The colossal hard-won progress in the global fight against AIDS might be lost to defunding and unequal access to care, warned various speakers in the first day of the International AIDS Conference.

The 21st edition of the event began on Monday, in Durban, South Africa. Some 18 000 people are expected to attend the week-long convention, including politicians, researchers, popular personalities and people living with HIV.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon opened the event by calling on the international community to keep going forward “rapidly and decisively” to reach the objective of ending the AÌDS epidemic by 2030.

Fifteen years of globally coordinated efforts have produced tremendous results in the fight against HIV. The number of deaths caused by AIDS dropped from around 2.4 million in 2005 to 1.1 million in 2015, according to the UN. The rate of HIV infection has also decreased by 38% since 2000.

This has been achieved by huge prevention campaigns – namely to promote protected sexual relations and normalize HIV testing- and exceptional scientific progress. Thanks to constantly evolving treatments, HIV went from being a painful death sentence to a perfectly treatable condition. In 2000, only one million people had access to treatment. Now, it’s nearly 15 million.

“But this progress should not hide the reality,” warned the French organization AIDES. Less than half of the 37 million of people living with HIV in 2015 are being treated. Many other actors in the fight against AIDS called attention to the grave inequalities hiding under the encouraging numbers.

According to UNICEF, AIDS is still the leading cause of death for 10 to 19 year olds in Africa. In the last fifteen years, the raw number of AIDS-related deaths more than tripled in North Africa and the Middle-East. Doctors Without Borders urged the leaders attending the convention to implement a plan of action for improving access to treatment in West and Central Africa, where less than 30% of people with HIV are being treated.

As the first world’s attention slowly ebbed away, so did the funding. Thirteen of the fourteen biggest contributors to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS reduced their donations this year according to the executive director of Onusida, Michel Sidibé.

Do You Know What AIDS Is?

People infected with HIV are seropositive. Not all of them have AIDS. HIV is a virus transmitted by certain body fluids including blood. AIDS stands for Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome: the condition that arises as a consequence. Thanks to treatments like tritherapy, seropositive people can now live their entire life without ever developing AIDS.

The HIV virus induces over-activation of certain immune cells called lymphocytes T CD4+, which leads to their destruction. The primary role of the T CD4+ is to activate larger immune response to fight off infections. A seropositive person whose number of T cells drops below a critical threshold has AIDS.

Many conspiracy theories have been spread about the origins of the virus, from “patient zero” being a Canadian flight attendant who single-handedly started the epidemic to the virus being engineered in a lab experiment gone wrong. The most evidence-backed theory, however, is that people first contracted the virus in the 1930s in Congo by eating chimpanzee bush meat.

What’s Next?

New strategies like the “test and treat” approach in South Africa and preventive treatment PrEP, will be discussed in the following days. Innovative treatments are continuing to progress everyday.

Just this week, two researchers from Montreal made a major discovery for the long term treatment of the disease. Drs Nicolas Chomont and Rémi Fromentin from the research center of Centre Hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CRCHUM) have found a way to uncover the favourite hiding spots of the virus inside the body during tritherapy.

Tritherapy is an efficient treatment to stop the progression of an HIV viral infection towards AIDS, but the virus known to find hiding spots. These are specific cells, like Lymphocytes T CD4+.  Only one in a million of TCD+ lymphocytes can be used as a hiding spot.

Chomont’s research team has found three cellular markers shared by the hiding spots. In other words, they have identified three distinctive characteristics of the cells housing HIV during triterapy. It could be an important step in the search for a cure.

It’s the second time that the International AIDS Conference is hosted in Durban. The first time was in 2000 when Nelson Mandela had delivered a vibrant plea for universal access to the newly developped antiretroviral treatments. Let’s hope that he might be heard better this time around.

If you are living in Quebec and have ever needed to see a doctor you know that it’s impossible to speak objectively about health care. Despite the promises of government after government, the Quebec health care system is a mess. Emergency room wait times in Montreal can be up to ten hours or more. In their haste to treat patients, doctors and nurses often jump to dangerous and unfounded conclusions that put patients at risk.

Take the case of Carol*

At forty seven years old, Carol is active, eats well, and is a devoted mother. She also suffers from ovarian cysts and is allergic to morphine. She arrived at the Glen’s emergency room a month ago with excruciating abdominal pain. Despite her screams of agony the doctors refused to consider that her pain was caused by anything serious. They tried to pump her full of morphine and send her home but Carol refused.

One doctor finally listened and ordered emergency surgery. It was only when she was on the operating table that the nature of her illness was revealed. The cyst had ruptured and destroyed her fallopian tube, requiring its immediate removal.

Then there’s the case of Daisy.

At 33, she’s a non-smoker and active. She suffers from depression and was hospitalized almost ten years ago for it. Her mental health diagnosis has tainted every attempt she’s made to receive care for physical health problems from the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) and its affiliates. Four years ago she went to her GP with crippling back pain. He diagnosed a disc problem and prescribed physiotherapy and anti-inflammatories. In spite of this, the pain kept getting worse, and she returned to her GP who ordered the least conclusive testing. When the results were negative, she said:

“I’m still in pain,”

Her GP shrugged his shoulders and told her it was anxiety before shooing her out of his office without any referrals. Since then she’s made multiple visits to the JGH’s ER and walk-in clinics in excruciating pain that numbed her right foot and robbed her of the ability to use the toilet unassisted. Every time, she’s been pumped full of morphine, lectured about morphine addiction, and sent home. It was only through family connections that she found a specialist who discovered nerve damage and operated on her.

Jewish General Hospital (photo: WikiMedia Commons)
Jewish General Hospital (photo: WikiMedia Commons)

The health care system’s refusal to take her seriously caused delays in treatment that ultimately cost her her job. She’s been surviving on a pittance from welfare ever since. Travelling from ER to ER trying to find a doctor who will properly investigate her physical health problems has become her full time job.

Quebec governments have been hiding behind financial concerns to justify their abhorrent treatment of patients.

The problem is that the quality of care in this province isn’t just awful. It’s illegal.

The Quebec health care system is governed by many laws including the Canada Health Act and the Quebec Code of Ethics of Physicians.

The Canada Health Act is the law that creates a mechanism allowing Parliament some control over the health care system in each province.

It’s called Transfer Payments.

Transfer Payments allow the federal government to transfer money to each province for health care provided they meet certain criteria. The criteria are public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility.

Government health insurance plans have to be publicly administered and operated. The plans have to insure all insured health services provided by hospitals and medical practitioners. In order to be universal the plans have to insure all insured persons in the province.

