Monthly Archives: May 2016

My anger, my apology

 

Recently I’ve written a couple of pieces that I feel contain real truths but I’ve written them from a place of vulnerability which I have tried to hide with angry opposition. I have called out Gay men, LGBT History Month and a plethora of others.

Why?

I haven’t slept well for the past couple of nights thinking about it.

As a campaigner informed by her own experiences I think I have handled this one quite badly. I think that there are several  reasons. Being transgender and HIV positive can be a really isolating place and I have experienced so much crap that putting some of it into words bought a whole lot more to the surface, I wasn’t even aware how much.

I wasn’t aware how much I would think about my friend who died of an overdose who scored and tricked with me every day when we needed money. I wasn’t aware that I still had tears for them, that the chaos at the time didn’t allow me to cry.

I read a line about a book just about to come out which included the words ‘straitjacket’, it resonated. Drug addiction or addiction of any kind doesn’t allow you the time to feel, to grieve or to mourn. You are tied up by your own lack of access to your emotions. I never cried for my friend. I didn’t realise how sad that made me. Carrying tears around.

I never had time to cry for myself. My sister visited a while ago, we had a huge argument, she cried and said to me ‘have your tear ducts dried up?’

That made me feel very sad.

I wasn’t aware quite how much the isolation of being trans and HIV had affected me, until I wrote it down. Rather than processing my pain I think I lashed out to hide it, I’m truly sorry for that.

There is inequality and I do want all people to stand up for all people but we do not need to oppose each other to do that. I fell into my own emotive well.

Being trans and HIV has defined so much of me. I remember prior to surgery thinking that having a vagina could really change my life but then I remembered that I was HIV positive. Being an HIV positive women seems, from collective experience definitely seems, to place you, me, right back at the edges of society. Out of reach. Out of touch.

I realised when I couldn’t sleep that I missed being touched.

I realised that I envied gay men their collective access to things such as ‘safe undetectable viral load’ on dating & sex apps.  My viral load has  been undetectable for 10 odd years and my CD4 at over 500 for too many years to remember and if it meant that I could have intimacy I’d shout that from the rooftops. But in my community it seems to count for so very little. My lack of risk doesn’t translate into intimacy.

I envy the community that gay men have around HIV and AIDS. The structures and systems, the smiles.

I envy that freedom. I wish somehow my life wasn’t the way it was, it wish it had been easy and I suppose if I am truthful I feel embarrassed by some of my past. I’m not sure my experiences selling sex to buy drugs left me with any happy memories but I’d like to openly share the memory of when I found out about my friend, which I should have done rather than setting up oppositions. I was never told were they buried and I never said goodbye.

‘I never dreamed I’d end up in front of the station agreeing to everything for nothing but a wrap of heroin that didn’t burn. The horrifying moment, with his smell still on your lips, as you watch the brown liquid fizzle into the air.

Noxious, poisonous-chemical. Additives with none of the sustaining high. 

I couldn’t afford to cry I had to get back out there, so I headed back to base camp one – my partner in crime, we kept each other safe with the illusion of safety. I knocked at the door and shouted through

‘Euston calling’, our password.

No answer

‘Euston calling’. I tried again a day later and then everyday for a week.

I had to make do that week with my own  illusion of no illusion, it was scary without them. I’m not a fighter and my world scared me.

I went up again and a voice called out.

“Piss off junkie, your mates dead, he died a week ago and the poor fucking kitten started to chew his finger.”

The kitten, I’d forgotten the kitten.

That sounds hard, I know,  but we accepted that we could/should/might/probably would die.

But the kitten was our soft cuddly piece of normality. It played with our rolled up tin foil, flicking them carelessly across the wooden floor.

The kitten was my surrogate child. The kitten was love and loved. The kittens fur was often wet with our tears from laughter.

 I laughed with my friend an awful lot.

We laughed about trying to get out the door and never making it, we laughed about trying to pay for ads in magazines to sell sex, we laughed and joked that when we got clean we start a cattery and this life would all seem like it never happened.

