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Why do people visit a dominatrix?

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These men explain the appeal

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Everyone recognizes the popular image of the dominatrix standing over a cowering man, usually with a whip in her hand.

‘S&M’ has been a popular theme in art and films for a very long time, although it’s now generally referred to as BDSM (a surprisingly recent term which covers a whole heap of different kinky activities).

The development of the internet has made it easier than ever to find people willing to indulge your kinks and the pro-domme business is more popular than ever. But what makes men want to pay for the privilege of being hurt and humiliated?

I spoke to two men who use professional domme services and asked them – why?

Jason

‘I had fantasies around pain and punishment from a very young age. When I was about eight I was left in a car by my parents while they went to a dinner.

‘Unable to sleep I came across the hard case my father kept his glasses in and smacked myself with it. I guess it developed from there.

‘In my teens I bought a riding crop and had to create a complex lie to explain its presence in the house when it was found. Ours, by the way, was a loving, completely abuse-free family with almost no corporal punishment.

‘My first marriage was completely vanilla. When we separated I finally went to see a Domme I found in the back pages of a London newspaper.

‘She tied me to a chair and beat me so hard the bruises lasted a fortnight. At first I was too shocked and horrified to enjoy it but by the end I was surfing a huge wave of pain and endorphins and I floated out of her apartment.

‘I’m more masochistic than submissive, so it’s about pain more than humiliation. It’s hard to explain.

‘It’s the intimate interaction with the Domme, the sense of giving up all control to her, it’s the extreme sensations she causes and the beautiful clarity of focus that comes from the need to master them.

‘It’s the floaty subspace that pain can take you to, it’s the sense of having been challenged and survived. It’s all those things and more.

‘[If you want to visit a domme] think carefully about what you want to explore and read a lot of Dommes’ websites first.

‘Make it clear you are inexperienced and ask for an introductory session where you can try different aspects of BDSM at a mild level.

‘Be patient though – like any sex workers, Dommes unfortunately have to filter out a lot of timewasters and abusive people for each genuine new client.’

Stefan

‘A girl I played with at primary school would spank me if I misbehaved in the games we were playing – I think I was supposed to be a very disobedient puppy.

‘I then went to a boys’ school so met very few girls until sixth form college. We played a card game called ‘rappsies’ – if you lost you would have your knuckles hit with the pack of cards. I did my best to always lose to the girls.

‘I was a late starter outside my fantasy life. I studied hard and went to university before losing my virginity.

‘I’ve been with the same woman all my adult life – she shared my fantasies for a long time but then her interest in sex gradually waned away to nothing.

‘I could find fellow kinky people on the internet but I wasn’t looking for a relationship outside my marriage.

‘My wife is my wife and I love her but she no longer seems to have the need to have a sexual relationship, whereas I still enjoy sex – or at least my version of sex.

‘There can be pain but it is always balanced with pleasure – have you ever had a sore tooth that you bite on every now and again just to see?

‘The dommes I visit are all incredibly attractive and I have the need to please them. They all seem to genuinely enjoy what they do and ensure I get the experience I desire.

‘Strangely I don’t see being pissed on or spat on as being humiliated, I find it incredibly personal and intimate. It’s all down to the scenario.

‘I feel honoured – I’m getting exactly what I asked for. I would say I enjoy sensual domination and wouldn’t visit a domme who I thought didn’t care for me.

‘The mistresses I see (and their partners) are all regularly tested for STI’s so I feel that I’m not really putting myself at that much of a risk – and I get tested regularly too.

‘I don’t think [fetishes] have a psychological trigger. Probably I have a need to be liked and accepted by a woman, but what heterosexual man doesn’t? In my work life I’m generally the one in charge, on call 24hrs a day.

‘I have taken part in cuckold sessions where the mistress has sex with another man while I am ‘forced’ to watch, then to have to clean up the mess. Again I actually enjoy watching the mistress enjoying herself (I knew it was something she was looking forward to!).

‘It’s role play and I enjoy my role. Life is all about experiences – why leave this world knowing you have missed out on some that were within your grasp?’

What’s it like to be one of the women providing these services? I spoke to professional domme Ms Slide, who gave me the lowdown on dominating men for a living.

Have you always been interested in kink?