In order to be portable, the provinces can’t impose a minimum period of residence for health care higher than three months, and they have to provide some reimbursement for emergency health services obtained out of province. Last but not least, the provincial health plans have to

“provide for insured health services on uniform terms and conditions and on a basis that does not impede or preclude, either directly or indirectly whether by charges made to insured persons or otherwise, reasonable access to those services by insured persons.” (emphasis added)

Violation of these criteria by the provinces can result in a reduction of this money. If necessary, the federal government can even withhold it in its entirety.

Then there’s the Quebec Code of Ethics of Physicians which lists the obligations of Quebec doctors. Physicians in Quebec can’t refuse to examine or treat a patient for reasons related to the nature of their illness or the context in which it appeared. They can’t refuse to treat someone due to sex, race, colour, religion, civil status, age, pregnancy, ethnic or national origin, social condition, sexual orientation, morality, political convictions, or language.

If a doctor’s beliefs interfere with her ability to treat someone, the doctor has to help the patient find someone else. The physical, mental and emotional behavior of doctors toward patients has to be beyond reproach. Willful or negligent violations of these rules can make doctors fully liable at all times and subject to civil suits for professional negligence.

Despite Quebec’s flagrant violations of Canada’s medical accessibility laws and doctors all but flaunting their prejudices in walk-in clinics, private offices, and emergency rooms, people don’t seem to complain enough.

The reason is fear. We’re all afraid that filing complaints and seeking second opinions will somehow jeopardize our chances of getting lifesaving care when we need it.

But it shouldn’t, because that’s illegal too.

You want proper care? You have to fight for it. If a doctor treats you like trash, file a complaint. If a hospital screws up and you or a loved one gets worse, go to the ombudsman, and then to a lawyer if necessary. If you think you’re being dismissed because of your age, gender, or mental health diagnosis, don’t be afraid to go to another hospital and demand a second opinion.

It’s not only your health at risk. It’s your life. And in this healthcare system, you’re the only one you’ve got.

*Names have been changed for security and anonymity reasons

I bet if you were to ask a selection of happy couples how often they have sex, the most common answer would be somewhere along the lines of “as often as we want to.” Relationships tend to have a higher success rate if both partners have a similar sex drive, since a disparity in libido means that one party is always compromising. But what exactly is the “right” amount of sex for couples to be having in the first place, if there even is such thing as the Goldilocks standard for sexual frequency?

According to a very interesting take on the subject from Jezebel, couples who attend therapy to address their issues with incompatible sex drives are most often told that twice a week is a good benchmark to aim for. The author questions this seemingly arbitrary number and discovers that while there is no medical basis for this recommendation, it does seem to stack up with the average reported by happy couples.

For these couples, sex and happiness enjoy a synergistic link. Having more sex makes them happier, and being happy makes sex more likely as well.

But for couples where one partner craves sex more than the other, quantifying the amount with a rigid number can be very damaging for a couple looking to foster intimacy through genuine desire as opposed to the dreaded fulfillment of “duty.” Imposing this “twice a week” rule can also cause issues for couples that are happy with the amount of sex they’re having, especially if it’s less than this so-called proscribed amount. Seems like we’re always antsy for statistics about what’s normal so that we can have something to compare ourselves to, positively or negatively.

The truth is we should all probably be having more sex, considering its myriad of health and wellness benefits. First of all, it acts as a great form of stress relief while burning calories, approximately 85-100 per 25 minute session. Exchanging bodily fluids means exchanging all the germs that go along with them, and as it turns out, that can be a good thing for your immune system.

According to a study at Wilkes University, having sex once a week raises the level of immunoglobulin A in your saliva by 30%, an antibody that is part of the body’s first line of defense against germs and viruses. Therefore, having a healthy, frequently sex life makes you less prone to catching colds.

Sex leads to feelings of relaxation and physical intimacy, both of which are known to provide significant immunological benefits as well. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, sex has also been shown to boost your brain power and intelligence. Researchers have found that middle-aged rats experienced an increase in neuron generation after engaging in sexual activity, which is thought to restore cognitive function and boost brain power.

After this sexual activity was stopped, the benefits to the brain power were lost, giving more agency to the old expression, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

When you read about the egregious case of Ellen Richardson, a Canadian woman recently denied entry to the US for a vacation, it’s hard to believe that we’re making any progress as a society when it comes to  defending those who are the most vulnerable. For all its talk about fighting mental illness and removing the stigma from those who suffer from it, our government’s policies seems to be achieving the exact opposite of this by sharing sensitive private information contained in the Canadian Police Information Centre data base with regards to those who have a history of serious psychological issues ( 1 in 5 Canadians, according to the latest studies), including suicide attempts, as was the case with Ms. Richardson.

Ms. Richardson is one of a number Canadians who have been turned away by US border security because their name appears on a de-facto black list of Canadians who, in the words of an RCMP flack, are not only a danger to themselves, put pose an imminent threat to the general public and “police officers who may come into contact with them.” Bear in mind, we’re talking about a paraplegic confined to a motorized wheelchair here.

The border agent in question explained to Ms. Richardson that he was just enforcing section 22 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act which allows them to discriminate against foreigners visiting the country on the basis of mental health, even though such discrimination against American citizens is now illegal. He told her she could travel provided she received a note from one of the handful of doctors in Toronto that was approved by US authorities.

Ellen Richardson (image Toronto Star)
Ellen Richardson (image Toronto Star)


It’s worth noting that such outrageous violations of basic human rights of certain groups have been sanctioned by the US government for various reasons over the years, including a ban against people who are HIV positive from visiting the country which lasted until 2009.

As many experts have pointed out, people undergoing treatment for mental illness (Ms. Richardson, for example) do not have a higher rate of violence than those who aren’t. Furthermore, by punishing those that seek out help for their mental issues, the government inadvertently sends the message that such individuals should stay in the closet rather than admit that they have a problem.

For the Canadian authorities to participate in such an immoral system (sadly, not the first time) shows a complete lack of understanding of the both the nature of mental illness as well as shocking lack of respect for people’s recognized right to privacy as Canadians. Will the RCMP and the federal government apologize to Ms. Richardson for an unforgivable breach of her privacy and the inflicting of more psychological distress on her and others in a similar predicament?

Recently, the federal government announced that they were going to ‘privatize’ the medical marijuana industry and they touted their decision as though it were both saving the government money and creating a vibrant new industry. Indeed, it is an industry valued at around a billion dollars annually, but the customer base is nonetheless limited to those who have a prescription. It goes without saying, if the 40 000 or so medical marijuana users in Canada can generate a billion dollar a year industry, imagine how much money could be made if the drug was completely legalized?

I recently spoke with Adam Greenblatt, executive director of the Medical Cannabis Access Society (MCAS), a Montreal-based private dispensary for medical marijuana and related by-products. I asked him for his thoughts concerning the new medical marijuana laws proposed by the Harper administration.

