Monthly Archive: August 2015

Development of Gay Identity; Growing up Gay

The challenges gay men face, from young boys to gay men

The challenges gay men face, from young boys to gay men, and how it impacts their life

Everyone has different childhood experiences and upbringings. It’s what makes each person unique and different, and helps to sculpt their morals, ethics, beliefs, personalities, and more. However, many gay men often learn that their childhood has commonalities with other gay men. Understanding the challenges gay men face, from young boys through to gay men, can impact the rest of their lives.

It’s around the age of 5-10 years old that boys discover they are not like other boys. They do not understand how they are different, but they do know things are not the same. The reaction to this awareness is to try to fit it with the other boys, trying hard not to be the centre of attention. They will try hard to let people look at them too closely and discover their differences.

The emotional reaction includes fear, isolation, and confusion. Self-esteem starts to take its first big hit. They begin to self-monitor, checking if their behaviour is similar to other boys. This hyper self-monitoring leads to a loss of being able to feel comfortable and spontaneous. It’s a dangerous path, where the child spends more time focusing on what others expect them to act like rather than exploring who they really are.

When a boy realises that he is different, and that he prefers boys over girls, it can be extremely traumatic. Fears and questions begin to arise. Boys will ask themselves if other boys will find out, will they be bullied, how will his family react, will these feelings go away, and what will happen to him as he gets older.

This realization will also cause strong emotional reactions. These emotions and doubts often last into his adult life. Fitting in becomes the name of the game, requiring him to hide who he is and how he feels. Everything from appearance to gestures become very sensitive. This is when the boy will not be himself anymore. They doubt that their family and friends would accept them for who he really is, and he can become overwhelmed with feelings of isolation and loneliness. It’s about this same time that he will teach himself not to trust loving and caring relationships.

As the boy becomes a teenager, he will begin to have crushes on other guys but he is trapped because he cannot do anything about his feelings, other than to hide them. It’s extremely frustrating and lonely. There isn’t the opportunity to fall in love, go out on a date, or experience a relationship, unless it’s with a girl and under false pretences, which adds even more confusion. There are many hurt feelings seeing friends fall in love and not being able to have those same experiences. It’s a sensitive time when he will wonder if he will ever find love and acceptance.

Growing up in this environment isn’t fun; however, in spite of all these problems with self-esteem and lack of a strong sense of self-knowledge, gay youth train themselves to be alone and how to conform with the rest of the world, pleases others.

It’s not until he is in his 20’s or even 30’s that the gay man is able to explore dating and falling in love. This comes with consequence because he never experienced these feelings growing up, so it’s all new and often overwhelming. Relationships are overwhelmed with emotions. This is normal for teenangers, but because he never experienced that, he’s now battling these feelings much later in life, making him feel like a silly teenager all over again.

Gay men do survive their very difficult and trying childhoods. It’s now easy to see why early life experiences can lead to problems later in adult life. Anxiety and depression are common amongst gay men. Anxiety is an extension of the hyper monitoring, with large amounts of self-criticism. Relationships will almost always be difficult because of the lack of practice and not allowing others to get too close to him. Sexual experiences are also hampered because he wasn’t able to experiment with his sexuality and desires when he was at his sexual peak, making sex a quicker and easier way to connect with guys, rather than the long process of dating and building an emotional relationship.

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2015 International Aids Society Conference

Highlights from the 2015 International AIDS Society conference

Highlights from the 2015 International AIDS Society conference

Photo credit: Vancouver Sun

Held every two years, the International AIDS Society conference is a gathering of doctors, researchers, and experts who comes together to discuss and report on the latest developments. This 2015 conference was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, and hosted over 6,500 attendees. While there were numerous presentations and findings presented over the three day event, these are the top highlights:

  • Guys who get tested frequently love the idea of getting their results right away. While quick tests can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes, which often results in a waiting period filled with anxiety and fear, there is a new one-minute HIV test. This test is the best at detecting HIV in early stages of infection. Interesting fact, this test was developed and manufactured in Vancouver, BC!
  • Viiv, an HIV drug manufacturer (a partnership between Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline), reported they are interested in the idea of providing free counselling to people taking their medication. Having HIV can be extremely stressful and finding emotional support can be difficult. The idea would be welcomed by the HIV positive community as another resource available, especially during the early stages of learning they are HIV positive.
  • Truvada as PrEP is available to in Washington and New York states free of charge. The decision was made to offer the drug for free because it was less expensive to prevent HIV than to treat someone who is HIV positive for his entire life. While the medication is free, the patient still needs to pay for his own lab work, which ranges from $100-300 per month. Canada still lags behind the use of Truvada as PrEP, frustrating many doctors and gay men.
  • Known as the Berlin Patient, Tim Brown was both HIV positive and was diagnosed with cancer. Tim underwent cancer treatment after his doctor found a donor who was immune to HIV. The procedure resulted in Tim being cured of both cancer and HIV. He is the first person in the world known to be cured of HIV.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a controversial subject for some segments of the gay community. There is a false belief that guys who take PrEP will have more sex and unprotected sex, and therefore result in having more STI’s. The studies to date to not support these myths and rumors. However, a small segment of the HIV positive community is having trouble with negative guys taking antiretroviral drugs because they feel it is unfair that they can have sex, without the guilt and worry of contracting HIV. This has lead to some judgement about guys not being responsible. Right or wrong, the fact is, PrEP is safer sex and not a single person who takes Truvada as PrEP on a daily basis has seroconverted.
  • Treatment as prevention (TasP), is when a person’s viral load has been reduced to such a minimal level that is not detectable, and therefore they cannot transmit HIV. In 2013, there was still some researchers that doubted the studies; however, it has now been proven as an effective method to reducing the spread of HIV because people who are HIV positive undetectable cannot infect others when their viral load count is undetectable.
  • The conference did not dive deep into HIV immunity research; however, 15-20% of Europeans are immune or partially immune to HIV. There is a lab in Toronto that can conduct tests to check your immunity levels.

HIV is a very complicated subject and it is through these types of conferences that information sharing is so important. From how to treat people living with HIV, to treatment as prevention, to keeping people HIV negative, there is much the medical community is still learning and researching. Since the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s we have come a long way. While there is still much work to be done, there is a sense of optimism that there could be a cure in the near future! We already have prevention!

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