Tag Archives: discrimination

Sacrilege: Living HIV Outside The Square!

“Sacrilege” may seem like a strange word to use in relationship to ones life. Its religious connotation is “the violation or profanation of anything sacred or held sacred” thus by a very loose expansion of the meaning – a human life, as it is, in many respects, regarded as sacred. Stretching definitions even further – and many would not be surprised that I don’t take it literally – infecting it with HIV could be considered a sacrilege, be it intentional or unintentional. The sacred has been violated! Also, as a HIV+ man, it is expected that I will follow a set of “rules” as dictated by various community groups, doctors and specialists! To totally ignore the expected, and go off down your own path would be considered by many to be sacrilege!

I can’t contemplate continuing to live with HIV without viewing it within the framework of my life! No war is without its battles, without its dark times, yet still seeing the light at the end of the tunnel! If I had to use a word to describe myself, belligerant comes straight to mind – but then I think to myself “That’s a bit harsh!”. Okay…cantankerous is one that has been used by those close to me, so that’s sort of acceptable, and it’s true! Curmudgeonly… a word I love, but I’m not really surly enough! So I’ll just stick with stubborn! I could claim that it’s a Capricornian trait, but it goes deeper than that.

At 12-years-of-age, my stubborn streak was already settling in. Though unrecognised by me at the time, it was a survival mechanism that was to serve me well for most of my life. It is only when I look back to 1965, that I realise what a testing ground it was: my mother left my father; a bitch of a housekeeper who was to forever change our family dynamics; and my father jumping over The Gap with Kevin, my brother – resulting in my brothers death – would have sent a less resilient person into dark depths that they may never have risen from! Considering the lack of psychological & emotional support available at that time, to have come out of that year relatively unscathed had to show a stoicism way beyond that normally expected from one so young. By digging my heels in, ignoring all the negativity around me, and just “getting on with it” – a philosophy I still embrace – I was to set in place a mental tenacity that was to impact my life for decades to come!

There was no love lost between my father & myself! Even prior to Kevin’s death, I had seen – and felt –  a violent streak in his nature; almost a need to punish those who had a life contrary to his. He could be a right royal cunt! The only way I could establish my own independence – which had flowered rapidly after Kev’s death – was open defiance! He told me not to smoke…so I smoked; not to drink…so I drank; to get a trade…I went in every direction but; and to get my hair cut…I left it to grow – despite a threat, after an argument about it, to “knock my block off”! He even denied me a 21st birthday celebration, because he had been at war when his fell due…I organised it myself. My grandmother left me a small inheritance, and just after my 21st, I moved out of home, into my own apartment. After he remarried and moved to Vincentia (on the south coast of NSW), we had little contact. After his suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning in his car in 1978, I never cried a single tear – but just let out a massive sigh of relief! I was free! As the ultimate act of a true prick, he left me nothing in his will – it all went to my step-family! Just to show that they were all tarred with the same brush, directly after his death his sisters indulged themselves in a game of telephone harrassment against my step-mother. I was glad to walk away from them all!

As soon as the old man died, I came out! It is the one time my usual defiance was kept capped. I had seen what he wss capable of with my brother, and my survival instinct whispered to me to be  quiet about this issue. Again, I had witnessed him & his mates yelling “poofter” out of the car window to some poor guy who did nothing more than wear a pink shirt! As I said – they were pricks! Stubbornness does not necessarily equal a death wish! Then, having stepped out of the closet, I megaphoned my life choice to all and sundry, including my employees. No one seemed particularly surprised! There were some in my workplace who were not impressed with my sexual preferences, and made no secret of it! My pure indifference to them was reward enough. My decision to desert the security of a regular job had nothing to do with my detractors…it was based purely on a desire to break free of a life I wanted to leave behind. But the curve balls were to keep coming, with no inkling at that time of the odd parallel path that both being gay, and being HIV+ were going to lead me down!


Even as I was coming out in Melbourne in 1980, snippets about a lethal cancer, that was killing gay men who frequented the saunas in the USA, were appearing in the local press here. I read them, and like many others, though not panicking, was left with a feeling of unease. That unease turned to immense consternation over the next couple of years, as the reports became more alarmist, and HIV crossed the ocean to our shores. By the time they developed a test in 1985, I for one was already stacking the odds – and not in my favour! In retrospect, this may have been a defence mechanism against coming up HIV+…that if I did, I was already prepared for it, and if I didn’t I could just breath a sigh of relief. The former proved to be true!