Among the positive aspects, there is the possibility for higher quality control as the new officially-sanctioned growers will have to submit their products for lab testing, but the flip-side is that anyone currently growing their own grass for medical purposes will lose that right. While I can appreciate how this will remove bad grass from the market, I’m not crazy about more restrictions on what I’m allowed to grow in my garden. There’s also the potential for greater variety and a standardization of potency, all of which will likely prove better for the consumer anyways.

As to how it’s to be produced, Mr. Greenblatt described the new system as though the government were handling nuclear waste. All prospective growers will be required to have significant start-up capital, security clearances, clean records and a large facility to grow it in (as there is to be no outdoor cultivation). 24 hour security systems will need to be in place, licenses will be good for one year and there will be regular inspections too.

As you might imagine, this limits who has a chance to get into the business. Not very good for free market capitalism…

Adam Greenblatt during a demonstration (image
MCAS Executive Director Adam Greenblatt during a demonstration (image

As it pertains to the MCAS, Mr. Greenblatt mentioned aspects of the new law which he found problematic, namely that there’s to be no by-products, no cookies or capsules; the only kind of medical marijuana new federal laws authorize is the smokable kind, and a fat lot of good that will do for someone who needs marijuana because they’re dying of lung cancer.

He mentioned his youngest client, a five year old boy who suffers from severe epilepsy and needs a special extract of marijuana which would be illegal under new Tory legislation. Apparently the Feds think the kid should smoke it…

Moreover, and further adding to the stigmatization of marijuana users, there are to be no storefront dispensaries, all will be provided via mail order. Again, not the most practical way to stimulate an apparently billion-dollar-a-year industry. Prices, though they could be much lower, are not in fact expected to drop, but remain where they are, far more expensive than they ought to be.

The Tories have, rather inexplicably, cut $4 million from medical marijuana research, apparently in an effort to incentivize private sector R&D (which I personally see as just another encumbrance to the proper development of this new industry, but I digress). This research should be public, for it is in the public’s interest to know precisely what marijuana is. But again, the Fed will look pretty stupid if it maintains the prohibition on the general consumption of marijuana all the while funding medical marijuana research which proves it’s utterly harmless and immensely beneficial.

I asked Mr. Greenblatt how this directly impacts the efforts of the MCAS, and he responded that, as it is today, he remains in something of a legal grey zone. He’s taken immense precautions to cover himself (such as only supplying people with prescriptions) and has developed a modest clientele genuinely appreciative of his efforts.

I asked him who these people were and his answer surprised me: there were soldiers with incurable, though manageable PTSD, people dying of cancer, suffering from multiple sclerosis, AIDS and HIV, depression, epilepsy, anxiety, chronic back pain. The list went on and on.

It began adding up in my head, the potentially immense number of people who can benefit from marijuana’s myriad medicinal properties. Mr. Greenblatt was emphatic: “make no mistake, this is the future of medicine.”

He brought up another point I’ll close on. Oxycontin kills someone every twenty minutes, and it’s covered by the RAMQ. Marijuana has never killed anyone, and possession of it can land you in jail and ruin your future.

How in hell is that fair?

I adore guacamole! OK, I adore avocados period. For my guacamole recipe, I like to keep it as simple as possible and just let the avocado’s deliciousness speak for itself. With just a few ingredients, we can whip up (or more specifically, mash up) this guacamole!

Summertime is the best time to try my delicious guacamole recipe. Enjoy!

Maria’s Guacamole


Makes approximately 2 to 4 servings

 2 ripe avocados

3 green onions or ½ white onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 small tomato, diced

Juice from one lime

½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) sea salt

½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) black pepper

Chili flakes (optional)



  1. Scoop out avocados and mash with a fork or masher in a small bowl.
  2. Add in all other ingredients and mix well.
  3. Serve immediately or chilled.




It seems to me that people have a love/hate relationship with avocados. Many of us love the taste, others find it gross. Some of us are concerned about the avocado’s high fat content. The avocado contains monounsaturated fat, which is in fact not a “bad” fat, but how healthy is avocado in general?

Some food for thought: the research is ambiguous as to whether the avocado is in fact healthy for us. Several reputable sources say indeed yes, avocados are beneficial since they provide us with complete protein, good fats and other important nutrients.

However, Dr. Michael Greger has examined numerous studies, some indicating that not only does avocado kill cancer cells, but also healthy cells, in vitro. In vitro means in a petri dishas opposed to in vivo, which is in the human body. The difference being, when we ingest avocado, our stomach digestive acids and our liver detoxifying functions get to the avocado before our cells do. Therefore, can the avocado in vitro studies really tell us anything?

Some good news, one recent study reported avocado consumption is linked to significantly reduced prostate cancer risk.

This is a clear example of how confusing it can be to navigate the world of health research. Many of us are not doctors or nutrition experts. How do we make sense of all this? There are contradictory findings and differing views about almost everything. In the end, maybe that old cliche about moderation is best?

In my opinion, a helpful rule to live by is this: how do you feel when you eat it? And I don’t necessarily mean in the short term only, since we all know that potato chips feel like heaven the moment they touch our lips.

Some of us have food allergies, others may have a mild intolerance. Some of us have health issues that we are trying to improve. Certain foods can make these conditions better or worse.

The best thing we can do is become more mindful of the food we are eating and how are body reacts to it. We are all individuals with particular needs and tastes. Slow down, learn the language of your body and pay attention. If you don’t, the body will surely end up screaming at you via some type of illness.

Back to avocados and their deliciousness, I came across a delightful dessert made with avocados that I would like to share with you. It is not a recipe I created and I haven’t tried it yet, but this avocado chocolate mousse sounds absolutely divine! Give it a try as well and let me know what you think.

Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.
~Dorothy Day

Join me on Facebook where I share vegan recipes and health-related information everyday!


There have been many illustrious and influential figures who have brought their stories and work to Concordia’s H110 auditorium for the Lecture Series on HIV and AIDS since its inception in 1993. Singer Diamanda Galas, dance legend Margie Gillis, General Idea surviving member AA Bronson, AIDS hero Steven Lewis, activist writer Sarah Schulman, South African documentarian Khalo Matabane, and recently, adult film actress Lara Roxx, to name only a few that come to mind. Fittingly, the Lecture Series team (Profs Thomas Waugh and Viviane Namaste) has chosen to invite a figure who was active at the height of the AIDS crisis for their 20th anniversary lecture and have gone somewhat far afield of the global AIDS celebrity and international NGO milieu to bring us a fierce grass roots activist who started the radical, up-hill task of doing HIV prevention in 1980s Columbia, South Carolina. Meet DiAna DiAna, the hairdresser who knew too much.

