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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Love, Trust, Marriage and HIV

So all things being equal, it looks like we're going to get the right to get married, if we're all reading the tea-leaves in the right way. It seems like it's going to get through.

Marriage. Love. Intimacy. Trust.  

If the point of marriage is a public, legally binding declaration of love in front of all who we love and recorded officially by the power of the State, then is it ok for the married couple to stop using condoms? 

After all, if you've decided to make that commitment to another guy and maybe you're going as far as buying a house together, merging your finances, getting a mortgage, sharing a credit-card, all the things you see in so many straight marriages - surely if you're doing all that with each other, you can consider whether you need to still follow the old rule of  "Use a condom every time!"

Looking at the NZAF's latest condom campaign, they seem to be saying  "No!" 

And it's not just here in New Zealand. I think the issue sits there as a point of contradiction, a place of tension, everywhere marriage between two men is becoming accepted. 

What does it mean for safe-sex programmes? What does it mean for HIV prevention? 



If you look at this image from their new campaign, it looks like two men who know each other are getting ready to fuck,this doesn't look like a casual Grindr or Scruff hook-up. They seem comfortable and relaxed with each other, they seem loving as well as horny. They look like a couple. And that's a wonderful image. 

And there is no doubt that in a lot of situations like this guys will choose to use condoms, and that's a good thing. Especially in the first months or years of a relationship - but it is entirely natural that at some stage you'd think about being able to simply make love to the man you love with no interventions. 

If you are going all out, and getting married, making a promise to love and trust each other for life, then I think it's totally understandable that men will stop using condoms within their relationship, after they've both tested and checked they're both either negative or positive.

In fact that strategy is already wide-spread. Most of the guys I know in New Zealand in long-term loving relationships who have the same HIV status don't use condoms at home. Typically if they have sex with others they have an arrangement to use them outside the relationship - this isn't new. And I've certainly talked with men who work for the NZAF who follow that pattern. And I can think of couples who have successfully done this for over 20 years.

If we are moving to a stage where we stand up in front of all our family and friends and the state and say "I love you, you are the one for me, now and forever." but still insist on putting out a public health message that even married loving male couples should use condoms, then part of what is being said is "You might be married but you can never really trust him!"

It carries a sub-text that gay men can never truly love each other, because without trust, there is no love.

I don't accept or believe that. I am confident that we can love and trust our partners, our husbands, just as much as heterosexual husbands and wives can. And yes, some guys will be hurt, let down, lied to, and possibly even infected with HIV by trusting the wrong man. But that could also happen to straights. Do all the straight men who work at the NZAF always and automatically use condoms with their wives or girlfriends? After all, who knows what they've been getting up to behind their backs. Straight women can be as slutty as gay men. Or do they accept that they love and trust each other, and there are some things you simply assume when you're married?

Because without trust in a marriage there is no love, and surely then there is no point in all this work we've been doing to get our relationships recognised as marriage? 

To insist that we must all use condoms everywhere every time made complete sense back in the bad old days, but it doesn't seem to fit as neatly into our changing circumstances. I can remember being told years ago by a guy I was gong home with that I didn't need to tell him I had HIV, in fact I shouldn't have told him, not because it put him off, but he just assumed every gay man did and always had safe sex. Those days are gone. 

And this is not to criticise the NZAF. I think it's a difficult issue and one that no-one around the world has really engaged with yet as far as I can see. It will be a tricky job figuring it out and I don't envy them that task. NZAF likes to claim it's ground-breaking in so much of what it does - perhaps dealing with this is a topic they can lead the world on.

No, love won't protect you from HIV. But saying that you can never fully trust the man you've married, the man you're paying the mortgage with, the man you plan on getting old with, means saying you can never really love each other. It's supporting the old oppressive message that gay men are just sex-mad cock-fiends, that we don't have "real" relationships, that in fact, we'll never be truly "married". 

And I think that's problematic in all sorts of ways.







Sunday, February 17, 2013

Post Parade

Queer Auckland took to the streets to show our pride on Saturday, and it was a lot of fun.

It is obviously not such an important event as yet, as the Prime Minister didn't bother to cut a ribbon, but we got David Shearer and others from Labour and Kevin Hague from the Greens. The Catholic  Mayor of the city, who considers being gay "a lifestyle choice" was there eager to hoover up some PR.

