National Library of New Zealand
Harvested by the National Library of New Zealand on: Nov 8 2010 at 6:55:25 GMT
Search boxes and external links may not function. Having trouble viewing this page? Click here
Close Minimize Help
Wayback Machine
GayNZ Logo & Link
Monday 08 November 2010

SEARCH



The Gay Blade

20th April 2010

Who Speaks for Me?

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I was interested to read this article on gaynz about the magazine “Collective Thinking” and how Body Positive (BP) and others view it and where it should be.

Now, let me declare my potential conflicts of interest up front: I have written for the magazine a number of times. I have close links to NZAF as an ex-Chair of the organisation. I have also served my time on the Board of Body Positive back in the 90s, and I have helped run a number of support groups for BP over the years, I think I co-facilitated five of them in the end, as a volunteer. I also carry out research at University into life with HIV for gay men in New Zealand.

So I’m sort of in the thick of it to some extent.

Do HIV+ people in New Zealand need some sort of magazine or forum where they can connect or at least feel as though they matter? Yes, definitely, and like Ray Taylor I’m a fan of the idea of turning it into an online resource.

Is BP the right group to be running this? Well, personally, I don’t think so. So I’m glad they’ve decided not to try.

They like to claim that they are the national organisation for those of living with HIV, and that claim is typically unquestioned. But there have been bitter fights in the past between BP and people trying to set up HIV support networks in other parts of the country. Yes, I’m airing some dirty laundry that none of the gay media have ever picked up.

We don’t all get on. We don’t all agree. Just because we have HIV doesn’t automatically mean we form a community.

A lot of the resentment from people out of Auckland in the past came from people thinking BP was doing a typical Auckland take-over, trying to take ownership of their groups yet being blind to the needs of local people, or even HIV+ people in those places who do not think BP does such a great job in the first place. In many ways the relationship has a strange echo of how BP complains about the NZAF. To be blunt, not everyone living with HIV respects and listens to Body Positive, yet they get to claim they are our voice.

They do in fact do a lot of good things under difficult circumstances, but their main problem is one outside their control. More and more people who get diagnosed with HIV find that after the first shock, which may last months, or years for some, they don’t actually want to be in a group of HIV+ people. Simply having the same virus in your body as someone else doesn’t create a single coherent group of people. And today more and more of us are getting on with life, and actually have no need of the services they provide.

BP was set up in a time of crisis, when people were getting horribly sick and dying. When I went to my support group  there one of the facilitators died 3 weeks into our 12 week session. It was 1994, and it was a different world. In those days there was a clear and obvious need for peer support groups, in those days you knew you would get sick, and need help, and die from AIDS. I spent 3 years focussing on my impending death, was sure I’d never be able to have a meaningful career again or form loving relationships. Well thanks to the power of western Medicine, I got all that completely wrong, I’m glad to say. But in that time it did feel important to be with others who understood, who were going through it as well. But that was a different time.

HIV+ people in New Zealand do need strong advocacy, especially around maintaining access to the best quality medication, and in dealing with bigotry, isolation and stigma. And for some people, an HIV diagnosis is still something that overwhelms everything else in their lives and changes it in such a way that they find returning to “normal” life impossible. All of these things are important, and BP does what it can in these areas.

But lots of us aren’t in that situation. Frankly, and I say this without malice, BP is not relevant to me as an HIV+ gay man today, and I know a lot of other guys in the same position. As we actually have a very small pool of people living with the virus here, it become even harder for them to stay relevant to people who are getting on with their lives.

We do need some sort of national organisation for all HIV+ people, but every time it has been attempted, it has collapsed at the first hurdle due to personality clashes and differing ideas of what it should be. BP ends up as the voice, but they aren’t my voice, they don’t speak for me, and I know an awful lot of HIV+ guys around New Zealand who are in the same position.

What’s the solution? I’m not sure. But we need to adapt to a very different world and a very different population of people living with the virus. BP, or any other group that claims it can speak for people with HIV needs to ensure they are relevant not just to one small group but to the majority. And that may be an impossible task, but it’s worth pointing out.

→ 11 CommentsTags: General

8th April 2010

So, How’s the Family ?

Posted by: Michael Stevens

It’s easy for a lot of us to think that now we’ve got all those legal battles behind us, you know, we’re legal now, can’t be discriminated against for being a homo, can get a Civil Union if you want, to think that it’s just fine and dandy for everyone else who’s gay in the country, but as I’ve been reminded a few times lately, it’s not the case.

