him to do this but that I needed him to go and see both Mum and Dad (separately obviously) and tell them in person for me. That I needed them to know now – tonight or at the latest by tomorrow afternoon. I had enough immediate memory of the small things after my ex’s diagnosis that had brought me some comfort so I worked through those things for him. I was fit and healthy, I had a negative test only a year ago so it’s early diagnosis which is good. I haven’t been sick or run down so they aren’t immediately worried about what my bloods might throw up. Above all else I am ok. I am good and the HIV aside – I am in a good place and happy. So if this was going to happen at any time in my life. Now was the best time for this curve ball. Had it have come anywhere else in the last 2.5 years since my relationship ended – I might very well not have coped. I explained to him too how things were going to pan out now for me and my disclosure over the next 48 hours. He seemed really calm and good about this. Perhaps he genuinely had prepared himself as he said he has done since my text earlier in the day and he also admits for much longer than just today – from as far back as me being vocal about HIV and stigma. Well over a year now. Perhaps though as prepared and educated as he was… he was just in shock as I now realised I probably was too. And he almost carried it off flawlessly apart from I could hear his breathing was a little irregular and his usual slightly sparky tone and vibe was dampened down somewhat tonight. For putting him in this position, to have to tell our parents this and for dulling some of his sparkle I felt pure guilt and a tightening across my chest and a hollowing of my heart. I was sending my gay brother to tell our parents that their other gay son ‘has a gay disease that that can’t be cured that countless other gay men before him have died from’ Of course I – PERSONALLY have never thought and never will think like that nor would my insanely intelligent, empathetic and diplomatic, Pharmacist brother every relay this news like that. But for my parents THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY WILL HEAR. And so the guilt increased as did the tightening and the hollowing. Now was the time I was doubting myself. Not for any other reason but the fact that I was putting my family through this. To crank this all up another level my brother dropped in at the end of our conversation that he would have to tell Claire – my baby sister. She is 22 years old but she is the youngest of 5 boys and 1 girl. Sean had to tell her tonight because she was leaving early in the morning for Australia and he wouldn’t see her before she left in the morning. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!!!! I knew she was flying off sometime this week because she text me last week to tell me. But did it have to be tomorrow morning on the back of this!? And here you go people! Here is another example of one of those little unforeseeable external factors that you don’t think about when you see 2 dots and you hear POSITIVE. I am about to ruin my little sister’s trip of a life time by giving her the shittiest news of mine. Just bang, bang, bang. This one hit me with a triple but it was worse than THAT other ‘combo-emotion’ – this pure version of guilt is the heaviest of them all. I had lived with it or quite sometime over the last 2.5 years. I simply decided this time around that I was not playing host to it again. Those feelings came and those feeling left. I allowed myself to feel sad for the situation but refused to crumble under guilt again. Not this time – no way!!!

21.00 I get home and have the good sense to know not to speak to Lena in this state so open the door and dash myself up the stairs and into my room without providing an opening for interaction. In my room I’m contemplating a seriously large drink!

AND BING THE UNIVERSE STEPS IN AGAIN!

21.01 – receive a Facebook message from Marios insisting that I join him at the Duke of Wellington for drinks. There is a bit conflict here for me. I have only ever spoken to Marios on Facebook and only over the past 3 weeks. I have not yet actually met they guy in person. He share a mutual friend who I credit with good enough judgement of character but where the fuck is my head right now? Do I stay here at home holed away in my bedroom. Shut off in an enclosed, safe but uncomfortable and anxious environment. Or do I take a leap of faith here and face the tube. At least it will be empty and quiet now and face Soho and 2 strangers? Marios keep messaging – insisting. Then I simplified the whole thing for myself. Sit at home and get pissed by myself knowing that guilt and ‘THAT HIV FEELING’ would be regular visitors or just fuck it and go spend time with a guy you kinda know, who for sure is funny and for sure has been in my position before. Life isn’t so difficult when you think about it like that. So I literally grabbed my phone charger and my oyster card and headed for the tube station at 21.15. I’m almost at the tube when I receive a text from Sean with a stream of emojis blowing kisses. Pangs of guilt again and the first wave of real uncontrollable emotion. I knew these bits were going hit me the hardest. The real emotions connected to my family.

