Monday, September 27, 2010

Get Tested

Today is National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness day. While I have always maintained that HIV is not a "Gay disease" and I don't believe that sex or sexuality really should have much to do with HIV awareness, the facts as they are today force me to acknowledge that HIV/AIDS is and continues to be a cause for concern among American men who have sex with men.

The most important tool we have in the fight to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of new infections is testing. If you'e never had an HIV test, go and get one today. If you are sexually active and you haven't been tested in the last year or two, go and get tested. You do not know your current HIV status if you are basing it on a test from two years ago. If you are a sexually active young person, the best way to protect yourself is to try and engage in "safer" sex practices. If your doctor doesn't offer you HIV testing, it doesn't mean you don't need it, it means your doctor is an idiot. Find a free HIV testing facility and schedule an appointment.

If you end up testing HIV+, there is widespread treatment available to get your viral load under control. This will insure your continued good health, and protect other people from being infected by you.

Protect yourself. Protect your partners. Get tested. Live.

Friday, September 24, 2010

On A Great Adventure

I'm leaving in just a few minutes to join thousands of NY and NJ area gays for an evening of dancing, eating and mass consumerism, with roller coasters, as we descend on Six Flags Great Adventure theme park.

Group outings still make me very nervous, which is why I'm going. This is mitigated by the fact that I'm riding up and down on a luxury coach bus with members of SIN. So it's not just a group of gays but a group of HIV+ gays. With snacks. And drag queens.

Which will hopefully make it an enjoyable outing. As an aside, I have very little experience with giant theme parks. Never having been to Disney anything. Neither Land nor World. So as a result I have a certain amount of fear about getting on all these newfangled roller coasters and such. Which is another reason I am going.

There will be pictures.

While I did manage to conquer my fears and get on a few coasters, I couldn't get muyself on the big ones (Superman, Nitro, Kingda Ka). I was pretty much rolling on my own and I probably would have worked up the nerve if I had a "partner". But I did good, bought some T-shirts, watched a pretty elaborate drag show and saw scads of hot boys. Had fun.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's All About Maintenance

I had a very "I'm an alcoholic" day. I'm not one of those drunks who lives and breathes AA. I don't go to a meeting every day, but I do notice when I have skipped quite a few days in a row. And it's not always enough to just go. It's helpful if I participate. Talk when it's time. Stay after and talk with other AA's. It's even better when I do some service. Meet someone for coffee or do some volunteer work. Last year I chaired a meeting for 6 months, and that really helped me be active. Sitting in a meeting like a lump doesn't work for very long. Especially if I nod off repeatedly.

I've managed to step up my game and attend a few more meetings of late. But I'm still not participating enough, I don't talk about anything of substance. And the lack of commitment, the lack of focus, has started to spill over in to how I feel.

I'm on a short fuse. I'm impatient and itching for a fight. I'm falling back on behaviors that I know are just attempts to adjust my mood. The way alcohol used to do. The things I would do when a drink wasn't available or appropriate. This afternoon I bought a pair of sneakers I absolutely did not need. Only $40, but that's not the point. It's not always the what, it's the why. And the why was I was feeling out of sorts, and I fell back on looking outside myself, buying something, anything, that would make me feel different.

Not good. Not a healthy choice. Some might say that's a sign I am not "spiritually fit". They would probably be right. But I guess it says something about how far I've come that I'm aware of it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Foot Soldier

I spent the last two afternoons in a conference room talking about HIV. In my volunteer role as a member of the Community Advisory Board for the local health center, we had a two day "retreat" with a rep from HRSA. He had been sent down to work with us to make sure that the CAB was organized, proactive and functioning at a level that will meet the requirements that many of the federal programs insist be in place. This is a direct offshoot of some of the great work that GMHC and ACT UP achieved in the areas of compassionate and interactive and effective treatment models for people living with HIV/AIDS as far back as the mid 1980's.

Before then, doctors and other health care professionals simply told patients what to do, where to go and, in effect, how to be sick (and die). The early pioneers in the fight against HIV/AIDS decided that they wanted a voice in what medicines they took, what doses they might take them at and when to avoid the available treatments all together, as was ultimately the case for many HIV patients when it came to AZT. In it's original form, at it's original dosage, AZT proved to be just as deadly as AIDS. I've met many HIV+ individuals that are alive today because they ultimately decided to ignore the medical community and the conventional wisdom at the time and decline treatment with AZT.

One of the results of these new treatment models was the creation of Community Advisory Boards like the one I currently serve on. Patients, and the community were encourage to form advisory groups that had a direct pipeline to both their peers (other patients) and medical providers. They acted as a voice for those who previously had none, solved problems, recommended changes in privacy standards. Early ACT UP members even won the right to "fast track" promising HIV treatments, offering their own bodies up as lab experiments, as they insisted on the right to die as bravely as they had lived.