‘Dominatrix work has always been an integral part of who I am. Everyone has their own individual kinks and fetishes and I’m no different.

‘Practices perceived as unconventional are too often stigmatised. There is no such thing as ‘normal’ when it comes to consenting adult sexuality.’

How did you end up being a domme?

‘Kink was something that always fascinated me and I crossed over into the fetish scene from goth and cosplay.

‘Friends of friends began to contact me privately for sessions before I ever advertised as a pro-domme.

‘My career started almost by accident, but it’s something I love and will continue to do for as long as I’m able.

‘I am also a writer and illustrator and am now privileged enough to be able to take months out from pro-domming if I have a big project on the go, but I don’t ever see myself stopping entirely. It’s who I am.’

Where does the law stand re domme work?

‘UK law is tricky about what does or doesn’t constitute sex work.

‘Sex workers are all equally stigmatised (and put in danger) because of the legislation around how many of us can work together in one place without it being classed as a ‘brothel’.

‘The proposed criminalisation of all clients – the ‘Nordic Model‘ – would push our work underground, making the most vulnerable of us take greater risks for less money and undermining our safety.

‘Solidarity is important. Whatever our circumstances – whatever kind of sex work we do and whatever reason we have for doing it – we deserve the same rights and safety as workers in any other industry.

‘The law should protect us, not harm us – this can only be achieved through full decriminalisation, destigmatisation and unionisation.’

Is there a typical client?

‘No! The stereotypes you see on television of rich old bankers are largely inaccurate (unless that’s the demographic you specifically choose to market to – some dommes specialise).

‘Most of my clients have been men, but not all. I choose clients depending on how compatible we are.

‘If they have the wrong attitude, or have interests outside of what I enjoy, they don’t get to meet me.’

Do your friends and family know about your work?

‘I’m largely ‘out’ to friends and family, which is a privilege that many don’t have.

‘I have had problems in the past due to people’s misconceptions about kink and sex work which just makes me more determined to challenge the media misrepresentations of who we are and what we do. We are real people, not stereotypes.’

Complete Article HERE!

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What do men really think about sex? This is why we need better education

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We asked men how they learned about sex, and found that puerility and pornography have always trumped the facts. Mandatory sex education is most welcome

‘Alan, now aged 79, was evacuated to the countryside at the age of five – and spotted a bull mounting a cow. “It was a significant part of my sex education,” he said.’

It was announced this month that sex and relationship education is to become mandatory in schools for children aged four to 15. About time too. It’s never been easy for children who have wanted to learn credible information about sex.

We’ve recently been interviewing men for a project to find out what they really think, feel and do about sex, and found the early information they received was, in many cases, baffling. “Women don’t like it,” Bill was told as a teenager in the 1960s, “but you can do it all the same … [and] you only do it on Sundays when the children are out.”

Back in the 1940s, communicative adults were hard to come by, and children had to solve the mystery by themselves. Alan, aged 79, was evacuated from London to the countryside, aged five. There he spotted a large bull mounting a cow. “It was very significant,” he said. “I have never forgotten it.”

At primary school Bill, now 75, believed boys stood behind girls to do “it” (he was basing this on his observation of dogs). He was hugely embarrassed when told to stand behind a girl in a school folk-dance performance. “I thought that was very dirty.”

It was a rare grown-up who suggested that sex might be something pleasant, or something to look forward to; rather, a child’s sex education was more likely to elicit feelings of fear, danger and shame – and would often involve a lonely search for the facts. By the late 1950s, parental guidance was still fairly non-existent. At 14, Michael remembered finding a “dirty book” belonging to his father: “The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information, but often mind-boggling too … the contortions! The big penises! And the pleasure shown on women’s faces. I couldn’t believe it could be like that!”

‘The Kama Sutra was an excellent source of information – but mind-boggling, too!’

While Michael was studying the Kama Sutra, the only sex still being taught in the classroom involved plants and rabbits, and was often expressed in Latin. Several more decades were to pass before human genitalia and procreation were bravely described in English. Not until the early 1990s did the national curriculum specify that sex education must be taught. But just the mechanics. Nothing about relationships. And making the subject even more shambolic was the decision that each school could have its own individual policy, and each teacher was stuck with their own capabilities, experiences, terrors and confusions in conveying this information.

