Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lets talk about HIV/AIDS


Today I want to write, or maybe even start a debate about HIV and stigmatisms.

When I was a teenager, I didnt directly come out to my parents. Instead, I used to have pictures of my crushes next to my bed, and made sure that when the door to my room was slightly open, people could see the pictures.

I also once gave my dad a copy of "Attitude", the UK gay magazine, and asked him if I can have his credit card to get a subscription. I dont know what he thought, but if I were him, I would have been even more disgusted by the sex-ads at the back of the magazine than I am myself...

I also used to go to a gay youth meeting, every week on Mondays. When Monday came, I told my parents: "ok, I am off to xxxtown" and I drove off.

I dont know what they thought, but I'm pretty sure they realised that I was gay. The only thing that my dad ever told me, before I officially come out, was that I should take care, having such a circle of friends...

Take care of course meant that I should not contract HIV/AIDS...For my dad, a modern man, not much over 50 years old, HIV/AIDS is primarly a sickness that gays have. And I dont think he is the only one...

Fast forward a few years. I had real fear of having contracted the HIV-virus several times in my life.

I remember two occasions very well.

Having freshly arrived in New Zealand - and soon met my second boyfriend, we had unprotected sex. Shortly after, I continued having throat problems. They were severe. One time, I couldnt swallow anymore (food that is:) because my tonsils had grown so enormously...I even got antibiotic injections IN MY ASS!!!:)

It turned out I was fine...

Having freshly arrived in Bangkok etc.....I didnt meet a boyfriend, but we were "gig" (kinda dating...). Somehow we loved having sex with each other. He was usually bottom, but he was confused about his identity, so he wanted to try top...

He just played a bit around my ass.....and suddenly it was in and he was fucking me....without condom! I took a moment to gather myself (because it felt good........) and told him to please put on a condom.

A few weeks after this, I got sick. Throat ache, body pain, fatigue etc....(except fever). I was sick for weeks, and got rashes too. I went to the doctor and asked about it. She only laughed at me...

I couldnt bear it anymore, I was literally worried sick, obsessing about the virus...so I got a plasma test. It cost me 3600 THB, but it was worth it...

I was lucky, but others arent.

Today, I read a moving story on fridae.com, written by a gay Singaporean who was not as lucky as I was. His story is written in four parts, where he writes about how he found out about his fate, how he broke the news to his family, how he can live with the disease thanks to generic medicine from Thailand, and how the gay community deals with HIV-positive people like him.

I really urge you all to read this. There will be two more articles appearing on the next two Fridays.

A few things struck me about his story.

The fact how he found out and subsequently was treated by the officials (that was in the 1990s) seems shocking. No one seemed to care, and officials seemed to treat him like an outcast already.

He also describes how he went through the famous five stages K├╝bler-Ross Model of how people deal with grief or tragedy: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Then, his brother found out through the insurance company, and confronted him, in a supporting way. After his parents, who to me sound like the "typical Singaporean parents", working hard and emotionally distant, also supported him, he felt like a big burden was taken off his shoulders.

He had someone to share the burden and then pain with and didnt have to face the challenges alone.

In the third part, he talks about the medicine he has to take, and mentions that it costs him 1,500 SG$ monthly. Singapore does NOT subsidise anti-retroviral drugs, which are lifesavers for HIV patients.

I personally find that scandalous and typical of the nanny-state. In their judgmental and naive view of governance, the Singapore Government really believes that they should punish the ones at fault like a teacher hitting students with the stick 50 years ago.

The writer regularly goes to Thailand to buy locally-made generic drugs which are affordable to him. He says: "Every time I make my drug pilgrimages to the Land of Smiles, I am humbled."

There we go, there are good things happening in our country...and of course the European pharmaceutical companies cringe...

In the fourth part, the protagonist talks about the social context of living the disease and the stigma. Some people would accept him as he is, others however would not want to be in the same room as him anymore...

Through this stigma, many "positive" people will not tell their partners, or sex-partners, the parents, or in fact anyone at all, because of the fear of becoming an outcast.

Lastly, and this is the most shocking part for me, he writes about contemporary hook-up culture in the city-state.

I had noticed on gayromeo.com that people started asking me for "high" or "chem" sex and I had wondered...but apparently such practices are widespread. According to the writer, most chem sex is done without protection...

One member commented and told us his own story. He is a young Asian man living in Australian. Apparently he fell in love with another man and they were just about to enter a relationship, when the other person found out through a third party. The other person said that this raises too many issues with him - and left.