Now on tube feeling fuzzy headed and confused. There is a Mum with a kid on each side sat opposite me . The little girl on one side is asleep sucking her thumb. Her little brother is on the other side in his mum’s arms yelping and squealing over excitedly. Normally this would irritate me so much I would get of at the next stop and change carriage. Instead today, I just observe him and smile. He hugs his mum – right, tight into her face and I think about my own Mum. That dull sadness swells a bit more.

21.24 change at Kennington for Charing Cross branch. I’m relieved not to be sitting with the family anymore. Strangely thinking of my ex now as I stand alone on the platform waiting for the tube. Feels like I’m reconnecting to him and his diagnosis and walking through the internalised processes he must have silently navigated by himself. Why did he shut down and have to go through all this by himself? He must have been screaming inside and now I understand him a bit more and why I was never going to be able to reach him in that situation. But I know my journey is going to be different.
21.27 the Charing Cross branch tube arrives and snaps me out of my thoughts of the ex. I now have a full tube carriage to myself, which is poetic in a way as I imagine this is exactly how some recently diagnosed guys must feel. In a carriage on your own, travelling through the dark to a place you have been before but somehow as a different person to meet strangers you are now vicariously connected to by a virus in your blood. I certainly had shades of that sentiment myself today.

21.30 I’m aware that I’m indulging my writers floweriness and over romanticised thought processes. Smirking now at doing this and being aware that I’m doing this is oddly amusing me! At least I’m still aware of what a wanker I can be sometimes Lol

21.33 I’m off the tube at Leicester Square and en route to meet Marios and his friend Micky for the first time at the Duke of Wellington.

21.37 received Facebook message from Ian reminding me that he is always there if I need anything.

21.38 decide to stop logging my thoughts while I’m with Marios

Ok – So I decided to stop logging my thoughts while I was with Marios but now I can tell you exactly what mischief we got up to. I arrive at the Duke of Wellington with 4% battery left and started to panic that I only really have a thumb nail image in my mind of Marios from Facebook to identify him with. And he was kind of not the only ‘shaved head with beard, bear-y type guy in the bar. In fact I definitely more than ever felt like goldilocks with her cave full of bears! I message him saying ‘I’m by the toilet’ 3 mins went by. I was starting to look like I was cottaging or about to swoop unsuspecting drunk bears and steal man bags. Then I saw in my messages that for some random reason he sent me a picture of his retro Adidas ZX-800 style trainers in green and orange – I had a very similar pair but in blue and pink! Result…I could now identify Marios the bear among bears from a kindred trainer! How gay is this!!?? I’ve now gone from looking like a bad cottager to a dodgy bag thief to a foot fetishist. I see where tonight is going. Luckily the first pair of trainers that I inspect are said green and orange Adidas! I suddenly realise Marios is very fucking tall! I sheepishly approached the online friend and physical stranger with a “Hey Marios?” ‘Oh Greg Owen! Oh my God!” With this he clean picks me up and literally ‘bear hugs me’. I’m kind of a little embarrassed and shy sometimes. But with this big old jolly bear jug I decided to leave the shit that’s going on inside me at the door and try to exist in the now. With Marios it wasn’t hard. He kept my mind busy with good challenges or useful information or just had me pissing myself with his ridiculousness! What a winning combination! As he returned me to the floor of the Duke of Wellington he remarked how ‘little and cute’ I was…Why is that always the first thing people say to me the first time they meet me after chatting to me on Facebook? I also got to meet Marios’ Georie friend Micky who not only sounded like Cheryl Cole – which I’m mad about. He is both HIV and HEP C positive (or co-infected) Micky was a sweetheart too and we had a chance to chat a lot about HEP C in particular as I had come fresh of the back of a HEP C forum and a HEP C action group meeting that same week. So I offered him any interesting bits of info that I had picked up that week and we discussed Interferon which he can’t be treated with due to other contributing factors and then we talked a bit about the new treatment for HEP C – HARVONI. Which all being well he hopefully will be able to use as treatment – as and when it is available. Although we were discussing pretty detailed health care stuff, the boys were both sharing with me their knowledge and experiences with their HIV meds but we barely ever made it through 3 sentences with out cracking up at something. It’s worth pointing out we’d move to another pub on Compton Street by this point and as Marios was telling me a meds related story when I say ‘telling’ I mean ‘slurring’. He was slurring his way through and he said “so my viral load was 100 thousand.” The bouncer walked past and said ‘fuck you had it bad’ I was confused, Marios said “What? Listen, when you get the news you have this virus NOTHING else is EVER bad. The Bouncer was shocked. He said “Oh my God guys, I’m so sorry, I though you said my viral LOAN was £100,000. I didn’t mean any disrespect. Don’t you guys just take some medication then it’s all OK? Well that was it both myself and Micky who we had since renamed ‘Feral Cole” were in stitches again. High on laughter and fully stocked on drunken messiness we sensibly decided to wrap up this leg of my ‘coming out party’ and take an Uber back to Marios place in Elephant and Castle to carry on the party. Just to be clear.

