Posts Tagged ‘sex’
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is the concluding part of an extract from Kristian Johns’s forthcoming book ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon. Read part 1 here.
Kyle’s ‘work’ phone had woken him from dozing on the sofa, but he never ignored a call. Not when there was money to be made.
There was no background noise on the line, which meant the caller was indoors, but then again, Kyle never got the kind of calls people made out in the street or on a train. The caller sounded like they had a chest infection or something.
“Hello?” Kyle repeated
“How much for you to visit?” The voice on the other end belonged to an older guy. Kyle could tell these things.
Sounds like the only visit you need is from a doctor.
“Three hundred. I’ll negotiate on overnights but I’m generally not an overnight kind of guy, y’know? You got a name?”
“We have a deal.”
“OK, dude, what are you looking fo—“
Kyle looked at the phone and arched his eyebrows. “Well, you’re rude,” he muttered while trying to tame his curly brown hair and wondering if he could get away without showering. A sniff of his t-shirt told him not.
His phone beeped with a text telling him the address, and instructions to arrive in an hour.
He texted his best friend Ian: Got a job. U gonna still be up in a couple of hours?
Almost immediately the reply came back: Sure. Come ova if u want. Have half a cold pizza n beer J
Fifteen minutes later, still damp from his shower, he took one last look in the mirror at the boyish face and slim body that drove so many older guys wild, and satisfied, grabbed his jacket and keys. It was Wednesday night, and midweekers were few and far between lately, so it was a good thing.
Might even go regular? He thought, swiping his wallet over the reader at Pimlico tube station and heading down to the cool, painted concrete of the tunnels below.
He arrived ten minutes early at the address in Kensington. A pretty fucking nice address at that. Kensington’s one of those places where you’re walking down a street lined with townhouses and you suddenly twig that none of them have been converted into flats yet. This was where money lived.
He’s loaded. Should have said five hundred. Dammit.
The door opened almost as soon as he pressed the bell, which startled him slightly — like the guy had been waiting there. The guy was a well-dressed man in his mid-fifties, wearing a double breasted grey suit with a blue shirt and tie. For some reason he was carrying a briefcase, and Kyle wondered if he’d only just arrived home. He offered his hand
“Hi, there. I’m Kyle, we spoke about an hour ago?”
— and you’re minted and ugly so I’m being polite and hoping this goes regular. Sad fuck.
The man looked momentarily down at Kyle’s hand, and then jerked his head in an ‘in-you-come’ gesture.
Minted, ugly, rude. But minted.
Kyle stepped inside and followed the silent, shuffling man down and immaculately tiled hallway and into a plush living room. They sat on the couch. The man kept hold of his briefcase.
“I usually get the money thing out the way first. Makes it less awkward at the end. That cool?”
The man nodded and produced an envelope from his blazer pocket. Kyle didn’t feel the need to check. The guy had a townhouse in Kensington for fuck’s sake.
For some reason, the guy gave Kyle the creeps, and not just because he didn’t talk. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a first-timer to clam up. No, this guy was a different kind of creepy. To anyone else, he would have appeared nervous, sitting there, breathing like a phone pest, clutching his briefcase like it was welded to him. But not to Kyle, whose years of experience as an escort —
— had given him an uncanny ability to read people. Kyle always felt a sense of power when he was with clients, but this guy exuded a powerful aura of control. It made him feel…dislocated…vulnerable.
“So. What do you like to do?” Kyle asked, dismayed to hear an edge to his voice; a slight tremor that turned his vowels to ridges.
The man’s eyes fixed on Kyle’s and his face cracked into a humourless grin and Kyle’s skin prickled with unease as he realised he’d forgotten to text Ian the guy’s address like they always agreed.
“Uhm…you like coke? I have some on me. It’s good for relaxing. Makes you feel like the king of the world.” said Kyle, cursing inwardly as he fumbled his wallet and dropped it on the floor.
The man continued to smile at him, like he found Kyle amusing.
Have a line and focus. He isn’t the one in control here. You are. Always remember that.
“Is it OK to do it on the table? It looks —
— just chop the fucking line and stop babbling!
