Introducing: Looking for PrEP

Over the summer Dosti & Snehithan will be featuring a series of guest bloggers.  Alex Aviance is the first in this series with his blog entitled: Looking for PrEP.  Looking for PrEP is a blog mini-series focusing on Alex’s journey with PrEP as a South Asian man living in Toronto.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by guest bloggers are solely theirs and do not necessarily reflect that of Dosti, Snehithan, Lassi, or any programs and services of ASAAP. 

About the Author:


Alex Aviance is a young, queer man who lives and blogs in Toronto, Ontario. His interests include theoretical physics, cooking, World of Warcraft, and Ru Paul’s Drag race. Alex currently holds a B.A. in Journalism from Ryerson University and has plans to return to school to study social work. He hopes to pursue a career working in the field of queer men’s sexual health. His idols include Naomi Campbell, Anna Nicole Smith and Tammy Faye Bakker. You can often find him consuming far too many carbohydrates, destroying the patriarchy, and very likely engaging in a Twitter war @AlexAviance.

Useful Resources:

If you are thinking about PrEP please contact a physician for more information. Below are a few links that might help answer your questions, if there are any more contact us!

  1. One Step Closer to Accessing PrEP in Canada 
  2. What is PrEP and is it right for me?
  3. Oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  4. What is PrEP?
  5. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) resources 

Importance of Queer South Asian Spaces

I came across this article titled, “Some people are Gaysian – Get over it!” (From the UK – hence the Asian).  It spoke about the importance of having South Asian specific LGBT programming and support services.  Yes, there are a ton of main stream LGBT support spaces available to the public, and they offer invaluable services to queer folks.  But more often than not, its a very North American (Read: White) way of looking at LGBT issues and this can pose as a challenge for those who perhaps didn’t have the typical white North American experience, or are new comers who don’t identify with and/or understand the language surrounding sexuality.  When someone is looking for support services, the main thing people look for is a place where they can feel heard, and understood.  Coming from a South Asian background, our experiences are quite unique when it comes to family, relationships, and our ideas of shame, which makes it more challenging for those South Asians who struggle with their sexual and/or gender Identity.  Sometimes, the concept of “Coming out”, isn’t even something they identify with – and that’s ok.  This is why spaces like Snehithan, Dosti, Lassi or campaigns like Brown N Proud , are important, because people can come into the space and say, “When I tell my story, or hear someone else’s, I feel like I’m not alone.”

Opening up your relationship?

Open relationship? Planning a threesome? Playing separately?
I came across this awesome and practical article (with some hot gifs) about opening up your relationship.   Here are also some quick rules that I came up with while exploring these areas. This isn’t a complete list, but things that I’ve learned along the way.

- If you’re planning on going to a club, bathhouse, sex party, or wherever, discuss beforehand what you guys want to do and make agreements!  For example,  if you are going together, maybe you want to play together only (or you want to play separately), whatever the case, it’s very important to discuss before-hand what will be happening and making an agreement, and sticking to it. 

- When you guys arrive at your location, always check in with each other to make sure the other is comfortable. For example,  IF you guys decide to wander off by yourselves, it’s good to discuss about checking in, and when to meet back.


- When deciding on hooking up/groping/dancing/making out with someone, make sure you remember what the agreement was before you left your house. For example, if you both decided at the beginning of the evening that you will only play together, and you like one person, and your partner doesn’t, remember to honor your agreement, politely move on, and find someone else.   Maybe have a secret word between you 2, to say whether you like someone or not.  


- If you are not comfortable about something,  at any point, SAY SO (maybe use that secret code word again)!  Maybe you agreed to something before you left the house, and now you’re not sure if you’re comfortable.   Communicate this to your partner!  You can always renegotiate.  Your comfort and you taking care of one another is the top priority!

Communication is very important when it comes to this
NEVER ASSUME!
ALWAYS CHECK!
SPEAK UP!

Stigma in the Gay Community

It’s unfortunate to think that within our own queer communities, there is still so much stigma that we face amongst ourselves, let alone homophobia from outside queer spaces.  I came across this blog post from this group called OurSpace.  OurSpace describes themselves as a group of young gay, bi, and queer men in Toronto who seek to support, develop and build our community.   In the blog post they talk about the unfortunate stigmas that guys experience within the queer community and they speak about 4: fem-phobia, racism, slut-shaming, and tops versus bottoms.  Online spaces really highlight the fact that all of these things really do exist, because people are hiding safely behind a smart phone while engaging in such stigmatizing behavior.  Check out the article right here.

Seeking Gay Tamil Man

I want someone who likes long walks in the park. Scratch that, I want someone who likes to sit in parks, and judge people who take those long walks. I want someone who loves to read, who can fill me in on the plot while we wait for the movie to start. I want someone who will help clean the dishes when we’re done with our string hoppers and curry. Also, it would be nice if I could share my wardrobe with that someone and not raise any eyebrows. In case you haven’t clued in yet, I’m a dude who likes dudes.

Type gay into a Google image search and you’ll see what it means to be gay. Gay on Google is young, white and thin. You’d think you were looking at an Abercrombie catalogue. Picture after picture, we see white bodies as the only examples of gay culture. Gay culture is dominated by white faces and personalities, at least in the mainstream. This isn’t a true depiction of what the community looks like. Gay comes in all different shades, shapes, sizes and colours.

The intersection of Tamil and Gay seems to signal malfunction. Whether we judge ourselves or are judged by our families or communities, the anxiety and fear caused by discrimination is real. We allow social shaming to dictate the way we feel about a situation, and obsess about what others think. Questions like ‘Who will know?’ and ‘How will I be seen in the community?’ plague our minds. It’s messy because we allow others to influence our lives. Not being open about who we are can lead to isolation and depression. There is a rich history of dissent among Tamil queer folks and it’s not hard to see their struggles and gains, if you’re looking. A powerful movement that began before my time is still being shaped today and around the world people are taking note.