DiAna DiAna Concordia HIV poster
Curlers and Condoms playing Thursday at Concordia

“It was in 1986 that I became aware of HIV and AIDS,” DiAna tells me over the phone as she prepares for a day of cutting, styling, listening and teaching at her salon in a primarily black neighbourhood of Columbia. “I just saw [AIDS] on the front of a magazine. Nobody wanted to talk about it because it was all sexual and needles and of course nobody in South Carolina does any of those things,” she tells me, her beautiful Bostonian accent still intact after decades of living and working south of Dixie.

In 1991, DiAna’s then-unorthodox methods for talking about sex and condoms were documented in Canadian-born Ellen Spiro’s short film DiAna’s Hair Ego, which will also be screened on Thursday. Today, Columbia has the forth-highest rate of HIV infection per capita in the United States, she says, and according to one Center for Disease Control study, HIV infection is the leading cause of death for black women aged 25 to 34, the same age of many of the women who visit DiAna’s salon. Black heterosexual women remain one of the populations most affected by HIV in the USA, disproportionately so.

The magazine DiAna read that day, perhaps Cosmopolitan or Marie Claire or one of the more liberal magazines of the period, had a cover headline about a woman who had contracted HIV from her boyfriend and DiAna got thinking about how this could and would affect her community. “Both of them were ‘straight’ she yet she still got infected. I started to get curious because it was something that nobody really knew about… So I got the information, and people started sharing the articles that I was getting. It snowballed from there, and I eventually started doing presentations and going into churches where they didn’t want to talk about sex or AIDS or anything, especially in the Bible Belt. They were quite shocked that I was able to talk about HIV and AIDS,” she tells me with the fluid verbal arc of someone who has talked about her activist beginnings many times, with concentration and generosity.

“I had to figure out a way for people to start using condoms. So I started wrapping them up in wrapping paper so that clients would start taking them home. You didn’t have to be a client, you could just come and get condoms and information and see videos on HIV and AIDS,” she says with a smile her voice.

DiAna DiAna (Photo still from DiAna's Hair Ego, 1991)

She knew she was onto something: she had found a way past the sexual shame that prevented women from asking their male partners to use condoms and eventually men would come into the salon and elaborately ask for condoms for their “friend,” or more sadly, to demand that DiAna stop giving out condoms to girls who would ask for them. She went on to found the South Carolina AIDS Education Network (SCAEN), which then spun off into the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, a drastically underfunded charity run by her friend and one-time trainee Bambi Gaddist.

DiAna's Hair Ego video still

“I asked her ‘Do you wanna be the VP of a company that pays nothing?’ And she said yes,” DiAna laughs warmly as she recalls inviting her BFF to helm the organization that started in a salon and went on to do workshops in schools, and safer sex outreach with sex workers and with men in cruising parks. She would do HIV saliva tests in her salon, but found that people were reluctant, as they still are, to come in for their results. And don’t even get her started on the cruising grounds! Or rather, come to the lecture and ask her about the truck stops…

“I gave the whole thing [until] 2000: by then everybody should be cured and we should know what AIDS is, right? It was very difficult to deal with agencies that didn’t want to give any money. Some of the politicians didn’t want to talk about AIDS at all because it would be bad for their election, and they gave no support,” she tells me with more than a hint of despair.

Many of the men who opposed her grass-roots prevention methods are still in power in the heavily Republican state and continue to defund and oppose her and Gaddist’s efforts to provide prevention by and for their community. In the years since DiAna has stopped working on the front lines of radical sex ed in Columbia, South Carolina’s bureaucrats have shown even less support for initiatives that she and her peers have tried to create, even though grass-roots prevention and peer support has proven to be more effective than top-down methods.

“I’ve had clients come in and ask me ‘Is the AIDS thing still going around?’” she laments. The lessons DiAna learned go deep. The effects of misogyny, homophobia, religious conservatism and bureaucratic public health policies lead inevitably to more illness, less knowledge, and a crisis that may never end unless we stop it ourselves.

DiAna DiAna “Curlers & Condoms: Grassroots Prevention Then and Now” Thursday March 21, 7 p.m. // Room H-110 of the Henry F. Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Ouest. FREE, followed by reception with DiAna DiAna and former guests of the Lecture Series

The youth of today is faced with a large variety of pressures to define themselves, and the journey of coming to a comfortable place, in regards to personal identity, is a monumental task. When questions about one’s gender and sexuality are also mixed in, things can get more and more complicated.

As trans youth, whether you are an FtoM (female to male), an MtoF (male to female), or waiver somewhere in the grey zone of gender identity, it is an arduous personal struggle that can be quite exhausting. Trans youth face a variety of trials and tribulations, and as the number of transgender youth increases, it is helpful to have access to support and information regarding sexual identity.

Imagine waking up each day and attempting to stifle the relentless, gnawing voice inside your head telling you that this is not your body…this doesn’t feel right. No matter what you do, the same undeniable discomfort halts you. These feelings, in themselves, are very intimate. There is no denying that it takes a strong will to try to work around the body that you do not have.

Unfortunately, many transgendered people are subject to the public’s scrutiny; often having the question of their gender publicly assessed. Many transgendered and androgynous people inevitably experience this in their lifetime from an insensitively curious member of the public: “Hey, are you a girl or a guy?” This question can feel like a direct attack on your personal and public identity. So where can trans people get some support?

Throughout Montreal, there are more and more resources becoming available to the LGBTQ community. The population of transgendered youth is growing and with growth comes understanding and support. Montreal harbours many excellent resources for LGBTQ youth; these resources are easily accessible and a blessing for many. For example, Concordia University gives trans students the option to use their preferred name and sex on their identification cards; the process is quite simple and the staff who facilitate this are friendly and supportive.

The university also boasts a wonderful gender advocacy centre available to Concordia students and the public. The 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy is located at 2110 Mackay street downtown and they offer a wide range of trans resources such as: a varied resource library, a binder program (to bind one’s chest), needle exchange for hormone therapy, peer counseling and info/referrals.

head and handsAnother great resource is the Head and Hands Centre in NDG: a youth-oriented resource centre offering counseling services, legal aid, a drop-in clinic, tutoring, workshops and an emergency food pantry. This organization’s small medical clinic is the only place in Montreal in which you can initiate hormone therapy without a psychiatrist’s referral. The clinic operates on what is referred to as an informed consent model and the waiting list for hormone therapy is approximately one year. Head and Hands gives transgender youth the opportunity to sit down with their health coordinator and discuss the effects of hormone treatment in a supportive and informative environment.

