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Thursday, 4 October 2012

Educating the Masses: Next-Gen GayBoys and HIV

Educating the Masses

So its been a while. Have been trying to put some order in my life. I find myself as a single gay man again and am reinserting myself into the UK scene. The initial adjustment has been a bit of an upheaval but I do think I am getting to some kind of happy equilibrium. I have a full time job, granted, it’s a bit of a leave your brain at home position, but in this current economic climate I am just grateful to have regular hours and a consistent monthly salary. I am just about managing to juggle my finances and am forging a healthy set of new friendships, maintaining the existing ones and developing an active and balanced social life. Granted, a lot of this is still revolving around sex, but for once I feel in control. I am liking this feeling. There is something quite comforting about being the master of your own destiny. Independence is a facet of existence I have not managed to wrangle control of for too long now, but finally acquiring the formative building blocks of it is working wonders for my self esteem. 

I want to talk about HIV a bit more in this blog. There are issues which have been bugging me in recent months that need to be aired a bit for further debate and consideration. It seems that we have reached a bit of an interesting juncture in the history of the virus. A new generation of guys has become sexually active and are exploring what the big old gay-o-sphere has to offer. Now these guys have been born after the fear, shock, turmoil and horror that was the 80’s and early 90’s. They have no living memory of just how scary those days were. They have not lost anybody to the epidemic and have no tangible concept of its early history. For us older guys, (Christ it feels weird to be saying that!) there was knowledge bandied around through fear, through the media, through peer to peer conversations. HIV stigma, though a shockingly negative thing in itself, served as a very positive totem in our lives. It helped promote and educate and inform us of the risks and dangers. Everybody in my peer group in school was in possession of some rudimentary information about HIV transmission, its voracity and how you could never really tell who had it. But the world has changed. Very much for the better in many senses. Stigma is waning, not to the extent that it has disappeared completely, but significantly enough for many people to get on with a normal life without worrying about being seen as a leper or something disease riddled and dirty. Medications have improved to the point that they can manage the virus effectively with minimal side effects and rendering individuals effectively non-infective. The law has changed to provide stronger employment rights and protection for those living with the virus. People are no longer dying like flies and quality of life has improved significantly. All good so far you may think.

Another interesting, if not ironic side effect of the positive community is that those living with HIV are tending to look after themselves a lot better once they are diagnosed. Eating healthier, drinking less, quitting smoking, maintaining active and liberated sex lives where they are checked regularly for any other sexually transmitted infections, working out at the gym etc etc. The consequence is that poz people look hot! People want to fuck them. The irony is that the untested and negative community see those that they know are poz and perceive that it can’t be all that bad. They see being poz as something that can actually be a positive force in your life. For some, including myself, this is true to a certain extent, but not for all. But what these guys are seeing is just a side effect of having HIV. Before I was poz I was a fat fuck. I ate utter shit and too much of it! I smoked like a chimney, drank many times more than my weekly limit in units. I really abused my body. So answer me this, why did it take HIV to make me come to my senses and take better care of myself? What kind of messed up logic is that?

What they don’t understand is that we look better and exude confidence because we don’t want them to see that having HIV is having any negative psychological or physical effects on our lives. The best way to combat stigma is to stand tall, don’t let it affect u, hold your head up high and move forward with your life whilst all the time telling yourself that this virus is not going to make things worse for you. It takes effort and courage and commitment. 

What they don’t see is the wobbly moments we all have when we are on our own. The anger and frustration we feel when we are asked stupid questions or casually rejected or are made to feel dirty by the ignorant, the uneducated, the unenlightened or the blatant bigots out there on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. So what do I mean by stupid questions I hear you ask? 

“Are you clean?”

“Will you breed me?”

“Are you safe? If so can we have bareback sex?”

“Whats HIV?”

“I don’t know what I have so we’re ok to fuck bareback mate, ok?”

“Will you give me AIDS if you cum in my mouth?”