Was it good to be back after 12 years away? 

Yes it was, definitely.

I marched with the Bears from Urge, and it was a lot of fun walking down Ponsonby Road with a group of handsome men, being led in our impromptu cheer of "1 2 3 WOOF!" at hot guys in the crowd. Some of the straight boys loved it, some didn't seem to appreciate the compliment so much.



I have to say an hour beforehand Ponsonby Rd was looking very empty, and the crowd that did show up in the end was tiny compared to what we used to have. 30,000 seems to be the accepted figure. Things filled up by 4, the start time, but there were still patches along the street with practically nobody standing there, which was a shame. Given the heat though, you wouldn't have wanted 100,000 like we used to get - it would have been unbearable.

The GABA Glamstand didn't look full to over-flowing either, but those who were there looked like they were having fun.

At work today friends and colleagues said they hadn't really heard about it, there was no advertising, and that 4pm was the wrong time. I think they're right on both points. It was pretty much all over by 5:30 or so, and then what? A lot of people said it needs to be held at night again, and they're right.

But the vibe from the crowd was great. The reception we got was overwhelmingly positive, and there was such a sense of genuine good-nature and happiness that we were back. Pulling a parade together in such a short time was a lot of work, and it's a good start for the next one.

Does that mean everything about the parade was fabulous? 

No, it doesn't. 

There was a distinctly amateur feel to most of the floats. And drag queens never look that great in the harsh daylight, and it was a very sunny day indeed. Who knew we had a Gay Wakeboarding Association? I still don't entirely believe they exist ...

I didn't understand why a straight woman who has HIV was using our queer parade to sell her book, good cause, wrong place. 

I waited for "the Remembrance Float" to come by that we had been promised would be wonderful and moving, and I didn't see it. I was later told it was the one with GALS on and the white drapery, but it looked kinda boring, a whole lot of people singing inaudibly and from where I stood by the side of the road there was no indication that it was "the Remembrance Float" at all. I certainly wasn't moved by it.

And no real mention of HIV/AIDS anywhere - the one thing that has done the most damage to our community over the last 30 years got marked by a few cursory red ribbons in white drapery.

It was a lot of fun though. I had a lot of fun. 

But let's face it -  there was no Wow! factor anywhere, no pzazz, and no glamour. It was fun, it was nice, inoffensive, bland and devoid of anything political. 

So devoid in fact that the organiser took it upon himself to invite a radio shock-jock known for his homophobic comments along. A stupider idea I haven't heard in a while. Stupid comments like this guy has made, as dumb and harmful as the Prime Minister's "Red shirts are gay" comment, undermine everything we have fought for, and only expose the most vulnerable from our communities to more fear and shame. You'd think a Pride Parade would work to foster our pride, not undermine it this way.

The Marching Boys got an A for effort, but obviously hadn't had quite enough time to get their routine down, and they needed way more guys in there to make it look effective.

As one mate said "If this was Timaru, it'd get a 10 out of 10, if it was Sydney, a 3."

I heard some Ponsonby queens saying we don't really need this sort of thing now as everything is fine.

They are wrong. Do you regularly hold your partner's hand on the bus or walking through a shopping mall, do you stand on a busy beach on a summer evening hugging and kissing each other like all the straight couples around you do?  Until we can do that with the same ease and comfort we are not equal.

Until we don't have to pretend to be different from who we are for our own safety, we are not equal.

So events like this parade are important - they give us visibility, they show to others that we exist and we're part of the world. They show those who are in fear that there are alternatives to a life of lies and shame.

It was a fun day, a great start, it had problems, and that is probably inevitable, but as a first step back it's something to celebrate.

The crowd of people watching is what made it for me - there weren't that many, but they were so welcoming, so positive, that even with all the flaws, you'd have to say it was a good time.

Just put it back on at night when we can really show them something amazing!

Edit: And the Defense Force were fantastic !

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Porn in Your Pocket

Happy New Year ! Yeah yeah, I know, it's been a while ... again. But I'm back. And will be on a regular basis.

What better topic to start the new year off with than porn, penises and life online?

I've never really been a huge fan of porn,  not the visual stuff anyhow, I've always preferred to read it and make up the scenes in my head.

