HIV, and its ugly progressive state A.I.D.S, need no introduction – least of all to the gay community. It tore through the gay and male population in the 80s and 90s, decimating the lives and livelihoods of Gay Men and MSMs (Men who have Sex with Men) across the globe.
These days HIV is treated (but never cured) by a daily cocktail of antiretroviral drugs which, if used effectively, can reduce the infection to entirely non-threatening and ‘un-detectable’ levels. Simply put, thanks to the aforementioned medications and a growing culture of testing regularly and consistent condom use, HIV is no-longer a death sentence.
Still, there can however be an unfortunate attitude that relegates HIV infection and AIDS to a ‘past event’ or even an ‘older persons disease’, with many younger gay men not paying enough attention to the dangers of unprotected sex and unwise lifestyle choices (such as the sharing of needles). ‘Krystal Kleer’ (alter ego Jasper), a professional Drag Queen from Sydney Australia, found out the hard way that the ‘queer youth’ of today are far from invincible when it comes to the scourge of HIV, so I sat down with her recently to have a chat about what it’s like to be a young and HIV positive man.
So tell me Krystal, first things first – when did you discover you were HIV positive?
“On the 15th of october 2014”
When do you think you contracted it? Can you walk me through how you were feeling in the weeks / months leading up to your official diagnosis?
“I can’t remember the date I contracted it, but I know who it was. I had recently still been sleeping with my ex-boyfriend at the time, but the last time we’d had sex was a while before I slept with he man who gave it to me. I’m a little cloudy about the earlier feelings, but as the weeks before my diagnosis progressed my body was falling apart (as it usually does when you first contract hiv). You become very viral, then it completely drops or plateaus. My gums were bleeding and I lost quite a lot of weight, also my skin was reacting badly to shaving my face, my legs, etc…”
Did it ever cross your mind that what was happening could possibly be HIV?
“Actually no. Gay men and women tend to look past small details and simple things, like, what the symptoms are for HIV, because they are a lot more subtle than the symptoms for other std’s (syphillis, herpes ect). We tend to only focus on the title and stigma of the disease and not actually what happens to your body when you are first infected (which is really not all that much after the initial bodily shock…it’s like a bad flu, or cold).”
You’ve mentioned there the stigma of the disease – what was your perception, or understanding of HIV before you were diagnosed?
But you managed to pull yourself together though? At least enough to start sorting out what to do next?
“After that the two of us went and grabbed some coffee. I said “I have to call Jeremy.” (my very recent ex boyfriend, who I was still very much in love with, at the time). We’d recently had a humongous falling out, but obviously I had to call and tell him. “You need to come to Marrickville, I need to talk to you…” and he responded with “why?”. I didn’t tell him, but I insisted, and I must have sounded serious enough because he came to Marrickville from work…but when I saw him, my world fell apart.
I had dreamed he would one day take me back, but it dawned on me (even in the early stages back then) that if I was HIV positive it would (most likely) never happen. I told him the whole story. He begged me to ‘give up the joke’. He said, over and over again, “That’s not funny. That’s NOT a funny joke…”. When it hit him I was serious, he started to cry, and gave me a huge hug. He paused for a second and then asked “What about me? I have to get tested…” It was probably not the response I wanted to hear, but it’s the exact response I would have given if the shoe was on the other foot. So, we went and got him tested at ACON (AIDS council of NSW), and believe me that was the longest 45 minute wait I have ever experienced (and I suspect for him as well), but, eventually he came out and said “all clear” and I collapsed and cried some more – surprise, surprise.
The only thing worse than catching the disease at that point would have been giving it to my best friend. After we had taken some time to process that, we went and visited my other best friend, who was bar tending at a local gay nightclub. So, we went and got a little bit drunk.”
This was part 1 of a 2 part interview I did with Krystal (some months apart).
To stay tuned for part 2, like Pocket of Clarity on Facebook
Krystal Kleer is a professional, performing Drag Queen operating out of Sydney CBD and suburbs. She can be booked for stage performances, club-nights, film and TV acting, hens-nights and bucks-nights by contacting her through private message HERE.
UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article ZOO MAGAZINE has officially shut-down due to “dwindling sales and accusations of sexism”
Perhaps some may read into the fact that I am writing another piece on ‘feminism’ that is highly critical and follows a ‘devil’s advocate’ perspective on the movement – so soon indeed after my last piece. I feel it somewhat absurd that I need to add a disclaimer to assure readers that I am not some aggressive anti-feminist; rather that I am someone who cares greatly about the movement. It is this love of the notion of gender equality that drives me to observe things from a more unforgiving standpoint. No movement is beyond constructive observation, nor beyond reproach – the feminist and gender equality movements are no exceptions to this rule. Take my views as you will, but needless to say if you consider my points moot due only to the colour of my skin (white) and my gender (male), then perhaps a two-sided approach to this nuanced discourse isn’t for you. I digress…
Take yourself back, if you can, to December 2014. Much to the dismay of gamers and free-speech proponents everywhere, the self-proclaimed Feminist Activist group ‘Collective Shout’ succeeded in having ‘Grand Theft Auto Five’, the fifth instalment in one of the world’s highest-selling and critically acclaimed video-game series, removed from a number of Australian retail and gaming outlets. It was preceded by a fierce and unrelenting campaign of complaints and boycotts that led to the decision(s). Collective Shout’s argument: That the game promoted violence against women and misogyny by allowing gamers, by their own accord, to commit acts of violence against digital female sprites with the press of a few buttons. It is fair to point out here that this is a reasonable complaint. Violence is unpleasant, and the trivialisation of domestic violence and misogyny is not something to be glossed over.
Having said that, the violence committed against female characters possible was, by comparison, a fairly minute aspect of GTA 5. In fact one could play the entire game without actually committing one of these ‘heinous acts’, as it was, by nature, a choice that COULD be made in the game – but one that was not a necessity. Surely there were far larger aspects of the game (essential and unchangeable aspects) that needed addressing. Indeed those that have plagued the GTA series from the beginning? What about the perpetuation of racial stereotypes across the board? The perpetuation of queer stereotypes? The missions and goals that required the murder and robbery of characters of varied genders? The glorification of criminal gangs and mobs inherent in the game? Whilst playing a far bigger role in GTA 5, Collective Shout addressed these sparingly, if at all. Still, GTA 5 was removed from shelves across Australia and ‘feminist’ activists celebrated a ‘win’ that never once actually addressed the culture of systemic violence that fuels the ‘attraction’ of these games. The game was still available elsewhere, and boy did people buy it.
Flash forward to this year, August 20th 2015, and Collective Shout are celebrating another ‘win’ in the name of their activism. ‘Zoo Magazine’, a weekly bikini / men’s lifestyle / trash magazine has been pulled from the shelves of Coles (of the “down, down” variety). Again, this campaign was prefaced by the same complaints, same boycotts, and same arguments. According to Collective Shout, Zoo Magazine encourages and glorifies sexism, which by virtue also encourages and glorifies something they deem as ‘rape culture’ (I’ve mentioned before I don’t like this terminology, but that’s for another day). As a result, buyers will have to go elsewhere for their poorly written ‘interviews’ and excess of (covered) breasts. Once more, I consider this complaint a reasonable one to level at the magazine industry, and I do not offer myself up as a defensive fan of Zoo Magazine: I think it’s crap. It’s pabulum. Its content holds zero appeal to me what-so-ever. It is however, appealing to a multitude of people – not just men, but women and people of other genders too. Whether that be for sexual, emotional or intellectual gratification is irrelevant. Why does the end result of Collective Shout’s campaign offer only an act of censorship, and not an appeal to reliable and objective discussion on the nature of these magazines? What makes magazines like ZOO so appealing? Are the attitudes expressed in ZOO reflective of broader social dialogue, or are they simply a less-than-serious indulgence of silly stereotypes and cheap thrill packaged for the masses? According to Collective Shout, these important questions that need to be discussed are irrelevant. They come, they restrict and they censor – and then they move on to the next issue of the day and nothing has been addressed in any comprehensive way.