The fluidity of sexuality, gender identity, and expression are hard topics to raise in everyday settings. For the most part, Tamils are not comfortable talking about sex and sexuality and it can’t be because we aren’t having any. The Kama Sutra isn’t for coffee table reading and I don’t think that the population of India surpassed a billion through abstinence. Yet, we shy away from these discussions and shame people for trying to start them. How often have you heard ‘That’s so gay bro’ or ‘Stop being so gay.’

Queer culture was unapologetically embedded in South Asian narratives before colonization. Our sacred texts are peppered with examples of deities who are transgender or represent more than one gender identity. The Aravaani communities in our culture, and the Hijras in North India play important roles in reminding us of our fluid history and combatting stigma. Laws imposed during British rule contributed to the homophobia that resonates today and variations of sodomy laws are widespread throughout Southern Asia (although some have been dismantled through decriminalization).

While we may not see Vijay and Suriya professing their love for each other through a choreographed dance number anytime soon, there is a space for ‘Gay’ and ‘Tamil’ identities to coexist. Spaces such as Snehithan, a peer support group created for and by Tamil gay and bi men whether they be cis-gendered* or trans*. It’s a place for people to connect and not worry about looking, dressing, or saying something that would out themselves for fear of discrimination. We need more spaces in our larger Tamil community to be open to conversations about the broad spectrum of sexuality. And when we encounter homophobic violence in any form, let’s address it where we can. This way we won’t let ourselves become passive participants in a culture of shaming and othering but architects of a culture that recognizes and respects difference.

So, let’s not shy away from these conversations so I can be on my way and find Mr. Right.

*This article was first published in: http://www.tamilculture.ca/seeking-gay-tamil-man/
and has been re-posted with the author’s permission.

TC’s Most Influential Tamils of 2015: Ramraajh Sharvendiran

Originally published in TamilCulture.com on December 16, 2015

By: Suruthi Ragulan

Ram1

 

 My stapler is missing again. This happens every once in a while – too often if you ask me. When you work for a non-profit, resources are skim and it’s not unusual for people to “borrow” other people’s office supplies. I look across my desk and see the usual suspect: Ramraajh Sharvendiran, Men’s Health Coordinator and stapler thief extraordinaire.

I take back my stapler with little complaint because I know that it’s not the time to start a petty squabble. Generally, I lose these arguments anyway because Ram is possibly the most stubborn person I know, and would rather fight me forever than ever admit to any wrongdoing. But mostly I hold my tongue because Ram is prepping for a presentation in Vancouver on his study “Access, Identity and Men”, the first qualitative research study in Canada focused on South Asian gay and bi men.

Ramraajh was born at some point in the mid 1980s, or so I’m told. I wasn’t actually there being that I am considerably younger and only met the guy four years ago. All the stories I’ve heard about his childhood (and I have heard several) feature a small Tamil boy who never really fit in a primarily white suburb. As he got older, that sense of “otherness” deepened as he struggled with navigating his emerging sexuality and attraction to men. While the 90s were a time of great boy bands and phenomenal choker necklaces, mainstream queer Tamil role models were sorely lacking for a gay boy from North York.

 

 

Enter York University, where Ram`s involvement with the Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gay Allies at York (TBLGAY) sparked a passion for social justice issues. During his time at York, he spearheaded the development of a weekly radio program, Queer Current on CHRY 105.5 FM in Toronto. He produced and hosted the program for over 8 years which discussed issues of health and human rights as they relate to queer and trans-identified communities.

A series of random occurrences (the best kind!) led Ram to becoming the Men`s Health Coordinator at ASAAP, a role with its own unique challenges. His work has been crucial in busting the myth that gay and bi men only exist in White communities.

Queerness has existed in different forms in Tamil culture from pre-colonial times, and our sacred texts are peppered with examples of deities who are transgender or represent more than one gender identity. And yet so much of this rich history is forgotten in parts of the diaspora eager to push heteronormativity as the only option.

Ram has been successful in bringing together cultural, religious and community elements to build a movement that recognizes the diversity that exists both in the Tamil and Queer communities, while creating a space where both identities can coincide. Part of his work led him to develop a qualitative research study that painted a holistic picture of how South Asian men navigate queer identities, sexuality and sex. This work has been featured at national and international conferences and is the only Canadian study of its kind.

 

 

2015 saw Queer issues become a focal point for civil rights movements around the world. The world cheered on as the Supreme Court of the United States passed marriage equality, causing many of my friends and family to apply a rainbow coloured filter to their carefully selected profile pictures.

But there is still work to be done. Queer and trans people of colour continue to struggle with the structural violence that is enacted by larger systems, placing them at increased risk for mental and physical trauma that cannot be alleviated by the promise of a marriage licence.

Ram has repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to queer issues within the Tamil diaspora, using his voice to shed light on the struggles and strengths of a community that has historically been marginalized within the larger dialogue. His passion and expertise make it clear why your votes have named him one of TC’s Most Influential Tamils of 2015.

 

 

Tea and Consent

Consent can be a complicated topic to discuss let alone navigate, but its an important thing for everyone to understand and excercise. Check out this great PSA from the Thames Valley Police, its quick, funny, and informative!

Tea and Consent

 

World AIDS DAY!

World AIDS Day is a time to reflect on the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, and remember how far we have come in the fight. We must still work to meet the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day “Getting to Zero.”

Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS – related deaths.

ASAAP is committed to providing health promotion, care and support for self-identifying South Asians living with, at risk for, or affected by HIV/AIDS.

To mark this significant day ASAAP is launching our new website, check out www.asaap.ca

Get involved!