Then along comes technology, people everywhere with cameras in their pockets, and what are an awful lot of guys doing? 

Taking naked selfies. It has in fact become an entire genre, with websites dedicated to it. 

And this is, I'd say, a very good thing. 

There's something endearing about all those naked cock-shots in bathrooms, changing rooms, gyms, cars, offices and bedrooms all around the world. I think you could do an entire exhibition on traveller's selfies taken in hotel rooms, it's a sub-genre in its own right. The horny salesman stuck in a foreign city for a night, such a tired old cliche, so rooted in truth though.

 There is also something about the sweet, almost innocent pride that so many guys take in their shots. "Look at me! I'm all grown up!"

And of course, there is something wonderful about seeing all those cocks. Yeah, kid, candy-shop comes to mind.

I'm also sure a lot of the selfies I've seen on tumblr and other places were never intended for public distribution, but once you take it and share it well ... I think you've got to be pretty naive if you put a naked shot of yourself out there and think it is still under your control.

But some guys are definite exhibitionists. They love how they look and they want the world to know.

It's true, most of the cocks on selfies are a good size,  average to large, small cocks are pretty much a niche-market for gay men so not so many of them on display. And I guess there is an in-built propensity for guys with big cocks to show them off more. 

I've become pretty good at spotting what's been photshopped and what hasn't by now, and man there are some really well-hung guys flashing their goods out there. And why not.

The downside of this is that it can start to give guys unrealistic ideas about their own cocks. 

It's part of the general problem gay men have with our body-image I guess. It seems you can always be bigger, more muscled, more defined, more tattooed, more of whatever. 

I was chatting with an 18 year old guy recently who was worried his was too small, but going by the pics he sent me he had absolutely nothing to worry about - it is a beautiful cock, and not small at all. But his anxiety isn't unusual at all. I reckon most guys would take an extra inch or two if they could, no matter how big or small they are now. Find a pill that makes cocks bigger and you'll make more than they did with Viagra. 

It's because of the centrality of the penis for men. I think a lot of us would consider suicide if something terrible like penile cancer  happened and we had to have our manhood chopped off. Once years ago I saw a guy with a circumcision that had gone wrong ... but that's another story.

From the moment we start to become aware of it, your cock seems to be this part of us that has its own mind, that suddenly gets hard when we don't want it to, that is the source of amazingly intense pleasure, that drives and pushes us with an intensity and urgency where nothing else but sex matters. It gets easier to control as you age, but as a teen your cock can go from best friend to embarrassing traitor in seconds. Especially if you're gay, and in a shower-room.

Back to the selfie and porn though. 

Do humans ever not bring sex into new technology? 

I swear there are porn shots now that are deliberately made to look like they've been done by amateurs. I guess as professional porn becomes less profitable there's some truth in that too. 

But having them so easy to find, so close to hand on your phone means that I can, and I have, been waiting for a coffee, standing in the Post Office, sitting on a bus and click on a link and bang! there's some hot naked guy holding up his phone in a bathroom mirror and showing me his manhood. 

Suddenly seeing images of naked men with their cocks out like this becomes normal in all sorts of spaces -  you don't need to go home and draw the curtains and take out a magazine anymore. 

It's a change, and I guess it's really going to affect the generation that grows up with all this as totally normal. Ideas of what is private and public, what is decent and indecent, they start to get blurred. If it's rude to read someone's texts over their shoulder, can you be offended if you catch them looking at porn on their phone? You're in public, but it's sort of private. And of course you can save them ...

And then people ask me why I won't lend them my phone ...




Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Catching Up

I have been busy ! Or that's what it feels like anyway with two part-time jobs on the go - I  keep trying to find time to write stuff in here, keep trying to catch the ideas as they appear, but then something else comes up and I lose the thread and well, you know ...

But hey, it's my blog and if I write it every day or once a month is really up to me - though I do get little feelings of guilt at times when I leave it too long, like a pot-plant I've neglected to water.

I gave my annual guest lecture on AIDS and me a few weeks, called "Living My Death" - I do it in for a paper here at the University of Auckland called "The Sociology of Death & Dying", taught by the wonderful Dr Tracey Mcintosh.

