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.

damon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PrEP was being smacked down quite regularly and quite aggressively.

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

It was a little heartbreaking.

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

Why were they so averse to the idea?

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

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

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

It seemed to work.

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

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

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

“Are you saying we should abandon condoms?”  

“This is totally irresponsible and reckless of you”

“You are sending out the wrong message here Greg”

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

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

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

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

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Then I put PrEP in the tool kit.

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

smurf

As expected the pitch forks came out again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

PrEP is not here as it is not accessible yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pig

And push it real good…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Continue reading “PrEP 2015: a very blue year”

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PrEP ain’t for you…or is it?

 

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Jake: I just wanted to ask a PrEP question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PrEP empowers the individual.

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

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

Jake: Really?

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

Jake: Why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I get you. xx

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

Can a ChemSex fuck ever be a sober buddy?

sober buddy

Can a ChemSex fuck ever be a sober buddy?

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

Greg Owen: When do you get back from Italy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Owen: Jesus Christ – gimme some credit

Marco: That’s asking a lot

Greg Owen: “I’m worth it”

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

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

Marco: Hair loss is no joke – For those without

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

Marco: Please…mine is fitting. And looks good

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

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

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

Marco: Minimal impact

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

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

Greg Owen: haha. Thats Irish luck for you

Marco: Hehe you have a loose definition of luck

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

Marco: That’s why you met that criteria

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

Marco: It’s established

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

Marco: Hehehe that made me laugh

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

Marco: Many have tried, all have failed

Greg Owen: Many and all ARE NOT ME…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg: Hahahahaha. That’s hilarious

Marco: 😉

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

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

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

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

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

Marco: How long is it expected to last?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Owen: Good – Im pleased for you
x

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

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

Marco: Hehe how so?

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

Marco: Haha that’s good

Greg Owen: It was good

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

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

Marco: Wow that’s great. Well done

Greg Owen: It wasn’t totally intentional

Marco: How hard did you find the transition?

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

Marco: The old fashioned way is better

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

Marco: Haha – like being in training for the sexolympics

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

Marco: Haha

Greg Owen: It’s an enjoyable programme hehe

Marco: I can imagine 🙂

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

Marco: The sober sex you mean?

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

Marco: Hahaha

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

The Year of No Fear – HIV today

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What does it mean to be HIV positive today?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main findings include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ChemSex & me

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

What is ChemSex really?

Is ChemSex really that big of a problem?

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

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

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

There is a big difference.

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

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

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

Chemsex is more complex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or check out 56 Dean Street’s Wellbeing Programme

Stay happy – stay healthy!

 

Continue reading “ChemSex & me”

Review: G O’CLOCK (the film)

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G O’CLOCK (the film) by Mitchell Marion

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

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

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

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

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

DO YOU KNOW

do you know

(Photography by Laurie Poole – click here)

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

“Do you know who?”

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

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

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

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

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

I felt cowardly for sure but what were my options?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOR FUCK SAKE!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Owen: I know

Marco: Maybe less sound mind but definitely choice

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

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

Greg Owen: Lol. Fuck off

Marco: Hehe

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

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

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

Just wanted you to know that too xxxxxx

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

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

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

Marco: Hehe I’m sure 🙂

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

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

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

Greg Owen: It’s yours to own xxxxx

Marco: Thank you xXx

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

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

Right for you is right for you

I’m actually really really glad you told me

Did you get tested after you found out about me?

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

Greg Owen: Well, we both had.

You on meds yet?

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

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

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

Greg Owen: What meds you on?

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

To me – it really doesn’t matter

It’s a waste of my energy

Marco: Me neither, no benefit really

Ritonavir, Truvada and Prezista

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

Marco: Most likely that but not necessarily

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

Precum has the Virus so it can be that too

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marco: Why’s that?

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

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

Greg Owen: Palpitations why?

Marco: I was just very nervous

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

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

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

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

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

Btw – this is ONLY between you and I

I don’t share these thoughts with anyone else

Marco: Of course…I confided in you too remember

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

What an interesting and weirdly sweet thing to say

I guess it’s part of 21st century ethics

There’s your story next time you write something

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

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

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

Wow – I didn’t read your message until now

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

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

I appreciate this too x

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

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

Marco: X

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

The amount of coincidence is ridiculous

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

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

Marco: Very true

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

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

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

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

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

I only cried for half an hour

But that was enough

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

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

It was a bit traumatic

But I am glad it’s out and done now

END OF CONVERSATION

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you Marco and thank you Chris.

Continue reading “DO YOU KNOW”