Archive for the ‘Current affairs’ Category
“I told you I was trouble,” Amy Winehouse sang, “You know that I’m no good.”
For me, that’s the most poignant lyric she ever wrote. It sums up the mind of an addict. You see, it wasn’t a brag; it was a mixture of ‘keep away’ and ‘help me’.
How do I know? Because not so long ago, I was Amy Winehouse.
For most addicts, there’s a constant presence on your shoulder telling you you’re not good enough, that somehow, you’re ‘less’ than everyone out there. Your thoughts go round like a washing machine on high-speed. The noise in your head is constant, loud and harsh. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rich and famous popstar, or Mary Taylor in Islington, homeless and sleeping rough in a shop doorway; it’s that same mindset. Alcohol and drugs are merely the medication.
Addiction isn’t fun. Addiction isn’t “Let’s go to the pub and get pissed and have a right laugh” or “Let’s get fucked on drugs and get up to mischief”. Addiction is lonely, terrifying and insidious. Oh, sure, you start out like everyone else, a few drinks here and there, a dabble or two in something a little harder. You don’t realise when it stops being fun, but it does. Suddenly you find yourself alone in a room, afraid to go out, because ‘outside’ is too damn scary.
So you take that hit, and for a short while, the noise stops. Peace through oblivion. Then you come around and the noise starts again, louder this time, and coupled with the anxiety, fear and terror that come with withdrawal. So you take another hit. Sweet, blessed relief. And somewhere in the back of your mind you hope you don’t wake up from this one. You’re nothing but trouble, you see. All you cause is pain and worry.
I read a fantastic blog by Russell Brand today, in which he said:
“When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phonecall. There will be a phonecall. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make — it must be received.”
The problem is, addiction is the only disease in existence that tells you that you haven’t got it. Lock an addict away and they’ll be looking for an escape, or biding their time and playing the ‘yes, I’m fine now’ role until they’re alone again. I’ve had people in the kitchen pouring drink away while I’ve been climbing out of the bedroom window on my way to buy more.
I’ve been a day out of hospital after being found in my flat, hours away from death, and already I’m figuring out where I can get hold of some gear. I believed the booze and drugs were giving me something. In fact, it was the opposite. They were hollowing me out, alienating my friends and family and slowly stripping me of all that was real and good.
Sadly, all the love and support in the world wasn’t going to help Amy get better. She was trotted out on stage at every opportunity to make money for her record company. She didn’t have the luxury I’ve had of anonymity, of being left alone so she could get better. Contracts had been signed and albums were due. Her star had to keep shining, and all the while the press were snapping at her heels, waiting for her to fall again.
I can’t imagine anything more frightening than the whole world waiting with bated breath for me to fuck up, then posting it on YouTube when I do.
Yesterday evening, people shut down Facebook and Twitter on their computers, still in shock and disbelief at this tragedy, before heading off down to the pubs and clubs for a well-deserved weekend blowout.
Mary in Islington sits down in her shop doorway, begging for a few coins to get a can of beer. Just a little something to help take the edge off. You might have seen her last night, she may have come up to ask you for some change, desperate and devoid of pride, but like a lot of people, you probably looked away, annoyed and uncomfortable.
Sunday morning rolls around, and half of London wakes up with a hangover. Some might even still be going. iTunes seizes the opportunity to promote Amy’s albums on its homepage to make some cash, and somewhere in Islington, an ambulance arrives to take away the body of a homeless woman found dead in a shop doorway.
And all over the world, recovering addicts wake up and pray to a God they’re not even sure exists for the strength to stay clean one more day.
The world carries on. Then somewhere, a phone rings.
It’s been a while since I got up on my political soapbox (well, last Thursday at least), But while I gaily chowed down on my low-fat grilled chicken caesar salad, Grindr chirping away happily in the background, the home-made fruit smoothie on my desk perfectly complimenting my purple Abercrombie and Fitch top, I couldn’t help but wonder: what should we really do with Melanie Phillips?