Back in the day, there was a severe lack of counselling, and given the sheer volume of testing results coming in at that time, was cursory at its best. When I went to get my result – and I don’t know why I made the presumption I did – the positive result was not a shock. These were strange (ethereal?) times, and for those of us admitting to our – then – death sentence, it was almost like belonging to a select club.

There was a two year window given at that time, between diagnosis and the advent of AIDS, leading, so they thought, to an inevitable death. Some didn’t make it to the window period, and my first friend, Andrew Todd, died at the end of 1986. I made it to the two year point…and was still very healthy. By then, the window for those diagnosed in 1985 had been expanded to five years, so the waiting game for many of us continued.  Up to 1990 is a very convoluted journey, and I don’t want to rehash history that has already been covered in many writings, and is really outside the parameters of this article. I decided to make this a useful period, and did a number of trials. It was better than just sitting around and waiting. This was a time when I made my one bad decision regarding my healthcare – I allowed my doctor to – after a najor ethical battle with her – to put me onto AZT! There has been much written about AZT, and its history as a drug…which was not exclusively formulated for use with HIV. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but my thinking on HIV has always been a bit radical, and I, along with others, gravitate to the thinking that HIV and AIDS – despite our use of them as co-joined conditions – are separate illnesses, and HIV doesn’t necessarily lead to AIDS, but AIDS as an independent condition, brought about by the deterioration of the immune system. 

So, I had a diagnosis of HIV, with no related conditions that would have rated a diagnosis of AIDS. Even with a CD4 count on the decline, I still had good health – which admittedly may have been a lot better if I wasn’t knocking myself around by chain-smoking, and chronic abuse of alcohol – until…I started AZT! Many of those still around from that time will acknowledge that the decline in their health status is directly parallel to starting AZT. It wasn’t nicknamed “human Rat-Sac”for nothing. It’s negative affects from then up until now are also well documented. Damaged nerves, liver & kidney problems, the leaching of calcium from bones, and other neurological problems can all be traced back to AZT usage. I wish I had stuck by my guns, and refused to use it! There is no evidence that it saved one single life. I wouldn’t have refused trestment with other drugs that came along shortly after – I didn’t have a suicide wish – but I have no doubt that if I had refused AZT, some ongoing problems I have now would not have happened. I have an undisguised hate of Big Pharma, and its tactics, and lack of ethics where it comes to flogging a drug, and how they went about flogging this incredibly toxic drug to a desperate and unsuspecting demographic is truly horrifying – more on this shortly.

So, dispite heavy smoking, alcohol abuse, long work hours, and a shit diet…I made it to 1990, and with my health still okay. I won’t say I was unscathed, as the relentless list of those who died over this time, with many more to come, was physically, mentally, and emotionally destructive. I am by nature – and experience – a stoic in the face of death. I accept the reality, and inevitability of it – but any sign of the existance of God in this obliteration was missing – no just, loving God would ever allow this! My conversion to Atheism was complete. However, the combination of all that was happening was starting to wear me down, and encountering on-the-job bullying by an Area Manager brought about my decision to leave the workforce in 1993, and go onto disability, and get a housing subsidy. It was a forgone conclusion back then that this was the road to take because – after all – none of us would survive for all that long. At this stage, under the most positive of thinking, I gave myself two more years. 

I actually got to mid-1996 before it all started to come undone. I have written about the circumstances surrounding all the events that happened at this stage, so won’t repeat them here, but will give you an intimate insight into my thinking on my situation when I was finally admitted to Prince Henry Hospital in June, 1996. Given that I was already close to death when admitted, with a plethora of conditions that really should have killed me earlier, and that I really thought I would never leave there any other way than via a wooden box gives a good indication of how serious things were. It was in Mark’s Pavilion there that my stoicism, my acceptance of reality, possibly should have been tested, but instead gave me a calmness, an acceptance of my own potential death that I had pondered about prior to this. I was chronically ill, I was tired and in some respects, if other factors hadn’t intervened, death just seemed like such a pleasant, restful reality, leaving all that was happening behind, joining all those that I had loved and lost over the last 10 years. It was an acceptance of death that I wasn’t expecting to be quite so complete, so easy, so without fear. 

