I will not announce my sexuality

When someone is gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual, they are expected to come out to people. This is a form of an announcement that is expected from the LGBT community. We are expected to tell our parents, siblings, relatives, friends, colleagues and sometimes even a total stranger about our sexuality. Is this because a person wants to accept you as you are, or is it because they want to treat you different because you are not heterosexual?

I always felt the need to go around telling people that I am homosexual and this was because I wanted them to accept me, but what’s there to “accept”? Am I not human after all? Love me for being human and who I am sexually attracted to clearly doesn’t need any acceptance from you. The truth is that even after coming across homophobic individuals that never “accepted” homosexuality, I was still sexually attracted to men. This made me ask myself as to why should I do it.

Some people expect you to announce your sexuality so that they cannot say the wrong things. It is more like filtering out their homophobic words or actions to make you feel “comfortable”. A person might say “I wouldn’t want a gay child” until you mention that you are gay. That’s when you see them trying to backpaddle and attempt a lame cover-up by saying something like “A child is always a blessing, so if I had a gay child, I would still love him”. Now ask yourself about the potentially homophobic statement the person could’ve said if you hadn’t “come out”.

For how long must I feel unwelcome, misunderstood, misinterpreted, weird, socially unacceptable, imperfect and small before I announce my sexuality to people? There’s so much pretence after someone comes out to people. We need to understand the difference between living a lie and living for you. Living a lie is pretty much when you are living a life that is not yours. Living for you, on the other hand, is when you understand that you do not owe anybody an explanation. Not for your choices, your actions, your sexual preference or any other thing that is not actually their business, to begin with.

Coming out may be a choice, but why is it a choice given to any sexuality except heterosexuals? It is as if we are obliged to do so. It’s about time we understood that we owe nobody any explanation.

There’s a difference between “I am a homosexual man/woman” and being proud of it, to “I am a homosexual man/woman” then having to wait for their approval. There is really no need for me to announce my sexuality if the next person cannot announce theirs. I am proud of who I am, and I don’t need society’s approval for that. In the end, it’s a choice for someone to come out, but I question the reasoning behind it. It is almost as if you were not free up to then and you can only be so after announcing it.

Here’s something you need to ask yourself: Am I coming out for society’s sake? Or am I doing it for myself? Your answer will help you figure out a way forward. As for me? I live for myself. I do not want to be tolerated by society. Still, I would love to be respected and have society understand that I have human rights. Who I love and have a sexual attraction to? That’s my life.

I am not disputing coming out. If doing so makes you feel at ease, then do it. At the end of the day, life is about making choices that will make your life easier and happier. Just remember to do it for you and not for the next person.

If a person asks if I’m gay, I’ll definitely say yes, but I won’t go up to them to announce my sexuality.

These are the writer’s views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV.
To book an appointment at EMH in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay or Buffalo City metros, WhatsApp message/call 082 607 1686.
To book an appointment at EMH in Pretoria, call 012 430 3272 or WhatsApp message/call 066 190 5812.

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The Step-Homo

This gift of life we got given is somewhat of a mixed box of chocolates. Some parts are genuinely amazing and bring you endless joy. These are the strawberry creams and the mint creams, and represent puppy breath and freshly brewed coffee. Others, well others get stuck in your teeth. These are the hard toffees that no one even bothered to coat in chocolate, why is it there? For instance, the dentist – not fabulous, standing in line at home affairs, even less so.

Then there are those middle-of-the-fence chocolates that could be either, depending on the day. The ginger jelly, the orange cream and that damn green triangle that everyone fights over but no one really loves. These represent things like being LGBTQI+, dating, being a parent, any one of these could be fab or crap depending on the day.

But what happens when life decides to combine those last three scenarios? While I’m a proud queer individual, there are times in our society that it feels like being a wet toffee apple in a tumble dryer with a feather pillow. I was a teacher for 5 years, so I don’t wish parenting on anyone, but I can see why it would be rewarding for some. Quite frankly, dating is an adult-sized game of whack-a-mole where you repeatedly beat back for just popping up and being who you are. So why would you want to combine three of the iffiest qualities possible in life?

Well, Celine Dion said it best, “Love doesn’t ask why”. When you meet someone and the universe aligns, the heart wants what it wants. And if what your heart wants comes with children from a previous relationship, you have some decisions to make.

