Monthly Archives: June 2013

Functionally Dysfunctional – The Storyteller Part 2

If tears could pay our debts
If with our tears we could buy you an indulgence from all pain
If by weeping now we could do all your weeping for you
Then we would cry until our eyes were washed away

Excerpt from Wilbur Smith novel

For World AIDS Day 2003 I wrote a piece titled “The Storyteller – Stories Almost Lost In Time”.It was a synopsis of the lives of three close friends who had died from AIDS before successful treatments – as we know them now.

As someone who is accustomed to writing – in fact have a university degree in it – I find that writing flows quickly and naturally from the smallest of seeds. I have to admit that writing “The Storyteller” was one of the two toughest pieces of writing I have ever done. It took me a month to nut together 750 words, a month of anguish and more tears than I have cried for some time. It was an emotionally difficult piece to write. It was hard enough trying to decide whose lives to use for my stories, let alone revisiting photos and eulogies.. The prologue to the piece came easily, but I delayed the writing about Andrew, Stuart and Geoff for as long as possible. It made me realize just how unreconciled to their deaths I actually was, that despite everything that had gone on over the twenty seven years since the deaths started, I had never really allowed myself a period of mourning – not just for them but for all the people I knew during that period who had passed on. The unfolding of the AIDS Quilt had, for many years, served as an outlet for grief during this intense time, a way to ‘get it out of your system’, but that doesn’t happen anymore, so I store the grief, hide it away in a dark corner where it sort of sits and mocks me. The writing of “The Storyteller” was almost like a venting of 20 years of grief. I can’t go back and read it, despite being its author. It hurts too much, and I end up crying – yet again!

What I found very empowering from the experience of writing that story was the reaction of people to it. It was almost like giving people permission to grieve, almost like telling them “It’s okay to cry even now, it’s okay to relive these people’s memories, it’s okay to tell their stories”. Some found the article profoundly beautiful, some used it as a way to communicate to partners and friends exactly how that period of HIV had affected their lives. Some, like my partner David didn’t even know the people in the stories yet related so strongly to it through his own experience that he could not read past the first story. Others said they wished I had warned them I was going to do it. It cut deep, it opened wounds not just for them but also for me. I wish I could have written about every single person I knew over that time who had died, but articles do have their limitations.

In fact, the writing of this piece and a piece I did in university for an assignment in personal writing made me aware of my own mental and emotional toughness, my own ability to cope with intense grief by just cutting myself off emotionally and putting up a wall to block it out. Of course, these things always creep up on you in the dead of night, but there is never anyone to witness that vivid flash of memory, that tear that hides behind the eye, to catch you in a moment of weakness.
My capacity to block out these things is, in many regards, a product of my upbringing, and the experiences of life in my younger days.

Like many of my generation I was raised in the dysfunctionality of families recovering from the effects of World War II. My parents – let’s call them Joe and Betty, as mum and dad are now alien words – raised me in the conservative ways of parents of that period, in the idyllic environment – at least at that time – of Sylvania. Lots of skeletons rattling around in Sylvania, I can assure you! Joe never came to terms with the post-war period of the 50’s and 60’s, and despite a thin veneer of normality in our household, as I grew older I realized all wasn’t as it appeared. I had a younger brother, Kevin. He was to be the subject of a university assignment 40 years after his death.

When I was 11, Betty up and left. No word of warning, no hint of departure. There in the morning making breakfast, gone when Kevin and I arrived home from school. Within several months of her going, Joe bought his mistress into the house under the guise of a housekeeper – we must retain a respectable appearance, despite anything that was happening. Joe had a seriously bad temper, and both Kevin and I experienced his wrath with a strap huddled in a corner. The housekeeper – herein referred to as the bitch from hell – hated Kevin and I almost as much as we hated her. Kevin was five years younger than me and suffered from ADHD. This was enough for the bitch from hell to make him her direct target, and she made his life a total misery. There was little I could do to protect him. Her vengeance for taking her on was to go to Joe with exaggerated stories of misdemeanors, and as we knew – punishment for transgressions was severe. She finally pushed too far, and on the evening of the 8th December 1965 Joe took Kevin out to The Gap at Watson’s Bay and jumped over with him in his arms. Joe survived. Kevin’s body was found two days later floating towards the sea near Broken Bay.

From that day to the time of my university assignment 40 years later this subject was never discussed within my family or otherwise. It was like it never happened. Joe got off on a plea of manslaughter. I had to live with him for another 10 years, but any vestige of trust or feeling had been destroyed.that December night. I never trusted him again, and always guarded what I said, and how much I let him know about my life. I closed off. I became hard. This affected my life for a long time after, and gave me the capacity to survive. The bitch from hell never shed a tear or displayed any emotion regarding Kevin’s death. It was as though he had never existed. By the time we left Sylvania at the end of 1966 we had changed the family name. The bitch from hell had managed to alienate us from all our friends and neighbours, even our direct family. Joe committed suicide in 1978. I shed the obligatory tears and moved on. I’ve never forgiven him, and I never will.

Writing the university assignment in 2003 opened a whole Pandora’s Box for me. I had never investigated Kevin’s death, had never wanted to revisit the wound. However, in June 2000 “Sunday Life” magazine ran an article on The Gap, and the bones in the closet rattled very loudly. Among the synopsis of sad events that surround The Gap was a brief entry for 1965 – “Frederick Pickhills of Sylvania, tells Vaucluse police, “I have been over the gap with my son. I had hold of his hand.” Pickhills was charged with the murder of Kevin Pickhills, 7. Pleading guilty in court to an emended plea of manslaughter, Pickhills was released on a five-year good behaviour bond.” (NB there have been two name changes in the family over time. One to Phillips, which was initiated by Joe so his past wouldn’t follow him, and the second to Alderman by me so that my family could never track me down after the fiasco they called a funeral). For the assignment I scanned all the papers from the time – my tutor was quite concerned about the emotional impact of following up such a closeted and traumatic event – and pieced together a nightmare I had all but blocked from my memory. It was almost a feeling of freedom to finally piece it all together, and lay the bones to rest.

After Joe died, I came out. I was 25, a very later bloomer. I came out with a bang, not a whimper. I had always wondered what Joe would have done if I had told him I was gay, and sort of knew that it wouldn’t have had a good outcome. I may have left it late, but at least it was safe. I reunited with my mother. We communicated for 19 years until 1997, when I finally severed the threads of what turned out to be a futile attempt to try to reconcile some sort of relationship with her. It was never destined to be. Another set of bones laid to rest.

What I wasn’t to know when I came out was that my life as a gay man, and my life as a HIV+ man were going to run in a parallel line, were going to be intrinsically tied together. So this was what the hardening, the hiding away of all emotions had prepared me for. It proved handy I have to say. Always a strong shoulder to lean on at funerals, and to cry on at wakes. I sort of prided myself on this toughness, on this capacity to turn off. But I payed in other ways, as I found out when I wrote “The Storyteller”.

Not only have I given other people permission to grieve, I’ve given myself permission to grieve, to flush out 20 years of pent up emotion and sorrow. But not just that either – I’ve finally given myself permission to grieve for many things. I have finally relaxed the hardness, finally given in to the emotions. I’ve already ruined enough relationships with my inability to give – though mind you, it wasn’t always just me – and when I met David after a 18 month break from the gay scene due to recovering from AIDS I was at a point where I realized I needed to rely on other people, and I needed to give. I needed support, I needed to love and I needed to share. This is the relationship that is making up for all the shit. This is totally open but very secure ground for me. No more secrets, no more closet rattling skeletons from the past. I’m not quite sure if my experiences have made me functionally dysfunctional, or dysfunctionally functional. Whatever the answer, I’m now taking better care of myself emotionally, allowing these feelings to spill out rather than bottling them away, or pretending they didn’t happen. When I get to write my families story, its going to be a hell of an account.

So light a candle at home for all your lost loved ones on World AIDS Day, and tell their stories. And cry! And grieve! You have permission to perform this act of love and remembrance. After all, we don’t want them forgotten. They deserve better than that.

There is the full story of my brothers death, in all its frightening facts, at the end of my blog, titled “Kevin Pickhills – The Unspoken Name” should you be interested.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2013

Hand writing storytelling

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Bullied

Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others
Wkipedia

Bullying has become the new social curse, and no one is exempt from its venom. Hardly a week goes by without it rearing its ugly head in the news, or on a current affairs program. Bullying is infecting school yards, work places, committees, sports fields, political arenas . It is anywhere that people, who think it is right to degrade and demean those who can’t or won’t fight back. It is insidious and hateful, performed in dark mould-ridden spaces where it can’t be witnessed by others, it is in a whisper, a slap, a push, a word. The spiteful miscreants delude themselves that they are the strong preying on the weak, when in truth the strength lies with those who bear the brunt of it – at least until pushed too far. This hateful, soul-destroying disease must be wiped out.


As a male who has always been, at least to my way of thinking, obviously gay, I’m surprised I have never encountered much bullying in my lifetime. I was always a popular student in most of the s schools I attended, on deed was often voted in a a class captain or vice-captain. The one time in boarding school when a rather largish – in girth – school bully attempted to take something off me by grabbing and holding onto it, one of the strapping country lads, who fortunately hung out with my circle, took him on and put him in his place. He never harassed me again. The other occasion is outlined below, and was a situation I would not allow to happen again. There is a misconception that bullying only goes on in school yards. Think again! It gies on all around us every day. And adults are not exempt from it. One only has to look at what has been going on in the Australian political landscape in recent times to know that. it is time for it to stop, but that will only happen if good men – and women – step in and say ENOUGH!

This is a brief tale of subtle bullying, revenge of a sorts, and deferred regrets.

As I have often mentioned to friends, as far as being bullied as a gay man goes – and God knows it is obvious enough that I am gay – I have had little more than the occasional ‘poofter’ thrown at me from a passing car’s window over the years. However, when I did encounter the evil beast in its true disguise, it left an indelible mark.

In 1993 I was managing a ‘Liquorland’ store in Darlinghurst. I had started there in 1990 as a senior shop assistant, after managing “Numbers” bookshop for 7 years – just up[stairs from the ‘Liquorland’ store – and badly needing both a change of scenery and a job that was not as monotonous as running a sex shop. It was known when I started at ‘Liquorland’ that I was gay, and HIV+. I made my HIV status known because I worked on a daily basis with glass. Serious accidents are part and parcel of working in that retail environment, and I wanted to ensure workmates were cautious when dealing with severe cuts etc.

The Manager at that time was gay-friendly, as was the Area Manager. In fact, they had a lesbian working as the Assistant Manager, so there were no problems at all…at least at that time. Six months after starting, Diane left and I progressed to Assistant Manager. Then when the Manager was transferred to another store I became Manager. Now, it always seemed an obvious thing to me that the best person to have managing a business in the gay ghetto of Darlinghurst was someone gay, someone who knew the local clientele and could deal with them on a personal basis. Well, obvious to everyone except the new Area Manager who came on board just after my promotion to Manager. I should point out that being a Manager in the Coles/Myer Group at that time held very little in the way of privileges – you were only paid $40 a week more than your Aaistant Manager. Being under contract you lost most of your time off, and were expected to work long, hard hours. Because bonuses were based on store profits you were ridden hard by your Area Manager to get results.

My health was going through one of its tough periods at this time. I was on high levels of what antivirals were available at that time. Not having recovered from a very serious bout of viral pneumonia earlier that year I found myself working long on top of a dreadful diet, and abusing both cigarettes and alcohol. One might say I had the perfect recipe for a health disaster. Add to that a new Area Manager who was not only homophobic but also HIV phobic, and you have real problems. At that time I thought I had about two years of work left in me before departing this mortal coil from something HIV-related – you have to remember that combination therapy was not a option at this time, and wasn’t until 1996. I was seriously starting weighing up my options – did I take a demotion at work back to Assistant Manager – lets face it, the stress would be a lot less – or did I leave and take the Disability Support Pension option. It was a decision that was soon made for me!

I was due to take a fortnights leave in early November of that year, and had given a months notice of taking it. I had also decided to take a demotion, and the Area Manager had coffee with me at this time, ostensibly to discuss my options. I told him that for health reasons, I wished to go back to the position if Assistant Manager, and could it ge arranged at either Darlinghurst or one of the other Eastern Suburbs stores. His suggestion was that if I was going to start having serious health problems, I should consider leaving the organisation altogether, especially considering that I had an illness with a almost pre-determined end result! Not an suspicious attitude! I suggested that my health issues would be resolved by less stress, thus my request for a voluntary demotion. He appeared displeased, but said he would organise things, again reiterating that it was probably time I left the company. I went back to the store feeling that things were not going to get any easier for me, and as it turned out, I was right.

Let the games begin!!

This particular Area Manager had bullied me in subtle ways ever since he started with the the company. It is a difficult situation, as it is always done out of earshot of other staff, and knowing that their is no way for me to back up complaints to head office, he was free to get away with anything. This is typically how bullies operate in the workplace.