But I picked my moment, didn’t I! Big changes were happening in the treatment of AIDS, and shortly after being admitted, not going down the road of death, that I expected to go down, I walked – well, taxied – out of Prince Henry. I exited that taxi into a world that was in no way prepared for the living dead of HIV. If I ever thought my battles were behind me, I could not have been more wrong. The next couple of years – a long period of recuperation – were intense. There was a seemingly neverending period of specialists, doctors, clinics, pharmacy, counselling, peer support groups, drug compliance groups, massive – and I mean massive – amounts of medication, side effects, dental work, anxiety and panic attacks, and drug trials. It was a time where one wanted to initiate great change in the direction of ones life  – with no one there to assist. Change had to be fought for, had to be forced. All these community groups gathering money and prestige, sitting in meetings and forums, listening to the likes of me yelling about what we needed…and just turning deaf ears! It was a frusteating period where everything was years behind where it needed to be, and if you wanted to get on with your life without being trapped in the system, you had to do it under your own steam! So I did!

Some volunterr work, some work in the community sector, a flowering writing career that demanded and exposed…when I eas “allowed” as one didn’t question the system – led to a brief period of full-time work – that didn’t help my health at all – then onto university & TAFE to experience at last that which gad been denied me in my youth. This led to an interesting period of experiences, from spending 12 years talking about the HIV experience through the Posituve Speakers Bureau, to 15 years writing for “Taljabout” magazine and various other publications, starting several businesses – the most recent of which was destroyed by the GFC, to where I am now – happy, balanced, and reasonably fulfilled.

However, the last few years haven’t been without its challenges, and my mental tenacity, combined with a fairly laud-back approach to life, have seen me get through things without any apparent negativity. I do health care on my own terms these days, because if one just relies on mrdico’s, one would rattle like a pill bottle. I want less pills, not more! About 15 years ago, I halved my HIV medications. I have been waiting for some red-faced, fuming doctor to lecture me about it (has no one realised how rarely I get scripts?) but no one ever has. In the interim, my blood readings get better and better, with CD4s on the rise, and an ongoing undetectable viral load. Okay, I no longer smoke – gave that up in ‘96, drink bugger all, have turned vegetarian, and exercise daily, but nothing else. Big Pharma be fucked! Your drug resistance tests – a farce! You just don’t want people on old drugs! Over-prescribing? You bet you do…big time! I wouldn’t trust you as far as ai could kick you! 

Have I mentioned my shit vision? Whoops…overlooked that. Blind in one eye thanks to CMV (also covered in articles on my blog), and almost blind in the other. The most major decision over the last couple of years? Having my blind eye removed voluntarily, and replaced with a prosthetic. Does it stop me getting around? Not fucking likely! I might be slow, but I get there! I have a white cane (laughingly called my whacking stick), but rarely use it. I walk the dogs, do the shopping, get to gym! It might be done with a slight feeling of nervousness, but it gets done.

I don’t hold any grudges. What has been, has been! In a way, I thank my father for the rough younger years. It gave me a set of survival tools that have served ne well – and still do – throughout my life. Maybe I was born in an auspicious astrological period, or maybe my natural survival instincts are genetic, endowing me with stoicism and mental tenacity! Whatever it is, it has seen me through nicely! Life is to be enjoyed, and despite the occasional downs, it should be lived to its fullest. Just step outside that square, and do it on your own terms!

Tim Alderman (©2017)

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Daily (Or When the Mood Takes Me) Gripe: After More Than 30 Years of HIV Knowledge and Experience We STILL Have Stigma!

Please view this video first

https://m.youtube.com/watch?utm_source=GayAussie.co&v=UV5uv0589Ec&utm_term=HIV+Queensland&utm_medium=ga-social-ads&utm_campaign=HIV+FQ+GAY+AUSSIE

I can’t believe stigmatisation and internalised homophobia like this still goes on, and we need to have a dialogue about it! However, my own experiences as a 61 year-old with HIV, and a disability who used (note tense) gay dating sites tells me we do! We no longer have the shared experience of the 80s & 90s, so ignorance keeps on rearing it’s ugly head! Both the gay and HIV communities should be ashamed of themselves. The lessons of the past have quickly been forgotten!

This year I “celebrate” 33 years of being HIV+ (yeah, cheers, thanks). It doesn’t take a brilliant mathematician to work out the percentages – I have spent over half my life with this dubious honour. This is not braggodocio, me looking for a chest to pin a medal on, or leaning my head forward for a pat. This has also included a brush with AIDS – not to be confused with HIV, despite the still incorrectly used AIDS misnomer to describe someone with HIV. For those who think that just because I am walking around it has been an easy road, or similarly think that now, thanks to drugs, my life is a dream…think again. Every single day is a challenge, not so much something I dwell on daily, but certainly live daily.