The easy way out was to explain that sex happened “when people loved each other and wanted babies”. Pleasure, variety and consent were rarely mentioned. But some teachers bravely tried to further enlighten the children. In 1994, in his last year of junior school, Dean, who was then aged 10, went to a sex education lesson in which his teacher tried her very best to take an innovative, practical and robust approach.

“Miss Woods asked the class if they knew of any ‘barrier methods’. I didn’t really know what they were, but someone said ‘condoms’. Miss Woods said, ‘Yes, anything else?’ Then a boy called Dave said, ‘You can get them with feathers on the end, Miss.’ Miss Woods looked cross, and said, ‘No you can’t’ – but Dave went on and on, saying, ‘Yes you can, they’re called French ticklers, I read in my Mum’s book. It had pictures in,’ and then Miss butted in, and said ‘Nonsense’, so Dave had to shut up.”

Here was Miss Wood’s chance to grasp the nettle. But even then, in the late 20th century, she could not. Although bolder than many teachers, she was still not able to respond to any surprises that might crop up.

Even if teachers now manage to describe sex as pleasant, it sometimes seems to frighten and shock, rather than enthuse the children. Informed, six years ago, by a comparatively enlightened teacher, that people had sex “because it felt lovely”, eight-year-old George was horrified. “Miss made a terrible mistake,” he told his Grandma, with great authority and concern. “She said it felt nice! She’s got it really wrong!”

Age specificity hadn’t really been thought through. Slightly older, more intrepid boys, sensing that they still weren’t quite getting at the truth, or any satisfactory explanations – either from each other, or from adults – now gained access to a greater selection of more flamboyant, salacious, almost cartoonish information: porn.

“I think as boys we’d seen a few porno films here and there,” said Jason. “The first stuff I saw was on a video. I was 13, and the tape started doing the rounds – we thought that was the way you did it.”

As the years have passed, and porn has become more widely available online, younger and younger children have been seeing such imagery. In 2001, Jack, then aged 10, learned about sex from pornography. “Everyone was looking at it,” he said. “That’s how I found out I was gay. I didn’t want to look at the girls.”

Despite the overwhelming flood of pornography – and the continuing lack of guidance – there do appear to be a few glimmers of hope. The importance of relationships and feelings is now creeping into sex education at last, and it is a relief to find the idea of consent has surfaced. Many of the young men interviewed in the BBC3 documentary Sex on Trial were sympathetic when shown footage of a young woman whose consent had not been clearly given. In fact, they were more sympathetic than the young women. That’s reason to be hopeful, at least where young men are concerned.

Unfortunately, most sex education is still passed between children themselves, taught by the “naughty” peers who seem to have found out more than anyone else. Or are pretending that they have. Boasting has always been, and still seems to be for many boys, the beginning of proving that you are a proper man. Frequency, volume, conquest and size still matter to them. How are young men to understand women if they have never been taught to understand themselves, and the people teaching them have been taught even less?

Hopefully the new national curriculum mandatory sex education plans will bring about change for the better. It might help if lessons could be conducted in small groups, with the sexes separated. It would need to be age-appropriate, of course – with less emphasis on the mechanical details, and more on the importance of relationships, with appropriately trained teachers, prepared for anything the children might say, know or have experienced. They also need to be unshockable.

Complete Article HERE!

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4 Women Get Real About How Swinging Affected Their Relationships

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What really happens when you open your relationship to another couple

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For some couples, the idea of having sex with anyone other than your significant other seems unfathomable. It can be hard to understand how “swinging” — when you swap partners with another couple and sleep with someone new — can actually lead to stronger relationship bonds. But believe it or not, it can, and there are more couples interested in doing it than you may realize.

If you’ve ever remotely considered getting into swinging — with your spouse, significant other or just that cool friend with benefits — there are a few things you should know before you dive in. Below, four women get real about what their own swinging experiences were really like.

Nicole has been with her husband for 18 years and they’ve been swinging for 17.

How she got into it: “I grew up with this idea that there’s not just one person for anyone and that we can enjoy being with multiple people, as well as the idea that you can have sex without having emotion tied to it. My husband knew that I was bi-curious when we met, so on the anniversary of our first date, we decided to explore and went to a swingers club.”