We were not celebrating that I had been diagnosed as HIV positive.

No not all. We were instead raising a glass in acknowledgement of it’s shitness and the shitness that any of us were positive but what we were celebrating was that because we are all recently positive here in 2015 and not 1985 that we weren’t going to die from HIV. We were celebrating that we were standing together like brothers, we were celebrating that we could because of those that have fought before us, many of whom did die, that we could share a joke about our HIV with a straight negative bouncer. We were celebrating the new world that we were slowly beginning to be accepted in as people not leapers and I know Marios was celebrating me, for the what I had chosen to do with my recent diagnosis by going public as public can be – first on stage and then online, going ‘viral’ if you like and doing this all tomorrow.

But privately I was celebrating that I was sure now that I was going to be OK.

I wasn’t alone and I didn’t need to be afraid and most importantly that I would not be banished back to that awful dark place that I rattled around in for well over a year after my ex’s diagnosis. I would take the wobbles when they crept up on me but tonight proved to me that I might cry and cry a lot – I don’t know but I was damn sure I was going to laugh too. And I had… And honestly this unexpected sense of liberation and brotherly love felt very similar to what I felt all those years ago. Almost 20 years ago when I first came out as gay in 1996 when being gay was SO NOT COOL. It felt very very similar.

We got back to Marios’ place shortly after 23.00. Feral Cole stayed true to name and chucked up most of the fried chicken and amaretto she’d just practically inhaled! Bless her. Off to bed for her. Marios and I stayed up until after 02.00. We stayed up way into the night talking about life and love and all different things and how it really isn’t right that ‘someone like me’ should find myself in this position. I get where he’s coming from but we establish that really I’m not different from anybody else. We jokingly agree that I’m a drug loving, filthy, barebacking whore – just like the next queen! Tonight had been my coming out party. I didn’t foresee this as I was sat in Dean Street Express 12 hours ago staring and 2 blue dots. I truly, truly felt like I was looked after and cared for tonight. Earlier another of Marios’ mates joined us unexpectedly. His mate asked what the party was in aid of. Marios asked me in front of his mate “Do you mind if I tell him why we are partying?” I was still laughing on the back of one of his random and hilarious one liners and nodded my head to go ahead. And here is where I noticed his language and how he used it. He proceeded “It’s not so much a party, we just thought a bit of solidarity tonight wouldn’t go amiss. Greg got his positive diagnosis today” This might not seem strange or stick out in anyway to you. But to me as a writer and a person who pays extra attention to how people structure what they say it really hit home. Marios didn’t say Greg got ‘A’ positive diagnosis he said Greg got ‘HIS’ positive diagnosis today. The origins of this choice of structure rang clear for me. If I got ‘A’ positive diagnosis then the opinion on it would have been that it was something not predetermined. A surprise diagnosis. But the fact that he said Greg got ‘HIS’ positive diagnosis today says – from it’s structure that my positive diagnosis was ‘predetermined’ and just a matter of time. An eventual actuality rather than a shock surprise. This was mirrored by his mate in his reply with ‘Ah well, never mind’ I laughed, in a good way…these boys are all pos and all being super supportive and making me feel safe. The mate continues ‘Ah well, never mind. 11 years and counting”.
5.51 just woke up on Marios couch. He has so sweetly camped out on the sofa opposite to keep an eye on me like a mama bitch looking after her new puppy! Intentional or not. I’m feeling the love. I asked him about the use of ‘HIS’ instead of ‘A’ when he spoke earlier of my status and then shared my interpretation of his phraseology. He corrected my deduction by informing me that no, it was not a foregone conclusion on his part that at some point I would become positive. Instead it was his acknowledgement of the personal nature of each individual’s status and his support in my taking full ownership of it. Ok. He had a point. He continued on – past what I thought was the natural conclusion of the discussion. He didn’t know why he should have been but that he was surprised by my news and didn’t expect it. I was a bit confused. But why would you think I of all people would be less likely to catch HIV than any other person or more to the point any other sexually active gay guy in London? I was expecting him to attribute it to my involvement and above standard knowledge of and ‘working relationship’ with HIV. It seems I misjudged Marios once more and his surprise at my becoming positive. It was not based on anything more than – we’ve only known each other through Facebook for a few weeks and never met before so he had no idea of the kind of sexual activity that my sex life entailed. Before reducing me to fits of laughter again, for what felt like the umpteenth time by finishing with…

“I had no idea you were a dirty, riddled, barebacking, drug loving whore.”

