A disparate set of ramblings from a gay man who has been around, and done most things, I've been an actor, singer, dancer and model, and now I'm a writer and tantric masseur. As I get older, there's one tenet I live by. If you want to do something, then do it, because tomorrow may be too late.
Most of my writing is also viewable on www.thegayuk.com
Sunday, 15 February 2015
This article is a potted version of a speech I did for Pat Cash's Let's Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs back in December 2014. It was published in Qx Magazine on 22 January 2015
I’m Greg Mitchell and I’m a Truvadawhore. I take one pill a
day (Truvada) and that stops me getting HIV. It’s called PrEP (Pre-Exposure
Prophylaxis). However some in the gay community think taking PrEP makes me a
bad person; irresponsible, a slut, a whore.
I’m a product of the pre AIDS generation. I remember a time
when there was no HIV. Somehow I survived the worst of the AIDS epidemic and
I’m still HIV negative. How I got here is no doubt down to a little judgement
and a lot of luck. Statistically I should be a statistic.
Back in the 80s the fear of AIDS, well the fear of death, stopped
me having sex completely for quite a while. But the sexual imperative is a
strong urge, and eventually I started again. I used condoms, I hated them, but
the alternative was too horrible to contemplate. Sex could still be good, but
it wasn’t the same.
However, with the advances in HIV treatment, I’ll admit my
adherence to safer sex started to falter. At first it was just what they call “dipping”:
when you just put it in for a few minutes without a condom, and think, “that
doesn’t count. I’m not actually fucking”. Then there were other occasions when
I wouldn’t use a condom at all. There would be discussion, risk assessment if
you like, and I would decide to take the risk.
I was finding it harder and harder to use condoms. I’d lose
my erection. I’d become so fixated on the
business of getting the packet open, and the bloody thing on, that I
could barely think of anything else. I was beginning to give up the idea of
penetrative sex altogether. So PrEP seemed like a miracle, and it has changed
my sex life.
Because it has removed anxiety. I know I can’t get HIV. I
know I can’t pass it on. That is a liberating feeling. Short of a vaccine, I thought it the most
important advance in HIV research since the discovery of anti-retroviral
treatments for HIV positive people. My family and my straight friends agreed, so
I was astonished to find that many in the gay community were less enthusiastic.
Ultimately I think some of the negative reactions come down
to shame. Gay sex, any gay sex, has long been about shame. It wasn’t that long
ago that it became decriminalised here and in most Western countries (in fact
it was still illegal when I was growing up), and in 81 countries around the
world it is still against the law. Then in the 1980s it became even more shameful as we discovered it was one of
the transmission routes for a deadly disease.
Before that time condoms were for preventing babies. No gay
man would ever consider using one, but, as our brothers started to die around
us, we realised it was either put a rubber on it or become another statistic.
And that’s’ when condom free sex became shameful. We even coined
a new word for it, a loaded word that carried with it a sense of risk.
Barebacking. More and more porn was bareback, revelling in its risky nature.
New treatments meant that HIV was no longer deemed a death sentence. Still,
I’ll wager most of the people indulging in occasional condom free sex end up
feeling guilty for ages afterwards, hoping against hope that when they next
test they will be ok. But that probably starts a pattern. Once you get away
with unsafe sex, you try again and again, until one day you go for that test
and it comes back positive.
I am also convinced that many of those who condemn the use
of PrEP are under the misapprehension that those gay men testing positive are
just the dirty gay guys, the ones who
go to weekend sex parties and take lots of drugs, and no doubt there is an
undercurrent of feeling that they deserve it. People get sorted into the good
gays and the bad ones. Good gay guys subscribe to the hetero-norm, they meet
the man of their dreams and settle down in a monogamous relationship, while the
bad ones have multiple partners and go to cruise bars and sex clubs.
But many of these good
gays, the ones with boyfriends, the ones who think they are in monogamous
relationships, are still testing positive. In fact more than half of all new
HIV cases come from the primary partner. Maybe some of these good gays are not
as good as they like to think they are; maybe we should stop condemning people
who choose a different life style from our own; maybe we should all stop being
so damn judgemental. Because PrEP can eliminate the difference between negative
and positive. We can become a community that is no longer split by our HIV status.
Quite the opposite of being irresponsible, PrEP is taking
responsibility for my own health and the health of those I have sex with. If
that makes me a Truvadawhore, then so be it.
Speaking at Let's Talk About Gay Sex & Drugs - December 2014