It's why I am alive today.

My work with the CAB the last two years is my own small way of honoring the work and sacrifice of those who fought the fight before me. I should have been lying in the streets in the 80's. I could have been protesting the drug companies in the 90's. But at least I'm here now, and I try to do what I can.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Miles And Miles And Miles Of Art

Sent this photo from a shoot last year off to the printer and got back a gorgeous 24X36 print that I framed for the bedroom. I bought a poster sized frame from Bed Bath & Beyonce that felt kind of flimsy, so I broke down, crossed the boycott line and bought a sturdier frame at Target. I know. We're not supposed to be shopping there. I try to be politically correct, although I loathe knee-jerk political correctness. I tend not to just react to every boycott or letter writing campaign or Facebook posting that pops up on the Internets, as I find that frequently the whole story, with the correct facts, doesn't come out for a few days. I also find that things that outrage other gays many times don't bother me at all. And I often find them quite amusing.

So while I support the boycott Target kerfluffle in the abstract, if I really need something at a reasonable price that I know Target sells, like a sturdier frame, I will put on a pair of sunglasses and a hat (to avoid the paparazzi) and do what needs to be done.

I ended up hanging the picture up late one night last week. Then I took Riley out for his last walk. When I returned, the sturdier (heavier) frame had fallen off the wall from where I had badly secured it and shattered into several pieces. So I ended up spending an extra $25.00 at Target with nothing to show for it. The picture is back on the wall, in the flimsy original frame, which I have grown to actually like better.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Brought To You By Time-Warner Cable

I'm nothing if not loyal. I've been getting my Internets access through Verizon DSL ever since 2003. For the most part it's been a glorious marriage, but sometime last year we hit a very rocky patch. My download speed would slow down to the point that I couldn't even get a page to load. But it would happen gradually, until I would suddenly notice that I was sitting in front of the PC screen staring for longer and longer periods of time. Video's would take forever to load, or you would get that maddening stutter-stop, load, start-stutter-stop over and over again.

Eventually I would start to crack up and finally call Verizon. At which point they would usually take me through a series of "fixes" all designed to get me back up and running at full speed. Sometimes it worked. Often it didn't. But in either case, I would be on the phone with someone from tech support for up to 2 hrs at a time.

This past year, the same scenario played out every few months, and then every few weeks. It would frequently result in a service call from a Verizon technician, that would eat up 1/2 a day from another afternoon. Many times the service technician would leave before the problem was fixed, but after determining that there was nothing wrong with my PC or routers, he would assure me that the problem would be addressed in a day or so. It always was, and then my internet service and speed would be back to normal. For a while.

As I became more and more exasperated with not having reliable internet service, I started trying different tactics in order to get quick attention from the phone support people (who may or may not have even been in this country when I called them). I tried being nice, I tried being extremely nasty, I tried being sarcastic, i tried being pathetic and helpless. None of my personalities could seem to get the problem identified and resolved. And as I called tech support at least 6 times in the last six months, I began to meltdown a little faster every time they told me "not to worry" and they "would help me out". This always meant I was going to be led on a merry chase of turning off and on routers, re-booting my PC, running command prompts, and various other time wasters. The last few weeks I could only last an hour before flipping out on the tech support person, telling them they didn't know what they were doing, that they couldn't help me, and that I didn't have time to waste several hours on the phone and then another 1/2 day with the live repair tech.Then I would hang up.

And while they were insisting that the problem was definitely not outside the house on their network, within a few hours of those tirades my service would be restored and back up to speed. I finally reached my breaking point and signed a new deal for Time-Warner to provide internet service. At a cheaper price and a faster download speed to boot.

The new cable wiring is already installed and this morning I had the distinct pleasure of calling up Verizon and telling them to take a hike. They tried to talk me in to letting them try to resolve the problem, but I had no intention of turning on and off routers all afternoon. In one last bit of weirdness, they seemed to try to sell me on a Verizon Fios upgrade, right after letting me know that my building isn't wired for it.

"So how would that work exactly?"

"Well it wouldn't."

"Just cancel the service right now, please."

Verizon sucks.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


For the past couple of years, I have been a member of the Community Advisory Board at the LGBT Community Health Center in Chelsea. It's where I go for all my health care, including periodic counseling and all of my dental work. My work on the CAB, aside from being rewarding on it's own, is my way of paying back all of the wonderful care I have received over the years, before and after I was diagnosed as HIV+.

Last year during the annual elections that are held for the meeting chairman position ... I didn't win. I did however become first runner up (Miss Congeniality was not something I aspire to) and was elected to be the Vice-Chair. Coming in 2nd in a group of 8, third if you take in to account the previous chair was out of the running, only diminishes an already dubious honor slightly.

