Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer
“G’day, me mate!” declares an ever-so-affable voice as I enter Cambridge Hotel in the Surry Hills section of Sydney, Australia. It’s Raj Patel, guest relations officer, and he pleasantly grabs the suitcase out of my hands. Whew, the older I get the more makeup I need—thus my bags get heavier and heavier! This place is conveniently located just off Hyde Park and its contemporary lobby is highlighted with vivid energetic secondary colors. After check-in, Raj and I ride the petite elevator, which sports hypnotic neon lights at its baseboard. They change colors through muted Plexiglas. Anyone for disco?! We arrive on the thirteenth floor and he flings open the door to my grand homey suite with all the comforts. There’s a balcony that has a breathtaking city view to kill for as one sips a glass of Bordeaux! Once settled, I call me ol’ Aussie friend, Steve Bloom.
Steve has quite a story. He was married to a woman for twenty years, had two daughters, and is now partnered with a man, Jason. He’s currently writing about this emotional experience and in the meantime, he facilitates a support group for men in heterosexual relationships who are coming to terms with their same-gender attraction. In the group they deal with many issues surrounding coming out, married life, and HIV issues as well. Steve is also an active participant in AIDS fundraisers, and regularly volunteers for Montefiore Home, an aged care provider. Though his career has been in IT, he’s presently making a move toward being a life coach, while taking courses developed by Anthony Robbins and Cloé Madanes.
After I visit the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations (AFAO) and OzHarvest, which rescues food from hotels, retailers, and restaurants to help feed the hungry, Steve suggests I meet him in the lobby/cafe of BridgeClimb, in The Rocks area of Sydney. I had no idea what I was in store for.
Ruby Comer: [We greet, and, as we sit down at a tiny table, Steve smacks down a ticket before me—a pass to CLIMB the Sydney Harbour
Bridge! I’m flabbergasted and shout.] You want me to climb…what?
Steve Bloom: Ruby Comer, trust me, this will be an exciting adventure. I know you’re afraid of heights, but believe me, you’re hooked in all the time and it’s a slow progression until you actually get to the top.
I’m going to the…top…?! Oy vey. [I shake my head as my eyes rise to the ceiling.] Okay…[I could never refuse an escapade with a man.]
Let’s get a bite to eat first.
Since we have about forty-five minutes until the next tour we munch on a chicken, avocado, and lettuce sandwich with soda water.
Tell me about your support group, Steve. I think you mentioned that you’re now president of the group, right?
Yes I am. It’s called GAMMA (Gay And Married Men’s Association) and the group is supported by ACON (AIDS Council of New South Wales). We have regular discussions on sexual health including AIDS, a terrible disease that still scares me.
Do you get tested?
Yes, I go for regular sexual health checkups. My first time was probably 2010 when I came out and started having regular sex with different men. It’s possible I was screened prior to that as I used to donate blood and had several surgeries.
Did you and your wife test during your marriage or before you married?
No, there was no need. She was the first and only woman I had ever had sex with before and after we got married. I also did not have sex with men until I came out.
When you began your relationship with Jason did you get tested?
Yes. I had begun having sex with men so I thought it prudent to have regular tests for the full gamut of sexually transmitted infections. At my request Jason also had testing done. I wanted to make sure we both knew one hundred percent what our health status was.
Good for you guys. Help me understand, mate, about your sexuality….
Well, I have had feelings of same-sex attraction most of my life but growing up I never really could identify with being gay despite the fact that my favorite uncle was openly gay. I came out November 2010 to my family, friends, and co-workers in the space of about two weeks. Soon after, Jason and I became partners, then I helped my wife find a new partner, and all six of us enjoy time with each other as often as possible. My children are well adjusted.
What a lovely scenario. Y’all created your own extended family.
My daughters are twelve and fourteen, and I was married to a wonderful woman. I still love her and fortunately we have a great relationship, which is a testament to her love and understanding of me.
Do you remember how you first heard about HIV/AIDS?
I remember back in the late eighties there was a famous ad campaign known as “the grim reaper.” I was about twenty-five and living with my parents in a suburb of Sydney called Rose Bay. It seemed that people were dying everywhere from this disease and this campaign certainly painted a very scary picture of the situation.
They call us for our tour. After a short but educational training period, we are out the door with our dynamic, skilled, caring, and lightly comedic guide, Richard Graham, who leads us to the summit. My god what an all encompassing panoramic sight to behold. Steve was right. BridgeClimb is not to be missed.
[As we leave the premises, we walk along Circular Quay.] What concerns you most right now about the epidemic?
I’m concerned about the number of guys, particularly young guys under the age of thirty out there still having unprotected sex when the risks are still high and we still have no cure. I can’t understand it. I’m so conscious of safe sex. It’s a given in my opinion.
Rightly so, but I guess that’s the difference between those kids and us, huh? When you’re young like that, the mentality can be
askew. There’s less experience and more risk. It’s up to us, though, to educate and safeguard them. [Just in front of us is the iconic dreamlike Sydney Opera House.] Steve, you’re right on the brink of a new career. Tell me about it.
I’m not doing it yet, but I’d like to do some individual coaching particularly for guys coming out of heterosexual relationships and into gay relationships. I’d also like to facilitate groups for health, change, and well-being using coaching, MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), and Laughter Yoga.
Laughter? Now that makes healthy sense to me.
[Steve shoots a full-size grin.] I love working with people, Ruby….For me this sort of work is incredibly fulfilling. Helping someone make positive changes in their life and learning about themselves is very rewarding. Pain is reality and inevitable. The suffering, we choose and can avoid.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]
Read this article in the May 2013 digital issue by clicking here.