And the list goes on. So yeah. I have HIV. I live with it. Have come to terms with it. Accept it. But does this mean it now becomes my job to be the educator for these youngsters? Why have their parents not talked to them about it? Why has the school not talked to them about it? Why the fuck are they not doing a simple Google search and finding stuff out for themselves? Can you see how being asked these questions week in week out can start to become mentally draining and frustrating? In some ways, I do feel a responsibility to pass my knowledge on and I do frequently. I regularly man the Netreach Chat service for THT in the gaydar chat rooms. I am an outspoken member of the gay and poz community. I feel that I do my bit. But sometimes I also feel that whilst we are winning the battle in so many ways, we are also losing in the worst way possible. You would have thought that by 2012 the rate of new infections in the Gay community would have dramatically reduced or ground to a near halt. With the information, treatment, ease of testing, development of highly professional specialist services, peer support groups, internet forums and social networking groups it would be a logical step to reach such a conclusion. Sadly this is not the case and new diagnoses from the Gay male demographic has remained at a peak plateau of 2500 – 3000 per year for the past 8 years or so in the UK alone (HPA 2011). So is this figure as a result of increased testing, a relaxed attitude about HIV because it is no longer perceived as a terminal illness or is it due to lack of basic awareness and knowledge around the virus itself? Probably a combination of all 3. Increased testing rates are an amazing consequence of health promotion campaigns and increased awareness amongst guys in their 30’s, 40’s and older. Whilst the increased incidence of testing is mopping up many of the guys who have been unknowingly positive for years, this rate will eventually start to decrease as a result of testing trends. Also, the more guys out there that are diagnosed, the less vectors of transmission there are in the community. Knowing your status allows you to make informed choices and decisions about the kind of sex you have and who you have it with. Also, the sooner you go onto medication the less long term damage you will sustain to your immune system and the less likely you are to pass on the virus. Guys on the right combinations of medication have the virus suppressed in their system, effectively making them non-infective. 

However, ignorance and a relaxed attitude about the reality of living with HIV are now, in my opinion, the new baddies keeping the rate of new diagnosis up at its current high levels. So how do we tackle this? Personally, I am starting to lose patience with guys. After repeating yourself several times a week it does start to get a bit tiring and wearing. Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed. I did however come up with an interesting campaign concept and poster idea today. “Don’t Die of Ignorance” was a campaign in the 80’s which increased stigma, instilled fear and caused many long lasting social problems for the poz community. However, the core message was a strong one, so I thought:

“How can I reinvent that campaign but with a positive spin?”

“How can I reclaim and revive the essence of what the old campaign was trying to communicate, but without increasing stigma?”

So I came up with this…. Not sure if I’m onto something, but the overall effect is empowering, hard hitting and brutally direct.

Finding out that you have HIV is no longer a death sentence....

NOT finding out that you have HIV may well be your death sentence.

Don't die of ignorance!

Get tested, today!

I’ll Leave you with that but please feel free to comment, or get in touch with me if you have any feedback. This blog is a work in progress but without your feedback I don’t know if I am making any sense or just rambling nonsense…


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Future of Religion

I have had the contents of this blog entry whizzing around my head for several months now. However because of recent drastic changes in my life, coupled with a certain degree of procrastination and severe limits on my precious time it is only now that I am able to put fingers to keyboard and empty my head onto a screen. I wish to talk about religion. Now I can hear the sharp intake of breath around the cyber-sphere as I dare to broach this feisty and inflammatory subject, but please, stick with me on this.

As a back drop to my subject may I say that I come from a moderate to severely religious background myself. However, watching evangelism twist and distort my mothers schizophrenia into something even more bizarre than it was already, and then bearing witness to her moving onto Catholicism, The Church of the Latter Day Saints and eventually evolving her own sect of Christianity: The Church of Ester, I could see that not only was there something fundamentally wrong with all of these so called “Benevolent” organistions but that no matter how much devotion and faith she poured into each belief system, God never brought her any peace from her mental illness. My mothers savior was medical science and good old fashioned holistic social care. At the end even she had realised that organized religion was doing her no favours. She still had her faith. She still had a strong sense of belief: Nothing could take that away from her. But she had managed to filter out all of the bullshit and reach a oneness with her god that was independent of holy buildings or repentance or manifestations of guilt ridden sin.