It’s pretty hard for most of us to avoid family and the impact they have on us. And if you’re queer, it can be really hard if the people you’ve grown up with and known since you were born freak out when they find out that you’re not going to follow the straight and narrow path they just assumed you would naturally take.

Family matters. Their opinions of us are important, even when they’re negative. And I don’t know why but I’ve heard quite a lot of stories recently from people who have had really shitty experiences with their families.

Outright rejection is the most obvious and hurtful. I am actually stunned to hear that people’s parents have refused to speak to them since they came out - this still happens today. And it can go on for decades, or till death in some cases. My parents were pretty shocked back in the 70s when I told them, and it took my Dad a long time to come round, but he did. Even then I was never excluded from the family, he and I just wouldn’t talk when we met at Xmas or birthdays. I was lucky, my brothers were great, and my Mum was able to adjust and after the shock of the news, there was no problem.

But I’ve been hearing such hideous nasty stories from so many people lately - it makes me realise how lucky I am. I just can’t imagine what it would be like to be totally cut off from family, but a number of people go through that, and it must be shit.

Then there’s the other form of family cruelty, where they never really accept you, but still see you, but refuse to acknowledge your partner, or demand you never talk about the important things in your life as a queer - what you do, where you go, who your friends are, why you have a broken heart. They only want to accept a limited, sanitised version of you, one that won’t embarass them in front of the neighbours or at work or in Church. And of course, it’s always your fault for the pain and embarrassment, not theirs. They’ve done nothing wrong, but they sit there stewing in guilt and silent condemnation. Man I’m lucky I didn’t have to put up with that. I thought we’d all got past that now, but I was wrong. It still seems surprisingly, and unhappily, common.

Another form I’ve been hearing about from people is when you think your brother or sister is fine with you being queer, their partner, wife or husband is cool with it, you go to their place for dinner, baby-sit the brats, then one of their kids turns out to be one of us - and bang! You’re a demon. And you mustn’t talk about it ! Even if your niece or nephew has come and talked to you about it. “Back off! This is something we’ll deal with ! Keep your nose out! And don’t you dare tell Mum and Dad!”

That response, to me, shows that in fact they were never really cool with you being a homo in the first place. They were able to put on a good front, they probably even really convinced themselves that they had no issue with queers - until their own offspring suddenly force themselves to confront the mess of bigotry that sits there like a leaking sewer under a nice tidy garden. In fact the brother or sister you thought loved and accepted you never really did; or why react this way?

And yet we listen to people constantly telling us that “The Family” or “Whanau” is the building block of society, the best safest place to be for kids, a warm sheltering place of love that will take you in no matter what. Yeah, right.

As I said, I have been lucky - a few nasty moments when I was a lot younger with my Dad, but we moved beyond that. And it’s easy for someone like me to think that things are so much better than they were.

But for a lot of people that’s not the case. They are rejected and emotionally abused by the people they should be able to trust the most. No one can exert the same power over us that family can. They know all the buttons to push in ways that others don’t. And when they turn on us, withdraw their support and love, leave us because suddenly we are sick scum in their eyes, the result is devastating for many, and the consequences can be terrible.

It’s good to remember that with all the legal and social gains we’ve made, it can still be a nasty cold unwelcoming and unloving world for a lot of us who don’t fit the straight model.

→ 4 CommentsTags: General

31st March 2010

WTF? Ricky Martin is gay?

Posted by: Michael Stevens

So, whoever would have guessed that Ricky Martin was gay?

OK, all of us really.  But it matters.  And it shouldn’t matter - that’s the trouble.  I can remember years ago as a scared gay teen desperately looking for any sign of gayness in singers, actors, public figures: I just wanted to know there were others out there like me, and they’d been successful.  But of course, so many successful queers have had to hide who they are in a way that straights don’t. And that’s not right.  There have been some really nasty homophobic comments on message boards and YouTube since Ricky made the announcement.

The saddest thing for me is that it still seems necessary for success in the entertainment industry to pretend to be someone you aren’t.  The general public are the problem more than the industry itself, yet it’s a vicious cycle: if people in the public eye are warned that coming out will kill their career, they won’t, and so the hypocrisy continues, and instead of queers seeing that being gay is normal, and in every part of society, they are left without the songs, the films, the general culture, that reflects us and who we are.  Imagine if Ricky sang “He Bangs” or used “He” instead of “She” in La Vida Loca?  Why hasn’t Elton done a strong song that is about two men loving each other?  It just seems ridiculous and sad that these things just aren’t possible. The Pet Shop Boys are the first group I can think of that unambiguously sang about gay life, but even they were tentative at times.  I want to hear songs about my life, not straights. When are we going to have the first openly gay All Black in this country?  And don’t pretend there’s never been one - there has.  But the NZ Rugby Union would rather stop playing than admit it.