“—expensive. I wouldn’t want to—“
The man’s voice was husky, but still went through Kyle like a gunshot. He tried to hide his juddering hands as he knelt over the spotless glass table and shook out more coke than he should have. He chopped two fat lines, pulled out a well-rolled note and snorted. He handed the note to the man, feeling the burn and gagging slightly as the coke hit the back of his throat. The rush was almost immediate — he always bought top-drawer stuff.
The client barked a deep, phlegmy cough as he finished his own line and returned to the sofa, still holding the briefcase.
Fortified by the coke, Kyle knelt up behind the man and began kneading his shoulders. The man inhaled a deep, wheezy lungful as he slumped under Kyle’s expert fingers.
“That feel good, mister?”
The guy nodded.
Course it does, you limp-dicked old fart. You’ve probably come in your y-fronts already. Easy money.
Kyle reached for the hand holding the briefcase, “Why don’t you put that down so you can relax with me on the —?”
“NO!” shouted the man, jumping up, his suit jacket half-off his shoulders. His eyes flashed, and Kyle felt his fear crack open again.
“Okay! Okay!” Kyle held his hand out in an ‘easy there’ gesture but the man stepped back again, his eyes flashing.
“Don’t you dare touch it! Don’t you DARE touch this case!” He hugged it in a pose that might have looked absurd if it hadn’t been for his vicious expression. His face was turning a deep shade of purple and his eyes bulged. He tugged at his collar with his free hand.
“Dude, calm down, I wasn’t going to…are you O—“
The man thudded violently to the floor before Kyle could finish his sentence. Gooey blobs of phlegm splattered from his mouth as he fought desperately to catch a breath. The hand holding the briefcase let go and grabbed at his shoulder. The noise was awful, a rasping, desperate sound like nails down a blackboard
He’s having a heart attack. He’s having a goddamn motherfucking heart attack.
Kyle knew he should do something —
— you’re a rent boy who’s given him drugs.
— call an ambulance, anything, but he was glued to the spot, mesmerised by the horror of watching another human being dying, knowing he should do something, pick up the phone, call out, anything, but torn by the fear of the consequences.
— call a fucking ambulance. Flush the coke and call an ambulance
The man gaped at Kyle with eyes shot through with fear, confusion and blood. He pawed feebly at it the briefcase before his body was wracked with a final, violent spasm, and then he lay still.
Kyle stood rooted to the spot. A wild jumble of thoughts clattered round in his mind: I should check if he’s dead I should call an ambulance I should flush the coke and then call an ambulance I should try and give him the kiss of life I should grab my shit and get the fuck out of here I should see what’s in that briefcase.
The briefcase the man had been so ferocious about protecting.
I should see what’s in that briefcase.
He knelt over the man, heart pounding so hard he swore he could see his t-shirt rippling. He gingerly put his ear close to the man’s mouth. No breath. Not even a whisper.
He slid over to where the briefcase lay upside down on the smooth, varnished wooden floor and flipped it over. It was nothing special: just your bog standard department store job, black leather, with a cheap, gold combination lock on each side of the handle.
“What’s so important that you couldn’t let this out of your sight, eh?” Kyle asked the dead man, searching in his own bag for the screwdriver he always carried around with him on jobs. Police didn’t take kindly to knives. At least if he got stopped and searched he could say he was borrowing it.
A few well-placed jabs, a couple of turns of the wrist and the locks sprang open. It was then, Kyle understood.
He’d often wondered what a million pounds looked like. And now he reckoned he had a fair idea.
He pulled out his phone and dialled Ian.
**EXCERPT FROM TRANSCRIPT OF USB RECORDER FOUND ON THE BODY OF MATTHEW WRIGHT. DATE: June 26th 2011**
(Shuffling noises, metallic sound, probably from chains. Sound of a man crying)
(Male voice): He didn’t come today, or yesterday, or the day before that. But my today and yesterday might just be someone else’s today. I don’t know. I’ve tried to count the seconds and get some sense of time but I can’t concentrate. I don’t know if he’s coming back. I keep blacking out. I’m so hungry. So goddam FUCKING HUNGRY!
(Screams, shouting, chains rattling)
WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU! COME BACK YOU FUCKING CUNT!
