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FS MAGAZINE

THE GAY HEALTH AND LIFE MAG ISSUE #157 DEC 2016/ JAN 2017

HIV

STRIPPED BARE PART 3

THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT HIV STIGMA ALSO

MEET THE GAY MEN WHO ARE STRIPPING TO FIGHT HIV STIGMA

HIV STIGMA SURVEY 2016


Get tested. Stay protected. Find out how at:

StartsWithMe.org.uk

Produced by Terrence Higgins Trust for . Terrence Higgins Trust is a registered charity in England and Wales (reg. no. 288527) and in Scotland (SC039986). Company reg.no. 1778149.


Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

Editor’s letter Published by HERO Unite 22, Eurolink Business Centre, 49 Effra Road, London, SW2 1BZ. Tel: 020 7738 6872 Email: gmfa@gmfa.org.uk Website: www.gmfa.org.uk Charity number 1076854 ISSN 1750-7162

Cover and feature shots by Chris Jepson. © www.chrisjepson.com

The FS team for issue 157 was: • Liam Murphy - Editor • Ian Howley • Hadley • Stuart Haggas • Vish • Amit Dhuna • Ruaidhri O’Baoill • Matthew Hodson. Design and layout by Ian Howley and Liam Murphy

Appearance in FS is not an indication of an individual’s sexual orientation or HIV status. The views of our writers are not necessarily the views of FS, of the organisations mentioned, HERO or of the editor. Volunteers contribute to the planning, writing, editing and production of FS.

@liamwaterloo

They are getting naked again... In what’s become something of an annual tradition here at FS, HIV Stripped Bare returns for the third year running. We put a call out to gay men living with HIV and asked them to come and take their clothes off in the name of stopping HIV stigma. Why do they have to take their clothes off to do that, you may well ask. First of all, why not? Being naked is fun. Second of all, this is about empowerment. This shows the world that gay men living with HIV are sexy too. Just because they are living with HIV, it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve healthy, happy sex lives and relationships. It was a big deal to strip off for some people at the photo shoot and it represented an achievement for them by saying: “This is me, this is my status, I am hiding nothing.” We also spoke to them about some of the stigma they have experienced since being diagnosed as HIV-positive, how it affects them and how they handle it. They key thing that came from their responses was not a sense of anger or the need to retaliate (but trust me, the stigma they’ve faced has hurt them) but the desire to educate. They want to educate other gay men about what living with HIV truly means, confront the stigma and help people who face similar adversity. Education is key to beating stigma and beating HIV. I know we can all learn a lot from these wonderful, positive role models. Liam Murphy, Editor, FS @liamwaterloo

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HIV STRIPPED BARE | PART 3 THE NAKED TRUTH ABOUT HIV STIGMA Words by Stuart Haggas | @GetStuart Photos © Chris Jepson www.chrisjepson.com


COVER STORY

Shock election results in the UK and the United States remind us that we live in a world that’s more polarised and divided than we may have thought. Thanks to marginal victories, Britain is heading for Brexit and Donald Trump is heading for the White House – much to the disbelief and anger of the millions who voted for the complete opposite. Following these elections, both Britain and America saw an increase in hate crime towards minorities, including LGBT people. Hillary Clinton’s inability to break the ‘glass ceiling’ by becoming America’s first female President can also be considered a reminder of the fragile ground that gay men and lesbians stand upon – so fragile that it too could break like glass. Although it’s not entirely clear what Donald Trump will do once he’s sworn in as President, some of his decisions are likely to impact LGBT people in America and beyond: for example, there have been fears that his appointments to the Supreme Court could overturn same-sex marriage rulings, and his vice president Mike Pence did previously propose that AIDS funding be cut and instead used for ‘gay cure’ therapy. Anti-gay policies would be popular with Trump’s core supporters – and could have a significant domino effect across the whole world. The gay community has its own divisions, including the prejudice often faced by those living with HIV. Readers of FS who’ve been diagnosed HIV-positive tell us they face stigma in many places, but the place they face it the most is on the gay scene itself. At a time when the world’s LGBT population may need to stand together, can we be united if we’re divided by HIV prejudice and stigma?

UNITED APPROACH “We’ve seen some seismic events this year, where the popular vote defied both polling and the majority of expert opinion,” acknowledges Matthew Hodson, Executive Director of NAM. “I’d like to believe that as a community we will only become stronger when faced with adversity, but these are strange and turbulent times and it’s hard to hold on to anything as a certainty. I strongly believe though that we will be better equipped to meet the challenges that we face if we can work together and reject prejudice and stigma.” “Sometimes it feels like our community is more fractured and disparate than ever,” adds Tom Hayes, Editor in Chief of beyondpositive.org. “I can certainly identify with the guys who felt that the most stigma towards those of us living with HIV comes from within our own community. It genuinely does hurt when it comes from people you feel should empathise with our situation. I’d like to hope that the LGBT community will come together in the face of a difficult few years ahead. I know we can do it – this past year the sense of community following the Orlando massacre was just remarkable. But can we make the sustained effort? We’ll have to wait and see.”

www.fsmag.org.uk

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Photos © Alessandro Cala www.alessandrocalza.com

Photo ©Lee Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com Photo © Sterling www.lessterling.com