Politics
Being the (gay) stepfather is a bit of a minefield on many levels, and you will need to tread carefully. There are children involved. You might end up facing some backlash from a conservative ex-spouse. Regardless of the reason for their original break up you have to anticipate some mixed feelings from the other parent. They are trying to protect their little ones the way they know how – their methods might be twisted, but I need to believe they want only the best. I was in a relationship with a man for two years who had no access to his children because he was gay. While I wanted nothing more than to meet them, it never happened before things fizzled out. Incidentally, now I live 5 streets away from the mother and kids – still haven’t met them.

The kids come first
You are an A-type personality and everybody loves you, right? Wrong. These children might not. And this is not down to the requisite stepmother hairy mole on your chin, sometimes it just happens. As evolved as we are in modern society, we should be teaching our children to be evolved too. Little Johnny might (still) not understand why Daddy and Uncle Brian are holding hands because they have only ever seen mommy and daddy together. It’s up to the parents to bridge that gap. Take your cue from your partner. He will know how he wants to handle this part of his children’s development. When I was a child of divorced parents, I would plot ways to get my parents split from their partners and back together. It’s natural. It doesn’t make them a nasty little crotch-goblin. Your job is to treat children with kindness. That’s it. Give them time. They either will come around or they won’t, and at that point, you and your partner need to have a conversation.

To the single parent out there reading this and looking for Prince Charming – please don’t think I’m advising you indulge your child being a brat. You are the parent and you make the rules. But you can also see if your child is miserable. And if a man cannot deal with you and your kids as a package, it doesn’t make him a jerk, and it doesn’t make your kids vile, it just means that was not the one. Keep looking. Your fairy tale is out there.

These are the writer’s views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV.
To book an appointment at EMH in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay or Buffalo City metros, WhatsApp message/call 082 607 1686.
To book an appointment at EMH in Pretoria, call 012 430 3272 or WhatsApp message/call 066 190 5812.

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Myths about anal sex

When it comes to anal sex, there are a lot of myths out there. Like any other sex act, there are misconceptions everywhere but with anal, it seems like there are far more bandied about. Here we debunk some of these myths.

1. “All gays have anal sex”
Not true. Not everyone likes anal sex, and it is not one-size-fits-all. Some people aren’t comfortable with the idea of anal penetration or have tried it and found that it really isn’t for them. Some guys only top, some only bottom, some both, some not at all. It’s an individual choice.

2. “It will hurt”
Sadly, many people associate anal play with pain due to previous bad experiences or lack of understanding on how to make anal play enjoyable. Pleasurable anal sex is 90% preparation, and that includes getting mentally prepared. You can’t just shove a penis in – that will probably hurt. Going from erect straight into the anus (in a matter of seconds) is a no-no. The anal sphincter is strong, yet sensitive. It is best if you start small, with something like fingers, and then work your way towards something larger such as a butt plug or the penis. It is essential to relax the anal sphincter and to take it slow.

3. “It is dirty”
Anal hygiene is one of the most common concerns that people have about anal play. Fortunately, it isn’t that difficult to manage, and actual “pooping” during the act is extremely rare. However, you may find that poop is transferred to fingers, a sex toy, or penis if you have not taken any steps to rinse out the anal canal. At a minimum, to prevent any poop appearance, a bowel movement and shower before your anal adventure is suggested.
If you want more peace of mind that your playtime will be clean, you can try douching. It is best to complete this process at least an hour beforehand. You can try a reusable enema, or you can use a disposable enema (available at any pharmacy).

4. “Anal sex is just like what you see in porn”
Is any kind of sex just like what you see in porn? Anal sex requires preparation, and this can include conversations about protection beforehand, like PrEP, ARVs or condoms. When you watch it in porn, anal sex might seem like something you can launch into spontaneously, but real-life anal requires more care and consideration.

5. “Only ‘city’ girls and gays have anal sex”
Anal sex does not only take place between gay or bi men. It is also quite common among heterosexual people and that includes both men and women. Ever heard of pegging? Go look it up. It is falsely believed that anal sex is not enjoyable for women (because they don’t have a prostate) and that anal sex is associated with pain. This misconception of pain during anal play leads some to think that only people into BDSM (bondage) do it.

