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There are a few subjects which make me rant. Being ginger I am fairly hot headed naturally and when my fuse blows, God help you. Let’s talk about gifting…

Every now and then, as writers, we stumble over a topic that makes our blood boil – and we descend into what is known as ‘the rant’, – a not particularly well articulated diatribe levelled against whatever it is at that moment that has altered our genetic makeup from rational logical humans, into something altogether… angrier.

There are a few subjects which make me rant. Being ginger I am fairly hot headed naturally and when my fuse blows, God help you.

The first subject I will discuss in this, my first blog for beyondpositive, is “gifting”. I first heard about this practice, whereby HIV positive people have unprotected sex with a HIV negative person with the sole aim of passing the virus on a few years ago and nearly burst a blood vessel. For me, there was something seemingly perverse about the fact that someone would be actively seeking out the virus – or “bug-chasing” as it’s known.

I researched this and came to the conclusion that, for some men, gifting and chasing are the last taboos, the last and most extreme acts of sexual self-harm. Others view it as a sort of pox party, Bug chasers supposedly look for “conversion parties” where HIV positive men have the opportunity to pass on the virus to multiple partners.

Parties like the kind your Mum took you too as a child to make sure you got Chicken Pox over with early. But the whole idea with pox parties is to get something over with and to provide an immunity in later life, the whole basis and idea being to avoid treatment rather than requiring it.

Gifting or bug-chasing does the opposite, rather than protecting themselves or using it as a preventative measure the people who are seeking out the virus with the aim of getting infected will need treatment, will require medication and bloods appointments for the rest of their lives.

I wonder if this can really be true? Most gay men with HIV that I have spoken with do not want to pass HIV on, and most gay men I know who do not have HIV do not want to get infected.

Unfortunately it is, I received an email some years ago from a young guy asking me to give him the virus and making it sound as though I would be doing him favour. It makes me think that there is perhaps an air of complacency about the realities of living with the virus that make some guys think that it’s not that big a deal.

Ask anyone starting the early stages of Anti-Retroviral therapy, ask anyone suffering the side effects of medication, ask anyone in the later stages, suffering with AIDS-defining illnesses and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that living with HIV is in no way a desirable position to be in.

Prevention is therefore better than cure, particularly when there is no cure.

Things like gifting though are being made easier with advent of dating sites and hook-up apps. The likes of Gaydar, Grindr, Squirt and others mean that picking up a new sexual partner has never been easier. Unfortunately, the risk is that you pick something else up too.

I used to live in Hereford where most of the gay guys are on Grindr, and because the community is fairly small, everyone has had everyone. I consider myself fortunate that I was married to the one guy for the duration of my stay, lest I get sucked in to an incestuous whirlpool.

It makes relationships harder when you know that a potential partner has slept with most of your other single gay friends and I found it, frankly, off-putting.

The other problem with such small, incestuous groups is that when someone picks something up it can very quickly spread. To demonstrate this a guy I know in Hereford went to London for a weekend and picked up Syphilis, within three weeks, he, his partners and his partners partners had successfully spread it among roughly two thirds of the Hereford gay community because of a woeful lack of caution.

This brings me to the other practice that makes my blood boil, “Stealthing”, to explain this, I am going to tell you the story of my own diagnosis…

Just over eight years ago I started dating a guy – for the purpose of this piece we’ll call him Mark.

We slept together and were always careful, he had a ready supply of condoms so I never questioned it, being 19 at the time I was perhaps naive.

We broke up when I found out he’d been messing about with a few other guys and I decided, in spite of the fact we’d always been careful to go and get checked out just in case. I had suspected that one of the condoms had broken anyway and wanted to be sure.

On the first of August 2006 at about half four in the afternoon I was told I had HIV.

I got in touch with my ex and we discussed it, he told me he had only recently been diagnosed too and so we supported one another through the next few months.

Suddenly he disappeared, gone, I decided he’d probably just moved on and accepted it and it wasn’t until six months later when he returned in the darkest of circumstances to my life.

I met an old college friend, Toby, the sweetest and gentlest guy I have ever known, for a coffee and a catch up during which he told me about this new guy he’d met.

Suddenly the relative smallness of the gay community and it’s nature as mentioned above reared its head. It was my ex. Without thinking I asked how my ex was coping and whether he was on any treatment. Sweet, innocent Toby had no idea.

This next part, now eight years on, is still painful to discuss so I hope you will bear with me.

I advised Toby to get checked out which he did and, sure enough, he tested positive for HIV. Myself and all his many friends did all they could to support him and offer counsel but something deep inside him had broken and three weeks after being diagnosed, having set his affairs in order, he jumped off a bridge onto a dual carriageway.

Knowing that Mark had not told Toby the truth I suddenly realised that he may not have been honest with me. Still wounded from the loss of a dear friend I investigated and eventually went to the police who, following a lengthy investigation of their own, told me that he had in fact known for many years and had wilfully and maliciously been passing the virus on by using condoms he had tampered with – Stealthing.