The below scenario was prefaced by an event that was to bring home to me just how demeaning and demoralising the tactics of a bully can be. The sister of a Head Office executive was organising a work function at a restaurant in a back street nearby. The wine order,, address and delivery instructions had been entered up in the shop diary for my attention on the day of the function. The morning of the function started with a nightmare in the shop. Arriving to open, I found that the Assistant Manager, who had locked up the night before, had forgotten to hand the keys over to the staff on with him. This meant I had to ring him, then wait outside the shop until he turned up with the keys. On finally opening the store there were deliveries waiting to be unloaded, the float to be put into the register, the previous days takings to be rung through to Head Office, and customers served. It wasn’t until I received a phone call from the restaurant to say the wine hadn’t been delivered that I realised I hadn’t checked the diary, and the wine delivery had been forgotten! As compensation, we invited the entire party to the store to select the same quantity of wine, but with no restriction on price. They appeared happy with that. I apologised to the woman, rang her brother in Head Office, explained what had happened and apologised to him. That should have been the end of it, but no! The Area Manager had to get involved. He must have rung me a dizen times over the next couple of days to berate and belittle me about the mistake, then made me ring the woman again and apologise a second time, then the following day I had to buy her a bunch of flowers, which gad to ge personally delivered to her at her workplace, then I had to ring her a third time to apologise. I don’t know who was more embarrassed by the whole grovelling scenario – myself, or the poor woman. I have no doubt the Area Manager loved every minute of it. I was reminded of the event on every possible future occasion.

So, to my final month with Liquorland.

The first thing the Area Manager did was bring in to the store another staff member to be trained up to my position. I could never quite work this one out, as I already had a very good Assistant Manager who was more than able to take over from me – and in fact deserved the promotion. Not only was a new guy brought in, he was placed on the same pay level as me, despite not actually being a Manager. This, of course, effectively undermined my authority. Because he was on an equal footing with me, staff were answerable to both of us, but as I was about to be moved to another store I was told that he was to have the managerial authority. So, for the next three weeks while training him to take over as manager, he controlled the store and I was left twiddling my thumbs behind the cash register. This was very demoralising, though as I was to find out shortly, there was a method in the Area Managers vindictiveness..

My holidays eventually rolled around, and off I went, thinking that in two weeks I would be starting in a new store as an Assistant Manager. There was an Assistant Manager position available in the Surry Hills Mall store, and I was informed I would be filling tat position. A week before returning to work I still had not had the position confirmed, so rang the Surry Hills store to find out if they had any confirmation of my appointment, and to find out what roster I would be on. The store Manager knew nothing about my being transferred there. He told me he would look into it, and get back to me. By the Thursday of that week I still had heard nothing, and started leaving messages with the Area Manager to contact me so that I knew what I was doing on the Monday when I was due to return to work. Nothing! The Surry Hills Manager still had not heard from him, and had no idea what was going on. I decided to pay a visit to the Darlinghurst store and see if I could pin the Area Manager down. The new guy who was now Manager asked me to come out the back with him for a chat. He told me he felt really badly about the shabby way I had been treated. He had been told by the Area Manager when he started to make my life as uncomfortable as possible in the hopes that I would resign. This hadn’t happened, though he (the area manager) was sure that in the course of my holidays I would resign. The store Manager, in an about face, told me to hang on, as if I resigned, the Area Manager would get a great amount of satisfaction. Also, if I resigned before I returned to work, he could pay me out in lieu of notice,and get me out of his hair. The plan was for me not to return to work from my holidays.

I decided to dig in my heels – after all, he didn’t know that I now knew what he was up to. I kept ringing the Surry Hills store manager, and late on the Friday he got back to me to say that I was to start work there at 8.30am on the following Monday as Assistant Manager. I now had my position confirmed, and a plan in place. At no time did the Area Manager contact me to confirm any of this. At 8.30am on the Monday morning I turned up for work as confirmed – and gave two weeks notice. I believe the Area Manager was furious, but I can’t confirm that, as he totally ignored me for the next two weeks, despite regular visits to the store, and didn’t even bother to wish me luck on the day I left. At least I felt that I had a hand in my own demise – in the end it hadn’t been determined by him. I was talking to another gay Manager from another store in the area just after this, and found out he was encountering the exact same harrassment from the same Area Manager

After several weeks of tossing backwards and forwards whether I should report his conduct to the company or not, I decided to let it drop. My health wasn’t the best at the time, and I had no witnesses to the discrimination. The Darlinghurst store Manager – despite telling me what was going on – wasn’t going to back me up, as it would have put
his job on the line. He had, in fact, asked me not to divulge the information he had given me, and despite the fact that he had treated me like shit, I sort of felt sorry for him. After all, he was stuck with the Area Manager, and I no longer was.

In retrospect now, I regret that decision. It still plays on my mind from time to time, especially when I hear of others encountering bullying, harassment and discrimination in their workplace. I regret not mentioning it to my other staff members at Darlinghurst – none of whom had any issue with a Manager who was gay and HIV+ – and I especially regret not taking it further with the company and possibly onto the Anti-Discrimination Board. As I have mentioned to others, despite having no witnesses, and being in a his-word-against-mine situation (with the odds being stacked on his side, as he was a ‘company man’), at least there would have been a report about it, and I would have, at least, sewn the seeds of doubt. Even back in those days Coles/Myer had anti-discrimination policies, and he may – or may not- have been dragged over the coals. It is a regret that I now have to live with.

If you are suffering any kind of harrassment or discrimination in your workplace,report it! Your workplace should be somewhere you look forward to going to every day, not somewhere that you sneak to with trepidation, wondering what is in store for you to make your life difficult. Even if you have no witnesses to what is being done to you – the people making life difficult for you will make sure there is none to back up your side of the story (like my being taken out of the store and to a cafe to be told he thought I should get out of the company). It is important both for your confidence and self-respect to ensure that there is at least a report written up about it, and that it goes into the company records, probably through the HR department. There are also community and government organisations who can advise and direct you as to what actions can be taken.

Bullying, harassment, discrimination and prejudice are NEVER to be tolerated – anywhere! By anyone!

ThIs youngster who hit back made headlines. You can only be pushed so far, for so long.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2013

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Body Work

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According to the 2013 report from the Bureau of Statistics, 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese. An estimated 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study (Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study) showed that 1.7 million Australians have diabetes but that up to half of the cases of type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed. By 2031 it is estimated that 3.3 million Australians will have type 2 diabetes (Vos et al., 2004) – stats from Diabetes Australia. Throw an ageing population into the mix, and you have a nightmare. These statistics are nothing short of frightening. Every day we are inundated with conflicting impressions – both in reality and in the media – of body image. On the one hand we have a population becoming so obese it is bordering on terrifying. If the trend is not halted, the cost of health care is going to spiral up at a frightening rate. On the other hand, we are also inundated with images of sculpted 6 and 8 packs, biceps and pecs that are almost impossible for us to obtain, let alone maintain. They fill my newsfeed with promos from gyms, supplement companies, models, celebrities, health and fitness magazines, clothing and underwear companies. What seems to be missing is a healthy norm. And gay and HIV+ people we are not exempt from the fat/thin dialectic. And some of it seems to be based in history. There is some research into the problem that indicates that for many long-term survivors the problem is a flow-on from the dismal days of the 80s and 90s, when emaciated bodies were a common sight. To them, over-weight means healthy. It appears that the longer people are healthy, the more common it becomes to end up over-weight or obese. This trend signals a need for doctors to change their approach to caring for HIV positive people. It’s time to shift the focus to the prevention of heart disease, high blood pressure and weight gain. The problems of being at both extremes affects us as a population in general, and I think it heeds to be tackled from as many angles as possible.

Getting older is one of those things that seems to have crept up on me very quickly. One day I was 40, then 50 and now at 59 rapidly approaching 60. I’m not complaining. I’ve survived AIDS – with a couple of disabilities but nothing to hold me back – and when all is said and done I’m actually enjoying the experience of getting older, that quietening down of life and the intuitiveness that seems to come with it. HIV is no longer something I am concerned about – in fact, it is very much a backwater in my life. My health is under control, and has been for a long time, so as far as I am concerned it is not even an issue. Some things, even disabilities, become so integrated into your life that you just carry on regardless.

However, there are aspects of ageing that I have not liked. I may be approaching 60 but I live very much in the contemporary world. There is a lot about it I love, like the latest music – I still collect dance music; technology and all the wonders it brings; the sheer quantity of goods available for sale, and I am unashamedly a consumer. I still like to dress well, though I try to avoid the mutton-dressed-as-lamb scenario. No skinny jeans for this boy! i still groom myself well, look after my skin, and like the fact that despite my age I can still look pretty good when I hit the streets. However, 4 years ago I started to notice things about my body that were in stark contrast to what I liked to think and feel about myself. Having been blessed with good genes that have allowed me to keep all my hair – and still all black – and for most of my life a slim profile I was disconcerted to find that gravity was finally having its wicked way and changing – for the worst – my body shape. I was flabby with a very discernible spare tire waistline, flabby tits, mishapen arse and bad posture. I was actually starting to look so “old” that it was beginning to depress me and really knocked my self-esteem around. It also didn’t fit in with how I dressed and groomed myself and I was really aware of the fact that I wouldn’t go out in anything that clung to me, or in anyway showed off my body shape. To make matters worse, I started to go up in clothing sizes, from SM to M in shirts, and from 32” trousers and shorts to 34”. I wasn’t happy! Other nasty things that were happening were finding myself sitting on the edge of the bed to put on trousers and shorts, having my partner comment on how bad my posture was getting – that was a real “shit – is it” moment. The doctor starting me on cholesterol meds, which was an additional pill on top of what I was already taking, was a real eye-opener.

When I lived in the Eastern Suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s, I made a decision – despite the fashion for toned bodies at the time – to avoid going to the gym. They were places full of gay guys who were there not to get fit but to mould themselves into an image of what it was perceived that gay men should look like. They posed, preened, plucked, depilated and fake-tanned, and when they went out to the bars, only ever hung around with, and picked up, guys who were mirror images of themselves. To ensure I never felt out-of-place I hung with the scrawny brigade. I viewed the gym bunnies as body fascists, and in some respects still do. However, a move to the outer edges of the Inner West brought about a change in my thinking and perceptions. Then I had my “mirror” moment! Stepping out of the shower one morning, I caught sight if myself in the mirror, and the first thing that crossed my mind was…who is the tubby old man in the bathroom. That was a provocative moment, and the impetus for change. Burdened with the prospect of the body rapidly getting out of shape, with my self-esteem taking a beating, along with the prospect of 60 looming, with a potentially rickety ride into unhealthy mature years imminent, it was time to do something about it. The word “gym” entered my vocabulary.

I loved – and still do – the gym, which sort of came as a bit oif a shock to me. From the word go I felt comfortable, and a lot of the fallacies that I attributed to going to the gym were dispelled. For starters, no one gives a fuck about what you are doing, and nobody is actually watching and assessing you – except yourself. Everyone there is too much in their own world to care about what you are up to. An initial assessment with a Personal Trainer helped me to set some goals – the major ones being to get fit. I also wanted to loose excess fat, generally tighten my whole body up, fix my posture and improve my general health. I aspired to reclaim my hips and arse, both of which had long ago disappeared. In other words, I had a determination to transform myself. And at 72kg, I wanted to do all this without losing too much weight, as weight wasn’t the problem. The other noticeable thing was the number of other mature aged men and women who were there, really working hard and doing their best to get fit and healthy. There is now a few older role models around to encourage us to do something about being fit and older. Actors like Rob Lowe (God, how hot is that man), Rick Springfield (who despite his demons looks fabulous for someone in his 60’s), and Robson Green, who looked so hot in “Being Human” he almost gecame a masturbation fantasy.

So, goals set, and with a regime to follow, it was off to the beginners studio for a 10 week starters program. The first week…I suffered. Every muscle ached, and I looked at the piss-weak weights I was using, wondering if I was ever going to be able to do things at the heavier end. And don’t think it doesn’t get tedious! Doing the same routines over and over gets very boring. I started to vary things myself, made a lot of changes to what had been set out for me and found that helped me to get through the boredom barrier. I started going three days a week, for 1 hour each visit. And I bloody worked hard! Nothing was going to deter me from the goals. Within 7 weeks of starting, the miracles began. I was using a lot of resistance equipment, and found that the weights started to increase. The spare tire didn’t just reduce – it disappeared. My pecs tightened up and I started to show a firm profile. Muscles even appeared in my arms. My energy levels also increased, as did my flexibility. My self-esteem started to go through the roof, and in turn this prompted me to work harder, to really start to challenge myself. At the end of the 10 weeks, I looked fantastic. I couldn’t believe just how different I looked and felt. I started getting encouragement from others, and that really started me pushing the limits.