I watched her struggle with orthodox and organized religion for 25 years. I watched the way she was treated by pious people. I listened to the rants of how I was going to be the next messiah, how I was special, how I was going to change the world and for a while I believed it all. How else does a pre-pubescent child digest the psycho religious ramblings of a mentally ill parent? I attended Sunday school. I listened to the brainwashing propaganda. I joined a Christian version of The Scouts called Campaigners: Spreading the word of God whilst learning how to change a tyre and tie knots in ropes. I endured the hideously terrifying films such as “A Thief in the night” and “A Distant Thunder”. Films which I have watched over as an adult and recoiled at the blatancy of their brainwashing techniques and the horrific undertones of guilt and self loathing they instill in the viewer…. Repentance is the only way to save your soul. Children subjected to such malignancy in the modern day would be classified as being psychologically abused! When I was 12 something changed. Something crystalised in my mind, almost overnight. I was involved in an near fatal road traffic accident whilst visiting my great grandmother for her birthday. Nobody from the church visited me in hospital. Nobody from the church sent a card. Nobody from the church even noticed I was missing. My existence meant nothing to them. I was saved by the care and dedication of the nursing staff in the intensive care unit. I was saved by ordinary mortal men and women. I was saved by science and the pursuit of knowledge. When I left hospital I never stepped foot in a church again as a member of a congregation. My days as a sheep in need of a shepherd were over.

Over the next 24 years I have watched monotheistic religion segregate, alienate, subjugate and breed hatred in both the western and developing world. I have watched the spread of HIV in Africa proliferate at the hand and words of a powerful, celibate and ignorant man. I have watched countries tear themselves apart from the inside in the name of their God. I have watched countries tear each other apart over the contents of outdated and discriminating books. I have listened to how thousands of innocent people have been killed in the name of a God. Watched stories of suicide pacts and suicide bombers unfold on the news month after month after month, all in the name of a God. From where I’m standing, we have totally lost our way so here’s my spin on religion.

From the dawn of our species there is evidence of our curiosity of the unknown. There is evidence of our innate spirituality. I am going to state 3 beliefs of my own now….

I truly believe that we are a deeply spiritual species. We crave answers to the unanswerable. We have moments of deep connection to the universe. We all share a feeling that there is something more out there. Not necessarily something bigger or better, just something intangible, unknowable, unfathomable. This feeling is a legacy which has been with us from our very first ancestral roots. The fear of death is sufficient to instill a desire for something to continue afterwards. For a possibility that the electro chemical networks and pathways of our brains, the unique pattern that makes us who we are, that enables us to have independent thought, for the possibility of this to be able move into another plane of existence.

I truly believe that this innate spirituality is hard wired into us on a genetic level. It is as much a part of us as our unbelievable curiosity. As our collective selfishness. As our capacity for selflessness and altruism. As our creative ingenuity and artistic flair. All of these things have been with us from the beginning. Since the first cave men drew paintings on the walls and showed mercy and made vendetta and fell in love. The feeling within that there is more out there, a great enigma that is on the tip of our tongues, a wonderous pandoras box just waiting to be discovered and cracked open.

I also truly believe that religion has stemmed from, blossomed into and prospored greatly as a result of this genetic predisposition. From the beginning of the Antropocine, religion has sought to answer the unfathomable. It has given us purpose. Guided our morals. Offered us hope. Structured our civil societies. Ordered our thoughts. Religion gave us answers to all the difficult questions: Where we came from; how we came to be; where we are going. Fundamentally it is something that works in synergy with us as a species. It offers control and gives us a sound set of rules to live as a group of good orderly people.

If only we had managed to foster a globally unified single faith from the beginning. Surely, if there was a guiding higher consciousness watching over us it would have presented itself in a way across the species and across time, that fostered the creation of something a bit more homogenic. Surely, any intelligent “creator” would have been able to steer us together into something which bound us globally. But this is where the human factor comes in. If I was to create a new religion today. One that gathered a following and gained both strength and credibility relatively quickly it would be only a matter of time before it sprang offshoots. Sub castes and clades, strongly based on my parent religion but which differed in ever so slightly subtle ways. Christianity has, wait for it, around 30 THOUSAND variations and this has been an evolutionary path of only around 1800 years! Christianity, though one of the dominant faiths on the planet, is just one amongst thousands of others! And where has religion brought us to now, in the 21stcentury? Does it offer us the comforting feeling of global unification? Does it continue to answer all those age old questions. Does it still afford us a strong set of contemporary moral values? Does religion offer us the hope and promise of a brighter and more fulfilled life?

