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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bug chasers and BareBackers. If you like a lot of chocolate on ya’ biscuit join our club!

This blog is by no means a way for me to glorify being HIV positive and in no way am I suggesting through the scope of its content that deliberately seeking to become infected with HIV is a sensible or solely beneficial choice. What you are about to read is merely a balanced viewpoint of some of the aspects of living with the virus and how it is not necessarily all doom and gloom. We all make choices in our lives, for whatever reasons at the time and as a result have to live with the consequences of our actions. Barebacking, stealthing, breeding, gift giving and bug chasing are things that are happening around us all every day. They may not be talked about much but that does not mean that they are not happening.

Being a member of a club brings with itself a certain feeling of exclusivity. It makes the members feel special in their own way. The rock climbing club; The golf Club; The MX5 owners club; The gentleman’s club; The FreeMasons; The swinger club. You get the idea. We like to associate with others with the same interests, the same outlook on life, the same goals and life experiences. This is a basic foundation of social structure. As with many clubs a membership is required. Sometimes this is free, sometimes there is a price to pay and sometimes you need a certain possession or attribute. The main point is that people like to be in a club because it gives them a sense of belonging and a feeling of solidarity with the other members.

When I was first diagnosed with HIV several of my buddies came to see me to offer support, to make sure that I was not freaking out, to give me a big hug and to “Welcome me to the Club”. Now this last item may seem like a bit of an odd thing to do. How can having HIV be like being in a club? Just what benefits does it give you? For one, there is certainly a price to pay on a psychological, physical and social level. Looking back it was almost like I had been through some kind of initiation. No pledges of allegiance or swearing on a bible, just the fact that I no longer was part of the HIV negative community. A tiny, microscopic biological particle had caused a huge change in my life. Life being a very important word in that sentence, because the very nature of this virus was that it could weaken you to the point where you would die. So on this point there is certainly an attribute required to be in “The Club”. Being Positive! But this expression extends much further than the obvious ramifications of having a disease.

Many guys I know do not use condoms and have never used them. This term is known as barebacking. Some see this as an irresponsible thing to do as it can lead to transmission of sexual infections and diseases, but between consenting adults it is perfectly natural. Heterosexual couples bareback all the time and in fact, if they didn’t we would soon have a bit of a population problem! Penetrative sex without physical barriers is as intimately and physically close as 2 people can get, which is one of the reasons the pill, coil, cap, vasectomy and contraceptive implants/injections were created in the first place. If condoms were the only form of contraception available on the planet there would be a whole lot more than 6.8 billion people here! So, why are gay men demonised so much for having unprotected sex? I would say the main reason is because we are such promiscuous fuckers! Men like to have sex. Men like to have sex with as many partners as possible. Men think about sex all day long. They look at other peoples arses, genital areas, lips, chests. They talk to each other about sex, what they did, are going to do, want to do. This is as true for straight men as it is for gay men and though we are human and have higher a state of consciousness and morals and free will, essentially we are just walking loaded weapons of DNA looking for as many targets as possible.

In the straight community this desire is contained somewhat because of the social control structures and mechanisms that have been put in place by tradition and religion. These controls were created to foster stable family environments for the resulting offspring created by the barebacking straight couples. Marriage and monogamy are seen as both normal and as desirable. Gay men cannot have biological children as a result of their sexual encounters and as such are less influenced and controlled by these measures. I am in no way saying that a gay couple is incapable of having a loving, committed and monogamous relationship. How people choose to have their relationship is between them. The chances of a gay couple being open to additional sexual partners within the realms of their relationship however is, in my experience, significantly increased. Anyway, I digress. The point I am making here is that gay men do not have to obey the regular rules of relationships set by society and as a rule we don’t! The amount of Sauna’s (Health clubs where gay, Bisexual and “straight” men go to fuck each other), Fuck clubs, cruising grounds, cottages, internet hook up sites and mobile phone apps out there will clearly demonstrate just how open and liberal men are when it comes to sex and promiscuity. Men cannot impregnate each other and so unprotected sex on the surface has a lot less long term implications. During the 80’s and 90’s HIV was a much more scary prospect. Treatment was still in its infancy stages and carried a lot of debilitating side effects. This one factor was enough to cause many guys to rubber up and have safe sex. But with modern treatments HIV no longer has the same scare factor that it once did. Guys still love to have unsafe sex and the consequences seem less threatening. Becoming HIV positive in 2011 no longer is such an ordeal. The social, professional and peer support networks available now are amazing.