(Sound of crying lasting approximately two minutes.)
Every time I wake up it’s from the same nightmare. I hear the sound of the door in my dreams. It scares the shit out of me, but scarier still is the sick way in which I want to hear it. I just want to hear the door open again. I keep…
…I just keep waking up and seeing it open, but I know it’s not really open because he’s not there. I miss him. It sounds so fucking stupid but I miss him. He’s a monster. He’s a FUCKING FUCKED UP MONSTER
(Chains rattle on each word, as if speaker is pulling at them for emphasis)
…but he’s the only human being I think I’ll ever see again. Oh God, how long till I go? How fucking long till I just black out and don’t wake up. PLEASE. Oh, God, please.
(Crying for approximately thirty seconds. The next two minutes of the audio is also muffled and could not be understood)
…of my fucking life. Oh God, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so fucking sorry. Tell John I’m so sorry. And tell him I love him.
**END OF RECORDING**
BBC NEWS WEBSITE: DATE: 7TH JULY 2011: TIME: 11:47am
KENSINGTON ‘HOUSE OF HORRORS’ REVEALS MORE VICTIMS
It has today been confirmed that the remains of a further five victims have been excavated from the basement of the Kensington address where 53-year-old Geoffrey Hamilton was found dead from a heart attack last week. A postmortem on Hamilton’s body has since established the presence of cocaine in his body at time of death.
In a dramatic twist, the corpse of a young male chained to the floor in the basement of the property. Although official cause of death has not yet been made available, it is suspected that the victim, named as 27-year-old sales executive Matthew Wright, died from multiple fractures to the back of his skull. Speculation that Wright may have taken his own life by repeatedly striking his head against the floor has neither been confirmed nor denied.
In a statement issued by the Metropolitan Police today, Detective Chief Inspector Chris Reynolds said:
“We can confirm that we are still in the process of excavating the basement at 45, Barrington Gardens, SW7 and have so far recovered five bodies in addition to those of Geoffrey Hamilton and Matthew Wright. All are believed to be male and we are awaiting the results of DNA testing to determine their identities.”
The funeral of Matthew Wright is expected to take place next week, when the body is released by coroners.
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is an extract from the forthcoming collection ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon.
The room is about ten feet by six, and the ceiling is low — only about eight feet separate it from the floor. There are no windows, which gives the room a damp, humid smell, underpinned by another odour, like meat that’s been left in the fridge too long. I haven’t heard any sounds from the outside world, so I’m assuming the room is underground, but I don’t know how far.
The room was white once, but it hasn’t seen a decent coat of paint in years — possibly decades — and the walls and floor are concrete. There are dark, mottled patches everywhere, each roughly the size of a person. He’s had a go at painting over them, but you can see the stains coming back through the peeling paint like mould.
The room is empty apart from me, and I’m chained to the floor opposite the heavy steel door that serves as his entrance and exit. He’s positioned me so I have no choice but to look at him when he comes in. He likes that, you see. He’s always dressed smartly, like he’s just come from the office, and he’s always carrying a briefcase. He never talks.
There are two thick metal rings buried either side of me and I’m shackled to them, crucifix-style by heavy chains. There’s enough play in them for me to sit up, scratch my face and stuff like that, but the cuffs are inlaid with rows of sharp spikes which have pierced my skin and will rip my wrists to ribbons if I try to pull them out. I black out occasionally, and when I wake up, I always find there’s fresh blood seeping from the wounds — like I’ve been struggling in my sleep.
The cuts are infected now, and there’s a faint rotten smell coming from them. My contacts fell out long ago and my mouth feels hot and putrid. I smell sour with sweat. My clothes are hanging off me and when I wake up from my blackouts, the floor is hard against my now jutting bones. My face is a scratchy mass of beard and my hair is lank and greasy. The days of haircuts, perfectly trimmed stubble and hard effort at the gym just to fill out my t-shirts seem so far away now – and so pointless.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It must have been a while, because the faces of the people I love are becoming fuzzy in my mind. I try to recall John’s face, but as soon as I get a clear picture, it melts away. I try to remember if I told him I loved him that morning, or if I texted him something soppy and alcohol-fuelled later when I was out drinking after work, but I can’t check, because my phone’s been taken. I hope I told him I love him. I miss him. I wonder if he’s trying to find me.
