Impulse London is the latest chapter of Impulse United, a volunteer group of active gay men whose purpose is to promote healthier lifestyles using modern social approaches. The Impulse London chapter team includes a mix of familiar scene faces including Damien Killeen, Nieko Strobel,Tom Knight, Kayden Gray and others, and next Friday the group officially launches with a party at the Roof Gardens. Here, 56 Dean Street clinic’s David Stuart explains how he came to know of Impulse, plus Impulse London president Damien talks to Impulse United founder Jose Ramos about the purpose of the group within the community.
I first encountered Impulse International when I was on a tour of the Americas with the ChemSex documentary. The screening at a film festival in Mexico was co-hosted by the local Impulse chapter, who filled the auditorium with a very different crowd of gay men than I’d seen in audiences before. They were young. They were engaged. They were filled with a passion to do right by their communities, as well as themselves. They were ready to tackle the complicated issues brought up in the film. They were well-informed about community and sexual wellbeing, and I wondered how they became so. It was afterwards, at a premier party thrown by this Impulse group, that I began to get a picture of how this local community became so united and passionate.
In the months that followed, in the cities across America that I visited, I encountered more Impulse chapters – again, each young, passionate and engaged. I went to chem-free dance parties and pool parties where everyone was wearing HIV awareness vests or Speedos. I attended happy house gatherings where complicated issues were being discussed in friendly environments. I accompanied HIV testing and PrEP awareness teams driving buses around the streets of the poorer communities and providing meningitis vaccinations (during that health alert of March 2016). I saw them shooting fun, glamorous sexy health promotion films. Every one of them, a community volunteer. And all representing a younger demographic; helping their communities grapple with the issues this generation experiences: online hooking up culture and technologies; the availability of some very dangerous drugs their scenes have inherited; changing HIV prevention methods and stigmas; and an understanding of sexual health/sexual awareness that was generationally different from my own.
My own experience of these things is, at least, tainted by my memory of more frightening times (I’m talking of the deadly and devastating HIV epidemic scarred upon my generation’s soul). These fresh eyes, these youthful gay men (and allies) were under the umbrella of Impulse International, founded by Jose Ramos, supporting and nurturing their diverse communities as they navigate gay life, gay sex, community and recreation.
It’s been a privilege to manage the Dean Street Wellbeing programme at 56 Dean Street. Creating gay scene options that are more than just fun, but places where we can be our authentic selves and discuss issues affecting us and our communities. When the option arose to support a London chapter of Impulse, it was an easy yes; I leapt at it.
Gay life in 2017 is not easy; we are amid an enormous cultural and technological shift. Being young ought to be fun. But being young and gay in 2017 is tough. There are many challenges and newer generations of gay men will need their champions. And in Impulse London, I know we have them.
David Stuart manages the Dean Street Wellbeing programme at 56 Dean Street.
Damien Killeen, Impulse London president, talks to Jose Ramos, founder of Impulse United
DK: Jose, why do you care enough to do this work?
JR: I want our community to have a healthy sexual lifestyle. I want to empower them to take ownership of their health. I also want to help create a closer community in which we celebrate and love one another. And because no one should die of AIDS anymore.
DK: Do you think gay men are going through a particularly difficult time right now?
JR: It can be a lonely time for gay men right now; a lack of role models and the exploitation of gay men is causing harm. Chemsex is gaining momentum and the stigma and lack of awareness is making it stronger. We must act now before it becomes the new AIDS epidemic among our culture.
DK: What are your hopes for the future impact of Impulse?
JR: My hope is that Impulse creates awareness around issues such as lack of treatment, chemsex and stigma. I hope Impulse provides a network of volunteers and partners around the world that fight for the rights and the health wellbeing of their communities. And I hope Impulse brings light to chemsex and we stop losing loved ones.
DK: Are you hopeful for the future of the gay community?
JR: I am very hopeful. I believe and I’ve seen that gay men care around the world. They want to help and get involved. All they needed was a platform to have a voice. Impulse wants to be that platform and thanks to our affiliate, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), we are starting to. But we have some work to do. We have to mentor and help shape the new leaders. We need to unite our voices.
