Monday, March 16, 2015

New UK laws against "revenge porn"

Back in January, I was contacted by the UK's Ministry of Justice to ask me whether I could support their campaign against revenge porn on this blog.

In case anyone hasn't heard of it, a good definition of revenge porn is "the sharing of intimate, sexual images of a person without their consent and with the intention of causing them distress". A typical scenario would be when a couple take intimate pictures or videos for fun during their relationship, but then when the relationship comes to an end, one of the couple take revenge on the other by making the images public.

However in the near future, making those kinds of images public is going to be an offence under UK law, punishable by up to two years in prison. The Ministry of Justice is also running a campaign Be Aware B4 You Share with hashtag #NoToRevengePorn to try and make everyone aware of the new offence and corresponding punishments.

Thinking about the issues here, although I have a few intimate pictures of my ex-boyfriends, there's nothing that might cause me to make them public. For me it would be like discussing the sexual preferences of an ex-partner in order to make fun of them, which is similarly a very nasty thing to do. People don't tend to discuss their ex-partner's preferences, so keeping images or videos private should fall into the same category of behaviour. What happens in the bedroom should stay there!

Looking back, ex-boyfriend R (a.k.a. boyfriend number 3) was very shy about allowing me to have ANY electronic image of him. He always said that with electronic images, one could never be certain where they might end up on the internet, so he didn’t let anyone have any. Similarly, although I've got lots of photos of ex-boyfriend T with clothes on, I don't have any intimate images of him. I always remember the trip to Paris with him before we became boyfriends. I took a picture of his naked buttocks while he was getting undressed but unfortunately he forced me to delete it! I guess he was scared where such images might end up as well. However, I've still got some slightly naughty pics of ex-boyfriend S (a.k.a. boyfriend number 1), although I keep them well guarded :-).

Regarding images of me, I seem to recall that ex-boyfriend R (a.k.a. boyfriend number 3) might have an intimate video of me taken on his mobile phone a few years ago. However when I asked him about it last year, he said that he couldn't remember. He's probably telling the truth, because he's a slightly dis-organised person, so if it did ever exist it's almost certainly been lost as he's upgraded his phone over the years.

When I was contacted by the UK's Ministry of Justice back in January, one of the things they said is that they'd be interested to hear from people who'd been the victim of revenge porn. It may be that they're not interested anymore, because it's been about two months since I received the original email, and it looks like their campaign may be over. Nonetheless, in case they are still interested, please send me an email if you've been affected by revenge porn and I'll forward it on to them. Alternatively, all comments on this post are welcome (as usual), especially it's done in such a way that it's possible to contact the commenter to follow up :-).

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Email from a guy who needed life-saving surgery

A couple of months ago I received the following email:

Dear GB,

I originally moved from Northern Ireland to the UK, after having major life saving surgery, to start my life again at uni. The culture is not so open here in the North east of England compared to NI. One thing though is I don't know how to really chat guys up anymore since my lack of confidence from surgery 6 years ago. I'm now 26 and when I meet a guy for no strings fun, they just get up and walk away when they see the scars and the bag that's attached to me. Now this has not stopped me trying to chat people up, but I can't seem to talk to anyone in a bar. I've had a few moments when a straight guy has talked down at me when they found out I was gay and then walked away. I would like to find that person in my life, but I'm wondering how I should go about chatting up guys, and should I tell them about my surgery when they know me a lot better?


I didn't pick up the email immediately because I was busy with other things. However, as soon as I saw it, I sent him a reply in which I included the following:

I can't help wondering whether you can find ways to build confidence in other areas of your life? If there's anything that you're good at, or can be successful at, then building confidence in whatever it is should eventually have a positive effect on your confidence when dating.

I've been thinking about this guy's situation a bit more now, and I think he's right, there's no need to tell people about his surgery straight away. To my mind, there's an approximate parallel here with one of the main characters in the recent Kingsman film.