Panic is supposed to subside over time, isn’t it? It’s not true. The fear is relentless. I’m full of adrenaline every waking second, waiting for the sound of the door. My whole life now revolves around waiting for the sound of that door come and to rip apart the constant silence. That’s probably why I keep blacking out. I guess your body is only designed to cope with so much stress before it shuts down. Unconsciousness is a relief to be honest. I mean, I have dreams, but they’re all about being in this room anyway. Sometimes I wake up and don’t realise I’m still dreaming, and sometimes when I’m awake, I question whether I’m conscious. I wonder if I’m going insane.
There’s a screeching sound from the door as he pulls back the heavy bolt on the other side, and despite the fact I’ve been waiting for it, a thunderbolt of fear slashes through me. My bones jump beneath my sagging skin, bile rises in my throat — although there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up — and my pulse hammers in my veins.
And then he’s there in the doorway — an unattractive guy of about fifty, with greying temples and a paunch. He’s wearing the grey suit today, with a cornflower blue shirt and a patterned tie. He’s got two suits — one grey and one navy — and about four ties. He sticks to white and blue shirts. And of course he’s got the briefcase. Always with that fucking briefcase.
He shuffles, slightly hunched over, into the middle of the room, sets the briefcase down and walks back out. He’s disappeared from view, but I hear a faint clanking, whizzing sound, like a rope against a pulley. I suspect he has some sort of dumbwaiter system, because he always returns with a tray.
He checks to make sure his briefcase is still there, and shuts the door. Although it’s already silent in here, the sound still feels like it’s been sucked out of the room; like the air’s tighter somehow. He walks towards me.
I often wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a madman, and now I know. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, this man has no soul. There’s nothing there behind his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
At first, when I still had the strength to get angry, I used to scream abuse at him. Brutal, primal things I never even imagined myself saying in my head, let alone out loud. I’d vow to get free and tear him limb from limb. I’d spit, kick and bite, scream at him like nothing human until my throat was in shreds, but he never reacted. He just stood there, observing me with this kind of… muted curiosity until I wore myself out.
Later on, I switched to begging with him, asking why I was there, what he wanted from me. I’d describe where I lived, what I did, the kind of person I was, hoping to connect with whatever last scrap of humanity he may have had. But he just watched silently as I slowly wore down and broke; until there was nothing more of the ‘me’ I used to be. Until I was just a whimpering slab of meat, sobbing and flinching whenever he came near me.
Now I stay silent the entire time he’s here. My trembling gives me away, but I’m damned if I ever let him see me cry again. I’m not in a position to make resolutions — I’m going to die here, I know that now — but I’ve promised myself one thing: I will never cry again in front of that monster.
He carries on now like he’s tending to a mannequin and not a human, pulling down my trousers so I can defecate into a bedpan. Once I’m done, he pulls them back up and begins spooning stone-cold porridge from the tray into my mouth. His breath stinks like cold chips, and every time he inhales, I hear a rattling, wheezing sound. The spoon clatters like a tuning fork against my teeth.
When he’s finished feeding me, he goes and sits on top of the briefcase and just watches, head tilted slightly to the side as if he’s pondering something. At first — back when I had a spirit — I tried to stare him out, but I never won. I refuse to look directly at him now, but I won’t turn my head away. Instead I fix on the spot on the wall just beyond his left ear, and wait till he’s done. Sometimes he’ll sit there for a few minutes, sometimes much longer. The only sounds are the thundering of my heart and his rattling breaths.
He gets up after a few minutes, and immediately I’m a mannequin again to him. I’m invisible as he picks up the briefcase and heads to the door.
I don’t know why, but for the first time in what must be weeks, I speak to him. My voice is alien, dry and unfamiliar, yet resolute, echoing off the bare walls.
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
He stops in the doorway and turns his head slowly to the left, but he doesn’t look at me. And for the first time ever, I hear him speak:
After the door shuts, after the bolt shrieks into place, and after counting to a thousand to make sure he’s gone. I break down.