6. “You don’t need to use condoms when you have anal sex”
Condoms are recommended when having anal sex to prevent many STIs, including HIV. Most STIs are transferrable through the anus (chlamydia, gonorrhoea, infectious hepatitis, and HIV). Some even more so, because the lining of the anus is thin and can be broken if too much dry friction occurs (which is why it is important to use lube). While being HIV undetectable if a guy is positive or being on PrEP if a guy is negative are also very effective ways to prevent HIV transmission they do not prevent other STIs.

7. “Your anus will get all stretched out”
There have been rumours of men who engaged in so much anal activity that they actually lost control of their bowel movements. This is extremely unlikely to happen and these falsehoods are often used to attack men who have sex with men.  Your anus can learn to become more relaxed during sex (in part because you may become more mentally relaxed) but the sphincter muscles revert to their normal state afterwards. It is, of course, possible to hurt yourself if you aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing or if you’re forcing your body (or your partner’s body) to do something that doesn’t feel good. And, if you suffer from haemorrhoids or any other condition that affects your anus or rectum, you may want to be more cautious and check with your doctor. Also, if it hurts or feels uncomfortable, listen to your body.

For free sexual health services – including PrEP and HIV/STI testing and treatment – in the Johannesburg metro, Nelson Mandela Bay, Buffalo City or Pretoria, WhatsApp call or message us on 082 607 1686.

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Nicky DragShaw in Wonderland

“Dear culture, oh, culture… A dream! An out of body experience! How snow goes up my nose, into my brain and makes all my sexual fantasies come true!”, I thought.

The intense association with drugs and sex started just after my much-failed marriage – where I gave up my career for a man who promised me the world, the moon and all the stars above. The Prada, YSL, Gucci and all things refined had a girl orgasm. A twist of fantasy overriding the real world. A fascination of all the possibilities of what once was imagined, manifesting itself into reality.

Now let us take you back way in time and give you a feel and an origin. “Who am I?” This queen – Nicky DragShaw – comes from a humble beginning; based in the east of Johannesburg, a middle-class queer child, who had witnessed both light and darkness at their highest frequencies.

With that said, let’s dive back into my first experience with drugs and sex. It ignited a feeling neither imagined nor explainable. After leaving who I thought was the love of my life, my soul couldn’t help but crave further exploration of what life could offer, and the idea was the Mother City (Cape Town, baby)!

On my arrival, I had nothing but a dream and a bit that I saved, and girl I do mean a bit. I started hopping from one spot to the other. I was exploring, learning, discovering; and in all these new experiences, my powdery friend was a part of the journey. Almost like ‘she’ was following me everywhere I would go; private parties, hook-ups, clubs, pubs, bars, etc. (“Snowy” I called my powdery friend). Oh she made me feel like I could conquer the world, blinding me from all realities. Sexual desire was the ultimate power, Lilith was alive and DragShaw had left the room.

How they touched me in volumes! Deeply seeding me and instantly making me feel wanted. Shortly after, it took what was most precious and left me with nothing but a soulless feeling. I could not help but wonder if the darkness and white lines had both befriended me!

“Lights, camera, action” to an unscripted Telenovela horror became my reality. Couple hook-ups and dinner dates with Elite Singles (from all over the world) became a norm. Oh, baby! Let’s not forget the orgies and the sex parties! My powdery-gram friend gave me all sorts of ideas, imaginations and satisfaction that were once non-existent. It was almost like a biblical reference to a story I read in the Holy Book – you know, the part where evil was cast into a pig. I felt that reference was a very big part of my life at that point and this cycle needed to stop at once.

When my mind would sober up, an electric shock wave would hit my body and fear would be the ruler. There I was, “NickyDragshaw” running in and out of the clinic yet again, like a New Yorker looking for a cast on Broadway. The thrill was something of a soundtrack from the Lana Del Rey “Born to Die” album (“Carmen” to be a bit more specific) – live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.

Being fresh meat in beautiful Cape Town, they couldn’t get enough! DragShaw was finally in Wonderland! … “Bottoms up and top my glass full” became not only my language but a lifestyle.

One had to drastically stop and look at the reoccurring patterns of this midnight-blue influenced life, filled with gorgeous crystallized white lines, high fashion and champagne, and figure out how to turn that into an illuminating light that one can’t live without. What is my true purpose in life?

I channeled the hurt and the pain into dreams and goals. Girlfriend, without the insight and the support from EMH, I cannot help but wonder how life could have turned out for me.