*** plot spoiler follows! ***

The Kingsman film film is about a fictional independent British spy organisation (called Kingsman). The spies are mostly from upper class (i.e. rich) backgrounds, and there's a young recruit with the nickname Eggsy who's from a very working class background. Eggsy tries to get along with the other recruits, who're also all quite upper class, but most of them look down on him because of his background. It all comes to a head in a scene where six recruits, including Eggsy, do a parachute jump as part of their training. They're falling through the air, about half-way through the skydive, when their training instructor tells them that he didn't give one of them a parachute, and that they need to work together to solve the problem!

Eggsy formulates a plan, namely that they need to pair up and hold each other tightly so that if the parachute of one of the pair fails, the parachute of the other will save them. However as they get closer to the ground, four of the recruits can't handle the idea that they might not have a parachute and one by one they pull their ripcords. All four parachutes work, leaving Eggsy and the other (female) recruit still falling. Luckily they manage to implement Eggsy's plan, with the other recruit pulling her ripcord and finding that the parachute does work, so both land safely together. On the ground, Eggsy then says to the instructor in a bitter voice "So I'm the expendable one then :-(", because the parachutes had all worked for the upper class recruits. The instructor then pulls Eggsy's ripcord and the parachute does open, so in fact all six recruits had had working parachutes after all. "You need to lose that chip on your shoulder!" says the instructor.

(In case any readers don't know the meaning of the phrase "have a chip on your shoulder", I think a good definition is "to seem angry all the time because you think you have been treated unfairly or feel you are not as good as other people".)

The parallel with the reader's situation is that he seems to have a chip on his shoulder in connection with his surgery. The surgery was obviously a major event in his life, so it's quite understandable that it's had such a big effect on him. The way he feels now is probably the result of a few bad experiences, where guys that he met genuinely did look down on him. The result is that he now he's now worried that everyone will be like that, which undermines his confidence. I'm always saying that confidence is the most important attribute when dating, so as I said in my email to him, finding ways to build confidence in other areas of his life will help.

After all the training he had, the character Eggsy in the film would never deny or try to hide his background, but neither would he think about it very much. It's just part of who he is. The same should be true for this reader. The surgery is just a part of what's happened to him, and there's no reason to mention it early in any friendship, because that gives it an importance that it doesn't deserve.

In fact, this is another case of The Confidence Mirror. If a person feels uncomfortable about something when talking to someone else, then that discomfort is often reflected back to the person. Similarly, if a person feels good about something, then that often gets reflected as well. I usually talk about this in connection with a conversation where the person comes out as gay to the other person, because in that situation it's important that the person who comes out feels good about themselves. For the reader, this applies to the life-saving surgery that he had (as well as to being gay). The scars etc that he's been left with are the proof that he's a survivor, so perhaps if the thinks about them like that then he can feel a bit better about what's happened to him.

In the film, Eggsy lost the chip on his shoulder, and then with the right attitude goes to save the world from the evil billionaire villain. I see no reason why the reader can't do the equivalent thing, and find himself the boyfriend that I'm sure he deserves :-).

Does anyone else have any ideas for this reader?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Email from a guy looking for a more exciting (sex) life

A couple of months ago, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

Recently I stumbled upon your blog and immediately was drawn to it. I've read through most of your posts, especially from your earlier years and somehow I can relate with a lot you have been writing.

Actually, I think I might be in a somehow similar situation you were about ten years ago. I'm a gay engineer in my early 30s and have been in various relationships over the last ten years. The longest was over five years long, the current runs about 3 years. All of these relationships were strictly monogamous. However, sometimes I was just flirting on Grindr with other men without actually visiting them. This changed when I was on a longer business trip to Asia a couple of months ago. I finally met a guy for real and somehow the chemistry was so great that we not only had sex once but almost every other day for the three weeks I stayed here. I did tell him that I have a boyfriend at home but still we kind of fell in love with each other, spent a lot of time together and had a very tearful farewell when I finally left. Of course I didn't tell my boyfriend anything but I keep in contact with my Asian friend and even might consider him my boyfriend number 2.