Action Santé Travesti(e)s et Transsexuel(le)s du Québec is another fantastic resource-rich organization. Also known as Quebec Trans Health Action, they are an organization run for the transgender community and located at 300 Ste. Catherine East. ASTTQ hosts a weekly drop in on Monday evenings from 7-9pm for anyone questioning their identity as well as family/friends of trans people. They provide one-on-one counseling and are very accommodating; even offering free metro tickets for your visits to the centre, or home visits!

p10_blackIf you feel like staying in and avoiding the frigid snowy Montreal weather, there are two queer support lines that are also available: Project 10 Helpline and Montreal Gay Line/ Gai Écoute. Project 10 is a helpline open to LGBTQ youth between the ages of 14-25. This line is open from Monday to Thursday from 12-6pm and can be reached at 514-989-4585. Montreal Gay Line/Gai Écoute (for service in French) is reachable every evening between the hours of 7-11pm at 514-866-5090.

In the face of all the adversity trans and gender-questioning youth face, there are options and a supportive community here in Montreal. As a member of the LGBTQ community myself, the best advice I can give is to just hold your head up, acquaint yourself with some of these great resources and surround yourself with a supportive friend group and community!

It’s 5am.  You haven’t slept all night and yesterday’s news is slowing sinking in.

You’ve been diagnosed with a chronic disease.

Your life is about to change dramatically. You are justifiably overwhelmed. But there is hope.

The next day you run into an old friend from high school who also happens to have suffered the same fate yet she seems rather happy. She has been reading up on an alternative medicine called homeopathy; a safe, gentle medicine that can work well for chronic conditions.

Later that day you walk home in high spirits and immediately run over to your computer and Google homeopathy, but something weird happens. Just two spots under the first article is “Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake.”

Click. 4000 words later you’re feeling like you just had the wind knocked out of you.

It’s not that your friend meant to deceive you. It’s the fact that she’s been Scammed. Hustled. Bamboozled. You’ve just learned the cold hard truth about homeopathy: it’s just placebo effect.

You  have no doubt this article was written in the name of science. It sounds like a scientific report; the writing is cool, calm and collected. If that wasn’t enough, then there’s the fact that it’s written by a very articulate doctor who quoted many scientific studies and statistics.

You throw in the towel…It’s been a roller-coaster of a day. Time to rest. And the next day you decide to call up your friend. You need to give her the bad news as gently as possible.

“Oh Quackwatch! Oh ya, know ALL about them,” she says with sheer enthusiasm.

Confusion on your part.

“Oh you don’t know?” she asks playfully.

“That website is mostly just one guy’s opinion on different alternative health products. These happen to cost a fraction of the price of modern pharmaceuticals and they’ve been getting more and more popular. As a consequence, they are taking away a nice chunk of business from the big pharmaceuticals.”

“I did a search on Quackwatch for antidepressants but I didn’t find anything. This is weird. I figured if this guy was legit he would mention them because a lot of what Quackwatch claims about homeopathy is actually true of antidepressants.”

Say again?

She goes on to inform you how no one really knows how antidepressants work. No research exists which explain how they work. And researchers discovered many studies were hidden from the public that suggest antidepressants are no better than placebos.

“Look, I’m not against antidepressants whatsoever. But when I read that, I wondered why is Quackwatch not talking about the $11billion we consumers spend each year on something that research is saying to be no better than a placebo?”

Good question.

“There was a big research study published in the Lancet a few years back. This is one of the world’s most respected scientific journals where other researchers double check and triple check any published study to make sure they are done properly, also known as Peer Reviewed. This makes sure the studies meet the highest scientific standards in the world.”

“The researchers found that homeopathy was no better than a placebo. But then something happened.”

“Other researchers started finding huge problems in the study. They discovered 110 studies that proved homeopathy works were “accidentally” excluded. Long story short, six months later, four letters get published letting everyone know that the placebo theory is 100% not true.”

Your friend makes a good point. But you aren’t convinced. Now you need to find out for yourself .

You hop on to Google. After a lot of head scratching and time wading through a sea of info you find out that:

Meta-analysis is when scientists look at many different studies and see if a theory can be proven right or wrong. Randomized controlled trial is when the researchers randomly decide who will get a placebo and who will get the real medication.

A blind study means that the patients trying the medications don’t know if they are in the group getting the real medicine or if they are getting the sugar pill. Double Blind means even the researchers don’t know.

And then comes the silver bullet:

The 2005 peer reviewed meta-analysis of over 100 double blind randomized controlled trials on homeopathy offers crystal clear scientific evidence that the placebo theory is 100% false and that homeopathy can work for certain (not all) chronic conditions. Period.

You feel Scammed. Hustled. Bamboozled. This “consumer watchdog” maintains that homeopathic research is unimpressive and that homeopathy is just a placebo.

But you also feel thankful that your friend tipped you off. You’re excited to find out all about this new medicine that could be life changing for you.

Google Search: “homeopathy” Yes! I’m feeling lucky!

Here we go! Homeopathy – Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia

Click. Add to Favorites

16,000 words later…. “What?  I thought wikipedia was legit!”

You scroll back up to the first paragraph, and read it again with utter disbelief: “Scientific research has found homeopathic remedies ineffective and their postulated mechanisms of action implausible…homeopathy is generally considered quackery”

The implications are scary:  1,500,000 people look up the word “homeopathy” every MONTH. The FIRST article those 1.5 million people see is “Homeopathy – Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia”  from a popular website with a reputation for objectivity. Presenting false information. And using derogatory emotionally loaded words like quackery.

You wonder how many of those million and a half people have chronic diseases and are looking for hope…

Back Click. Remove Bookmark. Clear History. (yes, I know anyone can edit Wikipedia, but this one’s already the subject of an edit war.)

Google “Copeland’s Cure: Homeopathy and the War Between Conventional and Alternative Medicine”

No Google. I don’t want to “feel lucky”. I just want the truth.


Thanks in part to government imposed austerity and corporate influence over our public health officials, we no longer know what we are eating; more importantly, we don’t really know if it’s healthy. Government cuts in food inspections, deregulation of industry and corporate greed are keeping us in the dark when we go to the grocery store or the butcher shop.

Every day it seems we hear one more story about a tainted meat outbreak, another country-wide recall on another defective product or about corporations modifying our food not so it’s healthier, but so it’s more profitable.

In the United States, the USDA repeatedly turns a blind eye on people’s health preferring the free market to sort things out. In Canada, our already cash strapped Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has had to cut back on hundreds of employees and inspectors thanks to King Harper’s useless austerity measures.

Pink Slime

Hopefully most of you remember the stories regarding soylent pink or pink slime. It is a beef product originally used in pet food and cooking oil. It is essentially a collection of beef by-products (cartilage, connective tissue and tendons); this mixture is heated up so that the lean beef can be separated from the fat. The result is a pink slimy substance doused in ammonia.