How it impacted her relationship: “It’s really helped strengthen our relationship. Not all experiences were 100 percent pleasurable, so we made an effort to have those conversations and keep the lines of communication open. When you talk about [swinging] it makes it so much easier to discuss other issues in the relationship.”

Her advice to those considering the lifestyle: “For couples who are considering it, we suggest that you better have a really good relationship starting out because it doesn’t fix broken relationships, it only breaks them up faster. Also, you need to have conversations with your spouse or partner before you go into it. Know your rules and limits before you get into a situation because you can’t really get upset with your partner if you didn’t talk about.”

Jody was introduced to swinging five years ago and is currently single. She loves her work as a sex coach and says if it weren’t for swinging, she wouldn’t be where she is now.

How she got into it: “I was introduced to swinging by my former husband, and not in a good way. One day he forgot to log off the computer and I looked at his browser. I saw some sites that I was not familiar with, but I was appalled by what a saw. Some time later, I confronted him about it. He explained to me what swinging was, but I furthered my knowledge by reading everything I could. I then told him that if he had just talked to me about it, it was something I could be open to.”

How it impacted her relationship: “[Swinging] honestly had no effect on our relationship, which ended for other reasons. Swinging changed me personally for the better. I have sexual confidence that I didn’t have before. I exclusively date swingers now because I meet a much better class of men. They really honor and respect women.”

Her advice to those considering swinging: “If your marriage is struggling, don’t do it. It will only make things worse. If you have a good marriage, dip your toes in the water. Attend a meet and greet or other event. The swinger couples I know have absolutely amazing marriages. For a single woman, you’ll meet the best men ever, but take it slow and make sure you take the usual dating precautions.”

Julia Allen, co-founder of StockingsVR, was 24 when she first walked into a swingers club and has now been swinging for 25 years.

How she got into it: “My boyfriend thought it would be fun to try. We didn’t do anything except dance and talk to some people the first night, but it was exciting and I couldn’t wait to go back. A few months later, on New Year’s Eve, we had a hotel room and invited a few people up. Well… Everyone came up. It was packed and before I knew it, everyone was having sex all around me. A lovely woman wanted to play with me and my boyfriend. I loved it. I loved watching him with her and having him watch me with her, and then both of us just getting lost in the whole experience. I loved the experience of being able to have sex outside of my relationship.”

How it impacted her relationship: “I’ve never been tempted to stray outside of my relationship by having an affair. Swinging takes care of all of my sex needs. I really feel that it strengthens every relationship. I don’t view sex as something that you only have with someone you love. Sex is recreational. I think every boyfriend I’ve had has felt the same way. Along the way, I started filming myself with various people and decided to take my swinging/exhibitionist/kinky lifestyle and make it full time. I guess you could say that swinging has enriched my relationships and also enriched my life.”

Her advice to those considering swinging: “Don’t feel pressure. Most people who are new to swinging don’t actually have sex. They like to watch. In a swingers club, no really does mean no. Many times, I’ve had men or women approach me and if I don’t feel like it, I just say no. You can explore any fantasy you have at a swingers club. I would suggest for first timers to try a larger club where there are lots of people. People who go to swingers clubs are normal people who you would never guess in a million years are swingers. About 90 percent of people who swing are married with kids and just want to try walking on the wild side together.”

Jessica Drake, an adult superstar and certified sex educator, has been swinging since before she was in the adult industry.

How she got into it: “Depending on the state of each relationship and my boundaries with different partners, I had different experiences. In the beginning, when I was younger, it felt awkward based on my inability to be assertive about my wants and needs. It felt more like that group sex stereotype that you might see on TV or in porn… and definitely more male pleasure-centered.”

How it impacted her relationship: “Sexual jealousy has never really been an issue for me, and as long as my needs are being met, I feel secure and aroused when I watch a partner enjoying someone else. I think one mistake some people make is assuming that swinging has only one meaning, but it’s something that is totally open to interpretation. Some of my most intimate, fulfilling encounters lately have been ‘soft swap’ — meaning I have sex with my primary partner, and have foreplay only with our ‘guests.’”