Back at home I was still drawn to Grindr and met some other guys for quick fun. I was especially drawn to Asians. Still I didn't tell my boyfriend anything. He is a very nice guy and I'm quite content with our relationship. However, it is also kind of boring and I have to say that the rest of my life is also a little bit boring. I'm pretty much settled in, have a nice apartment with my boyfriend, a good job, a good salary and already achieved a lot during my younger years. It looks like that everything is just "nice" but not so exciting any more. So it kind of boils down now what to do with my life. I feel similar to you when you were younger that I would prefer a more exciting life instead of just the same routine, nice stuff every day. I had more excitement during my business trip to Asia and also during my brief gay sex here at home. But I don't think that's really a healthy way to go forward (especially by cheating my boyfriend). So maybe I would need an open relationship but I'm not sure.

Anyway, I was wondering what happened to you. Did you finally settle in with a less exciting life? Or did you have anything other (like work or hobbies) filling up for it? Maybe it's some kind of early mid-life crisis but I wonder if as a gay man if there's something inherently different to most straight man who usually found a family.

Looking forward to your reply. Kind regards.

I thought that the email raised some interesting points, and within a day I'd sent him a response which included the following paragraphs:

I think I still have an interesting (exciting?) life :-), but the interest isn't generated by *activities* with lots of different guys! Although I split up with boyfriend number 1 back in 2008, we're still very good friends, like brothers in many ways. Both ex-boyfriend T and boyfriend K were/are keen on monogamy so since early January 2010 I've been monogamous too. Of course, my long term relationship with boyfriend number 1 lasted 15+ years, whereas even the relationship with ex-boyfriend T only lasted 4 years and it's still only around a year with boyfriend K. So perhaps I'll feel the need to find *activities* with other guys again if my relationship with boyfriend K reaches a similar age.

Looking back to the time when I was with boyfriend number 1, I always had a much bigger sex drive than him. So when things were difficult with him, or when I was away from him, I felt compelled to find *activities* elsewhere. Looking back, it feels like I went through a phase (an addiction?) where *activities* with other guys were very important to me. Perhaps because I went through that phase, it's out of my system now and I'll never go through it again. Boyfriend number 1 has various insecurities, so unfortunately he wasn't able to handle the idea of an open relationship. If he had agreed to one, I think I may well have got bored with it after the while, in the same way that I've been happily monogamous since January 2010. In part, a lot of the excitement of all the *activities* came from the naughtiness of it all, and if it's allowed it's much less naughty LOL!

His reply took less than a day to arrive:

Thanks for your quick reply and being so open.

You are right that the "excitement" might come from the naughtiness of the activities. Maybe it's one way to escape a boring life by spicing up things a little bit -- you might get caught after all. It's like sex in a dark park or the car, part of the fun is that you never know if someone catches you.

Your part about this phase in your life being like an addiction also resonated with me. I think it can be a very nice feeling if you know all these hot people like you and want to engage in activities with you. That's why I also enjoy just chatting with them, without ever meeting. It's like watching XXX movies, just a little bit more real. But you have to become careful that it doesn't become dominating your life. That's something I already fear and guess I have to stop now when I can still control it reasonably well.

Having thought about this reader's emails, I can't avoid thinking about a very personal question relating to me, which does have a lot of bearing on the reader's situation. The question that keeps popping into my mind is, what advice would GB today give to the young GB back in 1994, before the trip to NYC where I first strayed from my monogamous relationship with boyfriend number 1? Imagining this as a court case, I find it very easy to write "the case for the defence", namely the case for doing everything in exactly the same way as I actually did.

