It is hard enough to deal with sexual identity, sexual diseases, addictions and fear of death. It helps to be able to talk about it. But how do you manage to do it?

Are you normal?

In 2013 I was granted 4 coaching sessions with an actress turned coach for artists.

Often I am quite immune to well-meant good advice. That has its absolute advantages. I would have stopped singing so many times if I had listened to outer and inner voices telling me to do something sensible.

Sometimes I have listened, however, and this was one of the times. At that moment I had a beautiful artistic past, which was rather far back in the horizon and I fought to create a bearable present and a fruitful future.

I had a lot of ideas, but I did not know how to turn them into reality, and I was terrified to admit it.

In the first session I talked proudly about my successes, my talents and my ideas. The coach let me speak freely, but when I continued in the second session, she quietly asked, “Is that really true?” No!” I heard myself saying and kept on talking. “Are you lying now?” she asked, “Yes!” I said enthusiastically.

“Wonder why you do that?” I considered it a bit, “Because I have not done all the things that my normal colleagues have done?”

“But are you really normal?”

Good question. Perhaps not entirely. “As one gets older, one realizes that it’s actually the holes in the CV that are the most interesting in one’s career,” she carried on. Very wise words.

I might understand them, but I was not able to and use them at that very moment, since I was busy digging one of the larger holes.

But my spectacular holes have since shown to contain so much material that I have been able to create a beautiful and meaningful artistic existence. And that is worth telling about.

School picture, 1975

Fear of death

When I was 8-10 years old in the Danish provincial countryside, I suddenly realized that I was going to die one day.

It was a time of turbulence both at home and at school. I got incredibly unhappy, cried and screamed for a whole evening.

My dear father, who at most believes in radio waves, could not sweeten the bitter realization with the promise of an afterlife. “It will probably first happen in some 60-70 years,” he said. But it only made matters worse. Imagine having to wait for so long for something that had to be so terrible.

At some point I fell asleep. Next morning I woke up and during the night I had blocked all thoughts about death. I could not contain the idea so it was sent to a very distant storage room.

It was a time with a lot of loneliness. I did not make any friends until I started high school around the age of 15. These friendships, however, have turned into beautiful life-long friendships, which I cherish very much.

I graduated from high school in 1983. I have always loved to sing, and I discovered that my singing voice had so much potential that it probably would be able to work professionally.

During the Copenhagen carnival in 1984 I had sex with a man for the first time in my life, and I decided to move to that wonderful city and explore my various organs.

With my Granny, 1990

The AIDS-epoch

I sang and sang and had sex and sex. A great time! The year after I had got myself a gonorrhea and had to go to the doctor.

“We’ll take an AIDS-test too,” she said.

My fear of death burst out of its distant storage room through all my blocks and I froze to ice. It took 2 horrible weeks before I got a negative test result.

I successfully sent my fear of death back into the archives and I joyfully continued with my favourite activities.

Perhaps one year later a lightly occult Chilean lover read my palm and told me that I would die at the age of 32.

Again, I got uncontrollably hysterical, ran around Copenhagen and screamed, called my father who still had no solution to that problem. Dear man.

It is quite strange to recall today. But my blocking mechanism was so efficient that I the next day had locked in all thoughts and feelings of death and I calmly and happily carried on.

I had almost always safe sex and I certainly never again exposed myself to an HIV-test.

I sang and was admitted to The Royal Danish Academy of Music. A wonderful time.

When I was in my mid 20’s I met a good old lover in a bar in Copenhagen. He told me that he was dying of AIDS and just wanted to tell me, since we had had (great) unprotected sex back around 1985-86. I said something appropriate and friendly and hurried away.

Thankfully I was physically very strong, I sang and sang well, so this could not have anything to do with me.

Another time, I met a very nice guy in the Copenhagen sauna. We talked about meeting up again, but as he told me on the phone that he was HIV-positive, I quietly hung up.

1996, after many years of research, the three-combination cure was developed. It changed HIV and the AIDS-problematic from a sure death sentence to a chronic illness, with which you could probably live for quite an extended period of time.

Since then, the treatment has developed so considerably that it generally has few or none side effects and the life prognosis is the same as for all other people. If your virus load is undetectable you also cannot infect other people.

I had gotten used to not follow the news of HIV and AIDS so I didn’t really notice the development.

But during 1997 I began having spots in the face, dandruff in the hair, and at the end of the year I got an intestinal inflammation which took my immune system 6 weeks and 12 kilos to get rid of.

The challenge of ignoring the symptoms got bigger and bigger. But early training is strong.

I got well into 1998 until I in a side remark asked my dermatologist to take an HIV-test.

I went to a singing masterclass in Stuttgart where I previously had had some nice success. Now I was told that I could not actively take part in the class.

