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Thursday, March 27, 2008

If Only it Were That Simple...

So I see the idea of “Negotiated Safety” (NS) has been re-appearing, both here on the message boards and in the rag. Actually, that’s unfair, Mark Farnworth in express actually wrote a fairly good, if historically uninformed piece on the topic. And at first glance it is easy to see why people go “Why doesn’t NZAF push this idea…?”

NS was first “named’ by the Australians, Kippax et al, in 1993 if my memory serves me right. They claimed they had ‘identified’ it as a strategy being used by gay men to avoid getting HIV.

I guess Mark was still in primary school when this first surfaced back in the early 90s. Official NS goes something like this: you and the guy you’re with go through a 3 month minimum process of discussing the idea, figuring out how much you trust each other, how easily you can talk about your sex-lives honestly and openly (and that’s never a problem, right?), with a counsellor, then it’s about getting tested, sharing your test results, waiting another month or so, and keeping on talking about it all, getting tested again, and then promising never to fuck around without condoms and put your partner at risk. Whoopee ! No-one has ever lied to their partner about sleeping round, right? And once you get out of the habit of using rubbers, just how many more chances are there for a little slip-up with someone you’re playing with on the side?

Now, that 3 month minimum “talk, test,talk,test,trust” idea was one thing, but what was seen immediately after this was promoted was that guys were meeting in bars and fuck-clubs and “negotiating” their safety over a few beers while feeling horny.

Horny gay men took it as an excuse to throw away condoms.

Well duh!

And HIV infection rates in Sydney went up.

Well, double duh!

Let’s face it. Gay men have been making their own risk assessments around HIV since we first identified the virus back in 1981. Some times guys have decided that the other guy looks “clean” (God I hate that word about being HIV-) and therefore it’s all fine. Sometimes they even ask each other if they have HIV, and trusting the other guy to tell the truth, move on that. The thing is there is nothing new here folks. We’ve been doing it since Year Zero of the epidemic. And yes, HIV+ guys will more often than not throw away the rubbers if they’re with another poz guy.

The trouble with this is that NS is not that effective a strategy for safe sex promotion, for keeping HIV negative men HIV negative, which is what organisations like NZAF are charged with.

Let me give you a comparison. Let me confess, there are times I get into my car and drive when I would be over the limit. I have never once been caught, nor have I ever once caused an accident driving this way. So I must be able to drive anytime I like when I have been drinking, right? Or maybe I’ve just been very, very lucky?

I can’t imagine the LTSA ever saying “Gee, a lot of people seem to be able to drive without killing anyone after a few too many, let’s start a campaign about how to drive a bit more safely when you’re pissed.” That is what NS effectively amounts to.

Does the Cancer Society tell you how to smoke safely? No? Why not I wonder, after all, my grandfather smoked from the age of 12 and died when he was 84. Mean Cancer Society must be hiding something from us, those killjoys.

Of course you can “negotiate”, and guys have been doing it and will continue to do it, no doubt about that. But to claim it is a good idea to promote it in terms of getting an HIV prevention message across, sorry, I can’t agree with that.

Part of my research involves interviewing guys about how they got infected. And I have at least one gay guy who was in what he thought was an honest, loving committed relationship, where they decided not to use condoms, and he got infected by his partner. They “negotiated” their safety, (I don’t have it, do you? No, cool…) except the HIV+ guy was so freaked out about his condition he couldn’t admit he was positive and that every time he put his dick up his boyfriend’s arse he was exposing him to HIV . So much for love and trust protecting you.

Yes, gay men will go on making their own risk assessments, as they have done since the start of the plague. Sometimes they’ll get away with it. But not always.

The idea that NZAF or any other organisation charged with promoting safe sex and with a special responsibility for gay men would push this as a safe strategy is just dumb. If you believe that it is a good thing, you really don’t get what the NZAF is there for. Guys do it, have done it, and will continue to doit, but it’s not a safe-sex strategy.
If you want to make sure you don’t get HIV, but want to enjoy a good sex-life, then use rubbers and lube.

I can guarantee you that every year some guys in New Zealand will practice a form of NS, just as we have since the 80s, and that some of them will get infected by people they thought they loved and could trust and some by total strangers they “negotiated” with in a bar the night before.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bar Flies

I like bars. But, I do like a drink and chat. And even with their drawbacks,
bars are one of our main social spaces as homos.

There are guys I know from bars and only from bars. We never or very rarely
socialise outside them. Yet we know each other, or we know about each other. I
think the gay male world is one of the few places where you can know a guy’s
intimate details, you know, how big his cock is, whether he likes to top or
bottom, what sort of men he goes for, any special kinks, does he like to get
pissed on, or get turned on by leather, and still never know his surname, how
big his family is, what his living room looks like or what he does for a
living.

But you will know what he drinks.

In fact, you can know all that about another guy without ever having talked to
him or even had sex with him. You see, we do tend to talk to each other and
about each other.

Every time I see one particular guy walking down the street, I think “There goes
Mr Accident” after a friend told me of an unfortunate occurrence with him one
night, resulting from a combination of too much lube, too many toys, and not
enough douching. Nuff said. And I’ve never even spoken to this guy, and doubt I
ever will. I don’t even know his real name. But I know about that unfortunate
night.

You know the ones behave like dykes i.e. move their music collection and
furniture in by the end of the second date and insist on going to the SPCA and
getting a puppy together.

