In 2002, I was interviewed by Dim Sum its first issue about my work with an AIDS organization. I am happy that, for DS’ transformation to go paperless, gay men’s health is still on its agenda, and I was invited to write about this topic.
However, I have to admit my fatigue of only talking about HIV.
Don’t get me wrong! I am still wholeheartedly concerned about HIV for its continuous record-breaking upsurge of infections among Hong Kong gay men, especially the younger generation. Yet, siloing our health merely into HIV only simplifies gay men’s lives. Indeed, this narrow focus does not help control the HIV situation- the infection rate has told us so!!
Gay men’s health has an array of aspects:
- HIV prevention: (Yes, can’t help not talk about it!!) There have been globally heated discussions about capitalizing on HIV medications for prevention, i.e. PrEP (PRe-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis). People who have not been infected with HIV can take HIV medications before or after exposure to any possible high risk sex in order to minimize the actual HIV infection. Hong Kong is very behind in its promotion of these methods. There may have been discussions among AIDS workers, but not with community members. Few gay men in Hong Kong know about these methods for their protection.
- Sexual health: Gay men have all the rights to enjoy sex!! We should feel no shame and pressure while exploring the sex we want and like. These days, chemsex has become more visible. Some gay men “stand firm” and will not take drugs for sex while others may be curious or struggle about the use, especially when they encounter someone hot or they like. Meanwhile, in light of the escalating anti-drug atmosphere in the mainstream, gay men who are into chemsex are usually being “demonized ”both outside and within the gay community. Eventually, chemsex further divides gay men among ourselves. On Grindr, you find binary profile intros: Yes or No CF (ChemFun).
- Mental health: A significant number of my friends have sought out professional help due to depression. A close friend even killed himself because of this mental illness. Research has shown that gay men are more susceptible to mental health issues. Depression and suicide may sound rather extreme, and rarely happen. Actually, the issues can appear in other forms: overreaction to body weight/shape, uncontrollable fear of social situations, and lasting sense of insecurity in relationships (all these sound more familiar, eh?). They cannot go away just by “thinking positive.”
- Social health: Networking apps like Grindr and Jack’d have allowed more chances, but not options, for gay men to network with each other. These networking apps have become so dominant that gay men are less exposing to diverse cultures. We box others or even ourselves by those profile items- age, height/weight, body type (slim, average, muscular), tribe (twink, jock, bear, daddy), sex roles (top, bottom, versatile)….. These items undoubtedly give us convenience to identify our potential mates within 9.9 seconds. Unfortunately, frustration could come along, especially if you are not high in the hierarchy of “the fittest”, i.e. not young, muscular and being a bottom. Those who are in the higher level would (sub)consciously have an attitude by explicitly stating “No fat, No sissy, No old, PLEASE!“
I have to declare that I am NOT sharing the above from a location where I have no struggle: I still worry about being infected with HIV; I am curious about chemsex from time to time; I have my mental ups and lows; I check out “hot” guys on apps……
I would just sometimes (while not cruising guys) think about, as a gay man, what more information I need to learn, whether or not my attitudes towards sex or other people are open-minded enough, whether or not there is only one single model or standard of thinking and living as a gay man, who the gay men among ourselves really enjoy being gay, and who the gay men among us are being oppressed (pissing me off most when the oppression comes from gay men ourselves!!)
Gay men’s health indeed diffuses into many aspects of our living. There will be more sharing soon here in Dim Sum (love to hear yours too!!)
The first one or two generation of Hong Kong AIDS worker for gay men started in 2000. Always being mindful of himself not becoming an “old fart” in the field, and keeps updating both his hard- and softwares in thinking. He lived overseas in the latest few years and returned in 2015 with an aspiration to promote a more progressive approach for gay men’s holistic health. Actively looking for allies who share the same vision for HEvolution (HEalth for him).