I get to weave my own life story through an academic exploration of theories of death, gay social history and AIDS - it is something I really enjoy, but also find quite tiring, and it's also very revealing in many ways - personal narratives have to be to work I guess. And I get to talk about sex and death a lot. But it was good. And I enjoy getting a solid round of applause at the end of a lecture - that doesn't happen all that often.

I try to situate the lecture in the context of gay history of the last 50 years or so, because I think you need to know aspects of our culture to understand what happened, anyway, after the lecture was over, a young gay guy, mid 20s or so, came up to me and we had a conversation something like this.

"I don't understand - you mean the police used to come into gay bars and be able to arrest people just because they were gay?"
 "Sometimes, or if they didn't arrest people they could drag us all out on the street and ask to check ID but yeah, the cops could and did just walk in and hassle gay bars and the people in them."
"But I just don't understand why they'd do it?"
"We were illegal, it was easy work for lazy cops, and no-one really cared that much."
"Arresting people just because they're queer? It makes no sense!"

He was right - it makes no sense, not today - back then it did.

Shame permeated our world in those days - I'm lucky enough to have only caught the tail end of it, I was able to come out in a time of change, when Gay Liberation and Gay Pride were working to being about the changes young queers like this student now thankfully are able to take for granted.

But he was born in 1986 he told me, the year that we became legal in New Zealand. I felt kinda old when he told me that ...

I got to meet the people running the new Pride Festival here in Auckland, hearing their side of the "One Community" idea. Now I gather it's going to be "One community, many cultures" an improvement I guess.

It was good to hear their point of view. In my last blog I talked about how I just can't see us as being "One Community", which they'd put up as one of their central themes, for the parade at least. Now they've moved on to "One Community, Many Cultures" which is much better. I'd argue it's still not all that accurate and sounds more like PR puffery than anything else but hey, I'm a sociologist by training, I've written and taught about "Gay Auckland" so yeah, I have an opinion. In fact I did my other standing guest lecture on "Gay Auckland" a few weeks ago. But I appreciated the chance to talk with them, and I'm really glad they've taken all the hard work on.

My fears that it will be a nice family-friendly-don't-upset-the-straights parade remain, but hey, I'm very open to being proved wrong.

Part of my new job involves updating and creating resources for services that might have queer clients. I've been updating an old contact list, counselling services, community support etc. It gives an interesting little snapshot of where things were in 2001.

We had a Pride Centre back then - based in where Rainbow Youth is today. I think that was the second Pride Centre we've had, wasn't there on before that in town, around Federal Street? Maybe this third attempt will last longer. Perhaps not signing a lease might help - just rent space as and when.

There were two specific community support services linked to  the AIDS Foundation, one for Maori, and one  for Pasifika people. Both gone now.

And we had Gayline/Lesbianline instead of OUTline. Given all the rumours of crisis (  a clusterfuck of idiocy and poor Board leadership or just "normal organisational change"seem to be the two main stories, depending who you talk to) flying around about OUTline at the moment  you have to wonder if that will be on the list in 10 years time too. I hope so, it's a service we really need. I really hope their Board can keep it all going.

And it's election time for the NZAF Board of Trustees. Ah, happy memories. I did enjoy my term on that Board a lot. I met some great people and it was really fascinating seeing how an NGO like that operates. Great to see such a talented group of people applying.

And I'm another year older - 51! Seeing I was told by a Dr in London in 1988 that I'd most likely be dead in 2 years, I'm quite happy about that.








Friday, September 14, 2012

One Big Family ?

The Auckland  Pride Committee (let's not mention the "Lesbian/Gay/Queer" words -  they scare the sponsors) has announced more details of the upcoming fiesta, a daytime parade along Ponsonby Road, a two week festival building on the long-standing success of the Big Gay Out, and even a closing ceremony. Just like the Olympics!

Pride festivals are not new - the photo on the left is from 1972, and lists picnics, parties, food, ,usic - and workshops. They were a bit more political than we seem to be today.

I am a real believer in the idea of Gay Pride, or Queer Pride or as it is now, just "Pride" if you must. Rainbow Pride just sounds slightly icky to me, it always makes me think of My Little Pony, but I'm sure we'll see enough of that as well.

But Pride is important, it's the opposite of shame - it does matter that we can show the world, and especially our youth, that in fact there is nothing to be ashamed of in being queer. We have nothing to apologise for, in fact, the straight world should apologise to us for the violence, oppression, misery and murder it has heaped on us for so long.