I went from having conversations with the staff to becoming their digital marketing consultant, and to being a part of the process of shining a light onto Africa and onto the world (on the importance of having a healthier sexual life). And to right here, right now: sharing the most treasured and untold stories from my personal experiences. It’s almost like that whisper I had heard had it all mapped out for me. “Be the change you want to see and engage for a change!” has become my new narrative.

As “Gossip Girl” would say:
“You know you want me… XOXO!”

These are the writer’s views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV. Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

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HIV status: to disclose or not

One would think that the most significant health challenge is finding out that you are HIV positive because of perpetuated stigma. I remember in the early 2000s learning that HIV cannot spread through the sharing of cutlery. Recently we have also come to learn that people with an undetectable viral load cannot pass HIV onto a sexual partner. Even with this ground-breaking research, disclosing one’s status remains a treacherous ground.

I must say, life was easier when the only thing that crossed your mind at the mention of disclosure was anything but the state of your health. Now it fuels anxiety, and sometimes I feel like we are a cough away from soliciting people’s medical records because we have become such a curious and entitled society. A lot of us would like to believe that we are progressive because we read, throwing shade such as ‘Read! A bottle label, a book cover or something, but just read’ suggesting that your noise lacks depth. The problem is, how much of what we read and of what we are aware of, do we use to ostracize and further drive the stigma around living with HIV? This is for the textbook narcissists at the back.

I have learned that disclosure is not even the multi-neon-colored elephant in the room, but how people react and start projecting stereotypes when they find out that you are living with the virus. It is how a one-night stand from a club or Grindr, turns into a lesson of “When”, “How” and “How many”.

To the oblivious, you become seen as someone who can possibly pass on the virus by merely breathing and being within the same space with someone who is not living with the virus. These do not even scratch the surface but are enough to have someone pull their pants straight up. A few dates into seeing someone who ticks a lot of the boxes –and not all boxes because you have to lower your expectations when it comes to dating these days, great sex and conversation that run deeper than any trauma you have already suffered because being gay, you decide to disclose your status. Before you can add anything else, you are labelled irresponsible and inconsiderate, because sex is not a two-way street, right?

It is not between two, or more (because group projects are always fun) consenting adults who are supposed to take the necessary measures to protect each other and themselves, but this is rather seen as the positive person’s responsibility, and if you find yourself agreeing with the latter, we are going to need more wine because did you know that an undetectable viral load means you cannot transmit the virus? U=U? You are welcome.

Nonetheless, it should never be the sole responsibility of the person living with the virus to run a marathon before coitus, and recently I have had the pleasure of working with someone living with the virus, and he assured me that life was roses and sunshine despite people trying to make thorns out of it, he also mentioned that he never experienced any stigma since he learned of his status.

‘Progressive’ does make you sound well-informed when thrown into a conversation while holding your teacup with your pinkie out. Still, a lot of the progressive have very little to no concern as to who has been there.

Stigma is only perpetuated by the few who have not done the work and feel entitled to know the health status of others just so they can throw protection to the wind. Still, in the same light, it is everyone’s responsibility to know their status and help curb the spread, and this does not start at disclosure but knowing your status.

Unfortunately, HIV/AIDS has been labelled as a hornier devil because of how it is commonly spread, even with the long list of other sexually transmitted diseases. We want and expect people to disclose their HIV status but have little regard to unlearn and let go of internalized stereotypes which become more apparent every single time we engage. All the gay people in me are tired of this ill-informed narrative.

Never feel compelled to disclose, prep it, wrap it, get your rounds and go.

Lebogang Mogale is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). EMH is in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. Our services include free HIV and other STI testing, treatment, PrEP and PEP. WhatsApp message or call us on 082 607 1686.

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My big fat gay problem

“All of the men in L.A. are a bunch of 10’s looking for an 11. On a good night, and if the other guy’s drunk enough…
I’m a 6.” – The Broken Hearts Club

There are many sayings in this life that we learn to live with as part of everyday living. For instance, “You are what you eat”, “It’s not the size of the boat, it’s the motion of the ocean” or “Life begins at 40”. We say these things to make ourselves feel better. I know and accept that they are not true because I am not a box of KFC dunked wings, I’m hung like a Jack Russel and in my late 30’s I’m ready for a retirement home, but we still say them because it’s polite. Clichés are sometimes a necessary part of survival in modern society.

