PrEP4love: rebuilding a community

PrEP4love

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

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

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

I think we lost a little bit of hope.

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

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

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

What PrEP does is remove the fear.

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

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

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

We are not alone.

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

This blog has been verified by Rise: R245f8c54c83dcbdd55e17e5812b052e2

Continue reading “PrEP4love: rebuilding a community”

HEP C – and you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This struck a chord with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s called ‘Treatment as Prevention’

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

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

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

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

It Finally Drops

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I have spent the last 2 days moping around home drinking wine and beer and crying! And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why? And what caused this?

So I drank a little more and I dug a little deeper.

It’s quite clear to me now.

Last week after Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs I actually ended up graduating from talking and re-entering the realm of let’s DO gay sex and drugs and so a 5 day bender on Meph and G and a little T ensued.

This might not seem life changing to most of you – nor so did it seem life changing to me at the time…far from it – I was reverting to old tricks, not learning new ones.

On the surface maybe…emotionally though – I underestimated this little revisit to the land of trash.

I have to say I loved, revelled in and love love loved going back there. I truly missed it. But all was not as it seemed.

It is impossible to go back to what you were.

You may put the same clothes on (or off as the case may be) and you may use the same apps and you may front the same swag. But it’s a fools dream to chase a former version of yourself.

During this 5 day bender this theory was not on the scale – not a consideration but in the days and weeks after it really was a huge thing for me.

I don’t regret it – not at all. I had a blast. I learned also that GBL and my HIV meds are volatile friends – I went under or very fucking squiffy far too many times. Very out of character for my former HIV negative self. But this is where the chasm opened up…

When I found out I was HIV positive I had a huge life flip! None of it was planned and none of it was structured to incorporate head time or adjustment time for me. Instead what happened was – I became positive and I went on a mission, I became this new very highly visible, very vocal, very passionate, very fucking productive (might I add) version of myself. And that was great.

But what I didn’t realise was that I had left little old, frightened, confused and shocked HIV negative me out there on the sidelines in the cold. Wondering silently why no one came to play anymore. I totally dismissed that person and charged on with this new souped up, empowered version of me.

That was a bit cruel to my former self. But it was cool because we were getting shit done and we were winning and we were still feeling HIV negtative because we had now become “the UK’s leading PrEP activist”

And then big balls ‘HIV facebook famous’ me went back to my old stomping ground of hook up apps and chemsex parties and tried to fit back in again.

Hardly surprising that this was impossible. A combination of my own anxiety and other people’s awareness of me left me merrily soaking up the attention online with no actual intention of ever meeting anyone. Until M… See a copy and paste about him from my facebook below …

“Last week I met a guy…from his pics and a few messages I was instantly smitten. But I could see in his pics and sense from his messages that he had just been through something. Something painful and deep. I tend to have a natural intuition for these things. And when most people would identify this situation as one to avoid – I am the opposite…I’m driven to know, to ask, to find out. So I went to meet up with him…via a breakdown in communication due to a language barrier and me mistakenly presuming he’d lost interest. I’d actually given up on him and gone off for a shag with some other guy who inadvertently invited this guy to join us – completely by chance and coincidence. That’s another story but I made my excuses and politely left the ‘shags’ place to go and meet ‘M’ (we’ll call him M for this story). M had stated that due to the awkward situation around us not meeting up then almost meeting up for a 3some that he wasn’t interested in sex with me right now, that I could come over but he knew himself and was adamant that he wouldn’t want sex. For me the sex wasn’t really important, there was something about this guy that was magnetic for me. So I got dressed and arrived at M’s place. It was FROSTY. But I was there for a reason…I wanted to be there. I didn’t know why – I just wanted to. We got talking and the ‘what do you do?’ question came up…I mentioned PrEP and the site…he typed the URL in his ipad, it bounced up, he recognised it and so we got chatting about HIV prevention. Turns out he’s HIV positive too and had a bit of a rough time with his meds. Now, because I hadn’t gone there for sex I had the chance to just lie on his bed and listen to him. That’s pretty rare in that situation. But I lay there and listened and was just blown away by his heart, his passion and his scars. I tried my fucking hardest not to cry and I almost styled it out but I was strangely and very unexpectedly overwhelmed with emotion for and towards this guy. I think I did pretty well but I’m sure at least 1 or 2 tears fell. I don’t know if he noticed but he finished his story and came and rested his head on my chest and just needed to be held. It was kind of one of the most beautiful moments I’ve had in a long time. These moments don’t happen often. What I wasn’t expecting was the 4 hours of totally mind blowing amazing sex that followed…I don’t think I have had sex like that in 4 years – definitely not since I split from my fiance. I don’t know for sure but I’m certain this amazing sex came because I was fucking with an actual person who had stirred my soul who had interacted with me emotionally before he did sexually. I have so much more to say on the encounter but I’ll keep it for part 2! lol BTW – just for the record…. FUCKING AMAZING SEX”

 I guess I feel in love with him a little bit. I can not actually believe I said that but it’s true. My first weekend back home at the hotel PnP and I fall in love with my only HnH shag…except he was more than that but I’m not too concerned with that relationship for the purposes of this piece. The real relationship drama was with ME and MYSELF

By going back to my former ways I reverted back to my former self – almost. If I didn’t revert,  at the very least I revisited and this is where the drama happened.