I cry for me. I cry for the memory of sun on my face, the feel of a hot shower on my skin. I cry for the smell of John’s aftershave, for sex, eating chicken salad, and the loss of my dignity. I cry for the little things, like fresh sheets and the cold side of the pillow on Sunday mornings when John goes out for a run. I cry for my life and my meaningless achievements. I cry for an end to all this.
He was wrong. I’m not afraid of dying — I’m afraid it won’t come soon enough.
Another blackout. I’ve fallen onto my left wrist and the barbs inside the shackles have bitten deep. My forearm is hot, swollen and bloody. I stretch my good hand into my jeans pocket. After all this time, I still can’t believe he missed it when he took my stuff, but there it is, small and metallic in the palm of my hand:
A USB recorder.
I press the button and begin to speak…
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.
“What’s wrong?” asked my colleague Claudia, as we exited Prêt a Manger and crossed the road back to the office. I’d suddenly stopped talking, which always unnerves people.
“Nothing,” I replied, “There’s just a really hot guy sitting on the wall and he just totally eyed me up!”
And it was true; he was sitting on the wall on the corner of Lambs Conduit Street in Holborn, talking on the phone when he clocked me.
He jerked his head in an upwards ‘hello’ nod and smiled.
So what did I do?
Well naturally, I looked at the floor and carried on past him.
“He’s really hot!” said Claudia, chasing after me, “why don’t you talk to him?”
“Nooo! Anyway he’s on the phone. I’d be standing there like a muppet.”
She looked back, “Well he’s not now, so go talk to him.”
I looked back too, and sure enough, there he was, looking back, phoneless and still smiling.
“Nooo! I can’t!” I cried, “I’m too nervous!” and I scurried inside our building.
“I can’t believe you didn’t go and talk to him,” said an exasperated Claudia as we got in the lift, “he was obviously interested; he was really smiling at you. And he was gorgeous!”
Fuck it, I thought. You only live once.
“You know what? I’m going to go and talk to him.” I said with a grin. So I caught the lift back down and ran outside.
He was gone.
Despite his inability to ready my clear-as-mud signals, this guy had the right idea. He acknowledged that he’d seen me. His smile wasn’t a drunken or drug-fucked leer. It was a ‘hey, I’m friendly, come talk to me’ kind of smile. It was me that screwed things up and made him think I wasn’t interested.
Why is it that so many guys (me included) look away when you eye them up? Is it embarrassment? Lack of confidence? Lack of Dutch courage? Is it just a case of ‘look, mate, you’re lovely, I’m just not in the mood — I’m late for work/tired/drunk/hungover/had a bad day’?
Who reading this, has ever had the following internal dialogue?
Hmm, he’s looking at me, but I only caught a glimpse of him, so I’m not sure whether I fancy him or not, but if I look and he’s looking back and we make eye contact, he might think I fancy him, in which case I’ll have to look away quickly and I won’t have caught a proper glance at him, which means I’ll have to look again to see if he’s fit or not. But what if I look again and he’s looking and he’s not fit? Then he’s going to think I’m interested! Best I just look at the floor…
…Oh, but what if he’s hot? What if….
And so it goes on.
Seriously, guys. What logic are we using that tells us the best way to let a guy know we’re interested is to look away when he makes eye contact and spend the rest of the night studiously ignoring him?
And who in God’s name made us believe that a scowl is far sexier than a smile? Is it supposed to be enigmatic? Do we think it makes us look moody and sexy? Newsflash: it doesn’t. It just makes you look like a miserable cow.
The only way is to bite the bullet and take a look. At least you won’t have to resort to tracking him down on Manhunt/Gaydar/Facebook three months later to let him know you thought he was hot.
Which brings me nicely to the heady world of online dating.
I recently joined Manhunt, and I’m sorry to say, I’m bored already. Yes, it’s sex at your fingertips (and I’ve made full use of it), but apart from the constant stream of monosyllabic messages saying ‘hi’ or ‘hey’, I’m shocked at the amount of people — really fit guys from my gym or the scene who I’ve previously considered out of my league — who have sent me messages saying “I’ve always thought you were hot.”