For some, myself included in this group, the choice to have bareback sex was partly fuelled by this modern day perception of HIV. Many porn producers are bareback only and use porn models who openly advertise that they are HIV positive through biohazard tattoos. Many fuck clubs are geared up towards bareback sex with members comparing how many loads (of cum up their arses) they have had or how many guys they have bred (fucked and cum inside of). Some poz men openly talk about their status during sex. So called “Poz Talk” is another way for guys to eroticise and fetishise their status. Much like a straight guy might say “I’m gonna fuck you hard you dirty bitch” (coming over all butch there, I have little idea of what straight couples say to each other while they are fucking, correct me if im wrong here lol), poz guys may say things like “Take my poz cock up your arse” or “You want my toxic load”. Being on the other side of the equation now however I have been approached by negative guys who ask me to Breed them with my poz load. Sadly for them, this is not my bag and even if it were, being on meds and having an undetectable viral load makes it virtually impossible for me to pass on the virus. Feel free to read : http://www.aidsmap.com/page/1429357/ for information on how the Swiss now deem HIV positive men with a  sustained undetectable viral load of 6 months and no other STI as non-infective for HIV.

For HIV negative guys the anxiety of potentially becoming positive can be overwhelming and so when it eventually happens, which in these scenarios it inevitably will, there is almost a sense of relief. The worst has happened. I know guys who have deliberately become Positive because it will gain them access, as a positive man, to proper health care and attention for other pre existing medical problems. Bit of a drastic step you may think, but sadly, certain components of healthcare in the UK such as mental health, are seriously overlooked and neglected. Having HIV can ‘up’ your priority on the so called urgency list for treatment and effective care.

Some guys actively seek out HIV positive men to have bareback sex with so that they can increase the chances of becoming infected. This is called bug chasing. Some eroticise the risk of having this kind of risky sex. Bug chasing can stem from a lot of other different reasons also such as self punishment and depression or the desire to just be “in” the club. The guy passing on HIV knowingly to a negative guy is ironically called a “Gift Giver”. Yes, I know what you are thinking. Surely this is illegal. Surely it is GBH or ABH or something and yes, you would be right. But downloading a movie from PirateBay is illegal too, doesn’t stop people doing it. Some gift givers however pass HIV onto non-consenting negative guys. This can be by lying about their status or pre damaging a condom with a needle before they use it. This is called “Stealthing”. Just because a guy tells you he is negative it is not always the case. Just because a guy uses a condom it does not mean you are 100% safe from infection. Oh if only the world was so straightforward! Now don’t go getting all alarmed by this last piece of information. Many positive guys are terrified of passing on the virus. For risk of prosecution and also because they have had such a rough time coming to terms with being positive themselves that they would not knowingly want to put somebody else through it too. I’m just letting you know that such things happen. If you are negative and wish to remain that way and manage your risk by using condoms then always use your own. I’m gonna wind this up here for now as I need to go cook tea but I want to expand a bit more on this concept of being in a “club”

Laters guys…..

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Oral Sex: Its great to Suck but don't be a Sucker

Ok, so I have established that I am very open and outspoken about my status but what impact does this stance have on my life? How does being so frank affect me on a day to day basis?
Some people have said I am stupid for being so forthright, that it will bite me on the arse at some point down the line.
Some say I am courageous and wish that others were as open about being poz as I am. 
Some say im being too in their face and that they don’t want to hear about it.
Others say thank you for sharing and that they resonate with what I am saying.
As for me? What I say is that I need to be like this. I need to be this honest with myself and others. It is one of the biggest and best mechanisms I have come up with for me as an individual to fully come to terms with and accept being HIV positive. And whilst I care what others think and value their opinions, nothing anybody says is going to quell my voice.

Last week I had an interview with Terrence Higgins Trust, a HIV charity set up in the name of one of the first individuals to die from an AIDS related illness. Their mission is to promote safe sex in the community and to offer a support network for those who are living with the virus, affected by HIV or struggling with their diagnosis. The role I was interviewed for was health promotion outreach. This involves going out into the community, to target areas such as bars, clubs and cruising areas to offer some support and advice to people about their sexual health. Now in your mind I can see you envisaging me as a safe sex police officer dishing out condoms like sweeties to all the drugged up, loved up, horny or drunken gays before they go to the sauna or into the woods or into a toilet cubicle or take some lucky guy home. Maybe this is your own personal experience of health promotion outreach: “If I nod politely and say yes in all the right places and take a few condoms off them they will hopefully fuck off in a minute”….. I know, I have been on the other side of this so many times myself. On the surface it seems like such a thankless job. Anyway, they loved me! They appreciated my frankness and candor and have enrolled me onto their core training next weekend!