Her advice to those considering swinging: “If you want to start experimenting with swinging and swapping, you need to take a look at your sexual values and belief system. Compare it to the way your partner perceives things, and before you proceed, have an honest discussion. Overall, if you find yourself wanting to try this later on in life, go for it! It may reawaken you and give you a sexual second wind. It’s never too late. There are people of all ages, all body types, all colors, who come from a variety of backgrounds looking for like-minded people.”

 
Complete Article HERE!

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Talking With Both Daughters and Sons About Sex

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Parents play a key role in shaping sexual decision-making among adolescents — especially for girls.

A 2016 review of more than three decades of research found that teenagers who communicated with their parents about sex used safer sexual practices. Likewise, new research from Dutch investigators who studied nearly 3,000 teenagers found that young adolescents who reported feeling close with a parent were unlikely to have had sex when surveyed again two years later.

Notably, both research teams found that daughters benefited more than sons, and that the effective conversations and relationships were typically had with mothers.

According to Laura Widman, lead author of the review study and an assistant professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, “parents tend to talk about sex more with daughters than with sons, and we can speculate that that’s what’s probably driving these findings. Boys may not get the messages as frequently or have the kind of in-depth conversations that parents are having with girls.”

Given the results of her research, Dr. Widman said that she “wouldn’t want parents to get the idea that they only need to talk to daughters. In fact, it may be the opposite. We need to find a way to help parents do a better job of communicating with both their sons and daughters so that all teens are making safer sexual decisions.”

That parents have more frequent conversations with their daughters about sex and sexual development may be prompted by biological realities. Menstruation, HPV vaccination (which remains more common in girls than boys), and the fact that birth control pills require a prescription might spur discussions that aren’t being had with sons.

Yet experts also agree that gender stereotypes play a powerful role in sidelining both fathers and sons when it comes to conversations about emotional and physical intimacy. Andrew Smiler, a psychologist who specializes in male sexual development, noted that women generally “have a better vocabulary for talking about feelings and relationships than boys and men do. Fathers may be a little more stoic, more reserved and more hands-off.” And, he added, “they may play to the stereotype of trusting boys to be independent and able to care for themselves.”

These same stereotypes can also tend to steer the conversation in one direction with daughters and another direction with sons. When parents do address sexual topics with their teenagers, they typically adopt a heterosexual frame with boys playing offense and girls playing defense.

“We usually view our girls as potential victims who need to be protected from pregnancy and rape,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist who provides mother-daughter seminars on puberty and sexual development, while boys are often cast as testosterone-fueled prowlers looking for nothing but sex. These assumptions often drive how parents approach the conversation. Dr. Mary Ott, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana University and the author of a research synopsis on sexual development in adolescent boys observed that, “when parents talk with boys, there’s an assumption that they’ll have sex and they are advised to use condoms. Whereas for girls, there’s more of a focus on abstinence and delaying sex.”

Parental concern about the negative consequences of adolescent sexual activity can reduce “the talk” to a laundry list of don’ts. Don’t get a sexually transmitted infection, don’t get pregnant or get a girl pregnant and don’t proceed without gaining consent. Critical as these topics are, Dr. Ziegler points out that they can “become the focus, so much more than having a quality conversation about why we are sexual beings, or talking about all of the ways we can express love.” And failing to acknowledge the pleasurable side of sex can, according to Dr. Smiler, hurt the credibility of adults. “When parents only acknowledge the scary side of the story,” he said, “teenagers can devalue everything else the parents have to say.”

So how might we do justice to conversations with both our daughters and sons about emotional and physical intimacy?

Over the years in my work as a clinician, I’ve come to a single tack that I take with adolescent girls and boys alike. First, I prompt teenagers to reflect on what they want out of the sexual side of their romantic life, whenever it begins. Why are they being physically intimate, what would they like to have happen, what would feel good?

Following that, I encourage each teenager to learn about what his or her partner wants. I urge them to secure not just consent, but enthusiastic agreement. Given that we also grant consent for root canals, gaining mere permission seems, to me, an awfully low bar for what should be the joys of physical sexuality. Dr. Smiler adds that any conversation about consent should avoid gender stereotypes and address the fact that boys experience sexual coercion and assault and “include the idea that boys can and do say no.”