JR: Damien, what do you think is the biggest threat to gay men’s wellbeing in this city?
DK: Isolation. London is a transient city, and as gay people come and go they carry with them the trauma of their queerness – that fear of rejection, the insecurity of their identity and their internalised hatred for their sexuality. They come to London and often tend to either explode onto the gay scene or wander the fringes as preemptive outcasts. The latter, resenting those seemingly so skilful at fitting in, resort to a heteronormative judgement of those ‘dirty gays’ to reassure themselves; the former become jaded, as the hedonism fails to make them feel complete, which instead leads to new complications, such as substance addiction, body dysmorphia or issues with physical intimacy.
JR: So is there a right way for young men to navigate the scene?
DK: There is no healthy journey to accepting your sexuality, only different strategies and unfortunately many of those strategies are leading men to reject each other. When the community that should serve as a way for them to feel safe fails them, they dismiss it as outdated, indulgent, uncool or gross or dangerous. You might well still frequent a gay bar or sauna etc, but those locations become places of isolation where you can become trapped, sharing meaningless interactions, and protecting yourself from the very intimacy that could give you strength. The only answer I’ve found is taking the risk to open yourself up to more sustained and genuine interactions.
JR: What do you think of the current state of community in gay London?
DK: It is a landscape of untapped potential. On the surface people are trapped in a narrative of closing gay spaces and apparent gay apathy, but I see gay men adapting and increasingly reaching out. Many queer venues are responding to closures by attempting to make themselves more vital to a community that in the past they may have simply exploited. People are cottoning on to the fact that certain behaviours are not simply dangerous trends but an entirely new direction being developed in a gay environment that is completely unique from the scene of the past. With Impulse, we aim to encourage people to withhold judgement and instead think about why gay men are changing their behaviour and try to support them to make this new direction a safe and fulfilling one.
JR: What are your hopes for the impact of Impulse London?
DK: That it grows. I see Impulse very much as a practical social movement akin to marching or protesting – it can seem at times like the world is falling apart, and people look for ways to reach out to say “I care. Everything is crazy but I’m still trying to create the positive world I want to live in”. I’ve surrounded myself with some of these people and every day more people ask to be involved. There is an outpouring of people who want to give back, to celebrate those who helped them by supporting others. We can give them somewhere to be, something to do and someone to be with. Hopefully in return they’ll give the same to others.
Nieko Strobel, Marketing Manager, Impulse London
Nieko, what do you hope to achieve with your launch event at the Roof Gardens?
We cannot wait to show you what we have in store! We basically want to put on a party that’s not really been done at the moment, but one to bring the scene together, and where the scene is also the entertainment.
Your launch party starts at 7pm and some people will come straight from work. What can people expect on the night?
A cocktail-fuelled, gossipful soiree! When you arrive our gorgeous Impulse boys will welcome you to the Roof Gardens where you catch up with people, meet other people from the scene, drink some bubbly and enjoy our world-class entertainment including RuPaul’s Shangela, The Fabulettes and Crystal Lubrikunt. We also have four delicious DJs from across our incredible scene: Matt Bogard, James Bartlett, Jonathan Bestley and Aamyko.
How will information about HIV, health, chemise, support groups etc be available/accessible to people at these party events?
It’s so important to us that we connect those at Impulse events with the sexual and mental health services available in our community, so we’ll have representatives from many organisations present to give more information on how to party safely.
We know the London chapter receives funds from Impulse United HQ in the US, which is funded by the AHF. Entry to your Roof Gardens event next Friday is £12 – what will the money raised go towards?
The money will go towards making our next events accessible, free and held more often. Included in the ticket is not only entry – we’ll also be throwing in some cocktails, Impulse merchandise and lots of gorge entertainment.
As well as more glitzy events like this one at the Roof Gardens, will you be looking to do smaller events at bars and saunas, and even other spaces?
Absolutely! We already run Kabaret at Ku every Sunday and that’s something we want to continue; working with currents bars, clubs, events and saunas to add events that don’t currently exist or may need a little help creating. Impulse London is here to work with the amazing scene, bridge it, and make it even better for you.