YOU ARE GLASS

Spoken word piece by Greg Owen ‘performed’ at Let’s Talk About Gay Sex And Drugs on Thursday 12th May 2016

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YOU ARE GLASS

 

When first we met, I saw you but I looked right through

You were just there

Standing still

Strong

But a little wrong

I walked past you many times

Until one day

Something I could not feel – pushed me from behind

I saw you right up close. So close  – I only saw the flaws – the bubbles from the blow

I could only see as much of you

As the frame of my own view

But when I backed right off, then I began to notice

Notice the rest of you

Stepped away until I saw the all of you

We never touched

Did not connect

I dared not rest my hand upon the pane

Did not leave the mark of the moisture from the softness of my finger tips

Which were now softer – warmer – wetter than I had ever known before

Now I’m seeing you, not seeing through

The glass is suddenly brand new

I turned my back then turned it back

Now it was not you that I could see

But me

My reflection

There was a  flash

I could only see the light

My eyes began to burn

It was so bright

But I could not turn

And I would not fight

The light began to dim

Refocus my eyes on him

Now all I could see was us

Not a 2 – but a me in you

No force from behind

Shared pull from the front

I approached again

This time I put my tips upon you – so cold

Instinctively contracted back

The composition again – was new

I see the tiny printed dots – my fingers had left on you

I didn’t like the mess –  didn’t like I’d left a mark

So came to you again – to fix the messy smudge

I watched myself grow larger in your reflection until my mouth aligned with the mess

I blew – the intention – hit you

We  clouded up

Gray, steam and heat

I could not see the mess  or us

The heat cooled, retracted in

I watched it shrink and fade and disappear

It all became quite clear

There was – the mess

There was – that part of you

There was…my reflection

And in it all lay us – a possible perfection

It started to look pretty

So I put my fingers on your surface yet again

Saw them leave their mark

It was becoming art

But our creation got too brave – too fast – a little stark

One more reckless swipe

I caught a chip –

Sting

Bleed

Drip

Drip

Fuck!

Trip

Now trip

Fell through

Straight through you

You smashed – I crashed

Right down to the floor

With pieces of you embedded into my flesh

I panicked- what had I done?

Scrambled on my knees

To try to pull all those sparkling shards of you back into one place

I clawed too hard and my fingers bled –

Now part of me streams over the broken pieces of you

Everything was raw and everything was red

I had to stop

I crawled away and slumped

To where I first saw myself in you

But you were no longer there

You were lying bloody on the floor

There was an us no more

Parts of you embedded in my flesh – part of me streaming over the broken pieces of you

YOU ARE GLASS

*I wrote this piece for David Stuart. Thank you for being brilliant! x

Continue reading “YOU ARE GLASS”

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Love Love Love

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I’m in love. I’m in love with many things. The renewed and vibrant community that has suddenly sprung up right before my eyes. And the lovely dalliances with  some of my heroes that I recently learned were actually just PEOPLE too. I will not hide that I am talking about David Stuart and Sheena McCormack and Pat Cash, on Pat what a blinder to have a buddy who inspires you from his truth and raw innocence all tainted with naughtiness… WATCH OUT FOR PAT.

I fell in love very recently. I didn’t mean to, I didn’t want to. He has a boyfriend. They live together and they seem happy. It’s an open situation with them. And I celebrate everyone’s own definition of themselves and their love. I honestly really do. But with this situation I had a problem. If I were in an open relationship (FYI – Don’t think I could be….I have insecurity and worth and anxiety issues. I’m not strong enough for that)

 

If I were in an open relationship I think I would be cool with my boyfriend fucking other people. But what I wouldn’t be cool with is my boyfriend developing an emotional attachment and investment in another person. I would be uncomfortable with that. But that is what has happened. We fell asleep on the sofa – this is about heart not cock.

 

I have fallen in love with Pablo. And Pablo isn’t even his real name. I made a choice to hide him from the craziness that is my life right now.

But I fell and I fell hard and why????? I’ll tell you…

 

My heart was wrapped up and hidden away as damaged goods…to be rolled out in a cheap sale…..But then he came along and made my heart dance. Continue reading “Love Love Love”

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”

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
thor

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

sei

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?”

ChemSex & me

chemsex

 

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”

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”

AIDS SHITS AND GIGGLES

Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs – ALIENS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He continued…”Eh? Greg?”

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

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

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

AIDS IS NOT ALIEN!

Thank you

*The audience then applauded

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

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

I wore this vest for a reason…

hiv front HIV back

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

STAND TOGETHER – MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Thank you

Continue reading “AIDS SHITS AND GIGGLES”