He had pierced the condoms with pins with the deliberate intention of passing the virus on.

After nearly two years of questions and blood tests in police stations it ended abruptly with a letter from the Crown Prosecution Service, a letter I still have which says, in short, that they could not press charges as the case was ‘not in the public interest’ and that they ‘could not guarantee a successful conviction’, and so were ‘unable to authorise charge’.

So he got away with it, I was one in a long line of people whose health and future Mark had toyed with. Toby was just the latest and it  is unlikely he will be the last.

So that’s it, that’s how I became positive. Perhaps because of the way I contracted the virus it’s no surprise I don’t see it as a gift.

I promise that my next column will be cheerier – I just needed to get that off my chest.

Steve Cummins – (you can follow Steve as @SteveoftheMarch on twitter)

 

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Never apologise for being brave enough to be honest! Look forward to reading more from you Steve. LJ

  2. Hi,

    Thank you for this article, and no doubt it takes an immense amount of courage to openly discuss living with HIV, especially on the internet.

    I do however have an issue with how you’ve discussed the practice of ‘gifting’. I hear this very topic discussed all the time, especially among other HIV positive gay men – there is a widely held view that this is a widespread phenomenon, but I do not see the evidence. It might just be that I’ve not come across it, but stories are often reliant on one occurrence (as yours appears to be) or a couple, not exactly a sign that something is endemic with in our community.

    There are no studies or research papers that I’ve come across, although I do understand that this topic would be difficult to research and thus quantify. You mention that you’ve researched the issue, but if that research is based on one email exchange then I don’t think its enough to make sweeping statements.

    Even if it is a widespread issue, those seeking HIV transmission should not be met with derision but rather referrals to appropriate mental health services and counselling. And maybe it just is role play, the idea of playing with danger – having unprotected sex with a HIV positive individual who is undetectable is unlikely to result in HIV transmission.

    Stories often revolve around ‘young’ men seeking to become infected – fitting into the wider narrative of moral superiority among some parts of our community. It comes back to gay-on-gay shaming as far as I am concerned, and almost veers into the territory of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ HIV. I have sat through meetings at my local HIV charity where people have lambasted ‘today’s youth’ who are apparently ‘spreading it about’ – this is absolute bollocks, and does absolutely nothing to educate or prevent future infections. The reality is that people have sex, and sometimes they have risky sex which results in HIV transmission – this has nothing to do with age, its called being human and something which we are all guilty of.

    There is complacency within the gay community about HIV, but that’s natural and its the result of a 30 year message. Rates of new transmissions are spread relatively evenly across the age ranges which would suggest complacency with in every demographic. The reality of HIV today is very different from the 80’s, with many people leading healthy, productive and fulfilled lives with the condition – this can’t be ignored, and means that prevention messages have to move beyond fear tactics. I don’t want to downplay HIV, I am living with the condition myself and fully understand the emotional turmoil it can create – but this has not been due to physical deterioration, but rather social stigma. And I personally think our communities apparent obsession with ‘gifting’ will only result in further stigma

    I don’t want this to seem like a rant or a personal attack, as its not. I fully appreciate that ‘gifting’ or ‘bug chasing’ is an issue regardless of its prevalence, but I do think it has to be approached in a reasoned, humane and empathetic manner.

    Josh

  3. As a fellow redhead, I feel it necessary to correct a mis-interpretation: There’s a chasm like the Grand Canyon between between “gifting” and “stealthing”: “gifting” is consensual whereas “stealthing” is not. As much as I disapprove of stealthing, it’s how I arrived in the world: my mother wanted a baby and in those pre-pill days it was easy enough for her to get the box of condoms from under the bed and stick a darning needle through each of them. I’m a fifties stealth baby. And pretty sure I’m not the only one.

    In the first part of your article you refer to “gifting” but by the second half you’re talking about “stealthing” when the two terms mean completely different things, albeit with the same aim. The difference is that the giver is engaged enough with the “giftee” to have concern about him, whereas, with stealthing it’s a case of “pozzed half a dozen randoms”.

    I wrote a short story as an experiment to see if I could find the eroticism or giving and sharing which now forms the first chapter of a novel I’m still working of. The beyondpositive article referring to this is at http://www.beyondpositive.org/2013/09/27/can-say-consenting-adults/

    I’m publishing the original, alpha, draft to an American porn site where it’s receiving good reviews. I’m still somewhat shocked, despite my views on safer sex, that the work in progress still attracts favourable comment. I won’t say anything more than that by now (and that means about six months ago, having been ill) the three main protagonists are now each on combination therapy. I intend picking up the threads of the story soon. However, the response I’ve had to this first draft has been received well. You’ll have to guess which site it’s on and who wrote it because I ain’t telling.