For those of you who have spent the day in a dark room with only mice for company, Melanie Phillips has joined the ranks of the odious Jan Moir to become the Daily Fail’s newest lady-in-hating. As if she hasn’t already got RSI from her constant pearl-clutching over anything remotely not right-wing, in today’s column, she swivels her Sauron’s eye and fixes it squarely on a brand new “Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda.”
For those of you who don’t speak fluent bigot, she’s referring to the plans laid out today by the Training and Development Agency for Schools, to develop lesson plans in maths, geography and science that ‘celebrate the gay community’. The opt-in scheme will introduce non-sexual depictions of gay life into lessons, with some references to mummies and daddies occasionally being replaced by same-sex couples, and science lessons in which children will learn about other types of family setup, like those of seahorses and certain species of penguins, which rely on the male to care for the young.
Sound like a good plan? Not so, thinks Phillips, who roared that it was a “ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very concept of normal sexual behaviour.”
Yes, that’s right, Melanie. Leftie homo penguins are coming for your children because militant poofs are holding the Government hostage and forcing them to do our bidding by threatening them with a good hard bumming if they don’t.
In fact, while we’re deporting all the queers to Alcatraz, let’s run those coloured people out as well. They’ve gotten into the White House you know — it’s only a matter of time before one will be in No. 10.
The funny thing is, I read the article (don’t worry, the link goes to the Pink Paper’s verbatim reprint) and to be honest, my jaw didn’t drop. I didn’t sit there incensed. I got to the end and the only thing I did was snort and say, “Whatever.”
In my opinion, all Phillips has achieved is showing herself up. It’s pathetic pieces of writing like this — masquerading under the banner of journalism — that keep gay rights at the forefront of public consciousness.
And do you know what? I welcome it.
Think about it. People like Phillips and Moir work for the Mail because it’s the only paper that would have them. They’re preaching to the converted. They’re talking to an audience they know will agree.
Even the Mail’s own token woofter, Andrew Pierce, has been programmed into spouting forth a load of homophobic nonsense on regular occasion. I’d love to have read the ad: “Wanted – gay journalist for right-wing Tory paper. Must be full of self-hatred and be prepared to lambast their own community in every column.”
Their supporters are few and far between, and now, just like our homosexual forefathers, they know they must keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal. Times they are a-changing, and the boot, it seems, is now firmly on the other foot. It’s just been fierced up a little with a killer heel and some diamante studs.
Yes, the Mail probably sold out today, and yes, the visitors came to the website in their droves to read the article and probably netted the paper a pretty penny in advertising revenue, but so what? They’re going to need it for all those libel cases they’re constantly fighting.
Why do you think those people came? Was it to join forces with the ‘voice of reason’ Phillips believes herself to be? Or was it to read the article, then regard its author with a mixture of pity and slight revulsion, much the same way you would observe a starving, three-legged one-eyed dog at the roadside, sadly twitching away the last moments of its life?
Such is the shift in the last twenty years or so, that it’s people like Phillips and Moir with their articles on ‘the gays’ (a term as outdated and archaic as the women and paper that printed it) who are now regarded as aberrant. People regard them with a kind of fascination; a caricature of days gone by that nobody actually believes can still exist.
How many straight people do you know who have posted that article on Facebook and said, “I totally agree with this woman”?
So do not vilify Melanie Phillips, for she is a poor, stupid creature. And you shouldn’t kick a dumb animal when it does something wrong just because it lacks intelligence.
Instead, let’s all give her a great big gay old hug. Because as she bleats pathetically from her bigoted, dark little corner, she does so knowing she’s a dying breed.
And let’s face it, after the lambasting she’s going to get — she’s going to need one.
I can’t quite describe how it feels to be standing six feet from Annie Lennox, as you have your photo taken by one of the world’s top fashion and portrait photographers.
The fact that I was doing it for an amazing cause made the whole experience even more special.
This year, The Body Shop has teamed up with UNAIDS and photographer Rankin for a global World AIDS Day campaign called Be An Activist. It showcases activists of all ages and races, from all walks of life, from popstars and CEOs, to your average man on the street, like me.
In a world where treatments are improving and AIDS is becoming less of a killer, sadly, people are becoming more complacent. Ignorance is high. Lack of education is a constant problem, and as a result, infections continue to rise.