Finally, if the parties are enthusiastically agreeing to sexual activity that comes with risks — pregnancy, infection, the potential for heartbreak, and so on — they need to work together to address those hazards.

Research suggests that this shouldn’t be a single sit-down. The more charged the topic, the better it is served, and digested, in small bites.

Further, returning to the topic over time allows parents to account for the rapidly shifting landscape of adolescent sexual activity. We should probably be having one conversation with a 12-year-old, an age when intercourse is rare, and a different one with a 17-year-old, half of whose peers have had sex.

Is it better for mom or dad to handle these discussions? Teenagers “want to have the conversation with someone they trust and respect and who will show respect back to the teen,” Dr. Smiler said. “Those issues are more important than the sex of the person having the conversation.”

How families talk with teenagers about their developing sexuality will reflect the parents’ values and experiences but, Dr. Ott notes, we’re all in the business of raising sexually healthy adults.

“We want our teenagers to develop meaningful relationships and we want them to experience intimacy,” she said, “so we need to move our conversations about sex away from sex as a risk factor category and toward sex as part of healthy development.” And we need to do so with our sons as well as our daughters.

Complete Article HERE!

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Women with HIV, after years of isolation, coming out of shadows

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Patti Radigan kisses daughter Angelica after a memorial in San Francisco’s Castro to remember those who died of AIDS.

By Erin Allday

Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.

Schools, 59, lives in Emeryville near the foot of the Bay Bridge, walking distance from a Nordstrom Rack and other big chain stores she can’t afford. Off and on since April, her granddaughter has lived there too, sleeping on a blow-up mattress with Schools’ daughter and son-in-law and another grandchild.

Five is too many for the one-bedroom apartment. But they’re family. They kept her going during the worst times, and that she can help them now is a blessing.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Schools was diagnosed with HIV, it was her daughter Bonnie — then 12 and living in foster care — who gave her hope, saying, “Mama, you don’t have to worry. You’re not going to die, you’re going to be able to live a long, long time.”

“It was her that gave me the push and the courage to keep on,” Schools said.

She had contracted HIV from a man who’d been in jail, who beat her repeatedly until she fled. By then she’d already left another abusive relationship and lost all four of her daughters to child protective services. HIV was just one more burden.

At the time, the disease was a death sentence. That Schools is still here — helping her family, getting to know her grandchildren — is wonderful, she said. But for her, as with tens of thousands of others who have lived two decades or more with HIV, survival comes with its own hardships.

Gay men made up the bulk of the casualties of the early AIDS epidemic, and as the male survivors grow older, they’re dealing with profound complications, including physical and mental health problems. But the women have their own loads to bear.

Whereas gay men were at risk simply by being gay, women often were infected through intravenous drug use or sex work, or by male partners who lied about having unsafe sex with other men. The same issues that put them at risk for HIV made their very survival a challenge.

Today, many women like Schools who are long-term survivors cope with challenges caused or compounded by HIV: financial and housing insecurity, depression and anxiety, physical disability and emotional isolation.

“We’re talking about mostly women of color, living in poverty,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Oakland’s Positive Women’s Network, a national advocacy group for women with HIV. “And there’s not really a social safety net for them. Gay men diagnosed with HIV already historically had a built-in community to lean on. Women tend to be more isolated around their diagnosis.”

There are far fewer women aging with HIV than men. In San Francisco, nearly 10,000 people age 50 or older are living with HIV; about 500 are women. Not all women survivors have histories of trauma and abuse, of course, and many have done well in spite of their diagnosis.

But studies have found that women with HIV are more than twice as likely as the average American woman to have suffered domestic violence. They have higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

What keeps them going now, decades after their diagnoses, varies widely. For some, connections with their families, especially their now-adult children, are critical. For others, HIV advocacy work keeps them motivated and hopeful.

Patti Radigan (righ) instructs daughter Angelica and Angelica’s boyfriend, Jayson Cabanas, on preparing green beans for Thanksgiving while Roman Tom Pierce, 8, watches.

Patti Radigan was living in a cardboard box on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when she tested positive in 1992. By then, she’d lost her husband to a heart attack while a young mother, and not long after that she lost her daughter, too, when her drug use got out of control and her sister-in-law took in the child.