You know their opposite - the masters of the mixed-message : they are all over
you, they chase you, they send you suggestive texts at odd hours, then, just as
you think things are getting good, they disappear. A few months later they see
you, their eyes light up, they explain how busy they’ve been, and then, they’re
gone again.

You know the party-boys, the drinkers, the pill-poppers, the p-heads, the bitter
cynics, the eternal romantics, the stoners, the predators, the parasites, the
drunks, the bears, the twinks, the twink-chasers, the daddy-chasers, the happy
couples, the not-so-happy couples, the cock-teases, the sluts and of course the
arrogant “I am so hot I wouldn’t let Dan Carter fuck me if he asked”
gym-bunnies.

The funny thing with the gym bunnies is so many of them are of the “see Tarzan,
hear Jane” types. They spend hours at the gym, they are pumped, they are
ripped, they make the All Blacks look like the Invercargill RSA Ladies’ Senior
Bowling Team. They open their mouths…and sound like Hudson and Halls but
without the wit or talent.

And then you see the serious leather guys, dressed in their dead cow, with their
cigars and facial hair, piercings and tatts, talking about real-estate, recipes
or the opera… I do recall years ago in the old University Club on Collins St in
Melbourne, when I was 18 and fresh *wistful sigh* a this really hot guy saying
to me once “The more leather and chains they have on, the more invisible lace
there is floating in the air behind them”

Yet beyond all this, there are real friendships I have made through the bars.
Even at times when I don’t know very much more about these men, I have had long
intense and interesting conversations, often over months, taken up again every
Saturday night, about life, love, sex, politics, travel etc. Sometimes these
even move beyond the bar – that tentative transplant, like lifting a delicate
plant and re-potting it, moving the friendship into another social setting.
Will we still like each other if we meet in a café, or over a meal? Usually the
answer is yes.

And we do tend to look out for each other. I’ve been picked up a few times off
the floor when too many different substances in combination have had an
undesired effect, and done the same for others too.

The most memorable one was downstairs in the Mineshaft in the 80s in New York.
It had been a very long night of partying and sex, and things were winding
down, when someone gave me something or other, and the next thing I remember is
two huge leathered up muscle boys leaning over me, one fanning my face with his
leather cap saying “Oh honey, are you ok? You don’t want to pass out down
here!”

Fancy a drink?


Monday, March 3, 2008

LOVE !

LOVE MAKES ME GAY

I don’t think about why I am gay so much these days, unless I have to. When I was an angst-ridden teenager, it occupied my mind considerably.

Why was it that I had no sexual interest in girls, like the other boys did, I wondered? Why did I enjoy showers so much, all of us standing around in the communal shower room, talking and soaping up. Why did I keep thinking about guys all the time? Why were all my wet-dreams based around men, not women? What was wrong with me and how could it be fixed?

I was terribly confused, full of self-doubt, and sure there was something deeply “wrong” with me for all this. My family would reject me, if they ever found out, as would my friends. I would be an outcast, a weirdo, unloved and unlovable forever. And it took me a while to get over it, quite a while really.

But when I think back to before my balls dropped, I remember that even as a five-year old, while I enjoyed hanging out with the girls in Primer 1, I also really enjoyed the few boys who were my mates. I wanted to be “best friends” with them. I was emotionally attracted to them, in a sweet innocent childish way.

How I see things now is that, for me anyhow, being gay isn’t about sex, as much fun as that is. It’s about that emotional pull.

What makes me a homo is that I want to have my primary emotional relationships with other men. The sex is great, it’s fun, but it’s the icing on the cake rather than the cake itself.

I am gay because I love men. Not just because I fuck them. And from the conversations I’ve had with other guys I am sure I’m the only one at all.

And I think that’s a really important point to remember.

As gay men we want to love other men. We are attracted to other men, not just sexually, but with our hearts and our minds.

I’ve often been struck by the way young gay guys who are just coming out, when they are 15 or 16 or so, will say “I want to find a boyfriend !” They want a guy to love and to be loved back by. It is this emotional drive that , to me, really makes us gay. And I was certainly like that back then too. Yes, I dreamed of sex, but I also dreamed of love, with a man. I wanted a guy in my life, not just his cock.

What does our gay scene offer though?

Bars, nightclubs, fuck-clubs, saunas, sex, drugs and booze. All of which, I hasten to add, have their place. Trust me on that!

But we are utter crap at giving ourselves and young guys coming out a social environment where they can have a chance at meeting each other without the pressure of sex. And we are utter crap at doing this for ourselves as we get older as well.

It is as if the gay world has been stuck in this time-warp, all we do is go to bars and clubs or fuck clubs or the internet. And while exceptions exist, they are not exactly conducive to meeting like-minded guys who you might actually be able to think about forming a life with, through sickness and health, good times and bad. Yes, I know I’m generalising, there are gay bowling groups, gardening groups and so forth, but for most of us, I’d say that it is still the bars that form the centre of gravity, or increasingly, chat-rooms. But most of the chat tends to be about sex.

And the straights focus on our ‘peculiar’ sexual habits too. Putting things up our arses and in our mouths and so on. Yet really, how much time do you spend fucking in even the best relationship? A lot of it is about whose turn it is to cook dinner or why didn’t he buy milk on the way home when he knew he used the last of it that morning on his muesli, or being there by his side when he thinks everything in his life is crap. Relationships aren’t all flowers and fucking.

But it’s the love of men that makes us queer I reckon. To love, and to be loved by another guy. That’s the key for me. That’s what makes me gay: it’s all about love.