From where I’m standing the answer to these questions is a resounding NO on all counts. Civil unrest, community segregation, war, greed and terrorism all have firm roots in organised religion in modern society. Why is this? Science, civil freedom and global communication technology are going to be the death knell of orthodox organized religious groups. Science has answered the majority of the questions which religion has sought to provide solution to in our past. We understand the universe down to the sub atomic. We understand life down to polymorphisms in genetic code and how the complex interactions of proteins and enzymes in intricate feedback pathways function within each cell. Freedom of speech has given us the voice to challenge the doctrine which has kept us suppressed for so long. We no longer have to put up and shut up when we want to question the words of  those ordained by a God to show us a righteous path in life. Finally we can reach out across the entire globe and find others who share our own ideals, ideas and values, outside of religious teachings. We can find meaning, solice and honesty which out competes any confessionary box or pulpit sermon at the push of a button and a few keystrokes of a keyboard. How can a traditional and rigid set of rules and rituals compete with such a fast evolving set of parameters. Modern day life offers us so much more than any religion ever can. It offers us answers to any questions. Contentment and companionship and believable compassion. When we are striving for an inclusive society which accepts everybody regardless of their colour, cultural background, sex, sexual orientation, political belief, class or spiritual belief what place is there for a framework which is so inflexible or unaccepting of difference and requires such upheaval for even the slightest modification. The only thing which modern society cant provide us with is some kind of definitive answer to what happens to our essence when we die. However, this may be only a temporary impasse.

When a company, such as Apple, can instill such a level of devotion in its consummers, that it verges on the fanatical, is this not the foundations of a modern day technological religious revolution? Apple customers have been examined with MRI scanners and shown to have the same areas of their brains light up when shown images of Apple products as devout religious individuals have when shown images of their deities and religious paraphernalia. Is this evidence that Apple customers are actually having a religious experience when they are using their devices? Possibly…!? So if a company manufacturing technology can instill such a “spiritual” response, in a relatively short space of time, does this then pave the way for new technological based religions? I have given this idea some thought. We are on the cusp of complete integration of neural and electronic networks. Implants are being developed to allow paralysed or disabled individuals to interact with their environment via an electronic interface. The way this fusion of man and machine is progressing is it not a logical proposal that in the not too distant future we will be able to map, copy and record the same pathways of our own neural networks to be stored and examined via computational means? This possibility opens up a very interesting idea to me. If an afterlife is dependent on how good we have been as individuals then surely, it can actually be granted to those of us which have contributed  to the benefit of humanity. Those of us who have lead wholesome and morally upstanding lives. Those of us who have behaved throughout our lives as outstanding beacons of altruism and  selflessness. All our life will be reviewable. All our thoughts and feelings and motives will be extrapolated and evaluated and when it comes to the natural conclusion of our organic existence. Those who have shown sufficient merit can be “downloaded”, if you like. Have their essence and personality disembodied and stored as a digital afterlife. This holds a key to a true outlet for our spirituality: Be a good person and you will move on to an ethereal existence. Be a bad person and you are left at the mercy of the uncertainty and murkiness of existing religious offerings. 

The possibilities of this level of existence are staggering. Inhabit an avatar to continue to interact with the physical world. Access all amassed knowledge instantaneously. Travel around the planet or infact the explored universe at the speed of light. live a moment in a year or a year in a moment. Merge and explore others in this format in ways incomprehensible to us at present. The potential is unimaginable. I will leave you with this thought: What is the future of true spirituality for us? How can we use the technological era to shape and nurture us as a species morally, civilly and spiritually?


Physically alone
But thinking of you
Makes me think im’ wanted
Makes me smile
Like new parents.

Emotionally alone
But feeling you
Makes me feel strong
Makes me shiver
Goosebumps like Braille.

Spiritually Alone
But flying with you
Makes me soar high
Shows me I can glide
Above adversity

Walking alone
But running with you
Traveling together
However great the distance
We go as one.

Talking alone
But im’ speaking to you
Oral insanity
Because I know you cant hear me
But still, you know what im’ saying.