For a better perspective on this issue, I had a chat to someone who has a professional and personal investment in all of these highlighted issues. Lucie Bee is an international porn-star, escort, nude model, avid gamer, feminist activist and writer – who covers many of these same issues in her blog.
JB: “Lucie, Do you consider the banning / censorship of pop-culture, games, magazines et cetera to be an effective way of combating sexism or misogyny in the public sphere?”
LB: “Short answer: No.
I think there’s a time and a place when it comes to censoring or banning something. Stuff that borders on hate speech, I can totally understand, but I don’t see Zoo magazine as encouraging hatred of women.
What irritates me is that often these sorts of things are seen as wins, but the problem doesn’t go away. Nor does the problem get explained. It’s just basically swept under the rug.
I’ll readily admit to finding some of the stuff that men’s mags publish a little troubling, their nomenclature could use a little adjustment at the best of times, but why aren’t we encouraging a climate whereby we change or improve these things, rather than just pretending they don’t exist?
Furthermore, a few of the examples that have been thrown around recently weren’t even from Australian Zoo, they were from the UK Magazine of the same name. Collective Shout I find are fairly selective when it comes to the way they present their arguments.
I also really hate how these magazines are being touted as ‘The Devil’ when it comes to their impact on women, when there’s a far more dangerous element of the print media out to get them and that’s the publications that are intended for women in the first place. People seem to think that removing ‘lads mags’ will improve the way men view women, when women’s magazines are still pushing the exact same stigma and gender stereotyping they always have. Want to damage a woman’s self-image? Leave her alone with a copy of Cosmo. I guarantee there’ll be a host of beauty concerns she didn’t know she was meant to have, products she didn’t realise she HAD to own and she’ll get a crash course in what men REALLY want, inside, outside and in the bedroom.
I don’t want my daughters growing up in a world where empowering women is left up to print media.
Nor do I want my sons growing up in a world where instead of a $4.95 magazine with swimsuit models inside, they’re going online and randomly googling far more graphic content they don’t understand, way too early because they’re at an age where they’re not necessarily ready to talk about it.
The natural response to that is of course that what’s contained in Zoo is no better, and frames the way they see women poorly, but I really don’t believe that either. We give young people far too little credit when it comes to what they’re taking in media wise. They’re not simply passive. Humour is not lost on them and the discussions they have with friends and the women in their lives will have an impact on them. They don’t necessarily blindly agree with all that they consume.
And I’m sorry, but anything, ANYTHING that encourages young men to READ – because Zoo magazine isn’t all pictures, regardless of what certain groups would have you believe – is important.”
Conclusively, Collective Shout’s campaigns are explicit failures. They achieve very little, if anything at all. Target didn’t ban GTA 5 out of moral condolence for the plight of women – they did it in an exasperated attempt to stop the tidal wave of aggressive and manipulative complaints levelled at them on a daily basis. Similarly, if anyone believes Coles’ actions were any different they are deluding themselves. Herein lays the problem. Nobody is smarter now for the absence of ZOO Magazine in one single Australian outlet. Nobody now sits in silent contemplation of the intricate and complex nature of gender politics, thinking “boy, my perspective has been wrong all this time, thanks Collective Shout; I’m going to stop my problematic approach to heteronormativity now!” Of course not. A few people here and there are slightly put out that they have to find somewhere else to buy a magazine that they enjoy – a magazine made and produced by men and women, and featuring depictions and photographs of scantily clad women who made themselves participants happily, willingly, and with absolute consent. I very much doubt Collective Shout, in the midst of their self-assured emotive hyperbole, even stopped to ask about whether their actions would impact upon the livelihoods of a few hundred writers, photographers and models who work collaboratively on ZOO.
In fact, this is my point. They do not care about engaging anybody who thinks outside of their insular echo-chamber of radical feminist ideologues. Not one iota. They do not care for the opinions, or feelings, or ideas or expressions of other human beings involved in this complex debate. What matters to all the ‘activists’ and ‘feminists’ at Collective Shout is their own personal indignation, that they be allowed to fulfil their monthly quota of personal vindication and outrage.