One of the projects I ended up spearheading last year was a patient newsletter. Previously, it was published in a very basic, two-page, black & white copy machine version. It had a very grassroots, low-budget look to it, and I thought we could do better. I originally started the project with another CAB member who had a lot of experience in graphic design, as my abilities are limited and self-taught. Halfway in to the first issue, my co-editor quit, leaving me to finish the first issue and take charge of the project.

Right after Gay Pride Weekend (end of June) I submitted the final draft for our 2nd (summer) issue. It was published late in August, distributed throughout the Health Center and published to their web site. In addition to supplying all the photos for this issue, I also wrote an editorial of sorts, to coincide with Gay Pride Weekend.

Lately I've been doing a lot of reading about the stigma that is still attached to HIV. Many gay men, after being diagnosed, are further traumatized when they experience being ostracized from their own community. As I say in the article, being HIV+, even in the gay "community", is the dirty little secret everyone would prefer just go away. Many HIV+ gay men feel damaged and alone.

I am attempting, through my work at the LGBT Community Health Center, and my contact with various HIV+ support groups, to address and hopefully eradicate that stigma. Here's the article reprinted:

This issue of Patient 2 Patient is
being assembled during what has
become known as Gay Pride
Month, June of 2010. Amid all the
parties and benefits, parades and
celebrations that take place in all 5
boroughs throughout this time of
year, there are many issues that
are relevant to the LGBT
community that have taken center
stage. High profile issues like gay
marriage, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and
the passage of a transgender
inclusive Employment Non-
Discrimination Act have all
received the lion’s share of the
media coverage of late.

It seems to some within the HIV+
LGBT community that amidst this
cacophony of protests, marches and
demonstrations, the voices of HIV+
Americans are no longer being heard. To
some, it seems as if we are being actively
shut out.

Consider these sobering statistics:
According to the latest findings by the
CDC 4,762 New York City residents
contracted HIV in 2006. That’s three
times the national rate and an estimated
72 new infections for every 100,000

Nearly two-thirds of the city’s new
infections occurred in people 30 to 50
years old. Minority groups were
hardest hit among young people. For
example, of new HIV infections
among men under age 30 who have
sex with men, 77 percent were in
Black or Hispanic men.

In another study conducted by the
CDC, over 50% of young Black gay or
bi Southern men that were diagnosed
HIV+ had engaged in high risk
sexual behavior, but still had not
thought they would ever become
infected with the virus.

HIV+ men feel that we have become
the dirty little secret in the LGBT
community. The equivalent of the
crazy relative with a room in the attic
that only gets trotted out during big
celebrations. If we don’t sit quietly in
the corner and enjoy the plate of
sponge cake already provided, eyes
get rolled then its back in the attic we

Gay men who seemingly lack
education or compassion think
nothing of unleashing bigotry, stigma
and shame upon newly infected HIV+
men who have sex with men. After
all, HIV is “preventable” and those
engaging in risky behavior should
simply “know better.” Nowhere is this
more glaringly evident than in the
halls of our own LGBT Community
Center. Where you won’t find a single
sign, poster or notification welcoming
HIV+ gay men and women nor will
you see any large scale permanent
signage advocating or directing
anyone to HIV testing and treatment.
Worldwide there are approximately 33
million people living with HIV and over
25 million people have died.

Why then has HIV become a seemingly
back-burner issue? That’s if it’s talked
about at all. Certainly this country’s
legendary short attention span and a
certain amount of “grief fatigue”
explain some of it. As does the
supposition that HIV is thought of as
more of a chronic disease, survivable
and treatable, and not the frightening
and alarming death sentence it once
was. Happily that’s true, assuming you
get a diagnosis and treatment in time.
Not everyone does. And not everyone
responds well to the available

The fact remains that unlike other
chronic and treatable diseases, like
diabetes or depression, HIV still carries
a stigma that sets its patients apart.
Often resulting in HIV+ men feeling
shunned or ignored by their uninfected
(or undiagnosed) gay brothers. Many
So as Gay Pride week is about to begin
and Gay Pride Month draws to a close,
as the celebrations wind down and the
streets are swept clean, the next time
you write a check or turnout en masse
for the latest cause celebre, consider

HIV doesn’t know or care who you are.
It doesn’t worry about how much money
you have in the bank or how much
education you enjoyed. HIV doesn’t
know who you’re sleeping with, and
doesn’t care if it’s one person or a
hundred. HIV doesn’t know if you’re gay
or straight. HIV can’t tell if you are a
homeless teen or a dancer in the New
York City Ballet. HIV doesn’t think of
itself as a punishment. HIV doesn’t
worry about causing you
embarrassment or shame. In short, HIV
doesn’t judge or discriminate.

So why should you?

You can check out the entire (PDF) newsletter by following this link.