I am a little puzzled that the theme for the festival is apparently "One Community". And I know I'm not the only one who went "WTF?" at that.

I know a multitude of different queer communities in Auckland, and some of us have nothing to do with others - we sure as hell don't form one cohesive group. I wonder whether the idea that this Pride Festival will be able to represent "One Community" actually means it'll shut out or miss out those bits of queerdom that don't quite fit.

And a day-time march down Ponsonby Road - yeah, a bunch of queers wandering through Ponsonby - talk about radical -  never seen that before - that will really be breaking new ground and showing our pride to those who don't like us.

It does seem just a little safe in conception, a little white and middle-class, but that's not surprising.

Why not have the Pride Parade in Manukau, or on the Shore? If we're serious about the idea of Pride, wouldn't taking it to the areas that queer people actually need some support be better at building pride than the bland safety of Ponsonby Rd? Or why not back to the heart of the city - take over Queen Street as the first Hero Parades did - that would be showing some real pride and Council support.

Of course this wouldn't have happened without the $100,000 thrown at the project by the Council. I think it's important to remember that. We actually couldn't organise this ourselves, in the way we did in the past. And it has been sold to the Council as a marketing idea, and one designed to bring in money, over $700,000 they reckon. Fingers crossed that works out.

We are being re-packaged now, we're being branded, as part of Auckland Council's branding  "Hey look!" they're saying "We've got homos too, we're really hip!"

I doubt they'll be boasting about this side of Auckland in our expanding tourism markets in countries like Malaysia though.

But "One Community" ? Really ? Have any of these people been out and about lately? There are gay men, dykes, queers of all sorts that I wouldn't cross the road to piss on if they were on fire: are they part of my community? Am I part of theirs? I have good mates who are dykes, but I'm not sure we exactly belong to the same social groups, the same community; sometimes we do, but there are spaces in their worlds I know I don't belong to.  I don't think there is any way I belong to the fa'afafine community. I'm not part of the trans community either. Are they all being invited along?

I look around and recognise the diversity that springs from being differently gendered or sexually different from the mainstream. There are lots of people who fit into these groups, but we're not all one group. That's working with a heterosexist, straight way of thinking about us, that starts by defining us  as not normal, not straight,  and therefore we belong together. But we don't.

This all goes back to the old question - just what makes a community? What holds it together? What are the commonalities that bind a group of people into being more than just a social group but a real community, with a shared sense of identity, and a shared sense of history. As I've said before, simply by virtue of being gay doesn't make me feel some immediate natural sense of kinship with every other homo guy out there. Just cause I love men emotionally and desire them physically doesn't mean I'm connected with every other guy like me. Sexuality alone is simply too thin to sustain the weight of a collective identity.

I'm sure I will go to various events, hang out with mates from all around the country and elsewhere too and have a good time. I will enjoy myself. I guess it's like the gay marriage debate for me, I'm not wildly enthused about it but once it starts we have to win it. The negative fallout if we lose that, or if we fuck this up, is too great. If this falls over, it will in fact do us damage, it will give ammunition to our enemies and undermine the very idea of "Pride" and lead to a more queerphobic world rather than a better one. So I want it to succeed.

I'm just a little uneasy, it all feels too top-down, too corporate, too much of a slick PR job rather than anything actually based in who and what we are. It doesn't feel like it comes out of our communities to me I guess.

But yes, I'll be there!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Watching History

78 - 40 ! Come on ! That is fucking amazing ! (UPDATE _ I've just seen it's 80 - 40 !)

Thank you Louisa - you were brilliant in both your opening and closing speeches - calm, logical, inclusive, passionate - you shone !

78 - 40!  Shit that is impressive ! And is shows such a massive change in New Zealand society - the idea that even 10 years ago, we would be looking at this, seeing this kind of result, well people would have thought you were crazy!

So thank you so much for that, and thank you to all the others who did such a wonderful job tonight. And a real thanks to Kevin Hague, you made such an eloquent, passionate speech.

And thank you Dr Paul Hutchison - coming from National, standing up and making that clear, classically liberal analysis, and admitting you'd been forced to think and weigh the evidence and change your mind. Your speech was outstanding, sincere, and humble. I was really moved.