So, after the 10 weeks in the beginners studio it was time for another assessment, and a harder program, starting in what I jokingly called “the big boys room” where all the weights and serious resistance equipment was. I continued to flog myself three days a week, still for a total of three hours a week, and the changes continued. I was still having some problems getting a flat stomach – I wasn’t after a six-pack…I could probably get one but at my age it would be a constant battle to maintain it – so the tweaking of our diet at home started. Thankfully I love cooking, so doing a diet tweak wasn’t a big issue as I knew that I had the recipes to over-ride any chance of blandness or boredom. I should point out that I don’t approve of diets, especially fad ones, but I do believe that you can create a healthy diet for yourself without going to extremes, and without cutting out carbs and proteins. Your body needs these things to function properly – it is all a matter of proportion and balance. We cut out a lot of fatty foods, a lot of sugar – have a terrible sweet tooth so this wasn’t easy – and increased the amount of raw vegetables, fish and poultry in our diet. This helped a lot, as well as a lot of repetitions on the Ultimate Abdominal machine at the gym, and a lot of time in the suspension frame. So I pulled, and pushed and strained and grunted through the main weight floor of the gym for the next 3 months.

By this stage, I have to say that I was starting to find it harder and harder to get myself to the gym to go through the routines. I realised that I needed to add some sort of variety to
my program, so at the New Years weekend I decided to do my first class. I looked at all the alternatives, and assessed what I thought I could do, and couldn’t do. I have done yoga before, and enjoyed it, but felt that it wasn’t dynamic enough to maintain the body profile I was aiming for. I still haven’t tried Pilates, but it is on my list. Anything that involved balance was out due to peripheral neuropathy in the feet…the numb type, not the painful. This means I have no feeling in my feet and ankles. Anything involving too much co-ordination was out as I’m unco-ordinated at the best of times, and anything done in dark rooms – such as Spin – was out, as I’m partially blind and have night-blindness. So, this left me with Body Pump, a class that involves dynamic work with weights, and is very muscle and cardio-orientated. You really push your heart rate up doing these classes. I found I really loved Pump, and have stuck with it right through to recently. I avoid lunges for balance reasons, and do squats instead, which means a double session of squats every class, which can really push you to your limits, especially when you have 25- 28 kgs of weight sitting on your upper back to add to the challenge. So, I started doing two morning classes a week on Monday and Friday, and usually the token male in the class at that time of day, and did one day a week in the weight room to work whatever muscles didn’t get worked in the class.

Having just moved from Sydney to Brisbane, I found the break in routine disconcerting, and it took time to get back into the rhythm. But a deal from our local Goodlife gym got me back into the groove, and I returned to my Body Pump class. Having done this weights class for four years now it has its disadvantages. Because of the pace of the class, you don’t really have the opportunity to challenge yourself, as you don’t have the time to swap and change weights. It had reached the stage where I was really using the class for its cardio benefit, and boy don’t you get a cardio workout! I have had three different resistance workout programs on the main floor, including a isometric/fitness ball/body weight program which I derived a lot of benefit from.. However, we have moved on again.

I have now gotten so tied up in the fitness and health lifestyle that this year I decided to get my Certificate III in Fitness at Southbank Institute of Technology. This has had an incredible influence on how I now view fitness in general, and exercise. A dispute with my Goodlife gym when they ripped me off when canceling my membership – DO NOT USE GYMS THAT TIE YOU INTO CONTRACTS – has meant I have moved on to a new gym and now use my local Jetts’. So, no group fitness classes any more, but with my new knowledge I’ve also moved on from that style of exercise. Having used gyms now for four years to just get fit and maintain it, it’s time to up the ante. There is nothing wrong with just staying fit, but without a real challenge it can be demotivating. Personal Trainers are affordable through Jetts. If you can workout unsupervised, you pay them a monthly “retainer”, and once a month they do your body fat and muscle mass measurements, do a fitness test and set you up with a new program. I am now moving on from general fitness, into the world of hypertrophy – building up muscle strength and mass. This really is starting to push my limits, and is really inspiring me to challenge myself. Six weeks in and big changes are happening already. I am slowly starting to bulk up, and my strength has increased considerably. I’m starting to pump weights that really surprise me, and every time I think to myself “I’ll never get through more than one set at this weight”…I get up to three sets. Limitations really are in your mind. I am also now doing what I said I would never do – supplements. I use a pre and post workout amino acid supplement, and mid-workout boost supplement. Why…well, I’ve been researching, and the consensus seems to be that they are beneficial. And they really do give you a boost, aid the prevention of muscle fatigue during my workout, and help with muscle recovery after. They only seem to last for the period of my workout, so no lingering affects. However, I had stipulations; they couldn’t overtax my system, had to have some ongoing body fat burning benefit – called thermogenesis – and no side effects. I have around 8% body fat that I shouldn’t have, and it is sitting around my stomach and hips – typical male – and just will not go. Time to get the big guns out! My goal for this summer is to appear at the pool in Speedos, and not feel self-conscious. I don’t feel the need to have a six or eight-pack abs, but I would like a “V” shape, and a flat stomach. I feel that goal is within reach at this time.

So at this point in time, where do we sit? Our diet continues, but no longer to lose weight. It is now being used to maintain it. We have lived low fat/low sugar/portion-controlled for a couple of years now, and it has been very successful, and easy to maintain. With my new routine there will be some changes as I need to increase my calorie intake to about 2000 kilojoules a day so the body gets enough energy for the now tougher workouts, and I need to add in more fruit – I have never been a big fruit eater – so have started adding bananas and berries into my diet. I look great. I’m trim, have full flexibility, heaps of energy, and some body definition now. The cholesterol meds have gone bye-bye, one of the great benefits of being fit and healthy. I am now hopefully looking forward to a progressive ageing that will see me avoiding most, if not all, of the illnesses and crippling conditions currently associated with getting older. No walking sticks, Zimmer frames or mobility carts for this boy! I intend to be still pumping out sets of squats when i’m 80 – just watch me!

What would I recommend to other guys my age? If you smoke…STOP! If you have a bad diet…FIX IT – it’s not rocket science. Don’t think that walking the dog is all you need to do. You need to exert some energy! you need to sweat! If you are over-weight, do something about it! Look at the long-term, not the short. It is not about having the body beautiful, though it helps. It is about being fit and healthy, and prolonging your prospects for good health and wellbeing as you progress through the years. Don’t think, like I did, that looking fit and healthy is just for the young. The flow-on affects of a good exercise routine and good diet are endless, both in your public and private life. Look good and feel good – you’ll thank yourself for it

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2013

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Epiphany

“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.


Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner vonice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Extract from Steve Jobs’ Commencement address, Stanford University, June 14 2005

In June 1996 I was admitted to Prince Henry Hospital. I weighed in at 48kg, had 10 CD4’s, chronic anaemia, chronic candida and chronic CMV retinitus. Prognosis was not good, and I truly never expected to walk out of the hospital. In fact, it was thought that I would not last longer than about 2 weeks, especially with the CMV diagnosis, which was a very serious problem, and as I knew only too well, a very unpleasant way to die.

I think what surprised me the most was how calm I was about the whole situation. There was no panic, no despair. Just an acceptance that this was the way it was, and there was little I could do to change it. There was a certain inevitability about it, a knowledge that I had already beaten the odds to get this far with no serious illnesses, and it was just “my turn”. In some respects I had begun thinking that things were starting to get very lonely anyway, with so many I knew already dead, and still more to die before things started to get better. It was a time of reflection, introspection and recollection that was in its own way very calming, and I think I found a certain strength within myself that I wasn’t expecting to find, and a set of beliefs that have stayed with me since.

I underestimated modern medicine. This was a time of miracles! Intensive and aggressive treatment for the problems I had – gancyclovir injections into the eyes to halt the CMV, blood transfusions for the anemia and very aggressive dosing with the then new protease inhibitor class of drugs as part of my new combination. Miracles did indeed happen! Two weeks later, though still very thin and very weak, I walked (sort of) out of Prince Henry, and very much into a new life. And the new life was not what myself, nor anyone else, may have expected it to be.

I guess one would expect that after a close brush with death that one would undergo a huge epiphany, a movement towards God, many humble and pliant prayers (and much rattling of rosary beads) to the Power’s-That-Be to thank them for this great deliverance, and to invoke them through bible-bashing, church-going and good deeds to show Them that I was moving myself into a world of piety and religious zeal unequaled since Martin Luther or the Spanish Inquisition. Nah! None of that happened. There was no great enlightenment, no being filled with the Spirit and babbling in tongues. No overwhelming desire to drag myself into the confessional and plead for forgiveness for my sins (whatever they might be) and do 200 Hail Mary’s as penance, nor a need to robe myself in sack-cloth and ashes and disappear into a Cistercian Monastery for the remainder of my life. Was I even disappointed that this didn’t happen? Not really! I was too busy getting my health (and my weight – thanks to decadurabalin) back together and trying to work out what one was supposed to do, when one didn’t die as expected, to worry too much about the spiritual mine-field that I may have been in, but wasn’t. Get my drift!

In fact, with the exception of one (who surprised me, I must say), no one I knew gravitated towards religion as they lay in hospital, or closer to the moment in a hospice. No one! Nought! Zero! Well, except for the one! So did this (or should it) have made me wonder about my own mortality, or about the spiritual desert that I should supposedly have been in? Nah! That didn’t happen either. So exactly what is it that I felt about the great mystery that we call life, what is above and below us – and does it really matter at all? If you are broad-minded, read on. If not, stop here.

Now, before I go into details about my own religious upbringing, it may interest you to know that I come from a background of Yorkshire Wesleyan Baptists. Yes, that came as a shock to me too. In fact one of my first cousins, twice removed up, was the Reverend Alfred Pickles. Alfie (this far down the line I feel I can be familiar) appeared in the 1861 UK census as a watchmaker, then lo and behold 10 years later in the 1871 census he is suddenly a Baptist minister. He preached his way around Rochdale in Lancashire for a while until being made Pastor of North End Baptist Chapel in Towcester, Nothamptonshire frpm 1880 to 1891. It appears that a dwindling congregation forced his resignation, and he and his wife and brood ended up at Dallington in Northhamptonshire as a hatter and hosier. My, how the mighty fall.

I was raised in a household of mixed religion, with my father being Catholic (non-practising), and my mother a Methodist (or Presbyterian or something or other, also non-practising) and religion was something that was never discussed in any shape or form at home. The great wonder to me is why they felt the need to baptise me in the Congregational Church (talk about confusing the issue) at Sylvania. Perhaps, being the newbies in an already close knit commnity, they felt the need to fit in. The fact that we were surrounded on all sides by Congregationals may have had something to do with it (and it is, after all WASP territory), as our neighbours over the road ended up being my Godparents. They were Godly people, but thankfully not preachy so I guess religion was sort of left up to me to work out for myself. I did attend Sunday School, but saw it more as a way to collect scripture cards (“I’ve got more than you”) than to live by the precepts printed on them, and it was a good way to get to blow out birthday candles on the plaster cake used for such occasions even when it wasn’t your birthday (I plead guilty to relieving my boredom one Sunday by saying it was my birthday when it wasn’t – then packing shit that my parents may have found out – or even worse, that one of the other kids may have told his parents it was my “wasn’t” birthday and they would embarrass me by wishing me happy birthday. It caused quite a quandry! I never did it again). I was then sent to a Catholic boarding college at Campbelltown. Now for a while this did induce in me great piety and religious zeal (not to mention the first time I was groped by another guy, even if it was in the swimming pool), as like many other new converts to Catholicism I got caught up in all the rigmorole, ritual and razzamattaz that this religion inspires. What sort of budding gay boy can’t get caught up in all the shiney vestments, the candlelabra, the incense, the sprinkling of holy water, and devotion to Mary and all the saints (well, until they decided that some of them were fairy tales and not pulling their weight, and decided to chuck them out…go figure!). I certainly was inspired, and within 18 months of starting school there I converted, and was baptised in the school chapel by a priest (who later turned out to be a child molester – truly!), and my math teacher (who absolutely reeked of cigarette smoke) and the School Captain (a bit of a spunk) as my Sponsors. It was truly a moment to treasure. I didn’t think much of telling the priest in the confessional that I spanked the monkey like crazy (though truth be told he probably got off on it), but that was the only real drawback. Six months later I was Confirmed by the then Bishop of Wollongong, and started off on a quite short but vigorous religious life as a Catholic. I started hanging
around with the Carmelite Fathers who visited the college for weekly Masses and Confession and decided that I may have had a vocation. Truth be told, I think I just got caught up in the romantic appeal of monastic life (yes, you read that right – just ask any Catholic!), the dedication of my life within a totally male-dominated community devoted to God (I did the male community thing later, but God had nothing to do with it), the thought that I was entering an institution that had been around for centuries, and hey…I got to wear a frock, as uninspired as it may have been. I did enter the religious life for a while about seven years later (yes, into an enclosed community), and I guess this may have been the start of my doubts and probably accelerated my move to Athieism. A small start-up community with a Prior who was an egotist and loved the power trip, doling out penances that were almost medieval, and not one iota of support for new or struggling novices was the order of the day. I gave up out of sheer frustration and moved on. Needless to say, the community didn’t last long.

