The life before.
Once upon a time there was a little boy who wanted to be an adventurer. That boy became a bit of a cliché as the straight, white cis-man.
My heart was in the right place, while I was striving to become a photojournalist. And yet, as with so many things, I simply couldn’t commit to a full-time life on the road, and so I decided to work in fashion photography instead - to finance my little trips out into the real world.
I was leading a double life - on one hand, the glitz and glamour of the fashion photography world - attending the parties and the mimicking that lifestyle – and on the other hand, once a year, I would use the money I made to venture into the world, to photograph and write about issues dear to me. To work on my true passion. Gun-running in Afghanistan, human trafficking in Nepal and India. To dive into my passion and to tell stories of the less fortunate. Stories I wanted to show to the world.
In my working life I felt a bit lost - but at least secure of what I could do. But with my sexuality, there were always insecurities.
Growing up in the eighties I grew up with the classic “strong-man” action tropes, and of course, Indiana Jones. Worldly, educated, and when push comes to shove, the strong man ready to take a punch and protect the woman. No pain. No tears. No shortcomings. The need to be strong, show no fear, and never show weaknesses. In short; I grew up in an oversimplified definition of manliness.
At the same time, my father had been absent, he had spent my teenage years in prison. He was also occupied with a second, parallel family. My mother was carrying the burden of raising three children on her own.
My older sister was the first to take me out into the world of bars, along with her beautiful friends and the meeting of girls. She taught me a lot about women, about sex and that smoking would make me look cool and attractive. My by 2 years older brother was a constant source of rivalry, which would later turn into a best friendship.
Initially always shy, I managed to gain confidence over the years – in particular working in the world of fashion. Beauty didn’t intimidate me anymore, and my desire to please was written all over my face. I was never a macho – but I was a charmer. As I heard so often from my lovers, I was “the guy to have an affair with”. I was stuck in portraying a character I had learnt to live and love.
Everything I knew about sex came from a long, embarrassing process of picking up pieces of experience. Bit by bit. From one ex, to a lover, to another ex. I had somewhat internalised what I have to do to seem attractive to the opposite sex. And behaved in such a way.
I did and acted in ways that were expected of me – by women I met, by my male friends, and by society.
But I mostly ignored my actual passions and desires. Leaving me to be a hopelessly insecure man, who could only act confident and strong. And for a long time, keeping up that façade had worked wonders. And which I had enjoyed. To a certain extent.
And then that chapter of my life was slammed shut.
I was working on a story about human trafficking and sex work in India, when I decided to visit an ashram in Pune. Curiosity about the “sexually laden” atmosphere of the Osho Ashram made me want to take the obligatory HIV test, enter and explore. Being a white cis-man, I was sure it would come back negative. Until it didn't.
While a few minutes earlier I was still flirting with a beautiful receptionist of the ashram, the words “Your test came back positive” caused tremors that would shake me to the core. That would change my life forever.
A part of me died that instant. Little did I know, another part was born simultaneously.
I slipped into a downward spiral of pain, self loathing and mourning. For the next two years, I would be submerged in a state of depression and anxiety. Of sexless frustrations, a hunched back and destroyed confidence. What used to be so easy, suddenly seemed impossible – and this virus would spread its way into every aspect of my life.
Being a cis-male photographer, I was always expected to be the confident team leader, the wise-cracking charmer. Traits that I could always adapt to. I always had the strength to act these parts, even when I felt insecure and vulnerable. I had become accustomed to wearing this mask.
But feeling so venomous, so undesired and distraught, this mask became too heavy. I buckled. I started losing work. I started retreating from social life. I couldn't uphold the facade any longer.
And instead of sex being a source of joy, fun and lightness – it started seeming like a threat. Like something unattainable, something that would cause panic attacks. My first time sex after my diagnosis was an awkward, horrific, fear-driven experience. I cant even imagine how horrible it must have been for my partner. I always refer to it as the “longest 12 seconds in my life”. Followed by flight. And tears.
I felt I had lost my sexuality. My joy in it. As well as that life I knew. In work, in sex, in life – my conditioned attributes for “masculinity” had all been destroyed.
I started to spiral into descent. Alcohol, drugs and seeking careless, dangerous sexual activities and experiences. A destructive path that would have ended in a hard crash, had there not been certain people in my life.
Learning to Walk
Pre-mature ejaculation, only being able to have sex when drunk, insecurities when meeting potential partners, feeling venomous, dangerous and simply undesired. And most importantly, not being able to "let go" during sex – let alone enjoy sex.
Feeling undesired and under-fucked caused grief and anger. Anger towards me. Anger towards women. Anger towards a societal system where I am supposed to wear that mask of being a charming, wealthy, best-looking man, who always has to take the first step. A world in which I wasn’t allowed to show insecurities. Especially in the advent of social media and Instagram; I simply felt inadequate in every possible way – always preaching “be yourself” – and yet yourself is not wanted in this way.
I had an anger towards a patriarchal system which still treats masculinity as 80ies movie cliches – in which I was suffering because of these antics.
I yearned for my old, "normal" life - realising that it hadn't been normal in the first place.
So I sought change. And I started exploring again.
On one hand, getting know myself again. Going to therapists, to tantra teachers, to sex-coaches. To start exploring – and learning things I had never learnt before. Reading and learning about male and female biology, about the vagina and licking techniques, about new masturbatory techniques, orgasms, sex toys and all the practices and joys one can have.
On the other hand, I started telling my story in detail. Exposing myself – back then under the artists name of “Philipp Spiegel” – to tell the world about HIV, about life with the virus and the suffering it can cause.
This combination started to heal me. And all of a sudden I find myself under the covers with a lovely woman, tickling, playing and enjoying sex like I hadn’t done in years.
Honest and true and uninhibited. All of a sudden sex was pleasure again.
In fact, having thought I had lost this sensation, sex has become more passionate and enjoyable and fun than it ever was before. A new me, a new sexuality, had been born.
For I started cherishing something I had thought was gone forever, in a completely different way.
Learning to Fly
Yes, I feel born again. But that doesn’t mean the book is finished. There are more than enough difficulties I am facing in light of my own sexuality. It is a process that will never end – and one that ceases to lose exciting new facets. But those first paragraphs are written, and new ones will follow.
Especially, since the issues of conditioned sexual behaviours as men and women is continuously causing problems.
And in light of these revelations, I started studying – and continuously pursue courses on sexuality, coaching and advising.
I speak at conferences, write articles, talk on podcasts. Confidence in my sexuality has allowed me to grow beyond myself. To be secure and aware in so many other aspects of my life. Which is why I want to share this with you. To assist you on writing your own chapters. To explore yourself.