Incidentally, I had forgotten to call the doctor to get a result of the test.

She called herself some weeks later and asked me to drop by the next day.

During the bicycle ride I managed promised the good Lord quite a lot if the test was negative. But it was not time for negotiations.

The test was positive.

The doctor referred me to the Copenhagen University Hospital and compassionately asked me what I wanted to do with the time that was left. Apparently like me, she had not followed the research development intensively either.

I was in a state of shock. For the next week I did exactly what I always did. Went to rehearsals in the Danish Radio Choir, went home. Talked to no one.

Then I called my sweet ex whose brother himself was HIV-positive. Those two guys were super friends in the coming time. I had got an appointment at the hospital some months later. I called and asked to get an earlier consultation and got it.

Then I called brother who was very moved and offered to go with me to the hospital. That was really nice.

When I came to the hospital they took a series of tests which showed that my CD4 t-cells, that show the strength of immune system and normally are around 2000, were as low as 13, and there was a lot of virus in my blood.

But, as the doctor said, these were new times.

I could get the three-drug combination cocktail. It worked as promised.

Compared to today, where I only take one pill a day and am doing very well, these were different times. I took 8 pills in the morning and 8 in the evening, and my stomach suffered quite a bit with the side effects.

I had and I have many good friends and a fine family. It seemed natural to me to tell them about the disease. I also felt a kind of obligation to do it. My brother helped with the most difficult, to talk to my mother.

Many were very sorry, and I felt I had to cheer them up so that it would not be too difficult for them.

I was 32 years old. Maybe that Chilean guy had not seen in my hand that the cure would come.

I stayed alone and shut myself away for the first couple of months. But I am an extrovert person and know a lot of people so it was hard.

I had the impression that everyone in the small singing world in Copenhagen just knew how things were going for me.

A “How are you doing?” was interpreted as “They know!”

I was happy when I was granted a residency in the Cité des Arts in Paris and could escape for five months.

My grandmother had heard from my mother about the HIV-infection.

I had thought to spare her, but she resolutely took a bus trip to Paris to see for herself how I was doing.

We had a lovely week, where we looked at the city and talked about anything but “that”. She saw that I was pretty ok, and went back home.

I met a French lover who also had HIV, and my sex life got going again.

I studied French vocal music and I also memorized a long Czech piece. One of my dear singing colleagues travelled down to Paris to sing it with me.

1999, Photo Marianne Grøndahl

Cabaret

When I came home to Copenhagen, I found out that they had invented the internet.

A friend told to watch out for these naughty chatrooms.

It turned out that there were amazing internet sites where you could meet other guys and make sex dates with them. My phone bill rose from 900 Danish Kroner to 3000 every three months.

There was not much work. The phone which had called by itself with jobs before was apparently broken down.

My voice had also suffered a lot. Its volume had diminished, and the previously clear sound had now become much foggier. That was much worse than dealing with the HIV-situation.

My old teacher from the academy gave me free lessons for years. With no apparent effect. I appeared in an opera where a critic wrote that I sounded like a vacuum cleaner blowing the air outward.

Then I quit.

I got a job in the State Road Department, where I could use the 6-7 languages I speak to report on roadworks on European motorways.

That was massively boring.

But then they called again from the Radio Chorus, I got some solo singing jobs and I had met a fine man, whom I had married.

I left the European roadworks (they are still there) without any tears and indulged in a yearlong dance with the Danish unemployment system.

I chaired the Danish Music Artist Association and organized a series of musical debates. In that way I was still an active participator in the musical scene.

Even if my voice was limited, there was still enough of it to sing fairly well professionally, but it was very challenging not to sing more and and not to sing better.

It had to be the meaning of my life to sing.

A voice teacher in Berlin was recommended to me.

On one of the travels I saw in the window of a music shop scores with six gentlemen in tailcoats on the front page. They were called Comedian Harmonists and with their elegant, virtuoso and seductive male ensemble singing they had been world famous in the late 20s and early 30s.

This was a kick-start to a new singing life.

I gathered some gentlemen from the Radio Chorus, and during a very long tour to Bochum we practised some of the songs and performed them for happy colleagues.

When we came home we practised half of a full program, called ourselves Kopenhagen Kabarett and had a fine concert in the old Radio House.

A dear friend joined us as a dashingly beautiful wonderfully singing erotic leading lady, I collected material for a whole evening program and needed some connecting texts to create a real cabaret.

As it happened I wrote pretty well myself. I have never not been fun, but out of the hard times a very well working crooked sense of life’s impossible situations had developed. So I wrote all the accompanying texts myself.

