The Ireland of today is a very different Ireland to the one I ‘came out’ to as a teenager. While we have taken many steps towards equality, we are by no means finished. There is further work needed to increase awareness, as there is still a lack of knowledge and understanding around HIV, sexual health testing and accessibility to resources.
When I have been asked “what was it like to grow up gay?”, my thoughts immediately jump back to the most scarring of experiences. I think about the time when I was 16 and chased by a group of abusive teenage boys through alleyways off Harcourt St at 3 am. The time at age 15 when my best friend and I were verbally abused for being gay at a house party, or when we had to leave McDonald’s as the table of teenage boys beside us emptied their food trays over us. The list can go on.
As much as being a young gay teenager was difficult at times, I had an amazing group of friends and family around me, and it was equally some of the best years of my life. Yet ‘coming out’ is still something that can be widely unaccepted, and misunderstood.
We often work hard to bury the negative experiences and emotions of our teenage years. But we must be proactive as a community about our sexual health. It is immensely important to be tested regularly. We must open up the conversation around HIV, sexual health testing and accessibility to resources. It is extremely shocking to see that research conducted by Teva Ireland found that 70% of people feel that the risk of HIV is not taken into consideration before engaging in sexual activity[i]. We must proactively work to increase awareness.
I can still remember my first time walking into The George, the feeling of being happy and free, looking back now I think of how ridiculously naïve I was. It wasn’t until my late teens, early twenties that I realised that taking care of your sexual health should be your number one priority.
I knew of the importance of using condoms, but I definitely did not wholly understand the risks we as a community faced. I was extremely lucky that friends introduced me to the Gay Men’s Health Service STI Clinic, and to the importance of regular testing. The service offered by the Gay Men’s Health Clinic is a great source of education, but it is a service that every young teenager should be aware of.
The risks of HIV became apparent to me by my early twenties, especially as the rates of HIV were once again rising year on year. I heard of a lot of people whom I would have known in my early twenties being diagnosed with HIV, which just strengthened my commitment to be regularly tested.
Teva Ireland’s PrEP awareness campaign is an incredible initiative that I am so happy and proud to lend my voice to. I have no doubt that the next generation of young gay men will look at taking PrEP as a social norm, and if I can in any way help in making that happen, count me in.
[i] Core Research, conducted on behalf of Teva Ireland, October 2019