I went back to playing a cartoon charade of me and that was cool. There were chems, there was banter – I could have been Jessica Rabbit…but the week after this happened those 2 versions of myself had to sit down together at a table in my head or my heart – or both and just square things with each other.

That was painful for both parties.

The new me felt he’d failed the old me especially by fucking up his HIV status. But the old me was thrilled for the new me and didn’t want to hold him back but acknowledged that he was hurt that he got dumped so soon and that he would miss the new me but he wished him well and the old me’s parting sentiment was that he would always be there for me – he gets it and knows we’ve moved on…he wanted to remind me of one thing though – just don’t become an asshole.

So old me and new me are cool with each other now. It was a shitty few weeks and I wasn’t sure if we’d ever all be on the same page again. But we learned our lessons….no doubt there are a few more to learn along the way.

 

There you go….

 

x

Continue reading “It Finally Drops”

A Big Fucking Bang

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A Big Fucking Bang – “Beginnings” at Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs

“It is widely believed that about 14 billion years ago, the entire universe was inside a bubble that was thousands of times smaller than a pinhead. It was hotter and denser than anything we can imagine.

Then it suddenly exploded.

The universe that we know was born. Time, space and matter all began with The Big Bang. In a fraction of a second, the universe grew from smaller than a single atom to bigger than a galaxy. And it kept on growing at a fantastic rate. It is still expanding today.”

So there’s the ultimate beginning in a few short sentences. Now, wouldn’t it make sense that if that is where we came from that that is how we still exist?

No longer just protons and neutrons that have come together to form atoms but whole actual bodies. Bodies of people.

So if we also know that energy can not be created or destroyed – only changed. Let me put this to you…stick with me….

This is a new beginning for me. And I know a lot of you here tonight are embarking on new beginnings too. But I can only speak for me.

This time last year I was escorting – occasionally. I wasn’t a very good hooker. My clients would be like “Come here” “Do this” “Do that” and I’d be like “I don’t think so” – The guy would be like “But I’m paying you” – “I don’t give a shit”. Like I said…I wasn’t a great hooker.

I was running drugs – so you can call me a drug dealer if you choose. I was also slamming crystal meth and Mephadrone – so you can call me a junkie if you like. So that’s what I was. Fair and square. I’m standing in front of you this evening as what I am now. Let’s pause a moment.

If you even for a split second, winced or cringed at any of the declarations I’ve just made or instinctively judged me – ever so slightly. I just want to say that’s OK. That’s actually what I wanted.

Today I know who I am for the first time in a very long time.

I don’t really know ‘what’ I am. But I don’t think we need to know the ‘what’ if we know the ‘who’.

It’s always other people that ask us to define ourselves or take it upon to themselves to try to define us.

But there are actually very few differences between me today and the me of a year ago. I’m going to tell you what those differences are…

A little bit of support and a little bit of encouragement in the right direction.

So you might now be asking how can just a little bit of anything make such huge differences? So to go back to The Big Bang. Do you know how perfect that situation had to be in order for that ‘bang’ to happen? The density, the temperature, the concentration? If you research it in depth, if any of those factors had have been off by just tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of a percentage then The Big Bang would never have happened. We wouldn’t be here.

So now you’re like that’s great – wooooo science. But I don’t think that’s just science. I think that’s people too.

Someone once told me “There’s no such thing as luck. Luck is meeting every opportunity in life as fully prepared as you can be.”

All of us can be part of someone else’s personal preparation, by offering a little bit of support or encouragement in the right direction – do it.

We sometimes call it being kind. So next time you’re at a chill out or a party or anywhere with a rent boy, a drug dealer or a slamming junkie. Allow yourself that moment of judgement – it’s natural but then chose how you act upon those gut feelings.

You can be a cunt or you can be kind.

If you’re kind – your little bit of impact might very well line that person up for their very own big bang. A series of events that blasts open a whole universe of new beginnings, of opportunities, of learning and hopefully of love. Everyone deserves those things. My little bit of kindness came from this event (Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs) and in no small part David Stuart and 56 Dean street and you guys. I’m very grateful. Let’s gift it on.

INTERVIEW: Sherry Vine on her Truvada parody

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New York based drag artist Sherry Vine released an unapologetic ‘no holes barred’ musical parody about PrEP and boy did she split opinions!

Her opening lines are

Hey all of you gays.

Dont be so be depressed, missed out on the days when they had bareback sex.

You want to experience au-naturel anal play?