    As I said it started as an exploration of making bug-sharing erotic, but has now progressed to the consequences of such a decision. The telling difference between your experience and my characters’ is that each of them went into it willingly, even signing a document indemnifying the giver.

    Bug-sharing is edge-play as much as anything else I’ve done sexually that we got off on. The difference comes in that you were stealthed, something I can’t countenance anymore than I can countenance someone shoving a knife into your grandmother’s kidney to get her handbag.

    If someone is stupid enough to seek out “the gift”, that’s like, as you say looking for chicken pox (which, by the way, can be very dangerous in adults). Stealthing is just plain wrong. This brings us to the borders of legality: until HIV it’s never been illegal to intentionally infect someone with any disease (otherwise where would all those mothers at the pox parties be?) There’s a difference between “legal” and “moral” in our legal system. There has to be, otherwise I could sue you for sitting near me on the bus and sneezing, setting off a pneumatic cascade which results in me developing pneumonia.

    For me, transmission of disease, any disease, rests firmly in the “moral” and “self-protection” area.

    Steve

  4. You know what I can’t stand? People referring to this as “The bug chasing community”. WTF? It’s difficult enough to get people to use the term “gay community”, but to lend credibility to purposeful HIV infection?! That’s absolutely insane! Call these people lunatics!

    Just speaking from my own point of view, this is why all potential love interests in my life have practically had to get a complete physical with blood work before I’ll even consider having any kind of sex with them. This includes asking about all previous sexual partners. If they can’t remember how many people they’ve slept with or know their names, it’s hands off! Even oral sex can transmit HIV. I’ve had too many friends that I have told not to go to that party or that bath house or with that guy, etc turn around 3 months later HIV positive.

    Giving someone HIV intentionally is basically murder. Willingly contracting it is basically suicide.

  5. Sorry, maybe that last statement was a little strong. Having HIV is not a death sentence like it used to be, but anyone seeking it out should spend some time with a psychologist.

  6. I think your mention of AIDS defining illnesses is very important and something I don’t think most people recognize. There is NO CURE for HIV/AIDS and people need to understand what could very well be waiting for them once they become older or catch any other immune system weakening illness. HIV/AIDS is not a fucking party favor, nor is it something unique or fun to share with people. I really wish bug chasers/gift givers would spend some time with people who have progressed to have any of the AIDS defining illnesses listed below because I really think it might alter their perception. Watching someone you love die of AIDS complications is one of the most horrible things I have ever had to experience in my entire life and I don’t wish it upon anyone. I cant tell you how sad, and frustratingly angry, I feel about people wanting to give or receive a life changing disease like HIV/AIDS. We all only get one go-round in this life and we should definitely have fun, but in a safe and responsible way. If the people who have gone before us in the 80’s and 90’s, before antivirals were an option, could see what is happening with bug chasing/gift giving they would cringe with anger because they had to suffer some of the worst ways to die I can think of and would never understand why anyone would want to purposely do that. I think they would wonder why people aren’t learning from what they had to endure to get us to where we are today concerning stigmas and medical treatments. If one is considering doing this, please reconsider and understand that your life is worth so much more than that. Also, just for some reference I listed the AIDS defining illnesses as recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which can also be found at http://www.cdc.gov

    List of AIDS-Defining Illnesses
    The current list of AIDS-defining illnesses according to the CDC are:
    *Bacterial infections – multiple or recurrent
    *Candidiasis of bronchi – trachea, or lungs
    *Candidiasis of esophagus
    *Cervical cancer – invasive
    *Coccidioidomycosis – disseminated or extrapulmonary
    *Cryptococcosis – extrapulmonary
    *Cryptosporidiosis – chronic intestinal (>1 month’s duration)
    *Cytomegalovirus disease (other than liver, spleen, or nodes)
    *Cytomegalovirus retinitis (with loss of vision)
    *Encephalopathy – HIV related
    *Herpes simplex: chronic ulcers or bronchitis, pneumonitis, or esophagitis
    *Histoplasmosis – disseminated or extrapulmonary
    *Isosporiasis – chronic intestinal
    *Kaposi sarcoma
    *Lymphoid interstitial pneumonia or pulmonary lymphoid hyperplasia complex
    *Lymphoma – Burkitt (or equivalent term)
    *Lymphoma – immunoblastic (or equivalent term)
    *Lymphoma – primary, of brain
    *Mycobacterium avium complex or Mycobacterium kansasii – disseminated or extrapulmonary
    *Mycobacterium tuberculosis of any site – pulmonary, disseminated, or extrapulmonary
    *Mycobacterium – other species or unidentified species, disseminated or extrapulmonary
    *Pneumocystis
    *Pneumonia – recurrent
    *Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy
    *Salmonella septicemia – recurrent
    *Toxoplasmosis of brain
    *Wasting syndrome attributed to HIV

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