This is why I’m so honoured and passionate to be a part of a campaign which reinvigorates the message that HIV is always out there, and it doesn’t discriminate.
Arm yourselves with the knowledge to protect yourself and make safer decisions, and let’s end the stigma surrounding HIV — and hopefully one day, eradicate the virus itself.
Below is a transcript (and a shaky video!) of the keynote I delivered (along with my best mate Emma) at the campaign’s press launch on 29th November 2010.
World AIDS Day is on December 1st, and I urge you all to stand with me and wear your red ribbon with pride.
I am proud to be an activist. Join me, and be an activist too.
Every morning, I wake up, and the first thing I do after throwing the alarm clock across the room, is go to the bathroom, where I carefully place two bits of plastic onto my eyeballs so I can see properly.
Yes, I’m short sighted. Shocking, isn’t it? I mean, you wouldn’t know unless I told you. But yep, I genuinely can’t see my hand in front of my face without my lenses.
Being short sighted isn’t my fault; it’s just something that happened to me.
An hour later, before I leave the house for work, I tip four small tablets into my hand and knock them back with a glass of milk. To help my immune system cope with the effects of the HIV virus.
So there’s two things you wouldn’t guess from just looking at me. But only one of those things has the potential to change the way I’m perceived by other people.
We’ve been brought up to believe HIV is ‘unclean’ and that the people who carry the virus are somehow lesser beings, to be feared and ostracised. But I’m not, I’m innocent, I’m just like you.
I’m the person who gave you his seat on the tube. The guy who smiled at you when you bumped into him because you were walking along engrossed in your phone. I work with you, I cross the road with you. I’m not locked away in some dark corner of a hospital, gaunt, dying and covered in lesions. Every day, you come into contact with HIV+ people — you just don’t know it. And we’re not evil, we were just unlucky.
I hope one day, World AIDS Day is a day to reflect on the past and feel grateful that we live in a world free of stigma, a world where people can go about their lives without feeling they have to hide their status. I hope it becomes a time to remember those who lost their lives to the disease, and to thank those who developed treatments, and maybe one day even a cure.
Being an activist doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon. It doesn’t mean you have to march in a parade with a banner. You don’t have to stand behind a lectern at City Hall and deliver a speech. It can be something as simple as pinning a red ribbon to your jacket as you make your way to work. It’s an act of compassion towards a fellow human being. It says, “I’m with you on this’. Because after all, ten thousand voices whispering can be a whole lot louder than one person shouting.
I’m so proud to be a part of this campaign, to stand alongside such inspiring people and finally put a face to HIV. I hope that by sharing my story, I can empower people to take control of their health, get tested regularly and protect themselves from this virus.
I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I’m not afraid to be honest. And I will carry on holding my head up and fighting on behalf of those who live in fear so that we can finally end stigma once and for all.
My name is Kristian Johns, I’m HIV positive. And I refuse to hide, because I shouldn’t have to.
The exhibition at City Hall runs until December 7th 2010
I often get contacted by people on Facebook or Twitter asking me about HIV, either because they’re curious or believe they’ve put themselves at risk and need some reassurance.
I’ve always been very open about my status, and I’m glad people feel they can ask me instead of sitting there stewing. But it’s become increasingly obvious to me recently just how many people there are out there who know almost nothing about HIV. I’m not judging anyone, just making an observation.
You may remember a while back I wrote a post called ‘Why we should never stop being scared of AIDS’, and I stand by that sentiment. You should be damn scared of AIDS — it may be a manageable condition nowadays, but it sure ain’t fun — but there’s a difference between those who fear it because they’re ignorant, and those who have the facts, protect themselves and still have fun.
So I’m going to give you the basics. I’m not a doctor, so this isn’t written with the education of someone with a medical degree. I hope I’ve managed to slim down the technical side of things without compromising accuracy, but I’m quite happy to be corrected if you want to leave a comment.
This blog has had over half a million visits in the past year. If I can make just one of those visitors think twice about taking risks, then I may well have saved a life.
So here we go:
The science bit:
HIV’s a clever little bugger. When it enters your body, it targets your white blood cells. There are many different types of white cell, and they don’t just live in the bloodstream. But in very simple terms, they’re your immune system — the more of them you’ve got, the healthier you are.