Where is the conversation? Where is the intelligent dialogue? There is none. What is being celebrated by Collective Shout this week is not a victory for women’s rights or against sexism, but a victory for censorship and the stifling of any and all perspective that does not explicitly match their own.
Is that feminism? I somehow doubt it.
Lucie Bee will rock your world, intellectually and otherwise.
For information on Collective Shout click here.
I don’t feel the necessity to politicize my feelings of empathy or my understanding of social justice. Deliberately labeling these ideas under any headline would be doing a disservice to the notion that ideas are not stagnant. They grow, they change, they adapt under the weight of new evidence and better understanding. It is disingenuous to suggest that any one person agreeing on a matter with any other person should immediately declare themselves this or that, and thus fall victim to the restrictions of political ideologies and the assumptions brought henceforth.
So why then are we engaging in the social shaming of those (especially women) who make the choice to explicitly distance themselves from the ‘feminist’ label? Surely it is counterproductive to chastise and demean those who are uncomfortable with boxing in their ideas and opinions solely for the comfort or benefit of other people? It is ludicrous, to say the least.
Media darling and celebrity favorite Mark ‘the best of three hulks’ Ruffalo recently went on a public rant, positively dripping with condescension, decrying those who choose not to self-identify as feminist as ideologically defunct morons who “don’t understand” feminism. The general leaning of his – let’s be kind and call it an ‘argument’- is that you can only be a rational, forward-thinking progressive who cares about the plight of women globally if you subscribe to his specific definition of progressive thinking (in this case something that must come under the heading of ‘feminism’).
Isn’t it okay to not want to explicitly define certain aspects of your identity? Of your ideas, your beliefs, your assumptions and your motivations? Sure, there is plenty that can be said for unifying under a common banner – but plenty to be said against it, which is precisely my point. If the average person asked me what I wanted (both nationally and globally) for the betterment of society and mankind as a whole, then my answer would come across as explicitly feminist – but that doesn’t mean my political identity is solely informed by, nor defined by, what others believe feminism to be.
There are recent events, ideological views and influential persons intrinsically linked to the word ‘feminism’ that I strongly believe do not represent my own personal views on gender equality. To me, it is not okay to symbolically crucify somebody for wearing a tacky t-shirt – here we had a man partly responsible for one of the greatest scientific events of all human history reduced to tears and fearing for his livelihood because the feelings of some self-identifying feminists were hurt. There was nothing there to suggest that he was engaged in any kind of oppressive, sexist behavior – and if ‘feminism’ can make sweeping assumptions on the character of a human being by the clothes he chooses to wear (please, please note the irony next time you discuss ‘slut shaming’), then I don’t want to be called a feminist.
The primary issue here is the application of ‘us versus them’ reductionism to every minor and major social issue involving women, and the propensity of some social-media heavy organisations to turn to hyperbole instead of reasoned arguments (Buzzfeed, Junkee, I’m looking at you guys). Not every person who disagrees with a feminist is an anti-feminist. Not every action taken by a feminist is necessarily in the best interest of gender equality as a concept. Not every man who believes that traditionally ‘male’ issues deserve a little more attention is a misogynist, woman-hating ‘Men’s Rights Activist’ (a whole other movement that deserves its own article at a later date). There is nuance here; there are variations on a theme that cry out to be recognised on and by their own singular merits. To apply a single namesake is to do them an injustice. It is counterproductive, I believe, to lump the broad notion of gender and sexual equality under a single banner and not expect there to be resistance.
I believe in freedom of education, of sexual expression, of self-identification and the right to wear the clothes one prefers without drawing the aggression of others. I believe that the current state of affairs in many industries that favour inconsistently higher paychecks for men over women is wrong – categorically. I despise the macho, sexually aggressive entitlement complex that seeps into every facet of social life in the western world, whether it be nightclubs, social media, dating applications or your average day on the street (this has come to be called ‘rape culture’ by some, a term I have issues with, but that’s irrelevant for now). I abhor the hypocrisy of the media in how it deals with the sexuality of women when compared with that of men. Above all things I believe in equality. In race. In sexual orientation. In gender. I am a champion of women’s rights. I always have been. My parents, my family and the strong female role models therein instilled this idea in my head from an early age – we are all equal, and we should strive for nothing less than absolute recognition of this fact. In all things, across our nation and beyond our borders.