Photo by Chris Jepson © www.chrisjepson.com


THE BIG ISSUE

COVER STORY

For the third year in a row, FS is commemorating World AIDS Day with a special ‘HIV Stripped Bare’ issue, exposing the stigma faced by those living with HIV. Much progress has been made in recent years, from PrEP, which reduces the risk of getting HIV, to antiretroviral therapy that can result in an undetectable viral load, so HIV-positive people become non-infectious. “We’ve known for some time that effective HIV treatment makes people much less likely to pass on the virus,” Matthew explains. “Since the first HIV Stripped Bare feature there’s been a whole host of new data that now leaves us confident that the risk of transmission when someone is undetectable is either non-existent or so tiny as not to be a concern.” Although the health implications that come with an HIV-positive diagnosis may now be manageable, the stigma associated with having HIV remains a big issue – in fact, for many gay men living with HIV in Britain today, stigma is the big HIV issue. “I think beating stigma is a much bigger challenge than beating the virus, sadly,” acknowledges Tom from beyondpositive. “We’ve cured hepatitis C, we can cure most STIs and we can even cure leprosy, but they’re all still stigmatised. A medical cure does not equal a societal cure. That being said, I think each medical advance we make (such as treatment, then treatment as prevention, then PrEP) has given us a huge opportunity to talk to our community and the public about what living with HIV means today – hopefully chipping away at the stigma bit by bit. I think it’s going to be a long and difficult journey, but I believe we can do it.”

GAY SCENE For FS’ first issue of ‘HIV Stripped Bare’ in 2014, 96% of readers said in a survey that there’s stigma associated with being HIV-positive. That increased to 97% in 2015. In 2016, having surveyed 750 readers, 97% say they believe there’s stigma associated with being HIV-positive. And the vast majority believe there’s far greater stigma on the gay scene than anywhere else.

Stigma sometimes takes the form of cruel gossip. “I was in a club with some friends, and one of those unaware of my status started bitching about this other guy having AIDS and sleeping around. I knew the guy really well from a support group, and knew how hard he found it to tell people and meet someone meaningful,” says Patrick from Cork. “It was just so hurtful that somebody in the gay community would be so insensitive and taken in by stereotypes.” It may be a negative reaction to being honest and upfront. “One time I went on a date and decided to be upfront about my status,” says Dale from London. “His reply was ‘I’d kill myself if I had that’, which offended www.fsmag.org.uk

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Photo by Chris Jepson © www.chrisjepson.com

Photo Lee Sterling www.lessterling.com Photoby©© | www.chrisjepson.com Photo DanChris Hall ©Jepson GMFA Cala Photos Alessandro www.alessandrocalza.com


me on a deeply personal level. It was like I had no right to exist for having something I didn’t choose to have. After that he proceeded to very obviously go through his dating apps and reply to other guy’s messages in front of me, as if to show me that he had other options and I was no longer one of them.” “My story is so commonplace that it’s mundane,” adds Jonah from London. “I was in a club with a guy who I’d just started seeing, and I told him that I was living with HIV. We’d had just a couple of dates and I felt it was important that he knew before we went any further. He didn’t even say anything to me, just walked out, leaving me feeling like shit.” It can also be sexual rejection. “I disclosed my status to a guy I hooked up with on Grindr who basically said that he would feel paranoid every step of the way and that it was best to not engage in sexual intercourse,” says Jay from London, “but that I could suck his cock if I wanted. This was even after I had mentioned that I was undetectable.” “Thanks for telling me but it’s not for me. ‘Appreciate your honesty but I can’t take the risk’. ‘I fancy you but I could never have sex with you now I know what I know’. ‘Don’t message me again or I will block you’. ‘Fuck off you cumdump scumbag’. These are just a few of reactions I have had to deal with after disclosing my status,” says Brett from Belfast.

APP ABUSE The place where gay men experience the most HIV stigma by far is on gay dating apps. “When I’m cruising online, I usually disclose my status to a guy when it seems like we’re getting ready to make a date,” says Andrew from London. “Most of the time, guys respond with ‘thanks for being upfront’, and then don’t want to meet any more.” “It’s so common for guys to go cold, or just straight up block you on apps once they discover you’re HIV-positive,” says Tom from Wiltshire. “I don’t think it’s always about fear of transmission, people just think of you differently when they know you have it. Maybe they perceive you to be less attractive. The ultimate turn off.” “When I’ve turned down guys on Grindr, some get offended and tell me that I can’t be that picky, and that I’m a slut for having HIV at such a young age,” says Thomas from Aberstwyth. “People say I must’ve been a slut for getting it,” agrees Joe from Worthing, “or people block you as soon as you tell them, and tell me I’m not ‘clean’ for having HIV.”

CLEAN Many gay men told us that one particularly objectionable aspect of using dating apps is when others use language such as ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ to categorise HIV-negative and HIV-positive men. “’Be clean’ is something I see repeatedly on dating apps,” says Dale. “Having HIV doesn’t make a person dirty, nor does having sex in general. People seem to want to think the worst of those with HIV and assume that we are to blame for risky behaviour, which is just not the case for a lot of us.” “Hook-up apps specifying neg only,” says Carl from London. “I get fed up of seeing the date someone last tested neg – it doesn’t mean they are neg now.” “You don’t have to look hard to see on dating apps or in online comments people being so scared of catching HIV that they would do anything to avoid contact with people living with HIV, sexual or otherwise,” agrees Jonah. www.fsmag.org.uk

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TROLLING “We’ve seen a rise in online trolling generally in the last few years by so called ‘keyboard warriors’,” says Tom from beyondpositive. “There’s something about being anonymous online that gives people a sense of confidence and righteousness that, let’s face it, is sorely undeserved.” “It’s always been easier to express prejudice remotely (e.g. online) than it is to express it to someone’s face,” agrees NAM’s Matthew Hodson. “It’s during sexual negotiation that the fear of people living with HIV is most likely to be expressed. So it’s no surprise to me that dating apps, where sexual negotiation can be conducted remotely, provide the perfect conditions for people to express these attitudes.” The FS survey results from the past three years reinforce this. Gay dating apps remain by far the place where HIV-positive men experience the most stigma, but Facebook and Twitter are seeing gradual increases. “Only last week I tweeted about World AIDS Day, asking what people are doing to be more HIV aware,” says Paul from London. “The response I got back was ‘AVOIDING PEOPLE WITH HIV’.” By contrast, it appears that HIV-positive gay men are facing less stigma in gay pubs, clubs and saunas – but this may simply be because it’s easier to be a troll online than it is when face-to-face.