She turned to prostitution in the late 1980s to support a heroin addiction. She’d heard of HIV by then and knew it was deadly. She’d seen people on the streets in the Mission where she worked, wasting away and then disappearing altogether. But she still thought of it as something that affected gay men, not women, even those living on the margins.

Women then, and now, were much more likely than men to contract HIV from intravenous drug use rather than sex — though in Radigan’s case, it could have been either. IV drug use is the cause of transmission for nearly half of all women, according to San Francisco public health reports. It’s the cause for less than 20 percent for men.

Still, when Radigan finally got tested, it wasn’t because she was worried she might be positive, but because the clinic was offering subjects $20. She needed the cash for drugs.

She was scared enough after the diagnosis — and then she got pregnant. It was the early 1990s, and HIV experts at UCSF were just starting to believe they could finesse women through pregnancy and help them deliver healthy babies. Today, it’s widely understood that women with HIV can safely have children; San Francisco hasn’t seen a baby born with HIV since 2004.

But in the 1990s, getting pregnant was considered selfish — even if the baby survived, its mother most certainly wouldn’t live long enough to raise her. For women infected at the time, having children was something else they had to give up.

And so Radigan had an abortion. But she got pregnant again in 1995, and she was desperate to have this child. She was living by then with 10 gay men in a boarding house for recovering addicts. Bracing herself for an onslaught of criticism, she told her housemates. First they were quiet, then someone yelled, “Oh my God, we’re having a baby!”

“It was like having 10 big brothers,” Radigan said, smiling at the memory. Buoyed by their support, she kept the pregnancy and had a healthy girl.

Radigan is 59 now; her daughter, Angelica Tom, is 20. They both live in San Francisco after moving to the East Coast for a while. It was because of her daughter that Radigan stayed sober, that she consistently took her meds, and that she went back to school to tend to her future.

For a long time she told people she just wanted to live long enough to see her daughter graduate high school. Now her daughter is in art school and Radigan is healthy enough to hold a part-time job, to lead yoga classes on weekends, to go out with friends for a Friday night concert.

“Because of HIV, I thought I was never going to do a lot of things,” Radigan said. “The universe is aligning for me. And now I feel like I deserve it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.”

Anita Schools, who says she is most troubled by finances, listens to an HIV-positive woman speak about her experiences and fears at an Oakland support group that Schools organized.

Anita Schools got tested for HIV because her ex-boyfriend kept telling her she should. That should have been a warning sign, she knows now.

She was first diagnosed in 1998 at a neighborhood clinic in Oakland, but it took two more tests at San Francisco General Hospital for her to accept she was positive. People told her that HIV wasn’t necessarily fatal, but she had trouble believing she was going to live. All she could think was, “Why me? What did I do?”

It was only after her daughter Bonnie reassured her that Schools started to think beyond the immediate anxiety and anger. She joined a support group for HIV-positive women, finding comfort in their stories and shared experiences. Ten years later, she was leading her own group.

She’s never had problems with drugs or alcohol, and she has a network of friends and family for emotional support, she said. Even the HIV hasn’t hit her too hard, physically, though the drugs to treat it have attacked her kidneys, leaving her ill and fatigued.

Like so many of the women she advises in her support group, Schools is most troubled by her finances. She gets by on Social Security and has bounced among Section 8 housing all over the Bay Area for most of her adult life.

Schools’ current apartment is supposed to be permanent, but she worries she could lose it if her daughter’s family stays with her too long. So earlier this month they moved out and are now sleeping in homeless shelters or, some nights, in their car. She hates letting them leave but doesn’t feel she has any other choice.

Reports show that women with HIV are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Khanna, with the Positive Women’s Network, said surveys of her members found that 85 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and roughly half take home less than $10,000.

Schools can’t always afford the bus or BART tickets she needs to get to doctor appointments and support group meetings, relying instead on rides from friends — or sometimes skipping events altogether. She gets her food primarily from food banks. Her wardrobe is dominated by T-shirts she gets from the HIV organizations with which she volunteers.

“With Social Security, $889 a month, that ain’t enough,” Schools said. “You got to pay your rent, and then PG&E, and then you got to pay your cell phone, buy clothes — it’s all hard.”

