I am not alone

Ethan is in his forties and grew up in North America. He now works in a financial institution in Singapore, where he lives with his partner of over 20 years.

I’m in a boat, without any oars. The boat is on a river, headed for a waterfall. Maybe somebody will throw me a rope, holding me in place, and not let the boat sail down the river towards the waterfall.
My name is Ethan, and I am a sex addict.
I have been attending 12-step meetings for the past 17 years, as part of a structured programme to help me recover from my addiction. They help me stay sober, and prevent me from acting out sexually with another person who is not my partner. The more meetings I attend, the more support I get for my addiction, and the more ropes I will have in my hands to keep me from falling down the waterfall and losing control over myself.
My addiction is a disease. In many ways, it has been my higher power as well as my best friend. It’s what I could turn to when I feel like I can’t cope with my addiction. It also causes me a lot of pain. It’s unbearable when I see the pain it also causes for Brandon, my partner for more than 20 years, and the man I fell madly in love with when we first met. He’s a loving, caring and wonderful man, who gave me a lot of strength and support for the issues I was dealing with at that time. I knew then that I wanted to be with him, and was willing to do whatever it took to build a relationship with him. After all these years, he’s still my constant.
*     *     *
I’m actually not very open to talking to others about my addiction. Brandon sometimes wants to hear more about it than I’m even comfortable sharing with him. The support group meetings have a slogan, which goes something like this: “Bring the disease into the room, but take the recovery back to your home.” So for example, when I’m sharing with him, I don’t want him to know about the unpleasant triggers; instead I want to talk about how empowered and strengthened I feel, for example by talking to you right now. In a way, I feel I am in control of what I want to share. I don’t think it’s fair for me to expect him to listen objectively to what I have to say, without having an emotional reaction or attachment to the outcome.
*     *     *
People who feel that they are happy, in healthy relationships with themselves and their partners, and are not engaged in any form of harmful or destructive behaviours probably wouldn’t need to get help. But I think I am not alone. There must be others out there, especially other gay men, who would prefer not to cheat on their partners, or spend hours on the internet surfing pornography, looking for anonymous partners online, or have unsafe sex with strangers. They might make promises to themselves that they would not do it again, but they go ahead and do it anyway. I have been there and I’ve experienced that. I also know there is a different way of loving myself.
You know you need additional support for yourself when you begin to realise that your life is becoming unmanageable, and it is somehow related to some form of sexual activity. But you decide what is unmanageable. It could be feeling exhausted in the mornings because you had been up all night having online cybersex or surfing porn websites, and then not being able to function at work the next day as a result; or maybe it’s spending money that you can’t afford, on sex toys, escort and sexual massage services; or you find that you are cheating on your partner, and you feel guilty about it.
Just know that you are not alone.
*     *     *
The above passages are excerpts from Ethan’s full story, which can be read in the book.
Oogachaga will be organising a community talk on sex & love addiction on Saturday, 24 November 2012. Check out details on their website.

I never gave up (excerpt)

Kenny, 17 years old, identifies as a bisexual teen, and is comfortable in his relationships with men as well as women. He is a student at a local polytechnic.

Bapok. Gay boy. Paedophile. Fag. Go date that old man.
In school they called me all those things, and “faggot” was a second name that I chose to ignore most of the time.
I came out as a bisexual to my friends when I was in secondary three, because I realised I liked boys as well as girls. That’s when it all started.  Because of that, I was jested, made fun of, insulted, pushed around and bullied almost on a daily basis in school. It was difficult for me because not many people could understand what I was going through. I was mostly on my own as I couldn’t yet come out to my brother, and I hadn’t yet decided to tell my mum. There were times when I would shut people off and took time out to be by myself, walking around Singapore, exploring and having time alone. I was feeling so down and I just wanted to make myself happy.
“Fag” was used on me so often I think I got immune to it.  For me, things in secondary school were much worse compared to what it should have been. I went to an all-boys’ mission school. As much as people might believe that mission schools are mostly gay-populated, the boys in my school weren’t very receptive of me.
For example, there was this classmate who thought I was hitting on him when I was just trying to be a friend. This was after I had come out to some people in school. After that he went onto Friendster and posted different bulletins describing how I would pay young boys to give me blow jobs, and how I would go into lifts and bedrooms with dirty old men and have sex with them. He even sent them out to his friends and got them to tag each other.
*    *     *
I often felt left out and ostracised. Out of a whole year in school, I was usually depressed for 363 days. Obviously, there were further cases of bullying.
There was this boy in school who was notorious for doing this and that with different boys in the toilets. He would sometimes come up to me and caress me in the middle of the school canteen. I told him to get lost and not to touch or even come near me ever again. It wasn’t genuine pity or sympathy he was displaying. Even if it was, I didn’t need it. I knew he was only trying to take advantage of me.
I also felt indignant. Another boy once tried to humiliate me in front of the whole level, while everyone was changing classrooms for Mother Tongue lesson. He called out to me,
“You gay right? You bi right? Come lah, I let you see my dick.”
I was really angry.
“If you dare to show me, I will dare to see.”
When nothing happened, I repeated my challenge.
“If you dare to show me, I will dare to see! Take it out! Didn’t you say you wanted me to see? Yes I’m bisexual, I dare to see. Not like I haven’t seen it before. Show me!”
Everyone was watching, including the teachers.  No one moved. They just stood and watched. He had nothing to say in response, so I added,
“Why, too small is it? Afraid I’ve never it seen before? I’m sorry, I’m not very interested in a schoolboy’s dick!”
Not only was I bullied, I was also molested. One of the other boys thought that he would have some fun with me by grabbing the front of my pants during break time, in front of lots of other students. When it happened I wasn’t shocked. I was repulsed and thought what he did was very childish.
*     *     *
Talking about all this anonymously allows me to share my side of the story without hearing judgements. When someone picks up a book and reads an anonymous story, they wouldn’t judge that person or think he did it for fame. They would just read it and understand what it is all about, that it is actually not easy being gay. Especially in Singapore, as I see discrimination everywhere.
I just want to share my story, as we all have our own stories. This was how I dealt with it. It doesn’t mean you have to give up. See what other ways there are to get around it.  Maybe there is another way to make it more bearable.
I just hope that anyone who is gay and facing life’s problems right now won’t give up, because I never gave up.
*     *     *
The above are excerpts from Kenny’s full story, which can be read in the book.