Of course he had referred to himself as this many times through out the evening but what he either really grasped or perhaps hadn’t even been aware of was that by jokingly and lovingly bombarding me with every typical shaming tag that some ignorant negative people would inevitably at point think about me if not actually verbalise to me, that he freed me of the fear of hearing those words and in turn diminished their potential power to shake me. This guy was a gift. A true gift. In fact everyone should have a Marios in their life…I had lucked out today. And I knew it.

06.35 after more giggles and foolishness with Marios we decide to have another sleep.

07.57 Marios has gone to bed. I’m on my own again. Thinking.
8.17 I’m sitting on Marios’ sofa listening to the buses and HGV’s get raped by the speed bump outside and I’m looking around his beautiful apartment and realise I AM BLESSED. Oh my god! Actually welling up right now…. AND BANG!!!

The first tear has dropped.

It might be a tear full of vodka but it came. Sweetly and gently. I have now shed my first tear. I have only known Marios about 3 weeks – online through Facebook and only met him in person for the first time tonight. And he has shown me more love and kindness and ‘sister hood’ than some acquaintances have shown me in a life time.

The first day has passed. I’m still alive!

Continue reading “THIS IS ME – PART 2”

THIS IS ME – PART 1

M

And so it begins…THE TRUVADA DIARIES…

WED 12/08/15 10.00am

So I joined a facebook group called prepfacts https://www.facebook.com/groups/PrEPFacts and was getting regular feeds from their #postyourprep selfie campaign…at first I found it a bit off key but as the feeds continued and the jarring posts and overtly sexual tones subsided (or at least my cringing reaction to them did) I began to see some real love and scope for this group to make some real change. And change it made indeed – in me…I had been thinking about Prep for sometime now but as is – it isn’t currently available to your standard Joe Blogs poof in the UK – the #postyourprep guys are mostly based in the US. And using a clever system of ticking certain boxes to get their private health care to cover most of the cost of their daily Truvada pill

But as chance and life would have it – opportunity arose in the form of a very close HIV + friend mentioning that (for some reason – I haven’t quizzed him) he had a month of his Truvada that he could give me as he had some sort of emergency stash that he had kept in secret. It turns out he has 2 months and is more than happy to give his ‘sister’ a month to start whenever I want it. It was like the light bulb moment. A sign that I should do this.

Of course there are a few other ways a non-qualifier like myself can go about sourcing Prep or Truvada. The first which would appear to be the easiest and most straight forward of these avenues would be to buddy up with one of my friends who is positive and currently on treatment and attend his clinic with him as his ‘partner’ as guys in a serodiscordant relationships qualify if they push hard enough for Prep and make themselves known to The Partner Study at 56 Dean Street. To breakdown the big official words that I’m using (partly because it’s important to use the right terminology and partly because it makes me look clever!) a serodiscordant relationship is a ‘mixed status’ relationship where one partner is positive and the other negative. At this point I really need to point out how RIDICULOUS this imbalance is….Well on a purely scientific level at least…I’ll get on to the emotional, mental and anxiety aspects later. So back to the science…If you have a mixed status couple and the positive guy is undetectable and on meds, taking them regularly as instructed and responsibly i.e. not going out on a 3 day bender and missing doses or forgetting to take his meds away with him on holiday (not all adherence issues are drug or lifestyle related remember – most of them admittedly are, but not all) then it’s practically impossible for him to pass on the virus to his negative partner. The statistics depending on who and where you get your figures from are between 95%-100% proofed that the positive partner wont pass on the virus.

So what’s the point in giving Truvada as Prep to the negative guy in this situation? Kinda pointless innit?

