From Wikepedia: “Newfie (also Newf or sometimes Newfy) is a colloquial term used in Canada for someone who is from Newfoundland.”
I’m sitting with Tom, better known as newfiebear, over a coffee at the Second Cup on Toronto’s main drag, Yonge Street. The place is pretty crowded, and I’m wondering what eavesdroppers might think of a conversation potentially full of references to gay sex. But Tom’s an open man, seemingly with few secrets. And that includes his HIV status. “Do ask, do tell” is his approach to life – and to sex. So there seem few worries about the folks just feet from us hearing.
Tom, who I think probably is more comfortable with newfiebear, the handle on his various profiles and the man behind newfiebear.net – more on that later – is a tall, friendly, 48-year old. He looks younger. Professing to be shy, he hides it well, smiles easily and laughs a lot. He’s the kind of heart-on-your-sleeve guy you feel instantly at home with. I like him at once.
His story? He moved to Toronto from Newfoundland 14 years ago and in 2004 became HIV-positive. He took it badly and turned to substance use and after a really bad experience tried to commit suicide. After a spell in rehab, he turned things around and started to educate himself and learn everything he could about HIV, volunteered at different AIDS Service Organizations, ending up at the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT).
Through all this “I developed a website for men who have sex with men – I don’t like labels” he says “to help stop people from contracting HIV and STIs. I’m from the bear community and I wanted to have a website for gay men like myself and especially for the bear community where if someone is looking for sexual health information, community support or is living with HIV or if someone is having a hard time with substance, it’s all in one place. So there is lots of information on the site and also community support links, mostly for downtown Toronto, but the information I post about – there are links to a lot of information sites like TheBody.com and PositiveLite.com - is global. I also have an email where people can ask me any questions at
. I get a lot of global visitors. I get about 1,500 hits to my main page each week.”
Newfiebear.net’s home page gives more clues to Tom’s welcoming personality. “Good day” it says under a photo of the Newfoundland landscape with a cuddly looking bear in the corner. “Thanks for visiting NewfieBear.net“ with a chatty reminder to put your clocks forward this past weekend. “This site is a free information base for all men who have sex with men regarding sexual health, community support, living with HIV and external Information inks . There are also some links regarding sexually adventurous men who are into some kinky sexual acts.” Clearly this newfiebear has a wild side!
His page for people living with HIV comes with a multitude of links – about smoking, about disclosure, about STIs but also comes with this delightful header: “WARNING. There are people in the world that will try and prevent you from spreading your wings. Be strong and move forward. Believe in yourself!”
Tom is a graduate of GPS (Gay Poz Sex) of which he speaks enthusiastically and about which we have written here. GPS is a confidential, group-based, peer-led program that supports HIV-positive gay and bisexual men in making choices related to their sexual, mental and physical health. Says Tom “It’s an excellent course, I would recommend it to anybody who is HIV-positive. It’s not just about condoms, but all the different aspects of sex, your fears, substance use, harm reduction, etc."
I asked Tom how GPS helped him personally. “It actually helped me on my own quest for personal self care. I also wanted to have more sex.”
“Did It work?”
“Oh yes, I actually had more sex. It opened up more communication.” Tom launches in to how it helped him develop his recipe for sexual compatibility, starting with the three-minute coffee chat . “It’s now five” he says with a grin, talking about his preferred way of screening potential mates that hinges on his “do ask, do tell” policy. So if you want to get frisky with newfiebear these days, expect to be asked not only about your status, but your STI history and more. “Don’t get me wrong” he says on his website. “Online hookups work for some individuals. All I am saying is my experiences chatting with guys online are a lot different and are much more successful face to face.”
Following GPS, Tom participated in a new program G=MC2, (Gay Men Creating Community) a gay men’s validation series of workshops. It's a six week program “all about how we can validate ourselves and others.” Again he says “it changed me for the better”.
Tom also has a thing about smoking and his website links to the UK GMFA Quit Smoking page for gay men and Tom's own video page features newfiebear talking about what stopping smoking has done for him, including increasing his sex drive. (He raises an arm in the video to illustrate improved erections). Since quitting cold turkey not long ago, after almost a lifetime of heavy smoking and six failed cessation attempts (“it was very hard at first” he says) he has started a small support group for people in the process of quitting who meet once a week. “There are five people in the group and three of us – myself and two other guys – have not had a cigarette for 61 days. What helps us is that we talk about our triggers and how we overcome them.”
Our conversation keeps returning to sex. Tom isn’t shy to talk about his own sexual strategies. He serosorts, in other words preferring to have sex with poz guys. “Ever since the legal issues about disclosure came out, I’m kind of worried about that. I don’t want to deal with that.” He’s not a fan of barebacking though. “I’m actually using the second generation female condom. It gives you the sensation of barebacking. I’m HIV and I don’t want to catch anything else. Being HIV is enough.”
I asked newfiebear if disclosing to guys results in rejection sometimes.
“Oh yes, lots of times. It’s their choice, it happens. You are going to get to kiss a lot of frogs before you meet your prince. And I’m still going through the frogs. But you have to be proactive. Sometimes I feel bad about it, but I have techniques for dealing with it. I’ll go to High Park and walk around and talk to the squirrels.”
The conversation is drawing to a close, and I have to go. Our neighbouring tables seem either unaware or unphased by the frank discussion we’ve been having. Or perhaps they hear talk about barebacking, improved erections and female condoms everyday here.
In any event, one thing is clear as we say goodbye; sharing is what newfiebear is all about, and it's his passion, whether over coffee in downtown Toronto or globally, via the world-wide web.
Check out his website here.
Follow newfiebear on twitter at @NewfieBear_net.