Over those years I have seen stigma and discrimination of pretty well every variety – reluctance of governments to fund in the early day; religious intolerance, including a call for segregation and for internment camps; hospital staff refusing service to those with HIV; the incident with young Eve van Grafhorst (if you don’t know of it, look it up); social stigma; advertising scare campaigns; HIV denialists (while thousands drop dead around them); the deathly silence of many world leaders (mainly US presidents); ignorance and misinformation on every level. Personally, I have experienced workplace discrimination and bullying both as a gay and a HIV+ man. As the mother in the above video states, if this was cancer you would receive nothing but sympathy and support. But as soon as you say HIV, people back off, and the implication is that you are dirty, a sexual deviant. After all this time, and the misnomer that it is a “gay”disease with its prominent creep into the straight world at about the same time – can’t have them as scapegoats, can we! – one would have thought that all the misconceptions about HIV would have been pretty well eliminated. Well, I’m afraid not!

Even now, on Gay dating sites you eill encounter many instances of people adding labels like “clean” to both their profiles, and sexualpartner  requests! The insinuation is that if you have HIV, uou are domehow “unclean” or “dirty” – and it has nothing to do with me having a shower! Ironically, the profiles making this request don’t seem to think that the same language applies to them. Let’s face it, if I don’t disclose my status, you are going to be none the wiser…no I, for that matter! I have to take your word for it as much as you have to take mine! You haven’t really made any sort of a point, have you!

But apart from the degrading insult, it shows a huge gap in the education of the person posting – almost criminal, if they are Gay! For at keast the last decade or more, it has been pretty well acknowledged that if you are HIV, taking meds, and have an undetectable viral load, you are not going tomoass HIV on. The latest research http://mobile.aidsmap.com/No-one-with-an-undetectable-viral-load-gay-or-heterosexual-transmits-HIV-in-first-two-years-of-PARTNER-study/page/2832748 indicates that after two years into yhe latest study, chances of transmission are, to date, zero!

I hate condoms, and haven’t worn one for decades. Back in my pick- up days, I deliberately seeked other HIV+ guys, as within that circle unprotected sex was a norm, of more recent times I have used sites like BBRT – a barebacking site – for sex. At least on this site there is no foubt about what you get. If I had to ge honest – and the same would apply to the HIVphobes from the other sites – you have a getter chance of picking up a garden-variety STD than HIV…something that is conveniently overlooked! 

Perhaps rather than education – which to-date has got us absolutely nowhere – people just heed to get some manners…and a life!

Tim Alderman (C) 2015

  

Daily (Or When The Mood Takes Me) Gripe: Gay Superficiality!

Please view, then read my commentary below;

http://www.samesame.com.au/news/11585/YouTuber-says-If-youre-over-40-or-not-a-model-youre-pushed-aside

I guess I am just used to being ignored – except for a select few – on gay sex apps. Fuck, I’m over 60, and I have a disability – though in reality that shouldn’t mean anything! Though we don’t live our lives grounded in reality in the gay community, do we! No sir, we don’t!

As Sam Lugi states ” If you are over 40, don’t look like a model or have a disability, you are pushed aside”, and this is, unfortunately, true! Add to that not being “wealthy” and not having a big cock! I got disillusioned with it a long time ago, and ashamed that over the decades the community has never really grown-up, and moved into the real world.

At one stage on the sex apps – I use Grindr, Gaydar and Scruff – I actually found myself putting myself down, as it seemed a way to discourage those frightened off by disabilities…but in reality made me look like a bit of a victim. Then, as an antedate that I became too aggressive which then scared the shit out of people. Now, I try to be comedic and long-winded. I figure if they are willing to read my whole profile, then contact me, they sre worthwhile. However, that doesn’t discount the 15 or 20 others who view my profile and ignore me…many because they are after perfection, so you know automatically by reading their profiles that you are either too old, or because you have an obvious disability. I used to find the same in the bars, so why would the apps be any different!

I hate being dismissed because I’m an older man. I was young once on the scene, and helped to gain many of the rights that the younger ones now enjoy! In many other communities I would be highly respected for that alone. Considering my age, I’m not all that bad looking. I still have all my hair, I’m fit and healthy and can hold a conversation. Puts me way above many others, who can’t get past “Hi” or “Oh yeah”. I regularly quit chars because they never give you anything to feed off. At least the guys who just want to see photos of my cock, or want me to talk dirty while they wank off are usually honest about it.

The gay community really needs a reality check…though who ir what provides it is going to be interesting to see ! In the interim, don’t sell ourself out to the phony, small-minded body fascists! Maintain your dignity and self-respect? But most of all – love yourself!

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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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