Then why haven’t you LOOKED AT or SPOKEN to me before now?!
Why is it that as soon as people get behind the safety of a computer screen, their confidence skyrockets? Why, in the offline world, do guys never have the bollocks to show interest unless they’ve got a belly full of beer or Ecstasy?
And if we apply Manhunt/Gaydar etiquette to the ‘real’ world — who on earth walks up to someone in a bar, flops their dick out onto the bar stool and says ‘hi’?
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are guys out there who can make you feel like a deer in the headlights with their incessant, rabid staring. These über-confident, oversexed guys need to be dealt with equally as confidently.
I had it in the gym the other day while getting changed — this guy was making no secret of the fact that he was checking me out while I towelled off.
I turned to face him, stark-bollock naked (luckily the shower had been warm) and said in a very loud voice “Had a good look, have you?”
Bingo. Instant power shift. Suffice to say he went rather red and went back to getting changed himself — rather quickly, I may add.
It seems we, as gay men are either at one end of the scale or the other. At one end there’s the no-shame, ultra-confident (or desperate) starers, while at the other, there’s the rest of us, who have absolutely no idea how to deal with — or show — attention.
How many missed opportunities go by every week, every day, because people don’t know how what to do when someone flicks an appreciative glance their way?
How many happy relationships have never even begun because both parties opted for ‘bored and disinterested’, when inside they were aching to say hello?
Try it next time you’re out. If you catch a guy looking at you, look back. And for God’s sake — crack a smile. You never know — he could be the man you end up marrying.
Oh, and if by way of fate, this post falls under the nose of sitting-on-the-wall-in-Holborn guy — I’m sorry. I’d love to have a drink sometime…
It’s been a while since I’ve paid attention to this blog, but I’ve been dealing with a few issues of the ‘personal’ variety, and to be honest, it’s been like holding the nozzle of a Dyson to whatever gland I have that allows me to do anything creative.
Forgive me again, therefore, that I’m not heralding my return with some barnstormingly funny or hard-hitting ‘comeback’ post. Nope, instead, I’ve opted for something that can only be described as…well…self indulgent.
You see, it’s these damn civil partnerships.
Up until 2005, I never really thought about marriage, but with the advent of same-sex unions, suddenly everyone wanted in on the act, and all of a sudden, I seemed to be living in marriage-ville, with a new one happening every week.
I now have a plethora of friends with cute double-barrelled surnames, because neither of them wanted to be the ‘woman’ and take the other’s surname.
Last month, yet another schoolfriend got married, the month before that, two. My best mate from school is a divorcee and my other friend is on her second marriage. I’ve got no less than three civil partnerships coming up in the next six months, and I’ll admit it — I’m getting jealous of all these cute, loved up couples, with their dinner parties and Saturday mornings at Sainsbury’s. I’m kind of wanting in on the action. I reckon I’ve paid my dues to the single world for long enough.
I’m the guy people always look at and say “I can’t believe you haven’t got a boyfriend”, but here I am, thirty-one and single, and facing an ever decreasing pool of available men. But I’m fucked if I’m going to lower my standards and settle just because I don’t want to end up on my own.
I’m considered attractive, I’ve got a good job, a nice place, a great set of teeth and a talent for mimicry that always goes down well at parties.
However, my talent for picking absolutely the wrong man still astounds me. Out of the three long-term relationships I’ve had, the first beat me solidly for two years and left me bankrupt, the second knocked me up with HIV (he was sleeping around and forgot to tell me) and the third was a control freak who made playing mind-games look like an art form.
My latest spectacular misjudgment was an affair with a married man that I chose to end three months ago.
Since then, I’ve been careening from one encounter to the next like a pinball in an arcade game. Some of them have been fun, others plain disastrous — all of them ultimately empty. It must be the same for heroin addicts — methadone is no substitute for the real deal.
And yes, despite the fact that The Married Man was never really mine, it was the real deal for me.
So this is the reason why, at the moment, I’m probably not going to meet the love of my life. I have wounds that need a considerable amount of licking before I’m ready to date again.