The (unapologetic) case for the defence: In the end, everything has worked out brilliantly. I had many good years being boyfriends with boyfriend number 1. Having *activities* with other guys outside my main relationship with boyfriend number 1 was much more fun than it would have been had I been in an open relationship, for the reasons discussed in the above emails. Obviously there was a difficult patch with boyfriend number 1 when we ended the relationship, but at this stage 7 years later, we're good friends again and I regard him as part of my extended family. Boyfriend number 1 had firm views against open relationships, so if I had been told him about my *activities*, it's likely that we would have split up in the mid 1990's which would have been a great shame. If I had been monogamous and stayed with boyfriend number 1, I wouldn't have had any opportunity to meet a host of fascinating people, including my other boyfriends. In everyday life, the opportunities for meeting people in completely different walks of life are quite limited, except when one is dating (or cruising!). I've also met a lot of wonderful people as a result of my relationships with boyfriend number 2 and now boyfriend K, so I would have missed out on a lot if I was still in a monogamous relationship with boyfriend number 1. There's a lot of on the internet about the shelf life of relationships, and in many ways my relationship with boyfriend number 1 ran its natural course. Monogamy helps straight couples raise kids in a safe and stable environment, but has less relevance in the gay world.

The case for doing things differently: Boyfriend number 1 has been a very important person in my life, and at this stage I think that he always will be. However, I completely failed to respect his views on monogamy. Worse than that, I didn't give him the support that he needed starting about fifteen years ago, when he was gradually becoming more and more depressed. It's easy to look back and rationalize what happened by making the excuse that I thought we were drifting apart, but in a good relationship the partners should be able to rely on each other in the bad times. So in reality, I let him down very badly.

In fact, I do accept that I should have done things differently. The hard question to answer is what. One thing that occurs to me is that if I'd started talking to him about a more open relationship in the early years, then it wouldn't have come as such as shock to him when he learned that I hadn't been faithful. The uncomfortable truth is probably that there was a fundamental incompatibility between me and boyfriend number 1, because he wanted strict monogamy, and looking at what happened I needed something a bit more open. Open relationships can be constructed in many ways, but I was never able to have that conversation with him. Freedom to play with other guys when I was away on business might have been enough.

Coming back to the reader who sent me the email above, one concern I have is that he seems to be bored with his current relationship after only 3 years. I was never bored in my relationship with boyfriend number 1, although as the early posts in this blog prove, I enjoyed looking for more. I think that there are many benefits to having a long term boyfriend, but perhaps reader's current one isn't the best match for him.

Do any other readers have any thoughts on this subject?

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christmas charity donations

Christmas treeChristmas comes but once a year, and for the past 7 years (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013), I've asked readers for suggestions for the charity donations that I always make at Christmas. This year there's about £1000 to give away, so don't be shy, leave a comment and tell me about your favourite charities :-). The one rule is that because of the way I do my donations, I can only donate to charities that are registered with the UK Charities Commission. I'll make the final decision about who to donate to next Sunday 14th December, so don't delay, leave a comment today!

Update 16-Dec-2014: charity donation result.

Thanks for the comments :-).

One reader suggested Ben Cohen's Stand Up Foundation. I had a look, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be a registered UK charity. Because I donate via an account that I have with, I can only donate to registered UK charities, so the Stand Up Foundation isn't eligible.

The information provided by another reader about "diseases we donate to versus diseases that kill us" was fascinating :-). That web site suggests that cancer charities get more than their fair share of donations. Nonetheless, two other readers suggested that Cancer Research (charity number 1089464) would be a worthy beneficiary, so I've given them £200.

For the rest, I've mostly gone back to charities that I've donated to in the past. Last year typhoon Haiyan had recently devastated the Philippines so I gave to the British Red Cross Philippines Typhoon Appeal. However, this year it's all about Ebola, so I've given £300 to the British Red Cross Ebola Crisis Appeal (charity number 220949) and £500 to Médecins Sans Frontières (Charity number 1026588). I come from a medical family, so the work of Médecins Sans Frontières has always seemed like a particularly worthy cause to me. I've also supported GMFA (charity number 1076854) again with a donation of £200, and as a result of a request from my sister I've given £100 to Fight For Sight (charity number 1111438).

Happy Christmas everyone :-). GB xxx

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Email from a gay guy who's tried to be straight

A few weeks ago, a reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

I have read your blog for a while now, and I've learned a lot from your experiences and advice. But now I am in a position where I don't find any parallel in your stories.