These are all good and well for a regular-sized person, but when you are plus-sized you get a few bonus sayings thrown in for good measure. “You’re beautiful as you are”, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”, “Don’t eat that cupcake, you’re sweet enough” or my personal favorite, “Let’s just be friends”.

Dating life is a meat grinder that will chew you up and spit you out if you don’t have your wits about you. Everyone has a story of disaster or heartbreak and unrequited love. Now, double your weight and re-imagine the story. The likelihood is, the bad break up would never have happened because the other person would not have agreed to a first date in the first place. Devastating right?

Not really. While it seems vile that someone could judge you or dismiss you based solely on your appearance, physical attraction is not something we choose. You like what you like. Let me put it in food terms for you, I’m good with food — pineapple on pizza. You’re either going to love it or despise it. And nothing that anyone says is likely to change your mind if you think the idea is not your taste. Back on the same page? Good.

If someone doesn’t feel attracted to you, it sucks, but it’s ok and it’s certainly not the end of the world. Should you go to pieces? Absolutely not. It may hurt but honestly, do you want someone as your significant other if they are only trying to love you as you are? Didn’t think so. As the old saying goes, love is like a fart. If you have to force it, it’s probably a turd.

The big deal comes with how the situation is dealt with. Now, there are good guys out there. Some of my best friends I’ve made along the way were initially matches made on Tinder or Grindr. When the spark wasn’t there, we became close in other ways. And I’m grateful for those.

There have also been some dark places. I’ve waited at a restaurant for a date and saw the guy walk in, notice me, and make a U-turn. I’ve been told on Grindr “sorry I’m not into group sex or farm animals”. I’ve even had one gentleman, bless him, tell me “Sorry, my sister was playing with my Grindr because I would definitely not have messaged you.”

Now, to my fellow people ranging between 0-6 on the “hotness” scale, listen carefully: your value is not determined by someone else’s opinion of you. Let that sink in. Reread it. You are also not a charity case or a victim. Not everyone has to like you, you’re not chocolate. Him not liking you doesn’t automatically make him an ass.

To the 7-10 range folks out there: If you have ranked yourself, you might be a douche – get that checked out. If a ranking system depends on who you will date or not, we probably won’t get along anyway. If you read nothing else read this: that big guy that you called fat last week or blocked without thanking them for the compliment, they know they’re big. They are painfully aware of that. They don’t need you to tell them that.

Life is short. Don’t be a dick. Your bliss should never come at the cost of someone else’s.

Craig Stadler is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). EMH is in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. Our services include free HIV and other STI testing, treatment, PrEP and also PEP. WhatsApp message or call us on 082 607 1686.

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Homonormativity: Is it hurting us?

While there are a plethora of critical issues that we continue to be burdened with as the LGBTQ community, we also need to face our internal struggles and address the adversities in our backyard if we are to ever truly progress, heal, and dismantle homonormativity.

We have conquered many a battle in the fight for civil rights in the LGBTQ community. South Africa in particular, is hailed for leading the way in the fight for LGBTQ rights on the African continent. From being the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation to being the fifth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, we have made tremendous progress despite the stark contrast between written laws and lived realities.

As we become more visible in this deeply heteronormative society, we are expected to assimilate by conforming to the ideals of heteronormative institutions to gain acceptance from mainstream society. It is the resounding voice that tells us “We will tolerate you as long as you behave and conform to our norms”. This is also known as homonormativity, in which we mimic heteronormative ideals and constructs onto queer culture and identity. And it is hurting our community more than we care to realise.

As a cis queer person of colour who was raised Muslim, I have had a distinct lack of LGBTQ role models to look up to, especially ones who look like me. In many ways this has led to me, too, performing homonormativity. And as you can imagine, I have been subjected to multiple forms of oppression that cut across race, religion, and sexual orientation. So, it was only natural that I felt an increased desire to be accepted and to not be ‘othered’ any further.