But together
But joined
At peace!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Honesty Policy

Honesty Policy

Honesty is a curious facet of human nature. Being honest with ourselves is possibly one of the hardest steps into adulthood we make. Some people never manage to get to the point in their lives where they can objectively look at their goals, behaviors, social interactions and expectations. Some people learn this skill from a very early age. For me, learning to know my own limitations and carve out something which I know and feel to be a true representation of who I am, which I can both trust and rely upon was an advancement which only came about fairly recently. Being Honest with yourself can be daunting, brutal and at times a little soul destroying. But the rewards and benefits of not knowingly deceiving oneself far out way the pitfalls.

If I am honest with myself it makes it a lot easier for me to be honest with everybody else. Everybody else’s expectations of me fundamentally hinge on their perceptions of how I interact with my own environment. If I set myself unrealistic goals then, these may not be obvious to me but from an external perspective, not only can I be seen to be setting myself up to fail, but also will cloud others judgment on how I understand my own limitations. But what is it that limits us? Is it money? Ambition? Education? Time? Creative vision? Motivation? Confidence? Willingness to take risk? All of these things are within our control and are things we can either change or learn to manage more effectively.

Money. This is something which is on the minds of many of us at the moment. Times are hard indeed. Jobs are scarce. Prices are rising and especially here in Europe, there is a feeling of impending economic disaster. How honest are the governments, banks and financial institutions actually being with us. So many of us, including myself, are in some level of debt. Cashflow therefore becomes something of great importance and just keeping our heads above water is a struggle for a lot. But in reality, just how bad really is it. We are still addicted to the capitalist idea that consumption is the most desirable statement of our own prosperity. So, decisions have to be made. Do I really need to upgrade my phone? Do I really have to pay my bills this month? Is it necessary to buy those Butt Plugs I have had my eye on or get some custom fitted leather chaps? Most of the stuff we do actually buy feels like a manufactured want instead of a genuine requirement. I feel that I have come out of a phase of buying into what the commercial market wants me to buy and only aspire to get the things that I actually want and need. Frivolous spending habits are indeed an indulgence of the past. Being honest with myself about what I want, need and require to move forward with a lifestyle that suits my current needs has been a very big step for me, but I am seeing it as a evolutionary function: If I don’t evolve my spending habits then financial extinction is going to be the outcome.

Ambition. Just how much can I achieve? Honestly, what, if I really put my mind to it, am I capable of achieving? It is so easy to get embroiled into an elaborate fantasy of what if’s and How it’s going to be’s. I do find it a major task to not get ahead of myself. But how do we moderate this feeling. Without some ambition we would never get anywhere. The trick is breaking down your goals into small and achievable milestones. Have an overall outcome in the back of your mind, the ultimate destination, but from what I have learnt so far, it is the journey and the checkpoints we reach along the way that are the most enjoyable aspects. Being honest about how and when I will reach these checkpoints ensures that I am not setting myself up to fail. So what is my ambition? I have several mini goals, but I am being realistic about their achievability. I want to carve out some semblance of a porn career, I want to develop a fetish clothing brand and I want to write some literature.  I hope to be making good progress on all counts by the time I reach 40.

Education. I would like to think that I am somewhat educated, certainly from an academic point of view. As for an education of the greater world, in all honesty I will never stop learning. Life is so multi dimensional and there are so many levels of development. Personal, social, sexual, friendships, philosophical. I feel like a sponge at the moment. I have never felt so receptive and wired to gaining new life experience and educating myself about as many facets of life as possible. The university of life seems a hell of a lot more important to me right now than any academic institution ever has.

Time. This is a finite parameter. Only so many hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a year… my perception of time seems to be altering as my own biological clock ticks on… My perception is that time is running out. In all honesty, I have about 30-35 years left. I have lived out half my life already! Have I wasted the past 36 years? Hell no. Without the culmination of all those experiences I would not be where I am today. I would not have the education, the ambition or the sense of self awareness that has brought to this juncture. Living with HIV does also alter your perceptions of time. It creates an added sense of urgency. It niggles in the back of your mind that time is more precious than it used to once be. But I don’t see time as the enemy. It is an ally to be harnessed and respected. Managing what time I have left has therefore become a priority of great importance. I have so much I want to do and see and experience. Finding the time to fit it all in is a challenge, but managing it with honesty makes the task so much easier.

