Tag Archives: gay health

WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT LONELINESS

Loneliness is a universal feeling but there are experiences of loneliness that are unique to gay men.

I recently published a post about being 34, single and lonely to which I received an overwhelming response. People reached out to show their love and support and in doing so, shared their own stories about loneliness. I read messages and comments from men and women who were older, younger, married, single, confidently alone and also afraid of being alone forever. Their words helped me to realise that loneliness doesn’t discriminate nor is it reserved for single people or for gay guys.

While loneliness is a common feeling, I do believe that gay men have it particularly hard due to the pressures put on us by gay culture and social media. In the below video, I discuss what I learnt about loneliness in the wake of my blog post and share my thoughts on why it seems that gay guys may struggle with loneliness a little bit more frequently and harshly.

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I’M LONELY BUT I’M OK

What apartments, flat mates and colon inspections have taught me about loneliness. 

I didn’t think I would be alone at 34. When I pictured my life in my 30’s I thought that I would be rich, famous and happily married to an Italian prince – no really, I thought I would be married to an Italian prince. Instead, I’m very much single, struggling to earn enough money to support my over indulgent millennial lifestyle and working in a job that makes other people rich and famous. Most of the time I’m content with this life however lately I’ve been feeling quite alone, a feeling which can be traced to the impending departure of my flat mate from our apartment. For the last four years I’ve lived with a wonderful flat mate in a gorgeous apartment, owned by a landlord who makes Patrick Bateman seem like a less aggressive Betty White. Soon my living situation will be turned upside down as my flat mate moves into his own place and we must decide quickly what to do with our lease.

This has left me in a predicament; find a random stranger to move into Patrick Bateman’s warehouse conversion with me or terminate the lease and move out by myself. I knew that this living situation wasn’t going to last forever and even though I wouldn’t have wanted it to, I honestly thought that the next time I would have to move it would be into a beautiful home with my beautiful partner (or a castle in the case of my Italian prince fantasy).

When I look back at the circumstances that led me to singledom in my 30’s, I’m not sure how this aloneness happened but I do feel that I’m partly to blame. Boys have come and gone in my life and while I’ve had a couple of loves, or what felt like loves at the time, I haven’t come across anyone who I think I could bare to keep for ever after. Perhaps I haven’t tried hard enough, opened my heart wide enough (insert anal joke here) or perhaps it’s because when one pictures his future husband to be Italian royalty with a sprawling estate in Tuscany and a villa on the cliffs of Positano, all other men pale in comparison?

Having to move has brought up a lot of unsettling feelings. Being a self-diagnosed social loner means that I should be relishing in the prospect of living by myself. Strangely, I’m feeling lonely and somewhat isolated. This move is a reminder that at 34 years old I’m solely responsible for myself – at the end of the day there’s nobody looking out for me except for me. Yes, I have a loving family but they live on the other side of the world. Yes, I have caring friends but this is London and everyone is dealing with their own issues which means that it’s my sole responsibility to find a new home while I juggle a hectic career, a health routine, a skin regime, cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing, a social life, finances, check-ups, bills, appointments, groceries etc. etc. etc. If I drop a ball there’s nobody there to help me pick it up. Stupidly, on top of all this I’ve recently decided to give up alcohol (only until March) which now seems like the worst idea ever because alcohol makes me so, so happy. Oh and I’ve also given up sugar which is the only other thing besides alcohol that soothes me when I’m stressed. Mix all these things together and what’s even worse is that I’ve lost my sex drive completely. A once horny individual who’d get semi aroused at the site of a phallic shaped root vegetable, I now have no desire for sexual intimacy which means no desire to go out and meet men thusly continuing the cycle of perpetual non-man-ness and feelings of loneliness and gloom.

Just to give you an idea of how single I really am, let me regale you with a story of the anal kind. Mothers and friends stay with me here, this isn’t a story about sex. Alas, it’s a story about a medical misadventure. I’ll save you a rambling introduction and jump straight to the point where I find myself checked-in to Royal London Hospital for a sigmoidoscopy, a procedure that uses a camera to check the lower 20 inches of one’s colon. When you go in for such a procedure you are presented with two options; option one, sedation – this is where you’re put in a lovely state of utter relaxation through a twilight sleep whereby you feel nothing. The procedure takes place while you’re totally zonked and you wake up feeling fresh and revitalised with a professionally examined colon (as opposed to an amateur examined colon?). The second option is non-sedation whereby you’re completely awake for the whole procedure with nothing to relax you but some butt hole numbing cream. From what I’ve been told, option one is like floating on a soft marshmallow cloud of loveliness but take it from me, the chooser of option two, that option two is very different. You know that scene in Alien where the little alien explodes out of the guy’s chest? Yes? Well it feels a bit like that but without the relief of the alien actually breaking through your rib cage. At one point, when her camera was well past the point of no return, the doctor turned to me to tell me that some have likened the discomfort I was about to endure to the pain of childbirth.