Every pound of ground beef now contains 15% Pink slime, also known under its politically correct term as lean finely textured beef (LFTB). It is now used as an additive or “filler” in processing plants across America. Even worse, it can still be labeled as “100% beef” even though there is a little bit of ammonia-laced hotdog in every bite.

ABC news broke this story back in the spring, much to the horror of the general public. ABC actually did its job and reported an important story that 88 per cent of us were in the dark about. For their efforts, BPI the makers of LFTB is filing a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against them. How nice.

Chemical Inflation

One of the biggest corporate scams going today is taking place in the agriculture industry. Chemical companies posing as bio-tech companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical have been involved in genetically modifying food for decades.

Their modified corn, soy and sugar beet seeds are herbicide resistant so long as you used their herbicide. Farmers were supposed to make millions on bigger crop yields free of weeds with no ill effect on our health. Scientists have since proven that this is all pure bullshit.

Like anti-biotics, the more you use them, the more you need to take as your immune system adapts, plants work the same way. In other words farmers have to pay Monsanto more and more every year to immunize their crops, in recent years 527 million pounds more in fact. Farmers are spraying their crops with so much of this stuff that the USDS is measuring  a steady increase of the herbicide in our breathing air.

Dow Chemical is now telling farmers that if they don’t like Monsanto, they can buy Dow’s new 24D resistant seeds. 24D just happens to contain 50% of Agent Orange’s chemical make-up. All this despite the fact that GMO’s have no human benefit other than lining the pockets of the people that profit from this poison.

Beside the fact that we’re all breathing in these toxins anyway, regulators in the United States still prefer to keep the people uninformed by not labeling the food. California has taken it upon themselves to put it to a vote this November with prop 37, a ballot initiative that will force frankenfood companies to label their food. The chemical companies are spending a million dollars a day trying to convince people to vote “no” and have claimed that in 2012, their sole goal is to keep the public from knowing what they do.

XL Food and Total Recall

I used to have a little faith in Canadian Food Inspection Agency. After all, pink slime is illegal, bovine growth hormones (BGH) are illegal—that’s a pretty good start. However, genetically modified foods are legal to grow and their labeling is voluntary (in other words, it’s not done). What also concerns me is the CFIA’s lack of funding and their absence of proper inspections.

The Conservative Government decided as part of their austerity-packed budget bill to cut the inspection agency’s funds even though it was under subsidized in the first place. The CFIA has issued about a dozen health warnings in the first few weeks of October. The warnings are welcomed, but it would be nice if they had the funds to prevent so many warnings from being required in the first place. Consumers are finding out the hard way after buying the product, rather than catching the problem before the damage is done.

The recent XL Foods E.coli mishap is a good example. Because of the lack of funds, Canadian inspectors are only able to examine six per cent of the meat we eat. To make matters worse they only test the meat, they don’t normally inspect the facilities in which it is produced. Luckily in this case, American inspectors at the boarder who were long-concerned with the lackluster conditions at the XL plant were smart enough to test their beef, thus avoiding a bigger disaster.

But while the media continues to focus on the beef recall, the number of problematic products that have shipped in the last few weeks on both sides of the boarder is getting out of hand. Kellogg’s Mini Wheats were recalled recently due to fears of metal fragments in the cereal. “Clef Des Champs” organic ground ginger was recalled over concerns the product may be contaminated with salmonella and Banana Boat sunscreen was recalled after five people caught fire!

My friends keep telling me I should eat healthier—and perhaps they’re right—but thanks to sub-par inspectors and a culture of corporate agriculture determined to pollute the food chain for financial gain, it’s getting hard to tell what healthy is.

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Few corporate so called legal “persons” are as heartless a big tobacco. When it comes to crushing their opponents, there is no low they won’t stoop to in their legal tactics, or, for that matter, their threats of violence towards whistle blowers (see The Insider, a movie about former tobacco company executive Jeffrey Wigand) and others who dare cross them.

So I guess it shouldn’t be surprising when they dispatch an army of high priced lawyers to a small claims court in Rimouski Québec with the intention of scaring the shit out of the plaintiff, a small town teacher named Cécelia Létourneau, who decided to take them to court back in ’98, for a lousy 300 shekels (the cost of her nicotine patches, apparently) and her legal fees, which at the time amounted to pittance of $33. To cut a long story short, the suits at Imperial Tobacco where either too scared or too stupid to read the writing on the wall of their legal situation, and decided they would mount a vain rearguard legal action against the growing number of lawsuits being filed against them.

The result? They are now facing a class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of 1.8 million Québec smokers worth a staggering 27 billion dollars in Quebec’s Superior Court! Oops.

Don’t expect a resolution to this matter anytime soon. As Judge Brian Riordan put it (my translation): “we know when it started but we never know when it will finish!” Some experts estimate that we’re looking at a trial that might be as long as two years!

However, we can be certain that, in making their case, the tobacco giants will employ every trick in the book to deceive the public into believing the cornerstone of their classic legal defense, repeated to the press by Imperial’s chief defense lawyer Mistress Suzanne Côté (my translation): ‘It’s a matter of free will and that the illness that the claimants have suffered is not necessarily caused by cigarettes.”

While the negative effects of cigarettes are well documented, the simple causality between the drug and the variety of health problems associated with it can be tricky to prove in court. It’s worth remembering that in order to establish a tort (délit) under our civil code, there generally has to be a causal link between the harm suffered and the damages claimed.

That said, Mme Létourneau’s epiphany moment came when she paid her doctor a visit, and he suggested to her that her problem with quitting wasn’t a lack of will power but rather the addictiveness of the vile weed itself! It is now well established, though denied for years by corrupt tobacco executives and their puppets in government and the scientific community, that not only was her doctor right but that industry chemists like Jeffrey Wigand were being paid by their bosses to find ways of increasing nicotine (the most addictive property in cigarettes) content in their product.

So much for the argument that smoking or not smoking is simply a matter of personal choice.

This pattern of deception and obfuscation of the truth seems to have become the MO of that other corporate monster, big oil, and their notorious attempts to suppress the reality of climate change. Which begs the question: might there be a way that we could take the oil industry to court over the insidious damage that they continue to do to our environment and the health of every living creature on earth?

Then maybe we could expose their lies and the people they pay to repeat them in public the way we have shone a light on the evils of the tobacco business. An evil that I finally extinguished from my life only two years ago after having smoked for roughly 15 years.

The Los Angeles city council recently passed a controversial ordinance requiring all porn performers to wear condoms during film shoots to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The 9-1 vote was a significant victory for the LA-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an organization that has been tirelessly lobbying for years for mandatory condom use in pornography.