Why?  What is so threatening about us?  Why are we seen as such a profit-killer (cause that’s what it’s about - money) and a curse for popular entertainers?  Even Ellen took her time in being public about it loving women instead of men.

If queers of every stripe are ever going to have real acceptance, real success and happiness in this world we need to be seen as part of it, not something to be denied.  We need more visibility, not less. Gay Pride was about exactly what its name said - taking pride in who we are, not apologising for it, not accepting discrimination, not accepting being second-best.

There is nothing wrong, unnatural or sinful about same-sex attraction, or any form of being gender or sexually different. Yet the fact that ricky Martin thought he had to hide it for so long shows the power of social conformity, the way we are told to present ourselves instead of who we really are.

You only get one go around in this world, why should so many of us feel the need to pretend to be who we aren’t, and how can we change it?  No, who we are attracted to isn’t everything about us, but it is an important part of it.

I live in the hope that more and more people in the public eye will be able to pursue their careers without fear and homophobia stopping them being who they are, and that those of us in the general public can do the same, but I wonder how long it will take, or if it will ever really be that way.  We need to reject society’s idea that we are second best, we’re not. we need to take pride in who we are.

→ 6 CommentsTags: General

19th March 2010

Human Frailty

Posted by: Michael Stevens


Once again I am forcibly reminded, I am my body
. Crossing Queen St on Wednesday on my way to a meeting at the AIDS Foundation, I felt this sudden Bang! like someone had slammed the back of my left calf with a hammer. I’d pulled a muscle, just by running across the road. Pain! And not the fun kind! I rang my Dr, got an appointment. Rang my boss and told her I wouldn’t be back in. Staggered onto the Link and got to the meeting. The Dr couldn’t see me till after 2, and they’re only 5 mins away from my Dr and home, so I thought, “Just go for an hour” and I managed.

The Dr said “you’ve pulled your left calf muscle near the top.” Gee, really ? A compression bandage (so not sexy) and panadol - not even a decent opiate-based pain-killer. Although a surprising number of friends have them in their medicine cabinets it turned out, offers of all sort of things came in - thanks for that! An awful lot of people have walking sticks lying around too it seems.

But now, 2 days later, and only slightly mobile, it takes me back to those bad old days years ago in the mid 90s when I was based at Herne Bay House and had to learn how to walk again. I had been so sick, had lost so much weight (down to 50 kgs at one point), that even getting from room down the corridor to the dining room there was a major effort, resulting in exhaustion and breathlessness. It was a triumph the day I could walk all around the house. After a while I could even, slowly, walk down to the shops. I bought a pie and doughnut at the bakery. Nothing ever tasted so good.

But being that sick, for that long, made me conscious of just how much we (or is it just me?) take our bodies for granted. Just simple things like being able to walk to the shops, being able to stand up in a shower and wash myself. All of those little things we normally just assume we can do.

And now here I am, stuck pretty much at home until I can move more easily. My life is limited again in a physical sense. And that is one of the things I remember from being so sick: my life being constrained to one room, dependent on nurses, (I love and admire nurses,double their salaries I say: anyone who can wipe your arse and still treat you like a dignified human being 1 minute later is a fantastic human being and valuable professional), waiting for friends or family to visit, measuring the day by when meals arrive, being sick and being so dependent on others - that sense that my body had betrayed me - hideous. And when you’re body is crapping out on you it’s pretty hard to keep your mind and heart in good shape too.

People talk about keeping a positive attitude, and fuck that used to piss me off when I was that sick. But I did learn the value of it eventually. Life does hand you shit at times, and you have to deal with it. I liken it to having to change a tyre on the motorway in the rain. You can bitch and moan about it as much as you like, but you still have to do it, so why not calm down and just get on with it.

But it was a horrible time in my life, one when I and most around me thought I was dying. Now, a pulled muscle is nothing like coping with PCP and other AIDS related conditions. But it reminds me of those bleak sad days in my past. And of how far I’ve been lucky enough to come.

And I am lucky: friends have been offering all sorts of support (enough with the jokes about keeping my legs elevated though guys) and I feel cared for and that’s a lovely thing to know.

