Yes, that’s my bum on a carrier bag

For the second time in as many years, I am standing at the entrance of a fetish shop staring at myself. It’s not my reflection. The entrance has been covered with an image of me: life-size, naked and poking my tongue out. Seeing myself here was not unexpected, but still a surprise. I do a lot of modelling for artists, but not much commercial work, so I’m not accustomed to seeing myself frozen in large format in public spaces. I’m amused to find out that I’m also on the carrier bags.

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The image that graces the entrance to Gear London (now open!) was taken from a particularly fun, but somewhat risky, shoot on the London Underground. It was risky because Transport for London doesn’t like photographs being taken at the best of times. They are even less enthusiastic when the model is completely naked.

Neither the entrance nor the carrier bags have a full frontal image. My bum is on the carrier bag, and I’m holding a well-placed jacket in the entrance. Still, there I am, for the good folk of Shoreditch to see, with nothing more than a cheeky smile and some good lighting.

The texts have been trickling in since the store opened. For the most part, people have been delighted to see me. Which is flattering. Then I was amused to discover that some people were concerned. Did I know the picture was there? Did I give my permission? What if someone from work saw it? The enquiries were invariably well intentioned, but somehow left me a little nonplussed.

I’m often naked and I’m often paid for it. It’s a perk of having a healthy lifestyle and limited inhibition. I don’t broadcast that fact to everyone in my life because it’s not usually relevant. I also don’t bother to hide it because I don’t see any reason why I should. The implication from the concerned texts, that I’m doing something unscrupulous or unseemly, is at best misplaced, and at times outright hurtful.

For starters, if I were in the window of a fashion store, nobody would question the legitimacy. One would assume I had agreed to a photo shoot, been adequately paid for my time and efforts, and that I had given some kind of formal consent. The fact that Gear sells fetishwear shouldn’t render any of these assumptions less valid.

I am involved in sex the same way I am involved in science and the same way that I am involved in story telling. I use these aspects of my life to communicate and to express myself. They are not destructive. They are not exploitative. To be clear, exploitation can exist in sex-related industries (as in all industries) but it is a problem independent of the sexual nature of the work.

People who know me should know that the integrity of my work is important to me. I don’t allow my scientific output to be misrepresented or plagiarised. Similarly, I don’t allow my image (clothed or otherwise) to be used without my consent or in a way that promotes an agenda that I don’t support. The only difference is that anything I do that involves sex and sexuality is often undermined by a pervasive and condescending moral viewpoint.

Anyone with access to the Internet can learn pretty much all there is to know about me. I’m not one for secrets or confessions. The same month that my image appeared on the doors of a fetish boutique was the same month I submitted my thesis in cognitive neuroscience. I do more than one thing in my life.  I am proud of everything that I do.  I am only one person.

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Is it “remarkable” that there is now a way to avoid HIV and people are using it…?

The BBC reported a “remarkable drop in new HIV cases“. Which is great, but it’s only “remarkable” if you haven’t been paying attention.

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#notremarkable

Here’s what happened: A drug that prevents transmission of HIV became available. People at risk of HIV infection thought that was jolly good, and they asked to have some.

In some cases, they get it easily because their health care providers provide health care (to reiterate, the drug prevents the spread of HIV – it’s healthier than quinoa). They also realise that HIV is an expensive lifetime condition. Each person with HIV costs the health sector hundreds of thousands of dollars, pounds, bones, clams or whatever you call them. Seems like a no-brainer.

Some people have questioned why ‘the gays’ can’t just use condoms, practice abstinence, be monogamous and get married (wait, no!) These suggestions are, at best, naïve. Let’s be clear, the money gets spent on treating an infected person regardless of whether or not you think they’re a promiscuous disease-bag, so why not save that money for more healthcare, hm?

Well because in some places, health care providers are prevented from providing health care because of bizarre attitudes about sex and specifically homosexual sex that we’ve inherited from a time when churches were allowed to make the rules. The fact that these same health care providers are allowed to hand out contraceptive pills doesn’t appear to strike policy-makers as hypocritical. It is.

So people who are at risk have found a way around the system. They go on the Internet and order it from elsewhere. This is largely thanks to the heroic efforts of websites like ‘iwantprepnow’, who saw the need for trustworthy information and went about providing it. Equally heroic are the clinics that will monitor your health – free of charge – while you’re taking the drug they’re not allowed to give you.

In short, there’s a way to prevent infection, so people are using it, even if it’s slightly more difficult for some people to obtain than others. It turns out people like the idea of being able to have sex without the risk of contracting HIV. Who’d have guessed?

So it’s not remarkable. Essential services are being saved. Money is being saved. Lives are being saved. Now wouldn’t that be a nice thing for our health care policies to have achieved, rather than something achieved in spite of our health care policies?

HIV & World AIDS Day & you

Originally written 1st December, 2016 (World AIDS Day)

World AIDS Day is incredibly important. People who believe themselves to be forward-thinking and open-minded may be surprised that some of their opinions are at best hurtful, at worst dangerous. This could be you.

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These guys get it!

I don’t have HIV, but I’m not afraid to say that I very easily could have, given decisions I’ve made. I am and always have been very careful, but I’m not perfect.

It is sometimes said – more often believed – that people who contract HIV somehow deserve it. This is an illogical and unpleasant twisting of a simple truth, which is that we are all responsible for the decisions we make. Given the probability of infection, contracting HIV is almost always ‘unfortunate’ (if you disagree, I’d be happy to discuss statistics with you in a few months when I’ve finished my PhD). If you’ve ever participated in extreme sports, drunk so much that you’ve passed out, or even spent too long in the sun, then you have also participated in risky behaviour that could have had ‘unfortunate’ results. The only difference is a pervasive (and to my mind out-dated) attitude about sex.

If you feel that HIV is a fair punishment for behaviour that you consider ‘promiscuous’, ‘sleazy’ or ‘stupid’, then that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. Please at least consider that your opinion may be based on lessons that were handed down to you from a parent, a teacher or a church. If you have never questioned these lessons before, please take a moment to do so now…

The veneration of chastity and the condemnation of promiscuity are values we have inherited from medieval society. You may think they are values worth keeping. That’s fine. However, please remember that they are man-made conventions, not self-evident truths. Simply being in the majority does not make you right (or wrong). Personally I think it’s time to think a little differently.

I’ve taken the time to write this because the stigma associated with HIV is real and it prevents people from living the best lives they can. It clouds debates about which treatments and preventative methods should and shouldn’t be made available. It reveals hidden prejudices that should have been buried decades ago. It reminds us that we are far too quick to place lifestyle choices on a spectrum of good and evil – and if we haven’t learnt what dangers that brings by now, then we’re really in trouble.

World AIDS Day isn’t just to make you aware that AIDS exists. It’s asking you to be aware of and consider your own thoughts and feelings about AIDS and people living with HIV. You might be surprised what you learn.

 

Babies: optional

Reflecting on Ian McKellen’s recent comments about being too selfish to have children: Choosing not to RAISE a child that’s been born would be selfish…. choosing not to HAVE a child is neither selfish nor selfless. A not-yet-conceived baby doesn’t exist. You owe them nothing. You also do not owe the planet, the species, the nation, your religion or your family, despite what any of them may say. Young women, this is especially important for you to remember: don’t be bullied by people who say that one day you’ll change your mind. Plenty of people live full and happy lives without children. You do not owe the world a baby.