“It’s a great day for the performers and safer sex in our society,” noted Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Heathcare Foundation. “This is the first legislative body to take up the issue, and the near-unanimous support is very gratifying.”

While it’s unclear at this point exactly how the new ordinance will be enforced, it seems that porn producers will have to pay a fee that will be used to fund surprise condom inspections, which could begin as early as next month. Producers will also have to obtain permits from the Department of Public Health before filming.

The ordinance faces some tough criticism from the adult film industry. Some believe it will just drive production out of LA, the unofficial porn capital of America and home to as many as 90 percent of the porn films produced in the country.

Following the deaths of several high-profile pornographic actors and actresses in the 1980s, the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM) was established, which helped set up the current system where performers are tested for HIV and some other sexually transmitted diseases once a month. Furthermore, all sexual contact is logged for up to six months, so if a performer tests positive, their sexual partners can be contacted and re-tested.

Due to the rampant spread of HIV due from anal sex, the homosexual porn industry started using condoms for anal sex in the early 1990s. However, the heterosexual porn industry continued to rely only on monthly testing, a system that has proven to be a failure in several high-profile scandals. Last summer, porn production was temporarily shut down in LA after a performer tested positive for HIV.

The new documentary “Inside Lara Roxx” by first-time filmmaker Mia Donovan follows the story of a 21-year old Montrealer who contacted HIV in 2004, a mere two months after moving to LA to break into the adult industry. She was unknowingly exposed to the disease during her first official scene, a double anal, by Darren James, who also infected two other female performers. James initially tested negative for HIV, then a positive test weeks later barred him from any further American porn productions.

“It made me realized how much I trusted this system that wasn’t to be trusted at all, because it obviously doesn’t work,” Roxx said.

While mandatory condom use may seem like the answer, it’s not always so simple. For example, the ordinance does nothing to prevent the distribution of porn without condoms made in other locations. “As long as the demand is there, people are going to find a way to shoot without condoms,” noted Donovan on CBC radio earlier this week.

With piracy and the Internet already hampering the adult film industry, could this latest ordinance be enough to send the business underground permanently? Furthermore, what can be done to normalize the heterosexual male porn viewer to seeing rubbers on the male actor’s members, viewers who themselves might prefer the sensation of bareback sex?

“By the time you’ve had 30 to 90 minutes of condom friction on your tender bits, there is abrasion, there is soreness, sometimes there’s a little swelling, it’s tender, it’s not comfortable,” noted legendary porn actress Nina Hartley.

But what’s a little soreness and swelling compared with contracting an oftentimes deadly virus that attacks and weakens your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to pneumonia, tumours and a whole host of other painful afflictions?


An alarming new study from Ohio State University linking oral sex with throat cancer could drastically alter our perception of the effects of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV has traditionally been associated with causing cervical cancer in women and to a much lesser extent, anal cancer in men, though new findings show it is also the most common cause of throat cancer, accounting for nearly three-quarters of cases diagnosed between 1984 and 2004.

And the culprit being blamed for the dramatic increase is none other than oral sex. As if men needed another reason not to eat pussy?!

According to the study published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, HPV-related oral cancer cases rose from 0.8 per 100,000 people in the early 1980s to 2.6 per 100,000 in 2004, a staggering 225% increase. If this trend continues, the number of HPV-strain throat cancer cases will eclipse the number of cervical cancer cases by the end of the decade. For reasons unknown to the scientists, throat cancer cases caused by HPV are much more prevalent in men than women, which could effectively shift the burden of HPV-related cancer from one gender to the other.

Those most of the mass media stories I found focused on oral sex as the villain, Dan Savage pointed out that another exchange of fluids could also be to blame: kissing. The study did not look into whether women who performed oral sex on other women were equally affected.

While this sharp increase is worth noting, it is also important to assert that throat cancer is still relatively uncommon (less than 100,000 cases reported in the United States annually), and the HPV strain is more treatable and has a higher survival rate than the other types of throat cancer. The New York Times reports that “median survival in throat cancer patients with the virus is 131 months; without it, 20 months”.

The silver lining in this whole entire cloud is the vaccine Gardasil that targets two particularly nasty strains of HPV that are responsible for causing at least 70 percent of cervical cancers. As of mid 2008, more than half a million doses of the Gardasil vaccine had been distributed in Canada.

The trick with the vaccine is that it in order to be effective, it must be administered before exposure to the virus, meaning before becoming sexually active. Social conservative groups in the United States are in an uproar that this undermines the abstinence agenda and encourages young women to behave promiscuously.

Gardasil also generated controversy recently when Republican presidential candidate (shudder) Michelle Bachmann went on the Today Show and relayed anecdotal evidence from a mom at a debates, that the vaccine causes mental retardation, a claim that was scientifically debunked almost as soon as the words flew out of her mouth.

“There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement,” said O. Marion Burton, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.”

It is unclear at this time whether Gardasil will be effective in the prevention of throat cancer, though some parents are already choosing to vaccinate their young sons to reduce the risk of anal and penile cancer.

Dan Savage weighed in on the debate in a recent podcast, and I will close with his plea to push for the Gardasil vaccine:

We need to start vaccinating everyone against HPV, not just women, not just girls. Both of the vaccines available for all young women… target the HPV strain linked to these oral cancers in adult men. We know that people are not going to stop having oral sex. We know that people are not going to stop kissing because there’s a tiny risk you may draw the short straw and develop oral cancer.

Photo Credit:

When the Montreal General Hospital first opened in 1823, three percent of the first 3665 medical cases treated were for malaria. Yep, malaria…in Montreal.

Our lovely grey city used to be surrounded by a lot more swamp and marshland than it is now. Cases of malaria stretched from here all the way out to the prairies. And we can still get malaria in Montreal; the host of the malaria parasite is the Anopheles mosquito, who lives here, too.

The decrease in Montreal malaria cases happened because we removed their habitat by draining swamps and wetlands, and started to put screens on our windows. European malaria treatment was also improving, which decreased the amount of cases from travelers.

If you’ve ever walked by a pond or swampy area that had even a smidgeon of shade in the summer, you’ll have noticed that within seconds, you’re running frantically away because you’ve suddenly found about one hundred mosquitoes swarming around you, like a vampiric daytime rave. This is because mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water.

It is said that more soldiers died of malaria than from bullets in World War II, and soldiers today are still plagued by the disease when abroad. People living in regions where malaria is endemic generally build up a tolerance for it, but they are still weakened, sick, and unable to work, which affects livelihoods and their ability to overcome poverty.