POSITIVE REACTIONS Common reactions to such prejudicial behavior include feeling angry, sad, shamed, afraid, worthless, disappointed and depressed. Some ignore it. “I just ignore it and move on, they’re not worth my time,” says Matt from London. Others aren’t afraid to show their anger and frustration. “They get the full force of my wrath,” says John from Suffolk. “I’ve been diagnosed for over 15 years and am comfortable with my diagnosis. I am quite fit and attractive for my age, I have no telltale signs I’m HIV-positive, I’m highly intelligent, have a very decent job and a life, and have no qualms about comparing myself to others. I am very decent to everyone but I will NOT tolerate HIV shaming, full stop.” “The first reaction is embarrassment. I feel like I shouldn’t have mentioned it at all,” says Thomas. “Then I feel angry that I’ve let someone make me feel that way, as what I’ve done is an honest and brave thing.” Others try to challenge inaccurate and ill-informed opinions. “I think they are ignorant and not worth my time,” says Carl. “I used to try and educate, but sometimes you just want a shag and move on.” “I hooked up with a guy who admitted to having bareback sex with guys he didn’t know,” says Chris from Hull. “He didn’t know his own status, I even found out he hadn’t had a hep B injection. We were going to have protected sex and I was the one being penetrated, but when he learnt about my status just before coming over he had a hissy fit online. I told him to educate himself. I was abused then silence.” “I tell guys again and again to just ignore the hate,” says Tom from beyondpositive. “Block them and move on. They’re not doing it for any other reason than to be an asshole because their own lives are so devoid of love and purpose. But that’s easier said than done, especially for those who are newly diagnosed.”

DEMORALISED The negative impact of HIV stigma manifests in many ways. “Now I feel like they are idiots,” says Jay, “but until fairly recently, it left me feeling demoralised and disappointed with myself and the person making such a comment. I internalised a lot of it and felt like I was a second rate person.” www.fsmag.org.uk

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Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com


“It says more about them than about me. But, candidly, it does keep up the voice in my head that blames myself for it,” says George from London. “I suffer from confidence and esteem issues as it is,” says Chris from Hull, “and it makes me less likely to reach out and meet guys for sex or friendship.” “It is an indescribably horrible feeling,” adds Chris from Norwich. “A churning, negative seething emotion that makes you feel like you are invisible, dead, no-one. Some people make you feel like you shouldn’t exist and that the community is better off without our sort.”

KNOCK-ON EFFECT As well as the emotional distress, another concerning side-effect of HIV stigma is that it can stop HIV-positive guys from disclosing their status, or lie and say they are negative. In fact, of the HIV-positive men who completed our survey, 83% admitted that the fear of rejection and stigma has made them reluctant to disclose their status to others. The fear of HIV stigma can also discourage others from testing – which is a particular concern, because a real risk of HIV infection comes not from those who know they are HIV-positive, but from those who have undiagnosed HIV and are therefore not on medication.

DIRTY SECRET Why is it that HIV-positive men are seen by some as pariahs of the gay scene, classified as everything from promiscuous sluts to undateables? “It is not talked about enough, and it ends up being a ‘dirty secret’ that people are forced to hide,” says Ian from Bristol, “and HIV-phobic people will use it as an excuse to bully and discriminate.” “It’s sexually transmitted in the main and anything caught sexually is still seen as dirty,” says Simon from Northampton. “It’s probably got no more stigma that gonorrhoea, but the difference is you can’t get rid of HIV. There’s a lot of ‘are you clean? DdF?’ on apps. It’s not just a gay community issue though. Just look how the PrEP campaign has polarised us in the media.” “Look at how cancer patients are viewed and how much sympathy and support they get,” adds Tony from London. “Compare that with HIV-positive folk and the stigma is obvious.” “However it gets dressed up, I don’t think that HIV stigma is acceptable, not today, not any more,” says Tom from beyondpositive. “It baffles me why some people still consider it acceptable to degrade people living with HIV but wouldn’t dream of doing it with people with cervical cancer – another condition which is largely sexually transmitted.”

PROJECT FEAR Many believe that a lack of education still exists about HIV, PrEP, and what HIV-undetectable means, even within the gay community – and ignorance leads to fear. “Ignorance is everywhere,” says Alan from Glasgow, “and where there is ignorance, there is stigma and intolerance of any minority.” www.fsmag.org.uk

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Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

PROJECT FEAR


and intolerance of any minority.” “There’s ignorance, fear, lack of understanding that safer sex with an undetectable man is so much safer that unsafe sex with someone who is not 100% sure of their status,” says Rob from Birmingham. “People are extremely uneducated about the virus,” says Tom from London, “and are unaware of how it is spread, how effective treatment is, and how difficult it is for an HIV-positive person to pass it on if they are on treatment.” “I think there needs to be more education about the subject,” adds Dale. “HIV and undetectable status should be a part of sex education in schools. Before I was diagnosed, I was woefully ignorant myself of many aspects of HIV and thought I was going to die young. It’s too much of a taboo subject still and that needs to change. I think there needs to be more educational tools available in clinics and apps and more surveys taken.”