By this stage I had studied religion and found it wanting. I looked at all the hatred and hypocrisy; all the wars caused by; all the cultures destroyed by; the Catholic church burning and killing people who dared to believe otherwise; all the fundamentalist religions who seem to despise everybody and everything yet insist in ramming down your throat how Godly & Righteous they are; King Henry deciding he was God, and beheading or burning anyone who defied him; all the history and architecture and books and art destryed by same religions; all the lives twisted and destroyed by molestation and lies (and which the Church still tries to deny); all the doomsday and suicide cults who,unbelievably, manage to suck people in until it is too late to get out; attitudes to celibacy, contraception and sex that are so outdated that we may as well be living in the 13th century; the way women are treated in many religions; and the Catholic church being totally unable to reconcile itself to the modern era, and remaining in the past by electing conservative & ancient Popes…and decided it was all bullshit. The whole fucking lot of it! I have recently been reading a series of Historical Fiction novels by C.J.Sansom about a lawyer called Matthew Shardlake, set in the reign of Henry VIII. Everybody, irrespective of social rank or standing or occupation is terrified to express any religious view other than what the King tells them to believe. It delves into the sheer egotism of the time, the Catholic Church forcing itself onto everyone as the ONLY faith that one could have, Henry VIII as the ultimate egotist and dictator saying no, he should be the religion that everyone follows, and the reformists who were at heart no better than either, as they also thought they were right and everybody else was wrong. To be contrary was to be dead. It is a rather terrifying insight into the medieval mind, made more so by the fact that we know this actually happened.

Next, I “came out” at the grand age of 25. I managed to have a total of two years as an active gay man before contracting HIV. Didn’t that make me wish I’d defied everyone and come out a lot earlier! So, did I blame God for this plague on my life? Nah! Unfortunately I had to admit to contracting it from being newly out, and a trash bag. I slutted my way around the scene quicker and more thoroughly than the flu virus spreads through an office. I could sniff out a Yank at 5 metres, and would stalk him until he relented and bedded me…little knowing! It was prolific sex…and wonderful. I have no regrets about that. Though I didn’t know it at the time, over the next 10 years I was to see enough death, desolation and despair to last me the rest of my life. I saw incredible bravery in the face of adversity; I experienced people taking their own lives to avoid the misery of AIDS; the hope on the faces of guys being guinea pigs in an attempt to try to help both themselves and others (and I am indeed in that group); a community coming together and showing that there is power in numbers; and we did gain a voice that was loud and radical and took no compromise in the face of everything that was going on. Oh yeah, and we had the Rev.Fred Nile and his ilk, screaming out in true Christian sympathy, love and compassion that this was a plague from God on the gay lifestyle, that we deserved it (in a Christian way), and that everyone with HIV should be quarantined and locked away from all the “good” members of society (but in a Christian way, of course). Any single, solitary vestige of religion I had left in me (and there would have been very little left) went out the window at this stage. I have never looked back and regretted that.

So, at this point we come back to Prince Henry Hospital, and me being thrust back into the real world, with no tools to get me back on my feet, spiritually, emotionally or psychologically. I guess I could have seen religion as an easy way to acknowledge my survival from what should have been death; as a way of celebrating living and being given a second chance. Nah! Not for this boy. I have never regained any respect or love for religion, and I don’t imagine that I ever will. Some people gravitate towards it as they get older and the prospect of death looms. They seem to join the ratbag fringes for some reason – they start ‘speaking in tongues (also known as glossolalia), or join Opus Dei or call themselves Charismatic, Pentecostal’s or Born-Again’s (to be avoided at all costs! I dislike people who preach without listening). Fear of death obviously causes a lot of people to lose the plot.

So, what then do I believe? Well, I don’t delude myself to start with – Athieism is a belief. Okay, it’s a belief in not believing which in itself is a bit contrary, but perhaps that is getting closer to where I am anyway. I don’t really want to die, but I’m not afraid of it. Perhaps I should consider being truly radical and joining the Baha’i, or Zoroastrian religions. Now, that could be interesting. I guess if I was to go back to any religion – and the arguments would have to be truly convincing – it would be a religion where I was just left to decide my depth of faith for myself. No theology, no liturgy, no preaching, no dictating, no churches, no ministers. Give me the bare-bones of belief (whatever that may mean) and let me devise it for myself. I don’t believe there is any afterlife. No heaven, no hell. It makes no sense to me why we should live this life for something that comes after – one way is good, one way is bad. It’s just stupid and illogical. If heaven and hell do exist, why is it that the Christian religions (and many of them are new arrivals to the religious scene) are the only ones who believe in this concept? Yes, other eligions do believe in an afterlife (and many don’t) but nowhere is it so clearly delineated by pearly gates and streets of gold in one direction, and nothing but flames and misery in the other – like living here and now can’t be misery enough! Does this mean that everybody else is wrong, or irrelevant? If heaven and hell do exist, are the millions who don’t believe in it excluded from this exclusive club? How ridiculous that people actually believe they are so above everyone else that only they are right and deserve this deliverance! And how typical of the superiority of Christian religions that they are ‘holier than thou’ and everyone else be buggered! I belive in the theory of “the right place at the right time” for our evolutionary process, that we are here simply ‘because’. Everything has its time and wears out, as we do, and just passes away and becomes part of the Earth’s recycling process. I don’t see why there should be anything greater or higher, and I don’t know why this imaginery being we call God should be any better than me, nor why I should worship something that can’t even be proved. It is all so ethereal and…silly.

I must admit to finding Buddhism very tantalising. The Dalai Lama is the most amazing man, and far surpasses any leader of any faith that I have ever encountered. His compassion, his piety and his dedication to Buddhism despite being in exhile from his own homeland is truly inspiring. Let’s hope he never gets sucked into doing “Masterchef” again! Having said that, the thought of having to turn vegetarian is definitely a put-off for me, though recently I have found myself putting spiders and other creepy-crawlies that appear in the house back outside…so maybe I’m considering who it might be. I watched Judith Lucy’s recent program on the ABC about her spiritual search (she didn’t find anything that changed her perspective) and at one stage she interviewed a Buddhist nun. This woman had the best attitude to Buddhism, claiming that you didn’t need to follow it in it’s purist form, but you could draw from it the parts that suited you and create your own form of Buddhism around that base. Now, that has almost converted me. If only Christianity had learned such wisdom, understanding and humility. Perhaps it would not have lost me in the first place.

As an ageing HIV+ man, I don’t feel any real need to negotiate with a God. I don’t need to justify my existence, nor do I need to create an afterlife so that I have something comfortable to believe in as death approaches. I don’t know how or when I will die, though I do believe that the time is not yet, and that there are still a few kilometres on the speedo. I used to be concerned that I was not going to leave a legacy behind when I died – something that said to future generations “I’ve been here and I’ve done something”. I do hope that I have done no one true harm, and that somewhere along the line I may have had a positive influence on somebody. Just one would do! It’s not important, but it would be nice. As for a legacy? I hope my writing is my legacy. I hope that at some stage someone will read what I have written, or quote it, or even contemplate it and think to themselves “what an interesting man”. That would be nice indeed!

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2012

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Reclaiming the G-A-Y

It’s gone!

I don’t know if somebody snuck into my bedroom while I slept and stole it, or if I have just forgotten where I put it! Checked the spare room. Not there! Checked under the house. Not there! Even checked the dog kennel, but no, not there either! One day here, the next day – gone! And just what is this mystery that I am running around, trying to find? well, I hate to admit it, but somewhere along the line I have lost G-A-Y. I’m really missing it, so if you do happen to see it, PLEASE grab it for me, and bring it back. I spent the majority of my life putting G-A-Y together, making it a thing that I showed off with immense pride. Indeed, some said I flaunted it. And as quickly as it was gained, so it has disappeared.

Just as an example of how serious losing G-A-Y is, I tried this morning to do a very G-A-Y thing – swish my hips. Now, this used to happen naturally. I’d take a step – swish! Take another step – swish! Do a little mincey run – swish-swish-swish-swish. Didn’t have to ponder it. It just was! But today….they wouldn’t swish! To be honest, it looked as though something very uncomfortable was stuck up my bum! Like that horrible bum-creep you get from badly cut undies. In fact I couldn’t even get them to do a jiggle. But as much as this was bad, worse was to come. I tried to limp my wrist. I even hunted down a photo of both Boy George and Quentin Crisp to make sure I was doing it right – now how fucking bad is that. Even thinking I need to learn it is really serious shit! Now, you know the limp I am talking about; that flourishy thing that true queens are really good at! Well, it just didn’t happen. It just looked as though I had a broken wrist, or worse still that I had just dropped a handful of small change. And let’s not forget the lisp, something that even Ita has never lost. That slight but obvious distortion of the S sound, making it more like STH, as in sthweetie. Yes, I know, I know – I never had a lisp. My plum-in-the-mouth way of speaking was the result of a private education – absolutely nothing to do with the G-A-Y gene!. But I should at least have been able to fake a lisp! FFS I’m G-A-Y!

I was distraught! How could this had happened, how could it have snuck up on me so quickly, like an unwanted dose of the flu. It was bad enough that I attended a nightclub a couple of weekends ago, and thought the constant thump of instrumental music was abysmal. “Whatever happened to vocals!”, I screamed at my partner over the bass. Well, whatever happened to handbag when it comes to that! We did try to dance; Even my father could have done better. Fuck, now I’m doing dad dancing. Very sad! But then you can’t outrightly dismiss things. You have to give them a go. But a shuffle isn’t a dance. On top of all this we had taken an ‘E’ that had very much decided that it was not going to kick in – well, not this week anyway. We wandered back to the balconies.

To make things worse, there were some very sexy men roaming around without their shirts on. Now I have to admit to a twinge of jealousy in having to acknowledge, to myself, that there was not even a remote hope in hell that one of them would even throw me a glance,, let alone try to pick me up. That’s one sure way for an ageing queen to feel really unG-A-Y.. It’s not that I’ve lost the ability to be a slut – hell, that comes naturally to all of us – it’s more a matter of never being caught up in the gym culture, and though certainly not overweight, I’m definitely not a six-pack on legs.. And watching them, one has to wonder just what significance do brains have for these torqued bodies anyway? Are they taking each other home to solve “Scrabble” grids, or watch Q&A on the ABC? I think not! Who needs brains when you have a body.

I had a lot of G-A-Y in my younger days. I’m sure there are those who would say perhaps too much. I was both singularly and plurally – a nightclub pig; a minor druggie – though more so if there was good acid around; a big slut; no, a very big slut; a party animal; a clone; a pseudo leatherman; – and would take any opportunity to dress G-A-Y; speak G-A-Y; act G-A-Y; eat G-A-Y and just generally be…G-A-Y.

I would attend protest rallies for all things G-A-Y – though as often as not be there just to cruise (refer to my note on being a big slut). I would attend any group or party, and read any paper that was said to support anything G-A-Y. I have done gutter drag. I have supported and done my fair share for all things HIV/AIDS…and herein, perhaps, lies the crux of the matter, pointing the way to where G-A-Y disappeared to.

Twenty years of – being; living; fighting; writing; reading; talking and surviving – and don’t you dare rob me of the use of that word – HIV/AIDS has in some part stolen that iota of me that was G-A-Y. Let’s be honest about HIV/AIDS – it wore us all out. It was at our throats day and night. We lived it, and breathed it, day in and day out 24/7. We nursed it, cajoled it, hated it, and then hated it even more as we buried it. And Instead of being G-A-Y males who just happened to be HIV+, we became HIV+ males who just happened to be G-A-Y.

So back on track in my search for G-A-Y. Oh sure, I still read the papers – takes me all of five minutes these days – and if the parties were still even basically G-A-Y I might, at least on occasion, attend one or two. But they are not, nor ever will be again. The days of la grande party are over. Just as our streets and clubs have been sacrificed to the straight community in the name of political correctness and assimilation, so the community has slowly sold itself out to other, less G-A-Y concerns. Some say the day of the G-A-Y ghetto are over, and I’m not going to argue that, as all things mature and evolve. But did we really need to annihilate it!