Dating’s a funny old game anyway. Nobody at my age is without some sort of baggage. We’re all of us ‘damaged goods’ in some way or another, we’re all scared of being hurt. And the thing is, I’m not sure whether I can be bothered with the whole rigmarole. I’ve been on my own for five years now (affairs with married men notwithstanding) and I’ve kind of gotten used to it.
I can do what I like, when I like, and with whomever I choose. And having been this way for so long, I know I’d find it hard to have to consider someone else’s feelings and needs on an almost constant basis.
Does there come a point where you’ve just become too hardened by disappointment and heartbreak, too self-sufficient, and let’s face it, too damn selfish to be able to function in a relationship? Would the shock of having to share my life and bed once more be a bit too much to take?
So perhaps the question isn’t really about whether or not I’m on the shelf. Perhaps I should be asking myself a different question:
Have I put myself there?
It was just a coffee.
I wasn’t even expecting a response when I messaged him on Facebook with the razor sharp and achingly original: “Has anyone ever told you you’re ridiculously hot?”
(Seriously, come on. How can anyone fail to be floored by that?)
But it worked, because last Thursday afternoon found us sat in Café Nero on Old Compton Street, smiling, laughing and flirting.
He casually put his hand on the small of my back as we were chatting, eventually moving to my knee and then taking hold of my hand.
“Sorry, is this too…?” he asked, indicating my hand in his and not needing to finish the sentence.
“No, absolutely not.” I replied, smiling. And to my surprise, it wasn’t.
You see, anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that a couple of months ago, I made a heartbreaking decision before I went on holiday, regarding someone I loved very much. I had a short, intense affair with a married man, and I truly believed he was going to leave his sexless, platonic marriage for me. But the stark reality was actually the opposite — he merely wanted a toy he could take out of its box and play with when he felt bored and horny — a bit like a Fleshjack.
So I finished it, and I came out of it heartbroken, bereft and so numb, I felt like jamming my fingers into a plug socket just to remember what it was like to feel something.
I’ve never been a ‘rebounder’. When a relationship ends, I don’t go looking for another one to use as a bandage for the wound. It takes time for me to heal, trust and let my guard down again, so you can imagine my astonishment when I looked at my date and realised: I really like you.
He leaned in for a kiss. And boy, was it good. So good in fact, it had me regretting my decision to go commando that day. I could only look on in embarrassment as I started pitching a tent in my army shorts.
His voice was like butter, with a soft Manchester accent, a bit like the actor who played Vince in Queer as Folk. I could have happily sat there and talked with him all day, but we both had stuff we needed to do. We left the café holding hands, and as he caught sight of us in a shop window, he turned to me and said: “I think we look good together, don’t you?”
I kind of agreed.
I dropped him off at the tube station, and as I walked away I chanced a look back. He was looking too. We grinned at each other before turning away one last time.
Will I see him again? I’d certainly like to, and he seems keen as well. Although he’ll probably read this and run screaming for the hills. But even if that happens, it was just nice to realise I can feel a spark with someone again. If nothing else, I’ve learned a valuable lesson — that there is, indeed, life after an ex.
It was just a coffee — but it was a damn good one.
Breakups are never easy. I recently split with the man I saw myself marrying. The worst thing is that it was my decision — he wasn’t in the right place to give me a whole relationship, so, as much as it hurt, I had to walk away. And believe me when I say it hurt.
So I’m faced with the task of finding my way back to happy again. I’ll get there. I was happy before I met him, so I’ll be happy again in the future. And this is how I’m planning to get there:
1. Put it in a box
Amy Winehouse got it right with her song, Take The Box. Some may disagree, but I say cut contact and remove all those reminders that, for now, are going to stop you from moving on.
Delete them from Facebook/Twitter (but tell them nicely why). Take all those photos of them off your phone, un-sync “your” songs from your iPod, change your phone’s screensaver. Put everything in a folder on your computer and set that folder to ‘hidden’.
Don’t get rid of it all though — don’t delete things or throw them away, just put everything out of sight where it can’t hurt you, and come back to it at a time when you can view it more objectively.
It’s like setting a broken bone in a cast. Your heart is raw and open and needs time to heal, and you need to protect it while it does that.