MISPLACED This fear is often misplaced, as Matthew from NAM explains: “The chief cause of stigma is fear, but the fear that an HIV-negative gay man has of picking up HIV from someone who is undetectable is misplaced. Progress is slow, but the work that GMFA, NAM, THT and others are doing to educate people is having an impact. We have seen that the message of ‘undetectable = uninfectious’ is slowly breaking through and that will eventually result in a really positive change.” “I think we’re making slow and steady progress in tackling stigma and poor attitudes towards those of us living with HIV,” agrees Tom from beyondpositive. “Undetectability, or Treatment as Prevention (TAsP), has also brought about a change in how those of us living with HIV can manage our sex lives and relationships. I’ve noticed a marked improvement in attitudes on platforms such as Grindr and Recon since the release of the PARTNER study results earlier this year told us that undetectable really does equal uninfectious.”

STIGMA CREATES FEAR AND FEAR HURTS US ALL “Do you think the only people who are affected by stigma are HIV-positive people?” Asks Ian Howley, CEO of GMFA. “One of the biggest problems with stigma is the impact it has on gay and bisexual men who don’t test for HIV. We know about 16% of gay and bisexual men who have HIV don’t know they have it. Why? Well some may think they have not put themselves at risk so don’t bother to test for HIV. Some may have taken risks but think they don’t have HIV because they don’t have any symptoms yet. And others think they may have HIV but are too scared to find out, so they don’t test. “Fear is driving these men, who would rather not know, away from testing and potentially from life saving treatment. Getting tested doesn’t change your HIV status. It just makes you aware of what it is. “Undiagnosed gay men are the most infectious. These men account for nearly 80% of new infections. So around 16% of positive men are accounting for 80% of new diagnoses. If there was less fear associated with HIV then it would be easier for people to test. And if people test and find out they are HIV-positive they will be put on medication which will suppress the virus, and eventually they will become undetectable. This means the chance of them passing on HIV to other people is very slim. “So by stigmatising HIV-positive men we are creating barriers that prevent our community from ending HIV transmissions once and for all.” SUPPORT: For more about living with HIV and dealing with stigma, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/livingwithhiv TALK: For details about counselling services that may be available and suitable for your needs, call THT Direct on 0808 802 1221. www.fsmag.org.uk

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THIS IS HIV STIGMA 2016 Words by Ian Howley | @IanHowley Photos © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com


For the last three years, FS has asked gay and bisexual men living with HIV for their thoughts on HIV stigma, how it affects them and the challenges they face. Since 2014, we have listened to thousands of these men and they have spoken very honestly with us. In 2016, we surveyed another 750 gay and bisexual men living with HIV to see if anything has changed. Here are the results:

STIGMA IN 2016 We asked: Do you think there’s still a degree of stigma associated with being HIV-positive? Yes: 97%

No: 3%

If Yes, why: Nick from Brighton said: “There’s still a fear through lack of understanding. As treatment improves and potential risk decreases there is still an ignorance of up to date information and a resistance to talk about what being positive really means.” Lee from Cardiff told us: “Although research and treatment have moved on so much over the years, the public still remember the original message that AIDS is a killer, and mainly affects the gays and the junkies. Not much has really actually been done to change those attitudes in the media or in hospitals/GP surgeries. People are told that HIV is still the worst thing you can contract through unprotected sex and that reminds people that it is something to be scared of.” Fred from Dublin said: “To an extent I feel the gay community itself has the largest stigma about HIV. Outside of a close few friends, it’s difficult to have a conversation about it within community.” And Ian from Bristol said: “It is not talked about enough and ends up being a ‘dirty secret’ that people are forced to hide, and HIV-phobic people will use as an excuse to bully and discriminate.” We asked: Where do you receive/see HIV stigma the most? (Tick all that apply) Grindr/Scruff/dating apps Facebook Clubs Pubs Work Twitter Saunas School/college Parks/toilets/hooking up spots. YouTube

84.2% 22.1% 21.5% 19.4% 17.3% 10.0% 9.4% 5.2% 5.2% 2.1%

Since our first survey in 2014, we have seen instances of stigma on Facebook jump by 5%. Pubs and clubs have decreased by about 10%, which might be due to people either not disclosing or the falling number of gay men going to gay pubs and clubs frequently, and saunas have seen a decrease of 8%. What does this tell us? Well, the jump in social media might be related to HIV becoming more visible on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, the number of gay and bisexual men living with HIV who see stigma in the work place is unacceptable. Discrimination in the workplace is against the law, and this includes HIV stigma.

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Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com


We asked: Would you say that stigma about HIV is likely to discourage gay men who’ve tested positive from disclosing their status to others? Likely to discourage gay men from disclosing their status? Yes: 93%

No: 7%

Made you reluctant to disclose your status? Yes: 83%

No: 17%

In 2014, 75% of gay and bisexual men living with HIV said HIV stigma made them reluctant to disclose their status. This has jumped by 8% in 2016. We asked: Have you a frustrating/funny/angry story to share about HIV stigma? Please tell us about an instance where you faced stigma for being HIV-positive. Tim, 51 from London said: “I was searched going into a club with a friend who didn’t know I was HIV-positive and the bouncer found my HIV drugs in my bag and I had to explain what they were.” Stuart from London told us: “I was told that a risk ‘assessment‘ must be carried out for the safety of other staff. My headteacher at the time (yes, I’m a teacher) justified this by saying ‘what if you fall and there’s blood? We will all need to know what to do’. I gently suggested looking at a few websites. It was not mentioned again.” Alan from Glasgow said: “I told my previous employer and the General Manager took it upon himself to share the information with head office and check if it was still safe for me to continue in my job as a hotel Food & Beverage Manager.” Rob from Birmingham told us: “A man was keen to meet for fun, not full sex. He asked me if I was ‘disease free’. As an experiment I said I tested 6 months ago and was negative. He said that was fine. Then I said I’m undetectable. He said he never goes with poz guys. When I asked him why, when he’s far less likely to become positive from someone who is undetectable, he said I was missing the point and blocked me.” Lee from Cardiff said: “A one night stand saw an empty bottle of pills and googled what they were when he left. He was then convinced that he’d contracted HIV even though we done nothing at all risky. He was not reassured by the team at the GUM clinic and was worried for a full three months, and was then told by a twat of a nurse that he wasn’t out of the woods even then and would have to return three months later to be retested. The NHS can be incredible but this clearly is not always the case. The result was a very concerned man that was fearful of his life and future for a full six months.” And Alex from London told us: “During sex the guy asked constantly to fuck me bareback and I repeatedly said no. To make him stop asking I told him I was undetectable, and then he said that he’d already put his cock in me bare and that I was deceiving people by not telling them. I had to give him a long chat reassuring him that he hadn’t picked up anything from me.” We asked: Have you ever faced sexual rejection for disclosing your HIV status? Yes: 74%

