Unsound

Out of work
divorced
usually pissed,
he aimed low in life
and missed

Roger McGough, ‘Missed’

Woke up full of cold and with depression still fogging up my mind. Sweaty, twisted night’s sleep, although pleasant dreams – they have been, recently, strangely. Mum and Dad on their way to NZ, me alone in the house I grew up in. Feeling like I’ve gone backwards, and stopped.

I looked up philosophy books on Amazon, not sure why, put a few on the wishlist. And so fell back into Leeds and I guess part of the person I was in Leeds.

I was a lot thinner, then. Well, a bit thinner.

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Naked in front of the mirror

I’d been meaning to write a post about new year’s resolutions, because that’s the kind of thing people do. I was going to write about how you shouldn’t make a new year’s resolution to go to the gym, because that’s the kind of resolution people make and it’s a daft resolution to make. Don’t start at the gym in January, no one enjoys going to the gym in January.

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Eyes begin to linger

Like I say, I’m maybe a teensy bit hypo at the moment. While that can be fun and dances, it can also make me a petulant cock. So while most gay men would skip eagerly to any event named ‘Naked Boys Reading‘, the grumpy bouncer on the door led to a grumpy me entering the venue.

Grumpy me doesn’t like crowds, grumpy me doesn’t really like people. Grumpy me is more than a little self-entitled and sulky and there were too many people, the music was too loud, the bar was too crammed and, and just ugh. Ugh. Why did I bother?

Fortunately I have a decent amount of self awareness these days and knew grumpy me was just grumpy because of a mild fog of hypomania. I decided to stay. Besides, I’d paid seven quid and I’m skint, may as well get my money’s worth.

Grumpy guy. Beards and pretention in Shoreditch, how fucking gay can you get; naked boys reading.


 

I’d actually been really looking forward to it. The fact I’m leaving London soon has given me the impetus to do those things I’d always meant to do, and going to this was one of those things. I’d put a few call outs on twitter and Facebook to see if anyone fancied coming, everyone was busy, no one took the bait. Fuck it, I thought. I’m going anyway. He bad can a night called Naked Boys Reading be? I could only fail to be pleased if they were reading the phone book. Or had taken an imaginative interpretation of the word ‘naked’. Everyone’s naked under their clothes after all but I think we can all agree that’s cheating.

Don’t worry, it was awesome.

The self confessed crap drag queen dragged me out of my funk. She was helped by the crowd, who came across as warm and playful. I soon found myself grinning, then laughing, and cheering along.

The guys who came on were all shapes and sizes. Being prepared to stand naked in front of a load of gay guys, a notoriously judgy demographic, takes a tonne of guts. To stand starkers for an extended period, reading literature is… well, let’s not bother with delicacies; it’s gloriously batty. The concept alone is laughably absurd. The knowledge that gay men (and a few women) would horde to such an event laughably predictable. That anyone would turn up to get their kit off and read is a glorious, wonderful expression of the heights of cultured absurdity to which gay society is reaching. It’s right up there with foxes wearing lanyards.

Of course a guy comes on waving his wang around and you gawp at the wang (well, I do). Then you examine the body, everything you’re not meant to do in the changing rooms. But changing rooms are always filled with the young and the beautiful. Fuck the young and the beautiful.

Your eyes keep flicking to the face, obviously; everyone’s addicted to watching faces, and when we can gawp we gawp. We gawped, classy with affected disinterest and closed lips, but we gawped. Still, stories drag you in. There’s nothing people love more than stories. Eyes begin to linger, enchanted, on the face, on the eyes, telling the story. Stories ranging from dark to comic, to sexual (obviously). Eyes begin to linger on the stories.

So the nakedness fell away, became irrelevant. Yeah, we were at naked boys reading so we could gawp respectfully, warmly, at naked boys. I mean why not? But eventually the nakedness became a side show, an addition to the act. Naked Boys Reading became readings by naked boys. Everyone laughed, everyone cheered, everyone clapped and listened and smiled. It was great. A great reminder we’re all naked under our clothes.


 

Yes, obviously I’m going to do a reading at some point.

How bad can it actually get

Doncaster has had a fair few gay bars in its time. There was, originally, the Vine (now demolished), which was brilliantly old school with a normal-pub front room and a back room adorned with porn and rainbows, windows blackened. I went in there once, early 20’s drunk, and sat at the bar drinking pints while people played darts. Fantastic.

