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)