No: 19%

Not sure: 7%

In 2014, ‘Yes’ stood at 69%, ‘No’ at 23% and ‘Not sure’ at 8%. This is an increase of 5%.

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Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com


We asked: Are you undetectable? (HIV-undetectable is used to describe the amount of HIV in your body. Normally someone with an undetectable viral load calls themselves HIV-undetectable.) Yes: 96%

No: 3%

Not sure: 1%

We asked: Have you ever told someone that you were undetectable? Yes: 85%

No: 12%

Don’t remember: 3%

If ‘Yes’, what was their reaction? Did you have to explain to them what it was? What was the end result? Lee told us: “I always have to explain what it means and how it affects risk. It doesn’t always seem to mean much to people until they have done their own research. They tend to think that you’re only saying it to lessen the blow. They just know of HIV and immediately get scared.” Angel from Caguas said: “I had to explain what it was. They did not fully believe me.” Alex said: “I’ve had to explain more than once what it means and what the risks are. Once it was a long and deep conversation which I felt helped someone understand a bit more. We still didn’t hook up though.” Ichabod from London told us: “I had to tell him as he sat on my cock without putting on a condom. Then I came and he said ‘you are negative aren’t you?’. When I said no he panicked. He really should have asked before sitting on my cock if he was that worried. And for sure if he had asked, I would not have had sex, as I always answer honestly.” And Peter from London said: “The first person was someone I’d just spent an amazing date weekend with and was the first person I’d ever had feelings for who I enjoyed being sexual with. He didn’t reply for 15 minutes via text but was then great about it. Except for asking ‘do you ever miss your dose?’. I get the concern for their own health (good sign) but why wouldn’t I take my meds that keep me alive? The second time was with my current partner and he acted like I’d just told him I was allergic to nuts. Like ‘oh OK, that’s fine’. No issue at all.” We asked: What do you think needs to be done to decrease stigma around sex with HIV-undetectable men? Annoymous from London said: “There needs to be more coverage in the media about what it means to be positive, undetectable and with good drug adherence. The British soaps are just starting to cover gay relationships, so who knows how long it will be before they portray a positive/undetectable person who is healthy and happy in a storyline. The news channels don’t seem to have any discussion on the matter, which is strange:” Rob from Birmingham told us: “More publicity and education. Even many highly intelligent, educated friends, gay and straight, have not heard the term.” Lee said: “The Partner study should actually be talked about and recognised throughout the medical world. I often find that doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, who don’t work in sexual health, can be the most fearful groups of people because they think it’s always better to be safe than sorry and relay that type of information to their patients. Transmission risk with an undetectable load is as low as transmission through oral sex or penetrative sex with a condom! Everything carries some form of risk and this needs to be recognised in the same way.” And Carl from London told us: “We need a major education campaign, not just gay media, but to the general www.fsmag.org.uk

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public. We pose no risk!” We asked: Has anything in your life improved since you became HIV-positive? Yes: 60%

No: 27%

Not sure: 13%

In 2014, Yes stood at 56%, which suggests that although HIV stigma is on the rise, gay and bisexual men living with HIV are seeing a slight increase in life satisfaction. What has improved? Anonymous from London said: “I’m more focused and driven. I feel like, if I can overcome my initial fear and anxiety around HIV and function normally, then I can do a lot with my life.” Anonymous from Dublin said: “I think I’m more stable now. I had hard times after becoming aware of it where it was challenging but now I think I’m better able to understand the value of things and life.” Rob from Birmingham told us: “It’s given me a better sense of perspective. I’m less stressed by other things. If I can cope with this, I can cope with most things. I’m also more aware that my health is generally good and I’m appreciative of the time I live in with such good meds and that I have the support of the NHS.” And Joe from Worthing said: “I’m so much healthier! I used to go from weekend to weekend without eating and abusing my body in many different ways. I now have a healthier diet, I’m not taking drugs every weekend (or at all) and I’ve come to respect myself and what I have.” We asked: Do you feel living with HIV makes it difficult to be in a relationship? Yes: 62%

No: 14%

Not sure: 24%

In 2014: ‘Yes’ stood at 64%, ‘No’ at 19% and ‘Not Sure’ at 17%. This suggests that gay and bisexual men living with HIV are seeing a decrease in relationship issues in relation to their HIV status. Although, saying that the fact that 64% believe that living with HIV makes it difficult to be in a relationship is still very high. Finally, we asked: What would be your message to HIV-negative men about stigma? Ben, 39 from Oldham told us: “Living with HIV isn’t a death sentence any more and you should be educated about it. Ignorance harms and kills!” Johnny, 51 from Birr said: “Gay men should educate themselves about what HIV actually is and understand undetectable! And also to know the difference between HIV and AIDs.” Stuart from London told us: “I would say ‘don’t we face enough trauma and prejudice as gay men?’. I would also be very clear to anyone that the statistics show many people who are infected don’t even know. Those who are infected and know about it are far less likely to pass it on.” Rob said: “Don’t judge positive guys as it could be you one day. Don’t be a hypocrite. Get tested regularly unless you are totally abstinent. My early diagnosis means it probably won’t affect my health.” And finally, Mark from Brighton told us: “Get a grip and don’t just make sweeping assumptions based on hearsay, ignorance or what you think. Find out, learn and become a better person.” For more about how you can help fight HIV stigma, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/stophivstigma SUPPORT: Visit Living with HIV, at www.gmfa.org.uk/livingwithhiv www.fsmag.org.uk

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HIV

STRIPPED BARE PART 3

MEET THE 10 MEN WHO ARE STANDING UP TO HIVFS STIGMA... TheFactSite

FS MAGAZINE Photos © Chris Jepson www.chrisjepson.com


Have you ever faced stigma?