I’ve had to cancel a few dates, one in particular I’d been looking forward to; I feel like a kid who’s been told Xmas is cancelled dammit. I won’t be dancing for a while, and that is a bummer. I won’t be able to walk to work as I usually do, and I probably won’t be propping up the bar for a while. But this will pass, and I will get back to normal, again.

I’m lucky, and it’s good to be reminded at times of how lucky I am.

→ 4 CommentsTags: General

9th March 2010

Acting My Age

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I was out dancing the other weekend and “Forever Young” came on.

oldergay.jpgI was dancing with a small group of old friends, some of us have been dancing together for 30 years. I’m 48 and I often go out dancing. Do I want to be forever young, as the song says, or not? Should I have taken myself off the dancefloor in shame?

Gay men are often accused of having a Peter Pan complex. And while we visible ones on the scene help create this stereotype, it’s often applied to all homos with thin-lipped disapproval, to show we aren’t really serious or mature somehow. We don’t want to grow up, apparently. We like to do “young” things, like dance, dress up, go to parties, sleep around, and worry about our appearance, apparently. We spend money like teenagers, apparently. So we are judged by some, including some of our own, to be immature.

Well what’s mature? Holding down a nine-to-five job till you retire? Getting to bed at 10 on a Saturday night because you’re really too old at 50 to be out in a bar and dancing, it’s just not seemly.

And so what if parts of this accusation are true? Most people are forced to grow up because of the needs of families, children, buying a home, all the stuff that typically goes with being straight. As gay men, we don’t tend to follow this path. Our lives are different, because most of us don’t have kids to worry about, and we can do a lot of things without having to put a whole group of other people in our calculations. I can remember a few years ago my mother saying to me, out of the blue “You know, I don’t feel any older inside than I did when I was 20, it’s just my body has aged.” I hope I can say that - imagine feeling old inside. I don’t want to.

Often it seems to me that the criticism of gay men not acting their age comes from our own, from other gay men, who for whatever reason, feel uneasy at the prospect of men in their 40s, 50s or 60s still going out and having a good time. Do we remind the young ones that they too will age, and do the older ones disapprove out of envy? I think so. But who decided that everyone had to retire to the suburbs at 39 and behave like their grand-parents?

You know, our generation watched an awful lot of friends sicken horribly and die, and while I was dancing with that small group of old friends the other weekend, we were all aware of all the ghosts on the floor who hadn’t made it. I think, far from being immature, we’re very mature: we grew up pretty damn fast in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic. We had to. And I think that experience helps us value now, value the joy and fun that is in the world, because we’ve seen how fast it can all disappear. 

I know the scene is not for everyone, I know it can be shallow, vapid, and heartless and so can some of the men on it, and I’ve been through times in my life when I haven’t been interested in it, but I’ve enjoyed coming back into it as well. I’m lucky because of the friends I have. And while some of those friends the other week were my age, or older, and dancing till 3 in a sweaty shirtless frenzy, they all have real grown-up jobs, and are strong clear individuals.

I don’t care that I don’t have a gym-buff body (well, if I could take a pill for one I’d do it but you know, I’m lazy…) and I don’t think I’m having a mid-life crisis by having riotous weekends at 48 when most of the men I went to school with are fast asleep in the suburbs next to a woman they married 20 years ago. They are the ones who will wake up one day and have a mid-life crisis, I won’t, because I’ve been lucky enough to lead a life that allowed me a lot more choice: I have very few regrets.  I will get a new tattoo this year, and probably another piercing. And I will keep on dancing like a fool. Because life is for living, you only get one go, and I just don’t care what anyone else thinks.

→ 12 CommentsTags: General

23rd February 2010

If You Go Down to the Woods Today…

Posted by: Michael Stevens

blog1.jpg

If you go to many of our main gay venues this week - Caluzzi, Centurian, Dots, Urge, and Kamo, you’ll find Bears. It’s the first Bear Week we’ve ever had here in Auckland.

Which raises the question: “What is a Bear?”

And it’s a hard one to answer in some ways. Initially being a Bear seemed to be a rejection of the over-muscled, shaved and waxed body look that grew so popular in the 90s. It was a stance of saying “I’m a man, here’s my body, warts and all, I’m still sexy, I don’t need to shave my chest, I don’t need to try and look like I’m 25 for the rest of my life.” And that is still part of it. Even earlier there was a reaction noted in Europe and the US where  some gay men were stressing health and well-being in the dark days of AIDS by emphasising body size as a code for being HIV negative. Bits of health, bits of saying “no” to the gym-bunny look, and yes, bits of fetishising being “masculine” too.

