Thursday, 1 December 2011

Personal Responsibilty

Today (December 1st) is World Aids Day. Facebook is of course full of posts about it. There are posts commemorating friends who have died, posts about the increase in the numbers of people with HIV, the numbers who don’t know they have the disease, the benefits of early diagnosis, the lack of visibility (nobody at the BBC wears a red ribbon these days), but one piece posted by my friend Brent Nicholls caught my eye. I hope he won’t mind if I reproduce it here.

Can you believe this guy? 
  • hunk 1: see that guy over there, he gave me HIV
  • hunk 2: what? How? When?
  • hunk 1: he fucked me without a condom...last year
  • hunk 2: why did u let him do that?
  • hunk 1: I didn't
  • hunk 2: (suddenly looking angry) HE RAPED U?
  • hunk 1: no, no...
  • hunk 2: huh? then how did it happen?
  • hunk 1: met him on Manhunt, so i went over and he wanted to fuck I let him...
  • hunk 2: you didn't take any condoms with you?
  • hunk 1: i ran out and it was late...anyway, he didn't tell me he was positive.
  • hunk 2: (looking confused). U went for sex and didn't take any condoms? Ur an idiot...he didn't have any.....?
  • hunk 1: don't know
  • hunk 2: u didn't ask?
  • hunk 1: (kind of fidgeting) no, but if he wanted to fuck me bareback he should of mentioned he was positive...
  • hunk 2: let me get this right...u go to a guys house with no rubbers, don't ask him if he had any, then let him fuck u raw and blame him for not telling you he was positive? You do know how u can get HIV right?
  • hunk 1: yeah....but he should...
  • hunk 2: did u tell him u were negative?
  • hunk 1: no why should I?
  • hunk 2: because u let him fuck u raw u dick, what do u think was going through his mind...'oh this guy is HIV neg because he is allowing to fuck me raw...'
  • hunk 1: well, no....yes ...he should say.....
  • hunk 2: name one guy who barebacks that isn't positive...
  • hunk 1: I wasn't...
  • hunk 2: really? How does offering your arse raw say to someone...say i'm negative'...and guess what, your not! Barebacking only leads down one road...the only difference is time! (getting angry)
  • hunk 1: why the fuck you getting pissed off at me....he's the one who infected me.
  • hunk 2: look, if you haven't got enough respect for yourself to have safe sex and take responsibility for yourself....why do u think a stranger from Manhunt should give a fuck. Ur just another hole to fuck to him, a willing barebacking hole.
  • twat 1: why are you saying that....
  • hunk 2: don't mean to offend, in this day and age we all know how HIV didn't get HIV, you asked for it. People who are HIV negative have safe sex, that is why they are negative. It's not rocket science...
  • twat 1: but I was negative....
  • hunk 2: no, you weren' were just standing in the HIV queue with all those others...and finally got to the's no big deal, your choice....but blaming someone else for something that you consented to knowing all the risks....
  • twat 1: but....
  • hunk 2: look...MAN UP. Accept responsibility for yourself and stop blaming others for your own stupidity.
  • (and with that hunk 2 made a bee line for the guy hunk1/twat1 was talking about. The other guy totally freaked out and scurried off to the back of bar somewhere...)
  • Parts of this conversation has had creative license added to fill in the gaps...but I am sure you get the message......
When another friend posted this on his facebook wall, it engendered quite a bit of heated debate, with someone saying that this was quite offensive to all those who had contracted HIV through no fault of their own, whether it be because of a blood transfusion, or they had been raped, or because someone they trusted was lying to them. But these are not the people we are talking about. We are talking about those who do not take resposnibilty for their own actions. Those who indulge in reckless behaviour and look around for someone else to blame when they suffer the consequences.

I sometimes think the fact that I am still HIV negative is more down to luck than judgement. I was sexually active before we even knew what HIV was, at a time when condoms were only for preventing pregnancy, and therefore not necessary for me. Having survived that, I took on the safe sex message, and started to use condoms. I don’t like them. Still don’t, but they became a necessary evil. Some time later, I started taking a few risks, caclculated risks (in other words we discussed the matter before having sex), but risks none the less. Maybe if I hadn’t been doing drugs I wouldn’t have taken those risks. Who knows? I’m not blaming the drugs though. It was still my decision. I then went into a relationship with someone who was positive. I was always the active partner and we never used condoms. It didn’t bother me. I was in love. I honestly remember thinking that if I got it, it would make life easier for me. It may not have bothered me, but it did begin to bother him. I realise now that my actions were quite selfish. When we split up (for a multitude of reasons, not just the HIV issue), I waited 3 months and then got tested. Miraculously I was still negative. I had had no contact with my boyfriend since we split up but I rang him to tell him and he said it was the best news he’d heard in ages. However, if I had tested positive, I would not have called him. I would not have wanted him to think he’d given me HIV. Because actually he wouldn’t have done. I’d have given it to myself. I knew full well what I was doing and I would accept the responsibility. 

Given that we should all accept responsibilty for our own actions (quite a new concept for a lot of gay men), I accept that we also need greater openness surrounding the issue of sex itself. If HIV is still stigmatised, it is because it is, for the most part, a sexually transmitted disease. While there is still shame attached to sex, while religious groups still bang on about sex being a sin, we will never come to a stage where people can be open about their sex lives. Going for a sexual health check should be no different from going to the dentist for a check up, but you just have to look around the faces of the people in the waiting room to see that nobody wants to be seen there. In the case above, both guys made assumptions about the other one without actually confirming those assumptions. We were given the gift of communication. We should use it.

On a slightly differnt point I remember meeting some years ago another young escort on a job. He invited me to fuck him raw, but I declined. Later we, that is the client who had booked us, the young escort and I, all went to a sex party. Condoms were available but I was shocked to note that my young colleague never asked anyone to use one, though he was fucked by most of the guys at the party. In the taxi home, I said that I assumed he must be positive. He just shrugged and said, “Well not yet anyway.” I was practically speechless. “But don’t you worry about the consequences?” “It’s not a death sentence anymore. If I get it, I’ll just take a pill. It’s no big deal.” “Tell that to some of my positive friends,” I said, but I obviously wasn’t getting through.

Funding for HIV prevention has been slashed recently, whilst the bill for HIV treatment is rising dramatically every year. Think on. 

With thanks to Brent Nicholls


  1. I've stayed negative for 40+ years by using condoms and am sure that personal responsibility is the the key to avoiding HIV infection (just like not smoking is the key to avoiding lung cancer). I've had some heated conversations with some gay friends over the years with some asserting that people only contract HIV becuase of pressure from their boyfriends. Well, perhaps they need to 'man up' as Brent comments. I think drink and drugs play a large part in the spread of new infections, but you can't dictate rules for behaviour, all you can do is encourage safe behaviour. The availability of more effective treatments has caused complacency, but having HIV affects your whole life and doesn't go away like a cold. Young people don't seem to understand how it affects your life choices and they've not seem lots of friends die, like I (and presumably you) did in the 1980's. The fracturing of the gay world according to age has meant that young people never hear what it was like in the 1980's, and they don't want to know, anyway. Budget cuts are coming - HIV treatment is very expensive and long-term; let's hope the Govt. decides prevention is worthy of funding.

  2. Unfortunately the Govt has already decided prevention isn't worth funding as the money for HIV prevention campaigns has been drastically cut. Short term savings yet again come before long term costs. They haven't worked out that if, after one campaign, just one person is prevented from getting HIV, then they will have actually saved money, as it costs a hell of a lot more to treat that person for the rest of their life.