By Brian Mullin
Originally performed by Jonathan Curry
(The SPEAKER is a middle-aged gay man. Maybe he has been sitting amongst the
audience. He stands.)
(Steps to the front.)
Who’s here for the first time? To something like this?
(Genuinely waits till some people raise their hands.)
That’s great. Great.
It’s been very interesting. Really. Listening to what everyone’s had to say.
I haven’t been to something like this in… quite a while.
Don’t know why not really.
Or maybe I do.
Maybe we all do, right?
(He breathes. Thinks for a bit.)
I had an old friend – really he wasn’t that old, about 33. But this was some years
back. This friend used to do a lot of activism and he liked to say, “There’s a special
magic in the room when a group of people with HIV get together.”
And I can remember thinking: Fuck off, Michael.
At a Christmas party?
We weren’t super close. But I’d heard that line a lot.
It was fine at a meeting but, honestly, if I’d come to the clinic Christmas party it
wasn’t to hear things like that. It was probably because December is the darkest
time of the year, especially when you’ve got loads of personal shit happening and
your family lives far away – not that they’re speaking to you anyway. And basically
you just feel like getting drunk on egg nog and tryna find a guy to go home with.
I was diagnosed at twenty-two.
I can remember thinking, as I stared down at a clump of fallen tinsel, don’t we ever
get a break from this??
The shops on Oxford Street all had window displays of reindeer and snowflakes and
stardust: ‘The Magic of Christmas.’ And here we were in the basement of a clinic,
some of us bundled up in heavy coats looking deathly, the rest of us medicating the
seasonal blues with booze – and Michael’s saying, “There’s a special magic in the
room when a group of people with HIV get together.”
Actually, he would’ve said “people with AIDS.”
Because that’s what he had. By that point.
The virus had already been identified. Everyone in that room would’ve known the
So we never would’ve said “He’s got AIDS” if we meant “He’s HIV positive.”
Or “She’s HIV positive.”
Outside, though, on Oxford Street? At this temp job I was working? I’d heard one lad
talking to another at the office Christmas party the week before: “She’s a real
slapper, mate. I hope she doesn’t give you AIDS.”
Even the sensitive ones got it wrong, the ones who tried to care. Christmastime
charity appeals, news stories about Diana visiting “AIDS victims” in hospital.
Every once in a while, you’d turn on the telly and you’d see Michael getting
interviewed. Even after he got quite ill. And he’d be saying things like, “Excuse me,
we’re not victims. We’re just people. With a condition. We’re people with AIDS.”
Maybe that was part of the special magic.
Because when it was just us in a room - like it is right now – just people with HIV
–we didn’t have to worry about that shit.
Because we all got it, you know?
And that’s pretty rare.
Nowadays, we don’t even say ‘HIV-positive,’ do we?
What’s the new thing? ‘Living with HIV’.
Michael never got to say that.
I’m sorry if that’s upsetting. It’s history.
And I really am trying to get to the point…
I never went on TV. Or on any marches.
I did come to meetings like this. For a little while. Not regularly.
I was twenty-two, twenty-three. I had enough going on.
You kept it pretty far down. The tick tick tick of certain questions. Like a time bomb
deep inside you.
And if you ended up speaking about it to the wrong people, a whole load of other
questions would spring up that you didn’t want to hear.
‘Do you know who gave it to you?’
‘Well, how many were there??’
‘Did he disclose to you that he was infected?’
‘Do you feel ill?’
‘Can you keep working?’
‘How long have you got?’
Disclosing. So fucking legalistic.
Friends would come to me, too. With a certain look in their eyes.
‘How do I tell my Mum?’
'My fuck buddy?’
I wasn’t an expert. But I’d been one of the first to get tested.
‘Have they given you this medication?’
‘What does it do to you?’
‘They can’t arrest me, can they?’
‘Can I still fuck him if he doesn’t know?’
I was an office temp, not an activist.
A club kid, not a counselor.
But this chain got formed. One would disclose to me and then they would help
another. Like what Michael said. Because who else could we count on?
Without even trying to, we got the magic.
It held us together. Barely.
Until some of the links started disappearing.
Not me, somehow.
I had four boyfriends, serious boyfriends, before I became undetectable. And they all
Do you know how hard that was?
Not just the condoms. The mental work. Whatever you wanna call it… emotional
How many twenty-two year-olds can do that?? And keep up a horny sex life?
It was a lot easier when the other guy was positive. Cause he understood.
But how long was he going to be around for?
And being there for friend after friend when they…
I never asked for that job, you know?
No wonder I needed a break.
(Longer pause. He breathes.)
And now it’s all different.
For you lot.
For all of us.
Just like that.
(Clicks his fingers.)