Another key aspect I think is the rejection of ageist practices that are common in the gay world. Just because a man is over 30, or 40, or 50, doesn’t mean he isn’t interesting, fun, sexy and desirable, but much of the gay scene ignores men as they age. The Bears don’t. Just because a man doesn’t spend a fortune on clothes, he doesn’t get ignored. Just because his body isn’t perfect, he doesn’t get ignored. The gay scene can be very unfriendly, very superficial, and very judgemental,  the Bear world tries to move away from that and just accepts people as they are.

So I guess it’s part of a rejection of the body fascism that gay men can so easily succumb to. The Bear community (I don’t think it’s a movement) now is not just for older hairy men and their friends. It is generally about tolerance and acceptance. You don’t have to have a certain look or be a certain age to come along to any Bear event. Some of the regulars I can think of are in their 20s, some in their 60s. Some are hairy, some are smooth. Some have perfect gym bodies, some don’t. Some have facial hair that looks like a pioneer grandfather, and some have none. Some are into kink, some are pure vanilla. I have a friend who wears beautiful designer clothes, gels his hair, and is not, as he says, what people think of as a Bear, he doesn’t think of himself that way, but he likes hanging out with the Bears in Auckland because we’re more fun and accepting. I would put money down and say that guys in the Bear community are genrally more sexually adventurous and experienced. Not everyone maybe, but there is a certain raw male sexual buzz in the air at times at Bear events, and hey that’s a good thing.

You might notice that Caluzzi, one of our drag restaurants, is in the list of venues for Bear week above. They are holding a Bear Drag race and dinner. Bears aren’t anti-drag, or anti-queens either. It’s not anti-women either, but Bears do tend to like to have male-only venues available. I think it’s good for gay men to have a social space where we can just hang out with other men. There are heaps of places I can go to with my female friends, but I like the option of having a men-only space.

What you do find in the Bear world globally is a group of men who are relaxed about being men, and who celebrate it. The Bear world is, I always find, very friendly and welcoming. People talk to you if you are new to a bar or new in town.

Do you have to be a Bear or usually hang out with them to go along this week? No, everyone is welcome. And given we’ve had a real lack of dance parties this year, I think the Tri-Nations (with DJs from three different countries) will really go off on Saturday. It’ll be a room full of hot sweaty men, and a few women too I’m sure. It won’t be scary, it will be fun. Hot, friendly, sweaty, sexy, Bearish fun.

→ 13 CommentsTags: General

18th February 2010

Summer Fun!

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Last Sunday saw well over 10,000 people at the Big Gay Out here in Auckland. Woah, over 10,000 assorted queers in one spot!

biggayoutblog.jpgIt was a lot of fun, as it is every year. And it’s the last big LGBTQ community event in Auckland. The days of HERO are now over, for all sorts of reasons. And before HERO, we had private celebrations, but really it was only our protests that were public. Things have changed. When was the last time you heard of a gay protest?

So we’ve gone from a mega dance-party with huge shows, and an in-your-face street parade that offended many, and both with a strong and obvious emphasis on HIV,  to a happy family picnic day that the right-wing Prime Minister of NZ thinks it is a good strategic move to appear at, along with the obnoxious born-again Christian Mayor of Auckland who believes we will all burn in hell as we’re filthy sodomites, but hey, he still wants our votes.

In short, the BGO is a huge success. Everyone wants a piece of it. And yet it also holds onto its community roots somehow. I guess it’s because its the one day in the year when we’re out in public and know we are in the majority, and that’s a great feeling. When you look around, you see thousands and thousands of queers, dykes, fags, whatever word you like to use. We’re there, and it’s good to be in a crowd of our own for a change, where the straights are welcome but in a minority.

The other thing that strikes me about it is that huge number of people, especially gay men, that I never see elsewhere. There are a lot of homos leading quiet  lives in the suburbs who don’t need to go to clubs or the other commercial venues. I suspect many are happily partnered, and worry more about their garden and the neighbours new fence than what happens on K Rd. And looking around the BGO it would seem these people actually make up the silent majority of homos here in Auckland.

Although it’s not that obvious from the outside, the BGO is in many ways a “stealth” public health event. The NZAF runs it, and part of the thinking around current public health practice is that strong confident communities encourage and support members in staying healthy, so the BGO helps maintain our condom culture by helping gay men stay confident and proud.