Why would someone put themselves through such an ordeal? Well, anyone can choose option one but the catch is that they’ll only release you from the hospital if you have an escort. This means someone has to come to the hospital and check you out. They then need to chaperon you home and ensure that you don’t swallow your tongue or do whatever it is that doctors are afraid you might do after having some sedation and a camera up your bum. If you choose option two however, then you’re free to leave the hospital unaccompanied as soon as you’re finished.

It’s 3pm on a wintery Tuesday in December and I have no escort therefore I have no choice but to go with the alien-breaking-through-rib-cage-similar-to-childbirth option. I have no family member who’s obliged to help me out (because those are of course the rules of family), no friends to call upon because it’s 3pm on a wintery Tuesday and the hospital is in East London when all my friends work in the West and no Italian prince by my side because apparently Italian princes can’t be found on Grindr or Chappy or in dirty Hackney nightclubs. So as I stumble out of Royal London Hospital at 5pm on a wet and wintery Tuesday evening, releasing pockets of gas from my colon which I’ve been warned is a side effect of the procedure, and remembering that Dr. O’Donnell’s 20 inch long camera is the most action that I’ve had in weeks, I wonder to myself ‘is this the loneliest I have ever felt?’

But it’s not. It’s now when I have the real prospect of not having anywhere to live and no partner to lean upon that I feel the loneliest. Don’t cry for me though – this isn’t a pity post.  I’m ok with my loneliness, in fact, I feel that loneliness can be an empowering feeling when looked up from a different perspective. It can shock you into action, make you evaluate your current situation and change your bad habits for the better.  It can be the impetus for something beautiful and even a wakeup call to love.

I saw a psychic when I was in Sydney last month. She knew, without me saying a word, that I lived in London and that I was going to move out of my apartment. ‘You need to live alone’, she said, ‘it will open a space for you to find your soulmate’. What an interesting thought – maybe this loneliness, this current sense of foreboding and instability is actually the universe’s way of shaking things up to make room for love? Maybe this whole situation isn’t just a search for a physical home but it’s an awakening inside of me that things need to change in order for me to find a solution to my singleness. I believe that sometimes the universe gives you a hard nudge, such as imminent apartmentlessness, in order to push you in the right direction. While I’ve loved where I’ve lived for the last few years it has been the epicentre of a carefree, debaucherous and often wild lifestyle which I now see is in complete opposite of what I want and need now. Change can be hard and it can be scary and while I’ve tried to control my circumstances as best as I can to avoid the unknown, something inside of me tells me that this loneliness is only temporary and much needed for my own growth.

Who knows where I’ll be living in one month or even one year? Maybe I’ll still be alone, maybe I’ll be living with a partner or maybe if everything works out the way I imagined all those years ago I’ll finally meet my Italian prince, move into his family palace and live happily ever after.

Now read this: 5 Misconceptions Gay Boys Have About Other Gay Boys

Image: Philip Ellis by Damon Baker

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WHAT I LEARNT FROM BECOMING ALMOST FAMOUS

When I was a young gay boy and I felt disconnected from my peers, bullied by older guys because of my sexuality and generally despondent with the world, I would imagine a time in the future when I would be rich and famous. I’d see myself as an Oscar-winning actor, or a billionaire entrepreneur, living in a world where people longed to be my friend. This was my coping mechanism, my way to justify the hard times.

“One day, they’ll all wish they had been nicer to me. One day, they’ll see how amazing I am and they’ll regret the way they treated me”.

I thought that I had overcome these feelings but when an incredible opportunity came my way that almost made my childhood dreams and wishes come true, I realised that inside I was still a bruised young gay boy. It made me question the motivation behind my desire to be successful in all areas of my life and led me to ask, “Are gay men so obsessed with fabulousness and perfection because of the trauma we suffered growing up?”.

Watch this video to see the full story.