Well yes if we look at it simply and on paper – it is. But life isn’t simple nor does it play out as predictably as guidelines on an instruction manual. Here is where the Truvada as Prep comes into play for these ‘mixed status’ guys. On an emotional level if the negative guy is anxious and unsure of putting his trust in the results from the recent studies and trails such as the Proud Project and the Partner Study which have informed the HIV health care advice given to guys in their situation. Taking Truvada allows him to take ownership and responsibility of his own sexual health…instead of HIV transmission and reducing HIV transmission remaining the responsibility of the positive person. A key point that I think is hugely neglected and overlooked in out current HIV treatment and prevention set up. I will explain further…if the positive partner missed his meds and has a spike in his viral load then the negative guy is back at risk – that’s expecting a lot of trust from the negative guy in this situation and might just be a bit too much for him if he’s already struggling to get to grips with having a HIV positive partner. Equally if these guys have been together for a while and they were both negative when they entered the relationship and one partner has become positive over the course of the relationship (perhaps through being unfaithful – it happened to me). If this is the case there are huge trust and honesty issues there already. Empower the negative guy. Let him be the master of his own sexual health. Gay men cheat at an above average level and we also accept and function in open relationships. If a guy only has bareback sex with his boyfriend it is kind of realistic to expect that he (like most of us) actually prefers bareback sex and so any extracurricular sexual activities with guys that aren’t his partner are most probably going to be bareback – and let’s be careful not to slut shame here. Shit happens – deal with it. Or as is the case here… Sex happens – deal with it. So if the negative guy is barebacking with other guys that aren’t undetectable or guys that think they are negative – he is back at risk. Truvada is offering him protection again. Although I need to point out, not from other STD’s in particular HEP C.

A second avenue available although less ethical (yes even less ethical than pimping out one of your positive mates and jacking his status in order for you to score free pharmaceutical drugs) is to clinic hop for PEP – PEP is a month long course of treatment that you can go to a sexual health clinic or A&E for if you have been expose to HIV. With PEP you need to get it and start taking it within 72 hours of your exposure for it to work. PEP treatment consists of 2 tablets a day. 1 is Truvada. So if you periodically ‘clinic hopped’ each month and lied about being exposed to HIV and request PEP you could simply just dispose of the second pill and take your 1 Truvada per day as you would as standard if you were prescribed Prep – It’s exactly the same. Exactly the same that is apart from the fact that this course of treatment (for 28 days supply of both pills) costs the NHS about £750. So you are wasting the NHS £375 pounds a month. That’s a staggering £4,500 per year but still much less than the estimated £20,000 that it currently costs to treat someone living with HIV in the UK, Then there are the extra resources to factor in like mental health and social well being.

The third option that you could choose is to dig deep and pay for Truvada yourself. Find a contact to buy it for you in India or America and get it shipped over. But this raises huge issues in itself. A friend who has been buying Truvada himself out of his own pocket has told me it costs him £10 per day. That’s not cheap it equates to half of what some people spend on their rent per month.

So there are all the options! I plan to start on the month that my friend is giving me this weekend and then either invent a positive boyfriend to get my next lot of drugs or drop in to a clinic and ask for PEP for a phantom HIV exposure.

I am well educated enough on HIV meds, the virus itself and the procedures of beginning Prep that I know I need to go for a HIV test to make sure that I definitely don’t have HIV and create drug resistance issues by taking Truvada with a new HIV infection. I need to be outside of the window period of 6 weeks – which I now am. Dean Street express here I come…

