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Life in the small town

If any of you have ever travelled to/lived in/been banished to (delete as appropriate) a small town in the Highlands you may know that they are, most definitely, not a gay Mecca. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I live; it’s a beautiful part of the world, but sadly it’s an area of the world that gay forgot. One furtive look on Grindr firmly crushes any doubts you may have had about that statement. This is, for me, life.

I know what you’re thinking: “Grindr in your first paragraph – really?” Well, that’s dating at the moment. And I assure you I use the term “dating” very loosely. Is it possibly to have a first date in a chat room? And does that mean when you pop round and “do-the-deed” it was technically on your second date therefore you are not, in any way, a total tramp? Yes, you say? Good. Because that is how it’s going at the moment. 

Only last week I decided to open that little, yellow demon and see what new hell I could unleash upon myself when I was surprised to find a man who was both interesting and entertaining. Not a combination that comes around too often up here. I ended up chatting with him for a good hour or so only to find myself in the next hour on my back in his bed with my legs akimbo. Once again ladies and gentlemen, I give you dating in the Highlands (according to me).

Let me be clear, I’ve not always been terrible at this because I’ve not always lived in homosexual solitary confinement. I’ve moved to deepest, darkest Scotland from Glasgow where I was a very small fish in a pretty big pond. I had good boyfriends; I had bad boyfriends; I had brilliant dates; I had atrocious dates; I was able to decide to go out to a bar or club where I knew 99.9% of the people inside were of the homosexual persuasion. I met guys, bought drinks for nice guys, went to dinner with even nicer guys, and I’m sure you can see where that would lead to.

Now that I’ve left that big pond however, I’m a whale in a bathtub. I can no longer look at the man on the meat counter in Tesco because I know what his penis looks like from the all-too-graphic photo he sent me; and meeting a certain family friend is a cringe-worthy affair now that I know he has bisexual tendencies and wanted me to “taste his love”. 

I can say, with 100% certainty, I miss that feeling at the end of a great date when you’re just about to part ways and you have butterflies because you don’t know how to end it: a handshake, a hug, a peck or a full on kiss. Just now the only butterflies I get are when I’m worried something phallic is going to appear when I open a message on Grindr (other “dating apps” are available). 

So I’ve decided to get back on that dating horse again, but for that to happen this bathtub needs to become an ocean. Believe me, I am working on it, but any help would be greatly appreciated. I promise.

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Healthy doesn’t just mean fit…

As a gay man, keeping healthy doesn’t just mean cutting down fat in our diet and getting more exercise. It also means taking care of our sexual health. I know it’s easy enough to do; you just have to wear a condom. Simple. But, that’s clearly not the case given the number of gay men still being diagnosed with HIV. This isn’t meant to be some sort of crusade, far from it. I’d say 70% of the time I’ve not used protection without a second thought for my own safety (or my partners). It’s just easier to go bareback, or it feels better, or it doesn’t make the top feel good, or a whole host of other reasons that are frequently used.

I’ve always been the sort of person who gets tested every six months just to be on the safe side which was an easy task when I lived in Glasgow. It’s the biggest city in Scotland and it has more than enough clinics which made getting tested as easy as popping to Tesco for a carton of milk. Now, that is most certainly not the case; it takes planning if I want to get tested in the Highlands. That’s because there isn’t a clinic on my doorstep anymore. In my case, I don’t have it too bad because I only have to travel thirty minutes north or south and I have arrived at a clinic. There are some parts of the Highlands though where you have to make a two hour round trip just to spend fifteen minutes getting pricked and prodded. 

Unfortunately there are only seven (that I can find) sexual health clinics in the Highlands. That’s seven clinics to take care of 211,000 people over an area of more than 11,000 square miles. It’s a terrible reason, but I can understand why some people are reluctant to get tested. If it doesn’t fit in with something they already have planned some people lose a good chunk of their day getting tested. 

It’s not even like people are able to go to their GP either; or at least you can’t go to my GP. I had an appointment for a completely unrelated issue which took about 3-5 minutes to diagnose and since we were so fast I decided to ask if we could take some blood so that they could send it off for an HIV test. The response I got? “We don’t do that here.” I know that doctors are under a lot of stress with their jobs, but surely if somebody wants to know their status that would be something they would happily oblige with. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the case though. I simply booked an appointment at a clinic in my closest city and got tested there; but what about the person that gets this response from the doctor then does nothing about it afterwards? I fail to see how going through life not knowing your status and putting yourself, and others, in danger because of a lack of services to help is better than creating these services in the first place.

So I have decided to start my PrEP journey after being reckless one too many times. So far, aside from the copious amounts of blood and urine I’ve had to give, everything has been pretty plain sailing. I have been lucky enough to not have any side-effects of the medication ( Emtricitabine/Tenofovir Disoproxil, if you’re wondering) and all seems to be going well. I have another check up in a couple of weeks to make sure there are no issues with kidneys and what not so I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that too.

The takeaway here, get tested regularly and be safe, guys.