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SELF SABOTAGE AND THE MAGIC 10%

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I honestly believe that we are our own worst enemies. Growing up gay can be fraught with hardship due to the external pressures we feel from peers, our family and society but it’s the pressure we put on ourselves that can have the most debilitating effect. We don’t often realise the impact of our subconscious minds on our ability to live fulfilling lives. Why is that we never feel fulfilled? Because we self sabotage and what’s worse is that we self sabotage without being consciously aware that we’re doing it.

I used to think that fulfilment would magically find me when I had ticked a certain list of criteria pertaining to my body, career, sexuality, popularity and financial status. My life journey has now led me to understand that fulfilment is something you find within yourself that is not based on the accumulation of things or achievements beyond the self. I have also learnt that many people, myself included will never feel fully satisfied until we can overcome the sly devil inside of us that sabotages our efforts when we’re close to achieving success. Self sabotage leads to disappointment which is a roadblock to finding fulfilment within yourself.

Take this blog for example – in October I committed to writing 31 posts in the lead up to my 31st birthday. I started off strongly enough, posting an article everyday but as I neared the finish line something unconscious clicked inside of me which prevented me from writing until today. It was as if my intention to complete the task to which I had publicly committed was inherently flawed by cause of my own committal. Basically, because I had said I would do it, I couldn’t. I could not write the last few articles much like many other things in my life that I have abruptly stopped right before succeeding at them. This left me utterly disappointment and reciting a harsh yet familiar internal dialogue about my inability to complete a task to which I pledged.

Another example is at the gym where I’ve applied myself to strict regimes that I have confidently followed until spontaneously falling off the bandwagon which always coincides with the same point in time that I’m starting to see positive results from all my hard work. It is as if something inside of me doesn’t want me to succeed and when it sees me trying it lures me into a false sense of comfort before sneaking up on me and undoing all my efforts.

My own self sabotage and reflection of my habits has taught me a valuable lesson – the 10% principle. I’ve come to believe that you can put in 90% of the work but it’s the last 10%, the last push, the last effort, the last hurdle which is where the magic happens. There’s a point where you can see the finish line and if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss the mark and start running backwards unless you find the willpower to push through for only 10% more. That’s the point when everything changes. I believe that the most successful people in their fields are those who have learnt to overcome self sabotage and who push themselves 10% further than the rest of the population. Although it’s a small percentage of the overall effort, it is that portion of the work that makes all the difference.

It took me almost seven months to finally update my blog even though I felt the pressure inside of myself to do so everyday. Had I applied the 10% rule a little earlier then I would have had so much great content to share with you, my wonderful reader. Now I hope to make it up to you with more regular posts and content that I hope you’ll find interesting.

Image by Wendy Loke Photography

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NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LIKE YOU

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Here’s an important lesson which will help you make friends, develop relationships and generally improve your self-confidence – not everyone is going to like you. In the same way that you are not attracted to everyone you meet, so too will others not be attracted to you. Do you waste your time chasing after friends who are not really interested in spending time with you or boys who don’t seem keen on you? Well then it’s time to change your behaviour.

I spent too much energy in my 20’s trying to make people like me and then worrying about why some people didn’t. It was so easy to dismiss those guys that were flirty but so hard to overcome the feelings of rejection when someone’s response too me was less than awestruck. Through experience I have realised that the pursuit of other people’s approval is redundant. We have no control over another guy’s feelings or tastes so there’s really no point in trying to convince them otherwise. Rather focus on those who like what you’re offering.

Why is it that we chase after guys who are mean to us or dismissive or aloof but fail to recognise those that are kind, open and attentive? For me, it was the need to validation. When someone showed the slightest interest in me then I felt validated. I would then move onto the next person. If the opposite was true then I would chase after that validation until I either received it through exerted efforts to change their opinion of me or I would feel despondent and unworthy of love if I was unable to change their viewpoint. I see this same behaviour in friends of mine who are exceptionally good looking. They thrive off the attention they receive around other gay men but if they don’t receive adequate enough attention or they are not received in a manner they have become accustomed too then they become agitated and anxious. Their sense of self worth is dependent on exterior factors.

The need for validation, sought through other people’s liking of you, puts you in a volatile position. In doing so you are placing your happiness and sense of self worth in other people’s hands. When you realise that not everyone is going to want you, and that it’s ok if they don’t, then you regain your power and the need for validation subsides. Not everyone is going to like vegemite or baked beans or avocado but this doesn’t make vegemite or baked beans or avocado any less attractive to those that do!

