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hiv, pep and hate crime - my story

the intervention 

 

'Do you want another shot'? asked the good looking guy that was well out of my league and made my ego trip as he spoke to me. Six Tequilas and a few double Vodkas after working is the local gay bar, at four in the morning, is always a good idea. 

The Leeds gay scene is a small place and the staff and performers often get to know each other  quickly, you find out everything, about everyone within a matter of days. Its an intrusive place, don't expect to have your secrets or personal information kept confidential. Trust will be broken and friendships will be lost before they are formed. It doesn't have to be suffocating but when you're young and you've finally found a group of people that are the same as you its overwhelming and liberating.

'So do you want another fucking shot or what' he asks.

'Yeah fuck it, one more before they call time' I reply.

Moving to a City after being in a predominately small minded town changes how you see the world and you want to do and see everything all at once and discover yourself and who you are as fast as you possibly can. If I could go back and tell myself this now, I wouldn't. I have experienced grief, depression, isolation and overwhelming happiness all within the same space and with the same people. It has shaped my understanding of the world and how I want to lead a happy life and base it around love and appreciating what I have.

'Is this your place then? I paid the taxi driver' He says as he confidently struts towards my front door and demands I hurry up as its cold.

I often went out after I finished my shifts to avoid facing my reality. I wasn't turning up to university because I hated it and I was busy drinking to forget about why I hated it. I had fines for skipping the barriers at the train station and parking tickets because I didn't have a penny to my name. Whenever I had money to spare - usually the £20 my mum gave me for food- I'd have to go out after work to take my mind off being the failure I was proving myself to be, if I didn't find someone to take home then I'd have no one to pay for the taxi and I'd be walking.

 

'Where is the light?' he giggles as we both clamber up the steps of my disgustingly untidy student house. 'Which is your room then?' I point to the one with the Morrissey poster on the door.

He comments on how drunk we both are, while he takes his top off to reveal his abs with the shadow of the lamp defining them in the darkness. I walked over and kissed his chest while my hand traced around his back. He seemed nervous which I remembered finding strange for how confident he appeared only moments before.

I had heard he was HIV positive the week before, because his friend thought it was acceptable to share this information with everyone else because as they put it, 'was excellent gossip'. I don't remember this crossing my mind as I spoke to him that night, a combination of tiredness, alcohol and my mind lingering close to self destruction didn't lead to us taking precautions. I would have gone home with him sober and in a better frame of mind - being well aware of his status, that certainly is not the issue. It was our shared lack of understanding and accountability.

'Harder, fucking harder' he mumbles, as I push his back into an arch. We kiss and I bite his lip. We lay breathless next to each other as the sunlight slowly starts to invade the room.

I sleep.

University did me no favours, I left after a year with large financial debt, no friends, no motivation to become a Journalist - or anything for that matter. I went full time on the gay scene and it took over my life, everything I did related back to the need to feel accepted. I found solace in waking up with strangers and drinking for fun and to forget my current reality. Aged 19 and seen as a  failure, what will I do now? Who cares? I certainly didn't.

October 2015, I pressed self destruct.

'Ah fuck my head' I hear as I'm tapped awake four hours later. I feel rough and its too bright.

 'Jesus, did you bite me? There's blood on the pillow' I sit up and look at him, he has dried blood on his chin with a small tear on his lip. 

'Must have' I reply still feeling dazed.

'Ah fuck we were so out of it, I don't think we used a condom, you should get down to A&E, you know I'm HIV Positive' he said casually.

My mind starts to focus on what we did and what he just reminded me of, even though I already knew and I was just as much to blame, my reaction is almost ambivalent. 

'Ah yeah, I'll sort it, what're you doing for the rest of the day'? Trying to swiftly change the subject. I shut the door behind him and got back into bed.

'Do you want a shot?' my work colleague asks me while I sit in the corner of the dive bar at one in the morning. Its not busy tonight, in fact its just us and a few regulars. A few shots later my body gives into tiredness and I cry, I hate crying in public. I was so angry at myself for such a display of despair. My friend demanded to know what was wrong, I listed the things wrong in my life and finish with what I did the night before, he insists I get in a taxi with him and go to A&E.

After waiting in a busy city centre hospital for three hours my drunk and tired mind makes a run for it. I realise how utterly selfish I am, and accept that as  I walk home and crawl back into bed. I awoke to stream of abuse - rightfully so.

The guilt my sober self felt, carried me to the sexual health clinic. I told them what I had done - leaving out important details and my mental state. I play the situation down and lie to the concerned Doctor and tell her it was a one off mistake and that the condom split. Despite my compulsive lies, to not concern a health professional with my problems, I am within the three day time zone to begin 'PEP'. A drug that helps to kill the HIV virus before it develops, a 28-day course of two pills.

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Within the next month I carry on as normal, drinking and going out. The shame I feel now for what I am writing will always stay with me.

I am writing this to educate and inform. I carried on having one night stands, although I had little regard for my own safety I completely lacked a moral compass and regard for anyone else. I have been told now that I was in a bad place, so it's understandable. To this day I accept and acknowledge that no matter my frame of mind it is unacceptable.

I have since been in touch with the two people I had sex with while on 'PEP' and explained myself. They were both better people than I, and thanked me for being honest with them. 

The dust has settled and those involved have moved on. I have moved on, but what I learnt will stay with me. Just because you're self destructing and your mental health is deteriorating it does not give you the right or excuse of harming anybody else. 

The next month consisted of the side effects of 'PEP' which are not pretty. I was tired all of the time, I felt constantly sick and irritable. However,  non of these things stopped me going out to try eradicate my emotions. Late in October, I was chatting to what would become my second boyfriend the year after. When I heard a rather large and muscly man refer to myself and my future ex-boyfriend as 'faggots'.

Perhaps, my only lasting good quality is the love I hold for my community. I piped up and shouted across the bar, 'Why are you in a gay bar then? Dickhead.' He responded by putting me in a headlock, I couldn't move -  my reaction was to pour my drink over his crotch. He released his grip and I made a swift exit, sensing impending danger.

I made it across the road then I remember hearing, 'Stop you could kill him' and then I woke in A&E, being looked after by my then manager. This then led to my Mothers grand intervention.

 I was on the verge of killing myself or it seems provoking people enough to do it for me.

 I'm  glad I chose to stand my ground within - what should be - a safe space for LGBTQ+ people, no matter the consequence.

My Mum then went to unpack my bag and picked up the large Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) tub.

 I am thankful to my parents for their ongoing support, because at the point I made my mum cry with what I was doing to myself. I knew it was time to turn my life around.

 

For more information on PEP and PreP, Click Here

For more help and support regarding mental health, click here

 

Author: Harry Joe Nettleton