I am hoping to turn this perception of health promotion on its head a bit. The fact that I personally choose not to use condoms when I am having sex slips a touch of irony into me doing this role. But in my head, the role is about sexual health promotion and is not just as a glorified condom vender. Being responsible for your sexual health does not just involve sticking a condom onto your cock every time you want to stick it into another guy. Oh if things were only that simple! If that was the case there would be no need for HIV charities in the first place! For example. Do you use a condom when having oral sex? This is a common question asked by doctors in the GUM clinic. Now if every man being asked this question were to be honest then the answer 99.5% of the time is always going to be NO! Come on, just how un-erotic is sucking on something that tastes of condom??? You may as well stick a dildo down your throat! I mean, sucking on a cock after a condom has been on it is bad enough! The reason that this question is asked however is because there is a very small chance that there is a transmission risk for HIV from oral sex. Now the risk is present if for instance one or a combination of the following factors are present:

A.   You have tonsillitis/sore throat/inflammation etc, in which case the odds that you are going to want to have a cock rammed down the back of your mouth are slim anyway.
B.   The guys cock has lots of scabs, cuts, warts or open wounds all over it. Not very appetizing to say the least!
C.   You have just brushed your teeth and have bleeding gums.. Oh come on, yeah, im in the sauna and have just popped to my locker to brush my teeth before I go cock hunting in the steam room!
D.   You swallow several pints of semen. If somebody can find this please let me know!
E.   The guy is bleeding from the end of his cock because he has a different STI, bladder infection or prostate cancer. All you Fang Banger True Blood fans are welcome to go for it.

I am not an official authority. I am not a doctor. I am not a GUM health care support worker. However, I am a sleazy gay biochemist, with more than a little common sense and passing understanding of HIV transmission. Sucking on a cock, provided points A-E above do not apply, is pretty much as safe as it can get! However… Life is not so simple is it! If it were only HIV we had to worry about! Whilst you may be relatively risk free from HIV by having a chow down on some horny blokes kielbasa you are still at risk of infecting your throat with Gonorrhea, Chlamydia or Syphilis and whilst, certainly with the first 2, these may not necessarily be of much consequence to you in your mouth (Syphilis is nasty wherever you get it!), the next person you chow down on is gonna be at risk of being infected in his cock from you! A secondary problem with having a STI living in the back of your throat is that it can make you slightly more at risk of getting HIV from oral sex!

All 3 of these bacterial infections can be A-symptomatic so you can never know who has them. The only ways of getting round these problem are from the following options:

1.   Never have oral sex again! OMG, that’s a bit draconian!
2.   Only ever have Oral sex with a condom. Great if you like sucking on a dildo or love the taste of lube, spermicide and latex.
3.   Only have oral sex with a regular partner whom you are 100% certain you are monogamous with.
4.   Go get tested regularly for a full MOT at the GUM clinic

If you have oral sex with a different partner, a casual encounter, a one night stand, a quickie in the bushes, cottage or sauna, a nosh job in the night club toilets, a 3some with your boyfriend, whatever it is that you have done then really, you are at some risk of having picked up something. This goes the other way too. Just think what could have been at the back of the throat of the last guy you fed your cock to! The best way you can be responsible for your own sexual health, if like me you live in the real world and admit that you do have some kind of active sex life, is to get yourself down the clinic every 3-6 months and have a full screen. It doesn’t take too long and is hardly embarrassing, especially if you have no symptoms. You can smile to yourself that you are just performing some essential maintenance. I mean, would you leave your £15,000 new car for years without a service? Then why not treat your own body the same. 

So getting back to the health promotion. Being a health promotion outreach worker is so much more than just giving out a condom and a lecture on using a condom. It involves openness and empathy and getting a message of risk management and personal responsibility across to people who, as a rule, don't want to listen. It involves increasing awareness of sti's and std's by using humour and tact and wit, something most gay men have in abundence. I can't wait to get started! And for me, I would say it will involve showing that I am not separate from the community which I am reaching out to but that I am a functioning member of it. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Hep C: Fears; Risks and Recriminations

I think I really need to talk a lot more on the matter of Hep C and my experiences and observations around this growing epidemic. I feel for me a massive turning point in my viewpoint on hep C was acquiring it. Up until this point I really didn't  know a lot about it at all and as a result had been polluted by the emergent swathe of misinformation, Chinese whispers and hush hush cloak and dagger conversations on the subject by buddies, guys in chat rooms and blokes on the scene. By the time I was told I was positive I was so scared, hortified and anxious about it (I was HIV negative at the time) that I genuinely thought it was the end of the world. I figured if I was going to be told i had anything it would be HIV. This was not something I had mentally prepared myself for. This was the wrong virus. How could this be happening to me?