He was not alone when he died,  he had the kitten with him’.

 

When I talk about the 19% of trans women being HIV, I know that is me, I understand about our collective experiences.  They are not the same, not identical, I know that TWOC are disproportionately affected by HIV and I know that on top of the mound of discrimination and inequality that I face TWOC have racism piled on top. I know I am part of the 19% and I understand now that I do need allies and I understand that I’m not a fighter. I hate being in opposition and this time I created it. I set up an unhelpful dynamic because it felt too vulnerable to admit to feeling the isolation that HIV can bring.

Too vulnerable to admit to feeling alone.

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Its all about the numbers

It’s quite lonely being a campaigner (if that’s what I am) who focuses on what it means to be being trans and HIV. It’s lonely because not many people want to engage with me or other trans women who are HIV.

When my focus was on ‘education and trans identities’ people were queuing up to talk and work with me.

People sometimes say, it’s great what you’re doing, but by private message,  I know the stigma of HIV is alive and kicking.

I’m currently trying to carry out some simple research about trans sex lives and safe sex provision and its almost like if people agree to talk to me then they have an association with HIV.

It reminds me of people worrying, in years gone by,  that being seen being close to me, physically or even emotionally, might indicate to others that they were also HIV positive. Being close to me won’t make you HIV positive.

I recognise the silence.

But I don’t understand.

Like I don’t understand the PrEP focus on just MSM and not on all ‘at risk groups’.

Like I don’t understand the ‘Chem sex’ debate focusing  solely on MSM.

As women, trans and cis, we are written out of these debates by sexism and misogyny. Narratives rooted in an almost Victorian sensibility around sex and pleasure. It would seem that no women take drugs and have sex, high risk sex, it would seem that no women need extra support and preventative care in relation to their sexual health.

I was in a meeting recently with a group of women discussing PrEP & Chemsex and between us we had thirty odd years of drug addiction and far too much time spent in sex work to feed that addiction.

We, it seems, can acknowledge our risks.

If you look at funding streams for sexual healthcare it would seem to be  accepted that trans women do not have sex. At least sex that needs any form of risk assessment, i.e. prevention (PrEP).

For far too long as trans women we have accepted a narrative that is punishing and upholds an entirely binary notion of a linear journey to vaginal construction.

 

‘You’ll look real’ they say.

‘But will I feel pleasure’ I reply.

‘You’re HIV’ they say.

‘But will I feel pleasure’ I reply.

I recently conducted a small survey (126 respondents) about Trans women and their vaginas, the outcomes were depressing.

  • Most women had little expectations of surgery or post surgical pleasure. It seems quite often that the awful wait and jumps through hoops to get surgery on the NHS outweigh any real expectations, questions or enquiry. Can you imagine that for any other major surgery?
  • Most women (over 65%) said they had no post surgical sensation and expressed real feelings of sadness and depression over this.
  • A quarter of all respondents said they would have considered a less realistic vagina if it had more sensation which could lead to orgasm.

 

I am not trying to upset any apple carts or trying to remove any notions of ‘passing’ which for many are a matter of life and death but I am saying that we need to start talking about our bodies and about our sex lives.

 

PrEP is about prevention and prevention where society accepts there is risk beyond the accepted condom response. I understand that gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV (40% of all new infections) but they are not the only high risk group. What about sex workers? What about the trans woman who has very low self esteem and fears a violent response if she asks something of a partner?

What about the woman whose partner is violent?

I do not want to divide groups but I am saying that surely it makes sense to campaign for all ‘at risk’ groups and for all ‘high risk’ groups. Should we still define need by numbers or by risk assessment?

If we look at the figures worldwide then surely we can see that trans women are fighting alone, often in isolation, often rejected by society, often already at risk because of Transphobia, sexism,  and misogyny. Often women, cis and trans end up in emergency care because they were not deemed ‘high risk’ so they didn’t see themselves as ‘high risk’ as HIV was taking hold.

We need to make the case, our case.