Creative vision. I certainly have plenty of that. To the point that I feel like I am going a bit nuts at times. I see the world with such a renewed enthusiasm. There are so many opportunities to exploit, adapt and develop my ideas for the benefit of both myself and others. I have never had such a level of clarity. Getting my ideas to become a reality is a challenge though and are embroiled so much with the previous points: Time; Money; Ambition. I know I am a bit of a dreamer, but to harness my innovation into something real would honestly be the most amazing thing I can achieve on a personal level! The key here is believing in myself. If I can believe in my own ideas then others will follow suit.

Motivation. Honestly, I find it hard to push myself. But knowing where I want to be and what I want to achieve has become a great driving force in my life now. Nobody else is going to hand me anything on a silver platter. If I am going to make this work then I need to get off my ass and do it myself! I get lots of support from friends and this is also a great source of motivation. Not that I am doing this for them, but knowing that they want me to succeed is a marvelous incentive.

Confidence.  How do we measure this? I know some people who are so confident in their beliefs that they come across as arrogant cocks! I don’t want to be seen as the cocky prick. But I would like to feel confident in myself that the decisions that I make are correct and based on sound judgment. Of course, we can never be 100% confident that what we are doing is the right thing, but I am aware of this, and honest with myself about it.

Willingness to take a risk. I think I have demonstrated this with a little too much fervor over the past several years. I have taken stupid risks and nearly paid for them with my life. But what I have learnt from that risk taking behavior is that I am not happy to toe the line. I feel that personal development and life experience is gained significantly from risk taking. Sometimes you have to blindly leap from one stone to the next. Without these leaps of danger and faith we just stagnate. I am not happy to sit in the same pond, festering with all the same fish and weeds for the rest of my life. I want to see as many ponds and rivers and lakes and oceans as possible and without being willing to jump across the void to those new opportunities I will never achieve this. However I now have an honest objective outlook on how to manage these risks. No point in jumping into a situation that I know is going to leave me utterly out of my depth. So I no longer blindly take risks. I like to be able to see, even if its just a limited perspective, the destination before I go diving headlong into something new.

So being honest with myself is a great feeling of comfort. It is giving me a template to live life in a more constructed way. But furthermore, it enables me to judge just how honest others are being with themselves and ultimately determine how honest they are likely to be with me. We all have our reasons to deceive those around us. Perfect honesty is a kind of illusion. If we laid all of our cards on the table all of the time we would never win any games and would hold no mystery. But the key is to only withhold strategic information which will not be of detriment to both yourself and others. Nobody likes a liar, and in the end they always get caught out in one way or another. But just how economical with the truth should we be in our interactions? At what point does a white lie become a big fat one? This question has me in a quandary. I try and be as honest with all my answers as possible. But sometimes this can lead to a negative outcome. However, is it not better to cause negativity and have a clear conscience than to knowingly deceive to maintain the status quo? From my perspective, I think in general the answer is yes. But there are caviats. My Gran doesn’t know I have HIV, she doesn’t need to know. If she asked me outright, in all honesty, I would lie to her. She is too old to have to deal with the worry and stress. On the same token my Kids do not know either. This is because they are too young to know. Does the guy I am about to fuck know? Most definitely! My obligation to him is different as my status has the potential to directly affect his health. I could lie to him, but in all honesty, I couldn’t live with myself for this kind of deception.  I am going to end this entry with a poem I wrote a year ago called Honesty Policy as I feel it is appropriate

I can see the rim
Just out of reach.
I’ve been digging so long now,
The only place left to go
Is deeper down

The sun is setting below the lip
And as the shadows stretch
To match the length of my lies
I momentarily close my eyes
And let the blackness of my mind
Sooth me for a while.
For there is a great peace in not seeing.
Relief of the pain bleeding from the webs of my deceit.

It was not my aim to cause you any pain.
So I played this game, you see:
Playing my cards to our table
Till my hand was left open.
Exposed to my own stack of backed up shit!
Unable to sustain the tapestry of my misdoings:
Woven into a great stained carpet
And i’m running out of furniture to hide the marks.
Running into ruin.

Covers over covers over lovers.
Falsifying fumbles with fantastic tales.
Tall stories told straight from the sphere
Lolling atop a curved and insubstantial spine.
It started small, but I cant stop.
Digging here, sleeping there
Sneaking, creeping and all along
Unbelieving, almost deceiving myself!

