I was born in 1981.
I’m now 33.
A lot has changed in those 33 years.
So I’m taking these at the moment…
For all the Matrix like excitement of taking a red pill and a blue pill, they’re actually fairly boring. Tales abound about how you’ll be laid out for weeks with symptoms akin to a persistent norovirus, or flu, or foul food poisoning. Alas, for me at least, they’re not even that exciting.
I get a bit nauseous the first few days. Then again, they give you anti-nausea pills, too. So I’m sorted.
I’m told they’re very powerful drugs but then, they tell me the mood stabilisers and antidepressants are also very powerful drugs. Frankly, unless I’m tripping balls within half an hour of swallowing them I have difficulty believing that claim.
They do clever and intricate things to do with DNA replication and integration. For all their apparent innocence, they are both absolute, undisputed marvels of 20th and 21st century biology, biotechnology, pharmacology and medical research.
They’re HIV anti-retroviral pills. I don’t even think I have HIV.
PEP, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis. They’re handed out after suspected HIV exposure and consist of standard anti HIV medication – the exact drugs vary depending on what other medication you’re taking and any pre-existing conditions. The idea is to slam the virus down before it takes hold, before it inserts itself into your own DNA and becomes a permanent resident within your immune system.
Treatments for HIV these days are, like I say, a marvel of modern medical research. HIV first came to attention around the time I was born; now, in my thirties, an individual living with HIV can generally expect a normal lifespan. There are exceptions, and there is variability in response; but from talking to most (heterosexual) people, the impression I get is that their perception of HIV is over fifteen years out of date. For many in the UK the tombstone adverts of the ’80s still loom large in their minds. Most, let’s be fair, never think of it at all.
HIV never went away. It just became old news, and old news is no news. But in the gay community, such as it is, it remains; a permanent resident. For gay men in London, if you’ve had unprotected sex with anyone at all whose status you’re unaware of, then you’re usually offered PEP. You’re presumed to have been exposed.
Sexual health counsellors are amazing.
OK, I only saw one, the one time, but she was amazing. Half her hair cropped tight, the other half waved wild, streaked green; torn jeans and flannel shirt and big, big boots.
She laughed lots.
“It’s your choice. You’re a smart guy; you know exactly the risks you’re taking. Even when you go out, get pissed, get high, you know the risks you will take. You keep on like this, you probably will get HIV.
Ever since 2008, my libido’s been fucked. And really, honestly, I don’t know why any more. Maybe the psychiatric meds. Maybe the depression. Maybe my own neurosis about sex, built up during the episode and now difficult to tear down again; am I any good, will they be disappointed, will they think I’m too fat, too thin, too boring, too kinky? Rejection hurts, it’s easier to say no. Or ensure no one ever even asks.
Unless I’m wasted.
When you’re wasted, everything’s easy, except thinking and talking and life. But pleasure, but desire, but lust… these things are easy. And when you’re wasted, who cares about the rest?
Fucking is easy when you’re wasted.
Lust is fierce when you’re wasted.
Who wants to use condoms, when you’re wasted?
Amongst gay men, there’s a degree of prejudice around barebacking (sex without a condom). To a degree, this is understandable; the safer sex message was naturally targeted intensely at our community, and of course there are those who remember the decimation of the ’80s. For a long while, the message was condoms or not at all. This prejudice is unfortunate, because gay guys – an increasing number of gay guys – bareback. We do it for many, often complex reasons. Often it’s just the one time; we’re drunk, we’re high. We always use condoms but we might slip up. Or maybe we’re with a partner and we both last tested negative. Or maybe we only fuck when high or otherwise disinhibited, meaning we never, or rarely, use protection. Or maybe, maybe just fuck it, because sex without condoms just feels better, and we’re fucking horny, and it’s fucking horny, fucking like that, cumming like that.
Turning around to that vast, varied swathe and saying, “what’s wrong with condoms” – well we’ve been doing that for decades, and still we have HIV, inserted into our lives. It’s as absurd as telling people to ‘just say no’ to drugs. It’s tone deaf, idealistic to the point of idiocy, and presumes a perfect, predictable world. Sorry sugar – the world isn’t like that. People aren’t like that.
The messages of moral superiority, ‘just say no’, that barebacking is stupid, hurts. It hurts the individuals who do it, and it hurts the community it’s supposedly aimed at protecting. It results in the people who bareback – for whatever reason – not talking about it, not understanding the options now available, picking up hearsay and horror stories about the medications available. It plays a part in fuelling anti HIV prejudice, which is still all to prevalent not only in the wider world but in our community. You’d think that we of all people would understand that this never solves anything; that communication is better than silence, understanding better than judgement.
You can read more of Phil’s journey at http://www.nervoustype.com