WED 12/08/15 10.00

So this article is kind of going to change direction in a bit but get on board for now. I arrive at Dean Street express at about 12.30. I had been there in May off my face on Crystal Meth, Mephadrone and G . I did some self testing swabs as part of their standard service but they were really busy and I didn’t have time to wait for my blood tests that would test for HIV and HEP C etc, I had also changed my phone number and not updated it so didn’t get the text back about my results. I have actually lost my Dean Street Express card with my barcode and patient number on it so I waited at reception and spoke to the girl there about getting a new card printed and updating my number. According to their system I missed an appointment last month. I explained that they would have an outdated number for me and that it was most likely that something came back positive from my last visit (I wasn’t sweating as I hadn’t given bloods so it couldn’t be HIV or HEP C. I just haven’t been aware that I hadn’t had results returned– totally my own fault. So she agreed that’s what had happened and that she would squeeze me in to see the nurse to discuss, this was a bit of a God send as it was super busty today and I kind of queue jumped. Within 5 mins I was sitting in front of a nurse who pulled up my details and explained that my swabs had come back negative or invalid but that my urine had come back positive for Chlamydia. As I missed the bloods on my last visit he asked when my last HIV test was which was last Easter (2014). We went through the usual list of questions including bareback sex, fisting, and slamming (injecting drugs) all of which I have done since my last test. I also requested – specifically make a point of requesting a HEP C test. He enquires “Why do you want a HEP C test?” I told him that I was HIV active and campaigning HIV issues and that I had recently been approached, recruited and flung into raising the awareness of HEP C and the new drug accessibility issues and that I really should have a test to know my HEP C stautus first of all and understand through experience what having the test and awaiting and receiving the results entails. So we start with the HIV test. His words were “So there have been risks, what result are you expecting today?” I replied with “Yes I’m aware there have been risks, to be honest, this is the first HIV test that I’ve had that I am nervous about. Nervous but not dreading. I’m 90% positive that it will be negative.” He replied “Ok – I get you, so you know the deal then. 2 dots means it has come up with a positive reaction but that just means it’s reactive, if that happens then we have to do a second test that tests for the actual virus in the blood. This instant test only tests for the antibodies in the blood. So we go through the standard little click on the finger and drawing some blood into a tiny straw. This then goes into the little round dish, he adds the first vial of liquid and then the second vial which reveals the results – either the single negative dot or the double positive dots. In goes the second vial of liquid and boom comes the DOUBLE DOTS. For a split second I scrambled in my head as to whether the words he had literally just spoken about the double dots equals positive had some how in the 5 seconds since he just uttered them been jumbled in my mind but that lasted no more than its allocated split second. Because if there was any doubt as to whether or not I had processed that information incorrectly it was immediately dispelled by the sudden and almost tangible shift in atmosphere in the room. God bless the nurse though he was great but those kind of situations for him must not get any easier and I had only just given him the proclamation that this test would 90% certainly be negative. David Stuart mentioned in one of the ‘Dean Street Wellbeing’ presentations that I had attended recently, in fact just the week before that at Dean Street, they diagnose 1 guy as positive every day. My mind turned again to the Nurse – David. I thought… these guys must come in to work in the morning and think – OK, today 1 of the patients we see is gonna get a positive diagnosis for HIV. And maybe they think…shit! Who’s gonna get that ‘unlucky dip’ My heart went out to David he had bad luck today. This was a one off core shaker for me but it’s a daily reality for him. He drew the short straw today – he got the ’live one’ today the double dotter – the poz guy.

He gathered himself and said he needed to contact the Health Care Advisor. I know how this process flows as David had it explained it at the HEP C and Chem sex discussion the week before. Little did I know at the time that he was prophesying the journey and process I would find myself sucked into a week later. Before he left, David asked me if I wanted tea or coffee or water. I declined but said to him that I would really like a cigarette. He empathized “I used to smoke and if I had just had news like that – I would want a cigarette right now too. But if you go you are going to come back?” I assured him that yes I would return and that as a sign of commitment to that vow, I agreed to leave my bag, Mac and iPhone in the room. I reassured him “ Don’t worry I’m not going to throw myself under a tube or off the nearest bridge” He gratefully accept “Good, that’s good to know” I thought, with the recent tubes strikes, I should be so lucky to find a tube train in London that was running for me to sacrifice myself to…And who says the tube strikes have no benefits?? He enquired further “Are you sure you’re OK?’ I stated for him that I probably knew more about HIV and how this all works than most HIV positive people. He added “Yes actually, you probably know more than me” I might do but I doubt I know MORE but I certainly know it differently from most people. I know it in a way some might see as almost like an internal conjoined twin but I left that construct in my head so as to round this chat up and get to freedom for a smoke.

Stepping outside was the start of the new journey for me. As I walked past the reception desk that I had checked in at less that 40 mins before I was suddenly aware that I was stepping out into the rest of the world away from this safe zone with my recent diagnosis and no time to process it. As I stood outside the barbers next to Dean Street Express I felt like an alien. I was watching people scurry past me, going about their day to day lunch time doings and I felt like I was existing in a different world from them now. That I didn’t belong here in the world that everyone else exists in. I can only describe it as thinking that I was like a fish thrown out of the water and onto this dry land world – gasping for air through gills that couldn’t breathe with the ease that my previously fully functional lungs could. It was so bizarre. I wanted to reach out. But I didn’t quite know at this stage what I was reaching out with and to who I should be reaching out to. I drew the last draw of my cigarette, threw it onto the road and made my way back down to the ‘Old Compton’ nurses room. I settled back into the seat I left 5 mins ago as a different person already. David returned to the room. He informed me that someone was on their way to talk through some stuff with me. I prayed – please god, let this ‘someone’ not be someone that knows me, that recognises me from my presence and activity on the scene and the arena of gay men’s sexual health issues that I write about. I then started to feel really bilious, I felt like I was going to totally shamelessly chuck up on David lovely sharply pressed shirt.