My hopes and dreams

Lester is 21 years old, and a student at a local university. He lives in an HDB flat with his parents and sister, and is HIV-positive.

I must have been around 18 years old when I got infected with HIV. For some reason, it didn’t occur to me that there was a link between HIV and sex between men. As far as I knew, the media had only portrayed the link between HIV and heterosexual sex, the kind of sex men have with women. I didn’t know I could get HIV through gay sex.
I decided to go for an anonymous HIV test when someone suggested it to me while chatting online. He went with me, and it was an absolutely terrifying experience. I was afraid of being there, and hated the intense atmosphere. I also remember how everyone and everything there was very quiet. When I went back into the room for the counsellor to give me the result, he casually said that it was bad news – that I was HIV -positive. I understood what he said, but I thought he was just kidding. So I waited for him to tell me that it was a joke. He didn’t.
That’s when I started to feel really lost and confused, and very alone. It took me another half a year before I decided to go for a follow-up test at a hospital. What took me so long? I don’t know. Perhaps I was just avoiding the issue, and hoping it would go away. But it stayed somewhere at the back of my mind while I went on living my normal life.
Suicide crossed my mind again when I was 19 years old, and feeling lost and hopeless after losing a boyfriend. I wanted him to want me, so I threatened to end my life. I thought that perhaps it would trigger him to want me back, but it didn’t work. By then I had already decided that I wanted to escape from reality and from my less than perfect life.
I never wanted things to turn out like it did. I didn’t want my parents to know. I didn’t want to be HIV -positive, and I certainly didn’t want the life that I was leading.
*     *     *
Yes, I felt very hurt and betrayed by the guy who infected me with HIV.  He decided to cut me out of his life when I called to inform him that I was positive. But I also decided I wasn’t angry with him at all. Someone else I met suggested a doctor whom I could see at the Communicable Disease Centre for a follow-up appointment to my HIV -test. I went alone, and was so afraid that I would be judged by the staff there. Thankfully the nurses were friendly, and the doctor was helpful. Because I was under 21 years old, I also had to get the medical social worker’s help with my bill, and they allowed me to continue as a subsidised patient. And so my life continued with school and routine check-ups.
*     *     *
I recall having sessions with my social worker, where she would insist that I had to tell my mum. I agreed with her that my mum was indeed very worried, but I also knew that it wasn’t going to be an easy thing for me to do, to tell my own mother that I was HIV-positive. I felt I needed time to tell her only when we were both ready.
I had to tell her eventually of course. We had been out one day, and were on our way home when I decided to tell her. I thought she handled it pretty  well; she didn’t even cry in front of me. I felt really horrible about having to do that. I really love my mother, and didn’t want to hurt her. But I knew that having to tell her I am gay and HIV-positive really hurt her a lot. Both times it felt like I had no choice. Between the two, coming out as gay was easier. Coming out as HIV-positive was a lot harder. I knew it was going to hurt her  even more, and I was right. It did.
It’s just as hard telling my friends that I’m positive, because although some of them know I’m gay, none of them knows anyone else who is HIV-positive. When someone doesn’t know anyone who is HIV -positive, they are less likely to have adequate information about HIV / AIDS. So I found myself having to educate them, explaining that it’s safe to hang out with me, that HIV can’t be transmitted through saliva or mosquitoes, and answering all the other strange questions they had. I’ve only told two of my close friends so far, and had to explain things twice, which wasn’t that bad.
I am slowly beginning to deal with my life as it is now. The difficult thing about being HIV-positive is the problems I face with relationships and sex.  I feel this deep sense of responsibility about having to tell all my dates and partners about my HIV-status. Whenever I meet someone I really like, I would worry about how I am supposed to tell him, and hope that he would still stay with me and accept me for who I am, and let the relationship develop from that.
I also worry about medication, when to start, and how much it will cost me in the future. The regular check-ups at the CDC can also be tiring, mainly because of the travelling and waiting time. Being in a support group has helped me in some way, as it has given me a chance to meet other HIV-positive people, and learn about certain medications and ways they have coped with this illness. My hopes include having a male partner and getting a house together after I graduate from university. Perhaps we would like to get married, have children and be by each other’s side. Above that, my dream is also to be successful in my professional career, to be able to support my family and give my parents the quality of life they should have.
*     *     *
It may sound like another dream of mine, but maybe our world would be much better if everyone was accepted regardless of our sexual orientation or HIV-status. I’d like to see the stigma against HIV-positive people removed. It’s really not wrong to be gay or HIV-positive.
*     *     *
The above are excerpts from Lester’s full story, which can be read in the book.