I am 26, and I came out to my parents at 18. At that time it was very difficult for me, and I ended up promising them I wouldn't have a gay relationship until I leave the country, so that no one could find out. Therefore, I began a straight relationship that lasted 7 years and ended badly. In that time, I graduated from college and became a university teacher. One of my duties as a professor is to advise students on their theses, so I was assigned one.

My student is 22, and at the time we began to work I tried not to get attached to him, to maintain things at the professional level. But this guy is everything I dream of in a man, so step by step, we became closer friends. I never looked at him improperly, mainly because I was in a relationship and wanted to stay honest and because he doesn't strike me as gay, just the opposite.

I ended my relationship and suddenly I realized that I have strong feelings for him and that he is indeed gay although he has not come out to me. He has begun a gay relationship for the first time and is very happy discovering his sexuality. Looking back, I can see now that he was interested in me or at least curious, but now I feel he's not, even when we still hang out and go for drinks when it's just the two of us.

I haven't had sex with a man yet, but I would like my first time to be special. Right now I cannot imagine anyone more suited for that than him, because he is very hot, he is gentle and tender, a very good friend, reliable and discreet. I feel it's not a good time to come out to him, or to tell him about my feelings. I am really tempted to propose to him that we should become "friends with benefits", but I am afraid that would mess up our friendship and our professional relationship too. The other choice I see is to wait, cause he has told me that he is bored very fast with relationships, but we don't have much time left, we are both planning to leave the country in a year from now, possibly in different directions. And I have waited too long for things to happen to me, and for that I missed a lot of opportunities.

Besides, I don't know other gay men, at least as friends. I don't know how to hook up and stay in the closet at the same time, mainly because my friends are straight. I mentioned to him that I would like to meet his friends, but he avoided that conversation. So I'm hopeless and I would appreciate your thoughts about this. Please write back.

I felt that this reader had been very brave to agree with his parents to try and suppress his sexuality, and I was amazed that he'd been able to do it for so long. So I did indeed write back to him, and in the email I included the following paragraphs:

I hope you won't mind be being direct. Please read this slowly and carefully, and try and absorb what I'm saying. I think you've probably been bottling up all your gay feelings for so long that you can't think rationally about anything related to being gay. More than that, when gay guys like you try and suppress their sexuality, they can end up developing crushes on their male friends and colleagues (or students) who are in their life. That certainly happened to me before I started to come out. So I think you may well have a crush on this student of yours. Even though your student seems to be gay, I think the moment when you might have become *intimate* friends has probably passed now. In any case, student <--> teacher relationships are tricky because there's the issue that it's unprofessional for a teacher to start a relationship with one of his students.

The fact that you tried having a straight relationship for seven years is amazing. However, at this stage I think you should try to find a way to start exploring your gay sexuality (but not with your student). Even though you might be leaving your country within a year, I don't think you should wait. I've got no idea where you live or what possibilities there are in your country, but if your student found a way then I'm sure you can as well.

About two weeks later, he sent me the following reply:

Thanks for your fast reply. I was stuffed at work and couldn't read it earlier, but I'm glad you took a moment of your time to spent on me. I wasn't looking to be on your blog, I just needed your advice. Regarding your proposed title on your blog, I don't think that trying to be straight was the main issue of my email, but if that might be interesting for your readers then I have no arguments.

Being in a straight relationship was very enjoyable and safe for me, while it lasted. I learned a lot about giving and receiving pleasure, and it helped me to maintain a *normal* lifestyle, without people and parents constantly reviewing every action of my day. But I prolonged it with no need, and after 5 to 6 years we were no longer in love. I don't regret my decisions though, rather I should have stopped it the moment I started to feel trapped.

I agree with you that I might have been bottling my feelings, and I am sure it's the reason I have this kind of intense crush on my student. I'll refer to him as C, as you do in your blog :). He passed from being an unrealizable fantasy, to a possible fantasy, and from there to a possibility.