Happy sexing!

It’s good to talk…

I’ve been staring at a blank screen for the last two days trying to think of something entertaining, witty or uplifting to write about, but the truth is nothing has happened to me that fits into any of those categories for the last couple of months. Instead I’ve been feeling lonely, unhappy, angry and restless. I know it’s not the nicest thing to talk about, but depression is a part of so many peoples lives, but it is rarely spoken about. Apparently the LGBT community are two to three times more likely to suffer from depression compared to heterosexual people and while some of the underlying issues I had stemmed from my sexuality, it’s now coincidental rather than a reason for my depression. 

I was first diagnosed with depression when I was at university and it almost cost me my closest friendship; not because I was depressed, but because when I am I can be angry and hostile towards people without them doing anything to deserve it. It was brought on by the stress of studying and other issues I thought I had dealt with, but instead I had just buried them deep enough away that I could forget about them long enough to keep functioning. I’m not going to lie to you – this is not the way to deal with your problems. It took me leaving university for about a month, coming back home and getting help from a doctor for me to learn how to cope with everything that was going on in my head; and that helped a lot. Sadly, it’s something that has stuck with me throughout my adult life though.

Generally I am a happy, upbeat person and what can be frustrating is that people don’t realise that depression doesn’t mean you are sad and crying all the time (or not for me anyway). I can put on a front and still function, but inside I feel like if I have to speak to someone I will either break down or scream at them until they leave; this is what I have been struggling with for the past two months. 

I work in tourism just now, but on a zero-hour contract so money can get tight, you struggle to pay bills, your debt gets bigger, you stress more, you have to rely on other people to help which stresses you even more and it’s a horrendous cycle that doesn’t’ help to improve your mental state. What I end up doing is regressing to my teenage years and spend hours alone in my room doing nothing because it’s easier than being around people and trying to pretend everything is fine. 

It’s at times like this that I really miss living in the city. Yes, at times you could be surrounded by thousands of people and still feel like it was the loneliest place in the world, but there was always somebody there that was happy (or willing) to just listen to your ramblings. That was much easier when we all lived 10-15 minutes away from each other. Now there are hundreds of miles between us which makes it slightly more difficult. I am just back from a weekend in Glasgow now and it just reminded me how important it is to talk to people to improve your mindset and help you to remember that you have value (even if others cannot see it) and to refocus your priorities because the little things don’t matter so just let them wash over and focus on what is really important to you.

Growing up in the small town…

If there’s one thing that reminds me how backwards the Highlands are when it comes to the LGBT community it’s a trip to London. I was down earlier in the month catching up with friends and seeing a few shows and I am always surprised at how open everyone is. Don’t get me wrong, people don’t make eye contact with you and they walk everywhere at 800 mph, but I can so easily be myself when I’m in London. 

All of that said, you can  be yourself here, it’s just that you are not going to be accepted for it as freely as you are in London. Is it not one of the main reasons most of us vehemently deny being gay when we are young? I was the total stereotype when I was in school; I hung around with all the girls, I was a dancer and I was a singer who predominantly sung musical theatre numbers. Nothing says, “I’m not gay” more than a pair of jazz hands at the end of I Am What I Am. But saying that, I am still all of those things, I have just accepted who I am now which isn’t just half the battle – it’s the whole battle. 

Most of my teenage life was spent being berated by “macho” guys at school who would happily sling derogatory terms at me from a distance, but never seemed to be willing to say anything directly to me. I was lucky, I suppose, that I never endured any physical violence, but the psychological side can be just as bad when you’re young and impressionable. Getting out of that environment was the best thing to happen to me because when I left for university I was finally given the opportunity to be myself. If people accepted me that was great; if not it was their loss. What an epiphany that was, let me tell you.

Back to London though. On the first night I was there we met a few of my friends colleagues and went to Rupert Street for a couple of drinks. I, with my tiny,little Highland brain, told my friend to go to the bar with her boobs thrust out to get served then I would pay (always a sure fire way of getting quick service when you’re in Dingwall). It wasn’t until she looked at me like I was a complete idiot that I realised that 90% of the clientele were men and this was clearly a gay bar. Then we went outside with our drinks for my mind to be blown even more because we were not only in a gay bar, we were surrounded by gay bars. I don’t mean to paint myself in this ridiculously naive way because I am not at all, I am just always amazed at the choice that is on offer to the LGBT community there.

VARIOUS, LONDON, BRITAINI know it’s petulant, but it’s so unfair. There’s an entire district devoted to the LGBT community there and we are stuck with a gay night one Sunday a month (who can go out on a Sunday?) in a dive of a bar about half an hour from home. I know 30 minutes isn’t much, but with public transport here being what it is on a Sunday, that may as well be the other end of the country. 

I honestly feel sorry for the LGBT kids growing up here because there is nowhere for them to be themselves without the fear of a group of small-minded people attacking them – mentally or physical – just because they happen to have a different sexuality. I hope that changes but, sadly, I can’t say I see it happening soon.