Tom Hurd has been an advocate for better sexual health and sex positivity for many years now. He refused to accept that sexual health was something people look at shamefully, and so he has been pushing for better sexual health testing and PrEP to be introduced. He’s also one of the guys behind Homoinvaasio (it’s coming back don’t worry!) and was Mr Fetish Finland 2019.
I’ve had all sorts of role models during my life, and sometimes not the people I expected to be. Growing up I was surrounded by liberal minds, from my family to my teachers, who all played a part in me accepting the sexual side of me very early on. I remember being in my first year of upper high school, and a (straight) guy in the last year came up to me and told me straight up, “If anyone at this school ever gives you shit for being gay, you come and tell me, you should never have to hide who you are”. I instantly felt that if people like him are going to fight for me, then I owe it to myself to be myself and not be afraid.
Later on when I was at University, while nervously waiting for the doctor to find my STI test results, he stopped and told me “Don’t be ashamed of being sexual. Sex is not something to be ashamed of. If one of these tests is positive, it doesn’t mean you’re a slut or a bad person, by being here and getting tested you’re not just looking out for yourself, you’re looking out for others”.
It was then I realized the importance of getting tested, it’s not just about you, it’s about taking care of those you have sex with. It was a combination of that doctor’s positive attitude towards sex, and the work I saw a friend doing to make PrEP available in Australia, that made me realize that if I wanted to see PrEP available in Finland, I was going to have to speak up and do something about it myself.
Speaking up has made me become more open about who I am. I admired Evert, Mr Leather Europe 2019’s approach of breaking down the stigma by being present and visible, not just in Berlin but in day-to-day life. Putting himself out there so others might also realize that being into fetish is totally normal and something you shouldn’t be afraid of (How many of you who identify as men go to Berlin multiple times a year to party with a jockstrap and harness but have never set foot in a fetish party in Helsinki?) It’s an approach that works with sexual health and sex positivity also: through visibility comes acceptance, and hopefully, engagement.
Last year was a real eye opener for me in terms of understanding equality. I grew up in a multicultural country (with its own challenges around equality) and was raised with the belief that things that make a person different should never affect how someone is treated or the opportunities they have. As I ran around Europe last year I saw that the fight for equality is far from over, whether it’s in for trans people, people of color, those who are disabled or anyone otherwise suffering from inequality. In this area there are many people who are amazing in their dedication to raising awareness and fighting for the rights of everyone. Some of them are from completely outside these groups, people who go out of their way to make sure these groups feel welcome and accepted, and it reminds me continuously that every action count. From the smallest and most personal, to the largest and most vocal.
But speaking out does have its negatives. You put yourself out there and you open yourself up to criticism. For me, the positives have outweighed the negatives. I’ve seen PrEP become available in this country, something that years ago when I first asked a doctor about this, I was told firmly “not this decade, not in Finland”. And getting messages from people, both abroad and in Finland, asking about how to find a safe space to get started with fetish, where to buy their first piece of leather or rubber, how to do this, how to do that. And often from people I wouldn’t expect it from! Seeing those people become more and more comfortable with their sexuality is amazing to see.
Recently we have all seen what speaking out can achieve. The inequality surrounding people of colour around the world has come to the forefront of our minds and the media, in a way I don’t think it has ever done before. That is the power of speaking out, and that is why it is so important not to be silent or inactive. So during June, the traditional time of Pride, I encourage you all to think about being vocal in support of those who are still treated differently, and think about what you can do to make a stand. Whether it’s something small or something large, do something.
Just. Do. Something.