Image by Saverio Cardia 

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THE POWER OF MEDITATION

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I’d like to share with you a secret that will bring you peace, focus and stillness. It is something that I try practice daily and when I miss the opportunity to do so, I can feel the difference in my mood and mindset. I’m talking about meditation and while I’m certainly not the first person to preach its benefits, I am a strong believer in its power. Meditation is often mistakenly associated with people on the fringes of society, practiced by men with shaved heads in hemp trousers but the truth is that it’s a secret natural mood enhancer enjoyed by people from all walks of life.

My personal favourite mediation is led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the leader of the Art of Living movement. I came across his teachings through a friend of mine and I can honestly say that his messages and approach to life has changed my understanding of happiness and peace. The below mediation is simple to follow, short in length yet extremely powerful. Try this every morning for a week and enjoy the changes that it will bring to your life.

 

 

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WHAT I MISS FROM INSIDE THE CLOSET

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‘The Closet’ can be a terrifying, lonely and suffocating place. It’s a metaphorical cage that represents suppression, oppression and even depression.  Looking back on my own experience those three things were certainly true but amongst the darkness there were a few positives that I can now say I truly miss.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not always doom and gloom inside the closet. As you start to push open the metaphorical door and peer into the light beyond the crack exciting things start to happen. You realise that there is an enticing world out there with endless possibilities. Although you might not be ready to spring out of the shadows in all your rainbow glory, you start experimenting and testing the waters. The sense of curiosity, compounded by the guilt you feel for doing something ‘immoral’ can actually be quite exhilarating. I remember the thrill that came with kissing boys in the back of my car in deserted carparks or sneaking guys out of my bedroom window in my parents house. Sure most of these highs were then followed by lows and feelings of shame but during those stolen moments I felt ecstasy that I have found hard to replicate in my later years.

It’s the feeling of doing things for the first time, things that you are told are wrong but which feel so right – these are the times I miss from my youth and from inside my own closet. Finding moments to hold hands with a boy at a party when nobody was around and then letting go as soon as your friend walked into the room then desperately waiting for that friend to leave so that you can do it again.  Receiving messages on your phone from your crush and then telling your mum it was from your boss when she gets too nosey. Smiling at a stranger in the change rooms at an inter-school swimming meet. Once out of the closet these situations don’t hold the same sense of danger. The fear of getting caught is removed but it is the fear of getting caught that makes your heart beat faster and electrifies your senses.

When I first started experimenting with boys and going to gay clubs I felt as though I was doing something that was on the fringes of society. For someone who had been brought up in a somewhat conservative environment, being gay almost became an expression of rebellion for me. The cover ups and fabricated stories allowed me to be part of one world at night and then return to the normality of heterosexual, conservative life by day. It was fun, for a time.

After a while though the thrill of breaking the rules diminishes and you are left with the realisation that you cannot be happy and in the closet forever. For the short period of time, in the beginning of the long walk out of the closet, every experience is brand new, every man-to-man touch is a blessing and every moment, no matter how brief, spent out of the closet is a relief. These are feelings that can never be replicated again. This is what I miss from inside the closet.

Image by Damon Baker 

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PERSONAL TRAINERS WHO USE STEROIDS

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In my opinion, hiring a personal trainer who uses steroids is like asking Kim Kardashian to give a lecture on inner beauty – it doesn’t make sense.

Personally when I look to a trainer or a fitness professional for body inspiration, I want to know that if I follow their lead then one day I too could have a physique like them. It would be a shame to find out that this could never happen without injecting an illegal substance into my body. I see all these incredibly muscled fitness celebrities on Instagram, with hundreds of thousands of fans, spruiking messages of ‘strength’, ‘determination’, ‘willpower’, ‘gains’ etc. without acknowledging that their superhuman size is also due to another factor – steroids. Some, you can tell are clearly using artificial enhancement while others are questionable. The problem though then becomes, how do we distinguish between natural and not? By default everyone falls into the same ‘fit’ category and fans are left wondering why they can’t put on the same size as their heroes.

I guess that I don’t understand the obsession for size. While I try to see every choice from both sides, I have yet to hear an argument for steroid use (other than a genuine medical reason) that is plausible. To me it appears to be purely vanity and dare I say it, borderline narcissistic? I’m happy to be proven wrong and it certainly isn’t my place to judge someone’s personal choices. However, my issue lies with people in power such as trainers and Instagram celebrities, whose actions do have an affect on the expectations and self esteem of others. A young guy, following the training regime of another guy from Instagram, wonders why his physique is taking so long to change even though he works out religiously. Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment which is made harder when you’re only being told half the story in the first place.