HIV latches on to the white blood cell and empties its DNA into it. In doing so, it effectively turns the cell into a factory for producing more HIV — when the white blood cell reproduces, so does the virus. Sneaky, huh?
But it gets sneakier. When HIV copies its DNA to human DNA it makes a small ‘mistake’ and mutates ever so slightly. This is why it’s so hard to find a cure — because by the time we develop one, it’s irrelevant because of how much the virus has changed.
If you imagine the yearly mutation of the flu virus to be the size of an A4 piece of paper, HIV’s equivalent could arguably be a couple of football pitches.
How do I know if I’ve got it?
Well, the simple answer is — you can’t. Not without a test. Once you’re exposed to the virus, your body will try to produce antibodies to fight off the infection. It’s the presence of these antibodies that the doctors look for when they test you for HIV, but it can take anywhere between thirty and ninety days before there are enough of them to detect in a test.
Some people will develop flu-like symptoms a couple of months after infection. Others may not show any symptoms at all. My experience was pretty traumatic. I was so weak I couldn’t even move, I barely ate. I lost nearly two stone and I had a blotchy red rash all over my body.
Attractive, huh? Thinking twice yet about barebacking?
It stands for post-exposure prophylaxis — and it could save your life. It’s basically a course of HIV medication that you take for a month after you’ve been exposed to the virus, and it could cut the risk of you developing HIV by around 80%.
But you need to be quick — you’ve got about a 72 hour window after exposure to get the treatment (the HPA in the UK say ideally within one hour and not beyond 72 hours). You can get it from Accident and Emergency or through selected GUM clinics. Have a Google and you can usually find where to get it in your area.
Accidents happen, condoms split or get forgotten in the drunken, drug-fucked heat of the moment. Nobody at a clinic is going to judge you, they just want to help. But make no mistake; this is not some magic ‘morning after pill’ — the side effects can be gruesome, and can include heavy vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, insomnia and dizziness — but it’s better than the alternative. It might be a second chance at an HIV-free life.
So don’t blow it — and take a bit more care next time.
So what should I classify as safe sex?
There are certain activities which can be said to be lower risk than others. Oral sex, for instance, is a lot lower risk than penetrative sex. But the actual risk is dependent on a number of factors.
For instance, if you have oral sex with someone who’s got a high viral load and is highly infectious, that’s obviously going to be a greater risk than if, like me, they’re undetectable (I’ll explain what that means in a second).
On the flipside, they could be undetectable, but if you’ve nicked your gums when you dashed to the bathroom to brush the taste of vodka from your mouth before you got down to it, then the risk goes back up.
And whether you’re male, female, top or bottom, barebacking’s a no-no. Just stick a bloody condom on. You may think you can’t catch it from a passive partner, but you can, and you probably will. If you rupture something while you’re banging happily away up there, you’ll be absorbing the virus straight through the head of your dick.
So should I avoid sex with someone who’s positive?
Sex with a positive person — as long as it’s safe — shouldn’t be something to be frightened of. If they’re kind enough to tell you beforehand, you should assume they are in control of their health, and are at the right stage of their treatment, and therefore won’t do anything they feel will put you at risk.
However, you always have a choice, and it’s your decision whether you have sex with them or not. Don’t just go with the flow’ while silently freaking out.
I’ve been turned down by countless guys because of my status, but the one thing I always say is: “I’m not the first positive guy you’ve slept with — I’m just the first one who’s told you.”
So why should I get tested?
Well, apart from the obvious peace of mind, there’s another thing to consider. So here’s science lesson number two:
There are two indicators of how an HIV+ person’s body is coping with the virus:
- CD4/T-cells: It’s a little complicated, but they’re pretty much the same thing. T cells are a type of white blood cell, and CD4 is the protein on a T cell’s surface that the HIV binds to. For this reason they’re sometimes known as CD4+ T cells. A healthy person can have a count of anything between 500-1500 per drop of blood.
