Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

I'm in a low-risk category, but I have an HIV test every time I embark on a new relationship
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The Independent Online

I've never done this before, but I am so stressed out and wound up that I thought I'd like to share it with you. A Day in the Life of Tracey Emin.

Before I do that, I'd like to write something about my Australian friend, Shane. He died on 7 July this year, after months and months of pain. A row of tumours ran along his spine. He was young and very handsome and extremely funny. The last time I saw him we were in the Golden Heart.

Ironically, I had a very bad pain in my shoulder, and Shane was attempting (very well, might I add) to ease the gremlin out, whilst Sandra merrily topped up our glasses. We were all laughing because, as Shane rubbed my back, my giant, humongous breast seemed to catapult across the bar. I have a lovely photo of Shane. His partner, Troy, sent it to me. It hangs in my studio next to a beady-eyed 3-D photo of the Pope. I use the photo of Shane as inspiration, for good karma and light.

Last summer I sat at a table sipping rosé, laughing and mucking around. I was being really silly, and puerile as hell. I had a white paper napkin. I was pretending to be a magician. I wrapped the napkin around my face, first one side, then the other, to show that nothing could be concealed. On the third go I stuck my tongue through the centre, its sharp little end ripping through the tissue. Something rude but not totally disgusting. My mates rolled around. They were falling off their chairs. And as I giggled and stared around the table I realised that four of these six people, four of my friends, were HIV positive. But it's good to know. Knowing equals responsibility. Which means they can monitor the virus, take combination drugs, and live to be as old as the next person.

I have an HIV test every time I embark on a new physical relationship. I take the test because I feel it's the correct thing to do, and I am someone who has had very, very few sexual partners in the last 20 years. And I have never taken drugs intravenously, which actually puts me in a very low risk category. But then, 20 odd years ago, I did have a boyfriend who slept with a German prostitute and happily landed me with gonorrhoea.

Me. Miss Goody Two Shoes, going down the clap clinic. Being asked when was the last time I had sex. Me saying: "Last night." The Irish nurse saying: "Did you know the person?" Worse than the gut-wrenching humiliation was the unbearable pain, like I had a burning-hot iron in my womb.

Just because I'm honest and I'm clear, just because I'm monogamous, doesn't mean the rest of my world is going to be. That's why I have an HIV test. And no, I'm not wasting NHS money. I pay for it out of my own pocket. It costs a few quid, gives me peace of mind and I take responsibility.

In 2004 there were 4,287 people were diagnosed HIV positive in Britain, the majority being heterosexual. But also, there were 19,700 people undiagnosed.

There are 18 hospitals across the UK that have anonymous screening programmes. From this, they have a fair idea of what is happening. The statistic is horrifying. It's like a timebomb waiting to go off. Yesterday was International Aids Day, so forgive me if you think I'm ramming this down your throat, or preaching to the converted, but have you ever heard of the expression "measure twice, cut once"? So I just want you to be double double aware.

What she'd have wanted

It's so strange how people can fight over the dead. A man can leave nothing, but there are those who will still scrap over a few pieces of cloth. Pulling and tugging to the complete destruction of any pure or sweet memory. Standing around at funerals, listening to the possessive tongues - the last things he or she ever said... the final words... the last wish... how they wanted to be cremated... and how the unknown relations insist on burial. Making decisions for the dead.

I can hear people now saying: "NO. It's what she would have wanted." I think I might do one of those video wills and screen it at a really big fuck-off cinema. I am going to have my funeral at my friend Hamish McAlpine's house. It stands on an amazing cliff, looking out to sea. My body will be wrapped in some kind of shroud. I will be placed at the bottom of the cliff, body resting on a funeral pyre. Trusted friends will line the cliff's edge with bows and lighted arrows. On the count of 10, the arrows will be released to the sound of popping champagne corks.

Everyone will be cheering, wishing me well on my journey. As the fire burns, the tide will turn and my ashes drift out to sea. No one is crying. It's the red-hot ticket of the 21st century.

Out of my skull

At the moment I'm on a train, travelling from Liverpool to Manchester for my book signings. Last night at I went to bed 4am, happily drunk out of my tiny skull. Up sharp at 7am and on my way. I am so lucky to have focus. So lucky to have a direction. And so lucky to love life - and, of course, with my best friends. Those being my everyday thoughts that I can share with you.

I DREAM ON.

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