Even if I wanted to revert to the G-A-Y stereotype of old – not that I object to that stereotype – I doubt anyone would recognise what I was attempting to do. A sad attempt to regain that which I had had, and lost in the wake of a greater cause. The only way I can really try to regain the G-A-Y in my life these days is to have a fashionable home – seen only be close friends; dress a little bit twink – I just get away with it; have my hair spiked – yes, I still have it all and it is not dyed; and throw dinner parties – again, which only close friends attend. As far as everything else goes – well, now it takes me a week to recover from a night out on a single ‘E’; I love modern dance music – especially Trance – just don’t ask me who the artist is, I can enjoy bars still – if I can get past the bouncer on the door; I get cranky at Mardi Gras trying to be ‘big business’; I’m sick of the sight of standoffish six-packs on roids; and I want to go to bed at midnight. What sort of G-A-Y person does that!

Perhaps the secret is not to get G-A-Y back. Perhaps the memories and my few remaining friends should be enough to reminisce with about what G-A-Y used to be like. Perhaps once having lost G-A-Y you can never get it back! Fuck, now there is a terrifying thought! Or perhaps I just heed to step back from it all for a while. Ruminate on where I fit into it all now. One thing I do know for sure…having been spewed out of the arse-end of HIV, I no longer view it all through rose-coloured glasses.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I don’t hate G-A-Y. But neither does it hold the great fascination that it once enthralled me with. I don’t want to be a 50-year-old G-A-Y man trying to look – and fit into – a 20-year-olds world. That would be just fooling myself. I want to be able to be just who I am; with those who think like me and act like me and are also now…old and G-A-Y. I hate feeling cut off and alienated, and that is not a road I am walking alone. The truth is that G-A-Y has not been lost. G-A-Y has in fact been found. G-A-Y has metamorphosed.

G-A-Y has come home

So perhaps the best I can hope for is – NOT to end up like my parents! Now that would be reclaiming G-A-Y!

Tim Alderman
Copyright ©2001

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Pruning Floriade

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“…I have become a work of art. Welcome to the pleasuredome”
Frankie Goes To Hollywood “Welcome to the Pleasuredome”

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I hate Canberra. Always have! I still have nightmares of visits there with my family when I was a youngster – the endless hours it took to get there (always with a thermos of instant coffee and cut sandwiches – no roadside cafes with bain-marie stodge and International Roast coffee for my parents), then being dragged through every door and corridor of the War Memorial, old Parliament House and every other building that the ubiquitous ‘Tourists Guide to the ACT’ booklet told us to visit. We stayed in “budget” motels, all decorated with the same teak laminex, the same matching curtains and bedspreads in orange floral fabrics, bathrooms with folded-edge toilet paper, bag-wrapped glass and a “Sanitised” paper banner across the toilet seat. All served an almost cold breakfast to your room in the morning, served on a teak plastic tray that was left outside your door. Where would we be without cold toast, rock hard pats of butter, little plastic sachets of Vegemite, peanut butter, honey and various jams;Kellogg’s ‘Variety’, and Lipton’s tea bags draping out of a stainless steel teapot? Add in the small impish squeals from my mother as she tucked sample soaps, complimentary shower caps, miniature shampoo and conditioners, and sachets of tea and coffee into the suitcase, and you have, evidently, the ideal holiday scenario. Mmm!

Then there was the weather!

The last time I was in Canberra was in 1982, to audit the stocktake in a retail store owned by Pellegrini and Co. I have to point out I wasn’t there voluntarily. Canberra was covered in fog when I arrived, and was still covered in fog when I left. I didn’t see a single minute of sunlight in all the time I was there. I determined to never return. Never let it be said that I am not softening in my old age. I decided to give it one final chance at redeeming itself.

We stayed at my partner David’s family home at Mount Annan on the Friday night – a trial on its own – then headed off for Canberra at 7.00am on Saturday morning. It no longer takes endless hours to get there, though that isn’t necessarily advantageous. Before the M5 was built, you could visit a multitude of small towns en route to the national capital. Now, you can drive there from Sydney in three hours, provided the monotony of the drive doesn’t induce a microsleep. No longer is there an obligatory stopover at Goulburn, to climb and admire the view from the eye of the Giant Merino (1). No, we had to do a detour to see this grand example of Australian kitsch. After climbing the ghastly concrete interior up into its head, I took a photograph from the eye, just to prove that I had been up there as I was sure mo one would believe me, but all it managed to capture was fingerprints, and perspex-blurred clouds. Even the souvenir store failed to intrigue us with myriad counters of boxes-that-bleat-when-shaken – what is the purpose of these? – and tiny fleece covered model sheep. Probably made in Taiwan anyway!

The other port of call to break the journey was at a tiny township called Marulan. Neither of us had ever heard of it, and the tiny castle on the signposts pointing to it captured our imagination. I was disappointed at not finding a castle in the town! Instead we find a tiny two-street town going back to the 1820’s. It’s hard to imagine that until the M5 was built, trucks would roar up and down its main street. It is one of those church/ police station/ post office/ school/ historic Victorian railway station/ pub/ general store/ and several historic homesteads-type towns. Two of these beautiful homes had been converted into a factory by the addition of a very ugly 1970’s redbrick facade. The roof peaks of the original historic buildings could be seen poking up above the added frontage. I wept at the ruination! Just to the south of Marulan are the remains of the ‘famous’ Moccador Pavlova Factory (2), which was built in the shape of a large pink and white pavlova. And I thought the giant merino was pretty hard to beat! The more modern (operating) general store and pub were the only two buildings open. Everything else was boarded up. Poor Marulan has been bypassed three times in its history, and is now totally cut off from the world. A new housing sub-division is going up, but somehow, I don’t think it’s going to relive its boomtown era again.

A quick stopover to view the currently dry Lake George, and we were in Canberra.
I’d like to say its changed, but I’d be lying. However, I have to admire its wide avenue-styled, tree lined streets. There is a lot to be said for planning a city, though I don’t really think – to be political – that I want to live or work in an area named after a predecessor of fishnet-stockinged Alexander Downer. We only got lost once – which is better going than when I went there with my father in the late 60’s. We managed to go around the circuit road so many times that I started to think Canberra only consisted of one street! David and I orienteered our way around the circuit road and finally found ourselves, though somewhat dizzy, at King’s Park.

Entry to Floriade was free – a pleasant change after paying to get into the Bowral Tulip display last year. Before venturing into the gardens, we decided to have a look at the markets set up at the entrance to the display. Now if we were expecting plants, and all things horticultural, we were to be bitterly disappointed. You could purchase Chilli Chutney – so hot that David’s mouth was out of action for the next hour – and one of the few times in my life I exercised discretion in the presence of food. I thankfully threw the hand up and avoided it, leaving the assault on my palate until lunch. On top of that is fudge in every imaginable flavour; puzzles; clothes; jewellery; sunglasses – just about everything but flowers and plants. And here was me thinking it was a horticultural show! Passing by a prominent display of willow branches spray painted in realistic fluro colours with matching watering cans – the connection between the two items is lost on me as the branches were obviously dead – we overheard another store holder commentto the owner of the matching willows and cans that he was “Glad to see you in shorts, Now we really know that summer has started”. David and I exchange a look! It may have been 28°C in Sydney that day, but it was only 20°C in Canberra, for God’s sake! A garish display of artificial flowers distracts us. Decisions, decisions. We decide to avoid the wrath of the mother-in-law by indulging David’s grandmother with a bunch – she has a great love for them, despite being a fanatical gardener. I’ve never quite understood that.

From here we traipse to the displays. There were 1,188, 011 plants. I counted them, so trust me on that. Most were in full bloom, though due to the cold weather several beds were fallow, barren grounds and hadn’t achieved blooming status. One bed that was supposed to be a mass of white lilies was just a sea of pointed green leaves. I admired them anyway, as we had come a long way to see this. Mother Nature decides what will be, and obviously this year she was being a bitch. The garden theme this year was “Poetry in Flowers”. Areas are divided into themes’, such as “Kubla Khan – Xanadu”, inspired by oriental carpets; “Ode to the Plum Blossom”, a floral interpretation of Lu Yu’s poem in camellias, viburnums and rhododendrons; “Song, From Pippa Passes” – I got the giggles thinking about what Pippa may have passed – by Robert Browning, planted with 58,000 hyacinths, muscari, narcissus and tulips; “Noise by Pooh” – the giggles are now hilarious laughter – the centrepiece of the children’s area, depicting A.A. Milne’s famous bear created with 53,000 blooms. One major problem with setting the gardens out in these phantasmagorical designs is that you can’t see them! From ground level, the designs are totally lost. “Kodak” have kindly placed some Photo-Moments stands along the way, which raise you about 2 feet off the ground, but that still isn’t enough height to give you a vista showing the designs off to there fullest. There should have been stands set about 6-8 feet off the ground to show off the displays – but then, this is our political capital, and either nobody thought of it, or the idea is still in some public servants in-box. I wasn’t even aware that the designs were in place until I thumbed through a magazine the next day at home.

Anyway, it didn’t seem to phase the thousands of beige-outfitted elderly men – Panama or tweed hats are the official headwear of the gardener male – and their partners, in three-quarter-length white or bone pants (visible panty line optional), over-blouse of blue and white floral (blowsy enough to propel them along in the breeze) and over-sized straw hats with floral hatbands, tied with a chiffon scarf tied under the chin in a giant bow – the official headwear of the gardener female. They pointed, oohed and ahed, tittered and tutted, and cupped blooms in their hands as they wandered from bed to bed. The serious gardeners stood in groups, dissecting, analysing and correcting every nuance of every flowerbed. I often wonder if these people can ever just enjoy a beautiful display as a beautiful display, or if it must always be never quite good enough.

The arrival of a very large troupe of Japanese tourists provided a momentary distraction to all the beauty around us. David and I were sitting in a tent set up as a café, eating and trying to enjoy a very limp – and obviously not fresh – Waldorf salad when they arrived. In typical Japanese tourist fashion, they were herded into two groups, segregated by large signs on green and yellow cardboard, mounted on sticks and waved in the air. The writing on them was Japanese, but considering where they were, I imagined the groups were possible named plum blossom, and cherry blossom, or something equally Japanese. Anyway, they didn’t manage to see all that much. They were shuffled into one spot, did a 360-degree rotation accompanied by the very audible click if twenty cameras going off at the same time, then they were off amongst a lot of pointing and chittering. Probably off to the market. One almost felt sorry for them.

A quick trip to the Theatre of Film and Sound to view some of the archived material from the Canberra based film preservation group ended our tour of the garden. It had taken us about two hours to cover the whole area – and yes, we did find some plants for sale. Real plants, that is! We picked up a tub of flowering Daffodils, to drop off at David’s mothers on the way back.

I can’t in all honesty say that Canberra has endeared itself to me, but they put on one hell of of a flower show!

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2004

The Big Merino, Goulburn

(1) The Big Merino:
Built in 1985 is a monument to Goulburn and the surrounding district’s fine wool industry. Standing 15.2 meters high, 18 meters long and weighing 97 tones he is an impressive life-like model of Rambo, a stud Ram from a local property, “Bullamallita”.
The complex was opened on September 20 1985 by John Brown who was the federal minister for sport, recreation and tourism. The idea was originally conceived by brothers Attila and Louis Mokany.The Big Merino was constructed by Adelaide builder Glenn Senner and took six months to build. The frame is steel, covered and shaped with wire mesh, sprayed and detailed in reinforced concrete. The architect was Gary Dutallis.
As the Goulburn bypass took effect on the city, Goulburn changed. The city expanded and a new development at the southern end meant that the Big Merino previously the first stop off the southern exit from the expressway was now stranded in no mans land. On the 26th May 2007 this grand structure moved 800 metres towards the southern exit to greener pastures.
The move has given Rambo a new lease on life with the construction of a new gift shop and a permanent exhibition from Australian Wool Innovation depicting the 200 year history of wool in Australia which is housed in the Big Merino structure. The second floor will eventually show all the stages of wool processing. Marshall Judd was commissioned to construct the under belly and three new legs representing a more complete, free standing model than previously shown.
The Big Merino gift shop displays an eclectic range of quality gift wear, cosmetics, souvenirs and accessories. We aim to supply our overseas and local visitors with the best quality products made from fine Australian merino wool. Our range includes Australian made ugg boots, locally hand-dyed gossamer-fine wool scarves, merino possum blend scarves, hats, jumpers and jackets, Mohair throw rugs and scarves, pet doonas, medical and baby’s sheepskins as well as plush sheepskins.