- Viral load: This is the number of copies of HIV per drop of blood and can vary wildly. At my worst, it was over half a million. Now I’m on drug therapy, it’s below 50 — or in clinical terms ‘undetectable’
So therefore, high CD4+low viral load = good news. When the CD4 drops below, say 250, this usually indicates the immune system has suffered damage, and then it’s usually time to consider drug therapy.
So if you don’t get tested, you won’t know if you’ve got HIV, and if you’ve got it, how the hell can you know how your body is coping with the virus? The longer the virus goes unchecked, the more it’ll have the chance to damage your immune system — and that’s where the trouble starts.
Also, the higher the viral load, the more infectious you are to partners — even if you’re indulging in relatively low risk sex.
You may not need to go on meds straightaway. I didn’t start taking them until I’d been positive for six years (I was diagnosed eight years ago). In fact, my CD4 was still around the 1000 mark, it was just that the virus was multiplying exponentially, and it was time to bring it under control — I looked awful, I was about two stone underweight, I was ill all the time, eczema, night sweats, diarrhoea, the lot. I was quite glad, actually.
In a nutshell
Well if I haven’t hammered the point home enough already, I’ll just say it one more time:
Go. Get. Tested.
And if you feel you don’t know enough about HIV, make it your mission to learn about it. You can find out a lot about HIV from websites like AIDSmap, or from charities like GMFA or Terence Higgins Trust.
You may think it’s one of those things that just happens to other people — like a house fire or car accident. But it’s not. It’s real and it’s on your doorstep.
Knowledge is power as they say. And the more people who take control of their health, the better. There is no cure, but with the right care you can live a long and happy life.
I’d like to think of myself as living proof that having HIV and having a fucking great life aren’t mutually exclusive, but if I hadn’t got myself tested, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here now, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience all the amazing things life has sent my way.
Thanks for reading.
It’s not often I admit I’m wrong, so hear me out.
You see, I’m an impulsive sort of guy; I always have been, so when a friend sent me a link to a video for a new campaign aimed at gay teenagers called, “It Gets Better”, it stirred something up in me, and I jumped head first into forming an opinion.
American author, Dan Savage and Terry, his partner of 16 years, speak about their difficult, religiously influenced childhoods, leaving behind their traumatic school years, before meeting each other and settling down into happy, gay, wedded bliss. The message being that if you’re growing up gay and facing the daily ignorance, abuse, and sometimes even violence — it does get better.
A fantastic sentiment — and I mean that sincerely — but part of me couldn’t help feeling like it was all a bit too saccharine for my tastes. I mean, are these two really representative of the wider gay community? And are they telling the truth? Does it ever really get better, or does the focus just shift?
For me, the homophobia subsided at school by the time I was 14 or 15 — I developed a smart mouth and I had a fiery temper, so I soon put my detractors in their place. But it’s actually been since I left school and entered the gay scene that I’ve encountered the most hostility.
You see, we call ourselves the gay ‘community’ — but I think we forget what that word truly means. We actively practice segregation — the dykes don’t talk to the gays, the muscle boys don’t talk to the chickens, the bears all stick together and the skins all go to Compton’s.
Most of us frantically pump iron at the gym in a bid to be accepted by a community that doesn’t even register you if you’re under 70kg and not popping out of an Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt.
Yep, we’re all about making people feel like they don’t belong.
And why? Maybe we get a kick out of it. After so long feeling different, it’s nice to feel like we’re part of something, and fun to turn our noses up at the people who don’t fit in. And all the while hoping nobody notices that once upon a time, we too were the outsider.
Of course, there’s a difference between not being hot enough and getting the shit kicked out of you. But what’s worse? Being shunned by the idiot kids at school, or by the very community who should be welcoming you, arms open? And all because you simply don’t fit the bill.
If, like Dan and Terry, you manage to avoid all this and find the man of your dreams at a relatively young age, then you’re lucky. But does this rosy picture of a happily married gay couple, complete with adopted son, give kids something to aspire to, or is it setting them up for disappointment when they get out there and find it’s all about instant gratification, transient friendships, fast sex and very little commitment?
You may (possibly rightly) call me bitter, and given my recent experiences, who could blame me? But the truth is, I know (and admire) plenty of happily married gay couples.