At a time when other women her age might be thinking about retirement or at least slowing down, advocacy work has taken over Schools’ life. She speaks out for women with HIV and their needs, demanding financial and health resources for them. In her support group and at AIDS conferences, she offers her story of survival as a sort of jagged road map for other women struggling to navigate the complex warren of services they’ll need to get by.

The work gives her confidence and purpose. She feels she can directly influence women’s lives in a way that seemed beyond her when she was young, unemployed and directionless.

“As long as I’m getting help and support,” Schools said, “I want to help other women — help them get somewhere.”

Billie Cooper is tall and striking, loud and brash. Her makeup is polished, her nails flawless. She is, she says with a booming laugh that makes heads turn, “the ultimate senior woman.”

For Cooper, 58, HIV was transformative. Like Radigan, she had to find her way out from under addiction and prostitution to get healthy, and stay healthy. Like Schools, she came to understand the importance of role-modeling and advocacy.

Cooper arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 — almost a year to the day before the first reports of HIV surfaced in the United States. She was fresh out of the Navy and eager to explore her gender identity and sexuality in San Francisco’s burgeoning gay and transgender communities.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she’d known she was different from the boys around her, though it was decades before she found the language to express it and identified as a transgender woman. But seeing the “divas on Post Street, the ladies in the Tenderloin, the transsexual women prostituting on Eddy” — Cooper was awestruck.

She slipped quickly into prostitution and drug use. When she tested positive in 1985, she wasn’t surprised and barely wasted a thought worrying about what it meant for her future — or whether she’d have any future at all.

“I felt as though I still had to keep it moving,” Cooper said. “I didn’t slow down and cry or nothing.”

Transgender women have always been at heightened risk of HIV. Some studies have found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women is infected, and today about 340 HIV-positive trans women live in San Francisco.

What makes them more vulnerable is complicated. Trans women often have less access to health care and less stable housing than others, and they face higher rates of drug addiction and sexual violence, all of which are associated with risk of HIV infection.

Cooper was homeless off and on through the 1980s and ’90s, trapped in a world of drugs and sex work that felt glamorous at the time but in hindsight was crippling. “I was doing things out of loneliness,” she said, “and I was doing things to feel love. That’s why I prostituted, why I did drugs.”

She began to clean up around 2000, though it would take five or six years to fully quit using. She found a permanent place to live. She collected Social Security. She started working in support services for other transgender women battling HIV. In 2013, she founded TransLife, a support group at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“I was coming out as the activist, the warrior, the determined woman I was always meant to be,” she said.

Cooper never developed any of the common, often fatal complications of HIV — including opportunistic infections like pneumonia — that killed millions in the 1980s and 1990s. But she does have neuropathy, an HIV-related nerve condition that causes a constant pins-and-needles sensation in her feet and legs and sometimes makes it hard to walk.

Far more traumatic for her was her cancer diagnosis in 2006. The cancer, which may have been related to HIV, was isolated to her left eye, but after traditional therapies failed, the eye was surgically removed on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

The cancer and the loss of her eye was a devastating setback for a woman who had always focused on her appearance, on looking as gorgeous as the transgender women she so admired in the Tenderloin, on being loved and wanted for her beauty.

Rising from that loss has been difficult, she said. And she’s continued to suffer new health problems, including blood clots in one of her legs. Recently, she’s fallen several times, in frightening episodes that may be related to the clots, the HIV or something else entirely.

Since Thanksgiving she’s been in and out of the hospital, and though she tries to stay upbeat, it’s clearly trying her patience.

But if HIV and cancer and everything else have tested Cooper’s survival in ways she never anticipated, these trials also have strengthened her resolve. She’s becoming the person she always wanted to be.

“A week before they took my eye, I got my breasts,” she said coyly one recent afternoon, thrusting out her chest. Behind the sunglasses she wears almost constantly now, she was smiling and crying, all at once.

Aging with HIV has been strangely calming, in some ways, giving her a confidence that in her wild youth was elusive.

Now she exults in being a respected elder in the HIV and transgender communities. She loves it when people open doors for her or help her cross the street, offer to carry her bags or give up a seat on a bus.

Simply, she said, “I love being Ms. Billie Cooper.”

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