I am an activist, a humanist, and an absolute believer in gender equality. I still don’t call myself a feminist though. Is that okay? I just don’t like the term.
If you think that fact immediately delegitimizes my perspective, then chances are you don’t really care about equality – nor an expansive and exploratory dialogue – just your own indignation.
It’s 1am on a Friday night. I’m somewhat tipsy. Okay, well, I’m a lot tipsy. So what? I’m dancing on the floor on the top level of the Stonewall Hotel, one of the most iconic LGBTI venues in Australia and my personal favourite. My friends dance with me in the oversized birdcage that sits near the entrance to the floor, we’re gyrating and jumping about in a fashion that would look (and feel) absurd to any sober participant or observer.
Sure enough, like clockwork, my overfull bladder cries out to me and I make a dash to the bathroom. Being afflicted with an unfortunately stubborn bout of ‘stage fright’ I step into a cubicle, shutting the door behind me. No lock. Oh well. It’s shut, should be fine, right? A good ten or so seconds into my – ahem – ‘stream’ a man steps in behind me, and before I can bark “taken!” he wraps his hands around my waist and tries to grab me. While I’m still pissing. Maybe this would be funny in a movie – a drunken college frat boy stumbles into a gay bar (the horror!) looking for a toilet and ends up molested by a drunk, horny queer with an attitude problem. Frat boy freaks out. Gay man gets sassy. Everybody laughs. End scene. This isn’t a movie though. This is a standard night out on Oxford Street, the heart of Sydney’s Gay and Queer clubbing scene, and it’s the third time I’ve been sexually assaulted. Tonight.
Call me Jay. I’m a white, 24 year old bisexual who, after two years of dating men and exploring my sexuality and freedom on Oxford Street, is still no closer to understanding it – or being truly comfortable with this culture’s occasional tendency to veer towards vanity, narcissism and aggressive sexuality.
The incident detailed above ended abruptly, with my ‘angry, dangerous straight guy’ persona taking over and me literally driving my assailant from the venue. I played it aggressively as I could. I wanted this guy to think if he ever came near me again I’d put his face through a wall, which I’m not so certain I wouldn’t have tried to do had he decided to continue his advances. I have the privilege of being just tall and wide enough (I’m a consistent weightlifter) to look like I’m far more menacing than I actually am, when I want to. It’s my go-to defence mechanism. The same defence mechanism I used when a different gentleman grabbed my rear on the same dancefloor without my permission not a half hour earlier. An hour before that I was also grabbed (and breathed on, for whatever reason) whilst waiting at the bar for service.
These incidences are not playful. They’re not an expression of free sexuality. They’re not just something inevitable on a night out in Sydney, or at least they shouldn’t be. They are sexual assault. It’s plain and simple. To grab, molest, touch or sexually intimidate any person, male or female, without their express consent is sexual assault, and it happens all the time on Oxford Street. All. The. Time.
I might be lucky to be built in a way that prevents me from ever being physically incapacitated in a random act of sexual violence, but that doesn’t mean I’m not affected greatly each and every time it happens. I have social anxiety. I have a severe panic disorder. I have self-esteem and confidence issues which are a sociological constant in my life. When somebody grabs me, from the front or behind without my permission, it hurts me. It makes me scared. It makes me feel powerless or defenceless. When I’m treated like the bad guy for reacting aggressively, or I’m told to ‘just relax’ because ‘it happens, forget it, get over it’, it makes things worse.