I’ve only ever experienced it since publically ‘coming out’ a couple of months ago. The views and opinions of the online public are a way of gauging where society is at with their tolerance and knowledge.

FS

TheFactSite

NAME: JAMES AGE: 28

FS MAGAZINE

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com


Have you ever faced stigma?

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

When I was on a date, I kissed him and I told him. He fell off his chair and said “you’ve infected me.” I smiled, paid and left.

FS

TheFactSite

NAME: SHYELLE AGE: 22

FS MAGAZINE


Have you ever faced stigma?

I once went on a date which was going well until I told him about my status.

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

How do you handle stigma?

I try and educate people about it. It’s the best way to break stigma!

FS

TheFactSite

NAME: SCOTT AGE: 29

FS MAGAZINE


Has HIV affected your sex life?

Yes, particularly in the early days following diagnosis, but less so now. For a long while I avoided intimate encounters as I felt unable to fully connect .

FS

TheFactSite

NAME: PAUL AGE: 54

FS MAGAZINE

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com


How do you handle stigma?

Sometimes you can cause more damage by arguing back so you really need to read the scenario before engaging.

Has your status affected you?

I guess the biggest impact has come from having my status outed by somebody else on Facebook.

TheFactSite

FS MAGAZINE

NAME: MAXIMUS AGE: 27

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

FS


When were you diagnosed?

Ironically I was diagnosed last year while working on the World AIDS Day campaigns video for GMFA and FS!

Any advice to others?

You’ll be OK. Take some time to yourself. Feel every part of the process.

TheFactSite

NAME: NUNO AGE: 27

FS MAGAZINE

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

FS


Has your status affected you?

I find that its made me more conscious of my health in general. Its inspired me to take better care of myself mentally, physically, and spiritually.

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

FS

TheFactSite

NAME: CECIL AGE: 37

FS MAGAZINE


What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed?

Live, Laugh, Love, Life carries on. Own it and educate, don’t live in fear of it.

TheFactSite

NAME: JIMMY AGE: 27

FS MAGAZINE

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

FS


How do you handle stigma?

There are many occasions when I have to ‘educate’ people, even professionals who should know better. I do sometimes talk objectively about living with HIV rather than owning my own status and although in some situations, I can disclose, I am still very wary.

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

” FS

TheFactSite

NAME: NICK AGE: 58

FS MAGAZINE


Has HIV affected your sex life?

Not majorly, I don’t tend to have casual sex. So anyone who has an issue with it isn’t someone who’s getting in my pants.

What advice would you give?

Speak to people. It’s easy to not tell anybody how you’re feeling.

TheFactSite

NAME: HARRY AGE: 19

FS MAGAZINE

Photo © Chris Jepson | www.chrisjepson.com

FS


NO SHAME. NO STIGMA. #stopHIVstigma FS TheFactSite

FS MAGAZINE Text GMFA16 £5 or £10 to 70070 www.gmfa.org.uk/donatenow


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Photo © www.flickr.com/johnhopephotography

OPINION

No more sex shaming: why my 2017 will be sex-positive By Vish

@VishDelishUK

I want to be a ‘slut’. There, I said it. You might be thinking, “why would anyone want to be a slut?” After all, this word is deeply misogynistic, where women are criticised for dressing a certain way and for having openly active sex lives. Heaven fucking forbid! This negativity also spills into the gay world to some extent, particularly when STIs are involved, and people get on their high horse by labelling people as sluts for being diagnosed. The trouble with the word ‘slut’ is the insinuated shame that surrounds it. Eurgh, enough of the shame! I’ve come to the conclusion that some people just love sex and as long as they are clued up on the risks and look after themselves, then who is anyone to judge? Perhaps it’s time we banish the world ‘slut’ from our vocabulary or at least reclaim it to mean something more sex-positive. I predict 2017 will be my year of sexual liberation. I want to be someone who indulges in sexual encounters at times when I demand them. You wouldn’t think this would be difficult in the age of hook-up apps and the Guardian’s weekly blind date feature (where bewildered individuals are flung together and their date is featured for readers to poke fun at). However, my sex life never really took off. You could say my prospects of any kind of sex life landed in the Bermuda Triangle, never to been seen again. The main barriers that stand in my way of a ‘slut of the year’ sash are my confidence and prudishness. I’m afraid that in reality I’m kinda ‘sex negative’. I was also brought up on Bollywood. In these movies, kissing and sex scenes were and remain a complete no no. Whenever the hero and his bae leaned in for a smooch, they would abruptly stop and jump behind a rose bush to carry on, and usually a song and dance sequence would follow to cement their love. The Bollywood movies were cute and they helped to maintain my innocence, to the relief of my parents. I guess that another factor is my family. Being the baby of the family, it meant I was overprotected and the outside world was filtered before I got to absorb it. Forget sex, I can’t even remember what it feels like to kiss someone. The last time I got ‘intimate’ was when I lined up for a Chinese buffet and this guy with a plate full of spring rolls who was trying to get back to his table smashed into me and our mouths awkwardly collided. It was embarrassing, but he smelled nice and we blushed. You could say it was a personal 2016 highlight. The truth is I’ve never been considered sexy. I’ve been told I look like a camp Asian Ed Miliband. I guess this says it all. The truth is, geeky fem individuals like myself who don’t fit Eurocentric beauty standards usually don’t fit the preferences of many white gay men – but that’s OK. I don’t care if people have racial, body and masculine preferences. The older I get, the less fucks I give and I honestly don’t say this with hostility. At the end of the day, people’s preferences come from their lived experiences, and after all people are a product of their upbringing. This of course doesn’t mean I won’t call people out on their ridiculousness, but I’m safer taking a step back and letting people be for my mental health’s sake. This certainly shrinks my pool of interested parties who wish to plough me. Hey-Ho, it’s how the cookie crumbles and I accept I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I can blame external factors for my prudishness and lack of sexual adventures until the cows come home. But things will change in 2017. I will take a chance to have physical relations, which could be random fumbles or involve love. However it plays out, I hope for sexual liberation where the current me will let go of judgement and insecurities to embrace the ‘slut’ within and spin my sex negativity to sex positivity. For advice about sex and sexual health, visit www.fsmag.org.uk/Pages/Category/sex www.fsmag.org.uk