There was the Prince of Wales, which had a brief, violent life. I don’t think I ever saw the place without boarded up windows. Remember the headline in the Star in 2000 – ANGER AT NEW GAY BAR.

Ah, the good old days.

Most recently, the naively-named Crystals. By now it will have closed down. Crystals used to fascinate me, and I don’t think it was me being a wanker metropolitan gay. The place was big – I remember it from it’s pre-gay days, a bleary eyed 17 year old following his girlfriend to an awful ‘Battle of the Bands’ thing, featuring loppy haired 16 year olds. It had a huge bar area, raised dancefloor, outside yard. And I don’t know if it always seemed empty because is was so big, or if it really was always empty.

I went to the Christmas special there once, two quid entry and free buffet. You know those buffets that are all cheap food and cheap carbs and sugar and fatty reformed warm meats?

It was far worse than that.

Anyway. I used go out of habit, not because it was so good, but because it was so shite. I mean it was only twice a year or so, not counting Pride – I wasn’t trekking up from London just to sample the Donny nightlife. But every time I went, I thought ‘this is awful, this is the pits. It can’t possibly get any worse than this’.

And so every time I returned to Doncaster, I’d go, thinking it had to at least be better than last time.

It never was. It was always worse. And I became fascinated. Entranced. Sat on my own, drinking bad lager and smelling the stale carpet, staring into the middle distance. How bad can it actually get?


 

I used to hate my nose. It’s effete, slipping up at the tip like a stereotyped French aristocrat, permanently upturned to the world. Now, however, I still hate my nose, but I also hate my hips and this fat on my belly and the horrible moobs than droop unappetisingly from my chest and I know you all say you can’t see it but it’s there. I hate my arse and the fact my biceps are shrinking from lack of gym and the dry skin on my cheeks. Flab padding out my frame, oozing into a muffin top. My body saggy, undesired and undesirable. Mottled, too skinny, too fat.

Being gay has taught me a lot. And one of the things it’s taught me is that my body is criminally undesirable. It’s no big deal, and objectively the vapidity of it all is funny; watching sometimes from the sidelines, at the boys prettier than you who no doubt still think they’re ugly, knowing that no matter how thin, how big, how ripped you get, you’ll never, never be happy. And I guess in a way, it’s all cool. All in the same boat, after all, me and you against the world.

Anyway.

Every now and then something erupts on the London scene which demonstrates not only how disgustingly / amazingly shallow it is, but also that there are unknown depths of shittery which your feeble mind was incapable of imagining until it burst forth, greasy and warm.

A few years back this came in the form of FitLadz, a scally-themed cruise night which advertised they’d be turning away ‘munters’. Leaving aside the fact that most people don’t go in for the dress code at these places and that those who do don trakkies and  caps tend to be well-to-do architects called Sebastian, saying you’re gonna turn away ugly people is pretty ugly.

Whether it was a marketing ploy or not, feather boas were ruffled and FitLadz soon backed down, removing the wording from the ads.

Today, word on the grapevine reaches me of a night to be held at the Hoist, one of London’s full time gay fetish clubs. It’s a ‘private party’ but it is being hosted by the club, so I feel somewhat (somewhat) justified in levelling a bit of invective their way; entry to the party isn’t determined by who you know, but by how you look.

Seriously. You send them a photo with a few stats and they determine if you’re eligible.

Now as I say, this is a private do but the Hoist, while they are known for various kink nights and a variably-enforced dress code, are not especially known for an upstairs function room available for parties or wedding receptions. They’re not even known for providing really, really shit buffets (insert comment about ‘putting on a good spread’ here). So there’s clearly more involvement than just a bored receptionist taking down a date in the back office.

Of course, this speaks to the narcissism of the gay scene, the impossible drive for impossible perfection, the desire for impossible bodies. I could write on and on and on about the way this environment impacts us – us as gay men, in our own lives, our own bodies and minds, far away from the scripted ideals. But that wasn’t what first struck me about this – that’s all old hat.

What first struck me was, ‘this is amazing!’. Just when you think the body fascism of the scene has found its nadir, another sink hole opens up and you find yourself tumbling helplessly into it, the only thing making it bearable the knowledge that everyone finds it as despicable as you. Except for the people who would go to a night like this.

Think about it: What kind of person would want to go to a night filled with the kind of people who would want to go to to a night like this?!