I don’t want to do this anymore
But I’m addicted!
Just once more is no bigger crime
Than all those times gone before.
But i’m afflicted!
Constantly tripping over the stumps
And lumps covering up my previous.
I should go down for this.
I should plead guilty.
I should stop digging deeper.
I should, but I wont, until I’m caught.

I can see the rim
Just out of reach.
I’ve been digging so long now
The only place left to go
Is deeper down

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Grindr for the Healthy and Clean

Firstly, before I continue with my blog can I plug a link to the photo exhibition which I did a shoot for a few weeks ago and mentioned in my last installment:

I hope you can make it along to the exhibition or maybe even take part somehow?

I would like to talk about the power of language. The words that we use define us as individuals. Some of us fucking swear excessively. Some of us, like,  use the same word, like,  in sentences all the time, like,  even when it like has no context, like. Some of us are very obtuse, brash and wield words like a sledgehammer, whilst others are highly diplomatic and conscientious of the impact of what they say.  Words have destroyed businesses, like Gerald Ratner of Ratners High Street Jewelers saying how the decanters they sold were so cheap because they were “crap”.  Words can highlight the sheer stupidity of supposed great men in places of immense power such as George W Bush and his fool me once shame on you fuck up speech. As a result of manipulated and inaccurate words in a scientific paper published in the Lancet in 1998, tens of millions of pounds were spent on litigation cases and thousands of children suffered needlessly from measles and mumps. Yes, words can have dire implications indeed.

The nineteenth century school playground rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” was conjured up to try and minimize the negative impact of name calling and taunting. However, Having suffered from physical, emotional and psychological traumas at various points over the 36 years I have walked the earth I have to say that it is the words, the emotional and psychological assaults and injuries that have caused the most significant scarring. If only I was a stoical as some of those Victorian children eh. The wrong words can lead to depression, self doubt, self loathing, self harm even suicide. We are all aware of Bullying and the impact it can have on individuals and in our modern era of multiple methods of communication, bullying can be inflicted as a multi faceted attack. Facebook, text messages, smartphone applications, emails and phone calls. I have to agree that the pen is very much mightier than the sword, but the keyboard is even mightier! Anyway, enough of this rant, I need to say where it is going.

Something happened to me today. Something which really gets up my nose. I logged into Grindr on my iphone while I was on my tacho Break. Grindr is one of  several social networking app’s for gay men to chat, swap photos and hook up.  The app consists of many different guys profiles which contain a “family safe” photo of choice, basic stats and a brief paragraph of their own choosing.  The app then searches for all the other guys who are logged on or have recently logged on in your vicinity and displays how far away they are from you. It is elegantly simple and effective, in theory. The interesting thing about these kinds of app is that they seem to have evolved their own social etiquettes outside the realms of normal social communication. The fact that you have literally hundreds of guys at your fingertips kind of opens up a limitless opportunity to virtually cruise for gratuitous sex.

Some guys initiate a conversation conventionally with a “hi” or a “how’s it going”. This kind of conversation has the potential to blossom into something interesting. A drawn out tennis game of small talk or become a convoluted waltz of flirtation, platitudes and direct or indirect personal questions and answers. Others start the conversation with single words such as “Hot”, “Fit” “Woof” or “Oink”. These openings are meant to pander to your narcissistic side and elicit a response of thanks and potential reciprocation. This type of direct approach indicates that the guy is less likely to be looking for a chat and more likely to be feeling horny and wanting to empty his balls. Amazing how you can read so much information from the first word of a conversation with a complete random stranger.  Some guys open a conversation by sending you a dirty pic. One of their cock, or arse or of them being fucked or sucking a cock. Personally I find this approach a bit offensive. I mean, as nice as it is to be sent a random photo out of the blue of something filthy, I actually like the art of conversation and am a lot more turned on by what is going on inside a guys head than how big his cock is.

Another opening approach the single word: “Pix?” or “Cockpic?” or “Arsepic?” I find these opening lines both unbelievably rude and seriously immature. Yes I have pics. I have loads. However, I also have manners. I also have a personality. I also have a bit more about me than just a pic of my anatomy. It is not my job to educate these lads on their social skills but sometimes I cant help myself and launch into a tirade of questioning their upbringing and dilution of the genetic pool from their geographical place of origin and if they had managed to obtain a GCSE in English. Most of the time it just goes over their head and they just come back at me with the same question but with a please on the end. “Ok I get you, cockpic please?” At which point I am usually screaming at my phone screen.
There are also the 3 most predictable questions that invariably 95% of guys will always ask:

1.     What you into?
2.     What you looking for?
3.     You Top or Bottom?

These questions are now so predictable that they have almost become a cliché!