Scientists back in the 1950s thought they cracked the malaria problem by introducing DDT and spraying it everywhere, even dusting soldiers with it before they went to battle. It worked – only too well – and ended up also wiping out birds, which led to its eventual ban thanks to a pivotal book by Rachel Carson called Silent Spring. This book is also widely credited for kick-starting the environmental movement in the 1960s.

If climate change were to affect our region by making it warmer, it’s very likely that we’d see malaria in Montreal again. This Weather Network report outlines how this can happen.

The malaria life cycle and you

With dangerous pesticides like DDT now banned, dealing with the return of malaria in our part of the world would be a challenge, though humans do adapt to its effects over time.

This scenario is more likely than you would think. While Toronto is the most culturally diverse city in the world, Montreal is not that far behind. With thousands of people flying in and out of the city – some of them immigrants, some passers-by, some vacationers, aid workers or others  – many are coming from regions where they’ve likely been exposed to malaria.


Recently, I spent the weekend in Toronto, and one of the many interesting and enlightening conversations that took place with my fabulous hostess and fellow travelers was about sexual health and responsibility. So, I’d like to try another debate and weigh in on both sides of this contentious issue.

Be it resolved that it is one’s responsibility to disclose their sexual health status to a new partner before any sexual contact takes place.


We’ve all been told many times that every time we’re sleeping with someone, we’re also sleeping with everyone they’ve ever slept with.   No type of protection is 100% effective against all sexually transmitted infections (STIs), except for the all-mighty abstinence… and that’s certainly not a feasible option for this sassy sex columnist!

This means that basically every time you have sex, especially unprotected sex, you’re playing a game of Russian roulette. I consider myself quite fortunate that in over a decade of sexual activity I haven’t ended up with any bullet wounds, and I’d like to hope that if I did, I would be able to address it with the honesty and candor I’ve seen demonstrated by friends who found themselves in these situations.

As I see it, from an ethical standpoint, it should be up to both parties to disclose their sexual health status when beginning a new relationship. This applies even when a person is asymptomatic, as there’s always a chance it could be transmitted. A person has the right to know what they’re getting themselves into before they take the plunge.

In certain instances, such as when one party has HIV, there is even a legal precedent for this disclosure. Following the landmark 1998 case R v. Cuerrier, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that failing to disclose your HIV status while practicing unsafe sex constitutes fraud, which can lead to charges of aggravated assault or even first-degree murder, as in the case of Johnson Aziga.

Aziga, a Ugandan-born Canadian, was charged and convicted in 2009 of two counts first-degree murder after two of the women he infected with HIV died. Not only did he practice unsafe sex until he was arrested in 2003, he also lied about his HIV status to his partners. He’s currently serving life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.

Finally, where sex is concerned, we can’t just follow a “no news is good news” policy. Just because a person hasn’t said anything doesn’t mean they’re free and clear. In fact, according to, of the estimated 65,000 Canadians living with HIV, up to 26% of them were unaware of their positive status. Therefore, regular testing is a must for the sexually active. Watch for an upcoming article on when and where to get tested in Montreal.


Nothing ruins the moment quicker than blurting out the words “I have herpes”.

For some, it can be easier just to avoid this conversation altogether and not pursue new sexual relationships, futher fueling the fires of ostricization one can feel when they have an STI.

So if you’re not planning on engaging in anything more than a one night stand with someone and you use protection, some might argue that you can just skip the awkward conversation and go straight to the fun part.   After all, it’s nearly impossible to transmit herpes or HPV when you’re not experiencing an outbreak, and HIV transmission is relatively rare when a condom is used properly.

According to a study in the medical journal The Lancet, in high-income countries the risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV is 0.04% per act of unprotected sex and male-to-female transmission is 0.08% per act. The rate for receptive anal intercourse is a bit higher, at 1.7% per act.

Maybe this con argument is exactly what it sounds like – a con. If you don’t disclose and have sex with someone without infecting them, in a sense, you’ve conned them.

In the end, it’s impossible to see disclosure in terms of black and white. Take this gray example – if you’re engaging in an uninhibited quickie in a bathroom stall with someone random and equally as drunk as you, you’re probably as likely to tell them your name as you are your sexual health status. But there’s always a chance you’ll get that guilty call from them in a few weeks to inform you that “maybe you should go get yourself tested.”


Sexual health is everyone’s responsibility. It’s your responsibility to tell as much as it’s your responsibility to ask, and be honest with your response. And if you’re not able to have a mature conversation about sex and the risks it can pose, maybe you’re not mature enough to be having sex.

Photo credit-

You sit down at a table in a crowded bar waiting for your friends to arrive.   To pass the time, you start checking out everyone in the room the Dali wannabe outside whose pencil-thin cigarette echoes the streak on his upper lip, the bushy handlebar that reeks of bad boy wannabe but you know deep down inside, if you kissed him afterwards and it still smelled like you, it would turn you on, the shaggy -haired hippie that you needed a double take to make sure it wasn’t just dirt smeared across his face.  In fact, it’s quite hairy in here, even by Mile End standards… these can’t possibly all be ironic hipster staches.

Then, you catch a glimpse of a calendar that’s mounted behind the bar.   The N of November seems to have expanded in size.   Movember is it, a month where men channel their inner Burt Reynolds and sport a stach to raise money for prostate cancer.   It seems the mustache has become the male equivalent of the pink ribbon.

Considering it started off as a lark amongst friends, Movember has become an immensely successful and prosperous endeavor in the fight against prostate and testicular cancers.   In 2003, a group of dudes in Melbourne, Australia decided over beers to grow their mustaches in the month of November to generate conversations about men’s health.   The following year, they added a fundraising campaign that raked in over $55,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, the largest single donation the organization ever received.

Fast forward six years, and Movember is bigger than ever.   According to, global participation in last year’s campaign topped 250,000, with over $47 million raised.  This year, politicians like Justin Trudeau and members of the Montreal Canadiens are getting into the spirit of Movember, helping raise its profile here.   Canada had the second largest Movember campaign after Australia.

Women even have a chance to help out with the Movember cause.   The online men’s lifestyle site created a mock public service announcement for a new holiday on November 18th called ‘Have Sex with a Guy with a Mustache Day’.   Because, as one of the girls in the video cheerfully laments, ‘you’re not a whore if it’s for charity’.

Some argue that this type of activity trivializes the disease.   A similar backlash exists against the pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer awareness, especially when big names get in on the action.   For example, Energizer Canada, which sells Schick products, has used the cause the give away razors on the street of major Canadian cities.

Seriously, I would like to do my part this Movember.   If there are any mustachioed gentlemen out there who are up for a belated celebration, it certainly has been awhile since my last mustache ride.   In fact, I think I’m overdue for a breast exam as well…