2. Don’t try and second guess them
You can only go on what you know, and all you know right now is that you’re not together. Don’t drive yourself insane trying to guess what’s going through their mind, because you just don’t know. So concentrate on the stuff you do know.
And don’t try and find out either. You’ll make people uncomfortable, and you’ll also look like the freaky-ex-who-isn’t-over-it. So have some dignity.
3. Listen to music
And no, I don’t mean wailing along to Celine Dion’s All By Myself . I mean, seriously, is she even still alive? And if she is, why hasn’t someone shot her?.
Screw all those crappy power ballads about lost love and being heartbroken, Sarah Maclachlan’s I Will Remember You sums up perfectly the notion that you can let someone go, but still have them in your heart.
For the pop fans, I recommend Jennifer Lopez: I’m Gonna be Alright. It’s a strong song, full of grim, grit-your teeth resolve, and it’ll make you lift your head up and walk with a purpose.
To lift a mood, you can’t beat the shiny, disco-pop perfection of Agnes: Release Me. So sing along with her as she proudly proclaims “I’m better off without you” — even if you don’t feel like you are yet.
And for the times when you’re so furious you could put your fist through a wall, Apocalyptica’s I Don’t Care and Three Days Grace’s I Hate Everything About You are awesome, angry rock songs to scream along to.
Just don’t put your fist through a wall. It hurts. Take it from me.
4. Get distracted
Go on some dates. Enjoy being single again. Flirt back with the guy at the gym who’s been eyeing you up for ages.
Jeez, have a sweaty, no-strings fuck with a random stranger if that’s what you feel you need.
But accept you’re on the rebound. You’ll be comparing others to your ex for a long while yet, so accept that for now, dates are just a distraction. And be honest with them. Say you’re just getting back in the dating scene after a breakup, but leave it at that — they want to have a drink with you, not console you.
And whatever you do, don’t hurt a nice person by using them as a replacement. You might meet someone fantastic, who’s ready for a relationship, but you’re not in that place yet — and starting something on an unequal footing, where they stand more chance of getting hurt, is just not fair.
5. Count your blessings
A friend recently suggested I take a couple of minutes every day to acknowledge the five nice things that have happened to me that day. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, just make yourself aware of them.
- The sun was shining and I was in my shorts in the park at lunch
- The sandwich lady gave me a free portion of carb-tastic pasta with my chicken roll because I said I was going for a run later
- I had an uninterrupted half an hour alone with a great book
- My friend Dillon is treating me to 30 Seconds To Mars at the O2 in November
- My other friend Paul took me out for a run this evening to prep me for the Asics Great London 10K Run (see next section)
And in addition to all that, I’m grateful to have found an amazing set of friends who are there with a smile and a hug whenever I need it.
When people are there for the drama as well as the fun, you know you’ve found your gang. Guys, you know who you are.
No, it’s not a metaphor, and no, I’m not referring to that god-awful Leona Lewis desecration cover of the Snow Patrol song, I mean actual running.
A friend said to me: “Running is great. There comes a point where all you’re thinking about is putting one foot in front of the other and your mind is totally clear — it’s like mediation.”
So I tried it, and he was right. Bring on the endorphin high.
7. Hope, but don’t live in hope
There’s a difference. A big one. Some people put their life on hold waiting for that person to come back to them.
Hope isn’t a bad thing — as long as it’s not all you’re living for. So it’s okay to hope, but eventually, there will come a point when you realise you’ve stopped hoping — but it’s alright — because all it means is that you’re over it.
8. Let go.
Mourn it, and miss it, but let it go.
If you can put your hand on your heart and say you did everything you could, you just have to accept it and move on.
You split up for a reason, and yes, it hurts, but there’s no use going back to something just because it’s easier to be with them than to be without them.
Your problems would still be there if you got back together, you’d just be pushing them under the rug for a while longer.
Be grateful you’ve had the chance to be close to that person, remember them and take on board the lessons you’ve learned from them and from the relationship in all its stages.
And as my very wise and wonderful mother always says to me when life kicks me in the teeth:
“Don’t look back — you’re not going there.”
So look to the future — your future — and embrace it.