Since I wrote you, our circumstances have changed. Last week he invited me to go out with his friends, and he came out to me. He introduced me to his friends as a friend, and then he marked out that I was his thesis adviser. I also met his boyfriend (not as I imagined he would be). Entering his world and seeing him behave in a gay environment was very rewarding for me. It didn't harm or feel awkward to see him cuddling with his boyfriend, it was rather tender. I realized I'm not in love with him; I like him very much, and I suppose I have developed a fixation with him.

My main concern is about my first sexual experience with a man. I have these high expectations of what it is supposed to be. Of course, he being the nearest to me, I have fantasized about him several times. As I told you, he meets all my expectations, and not just for being near, but because he's sexy, handsome, has no mannerisms and sentimentally he's very mature. You're right though that our time to be intimate friends has passed, and that dooms my hopes.

Keep in mind we are almost the same age (indeed his boyfriend is also 26). For that reason, we are more like colleagues/friends than teacher-student. I'm not worried about the ethical issues here, I'm certain we both could handle the situation and university policies are somehow permissible in that regard. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to mess up his relationship. I have always thought that honesty is basic to any relationship, so it puts me in a moral conflict.

At the same time, other issues are emerging for me now. These new friends are really nice people, I felt very comfortable. I was disposed only to make their acquaintance, and then it turns out that they were trying to set me up with one of the boys in the group. I wasn't expecting that, and therefore, even when I noticed some flirting from this boy, I responded with the natural constraints that I've developed in the straight environment. I'm not saying I was rude. On the contrary, I tried to be nice, but I wasn't forward nor flirted back. This boy is interesting, right. But the scenario of having my first encounter with him is not as appealing as my fantasies with C. This is a hurdle I have to overcome, but I don't find the way.

Please don't judge me too harshly. It is the first time I find myself in such dilemma, and my moral compass is spinning wildly as I try to reach an agreement between what is right and what I want.

Sorry for this rather large email. It has taken me an entire morning and hard thinking to organize all the ideas. It has been a helpful process also.
Best regards,

I have the impression that quite a few readers who write to me find the process therapeutic. I think this is simply because organising all one's thoughts and feelings to put into an email turns out to be the exactly the kind of task that people need to help them solve their problems on their own.

One thing that is holding this reader back is his desire that when he engages in activities with another man for the first time, that it should be a special occasion. My own view on that is that it's nice if it turns out to be special, but that one shouldn’t attach too much importance to it for lots of reasons:
  • Focussing on making the first time special takes focus away from a far more important task, namely find a compatible long-term boyfriend with whom one can have special times (including activities!) every day.
  • For it to be special, the other person probably needs to have a similar view that it's going to be a special occasion, and that's hard to find.
  • My impression is that most people who want their first time to be special end up feeling a bit disappointed when the deed is done.
It's interesting that C and C's friends were apparently trying to set up the reader with this other guy. Gay guys who're not fully out often think that people can't tell that they're really gay. However, the reverse is often true. In trying to cover up their true sexuality, gay guys who're not out can try too hard and then their behaviour stands out as unusual. That was certainly true of my ex-boyfriend T. Additionally there are some characteristics that are more frequently found in gay guys than in straight guys, which coupled with trying too hard to appear straight are a complete give-away. Again with ex-boyfriend T, he was exceptionally neat with a strong interest in fashion too. He always looked immaculate when he left home. Because he thought he was invisible as a gay man, he was appalled when one of his friends told him that he appeared very metrosexual!

In his second email, the reader appeared to accept that the time when activities might have been possible with C has passed. Additionally he now seems to accept that he has indeed has a crush on C because he's been suppressing his sexuality. C has a boyfriend and I wholeheartedly agree that the reader shouldn’t attempt anything now because that might ruin C's relationship. The reader also appears to accept that this other boy is 'interesting' so my advice would be to see whether that door can still be opened. If not it doesn't matter because there are plenty of other gay guys in the world :-). But I'd recommend that the attitude to have regarding first time activities is that they're a little hurdle to be jumped. Afterwards, one's mind is much clearer, and then one can focus on working out how to lead the rest of one's life :-).

Do any other readers have any thought on this situation?