Getting 10,000 queers together for a picnic is actually part of a deep safe-sex campaign, and I think that’s a great thing.

The BGO does encourage us to celebrate ourselves. It offers a lot of room for people to take part however they want, from bringing a picnic and sitting with friends to dancing like its still Saturday night, even though it’s Sunday afternoon, to engaging with the local MPs, or just wandering around and looking at the stalls and eating fairground food.

So many of us grew up isolated, afraid, and unsure until we came out and linked into the gay world somehow, usually through commercial venues. What the BGO shows us is that we can actually come together just for the fun of it. It’s such a good feeling to be part of the majority, even if its only for a day.

One of the highlights for me was watching Mika’s opening number for the Aroha Festival. He’s always such a  clever artist, I’m looking forward to seeing how this all goes. And along with that we have the Ourfest festival going on. Can gay Auckland support both? It will be interesting to see how they go, and good luck to them both: I know a huge amount of effort has gone into both of them.

And now we have the first ‘Bear Week’ running next week, courtesy of the men at Urge. I think it’s really good to see a resurgence of this sort of activity around us. I know my summer has felt busier than ever this year, and I like that, but hey, I’m a scene queen from way back.

I think this trajectory, from protest movement in the 70s and early 80s, to party and parade and an “in your face” attitude that charcterised much of HERO, to the calm fun of a massive summer picnic that the BGO is interesting. It shows us how we’ve moved in society, and how society has changed over the years.

It’s more mainstream than before, less offensive to the wider world, less politically charged, but it is a valuable day and a hell of a lot of fun.

Many thanks to all involved and long may it continue.

→ 7 CommentsTags: General

18th January 2010

Desire

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I always loathed PE at school. Anything to do with sports made me shudder.  

Except  of course for the communal showers afterwards. But I hated playing rugby, cricket, going for runs, doing workouts - all of that. I’ve never had a great sporting relationship with my body. But I was lucky, I was able to get by on youth for a while and good genes, although, like so many of us, I never considered myself that handsome or attractive when I was younger. I look back at photos of me in my 20s and realise how mistaken I was. Now, the years are definitely showing, as are the effects of long-term use of HIV meds.

I was having a little pity-party for myself last week. “I’m nearly 50, I’ve got a gut, I have HIV, no-one looks at me and thinks I’m hot or handsome anymore”… that sort of thing. And let’s face it, it’s not that unusual. Hotness and desirability don’t last forever.

But we homos try to make it do that. The birth of gym-culture is at least partially related to the massive growth of baby-boomer city-living homos in the 70s and beyond. All those young gay men, all working out to look hot and stay attractive so they could get each other in the sack. Such effort! When the body will give up anyhow, or so the lazy ones like me thought. I’ve joined a gym at least three times in the last decade, but I never get beyond a few months. To be frank, going to the gym bores me, even if I like looking at the results.

Yes, it’s superficial to put so much emphasis on how we look, I know. But all human societies and  cultures have valued beauty and attractiveness. Why would gay men be any different?

It is good for the ego to be desired, to feel desirable, to feel hot, sexy and attractive. It’s a good feeling when another man shows interest in you that way. And I can remember when men did, when they’d tell me I was hot, I was desirable, and I turned them on. I liked that feeling. And there I was sitting in my office, thinking “Well, that’s gone, that part of my life anyhow. But I’ll manage.”

Then my phone beeped. It was a fuck-buddy I hadn’t seen for a while, asking me what I was doing that evening. He’s ten years younger than me, he’s definitely handsome, great body and basically we didn’t take our hands off each other from when he walked in till when he left about five hours later. He finds me sexy and desirable. We curled up and talked and touched each other between sessions, it was sweet, warm and intimate. And hot. And my HIV doesn’t worry him in the least. As he was pulling his socks on, about to leave, he asked “So, how’s your health? You’re looking great! I don’t understand all the medical stuff but are your blood counts ok?” He is always totally relaxed around the whole thing, which matters.

Because for me, and for a lot of guys I know with HIV, simply having the virus in one’s blood is enough to put up walls about how we see ourselves and how we act sexually. And this can lead to us actually setting the scene so we don’t hear or notice the men who do find us attractive. We don’t believe that we can still be seen that way, or we ignore it or dismiss it when men do tell us.