How sad...

These stories, combined with my own unequivocally tell me that there are two problems with HIV. One is the disease itself, and the other one is the social stigma.

It is saddening that people who already suffer have to suffer even more, thanks to selfish humans who, upon hearing the three letters, want to do nothing else but run away.

Even though I am not HIV+, I have already felt a hint of this stigma too.
When I was afraid of having contracted the virus, I was not afraid about my health or my future, I was only afraid about having to tell my parents how I failed them...


Some of you may remember the story of the "lumpini boy". I wrote about him here and here. I slept with him, and I think he is HIV+, but we never talked about it. I do think that his strange behaviour has something to do with him fearing to be stigmatised.

I must say that I would have not changed my behaviour, would I have have known. I think I would have treated him with more respect though... Other Thai people I talked to however, disagreed and thought that I was crazy even touching him...I find this very unfair!

Finally, I want to invite you to please comment or email me if you have any story to tell or know anything about the gay culture in Thiland and Bangkok and HIV. While I was scared, I read many studies, and found out that apparently 30% of gay Bangkokians have the virus. I was shocked!!! However, the story was conducted in Silom, so I suppose barboys and such are a bit over-represented...

I have read a few stories about young Thai men who have suddenly died of "cancer"... the same problem of stigmatisation again.

12 comments:

Me too? said...

Wow, this is great discussion and analysis! I think people, acting in herds blinded by clouds of fear, continue to stigmatize the 'different.'

The idea that someone loses value due to a disease or infirmity is really sad, and those people that continue to perpetuate this idea even sadder. I think you have a really progressive and incisive viewpoint into peoples' minds when they start to evaluate HIV. Tolerance and understanding are great values in a box, but coming to actual application -- like safe sex after drug use -- they are rarely practiced.

Thank you for your personal stories about HIV, and thank you for your discussion of it. Really cool!

BB said...

hey friend:)

thank you so much for your contribution...I am surprised the article hasnt attracted more readership and comments...maybe people prefer to hear about naughty stories...

lets think about it...many people blame and stigmatise HIV+ people for their insecure practices...now lets look at ourselves, who has NEVER had any unprotected sex? ...not very many people I think...

Christian said...

Yeah, I prefer naughty stories, but I acknowledge that it's very important to be aware and have safe sex. You can be lucky that it was so easy for you to come out of the closet, I came out last month at age 28!

BB said...

you have missed the point, and I think you are not the only one. HIV doesnt just mean put a condom on before fucking.
there are also people among us who were less fortunate.
and I want that we treat them with respect and not like aliens. nearly everyone has "forgotten" a condom once or twice, or consciously does it bareback. so we are lucky.

by the way, you are not the only one who wants naughty stories. my readership is way down since I pubilshed this story. people are obvsiouly not interested in heavy stories that might require a second of thought.

for naughty stories, chose porn, or another blog:)

Was Once said...

I think one of the many problems stem from the fact that so many asian guys don't think they are gay, nor out to their family, work, etc. So this same key identity issue makes HIV seem like it is none of their concern. You are not the norm, so perhaps you can be bridge the gap! I have seen friends die of it, and their parents had to come to grips with their death and finding out they were gay. I have also seen some parents evolve and help promote HIV awareness, and some shrink back to ignorance.

prkmk said...

I think most of us have (or experienced) fears of contracting HIV. And I couldn't agree more that most of us had more or less risk when having sex. Actually, the question of "Is safe sex equal to not having sex with anyone?" is still in my head... there're accidents that can happen even for protected anal sex. What about giving oral sex? No one seems to be careful when it comes to that 'low risk' activity.

Thai society still doesn't accept people living with HIV. and I think it'll be like this in a very long time...it's all about education that create this stigma, I guess.

I like that you post serious story from time to time (not too often tho)...it reminds all of us readers to be careful. I'm not sure how many Thai men read your blog, but I feel that Thai men has less education when it comes to having sex and HIV. Even myself will have to look thru websites to get the correct info on HIV. (thebody.com is a very great site) what do u think?

BB said...

was once: is hiv therefore a "gay issue"?

prkmk: thanks so much for your comment! thai society is very critical of people with HIV indeed...I noticed that myself. at least it's better than in cambodia (there's apparently a camp outside of phnom penh where HIV+ people get locked up)

sorry about my seriosity...no bitchy stories to tell at the moment:)

Yraen said...