Mocador Pavlova Factory, Marulan

(2) The Old Pavlova Factory:
Just to the south of Marulan are the remains of the ‘famous’ Moccador Pavlova Factory which was built in the shape of a large pink and white pavlova. The factory used to manufacture pavlovas, handmade chocolates and cheesecakes and offer devonshire teas to travellers but it was a casualty of the town’s by-pass. It closed in 1991.
Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/travel/travel-factsheet/marulan–places-to-see-20081124-6fx9.html#ixzz2VbstoFXr

Going Out In Style

There is an A4-sized photo amongst my collection, notable only because there are very few photos I have blown up to that size. The photo is almost surreal. In it, two people stand on the porch of a Classical building. A sign in the background gives the location away – the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The person in the foreground is dressed as something out of a fantasy novel, quilled headdress sweeping several feet into the air, the rest of the outfit equally futuristic, or perhaps something from the past, a couture of leather and giant jewels. In his hand is a whip with a silver skull adorning its handle. The figure in the background could be a God, or a sprite about to cause mischief, a glittering figure with gold face and shining blue hair. The photographer has caught the two figures just as a breeze has blown, and has caught the movement of an arm and hand behind the fantasy figure, and the sweep of the voluminous robe being worn by the God/sprite. The movement, captured on film, gives the impression of bodies just arriving from somewhere? Nowhere? Anywhere? The photo is suffused with a golden light. The subject matter is illusive. It is Mardi Gras 1988, and the figures are waiting expectantly, nervously, for the parade to start.

What can’t be seen in the photograph is a gold lurex bag with a drawstring, clutched in the hidden hand of the God/sprite. They descend the stairs and join the line heading towards College Street. As the parade starts to snake its way down College Street, then into Oxford Street, colourful floats, flashing lights and booming music, surround them. Drag queens cross their paths, as do other costumed visages. Religious fanatics, huddled almost in fear on the sidewalk, hold placards promising Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. These two fantasy figures start to walk alone. The forgiveness of Christ means nothing to them.

As they arrive at Oxford Street, the roar of the crowd increases. The figure in flowing gold glances across at his leather-clad partner, and a brief nod of heads indicates to the God/sprite that he is to reach into the bag. As they round the corner into Oxford Street, the God/sprite pulls his hand out of the bag, and flings something into the air. The clamour from the crowd is deafening. A soft cloud of glitter and dust floats down towards the ground, some floating off amongst the crowd, some a soft coating landing on the feet of the fantasy one. A close-up shot of the pair would have shown tears streaming down their cheeks.

The God/sprites hand returns to the bag.

Don had died on the 2nd February 1988. It had taxed our faith in human nature when his flatmate stole all the furnishings out of the apartment before most of us had even been notified of his passing, but had amazed us with his almost surreal, funeral. Unlike just about every other funeral at that time, Don had not died from AIDS. Instead, we all had to watch his slow, painful demise from stomach cancer, caught too late to be cured, and a secret that Don kept until it was no longer possible to hide it.

Some expressed the view that it was nice to know that people died of things other than HIV, and though most of us would not have voiced it, we agreed! We knew of no family. Darby and I had no money, and relied on the generosity of friends on the evening after his death to get the several thousand dollars together to cremate him. He had been well loved, and we had to call an end to their generosity. We had far more cash than we needed. The funeral home managed to come up with two sisters, who had not had contact with their brother for many years.

They did not even know he was gay, let alone ill. They attended the funeral, but left us to our own devices. ‘You obviously knew him better than we did,’ one sister confided to me as we sat outside the MCC church at Paddington. ‘I had no idea he would ever have so many friends.’

At the Northern Suburbs crematorium, Darby is the MC. I have made up the tape for the service, and tell him where the numbers start. He miscalculates, and Shirley Bassey singing “Don’t Cry Out Loud” fills the chapel. There is a shriek from the front of the chapel, and the sister who had been speaking to me earlier is on her feet and heading towards the coffin, yelling ‘This is one of my favourite tracks too!’. It is only later that Darby tells me that it was not the track he intended to put on. We exchange a look!

I left the Mardi Gras party about 9 am the next morning. As I walked down Oxford Street, the street cleaners were working there way up the parade route.
“My God, poor Don’s ended up in a street sweeper”, I thought to myself as they trundled past me. Well, he had always claimed that he trashed himself! Perhaps it had all been more appropriate than we ever realised. I smiled to myself as I continued down the street, and the sweepers headed up Flinders Street, towards the show ground.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2003

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Bug Chasing – A HIV Phenomenon

Bug Chaser: A person who seeks to become infected with HIV.
Bug Chasing: Actively engaging in sexual activity with the goal of acquiring HIV.
Gift: HIV.
Gift Giver: A person who gives the gift of HIV to an HIV negative person.

In February 2003, Gregory A Freeman wrote an article on bug chasing for “Rolling Stone” magazine. It was a highly controversial article, and any Googling of the term “bug chasing” will bring up endless results from the piece. So I will not rehash old ground, especially 3-year-old ground. “Carlos”, the gay guy he uses as his interview subject is a self-obsessed, hedonistic guy who truly needs to get a life, as distinct from trying to destroy it, which he seems hell-bent on doing. The article appears, at least to me, to be a bit dodgy, both in its emphasis on the opinions of one extremist, and its ability to distort the statistics of experts. However, it does raise some interesting issues.

For starters, are we to make the assumption that “bug chasing” is going on? I dare say that if it was happening in 2003, it is happening now. If we admit that barebacking is a reality, then we have to admit also for “bug chasing”. In Andrew Barkers article “Bug Chasing” (1), he states that “Not surprisingly, the stigma and fringe quality of bug chasing is something that very few people would admit to doing. Of course, people were saying the same thing about bareback sex a few years ago, and now the term – and the activity itself to a lesser extent – has become a normalised, if not accepted, part of gay culture”.

So, if we accept that it is happening, we have to ask why! Not for one single moment, as a HIV+ man, could I ever condone the practice of bug chasing. However, having said that, when I read these articles I can sort of understand where these people were coming from. I was amongst the first people officially diagnosed with HIV in Sydney back in the early 80s. At that time, I had a HIV- partner, and though our relationship broke up shortly after this, we remained as flat mates further down the track for 10 years. These were the bad years in HIV, when just about everyone in our group of friends was infected, and many died. My flat mate remained negative through all this time, and still is. However, he stated to me on one occasion that he wished he was HIV+, as it would be easier for him to deal with the situation, and he would not always feel so “left-out”. Needless to say, he never turned into a bug chaser, but you can see the thinking behind it. Other underlying causes for people to take up this fetish – and I use the word loosely – are various forms of abuse like drug and alcohol use, poverty, lack of social supports, homophobia, low self-esteem, poor mental health, perceived invincibility and survivor guilt. In his article “Bug Chasing:
Why Some Men Want to Become HIV Positive” (2), Ashley Shaffier says “Those who seek HIV are called “bug chasers” and like most people they want to be involved in something that separates them from the rest of humanity. A few find something special by becoming infected with HIV – Not everyone has the virus, which makes those who are positive different. They are also not alone. “They see those living with HIV as a cohesive group that welcomes its new members and receives vast support” (Freeman). Freeman goes on to say that “The sense of being my brother’s keeper is never discussed in the gay community because we’ve gone to the extreme of saying gay men with HIV can do no wrong. They’re poor victims, and we can’t ever criticise them.” Another reasoning behind bug chasing is that some do it for the thrill of it, getting their kicks from the danger element, the “will I get it this time, or do I get to try again” attitude. “Many people engage in socially acceptable extreme sports for the rush, knowing that they’re risking their lives jumping from planes or free-climbing a rock face. And many do lose their lives. They are heralded by some as adventurous. One could argue that bug chasers are seeking a similar risky thrill” (Barker).

Another reasoning behind bug chasing is safe-sex fatigue some 24 years after AIDS first emerged in American cities. Many who have practiced safe sex for this long a period of time crave to have sex “the old fashioned way”, without the use of condoms, good old skin-to-skin sex. Normal sex is seen as being almost unattainable, something from the past that will never be revisited.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, it remains a very scary phenomenon. Some of the statements made by “Carlos” in the “Rolling Stone” article send a chill down your spine: “I know what the risks are, and I know that putting myself in this situation is like putting a gun to my head”; “When I have sex, I always like to make it special, a really good time, something nice and memorable in case that is the one that gives it to me”. Carlos feels that living with HIV will be a minor annoyance, that HIV is not such a big deal anymore. “It’s like living with diabetes. You take a few pills and get on with your life”. I think quite a few of us may have something to say about that. I also feel that there is a general lack of empathy for many HIV+ people, and a lack of acknowledgement that many of us were infected in the very early days of the epidemic when very little was known about it. I don’t like to use terminology like “innocently infected”, but for some of us, that is the fact. Given a greater scope of information, and an acknowledgement of just how deadly HIV was going to be would have been a wake-up call to many of us. The playing-down of information in the early days was a bad move, a disservice really, though that cannot be used as an excuse today. Given the amount of available information, and given the anecdotal stories of those who survived to now, one has to wonder how they come to the conclusion that bug chasing is a good thing.

Even the language itself is scary, the use of words like “gift”, “gift giver”, “bug chaser”, “conversion (from negative to positive)”,and “bug juice”. Doug Hitzel, a former bug chaser who is now HIV+ says, in Freeman’s article “Bug chasing sounds like a group of kindergartners running around chasing grasshoppers and butterflies…a beautiful thing. And gift giving? What the hell is that? I just wish the terms would put some real context into what’s going on. Why did I want to say that I was deliberately infecting myself? Because saying the word infect sounds bad and gross and germy. I wanted it to be sexualised”.

The internet itself has helped in the spread of bug chasing, with sites dedicated to it and its followers. I have to admit to not being able to find any to aid in my research, though I’m sure they are there, possibly linked into barebacking sites.

Freeman interviewed Dr Bob Cabaj, a public official working in San Francisco in psychiatry. Cabaj admitted that statistics were hard to come by, and he estimated that at least twenty-five percent of all newly infected gay men fall into the bug chasing category. Naturally, “Rolling Stone” took this figure literally, and on-board, and calculated that of the then 40,000 new infections in the United States every year, around 10,000 were attributable to the more liberal definition of bug chasing. This figure caused such a huge furore that Cabaj denied giving Freeman any specific percentages, and he wrote a letter to “Rolling Stone” asking for a clarification to be printed, which then stated that only a “certain percentage” of new HIV infections may be deliberate – but that this figure was “probably more than people wanted to think”. I think common sense would say that the figure wasn’t accurate, despite a lack of actual data on the subject.

Naturally, the religious right then had to get into the picture – no show without Punch – and have their two cents worth. Of course, they didn’t come up with anything original. The Rev. Louis B Sheldon, Chairman of the “Traditional Values Coalition” stated on traditionalvalues.org that “With bug chasing, barebacking and Russian Roulette parties (3) was part of the homosexual lifestyle (sic), it is not surprising that HIV infections are on the rise. And with sexually depraved individuals like Keith Folger and Vince Gaither (4) overseeing how Centre of Disease Control AIDS dollars are being spent, it is unlikely that this epidemic will decline any time soon…”. On altermedia.info David Mullenax informs us that “My wife and I discussed the issue of “bug chasing” at length over freshly brewed coffee and Italian biscotti. Each of us had difficulty in describing exactly how we felt about such insanity and madness…Homosexuality would not be a trendy alternative if it weren’t for a Jewish-controlled media that glamorises and insists that gays are the same as everybody else. To be gay is to be exotic, and thus revered. The many stories of death, some by infection and others by suicide, are never told on MTV…As the media promotes homosexuality as a hip and fashionable lifestyle, the anger is reserved for them….This is why gays should be pitied, and the anger reserved for the alien minority who run the majority of our news and entertainment outlets…Recruitment and outreach programs prey on the weaknesses of many of our young ones…Without (that) mental preparation, the gay lifestyle would be rejected by many vibrant and innocent White (sic) children who have become victims to this scheming…” etc etc, I’m sure you get the message.

A video was made of the phenomenon, called “The Gift”, and has been shown over here at one of the Queer film fests. In it, a young redheaded San Franciscan man tells the tale of how, at 19 he set out to become infected with HIV. “I thought being positive was a positive thing”, he says. “I thought I was just going to have a lot of promiscuous, unsafe sex. I didn’t know I was going to change (to HIV+) so fast. No one told me”.

In January this year, British editor Mary Wakefield, writing in the Sunday telegraph (5) describes her shock at discovering the underworld of bug chasing among homosexual males. Her investigation was fuelled by the funeral of a young man who recently died after deliberately becoming infected with HIV. The young man had invited his HIV+ boyfriend to live with him, and though being aware of the dangers of HIV, soon developed the disease and brain cancer. His HIV+ friend had also infected a previous partner and that man had died not long ago. After reading the article in “Rolling Stone”, Wakefield stated that “I remember being skeptical at the time – it seemed too creepy. After tens of millions have died of AIDS worldwide, after billions spent on medications, how could anyone seek it out?” This in turn led her to seek out the bug chasing underground on the internet. She observed “…there was a darker side, the romanticising of AIDS itself. Google led me underground, to gay clubbers with ‘HIV Neg’ tattooed on their biceps as an invitation to others to infect them, to online chats about HIV-spreading sex parties, talk of ‘conceiving’ the virus like a pregnancy and the intense intimacy of infecting a partner. “It offers a kind of permanent partnership, a connection outside time” stated the editor of a gay newspaper.”

