HEP C – and you

hepatitis-c-paper

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”

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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?”

The Year of No Fear – HIV today

tyonf

What does it mean to be HIV positive today?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Main findings include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

INTERVIEW: A&U magazine speaks to GREG OWEN – The guy behind Equals=Equals

Hi Greg.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with our readers, most of whom are HIV-aware and involved in some kind of advocacy.

First, could you provide a short bio? What’s your advocacy background and anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?

I arrived at this point in my life, not through measured choice, I suppose I’m trying to make lemonade out of lemons. My life took a series of very unexpected turns. At the time, certainly not for the better, when the pain of that subsided and it started to hurt less and I began to find my feet… I decided to take ownership of things. Which has taken the shape of me fighting back, mainly against HIV and AIDS and the stigmas surrounding both. On my Facebook and Twitter I’ve had some lovely messages of “support and admiration” for my “bravery”. But I really can’t take credit for being “brave”. I’m just fighting back as much for me and my soul as for our positive friends and indeed our negative ones too.

What are the effects of HIV stigma, as you understand them?

HIV stigma and its impact, in my opinion is the root cause of the continued rising spike in new HIV transmissions among those HIV ‘hot spot groups’ that we are already aware of, i.e. gay men living in fast paced urban areas. But we’re now seeing a rising spike in various other demographics, like heterosexual women in the 50+ age bracket. The reason I attribute stigma as being at the core of this is because we’re all conditioned to believe that none of us should even be talking about sex, even though all of us are having sex. Somehow, even admitting that you’ve had a HIV test implies that you’re somehow unclean, dirty, irresponsible and reckless or a biological danger to those you are and have been intimate with.

Thirty-plus years on into the pandemic, HIV stigma persists. Why did you decide to focus on normalizing the conversation around sex and HIV for this social media campaign?

Unless we shock people into being desensitised to HIV we can’t hope to be able to encourage them to test regularly and make testing commonplace, without fear of judgment from others. The key here is that the people most likely to transmit HIV are those that don’t yet know that they’ve contracted it. Therefore, if we’re not testing regularly, diagnosing early and treating effectively – those most likely to pass on the virus, then we have no chance of tipping the scale on this alarming, seemingly relentless rise in new transmissions. Not many people know that we have the tools available now to actually make a huge impact in stopping new HIV transmissions. If you’re positive and on meds, taking them correctly and are undetectable, then it’s practically impossible for you to pass on the virus. In the same thread, those at high risk of HIV infection have access to/or soon will have access to PREP. This reduces the chance of contracting the virus (depending on which study you take your figures from), down to 5% – 15%. So the combination of treatment (for poz guys) and PREP (for neg guys) is a no brainer!

 How did you arrive at “Equals = Equals”?

I just think it works on a lot of levels. Mathematically it kind of works too. If we have something that’s positive, combined with something that’s negative, we neutralize that and they then become equal. And there in itself is a mission statement.

Was there a specific moment that sparked the idea for the campaign or a straw that broke the camel’s back where you said, “Okay, I need to do something”?

Yes, there were several straws and one tired ass camel!!! I suppose it was because I realised that there was sweet FA (Fuck All) that I could do about my life as I knew it, being turned upside down and basically taken away from me. Losing my fiancé and my home because he shut down and couldn’t cope with his recent diagnosis and me remaining negative.

When I accepted that I couldn’t change that. I slowly then began to realise what I could change is the world that he now has to live in as ‘the positive guy’. Being at sex parties or just out socially and bearing witness to some of the vile, heartless, cruel, passive attacks and active bullying that the positive guys around me were dealing with regularly, on a daily basis broke my heart a little bit more. And because my ex and I aren’t in touch anymore, it pained me so deeply to think that he was out there somewhere – alone, on the receiving end of that kind of unacceptable, archaic bullshit. Apologies for my colourful language, I’m Irish, we say it as it is.

What does Phase 2 and 3 involve, or do you want to defer talking about those until later?

I’m happy to chat about them now. I’d just like to take this opportunity to point out that Phase 2 and Phase 3 are hinging on Phase 1 being actioned and completed.

Hopefully the visibility that Phase 1 will create will provide a presence that should be easily approachable and more so easily contactable. Building on this, the ‘Equals=Equals’ Phase 2 will be a ‘drop in and a chat to a mate’ online support offering. Similar to that of an instant messaging service. The time when most people need to reach out and connect with someone that’s not in their inner circle/family/friends/partner or medical professional for advice and support, or just a chat about something non HIV related is in those first few weeks and months after a positive diagnosis, or whilst on PEP awaiting the results of that treatment. Ironically and cruelly, this is also the time when most people do not know who to turn to, or in actual fact have anyone to turn to for that support. They haven’t processed anything comprehensively enough, for them to be fear free enough of those stigmas and labels that will inevitably and irrevocably be thrown at them. This really is a short window period to help these guys and to maybe save a few lives and offer the support that to the best of my knowledge isn’t available, certainly not in this format. I have a Facebook inbox filled with 100’s if not 1000’s of messages back and forth from newly diagnosed guys needing someone to just talk it through with, poz guys that want to touch base about something, neg guys seeking information or advice and mixed status couples too. I can sometimes be online messaging and responding for 4-5hours and anytime of the day and night – luckily I sometimes suffer from insomnia so it’s a welcome distraction! But interacting with these wide range of guys on this level flagged up to me that there is most certainly a need for this kind of support to be made available in an extended, more structured fashion. I am after all only 1 guy on 1 Macbook!

Stage 3 is to build on what we have already achieved and step it up a notch by moving from offering online support to providing a space for people to come and find a sense of community somewhere ‘normal’ for want of a better word. When I say ‘normal’ I mean a place that they can find and invest in a community that is not directly or stereotypically associated with ‘the scene’. Where they can establish and invest in relationships and community – free from any stigma and any judgment. A place to just ‘be’. I think there will be a significant gearshift for Equals=Equals at this point as our focus widens and changes slightly. This kind of project I feel is of particular value to some of the younger community especially from ethnic or religious backgrounds where being gay is not accepted and the concept of them being gay and possibly HIV + would lead to serious repercussions. These are often the life blows that are the triggers for the journey to substance abuse, reckless behaviour, irreparable self-loathing and self-worth issues, and in more extreme cases homelessness and prostitution.

Is this U.K.-only (in terms of mailing out the T-shirts, etc.)?

Nope – the great thing about the T-shirt activity is that we have – or will have a fixed price per unit cost to produce each T-shirt. The only financial impact that we would then have to incorporate when going ‘international’ would be the increase in the cost of postage and packaging. So it is an activity than can be rolled out anywhere. And nothing would please me more than to see all sorts of people supporting this by wearing their Equal=Equals T-shirts, taking their photos and posting them online! In effect putting those 3 letters H. I. V. EVERYWHERE – from The Statue of Liberty to Sydney Opera House to The Great Wall of China and Big Ben!

The last thing I want to say is that although HIV and the impact of HIV bulldozing its way into my life almost ruined me and pushed me to a suicide attempt – thankfully a failed one. I now feel like I/we are already winning! HIV screwed up my life but I fought back with the help and support of friends, family and community. And I look at the all people this activity is already reaching out to and supporting and helping and I can see nothing but positive things! Excuse the pun! Taking ownership of HIV’s presence in my life has allowed us to start to claw back an advantage – even on some small level. For that I am very grateful.

Thanks guys for speaking with me and thanks for supporting Equals=Equals.

Big love.

x

Continue reading “INTERVIEW: A&U magazine speaks to GREG OWEN – The guy behind Equals=Equals”