It is a culture explicitly ingrained into the Gay nightclub and party scene. It happens everywhere, to a lot of people, especially those like me who happen to stand out as something out of the ordinary or exotic (in relation to ‘the scene’, that is). Many drunk gay men seem to have an ownership complex over every ‘attractive’ person they see, combine that with a culture that consistently misappropriates ‘freedom of sexuality’ into excess and aggressive hedonism and you’ve got a losing combination that promotes sexual intimidation and violence as just another extension of queer nightclub culture. There’s a serious, endemic problem here folks.
Despite the obvious severity of incidences like this, I’ve come to expect it as readily as I expect to have a drink splashed on me by an unapologetic punter, or as I do to be hit on obtusely by someone forty years my senior. Women can be offenders too, though admittedly not as much, but it’s just as likely to make me feel seriously uncomfortable. What is it about drunk straight women who think they can just touch and prod a man because he’s gay? Or in my case, bisexual (but they don’t know that)? Why is it okay to run your hands all over a drag queen when she’s put so much effort into being seen, not molested. Is the prospect of sexual safety in a gay club really enough to make a woman throw all social queues to the wind and say “fuck it, I’m going to grab some queer butt, because they don’t mind!”?
I digress. It seems to me that the cause of all this is an excess of comfort and ‘accepting culture’ that skips on the social niceties in fear of coming across too demanding. After all, many, if not most members of the LGBTI community live in a semi-perpetual state of hiding on a social level. Hiding their sexuality, hiding their affectations or moods – it’s no wonder they tend to throw any and all caution and self-imposed restriction into the winds when they’re in the safety and freedom of their ‘own kind’. It must be empowering – but one cannot simply live or play in any environment where the safety and wellbeing of others is compromised for the sake of a perceived ‘freedom’. There are limits. It can’t just be all or nothing.
Surely, surely this cannot be anything other than a step in the wrong direction for the queer nightlife. It strikes me as wholly counterproductive to creating an accepting and inclusive culture for all members of the LGBTI community. Why allow it? Why persist in the ideologically disingenuous notion that sexual assault of LGBTI persons is morally reprehensible but it’s okay to grope somebody without permission? At what point do we ask ourselves “is this really an acceptable or ignorable aspect of our culture?”?
Let me finish with a hypothetical. I don’t imagine that this story will ring anything other than true for a lot of people. Imagine a boy. Newly 18, still in the closet to his family and most of his friends, who decides, for the first time in his life, to explore both gay culture and his sexuality in one fell swoop. He heads to Stonewall first with his one queer friend. He starts with a few cocktails, thinks about having a dance, shyly observe the attractive men shuffling around him. On his third trip to the bar, a large man, many years his senior leans in and slides his hands down the young boy’s pants. He wasn’t invited. He wasn’t given consent. He wasn’t even seen as he approached from the back. The boy turns, jumps back, and shouts his disapproval. He’s is promptly told to “chill out and stop being a prude”, and for the remainder of the night he is harassed and groped by the same stupid man. Maybe he reports his assailant to security and maybe they kick him out. It doesn’t matter. The damage is done. That boy’s first exposure to ‘gay culture’ was marred by a severely negative experience. He’s hurt, he’s upset – and it’s not a first-impression that will ever go away.
Now, a caveat.
I LOVE Oxford Street. I’m there maybe twice a week on average. I saw my first drag show there. I met my first boyfriend there, now my best friend and companion. To me it will always be a place to let loose and forget my troubles. I wouldn’t dream of ever trying to ‘unwind’ there, in the traditional sense at least. There’s too much going on and it’s far too vibrant a community to simply spectate. You must always be switched on, always involved. In the two years I’ve spent traversing the Gay scene I’ve met, and kissed, and danced with such interesting, beautiful and wondrous people. It is because of this love for Oxford Street that I come out (pun intended with zero regrets) with such a direct criticism – groping and sexualised touching without permission is sexual assault. This cannot be argued. It’s a fact. Ethically and legally it is wrong, and therefore is unbefitting a culture that can be so incredible, so powerful and so unifying in its best aspect. We all know the troubles faced by women in the hyper-masculine world of ‘straight clubbing’ – sexual assault and a culture of sexual aggression permeate ever layer of its existence. So why are we apathetic and complacent here?
It’s not that hard. Let’s cut it out.