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Photo Š Shutterstock.com


LIFE

HIV stigma: My fear of the red ribbon By Ruaidhri O’Baoill

@RuaidhriOB

I remember the first time I wore the red ribbon for World AIDs Day and how uncomfortable and self-conscious I felt. I had only been diagnosed with HIV six months before, so looking back now I can appreciate that I had a lot going on. However, I remember being incredibly nervous of the looks or the attention I might receive as a result of wearing it. Would wearing it mean people would automatically assume I was HIV-positive? If so, how would I feel about that? These were the two overriding concerns I had when I stepped outside my front door wearing the ribbon for the first time. I remember making my way to the underground and noticing how at every chance I could get I tried to block the ribbon from view, while also at the same time doing the exact opposite and ensuring it was proudly on display. These conflicting feelings of embarrassment and pride were painfully frustrating. Not only did I want to show my support for World AIDs Day but I also felt it extremely necessary to give myself some of that much needed support as well. It was my way of giving myself a well-deserved pat on the back for how was I handling my diagnosis thus far, but I couldn’t stop my own fear getting the better of me. Did others think I was HIVpositive? Did other gay men think I was HIV-positive? Did any of this even matter? I gave myself such a bloody hard time over not being proud or comfortable enough to wear it. My own fear let me down. I then saw a post on Facebook, from I guy I know, about his experience while wearing the ribbon. While wearing it on a train he had mentioned that a mum had told her child, sitting opposite him, that he was wearing the ribbon because he had AIDS which then resulted in laughter from others in the carriage. This was the attention I was worried and afraid of, and seeing how embarrassed it made him feel was deeply upsetting. However, as I continued to read on and saw his passion and strength retaliate against the stigma and ignorance, I started re-evaluate my own fear and decided enough was enough. I was extremely proud of him. I was extremely proud of myself. I was, and am, extremely proud of everyone who has lived through HIV/AIDS in whatever capacity that may be. What you see isn’t always the truth and just because someone may wear the red ribbon it doesn’t automatically mean that they themselves are living with HIV. No matter their reason or choice for wearing it, they are showing support and solidarity for those who live, or have lived, with it. This is something that should never be sneered at. If the person wearing the ribbon does happen to live with HIV they are wearing it as an act of courage and defiance. They are showing the world, and more importantly themselves, that in the face of something terrible they are still here and living! And living we are! Considering where we were 30 years ago, it is pretty incredible that more of us are living with HIV as a manageable condition rather than a death sentence. When on treatment most of us experience minimal impact on our day to day lives and we are that one step closer to a cure. The very idea of a cure to me, and many others, would be life changing and beyond our wildest dreams. There have been stories of cures before but more recently there seems to have been a gear shift in the science behind HIV/AIDS treatment and we could actually now be on the brink of a major breakthrough. Of course we haven’t reached that point yet, and although I feel we should always be aware of sensationalism and err on the side of caution, we should also get excited about the developments made and invest all our energy and attention into making a cure happen. We can all do this by taking part in World AIDs Day, and this starts by wearing the red ribbon. Not only does it publicly display your support and love but it gives me, and I’m sure others living with HIV, a little bit of reassurance that we are not alone, and if we are all honest, we could all benefit from that from time to time. For more information on living with HIV, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/livingwithhiv. www.thefactsite.org.uk

