It’s not exactly easy to strike up a conversation about safe sex in a gay sauna, but a dedicated band of Victorian AIDS Council volunteers are needed to ensure there’s someone to turn to for those tricky sexual health queries.
Victorian AIDS Council Outreach Project coordinator Tex McKenzie said the program is searching for volunteers, starting with a two-day training session in March.
“It’s about learning to talk to someone who’s there for sex, but may not necessarily want to talk about it,” he told Southern Star.
“We call it a passive outreach service which is, people come to us.”
The Outreach Project operates in Melbourne sex-on-premises venues (SOPVs) and online in Gaydar chat rooms to lend an understanding ear and provide sexual health information.
McKenzie said the volunteers are stationed at the coffee lounges of SOPVs.
“We don’t work in the areas where people are having sex. It’s too distracting — all the ohs and ahs.”
Sitting in an SOPV when you’re not there for sex is disarming for the volunteer and the patron. McKenzie said it’s often the case people suddenly feel they can ask a question.
“A man in an SOPV may say to me, ‘Oh, I can’t ask my doctor, because that’s where my partner goes,’ or they say, ‘That’s where my wife goes,’ or ‘I’ve been going to the same doctor since I was nine years old, my parents still go to the same doctor. What if the doctor let something slip?’ ”
McKenzie said although Outreach volunteers are initially met with scepticism, sometimes that’s the best way to get talk flowing.
“Sometimes a conversation is so easy to start when someone comes up to you and says, ‘What the fuck are you doing here? Why are you sitting at the table? What’s that brochure you’ve got, what’s the ID mean?’
“I was in a sauna in the city, Steamworks [now closed] and a guy came over wrapped in a towel. He whipped his towel off and said, ‘What do you think of this?’ I said, ‘That’s great. I’ve got one too.’
“He pointed to the side of his groin and started scratching and then asked what did I think it was.”
McKenzie said the work is mostly referral to gay-friendly health services but it’s about being approachable.
“People are at very different stages when they come out. Some are in marriages, in their 40s, 50s or even 60s and they’re confronting a scene that’s completely foreign to them.
“It’s a sort of relief they can ask questions. That’s why we’re there to provide a service.”

info: For more information or to arrange for a selection interview, contact Tex McKenzie on 9865 6700 or via outreach@vicaids.asn.au. Interviews until March 11.

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