BB said, " sorry about my seriosity...no bitchy stories to tell at the moment:) "

Stretching the mind - that is what serious articles are all about. Well done BB :)

There is also a humorous side to condom use. Some years ago, I went out with a Korean fb and we had a great night out, good food & plenty of drink.

When we got to bed, we decide that I would top him first. So I roll on the condom and my d**k promptly deflates. Mai pen rai. He then rolls on another condom and will 'do' me ... except he also deflates. We both fall about laughing. Then promptly went to sleep, each wearing an unused condom.

IMO, I believe that we should be using laughter to make condom use 'palatable'. (Sorry about the pun if you are one of those guys that roll the condom on your partner using your mouth and lips :) )

Yes, it is a serious story to tell. But it can be told with humour. Perhaps if the story tellers 'lighten up' a bit then the story will get across easier.

Like most gay men, I too have had unprotected experiences. Probably in the majority actually. Yet, after 30+ years of 'living gay' I am still HIV-.

I put that down to informed & rational decision-making. When I meet someone new, I spend time getting to know them, evaluating them and their 'history'. Some people, I go for the condoms on first meeting and use them continually. Other people, I decide I can take a risk.

Why? Because I have read up on HIV transmission, understand how it works, and the risk factors.

There is an argument around presently that one can not tell if a person is HIV or not from their appearance. How true (mostly).

If one is dr*g-f**ked or very drunk, then rational decision-making goes out the window anyway. If one's thinking capacity is undiminished, then I believe rationalising is the way forward.

This process is starting to get some traction with the 'story tellers' in Australia. They are starting to recognise that gay adults will make these decisions based on knowledge of the issues, and that blind subservience to the "always use" rule is not necessarily the only means of safer sex.

Knowing the issues ... rational thought .... and loads of humour. Yaayyyy !

How do you guys feel ?

Anonymous said...

"The idea that someone loses value due to a disease or infirmity is really sad, and those people that continue to perpetuate this idea even sadder."

"there are also people among us who were less fortunate and I want that we treat them with respect and not like aliens."

Very fine sentiments. Do they also apply to those persons who become unattractive, or only those men still young, pretty and HIV+?

For instance, do you demand respect and sex opportunities for those who become old, bald, fat, gaunt, get Parkensons, need a cane or wheelchair, etc? None of the above can infect you with their infirmities so why not?

Rationally consider that the cultural attraction for those who look young and pretty is so great that you would literally risk death to be with them.

BB said...

Yraen, thanks for your comment and sorry for my slow response...

I dont find these "deflating" situation very funny whenever it concerns myself...it's good if you can laugh about them though...

In this case, I just spoke directly from my heart. I was very worried myself, and I remember that feeling very, very well. I am not the one who will joke over the issue, to cover up for the seriosity and make it funny for the public...

You know I normally try to be entertaining, but this time I couldnt...I hope you forgive me!

I will not judge you on your sexual behaviour. But I do not agree that we can "see" whether someone is HIV+ or not. The guy I met who is most probably positive is very sweet, cute, not scrawny, healthy-looking...just like any other good lucking young Bangkokian...

Ok, you say you get to know them...but isnt it that most people actually get the virus from their boyfriends?

Anonmyous:
these are interesting thoughts. I try to give you my point.

If you mean me personally, the answer is easy. I have no attraction to elderly people so there is no way I would go to bed with them.

The ultimate test would be if I'd be in a relationship with someone suffering from a terminal illness...

attraction, sex, love, giving support is not the same...lets not mix them up..treating with respect doesnt mean "have the right to fuck me"

If a close friend would become very sick, I would support them for sure...there the question is however whether you dont suddenly care for someone much more just because they are sick...

And by the way: I am not risking anything by being with HIV+ "young and pretty" people because I have safe sex.

ironbark said...

I was in a 10 year long pos/neg relationship with a maoris guy 20 years younger than me. Despite his many bad habits the one thing he was absolutely assiduous about was using a condom and he was terrified I would seroconvert. We did not mix that much with the gay community but mostly with his family and the maoris community. Overwhelmingly they were supportive and non-judgmental of our relationshop except his brother who would never share a cigarette or a bong with him and it was pretty obvious he had a "special" cup and glass for him when we visited.

Ten years of very regular insertive sex and I never sero-converted has convinced me of the protection that little plastic bag can provide.

BB said...

ironbark...that's a nice story, thank you for sharing. did you ever feel unsafe, even when having safe sex?

maori people are extremely family- and community-oriented! I had a maori bf too before, by the way:)