National MP Jamie Lee-Ross standing up in support, saying that he hadn't been born when Homosexual Law Reform went through, shit that made me feel old - but his defense, his stance of almost bewilderment that this could be an issue - this is not the National Party of Holyoake, Muldoon and Bolger ...

And yes, I was moved, I was involved, even though as I have said here before, I have real problems with the idea, but once this battle was started the stakes are too high for us to fail. And you might call it histrionic, but I'd say it was a victory of good over evil, over reason over fear - it's a social milestone - do not underestimate it.

You might be, as I am, deeply critical of the concept of marriage for philosophical and political reasons,  you might be opposed to the assimilationist tendencies, the kow-towing to heteronormativity - fine.

But if we had lost this, and I do men "we", then the price would have been huge.

It would have sent a message to those people out there who hate us, who are religiously and philosophically opposed to us, or who are just pig-ignorant red-neck bigots, that they had been vindicated, and that we had been shown to be wrong, to be lesser, to be not as good as them.

And that's why, once it started,  we couldn't afford to lose this argument.

We are in fact the full, moral and legal equivalent to anyone else in this society. We are not lesser citizens nor are we lesser humans, simple because we love people of the same gender.

For me it is that simple - that we are able to take part in the complete fullness of life in the same way as any other citizen.

And ... wasn't it great following it all on twitter and facebook while watching it on Parliament TV. I love that - all the contacts, the jokes, the observations, the different webs and networks intersecting. It was watching history, that clash of ideas coming out, I love that stuff. I really did feel connected to a community.

It was a great night. A great result. But we've only one the battle, not the war on this issue. But we will!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

John Banks Believes in Talking Devil Snake.

I am  horrified that I am posting his picture here, I was hoping that wouldn't be till his funeral party, but this news, that John Banks, ex-Mayor of Auckland, the "Leader" of the ACT Party and currently the Associate Education Minister and the main prop of this current government actually believes that the creation fable in the Bible is true.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Given all the evil he has done to the world of queer people in this country, I tend more to tears than laughter.

People should be free to have their own religious beliefs. Just as they are free to hold their own political beliefs - I have no problem with that.

But if he'd come out with that statement before the last election you have to wonder if the voters of Epsom would have been quite so willing to hold their noses, do what the National Party demanded and give him their vote. I'd say not.

Banks' beliefs are actually no surprise if you've paid any attention to him over the years. He has been explicit in his vile, smug, hate-filled anti-gay comments, and always shown a belief that God is on his side. When a caller to his radio show once said homosexuals should have barbed wire shoved up our arses, Banks said that would be a waste of good barbed wire. Did anyone think he'd really changed?

Let's be crystal clear - nutty Christians like Banks believe that homosexuals are driven by Satan, that we are deliberate evil sinners who refuse to see the wickedness of our ways.  For him there is no such thing as biology, or psychology. Evolution is the devil's trickery!  Science doesn't really exist. To believe this bullshit is to believe in magic, not science. The literal view that every word in the Bible is factual breeds the same narrow, ignorant, smug and fearful mindset of a 4th Century Christian monk, a member of Destiny Church, or a contemporary member of Al Qaeda. Fundamentalists are basically the same.

He actually believes this stuff happened. He believes that a talking devil-snake in a tree tempted Eve, and this led to humanity's downfall.

Of course, there are actually two differing creation fables in Genesis, but details like that wouldn't bother him. Banks has never been noted for being a profound thinker.

But above all this shows that he is now positioning himself for the death of ACT, and he needs another political vehicle, and Colin Craig's Conservative Party is the perfect fit. That's where he's going.

Of course, all those right-wing gay men who were happy to vote for him because he was part of the establishment without thinking too much about what he actually thought of us  won't vote for him in that party. Some Jews even supported the Fascists in the early days. But you guys are part of the reason he's still around. Gee, thanks for that.

No matter how he learnt to smile, no matter how he learnt to shake hands with queers without throwing up or calling the police on us, I've never seen any indication that he has ever wavered in his Bible-driven belief that we are evil and sinful. Expediency is second-nature to most politicians, take whatever you can no matter what the source, even pretend to like the donor. He certainly found enough queers who were willing to help him get where he is now. Will they still sing his praises now? Let's see.