It’s fascinating. You have to admire them, and it really can’t be long until some corporate club comes up with the same wheeze. They probably have, somewhere outside the UK. It’s amazing, watching, chewing your protein bar and gazing down Compton Street.

How bad can it actually get?



 

Aside

I’d laugh all the way to the Eagle if I found out this venture was a flop for the Hoist, but the same can’t be said for Crystals. For all that it was abysmal, I would have given my left eye for a town centre gay pub when I was growing up alone in that town. I hear there’s possibly another one opening up further up the road, or a pub owned by a couple of gay guys which I suspect will at least put on a night. I really wish them the best of luck. It’s easy to mock from the bright lights of the big cities, but gay teenagers growing up in small towns deserve to know they’re not alone.

Bear Grylls

So this has been doing the rounds on Facebook:

Bear Grylls Survival Academy - Bottom 'til you pass out

 

As they say – challenge accepted…

So I dreamt about this last night...

And as Gabrielle so famously pointed out, dreams can come true

Pouncing on Bear Grylls, ripping his shirt, his jeans, his briefs. REMEMBER GABRIELLE, BEAR, I'd scream, frothing. WE CAN DO THIS!

DREAMS CAN COME TRUE, BEAR! LOOK AT ME, I FOUND YOU!  Him gibbering, pleading, "But my real name is Edward..."

No matter, Bear. Gabrielle has spoken. Gabrielle has spoken, and I've found you #BelieveInYourself

I don’t even know what Bear Grylls looks like, except for the photo on that sign. I suspect he’d actually piss me off for being a posh boy wanker pretending to be all rough and hard and only superficially appealing to one of my many sexual demographics, but possibly I think too much about these things, as evidenced by my use of the term ‘sexual demographics’. I mean what kind of tosser says that?

Also the dream wasn’t about actual sex. I mean, depending on how you define ‘sex’. But that’s a story for another time…

Gabrielle - Dreams Can Come True

Have a sense of style

Honestly I know this comes accros as an advertorial for DailyJocks but I swear it isn’t

*Having said that, if they want to send me some free underwear that’d be cool


He’s coming up the stairs and in a moment

He’ll want to see your underwear

-Pulp, ‘Underwear’

As I say, I’m terrible at the whole gay thing.

Seriously. There’s all this stuff you’re meant to do, like have a sense of style and an extensive facial care regime, and go shopping; God, you’re meant to do all this shopping! I’m absolutely terrible at it. You might say that I’m not even trying at all.

Dancing. I’m quite good at over the top dancing, as anyone who’s seen me on the dance floor will confirm.

Also I like cock, obviously.


So. Shopping. Underwear and shopping are two of those things which homosexuals are meant to do and which we’re meant to be good at, and I fail. I fall flat on my face. I’m far too Northern to be comfortable spending any more than £7 on a pack of three briefs from Debenhams. Ocassionally, rarely, I’d remember I was gay and buy a pair of Aussiebums (remember Aussiebums? When all the London gays wore Aussiebums? Yeah – even I wore Aussiebums, which is when you know you’ve reached market saturation). Anyway, I eventually lost most of my Aussiebums in various darkrooms, so I was left without even those for comfort. Or lift.

Thing is, I’m terrible at shopping, generally. I mean at uni I’d go months without eating properly, not necessarily because I was too skint (altho I was), but because I just didn’t like going to Morrisons. The only nice thing about Morrisons was the extensive cheese counter in Kirkstall, and seriously if you can’t lure me out with an extensive cheese counter then you’re gonna have no luck with fabrics, no matter how snug.

Also I spent all my loan on beer. Queens Court Pink Pounder was legendary.

Still. A man has to eat. And apparently a man should also wear underwear, most of the time. For comfort and lift.


Subscriptions. I honestly never notice my gym direct debit, or my Google music, or my Netflix. And so when I was introduced to subscription underwear, my life was transormed. Or at any rate my genitals became better supported.

Each month I give them money. Honestly I’ve no real idea how much it is, if I did then the Yorkshireman in me would be mortified, but screw him. Screw him and his bad underwear choices. Apparently with the money I pay and items that I get, it’s a good deal. I don’t care. I HAVE NICE PANTS!

Every month I get a new pair landing on the doormat. They choose, they send, no hassle, all done. It’s been happening over half a year now which means I’ve got to the stage when I sometimes forget it’s happening and I get SURPRISING NICE PANTS, which is the second best way to get nice pants.

