September's Local Life Story is with HIV Campaigner and Editor of beyondpositive.org, Tom Hayes.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small village outside Redditch called Astwood Bank. It was a nice, quiet village which I love visiting now - but there wasn’t much to do!
Single or attached?
What makes you happy?
I’m fairly easy to keep happy. As long as I’m feeding my gin, sushi and underwear addictions, I’m usually smiling. That said, they’re not cheap!
What makes you sad?
Exercise. I mean, yeah, we all need to do it, but does it have to be so hard? Apart from that, it’s seeing people worse off than me and feeling unable to do anything about it - the internet is awful for that sometimes.
What makes you angry?
Ignorance. There seems to be a lot of it about at the moment, be it aimed towards migrants, refugees, gay people, people living with HIV. Why can’t we all just get along?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My fear of missing out. It’s crippling sometimes. Maybe I’m just a people person…
What’s been the most embarrassing thing you’ve done in your life?
I was at the United Nations, handing out documents ahead of a talk I was giving. Hundreds of people in the room. Someone tweeted the big screen and said that they could all see my jockstrap above my trousers. Mortified.
Would you consider getting married?
I’ve been there, done that, got the divorce t-shirt. Single again now and in no rush to do it again. Not any time soon anyway.
When did you first know you were gay?
Probably around the age of 10 or 11. I knew I was different. I had no interest in playing ‘kiss chase’ with the girls, but I did prefer spending time with them over the boys - they just got me.
When did you come out?
I came out at 13. A somewhat angsty teenager affair. I didn’t think my parents would understand, so I stormed off, went for a walk late at night and ended up getting lost. I ended up calling my parents from a phonebox (how retro) to come find me and blurted it out. They weren’t as surprised as I’d expected…
What was school like for you as a gay teenager?
Most people were cool with me being gay actually, which surprised 13-year-old me back in 1998. There were a couple of bullies who tried to make my life difficult, but after I beat one of them in a fight, they left me alone. That detention was totally worth it.
Who was the first person you told you were gay, and what was their reaction?
I think the first person I ever told was my friend Nicola. She pretended to be my girlfriend for the few months between me telling her and actually coming out. She was so cool with it.
What would you say to a youngster trying to come to terms with their own sexuality?
Everyone comes to terms with their own sexuality at their own pace. I came out at 13. I know friends who came out at 30 and some who still haven’t. There’s no rush, but when you’re ready, make sure you have the support of your friends.
Have you ever had any experiences with the opposite sex?
I played ‘pass the ice cube’ at a party once. It involved kissing a girl. I wasn’t won over.
What do you do for a living?
I work in HIV and Sexual Health. I’m the editor of beyondpositive, a magazine for people living with HIV, and a Trustee of Saving Lives, a Birmingham-based HIV-testing charity.
How did you start working in the field?
I was diagnosed HIV positive in August 2011, and I took the opportunity to re-evaluate my life. I decided I wanted to do something that mattered and helped people.
What are you most proud of to date?
I think having started from nothing, an individual writing an anonymous blog, to now working at an international level - addressing people like the United Nations, European Parliament and the Houses of Parliament. It’s taken blood, sweat and a lot of tears, but I proved it could be done.
What challenges do you face working in HIV?
My work is intrinsically linked to my personal life. That’s how I started, and I draw on my past and my experiences all the time. Sometimes it can be hard to switch off, and I find myself doing work at all hours of the day and night when inspiration hits me.
What’s been the biggest change in HIV recently?
Undetectability. If a person with HIV, like me, takes their treatment every day, it controls the virus to a point we call ‘undetectable’. A huge study has recently shown us that undetectable people cannot pass on the virus at all. Undetectable equals uninfectious. It’s huge.
What one thing can everyone do to help stop HIV?
Get tested. You can go to a clinic, or you can do it at home for free. Just do it. There’s no such thing as a bad result. If it’s negative, you can continue looking after yourself, and if it’s positive, you can get the help and treatment you need. You can get a free home HIV testing kit from TakeATestUK.com using promo code CF0716.
How long have you been frequenting the Midlands gay scene?
I’ve actually been on the scene since I was 14. I used to sneak out of my bedroom window and get the bus into Birmingham. Route Two was my home! Oh, and Angels between its many and various fires.
What’s been your fondest memory of the scene?
I went out on New Year’s Eve 2001 when I’d just turned 16, ended up in Route Two and pulled for the first time in a gay bar. Doing the walk of shame on New Year’s Day with no public transport was less than ideal, though!
Who’s your favourite cabaret act on the scene?
It’s got to be La Voix. She’s such a classy act, and her impersonations are dead on. She does a lot of work with community groups too, which always gets my vote.
Who’s your favourite person on the scene?
That’s such a hard one. Can I say the entire Eden Bar staff? They’re all such lovely people.
What do you most enjoy about the gay scene?
The ability for us to be free, to be who we want and dress how we want. I went out the other day in a ridiculous semi-fetish outfit and no-one batted an eyelid. You could get away with that on Broad Street.
What have you noticed about the way the scene has changed over the years?
I think the scene has definitely got quieter over the years, in part because most bars are now generally safe for LGBTQI people, and also due to the advent of hook-up apps. But at the same time, I think the venues’ offer has got better to compete.
How would you change the gay scene?
I think Birmingham is really missing a dedicated cheesy pop bar. Non-stop pop and a music video wall. It’s cliché, I know, but hey!
Where do you like to go on a night out?
I usually start at one of the cocktail bars around Colmore Row and then, via somewhere to get food, invariably end up at Eden (or sometimes Boltz!)
What do you do to relax?
I love to cook. Cooking really relaxes me. A glass of wine in hand, stirring a risotto or something. That or stargazing. I love the night sky. That’s my zen.
What do you enjoy on telly?
My TV watching is either mindless comedy (think Kimmy Schmidt) or documentaries. Something to make you think, and then something to take your mind off it.
What was the last album or track you bought?
Communion by Years And Years.
Which one website do you spend the most time on?
Twitter, I’m bloody addicted. @PositiveLad by the way.
Which type of holiday do you prefer?
I love cruises. People have a really outdated idea that they’re for old people, but the ones I go on have surf simulators, sky diving, ice skating, rock climbing, scuba. They’re a great way to experience different cities or countries whilst being spoilt rotten.
Who’s your favourite actor?
Chris Pratt. Entirely for his acting ability. Entirely. Yes.
What’s your favourite book?
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Half empty or half full?
Keep pouring until it’s full, then it doesn’t matter.
What’s your favourite food?
And how about your favourite drink?
Madonna or Lady Gaga?
Madonna, all the way.
If you could take a selfie with one person, alive or dead, who would it be?
Did I mention Chris Pratt?
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