Why? In part it’s because of the way HIV brings sex and death together. We all know, on a logical level, that condoms stop you getting infected, that safe sex can be great sex,  and that HIV doesn’t equal death in the way it did 20 years ago, but I think a lot of that stigma is still there. In fact I know it is. And often the biggest barriers are the ones we put in place around ourselves. A diagnosis often shakes the sexual confidence of even the most beautiful and gym-buffed men, for a while at least. And trust me, there are some very sexy men out there with HIV, but often after diagnosis it takes us a long time to reclaim that side of ourselves.

I was talking about this the other day with a very handsome young guy I know who is poz, and he said how it is hard to make the first move.  It is for me too, but it didn’t use to be. I put it down to the virus, the whole “I’ve got this potentialy lethal virus in my blood so you probably wouldn’t want to get to know me and sleep with me anyway, so why bother asking?” attitude that is so hard to shake. And as my visitor the other night reminded me, really not that accurate.

A  lot of poz guys I know say they always feel more comfortable fucking with other poz guys if possible. The fear of unwittingly infecting someone is strong for most of us. But here in NZ the population of gay men with HIV is very small, so it’s often not an option.

Being desirable, feeling that one is desirable, is not just about sex. It’s about acknowledgement. It’s about seeing something in the other person, or having that seen in you. It’s good for us.

So it was good for me to be reminded that in fact I don’t know who finds me attractive or who doesn’t. It was good to be reminded that there are gay men out there who are able to have great sex with HIV+ guys like me and not freak out over it, but enjoy it. And it was good to be shown once again, that just when I think I know something , the world can surprise me.

→ 14 CommentsTags: General

7th January 2010

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Another year over, and already into the next.

champagne_toast.jpgI’m not complaining, I’m glad I’m still going. I know it’s a bit artificial to think of each year as somehow separate and distinct from the other, but it’s how we humans work.

What will I remember 2009 for? Personally, the pain and chaos the Mills affair wrought was not fun to deal with. But that’s over now. Work has been OK. Study has been OK. I’ve made a few new friends, which is always a plus. It’s the first year in ages I haven’t been out of the country, but that’s OK too. And I had my first brush with the Censor thanks to my “full and frank” discussion of anal sex in a previous post. The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards, set up by the mad ex-nun Patricia Bartlett, but still apparently going in its own little echo-chamber, complained about it. The Censor’s office didn’t uphold their complaints, but they did want an R 18 warning on it, which is fine by me.

I’m often a bit sarky and suspicious when it comes to ideas of community, especially in the gay world, but I have to admit that there are real elements of it that enrich my life here in Auckland. Unlike “the old days” when we all seemed to go to the same places, dykes, poofs, trans and friends, now we’re more split up, but there are links and bonds that matter.

Take my local, Urge, as an example. (No, I don’t get paid for mentioning them). In 2009 they raised around $14,000 or so for charity. Around $7,000 for Outline, for example. Together with Caluzzi at the BGO they raised about $4,000 for NZAF. And they’ve run events for Prostate Cancer and Body Positive as well. To be able to pull together a group of gay men and get us to fork out that much cash over 12 months is pretty damn exceptional and praise-worthy I think.

Especially when you look at the size of the place. It’s actually quite a small bar physically, 80 people makes it feel crammed, 100 and you can barely move. On New Years Eve it was probably more like 150 and nearly impossible to move anywhere for a while. But most of the time it’s far less crowded, yet over 12 months, with planning and hard work from the owners and staff, they are able to put back a sum of money into the community that most larger venues don’t come near. So a big shout out and thanks to Urge for all it does for us all. I shudder to imagine gay life in Auckland without it.

We finally buried HERO. A twinge of sadness there, but it had had its day. Another sign that the community just isn’t as cohesive as it once was. We don’t seem to have the interest to all band together and create a huge festival like that at the moment. So it’ll be interesting to see how the Aroha Festival and OurFest do. I’m still not exactly sure what they are, but I’m looking forward to finding out. The Big Gay Out is coming, and will, I am sure, be the biggest gay event in the country for the year and as usual a hell of a lot of fun. And courtesy of Urge, we have NZ’s first Bear Week, which will be dependent on volunteers helping make it work. Here’s hoping we get a nice crowd of men from overseas to join in and make it an event worth repeating.