So, it would seem that we cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that bug chasing doesn’t happen. I would like to think it was not widely practiced in Australia, but if time has proved anything, if it is happening on the gay/HIV scene in America, it is happening here. This article was prompted by an article I received last week from queerplanet.com.au, by Charlie Parker. He states in his article “Bug Parties” that “The Russian Roulette bug party. This is where a group of gay men have ‘no condoms allowed’, unprotected sex and no one’s HIV status is revealed. This type of party is treated like a game by the participants. The guy who becomes infected is the winner.”

I felt that if he thought it still relevant, then perhaps we needed to revisit the subject, rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, then in twelve months time or so, it will suddenly raise it’s ugly head again, possibly due to someone being infected this way, or someone dying, then with people saying “Oh, I always knew that was going on”.

Perhaps I should leave the last word to Carlos. As sad and pathetic as he appears, you can’t help but hope he wakes up to himself. When asked what would he do if he found out he was HIV+, he says he would move on to become a gift giver. “If I know that he’s negative and I’m fucking him, it sort of gets me off. I’m murdering him in a sense, killing him slowly, and that’s sort of, as sick as it sounds, exciting to me.”

I have goose bumps crawling up my arms.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2007

References

1 Living + Magazine, November/December 2002
2 AssociatedContent.com
3 AUTHOR’S NOTE parties specifically intended to assist people get infected with HIV
4 AUTHOR’S NOTE San Francisco AIDS activists
5 15/1/2006

FOOTNOTEs:

  • CNN interview on Bug Chasing movie, July 2007 https://youtu.be/Bo_n0IPsC7g
  • Article in Sydney Morning Herald April 21, 2007 ‘HIV chasing’ a trend in gay communityApril 21, 2007 – 6:09AMA Melbourne man who fantasised about contracting HIV before actually being infected by the virus has spoken of a gay subculture in which infection is seen as “desirable”.The 20-year-old man, who does not want to be named, told Fairfax newspapers both complacency about the virus and the wish to have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man he was in love with led him to become infected.”I wasn’t actively seeking it, but maybe there were parts of me, dark corners, that wanted it, that were thinking, ‘Let’s just do it and get it over and done with and then it won’t be an issue’,” he said.The young professional is the first to speak out about “bug chasing”, a behaviour in the gay community in which men seek to become infected with HIV.The phenomenon was highlighted at the recent committal hearing for Melbourne man Michael Neal. Mr Neal was accused of deliberately spreading the virus.A HIV-positive man said in court that “bug chasing” was “a big thing out there” and that he had been pursued on the internet by a man wanting the bug.”I just kept reminding him that it was not glamorous,” a witness told the court.Dawn Wilcock, of Positive Women Victoria, a support group for HIV-positive women, said the reaction showed a need for Melbourne’s gay community leaders to stop dismissing claims of the subculture as an urban myth.”There’s a lot of defensive and protective behaviour going on that is not addressing the potential repercussions of this,” Ms Wilcock said.”It’s a real problem. We know that 75 per cent of Victorian women infected with HIV are contracting the virus from long-term male partners, so the health campaigns targeting gay men need to target others in the community who would never publicly identify themselves as being gay, too.”The HIV-positive man said some men going to group-sex parties with HIV-positive men might want to “join the club” and have unprotected sex more freely.”I have had an extremely intoxicated person claim that he wanted it once,” he said. “I fobbed him off and he never came asking for it again.”
  • © 2007 AAPArticle in The Age 21 July 2007 “Gay subculture in ‘bug chase’ sees HIV as desirable Julia Medew and Karen Kissane

April 21, 2007
Dance with death
A MELBOURNE man who fantasised about catching HIV before he contracted the virus has spoken out about a gay subculture in which infection is seen as desirable.The young professional, who does not want to be named, told The Age a combination of complacency about the virus and the wish to have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man he loved led him to become infected.”I wasn’t actively seeking it, but maybe there were parts of me, dark corners, that wanted it, that were thinking, ‘Let’s just do it and get it over and done with and then it won’t be an issue’,” said the man, who is his 20s.He is the first to speak publicly about taking part in behaviour that is known in the gay community as “bug chasing” — seeking to become infected with HIV. The phenomenon was described by witnesses at the recent committal hearing for Melbourne man Michael Neal, who was accused of deliberately spreading the virus.One HIV-positive man told the hearing “bug chasing” was “a big thing out there” and that he had been pursued on the internet by a man who wanted to catch the virus from him.”I just kept reminding him that it was not glamorous,” the witness told the court.Dawn Wilcock, the director of Positive Women Victoria, a support and lobby group for HIV-positive women, said yesterday that such accounts confirmed the need for leaders of Melbourne’s gay community to stop dismissing claims of the subculture as an urban myth.”There’s a lot of defensive and protective behaviour going on that is not addressing the potential repercussions of this,” Ms Wilcock said.Her organisation was extremely concerned about other kinds of HIV recklessness, including the behaviour of heterosexual men who have sex with other men and do not tell the women in their lives. Such men do not think of themselves as gay or even as bisexual.”It’s a real problem. We know that 75 per cent of Victorian women infected with HIV are contracting the virus from long-term male partners, so the health campaigns targeting gay men need to target others in the community who would never publicly identify themselves as being gay, too,” she said.The HIV-positive man said that some negative men who attended group-sex parties with positive men might want to “join the club” so they could have unprotected sex more freely. His own intermittent desire to catch the virus was more about wanting intimacy with his partner than a “tribal membership or a rites of passage sort of thing”.life for HIV-positive people was now reasonably good, and that contracting the virus “wouldn’t be as catastrophic as it might have been 10 years ago”.While it was difficult to tell how many men who fantasised about the virus actually tried to get it, he said, some men certainly advertised for it on the internet and asked for it during sexual encounters.”I have had an extremely intoxicated person claim that he wanted it once,” he said. “I fobbed him off and he never came asking for it again.”Many gay community leaders and spokespeople for HIV and AIDS lobby groups last month dismissed claims of “bug chasing” and “conversion parties” — group-sex parties where positive men have unprotected sex with negative men to give them the virus — after the concepts were aired during Neal’s court case.Mike Kennedy, the executive director of the Victorian AIDS Council — the peak body representing gay men living with HIV and AIDS — this week again told The Age it was an urban myth.”You will find one of everything you look for,” Mr Kennedy said. “But the notion that this is a big scene, absolutely not. The language of ‘gift givers’, ‘bug chasers’ and ‘conversion parties’ — it’s something that’s come off the internet.”An HIV worker who did not want to be named said there was a party line offered to the outside world on the issue of reckless HIV behaviour in Melbourne’s gay community.”The party line is that it’s not happening — ‘What? Us?’ ” the worker said.The worker agreed with Ms Wilcock that heterosexual men who had illicit sex with gays were the conduit for the virus into the wider community. The worker said that when such men were diagnosed with the virus, they rarely started using condoms with their long-term female partners, “because she’s going to say, ‘What’s this?’ “Ms Wilcock said that gay male organisations were not doing enough to confront this and the “bug-chasing” issue

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Getting On With It! A 33-Year Retrospective of Life with HIV/AIDS

The challenge of writing about 33 years of living with HIV/AIDS isn’t so much to write tomes about what actually was witnessed over that period. That is easy to do, and I could ramble on forever about it. The challenge lies in being objective and succinct, to tone down the schmaltz and sentimentality and cut to the chase. Not as easy as one may think, as these were the most challenging, relentlessly ruthless and heartbreaking period of my life. But if survival is the gauge of ones strength and tenacity, then I have come out at this end of it with flying colours. Indeed, the cup is half full!

So what was it really like in 1982 to be reading snippets in our local gay press about this mysterious illness in The States that seemed to be targeting gay men who frequented the saunas, and quickly killing them? Well, cynicism and disbelief to start with, and the surety that within a short period of time they would find an antibiotic to clear up yet another STD. Soon the snippets were to become columns, then pages as the mysterious and deadly illness leapt from the shores of America and found its way here.

Our response was mixed. The first recorded case of HIV at home was 1982, and the first death in 1983. We had our usual ratbags who yelled and screamed about God’s vengeance on the evil, sick and perverted gay lifestyle (obviously a different God to the compassionate, all-forgiving one that I had heard about), the advocates of hate who demanded quarantine for all infected persons, and those who either quietly or vocally wished that we would all die or just go away. Not that easy folks! Thankfully, common sense prevailed and both the government and the grassroots gay community combined to put both AIDS Councils and NGO programs in place. Our quick response was instrumental in Australia always being at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care. Within 2 years every state had an AIDS Council under the national umbrella of NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), and the formation of support organisations such as The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, Community Support Network (CSN) and Ankali. Without these organisations life would have been grim for those infected. In 1985 testing was introduced. It was a bit of a strange affair in the early days. Due to hysteria and discrimination no one wanted their personal details on a database, so you chose a name, and Albion Street Centre issued you with a number that then became your ID. You had a blood test, and waited for two weeks – talk about high anxiety – to get your result. I had a mystery illness in 1982, a flu-type illness that wasn’t the flu, and already suspected that I had sero-converted and was going to come up HIV+. I was right. Counseling? Oh yeah, we had a lot of that back then. “You’ve got about 2 years to live”. Shrug shoulders “Okay”. And off we went knowing the inevitable was rapidly approaching, and it was time to PARTY!!! What else could you do? However there were horror stories. The disgusting treatment of young Eve Van Grafhorst is something for all Australians to be ashamed of. Born in 1982, she was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion. When she attempted to enrol in her Kincumber pre-school in 1985, parents threatened to withdraw their children due to the (supposed) risk of infection. The family was literally hunted out of town, and forced to leave the country and go to NZ. I will never forget the sight of this poor, frail girl on her way to the airport. I, like many others, was horrified that this could happen in Australia. Thankfully, her NZ experience was quite the opposite, and she lived a relatively normal life until her death in 1993 at 11 years of age. Her parents received a letter from Lady Di praising her courage.

Meanwhile, the Australian nightmare was well and truly hitting home. My first close friend, Andrew Todd, died in 1986. At that time there was no dedicated AIDS ward, and Andrew was shifted between wards as beds were needed for other cases. He died on Boxing Day in A&E at St, Vincent’s. I had the sad duty of ringing all my friends at a party to tell them the sad news. Party pooper recognition acknowledged! Ward 17 at St Vincent’s eventually became the dedicated AIDS ward, and for the next 10 years was never empty. Palliative care was through The Sacred Heart Hospice. Hospitals such as Westmead hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons; full contamination clothing for those working with HIV people, rooms not being cleaned, meals left outside doors. Even the poor old mosquito copped a hiding as a means of contamination, along with toothbrushes, glasses, cutlery and crockery. An advertising campaign featuring the Grim Reaper bowling down poor people created an apocalyptic vision of HIV that scared the life out of everyone. It was quickly withdrawn. In the interim, my 2 years became 4, which became 6 followed by 8. My life became a haze of alcohol and cigarettes, not shared alone.

In the 80’s I held a lot of parties with anywhere from 40- 60 friends attending. By 1996, if I had tried to hold a party I would have been lucky to have dug up 10 friends to attend. In the blink of an eye my social circle was effectively wiped off the face of the earth. Hospitals, hospices, funerals and wakes became the dreaded regular events. It was death on a relentless and unforgiving scale. The Quilt Project became the focus of our sorrow, and it’s regular unfoldings and name readings were tear-filled times of remembrance and reminiscence, along with the yearly Candlelight Rally. I attended until I became so empty that I could no longer bear it. I submitted my names but no longer attended. In the early 90’s four friends died close together – two from AIDS, one a heart attack and one cancer. This was a particularly heavy blow as two of these friends had been regular “gutter drag” partners, and that part of my life effectively ended. In a perverse way, it seemed strange that the Big A wasn’t the only thing stalking our lives.