I vividly recall — after ‘coming out’ more than a decade ago — being told by my mother that my feelings towards other men are simply a phase. A desire that is not permitted in our religion. It took years before she accepted me for who I am, but even then, I was put into a box, and under a microscope. It was soon after my ‘coming out’ that I started painting my nails black, wearing eyeliner, and decidedly odd fashion. This cheeky display of irreverence not only raised a few eyebrows, but my gender expression was also policed in every space I entered: from home and school to mosques and society at large. One example is at my brother’s wedding in 2012, whereupon entering the mosque, I was reprimanded by the Imam for wearing earrings. I was explicitly told that men are not supposed to wear “women’s accessories” and if I hadn’t removed them, that I would not be allowed to enter “his” mosque. I obeyed, not because I wanted to, but because I did not want to put a damper on my brother’s special day.

While homonormativity can be considered a double-edged sword, it privileges only those who assimilate into heteronormative structures and conform to the binary gender roles. This is what ultimately riles up the hornet’s nest. In the past, I have been guilty of using subterfuge to fit in and gain acceptance, especially in the workplace. Due to fears of judgement and persecution, at times we “closet” ourselves and police our own identity in certain social settings.
But the main problem with homonormativity is that it has trickled down into queer culture and is subsequently hurting our community. It is evident in the “no fats, no femmes, no blacks” prejudice that is often displayed on the queer dating scene, masquerading as “preference”. This ultimately limits inclusion and negatively impacts social cohesion in the LGBTQ community.

You merely have to flip through Netflix to find further examples of homonormativity. Just look at how cis gay white men dominate queer TV representation. Homonormativity manifests in every aspect of queer life and is particularly troubling in that it causes the oppressed to oppress. Think about how we tend to focus on gay rights but are not doing nearly enough to fight for the rights of the trans community. Homonormativity even spills over into the bedroom, dictating who should be top and who should be bottom, often purely based on gender identity.

We must be subversive and reject notions that insist we assimilate into heterosexual ideals. Being queer presents us with a unique opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: dismantling heteronormativity and homonormativity at once.

Ashraf Booley is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV. Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

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Pretoria’s TEN81 clinic joins Engage Men’s Health family

From the 1st of October 2020, the groundbreaking TEN81 clinic in Hatfield, Tshwane will be renamed Engage Men’s Health Pretoria.

Managed by OUT LGBT Well-being, the free clinic was the first in the city to specifically serve the sexual health and well-being needs of gay, bisexual and other MSM (men who have sex with men).

The renaming of the clinic and its community outreach services follows a recent move to larger and more comfortable premises in nearby Colbyn. Engage Men’s Health Pretoria will continue to offer the same professional, friendly and affirming services at no cost to its clients in Tshwane. These include:

• HIV testing
• Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART)
• Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)
• HIV management (CD4 and viral load)
• Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screenings
• Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
• Tuberculosis (TB) screenings
• General medical, sexual health and safer sex consultations

Engage Men’s Health, which is also a project of OUT LGBT Well-being, already offers similar services in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City.

“We are very proud to become part of the Engage Men’s Health family,” says Operational Director Johan Meyer. “It makes sense to consolidate our services under a single brand that has a wider footprint in both Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.”

Engage Men’s Health Pretoria is located at 1310 Stanza Bopape Street, Colbyn. Operating hours are Monday to Friday, 08h30 to 16h00, and Saturday, 09h00 to 13h00.

For more information or to make an appointment:
• Call 012 430 3272 or call/WhatsApp 066 190 5812
• Find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/EngageMensHealthPretoria

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Thought I hated my mother

Our rift started years ago. When I was 16, South Africa was about to legalise gay marriage. It got tons of coverage on the news. One night, while watching the news, an insert on this appeared. “Di re di batla eng di lotse?” (What do ‘these things’ want?), she asked, disgusted. To be clear, the ‘these things’ were queer people fighting for their freedoms.

My dad told her they wanted to get married. I remember we were pretty close, but I drifted from her after that. A few months later, she came home from a funeral, angry. A woman, whose daughter I went to school with, had told her that her daughter had said that I “wanted to be gay” when I grew up. She threatened to tell my father. I begged her not to.

All the other queer men I had met were best friends with their mothers. I got to experience these beautiful, affirming and fun relationships whenever visiting friends. I remember wishing that I would go home to that. I’ve always been daddy’s little (and only) boy. When he died, my mom and I found ourselves in a situation where we had to learn each other. This was not easy. She would, in equal measure, spoil and berate me.

Until 2011, my mother really thought I was straight.