Cause now, as everyone in this room already knows, we know there’s a difference
between saying “He’s HIV positive” and “He’s undetectable.”
Or “She’s undetectable.”
Now we all know that U = U. We even post it on our Facebook pages.
Undetectable equals untransmissible.
We can sleep with whoever we want and we can’t pass it on.
She can have that baby. She can breast feed.
And it won’t get passed on.
Better yet, we all know that everyone in this room, as long as this country keeps
doling out our medications – we’re not dying any quicker than anyone in the so-
called “general” population.
So why do we even have meetings like this anymore?
We all know this stuff, right? We’ve seen the facts.
I could present some charts. Studies. I could bring out a fucking PowerPoint, if you’d
like to see the data?
Because I know where to find it.
I’ve presented that data quite a lot. Still working that unpaid job.
At the most inappropriate moments.
Ridiculous moments. Deeply unsexy. Like when you’re in there deep, cause he’s just
said, “Yeah yeah, go on, stick it in” “You sure?” “Yeah, c’mon, go.” “You sure?” “Yeah, I
like it better this way.”
And then it comes.
Buck naked. Lying on the bed.
“That was OK, right?”
But he’s not asking about his performance, you know?
Or you’re on the bus back home and he starts What’sApping all his worries and
questions. When I was twenty-two they couldn’t reach you on public transport.
No matter how open we’ve been, how honest, how much we’ve disclosed. We still
have to deal with all this…
Ping ping ping.
Cause they’re not sure.
And yeah I do it.
Some of the time.
I send the links. The websites. The reports.
I’ve got them bookmarked for speedy delivery.
In my own little way, I’ve been doing my bit for the cause.
Just like Michael would’ve done.
I’m a one-man public health campaign. Like when Norman Fowler dropped all those
pamphlets under everybody’s door, but this time it’s me in their DMs.
And still they hem and they haw. And I say, ‘Go get tested – but I’m sure it will be
fine. Because the data says so. The facts.’
Look, I know love and sex aren’t about facts. They’re about feelings and they’re
messy. Fluids are messy. They spill over.
But when did this become our problem?
They wanted my load and now they’re unloading all this on me??
When did their desire for unprotected sex become our responsibility?
If everything’s changed for the better, with this miraculous undetectability, how
come I can’t detect the happiness? Why are so many of us feeling the same old way??
What happened to the fucking magic?
I get tired.
I get really fucking tired.
(Raises his hand) Anybody know what I mean?
I start thinking, ‘I’m really groggy today. I’m down. Maybe it’s the meds.’ I’ve never
noticed any side effects before but now I’m reading the side of the bottle and
suddenly they sound like some pretty serious shit. And maybe I tell my doctor and
maybe he switches my combination around.
But there’s no way to know is there, really?
No way to tell if it’s the Efavirenz or just the damp weather that’s making me feel
like this. Or if I’m just getting old. Like my mum did. And my dad. And every other
human being on this planet.
Or if I just feel worn down because I’ve been dealing with an awful lot of shit for an
awful lot of years.
And I still have to.
There’s no way to separate it all out. We can’t ever know what it would feel like if we
weren’t on these meds. If we hadn’t seroconverted.
We can’t go back. It’s history.
And suddenly I’m back to thinking: Fuck. Off.
Don’t we ever get a break?
Like all history, it keeps repeating.
Replicating. Like the virus.
The pills were supposed to inhibit that.
Keep it manageable.
But maybe the pills don’t work.
On the virus, yes. But on the rest of it?
I don’t need more unpaid work. I’m not temping anymore. That was twenty-seven
Educating clueless twinks in a sauna or douchebags off Guardian Soulmates is not
my job. They ought to know by now. Responsibility goes both ways. If for some
reason they find condoms difficult, they can take a pill.
It’s the same fucking pill that I take, in fact. One of them.
I’d say I’m being pretty responsible if I take my meds and have the fucking bravery
to announce I’m undetectable. On an app. In a bar. In bed. And I’ll keep doing it.
But after that? It’s not mine anymore. I pass it onto them.
Having HIV is not my fucking job.
I’ll still send the links. When I feel like it. Once. Twice. But I can hit the block button,
I don’t need clueless twats in my life, no matter how firm their twenty-two year-old
flesh looks on Instagram.
I don’t need any of them.
I need you. Cause there’s not a lot of places I can say this. And be understood.
I can hear Michael’s voice in my head again. ‘Where’ve you been, dummy?’
Maybe after twenty-seven years, I’m still learning.
‘The pills aren’t magic. But the people can be.’
And when that history starts repeating, maybe we have only one responsibility.
Not to them. Or to HIV.
To do what he said.
To get together. In rooms like this.
Hold it together.
Take it on together.
And make the magic happen.
All of us