The ironic thing is, that as a result of a particularly difficult period in my life, mixed with high levels of stress, grief and depression, I had decided to bug chase. I Needed to punish myself, and what better way? The problem was, I was stupid enough the fool myself into thinking that I was only chasing one specific bug. More fool me eh. If there was one thing I didn't want to get it was the dreaded Hep C! Nobody would touch me with a barge pole now! The (HIV) poz community I had been so desperately trying to join had suddenly become even more distant! Oh what a fool I had been!  I instantly felt like i needed to point a finger. Find another to blame, shout at somebody else to make myself feel better. I think in retrospect, this is a kind of normal reaction. Bug chasing or not.

Who had given this to me?
Who had not told me their hep C status?
Who had been the liar?
Who had duped me into playing with them whilst knowing all along that I was negative for everything?
Who the fuck was I kidding?

Nobody had given it to me. The possibility that somebody had gone put of their way to deliberately infect me existed, but, was remote at best. As fucked up as the world is I don't think it's quite that fucked up yet! The only thing most of us are guilty of is being permanently horny. Though using the word guilty in this context implies that this is a bad thing which it most certainly isn't. The fact was that the only person responsible for me getting Hep C was myself. This was a difficult conclusion the reach.

It is not (for the majority of us) until you acquire a disease however that you start to properly dig around for hard solid facts and find out a lot more about it. Just how easy it is to get. Just how hardy the virus is and how it can survive as a viable and infective agent for months outside the body and in the right conditions, like in a nice tub of crisco (Fisting lube for those of you who don't know what Crisco is) kept out in a warm playroom or even stored in a refrigerator to keep it fresh! How the straw or bullet that John, Dave and Brian have been using for the past 18 hours to get the ketamine, coke and mephedrone up their noses is probably laden not only with drug powders but also with small speckles of blood from their damaged nose lining. How Hepatitis C can appear unsymptomatic for over a decade, or that the symptoms can be so vague that you blame them on a hangover or comedown or are masked by other things such as side effects for other medications you already take. All these little facts that had managed to slip past me. The only thing to blame here then was my own ignorance. Or was it?

Being positive for Hep C grants you access to a different type of ‘Club’. However, as I was to discover, it is a very dark, underground and secretive club. One whose members habitually lie about their status. One fuelled by fear, stigma and ostracisation. Exclusion of a newer sub- group by another already ostracised and excluded group. I soon discovered with a lot more clarity that having Hep C was a little like being a Leppar within the HIV community. People stopped playing with you, stopped talking to you, stopped sending you messages online. You would get sudden waves of activity and tracks being left on your online profiles but with no cruises or subsequent contact. These behaviours left me not only paranoid but also feeling very dirty and not dirty in a good way I can tell you. However, a big upside of having Hep C for me was something pretty obvious. Acquiring this virus was something which tended to happen to the sleazier and more deviant of the fetish brotherhood. I now had access to all the filthiest fuckers on the block with no fear of getting something nasty; I already had it! Every club has its benefits so it seems! The flurry of dirty sex I had in the first 6 months of being Hep C positive was possibly the biggest learning curve about my own sexual limits I have ever experienced <GRIN GRIN GRIN>.

The problem with me is I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut! I am very open and vocal about who I am, what I have, what I have done etc etc (Though I do respect the discretion and identity of my playmates unless I have their permission to disclose who they are. Many on the scene however don’t share this moralistic viewpoint and revel in the drama of gossip and tiddle tattling about who they last fucked!). I am now very much of the opinion that the best weapon we have against ignorance and stigma is openness and communication. Being honest with myself and those around me and being able to express myself freely is something I seriously value and take a big pride in. This is what gives me confidence, helps come to terms with changes in my life and very much shapes me as an individual. This is the best weapon we have against Hep C. I feel that we still have a long way to go but I do hope that the feeling of segregation and isolation felt by many in the Hep C community can be waned away through openness and acceptance of this STD as a part of our lives as members of any community, be that HIV, fetish, gay, bisexual, sleaze, fisting, disco bunny or barebacking.  I am now Hep C negative but I still feel very much part of the Hep C community because effectively were all in this together!