The Health Advisor came in fully briefed on me and my sexual exploits from the last year and had had a flag up of my AIDS activism and HIV awareness position. She also crucially was returning with the results of the standard second HIV test that takes 20 mins to yield a result and that tests for the virus in your blood as opposed to the first ‘instant test’ that tests for the body’s antibodies to the virus.

So she joins my HIV circus that is now in full swing. It’s official, not a false positive not a dodgy test. I am positive which she didn’t really linger on. She immediately set about getting on with business and snapping me into paying attention to what was now going down in a very assertive and maternal way. I liked this woman. She was kind and sure. David makes his polite exit, moving on to his next patient and hopefully a hug and some support from the Dean Street family for the shit luck of bagging the HIV newbie today. I hope I made his job a bit easier today by not going all Halle Berry Oscar style tear fest.

So back to business, Elizabeth is efficient but warm but I can tell trying to read my emotional state and shock levels. Luckily they had both settled down. The nausea from the post adrenalin surge of my double dots had subsided and I was starting to reoccupy my practical, logical mind space. She lays out a tray of about 10 test tubes and says “Ok Greg so this is the most blood that you’ll ever have to give for one set of tests” I looked at the tray and replied… “Well there’s always HEP C, I imagine you lay on a good deal for that too?” She hesitantly smiled, she still hadn’t jumped onto my vibe just yet. “Yes maybe, but these tests are very inclusive even presenting with HEP C wouldn’t require all of this because in here we test for your allergies, drug resistance, HEP C…. etc. So once you’ve had some of these tests like the allergies and strain of HIV test you wont ever have to do those again” “Ok that’s good cus I’m only little! You’ll have most of me in test tubes in labs if I had to bleed out that much every visit” “ Don’t worry, I’ll leave you enough in there to get you by” – so now we’re getting each other. That was a funny! We’re gonna get on. So we chatted and I brought her up to speed on what I do in the HIV arena and my equals=equals campaign. She goes through everything she needs to on her checklist and tells me that I need go to the main Dean Street clinic to get an appointment and treatment for the Chlamydia. She asked me if I would like to attend a support group/counseling session for recently diagnosed people run by people living with HIV. I explained to her that I didn’t think that that kind of support would be of benefit to me as I am usually the person on the other side offering the advice and support but that as an exercise in learning more about the whole process of becoming positive and what support and resource is offered to people in general that I would attend so that I was educated and able to direct other people looking for support to the group. We got onto talking about current medications and treatments and I expressed the importance I find in PrEP being made available to all gay guys and now. Not just those in serodiscordant relationships through the PARTNER study. She agreed and I told her that I was due to start Truvada as PrEP this weekend and I was just here to pop in and get my negative status confirmed so that I could start the meds. She had just finished drawing blood from my arm and at hearing this news she dropped her shield totally and kind of just shook her head very gently and grimaced. I offered “Yes, I know – the irony is not lost on me and that face. The face you are pulling is exactly the reason why we need to make sure that we make PrEP available now. With the tools we have available now, no one should find them selves in my position.” She agreed remorsefully. I continued “If we make PrEP available it covers a dual prong… It means people who want to take control of their sexual health will have to get tested for HIV before they take it. Therefore increasing the rates of early diagnosis for other people in my unfortunate and unexpected situation. And also empowering negative guys in being able to maintain their negative status.” She agreed again and we went on to chew the fat a bit on the PROUD and the PARTNER study. As she was writing up my appointment slip for the meeting in 2 weeks to get the results of my bloods that would give me my CD4 count, viral load, drug resistance info, allergies, and approximate period of infection I noticed her abysmal hand writing. I chipped in, “Did you just become a Doctor? I thought it was only Doctors that had awful handwriting” She laughed and got a bit embarrassed and apologised saying that sometimes she can’t even read her own writing herself, this is something we share in common and I then apologised if I embarrassed her and that I find random things amusing and that if we were going to hang out regular then she best get used to my slightly off key sense of humor. She reassured me that I would be OK and that if I was going to have sex that because I would have a high viral load and am very transmittable that I should wear a condom. I told her straight up that I intend to start meds straight away so I become undetectable as soon as possible because I didn’t want the anxiety of thinking that I could pass the virus on and that I am far too busy right now to think about sex and that I don’t intend to start fucking again until I’m undetectable. She confirmed for me that “You WILL have sex again” I couldn’t reply quick enough with “Don’t worry I know I am sooooo gonna have sex again, I know my worth. I’m not gonna be one of these positive guys that starts hating on himself and thinks he’s dirty and unsexy. I have a healthy attitude towards my sex and sexuality, I literally am just too busy and have bigger fish to fry right now and I really want to lead by example and make sure there is no chance of me passing this on before I start having sex. Even with another pos guy. It’s just not on the agenda right now” She accepted the argument as appropriate and responsible and simply said “Yes OK, that’s good. It’s different for every person, keep focused on you and do what you feel is right to do. Just be safe when you do” I hoped she hadn’t picked up on my major horn due to having abstained for the last 6 weeks through a hectic work schedule. I liked Elizabeth, she was sweet and real and let me know that here was support there from her and others. Available to me when I might need it. We wrapped things up and said our good byes.