The day I came out to her, we had our usual arguments. I couldn’t tell you what it was about. We were always at each other’s throats about something. That day, our argument got particularly heated and I told her how unhappy I was. At some point, she said that if I had a girlfriend, I should bring her over so she could meet her. “Why does it have to be a girl?” I asked. And at that moment, I think she knew. I told her about all the times she had expressed homophobic notions and how that made me feel. She apologised, sincerely. It was then that I realised she didn’t really know any better.

In 2015, after a particularly nasty breakup, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. My mother, while sympathetic, didn’t get it. You see, my mother, like a lot of Black South Africans, did not understand mental illness. To her, life was much easier for us these days than it had been for them.

She wondered how I could be depressed when I seemingly had everything. A myriad of things was blamed, Lord of The Rings (which I read at least twice a year), my drinking, all the boys I was sneaking in and even social media. It wasn’t until she spoke to my psychiatrist that she started understanding what was going on with me. This is really when our relationship truly started changing. We became much closer, I finally had gotten what I had yearned for all these years. Of course, it wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it was much better than it had been when I was a teenager.

I never thought my mom and I could get as close as we are now. In 2018, I met a guy and instant there was mutual chemistry. A couple of weeks later, I moved in with him in another province. The province my mother came from.

I remember being scared to tell my mom that I was moving out and in with a man I had just started dating. When I eventually did tell her, she gave us her blessing.
I am not sure if it was me living in her birth province or perhaps that we did in actual fact miss each other, but our relationship improved a lot from what it was before. I think it was also the chemistry my mother had with my partner that clinched the deal. Last Christmas, she seemed genuinely disappointed that he wasn’t joining us for lunch.

It was my observation of how my partner is with his mother that made me value my relationship with mine. The old adage rings true: “You can tell a lot about how a man will treat you by the way he treats his mother”. I am in love with the most amazing man and this love helped me mend my relationship with my mom.
Today, my mom is my first call whenever I need someone to talk to. She’s a best friend and a sage advisor. Though I’m sad I haven’t always been a good son to her, I am glad that I can make it up to her while she’s still around.

Tshego Mphahlele is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV. Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

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Learning to love myself again

I was 11 and walking to the public phone when a group of about six boys came running towards me from various directions at the open field. There was nowhere to run and hide. They surrounded me and laughed at my mom’s blue sandals that she used to let me wear because we were the same size. They attacked me, licking me, pulling at my t-shirt and my shorts, that I desperately held on to. I was left humiliated and in pain.

Fast forward to many moons years later when I was in a relationship with an adorably affectionate man. He liked to touch my hand, which often startled me.
‘Are you okay? He would ask while we were kissing or having sex.
‘Yeah, why?’ I almost always responded, until one day, when we were making out, he had asked me three times if I was okay. I was back in the open field with six boys trying to devour me. My body was tense, I was shaking and started crying.

I went to go see a therapist who had advised me that I need to rewire my mind from associating touch with danger. Then once I felt safer to do so, to communicate to my partner that this was something I was working on. The other person is likely to be understanding and might be supportive, she said in anticipating my fear of rejection.

It is difficult to trust the world again when your dignity has been profoundly violated. It requires you to do an honest and sober assessment of your surrounding at all times, to avoid completely blocking everything and everyone off as dangerous. I get startled when touched unexpectedly, but I am teaching myself to learn to receive affection. I am learning to feel that tension from the open field, to sit with it, to interrogate it and to come out okay on the other side of it.

I am learning to be okay with feeling my emotions. I am also more comfortable with sifting through them. I can easily locate where they came from and see them for the fear they really are.

“We are yet to learn that whatever we are going through is okay, that you don’t have to run from it. It is not permanent, and that if you learn how to be with whatever is happening, you will learn healthy coping mechanisms instead of trying to escape your emotions.”, a yogi and healer, Kafui Awoonor, once said to me.

And so despite what the world has done to me, I continue to be who I am and to unlearn and do away with the ways the world has tried to teach me to hate myself. I carry my light in my heart, I share  it with the world in ways that don’t cost me my sanity and I let it shine on my crown. Most importantly, though, is that I am committed to recognizing my shadows, without any immediate plans of bringing them to light. I want to just sit with them.

Welcome Lishivha is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City metros. Services include free HIV and other STI testing and treatment and free PrEP, which prevents HIV. Call or WhatsApp us on 082 607 1686.

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