Finally I get to feel like a proper gay after all. At least, I do when I’m only wearing underwear.

Your choice

This is also available at BeyondPositive

I was born in 1981.
I’m now 33.
A lot has changed in those 33 years.

So I’m taking these at the moment.
PEP medication
For all the Matrix like excitement of taking a red pill and a blue pill, they’re actually fairly boring. Tales abound about how you’ll be laid out for weeks with symptoms akin to a persistent norovirus, or flu, or foul food poisoning. Alas, for me at least, they’re not even that exciting.

I get a bit nauseous the first few days. Then again, they give you anti-nausea pills, too. So I’m sorted.

I’m told they’re very powerful drugs but then, they tell me the mood stabilisers and antidepressants are also very powerful drugs. Frankly, unless I’m tripping balls within half an hour of swallowing them I have difficulty believing that claim.

They do clever and intricate things to do with DNA replication and integration. For all their apparent innocence, they are both absolute, undisputed marvels of 20th and 21st century biology, biotechnology, pharmacology and medical research.

They’re anti HIV pills.

I don’t even think I have HIV.


PEP, for those of you who don’t know, stands for Post Exposure Prophylaxis. They’re handed out after suspected HIV exposure and consist of standard anti HIV medication – the exact drugs vary depending on what other medication you’re taking and any pre-existing conditions. The idea is to slam the virus down before it takes hold, before it inserts itself into your own DNA and becomes a permanent resident within your immune system.

Treatments for HIV these days are, like I say, a marvel of modern medical research. HIV first came to attention around the time I was born; now, in my thirties, an individual living with HIV can generally expect a normal lifespan. There are exceptions, and there is variability in response; but from talking to most (heterosexual) people, the impression I get is that their perception of HIV is over fifteen years out of date. For many in the UK the tombstone adverts of the ’80s still loom large in their minds. Most, let’s be fair, never think of it at all.

HIV never went away. It just became old news, and old news is no news. But in the gay community, such as it is, it remains; a permanent resident. For gay men in London, if you’ve had unprotected sex with anyone at all whose status you’re unaware of, then you’re usually offered PEP. You’re presumed to have been exposed.


Sexual health counsellors are amazing.

OK, I only saw one, the one time, but she was amazing. Half her hair cropped tight, the other half waved wild, streaked green; torn jeans and flannel shirt and big, big boots.

She laughed lots.

“It’s your choice. You’re a smart guy; you know exactly the risks you’re taking. Even when you go out, get pissed, get high, you know the risks you will take. You keep on like this, you probably will get HIV.

“Your call”

Ever since 2008, my libido’s been fucked. And really, honestly, I don’t know why any more. Maybe the psychiatric meds. Maybe the depression. Maybe my own neurosis about sex, built up during the episode and now difficult to tear down again; am I any good, will they be disappointed, will they think I’m too fat, too thin, too boring, too kinky? Rejection hurts, it’s easier to say no. Or ensure no one ever even asks.

Unless I’m wasted.

When you’re wasted, everything’s easy, except thinking and talking and life. But pleasure, but desire, but lust… these things are easy. And when you’re wasted, who cares about the rest?

Fucking is easy when you’re wasted.

Lust is fierce when you’re wasted.

Who wants to use condoms, when you’re wasted?

I only have sex when I’m wasted.


Amongst gay men, there’s a degree of prejudice around barebacking (sex without a condom). To a degree, this is understandable; the safer sex message was naturally targeted intensely at our community, and of course there are those who remember the decimation of the ’80s. For a long while, the message was condoms or not at all. This prejudice is unfortunate, because gay guys – an increasing number of gay guys – bareback. We do it for many, often complex reasons. Often it’s just the one time; we’re drunk, we’re high. We always use condoms but we might slip up. Or maybe we’re with a partner and we both last tested negative. Or maybe we only fuck when high or otherwise disinhibited, meaning we never, or rarely, use protection. Or maybe, maybe just fuck it, because sex without condoms just feels better, and we’re fucking horny, and it’s fucking horny, fucking like that, cumming like that.

Turning around to that vast, varied swathe and saying, “what’s wrong with condoms” – well we’ve been doing that for decades, and still we have HIV, inserted into our lives. It’s as absurd as telling people to ‘just say no’ to drugs. It’s tone deaf, idealistic to the point of idiocy, and presumes a perfect, predictable world. Sorry sugar – the world isn’t like that. People aren’t like that.