Right now I had an insatiable drive to be back in the real world outside of that room and outside of that clinic. I needed to start existing again outside of this bubble this moment where I felt that time was standing still. Of being informed about a new life that I was about to be launched into unexpectedly and totally unprepared. Although I of all people wasn’t unprepared. I guess on a very deep hidden subconscious level I had been preparing myself as a gay man for this eventuality for as long as I could remember and certainly on a more conscious level had wrangled and dealt with it internally since my ex’s diagnosis. Boom! I was the out through the glass door and back in the real world – newly positive and with Chlamydia. I popped in to 56 Dean Street to see if I could pick up the antibiotic for my Chlamydia there and then but unfortunately that’s not how it works and so I booked a follow up appointment for the next day at 12.20. As I was booking this appointment, scheduled for less than 24 hours into the future it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t know where there fuck I would be and what state I would be in by the time this appointment came around as I hadn’t planned on being here and in this position and if my life could change that drastically without my control and without any fore warning then it could very well change and be another totally new and unplanned life that I found myself in again, the next day at 12.20. I left the clinic and decided to walk home to Clapham North.

I walked down Dean Street and picked up my phone as I approached Old Compton Street. In my head I had already formulated my impending plan of action. There was no conscious preplanning for this occurrence but there seemed to be an internal order. I knew exactly what I needed to do, how I needed to do it and most importantly why I needed to do it. A mental list of who to tell face to face and straight away formed without provocation. The opportunity to step outside of my own situation and use this perceivable disadvantage as an advantage and go totally all out there seemed so logical, so powerful and so necessary that once the concept presented itself in my thoughts I did not question it again. The premise of my article – to compile my Truvada Diaries, questioning and exploring the avenues of obtaining the drugs, the practicalities of adhering to the routine of the drugs, the physical side effects of the drugs and the biggest question for me of “Would being on Truvada and being HIV protected increase my promiscuity, lead to more risk taking, result in me contracting a cacophony of other STI’s and ultimately alter my current sexual patterns and behaviour:” But it was clear that that was not an article that I was ever going to be able to write – first hand as a negative guy fighting to remain negative against the odds of stigma, Prep shaming and the lack of access to Truvada. But what struck me was this. I was in the perfect storm. In the eye of that hurricane. I had been awarded a moment of pure clarity and an opportunity to utilise the plans that I had already made and the skills that I already possessed and to draw all of these together. Accept the change of circumstances but also recognise the new opportunity that was presenting itself and log and document my journey to the positive….I was already there medically and physically but I had only just taken my first step mentally and emotionally. And so it begins. I swam with the tide, I didn’t feel the urge to swim against it. It would eventually win anyway so I did just that. I felt where this was about to go and I jumped onboard as the Captain of the ship – I didn’t bunker down and hide away as the stowaway on an alien vessel. I was going to kick this fucker back and starve it of its oxygen and power. I was going to take it back. My way and for me and for every other poor bastard that wasn’t as lucky or as defiant or as prepared as me. HIV screamed ”Fight” and I screamed back “Bring it”. So here we go. The diary for my first 48 hours…..I’m about to drop it for you…

Continue reading “THIS IS ME – PART 1”