My friends Noel and Steve have been in a loving, monogamous relationship for fifteen years and have an adopted son and daughter. My other pals Uwe and Quentin just celebrated eighteen years, and I’m very excited to be going in February to the wedding of Rob and Jamie, who are finally tying the knot after fourteen years together.
But the reality is that most of us are destined to still be on our own well into our 30s, 40s and even 50s and beyond. So do we tell our gay teenagers the cold, hard truth — or should we give them something positive to strive for?
The cynic who couldn’t identify with Dan and Terry’s cuddly, present-day lives was erring on the side of the former.
That was, until yesterday, when I read the story of Seth Walsh, the thirteen year old boy who died on life-support this week, nine days after hanging himself.
The reason? He was being bullied at school for being gay.
As I reflected on my initial reaction of ‘these men do not represent my community’, I realised that what every kid needs is a role model, whether it’s Spider-man, a parent, or the granddad who fought in two wars. Gay teens need something to hold onto during those awful years when others are discovering they’re different as quickly as they themselves are.
If dreaming of getting married and settling down with a white picket fence is what’s going to save the lives of kids like Seth Walsh, then who the fuck am I to pass judgement on a video that may or may not give them unrealistic expectations?
What would I have done if I’d had the chance to speak with Seth before he tried to take his own life? Would I have told him about the liars and the cheats? Would I have told him about the rampant body fascism that dictates we should spend half our waking lives in the gym to feel accepted? Would I have warned him about the dangers of men who just want to get laid and don’t care about passing on HIV?
Of course I wouldn’t. I’d have put my arm around his shoulder and simply said:
“It gets better.”
So rest in peace, buddy. There’s no hatred in heaven. I’m just sorry you didn’t get to see a better life.
Question: When is free speech not free speech?
Answer: When it’s oppression.
Like a lot of you, I’ve been following the recent debate about homosexuality and the death penalty on BBC Africa’s ‘Have Your Say’ forum with a curious mix of disgust and fascination.
I would never call myself a political kind of guy, and much as I don’t want to launch into some long winded diatribe about what I deem to be right and wrong, I have to say my piece.
Seriously, BBC – what were you thinking? Since when did it become acceptable to debate whether genocide is a valid option because a few superstitious barbarian leaders are getting their knickers in a twist over the fact that sometimes boys like doing each other?
Perhaps even more sickening (and worrying) are some of the follow up comments on the forum:
“Totally agree. Ought to be imposed in the UK too, ASAP. Bring back some respectable family values. Why do we have to suffer ‘gay pride’ festivals?” asked Chris in Guildford.
Because of people like you, you insipid moron.
It’s ironic that as an intelligent, well rounded gay man, I can’t naturally have what I would imagine to be equally intelligent, well rounded kids, yet bigoted halfwits like you are able to breed freely.
People like you are the reason I march at Pride every year. Why I’m proud to stand up and be counted alongside my gay brethren. People like you are like fuel to me; the reason I refuse to be bowed or cower and hide who I am.
You don’t like gay people? Well stop having gay babies, then.
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute.
The BBC (the people that brought you Nick Griffin on Question Time – enough said) wanted to provoke discussion ahead of the latest edition of ‘Africa Have Your Say’. By creating such a sensation and publishing it as a forum, they’ve ensured the subsequent outcry takes the issue at hand and cleaves it into the public consciousness like an axe blow to the temple.
So let me put this one out there:
What if I took every instance of the word ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual in that article and replaced it with ‘Jew’? Would the BBC be so quick to allow free discussion? If the internet had been around in Hitler’s time, would we not have seen something shockingly similar in a forum about the Jewish community?
If we go with this line of thinking, validating the execution of homosexuals technically means that we should also think of the Holocaust as a ‘necessary measure’.
There are better ways of raising awareness. As my (straight) friend Simon so eloquently put it: “The fact that the BBC hosted this as discussion, rather than a straight condemnation of such an abhorrent and evil ‘law’ sickens me.”
And to the people of Uganda – there are much, much bigger things in this world you need to worry about than men having sex with each other.
War and famine, for instance.
Perhaps President Yoweri Museveni should look a little closer to home to see where the real problem with his country lies…