And now we get to revel in summer for a while, which is always great. So many hot men in shorts and tight t-shirts on the streets. I’m doing a few hours work every day, trying to get my head back into PhD mode, and looking forward to another year. I’ve had my first cohort of old friends from overseas staying, which has been great. We’ve known each other since our late teens, and one of the great things in life is to have friends you’ve known for decades. Watching the changes, seeing what remains, and just having that sense of a deep rich warmth that comes from such long acquaintance is something I love.

There’s bound to be some shit along the way this year, as always, but at the moment I’m feeling remarkable upbeat. I hope you all are, and that it lasts for us all.

→ 1 CommentTags: General

7th December 2009

One Week On

Posted by: Michael Stevens

So it’s a week since Glenn Mills’ death. I for one can take no pleasure in the way his life ended.  What I would have preferred is to see him stand trial, and, if found guilty (as I have no doubt he would have been) to do his time. The trail of destruction he has left will continue to have its effects.

We know of the people who came forward, but undoubtedly there were others, perhaps not infected, but at least treated with the same careless contempt by him in exposing them to HIV. Perhaps there are a number of other people who’ve been infected by him, and we will never know exactly how many.

I’ve had to ask myself at times, if the decisions I took around all this were the right ones. I was not the first person to alert authorities,  but I helped get things going.  It has been one of the most ethically and emotionally fraught things I’ve ever had to deal with, but overall, yes, I did what I believe was the correct thing to do.

Analogies are always imperfect, but what would you do if you had concrete evidence someone was a serial-rapist, or a paedophile, what  if in fact you’d been told this by one of his victims? What if you then heard through the grapevine of other victims? What do you do with that sort of information? I think you have a duty to take it to the right authorities, and personally I saw no difference here. But it wasn’t an easy decision for me to make.

I know he has friends who love him and defend him. I can understand that. I don’t believe he was simply a monster who only lived to infect people with HIV. But he had a part of his nature that did that without, it would seem, too many qualms. 

I have heard people blame the men he infected for not taking better care of themselves, but it ignores the fact that even when he agreed to use condoms he had a history of deliberately tearing them or taking them off. The recent reports of his date-raping men also point to how he thought and operated. It wasn’t about consent or care or love.

And there is a problem: Our entire safe-sex message, use a condom every time,  is built on the idea of “Take personal responsibility for looking after your health”. It’s built on the idea that people are all in fact able to do this. But when you’re newly coming out, perhaps with a family that is unsupportive of you because of your sexuality, you are in fact, more vulnerable, and less experienced. I think that those people who blame the really young people who got infected are simply wrong. These were little more than children out in the gay world, and all too easily inclined to trust this charismatic man.  to say, as some have, that “They knew what they were doing!” is simply wrong. Yes, in NZ legally you are free to fuck from 16 on, but 16 year-olds are not renowned for the quality of their decision making, neither are 17, 18 or 19 year-olds. It’s unfair and wrong to lump them all in as adults who are entirely responsible for their sexual health. They thought they were in love with a man who they could trust, and they were young, naive and too trusting. I know he lied to these young men on more than one occasion when confronted about his HIV status.

And it seems that with a number of the other, older men, he deliberately lied, or again, tampered with the condom. I heard yet another story of this yesterday from someone who’d slept with him, but luckily did not get infected. My usual reaction when someone older gets infected is “That’s terible, but it’s not the end of the world, let’s do what we can to support you” but I don’t have a sense of blame, so I’m surprised to hear the voices raised here and there that blame anyone for getting infected in this case. The people so willing to blame, and to, so it seems to me, take some sort of delight in finger-pointing and self-righteously cackling “It’s your own fault for not using a condom!”  are either totally ignorant of how this all happened, or nasty, vindictive and petty to a degree that is really disturbing.The picture that emerges here of Mills is not clear, and not simple. While I’m sure he had many good and loveable qualities,  he was also devious, manipulative and uncaring in his attitude to many when it came to his HIV. It is, I believe, impossible to interpret his actions as anything other than deliberate and malicious attempts to infect people. These weren’t careless one-off accidents, but a pattern, repeated again and again on men and women, and some of them extremely vulnerable young men and women. He knew what he was doing, he had known since 2007. But he continued to do it.His death means that those brave people who were willing to take the stand against him don’t have to, and that has to be seen as a good thing for them. But it means he never has to face up to what he did. His death has left things hanging that will never be answered now, and I think that’s unfair.

Was he mad, bad or just sad? I don’t know. As I said at the start, I can take no pleasure in his death, but I think what he did was morally and ethically wrong on every level, and for that he deserved punishment.

The comment function has been turned off for this post.

→ No CommentsTags: General