Well now you can throw all of those condoms away.

Just take a Truvada.

Here is her video. And we brought her some of your questions…

We got in touch with the Tinkerbell of Truvada and asked her to spill the beans…

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What are your personal views on PrEP?

I want to begin this discussion by saying we are neither condoning nor condemning but merely starting a conversation as refracted through our specific brand of (whacky) humor.

You have certainly split opinions within the PrEP community. Was that your intention?

We had no intention of doing something simply for shock value… and believe it or not I wanted to do something that wasn’t about sucking cock or poop and had a little more substance than the majority of the videos I have done.

A few people have commented on the video’s apparent lack of diversity and representation of people from minority groups can you discuss?

Well, those people should go back and look again. Other than me (a middle-aged Jewish man in a dress) the rest of the cast is actually diverse.  50% of the guys in the video are people of color.  And to that point, this video was made on a shoe-string budget in a small corner of the world and cannot under any circumstances be all things to all people regarding this very massive issue of HIV/AIDS & PrEP.

How did you construct this piece? Was there a lot of medical research involved?

Yes. I researched PrEP on the internet (and if it was on the internet it must be true, right?!)  But in all seriousness, I sit on the Board of Directors of The Research Foundation to Cure AIDS (RFTCA) and this has been part of our on-going discussion.

Beyond laughter, what was your goal in producing the video and in hindsight do you feel you accomplished it?

I felt passionate about the topic and as I stated above, I wanted to start a conversation and I guess, since you are asking me these questions, it has.

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Do you think this piece glorifies or promotes bareback sex?

Oh my God, I hope not.

Have you come up against much backlash?

I actually expected more. The majority of the comments and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive and many people have actually thanked us for doing it.

What were your reasons for doing it?

Again, as I said above I wanted to do a piece about something that was important and being of a certain age and watching my friends die of AIDS this is clearly a very important topic not just to me, but to all of us. The queens need to be aware that this is a multi-faceted issue.  If there is any hint of skepticism (which we did not intentionally infuse into the video) it comes from my own personal question around anything that seems like a ‘magic bullet.’

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Who are your inspirations?

It literally changes daily.  Constants are any/all the ladies of rock… Debbie Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, Pat Benetar and of course my biggest influence, Carol Burnett.

What are your thoughts on the changing face of the gay scene since the explosion of hook up apps?

Go for it. If I were 20 years younger I would be on them too.  The only aspect I don’t appreciate is when they are sitting in the front row of my show on Grindr and Scruff. Lol.

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Do you see yourself as a role model, and if so what would you like people to take from your work?

No, I do not see myself as role model.  And all I want is for people to laugh.  Take a break from life and laugh… and sometimes (like with this video) think a bit.

Some of our buddies who are quite visible within the PrEP community think it’s brilliantly funny, cheeky and very well put together. A  few have commented that the great thing about the video is it’s all true and perhaps that’s why people criticize it. Except for the organ failure – which isn’t a thing. They’d like to know why did you include that when the rest is so clever and factual?

First of all, I am a drag queen not a physician.

However, it is listed as a possible side effect.

http://www.ehealthme.com/ds/truvada/multi-organ+failure

Are you a natural blonde?

There is absolutely nothing natural about Sherry Vine.

Would you say you identify more with Madonna or Courtney Love?

 

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Sherry identifies with both!

How will you contribute to world peace?

The ICSPM… the International Cock Sucking Peacekeeping Mission

What’s your message to Vladimir Putin?

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Putin Girl, relax.

Donald Trump’s hair! And go….

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Mr. Trump, please take a trip to Wigs Plus on 14th street and tell them Sherry sent you.

Do you think your video will trivialise the serious conversations around PReP which are hitting headlines at the moment?

Nope. It shouldn’t effect anything. It should (or rather could be) used as a catalyst for further conversation, discussion and education. The video does not say to take it or not to take it… It’s looking at all angles.

From a purely musical perspective this may seem a good way to challenge prejudices but do you think in some quarters this will only enhance stereotypes of gay men who bareback and further divide the community?

I don’t think of LGBT or MSM as one single all encompassing community.  It is a large population of people and as such (although the video deals specifically with gay men) like HIV/AIDS, the access to, use of and education around PrEP is a global issue. 

Do you think major HIV/AIDS organisations will agree with messages about throwing away condoms in favor of PrEP?

That is not the message!  Part of the tone and sense of humor is satirical and ironic.  I, personally, am in no way saying to throw away condoms.  In fact, my understanding is that the safest most effective way to reduce chance of transmission is the combo of condoms and PrEP.

So there you have it folks! Miss Sherry Vine laid bare. Her objective was to raise awareness and encourage dialogue. On those fronts I think she certainly succeeded!

Follow Sherry on Twitter @MissSherryVine

Continue reading “INTERVIEW: Sherry Vine on her Truvada parody”

PrEP 2015: a very blue year

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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?”