 I dunno what I am into. It is different depending on who I am playing with. With some guys I might be into snogging, with others I may be into Piss…. How on earth am I meant to answer this question to a complete stranger? My usual answer is “everything” which throws the ball back into their court.

What am I looking for? Well I am on a gay hook up app on my phone… I can pretty much guarantee that I am looking for the same as 95% of all the other guys logged into grindr at this present moment!

Am I top or Bottom? See the answer to question 1!

Some guys are completely hypocritical. They have a blank photo or one of just their torso or a big toe or their cat or their car or of a sunset or something fluffy and yet they have written on their profile page “No facepic: No chat”. What the fuck? What is this ‘Do as I say not as I do’ bullshit?

There was a bit of an incident several months back when a buddy of mine in Canada had his Grindr profile censored because he stated his HIV status on his profile page. This caused uproar amongst many groups on the internet and created a lot of negative publicity for Grindr. Many guys were outraged. Many emailed Grindr directly, including myself and many guys simultaneously started to put their HIV status onto their profile pages. Personally I never heard anything back from Grindr but I have not heard of any other cases of grindr censoring a profile that is stating the owners status. This kind of discrimination by a large player in the gay dating business like Grindr is seriously unacceptable. Hopefully they realised that it is irresponsible of them to not allow somebody to advertise their status.  Not to mention the fact that, at least here, in the UK, HIV is covered under the disability discrimination act. Being open and honest about your status on such profiles reduces stigma and allows guys to make informed choices about the kind of sex they want to have. I think we are most definitely at a point in the HIV epidemic where we are very aware that secrecy and hiding behind fear is one of the contributing factors to the proliferation of the virus.

One of the features of Grindr is that you can block somebody if you do not like them. This means you can no longer see their profile and they can no longer see yours. This is a handy feature for if you are, for instance, being stalked or a guy doesn’t get the message that you are not interested. To block somebody because of those reasons is perfectly reasonable. However. Some guys use the block button to end a conversation if you don’t quite measure up to their expectations or are not precisely what they are looking for in a shag.

Q. Are you Top?
A. No. I’m vers m8… like to get as good as I give

Q. Are you hung?
A. about 7” uncut

Q. You looking to fuck m8?
A. Not right this minute. Maybe later…

I find this so unbelievably rude. I mean you wouldn’t do this in a bar or a club so what makes it acceptable in an app? However, I am guilty of doing this very thing today. But I think I was justified in my action.

The conversation went something like this:

Him: Are you Top?

Me: I’m Vers

Him: So you like fucking?

Me: I am not averse to it….

Him: Do you fuck bareback?

Me: I prefer to yes

Him: Are you clean?

Me: What do you mean?

Him: Are you healthy?

Me: Oh, Yes, I shower regularly and I go to the gym often

Him: But are you free from disease.

Me: are you?

Him: Yes. As of 2 weeks ago. I didn’t mean to offend.

Me: Yes I am poz and clean (undetectable) and healthy. And yes you have offended me.


I don’t think it would have served any greater purpose to have continued the conversation. Was I right to just end the conversation with a BLOCK? I was so fucking angry! I hate it when people refer to HIV positive people as unclean, unhealthy or diseased. These words are very powerful, deeply offensive and stigmatising! Yes I have a blood bourn virus but it is well managed with medication and I am physically healthier than I have been since I was in high school! Is he free from disease? Yes he may have had a recent full STI screening but is he free from cancer or heart disease or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s? Ok, I rarely wear deodorant because I personally hate the smell and kinda like the smell of my own manly body odour. However, I shower once or twice or sometimes 3 times a day. I also douche if I think I am gonna be fucked… Cleanliness is quite high on my agenda.

We are free to choose the words that we use when we interact with others. But please be aware of the potentially negative connotations associated with certain words. Freedom of speech is something we hold in high regard. But using language responsibly takes more effort than you might think.