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OPINION

What’s wrong with camp gay men? By Hadley

@wordsbyhadley

Is your wrist sore? All that nakedness in this issue must be giving it a bit of a workout. Now if we could press pause on all that flesh, for just a moment, and turn our attention to my wrist. It’s not sore, but it is limp. Now, I’ve always been camp. Personally, I blame Julie Andrews and all those weekends watching the Sound of Music. With a tea towel over my head, I would dance around the living room and sing along at the top of my lungs. I was five. Although the hills of Manchester may now be a lot quieter without me, the hills within the gay community are alive with the sound of hatred towards camp gay men. I find it baffling that a group of people, who for years were rejected from society and to some extent remain on the periphery today, can find it within themselves to start cherry-picking their own victims of isolation within their own community. Camp men paved the way for the gay movement a few decades ago, yet today we are being pushed aside, in favour of macho men with toned muscles. One of the most wonderful things about being gay is that diversity can be celebrated freely; have we somehow lost sight of this, in favour of a desire to conform to a heteronormative mould? Internalised homophobia has a lot to answer for. It’s been eating away at various aspects of ourselves for years, leaving us with an objectified view of what it means to be gay. This objectification has led to us placing strong emphasis on physical attractiveness. Seldom do we see images of ‘attractive’ men being depicted as camp men. The language used on dating apps have also facilitated the separation between ‘camp’ and ‘attractive’. Have you seen many dating profiles looking for a camp guy? No. Seen any asking for a ‘straight acting’ one? Of course. These comments send a strong and toxic message to camp men that they are simply unattractive, and given the emphasis placed upon the importance of this within the gay community, it has the potential to leave camp men with poor self-esteem. As somebody who describes themselves as camp, the fact that my effeminate nature is deemed unattractive by some, isn’t always an issue. I feel I have grown into somebody who is, on the whole, comfortable and proud of who they are. Yet the importance of physical appearance within gay culture and the need to be ‘straight acting’, leaves me feeling that I don’t always have a seat at the table. It’s OK to find camp unattractive, but does that make it wrong? Accepting that I am camp hasn’t been easy. You come out as gay, then you come out as camp. There have been times where my camp nature has meant I’ve been left to drown in the dating pool, while other ‘straight acting’ guys have been thrown a life ring. I’ve become immune to the disapproving side glances, and embraced my campness. I remind myself that it’s not me that’s the issue, but the internalised homophobia that lurks within so many of us. It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone is a hater of all things camp, yet internalised homophobia remains prevalent among many gay men, leading us to believe that camp is somehow wrong. Perhaps now is a time for self-reflection. Do we want to be spreading messages of hate within the gay community? Equally, let’s begin to move away from the idea of what a gay man should and shouldn’t be, and move towards an openmindedness that gives people the freedom to grow into the person they want to be. But most importantly, if you are camp, embrace it. For all those guys at the bar sneering, there will that one guy who will see beyond the camp and want to get to know you. He’s the one you want to be waking up next to. And if all else fails, tell him you’re a writer. Works every time. For more information about sexuality, visit www.fsmag.org.uk/Pages/Category/sexuality www.thefactsite.org.uk

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Photo Š Shutterstock.com


OPINION

Let us fight HIV and end stigma together By Matthew Hodson

@matthew_hodson

The first time someone told me that they had HIV, they knew that they didn’t have long to live. We hugged and talked until the early hours. By the next year they were gone. The first time I knowingly had sex with someone with HIV, I remember feeling relieved that they had told me. They put their trust in me and I was confident that sexual safety was not going to be something I needed to negotiate. We were safe and I wasn’t afraid. The first time I knowingly dated a guy with HIV, I had guessed his status weeks before he told me. I was impatient to tell him that it was OK, that his HIV status wasn’t going to be a barrier to the feelings that I was starting to have for him. Back then I don’t recall people talking about HIV stigma as much. The horror of an incurable illness, that was likely to result in an early and often painful death, meant that tackling stigma wasn’t the priority. We were all fighting for survival. Since my own diagnosis I have experienced both kindness and hostility when people found out my HIV status. I get asked whether stigma is increasing and the honest answer is, I don’t know. Sometimes it feels that some of the care and compassion that we had, back when there was no effective treatment for HIV, has disappeared. HIV saw our gay communities come together, united to fight a threat that was decimating our numbers. Lesbians and trans people stood shoulder to shoulder with us, as did some cis-gendered heterosexuals. I want to reclaim that caring community. Now, when the deaths that triggered such an amazing response have become little more than a folk memory, passed down by we survivors to a generation who have never known a time when there wasn’t effective HIV treatment, it sometimes seems that sense of unity, of compassion, has been lost. If you’re living with HIV you’re unlikely to go long without encountering stigma in some form or another. It may be a careless comment by a friend or acquaintance, a blanket rejection on a dating app or some judgmental comment posted under an article that you’re reading. Stigma flourishes despite the increasing number of our community who are living with HIV; it maintains its grasp despite the fact that with treatment we now have normal life expectancy. People with HIV deal daily with the fear of others, although it’s now established that when our virus is reduced to undetectable levels through effective treatment we pose no credible risk of transmission. When someone refuses to contemplate sex with someone who’s living with HIV it isn’t just a matter of personal preference, it’s a blow for ignorance over reality, for prejudice over equality. Stigmatising doesn’t help keep you or anyone free from HIV, rather stigma provides fertile ground for new HIV infections. Stigmatising people with HIV discourages people from testing and accessing the treatment that can save their lives and make them less likely to transmit the virus to their sexual partners. Stigma discourages honest discussions about HIV status and past risk behaviour. This is why it’s so vital that we bring an end to HIV stigma by dispelling the ignorance and fear that still surrounds this virus. It isn’t enough to not perpetuate stigma yourself. It is our responsibility, whatever our HIV status, to challenge prejudice when we encounter it. I believe that this is true for the racism that blights our gay scene, for the casual sexism that is too often promulgated, for rampant transphobia and for the all too frequent erasure of bisexual people’s lives. Combatting HIV stigma is also central to building a strong and inclusive community. In these times more than ever, it’s important that we hold onto the belief that love can, and will, trump hate. For more information on HIV stigma and how to fight it, visit www.gmfa.org.uk/stophivstigma www.thefactsite.org.uk

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HIV POSITIVE NEGATIVE MEN HAVE A

RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT THEIR PARTNERS

THEMSELVES

Your sexual partners may not always insist on using condoms. Stopping transmission of HIV is your responsibility. For more information, visit www.gmfa.org.uk. GMFA - the gay men’s health charity 11 Ebenezer Street, London N1 7NP. Charity No: 1076854 GMFA projects are developed by positive and negative volunteers. To support GMFA’s work visit: www.gmfa.org.uk/donate.

part of


FS157 - HIV Stripped Bare | Part 3