The messages of moral superiority, ‘just say no’, that barebacking is stupid, hurts. It hurts the individuals who do it, and it hurts the community it’s supposedly aimed at protecting. It results in the people who bareback  – for whatever reason – not talking about it, not understanding the options now available, picking up hearsay and horror stories about the medications available. It plays a part in fuelling anti HIV prejudice, which is still all to prevalent not only in the wider world but in our community. You’d think that we of all people would understand that this never solves anything; that communication is better than silence, understanding better than judgement.

Your call.

Shite

You put my feet

back on the ground

Did you know

you brought me home?

You are sweet and you are sound;

You save me

-Zero Seven, ‘Somersault

Doncaster’s shite.

It’s OK, I grew up there, so I’m allowed to say it. Doncaster’s shite, and it smells of pasties and fags. All the bars – all of them – play music too loud, so you’re screaming to make yourself heard. Not that is matters, because no one from Doncaster has anything worth saying.

It’s small.

I went to Doncaster Pride at the weekend (I know, right? Doncaster has a Pride!). The music was too loud and they spunked too soon by having strippers on as the first act. I grabbed a pint with Leo and we sat drinking, petting some guy’s puppies. Bloodhounds.

Walked around the stalls; The police missed a trick by not having any fit coppers doing outreach and the fire brigade was all women, so we didn’t dally. Sipped our pints.

Rainbows. Fucking rainbows! What is it with fucking rainbow tat?! How anyone makes a living like that is beyond me. We sipped our pints. The wind picked up, a chill; rivers of rainbow boas.


 

“Now, do you have something warm to wear” mum asks; finds a fleece. “Hardly the height of fashion, I know, but it’s only Doncaster!”

I stuff it into my new ‘Head’ rucksack, the one I bought to make me feel sporty and proper and new start new me.

“I know you cope perfectly well in London but while you’re up here I’m afraid you’ve got me to worry about you. Now is your money safe? And what time will you be back?”

“Probably not”, I grin “and late!”, bounce out the door with Leo, make our way.

“Do your best to have a good time!” she jokes. Doncaster’s shite, after all, and we’ve come all the way from London.

Laura runs fast from nowhere, hugs me tight, tight. Twenty year friendship, glowing, ignites. I smile daft.

“Too loud!” she shouts, we retreat inside. I grab another pint.

Leo -> Laura; Laura -> Leo. And the kids. The kids, crawling happy all over us.

Laura has kids! This still amazes me. You get older, without noticing.

Doncaster’s shite, but this space is nice, the new theatre and culture space is nice. It smells of coffee, and today it’s full of fags.

And you can’t help but laugh, playing games with kids, chasing and rolling and being pulled every way around. Spinning with them, them squealing with delight. Old friendship ignites, new flames. Doncaster’s shite, but you know, in some lights…

Time passes. I sip more pints. Walk with Laura, holding hands; I tell her what’s been on my mind recently. She holds me, tight; “Oh, Phil”, and she holds me and it’s warm as autumn light. Her kids, running through the whirling rainbow boas, chocolate smeared cheeks. Music too loud. Doncaster’s shite.

And we’re up from London, Leo and me. London’s great, after all. It smells of city dust and money; London’s great, you know this because all the Londoners say so, on TV and radio. All the buzz all these people all these minds I can feel them racing round, getting ahead, getting along in life. London smells of tarmac and traffic going nowhere – where else would you want to go?

The boys are pretty and they flex their pecs and their jeans hang from their arses, just so. The music’s better and the clubs are cooler and you can get high and fuck strangers and it’s so hot, so hot in those sweating gurning moments when you pour petrol down your throat to make your soul ignite. Blaze bright.

Doncaster smells of beer and chips and piss in doorways at night. Shouting fights, girls tottering along Silver Street, boys swagger. Ambulances, police – frightening, I guess. If you didn’t grow up there.

Off to Crystals – it’s shite. What did you expect? Music too loud, bar three deep. I gulp my pint, smoking rollies. Arm ’round Leo and next to Laura. Outside, smell of stale beer and stale fags. Cheap weed.

So of course London’s cooler, and Doncaster’s shite. It’s OK, I grew up there, I can say that.


 

I didn’t bother with London Pride. I mean I live there, so why would I do that? Got pissed on gin at my mate’s flat, watched ‘Bridget Jones’.

“Oh, Phil”, Laura says; hugs me tight.