Despite its reputation for being human Ratsac (the Concorde Study in France named it such, after conducting an unethical trial; turns out they were correct!) I started taking AZT when my CD4 count started to take a dive. Hard work, long hours, heavy drinking, chain smoking, a shit diet and emotional turmoil didn’t help. Pub culture became lifestyle. Did several drug trials – D4T, which was sort of successful, though the same class of drug as AZT. Also p24 VLP (Very Light Protein) which proposed that stimulating the p24 antigen may help control HIV. Total waste of my time. It did nothing. We started alternating drugs – 6 months on AZT, 6 on D4T, 6 on DDI, 6 on DDC. Perversely it seemed to keep the wolf from the door. Dosage was huge. Everyone on it ended up with kidney problems and peripheral neuropathy. Prophylactics added to the drug burden. In the meantime there was no HIV dental service and our teeth rotted or fell out due to bouts of candida. I left work in 1993 after being seriously knocked around by viral pneumonia which should have killed me…but didn’t. I was shuffled onto the pension, and given rent subsidised housing by DOH. The subsidy seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, weren’t we all eventually going to be killed by the Big H, so no one would be on it for that long? Famous last words! My alcohol consumption and chain smoking increased, if that was possible! Was losing weight at an alarming rate, and naturally no one noticed because I took to wearing baggy clothes to disguise it. Nothing quite like being delusional. Moved from Darlinghurst to Bondi. Nothing like moving away from the scene to help your health…not! Collapsed in the street, and admitted to St Vincent’s not with PCP as suspected but a collapsed lung. Two weeks later and a change of female GP’s saw me back in the doctor’s rooms while she read my hospital discharge report. Had they tested me for CMV retinitis? No! Was I having trouble with my vision? Yes, but I do wear glasses. Guess what? We’re sending you for a little holiday at Prince Henry Hospital (now closed). I was a little bit sick. Chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anemia, had 10 CD4 cells and weighed 48 kgs. Mmm, prognosis was not good. Well, it had been a good life. I was certainly joining a band of party people. But no! Life hadn’t finished with me yet. Protease Inhibitors had come along at an auspicious time, and within a fortnight I had been stolen from the arms of death. Mind you, that fortnight had been no picnic. Ganciclovir injections into the eye, Deca-Durabolin injections to help put weight back on, blood transfusions, and enough finger prick blood readings to last me the rest of my life. And the problems had just started for this return-to-lifer. Not dying when you are supposed to really fucks up your head space.

So started the next round of therapies. Peer Support groups; counselors; Caleo (a treatment management group who help you maintain the impetus to take the billion pills a day we were taking); clinics; dental care (now up and running); volunteer work (to keep one sane). What started out as volunteer work at the then PLWHA (NSW) Inc (now Positive Life) turned into paid employment as a research assistant. I started writing for “Talkabout” magazine, joined the Positive Speakers. Bureau, and learnt to use a computer. A couple of stints back in full-time employment made me realise that big changes needed to be made with my life. By this time my health was pretty well back together. A couple of nights out pushed home just how few people I knew, however did lead to meeting my current (now ex) partner. A brief encounter with Indinivir sludge in my kidneys (which involved having a stent inserted then removed) also made me aware that for HIV+ people the unexpected can happen at any time. Yet another change of doctor. Self-empowerment had become an important issue, and I wanted a say in my health management, as distinct from being dictated to. Big changes were about to happen.

In 2000 David and I did a big (and expensive) holiday to the Red Centre. It was an amazing experience. Before leaving Sydney I had applied to the University of Technology in Sydney to do my degree in writing. Shortly after arriving back home I was informed that I had been accepted. Ah, the advantages of mature age AND disability. So spent three years doing my Graduate Certificate in Writing, was office- bearer for the Special Needs Collective…in fact I WAS the Special Needs Collective, and discovered I hated having to deal with the moronic “radicals” who called themselves the Student Association and did nothing except rant and rave, and waste student money. I was glad to leave uni. Towards the end of 2004 I decided to get my chef’s credentials from East Sydney TAFE, and crammed a 12-month course into 6 months. As much as I hated uni, I really loved TAFE and found it more grassroots and honest. David and I started Alderman Catering, a top-end catering business though it only lasted about 2 years as I found it very exhausting. I then sort of returned to my retail roots by opening a web site called Alderman Providore to sell Australian made gourmet grocery items. The site proved successful, and within 4 years I was opening my second site, this time specialising in tea, coffee and chocolate products. I got involved in a trial using Goat’s Serum to treat HIV, but again another waste of time. I did manage to get a skin rash from it, and managed to score a $1,000 for participating. In late 2009 the GFC hit, and online shopping took a major hit. After a disastrous Christmas that left me severely out if pocket, I decided to sell the business and put it behind me.

More eye problems followed, this time involving my blind eye. Back to the regular rounds at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and an injection of Avastin into the blind eye to stop it creating new blood supplies to an eye that couldn’t see. By this time, the interior of the bad eye was collapsing, and it took on an unnatural colour. Before this I hadn’t looked blind. Now I did!

The next step, which sort of brings us up to date, was a major move. Plans to move north had been on the agenda for 10 years – in 2011 it finally happened, though we did jump the border which wasn’t in the original plan. Recently my retina detached in my one seeing eye…or rather was pushed off by all the scar tissue present from my original CMV infection. An emergency operation to scrape down the scar tissue, and replace the retina and fluid (called a vitrectomy) has seen my sight degenerate even further and I am now the proud owner of a white cane curtesy of Guide Dogs Queensland. It has become obvious that our two Jack Russell’s are not, despite their best of intentions, good seeing-eye dogs. I can see, though very poorly. A lot of life is a blur these days.

However, I am not going to complain. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this presents yet another one. I gave up smoking 15 years ago, and drink only lightly and socially these days. My partner and I both adopted a healthy diet and exercise program 8 years ago when we both started getting unattractively over-weight and inactive. We have both turned our lives around by adopting this course of action. In 2013, I obtained my Certificate III in Fitness from Southbank TAFE. It proved both a challenge for me, and for the TAFE, as they had never had a student with severe visual impairment do the course before. And finally, at the beginning if this year, I had my troublesome blind eye removed. I now have a very life-like prosthetic that I dan do drunken party tricks with.

33 years eh! OMG where have those years gone? Despite all the discrimination, stress, anxiety, illness, deaths, survivor guilt and despair, there have been moments of great introspection, illumination, strength and enlightenment. That over-used word “empowerment” springs to mind and that is perhaps the one word that sums all those years up. Victim? No way! Survivor? Not in my words! And I have never been one to wallow in self pity. You just need to grab life by the balls, and get on with it. I trust that is what I have done.

Tim Alderman

Copyright 2012, 2015

AIDS Quilt unfolding in Government Pavilion, Sydney Showground circa 1988. L-R Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman
AIDS Quilt unfolding in Government Pavilion, Sydney Showground circa 1988. L-R Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman
 

Will You Still Feed Me…?

I have an idealised image of growing old with my partner and drifting out of this life in my sleep. In this ideal world of ageing, there is no pain, nor any unpleasantness. Occasionally, though, reality creeps into my thoughts, causing me to wonder just what will happen as the years speed by. The fact that I’m the older partner in the relationship doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be first to die. Nor does it mean that any of life’s unpleasantries are not going to overtake one or the other of us in the guise of cancer, dementia or other illnesses.

The most frightening scenario is one where I’m left suddenly on my own and have to find new ways to cope. It’s difficult enough to adapt to new life situations when you’re young, let alone when you’re set in your ways. The prospect of ending up in a nursing home is something most of us don’t want to contemplate. A quick bit of research indicates that a lot of HIV+ guys perceive that they are ageing at a faster rate than most people the same age and fear the early onset of cancer, dementia and diabetes. But what about those of us who are hale and hearty and making lifestyle choices to try to ease the way into a healthy old age? I guess we’ll find out all about it when we get there.

At 58, and having now lived with HIV for 30 years, I’m trying my best to take a positive approach to ageing. To my way of thinking, my brush with AIDS in the mid-’90s was about as scary as it could get. Having survived and retained my sense of self (and humour), I fail to see how anything could scare me again.

Dirty old man
I decided a long time ago that I was going to become a Dirty Old Man (DOM) in my old age and to that end I’m already working. As a DOM I can wink, make innuendos, pinch bums, eye up and down and generally make a fool of myself in the presence of any handsome guys and get away with it because, well, I’m a DOM and it’s expected. I’m going to derive a great deal of pleasure out of this and brag about every creepy thing I do to other DOM friends, who will be numerous. This behaviour will, of course, come with me into the nursing home.

Now, let’s talk about my concept of the nursing home I will be in. It will have all modcons, from Foxtel and the latest in computer, phone and tablet connectivity. No jelly and ice cream in our gourmet dining room and the 24/7 gym will be staffed by the hunkiest of personal trainers, who will put up with our erratic behaviour. Likewise the male nurses will be tanned and hunky and dressed in the skimpiest clothes available. The nightclub and bar will be staffed by the best DJs and the dancefloor will be zimmerframe and wheelchair accessible. All our pets will be catered for in equal luxury.

Now, with many of the patients in this imaginary nursing home having read my fitness and healthy eating columns, muscle-bound, slim and over-active elders will be the order of the day and day trips to the latest hip cafes will be a weekly experience. Life will be a dream and we will all depart this life with smiles from ear to ear.

The reality
I fear the reality may be quite different. According to NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), there are about 19,000 people in Australia living with HIV and of those, about 30 percent are over 49. At this rate there is going to be a rush for the retirement home doors. If you happen to be gay and HIV+, you don’t, at this time, have a lot of options. Considering that a lot of available aged care is run by religious organisations, identifying appropriate aged care is a bit scary. Unless the gay community start to invest in their old age by putting money into gay nursing homes, I fear you and I will end up in a home that will be inadequate to our needs and certainly won’t allow us to be ourselves in the company of like-minded individuals. If we have HIV, I dare say there will be little in the way of experienced medical care and nursing.

In Australia things seem to be moving a lot slower than in the US, where gay and lesbian retirement homes are already up and running. In our own backyard, GRAI (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Retirement Association, Incorporated) at GRAI.org.au is a WA-based volunteer group whose mission is to ‘create a responsive and inclusive mature-age environment that promotes and supports a quality of life for older and ageing people of diverse sexualities and gender identities’. In July 2010 they launched a report in conjunction with Curtin University entitled We Don’t Have Any of Those People Here. Though the research is WA-oriented, it would hold for any state in Australia. They point out that baby-boomer retirees are likely to be the first generation to be openly out as they age (which will also apply to HIV people, especially long-termers), which means that service providers, agencies and Government will need to approach glbt/HIV people very differently to any other group of retirees in years to come.

In 2008, the gay press mooted the building of the first glbt retirement village in Victoria, called Linton Estate. A check of the website doesn’t show any info past that date, though a 2011 report in the Star Observer indicates that retirement apartments are for sale from the plan. According to one report [in outdownunder.com] there are to be 120 units, with a heated spa, bar, cafe, library, croquet lawn (just how old do they think these people are?), tennis courts and much more. Construction is now expected to start in 2012. Things about this that make me nervous: buying off the plan for something that doesn’t as yet exist and is it going to be affordable (or elitist), considering that many of us will be surviving on the pension. I have always laughed at the notion of the pink dollar, whereby we are assumed to have limitless amounts of money to live lives of luxury, when the reality is that most of us struggle to get by. I certainly won’t be getting any inheritance and most other baby boomers are rushing to spend their money before they get too old to enjoy it. Let’s hear it for reality checks!

Just a dream
Fantasising about a gay retirement village is all very nice, but I fear most of us are going to find the dream of a gay retirement in diverse and HIV-knowledgeable environments just that … a dream. We also have to look at our unhealthy lifestyles, as we continue to get obese, drink too much and continue smoking (still a big problem in the HIV community), added to problems of social isolation, lack of interests, a drop in exercise due to laziness (let’s not bullshit here) and as you can see, there is a plethora of problems facing us as an ageing community. These things need to be addressed – and fast!

For some, one of the potential outcomes of limited choice is a return to the closet as a way of ensuring security, in conjunction with a move to the outer suburbs and away from the glbt/HIV community due to the lack of affordable accommodation in the inner city and suburbs.

As a 58-year-old gay HIV+ man in a long-term relationship, I need to start assessing the future realities of life, as pleasant or unpleasant as they may be. I don’t want to be left on my own to deal with my old age, nor do I want my partner to be. In all likelihood we will be together as we run into this stage of our lives (unless one or the other of us runs into a particularly hot 70-year-old – with lots of money, naturally), so sooner or later one of us is going to die and the other will have to continue life on their own. It would be cathartic to think that either of us could get accommodation that was both supportive, suitable and met all the social and medical needs of both gay and HIV people. Somebody will decide to do something about this eventually, though in all likelihood 50 reports will have been written on the subject and many dozens of older HIV+ people will have passed out of this life in undignified circumstances before action will be taken. The suicide rate amongst older glbt and HIcxxV+ people would be interesting to know, especially considering that our coping mechanisms added to problems of discrimination and isolation decline as we enter extreme old age.

This is food for thought for all of us, young and old. Anyone who thinks they will never be old lives in Never Never land and anyone who thinks it’s someone else’s problem needs to get a life. Let’s give our elderly the respect and acknowledgement that is due to them.

Tim Alderman
Copyright 2011

P.S: In an article in QNews dated 27th April 2012, the Gillard government announced changes to aged care that ensured GLBTI aged that service providers would be required to support their special needs. The reforms are part of a package to keep seniors at home for as long as possible. GLBTI seniors have been added to the “special needs” category. Aged care operators are required to allocate places in this group. This means that for the first time, places are required to be set aside for these seniors. It is also the first legislation to include Intersex people in the special needs category.
To read the full article go to http://qnews.com.au/article/glbti-seniors-aged-care-bedded-down-0#

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