Steroid use by personal trainers and Instagram fitness celebrities is like false advertising. PT’s are there to motivate and inspire you to reach your goals and one of the ways that they do so is through their own desirable physical appearance. You wouldn’t hire an overweight PT who clearly doesn’t practice what they preach. Rather, you choose the extraordinarily fit muscle man with the tight tank top, shorts and  fluro Nikes.  But what if your PT’s body has been boosted by chemical enhancements? You’re being sold a fake product.

We cheered for Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France and felt betrayed when we found out that he was doping. Why? Because we look to these sportsmen for inspiration, for examples of human will and achievement and when we find out they’ve been cheating, we feel cheated ourselves. We feel lied to. Why then is it different for bodybuilders, fitness professional and PTs?

 

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DAY 7 OF 31: CHECKING IN

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Today marks the first week since I started my challenge of updating my blog or Youtube channel daily. When I started this challenge I knew that it would be difficult, not because I don’t have anything to share with you, but because I want to make sure that what I do share with you is enriching in some way.

It’s crazy how many thoughts go through your head throughout the day but often when you try to collect them or put them into words, they fall through your hands like water. I guess the purpose of this post is to admit that tonight, I don’t have the mental fortitude to put my deep musings into words. Often I find it exhausting enough dealing with my own internal monologue and to have to relive those one man scenes again tonight is proving difficult. I do however have some interesting posts in the works for the coming days such as ‘How looking back over your shoulder at boys is the most fun you can have with two eyes’ and ‘Why gay men are never content in their relationships’ so make sure you come back again tomorrow.

Thank you for your continued support and don’t forget to email, tweet or comment below with any topics or questions you would like to me cover.

Image by Julia Hetta

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MODERN GAY HEALTH: WHAT IS PREP?

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To PrEP or not to PrEP: Is Truvada really a sexual health game changer?

There’s a lot of discussion at the moment about the use of PrEP as a safe sex tactic for gay men. Writer David Mang explains what PrEP is and looks at whether or not it’s the right tactic for you.

While the horrors of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s are mercifully consigned to history, HIV remains a major health risk for all sexually active people, particularly gay and bisexual men. In 2014, around 2,800 LGBT men were diagnosed HIV positive in the UK – many of whom could potentially have avoided infection had they been using a PrEP drug such as Truvada.

What is PrEP?

PrEP stands for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and is a method of preventing HIV infection which has recently been made available for sale in some territories, including the USA. It involves taking an antiretroviral drug on a daily basis. At present, the leading drug on the market is Truvada, which has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection for people who are identified as ‘high risk’ by as much as 92%.

The easiest way to think about is is to remember that PrEP is the method, whereas Truvada is simply a brand name. When the patent on Truvada expires in a couple of years time, the market may well be flooded by equally effective alternatives, lowering the cost of the drug.

How does it work?

First of all, it’s vital to remember that PrEP is not a vaccine. When you take PrEP on a daily basis, it enters your bloodstream and can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading. However, of you fail to take PrEP consistently, it’s effectiveness weakens, and there may not be enough medication in your bloodstream to protect you.

Should I be using PrEP?

The reduction rate in HIV transmission from using PrEP is hugely significant. With the medication broadly considered to be safe and relatively low on harmful side effects, the evidence in favour of taking them is compelling – particularly if you frequently engage in high-risk sexual activities such as barebacking, anonymous sex or group sex, or if you’re an intravenous drug user. It could also be a major breakthrough for mixed HIV status couples. According to a study by HIV I-Base, around half of gay men in London would take oral PrEP drugs to reduce their risks of contracting HIV.

On the other hand, PrEP is not a silver bullet for sexual health. First, it is only effective if taken consistently, so don’t think of it as a gay version of the ‘morning after pill’. If you decide PrEP is for you, it’s critically important that you take the drug every day. It also provides no protection against other STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, anal warts and syphilis.

What are the potential side effects?

Some people who have taken Truvada have complained of mild side effects including loss of appetite, insomnia and an upset stomach. However, in most cases these issues have resolved after regularly taking the drug for a month or so. Beyond that, it appears to be a fairly comfortable and easy drug to take.

How do I get hold of PrEP?

A relative newcomer to the sexual health market, PrEP is not currently available on the NHS in the UK, and can only be accessed by participants in selected medical trials. However, in other countries such as the USA it has been brought to market, albeit at a high price point. Sexual health campaigners are calling for Truvada to be made available on the NHS, and it is hoped that before too long PrEP will become another powerful weapon in our sexual health arsenal.

For more information on PrEP click here 

Image by Bruce Weber for VMAN.

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