I was totally convinced that we would be successful. I rented the newly opened LiteraturHaus for four cabaret nights and got Politiken, a large Danish newspaper to sell the tickets. Everything was sold out, we sang and danced, the audiences were thrilled. So wonderful.

2008, Photo Sara Roland

Sex and sorrow

Having fun and some success was a tremendous remedy for my voice which slowly loosened up.

I got some opera jobs in Germany and smelled blood again.

All this zest for life gave me a much-augmented libido and I had strong urges to resume my joyous free sex life.

My husband and I agreed to open our relationship. I was happy, he less so.

My voice lessons in Berlin were combined with beautiful wild adventures and I returned home with some exotic sexual diseases which further strained our marriage.

I discovered that many guys in Berlin amplified the sexual experience with grass, hashish and chemical substances.

I had to try that too. I loved it.

Things began to be very difficult back in Copenhagen. I had written another show for Kopenhagen Kabarett and it worked fine. But since my voice was finding another level, I also wanted to be more of a soloist.

The others wanted to carry on in the well-known direction. I compromised and wrote a third show in the old concept, but time was running out for our beautiful group and me.

In 2009 I started to cry. I cried for an hour every morning, there was a lot of sorrow which could no longer stay inside me. A good friend stayed with us for a month while running for the European Parliament. In the mornings she first listened to me crying, then I listened to her campaign strategy, Then each of us went to do our daily chores.

In my relationship we were digging ditches and could no longer build bridges.

2011, Photo Hans Skaarup

Hepatitis C and Berlin

A routine blood test at the Copenhagen clinic showed that I had contracted Hepatitis C after one of my ‘study travels’ to Berlin.

I did not really know what it was, but it ended up being quite serious.

At the time there was only one treatment available, interferon, an immuno-suppressive chemotherapy-like cure, which had to be taken for at least 6 months.

There was an unappetizing menu list of possible side-effects.

My relationship finally broke down, I moved out to a friend who was on tour and later on I lived on couches here and there.

The treatment seemed to be successful, the virus load disappeared, I still had sex.

I went to a summer sex camp on a provincial farm and felt very liberated.

A very sweet lover later that summer told me, “You are so sad. Why don’t you just allow yourself to be it?”

He was right. I had not really considered that. I limited my sexual activities to two really good friends.

I sang in an opera in Aarhus that summer and when I came back, I found a furnished flat in Copenhagen. I looked for other places but made no special efforts. Some of my friends suggested to look at apartments but I did not want to look at any of them.

So what do you want, little Mads?

I wanted to further develop my voice.

I had lived in Copenhagen for 25 years, I felt I had a lot of unexplored vocal potential.

It did not seem likely that I could get more out of it in a city where everyone me and at most would offer me more of that repertoire that I already sang. If at all.

And then there was the sex life.

The arrow pointed in direction Berlin. I have never been a person to move around frequently, on the contrary. If I ever wanted to move, now was the time.

I asked my then voice teacher in Berlin, what he thought. “You come along,” he said. Two weeks later I had rented a furnished flat in Motzstraße in Berlin, in the middle of the gay minefield.

I settled my engagements in Copenhagen and after having sung at the boxing day mass, I took a couple of suitcases and moved on.

I had an appointment for an audition with an opera agency and had practised a program.

When I came and sang my right arm started shaking uncontrollably, and the friendly people said that it sounded pretty good, but you could stand and sing like that.

Obviously not.

I did not know what to do. I went to an astrologer.

When I was 20 I had had a very fine astrological consultation which had been surprisingly accurate and helpful.

It is a challenge at the same time to both have a highly specialized talent and to be quite naïve and gullible. But at least I knew about the situation.

So I looked for an astrologer in Berlin who was also a trained psychologist and found a good man.

He explained to me that the tears I had shed were not just about my divorce but 30 years of contained sorrow which I finally had found a way to cry out.

Among many other things he said that the coming years would be so transformative to me that in the old days I would have been put into a convent and not let out until the process was over.

That I would be so changed that I would hardly be able to recognize myself. And that when everyone thought that I was down and out, I would rise and never stop again.

That was encouraging. But such a transformation is quite something, as it turned out.

2012, private photo

Sex with injections

A guy introduced me to sex with injection of cocaine in the vein. That was love at the first stich. All my parades disappeared and I only dreamt of marrying that lovely man.

During the next six months I invested quite a lot of my money in exciting sessions with him. It was both wonderful and very frustrating. He did not want to marry (or even take a walk in the park) but he was happy to enjoy our stimulated meetings.

That had to be enough.

I had broken off the hepatitis treatment. It had worked fine, I had no virus, and I could not see why I should continue.

My self-diagnosis was wrong.

I was still registered in Copenhagen and a blood sample from the clinic showed that the virus had re-emerged. Their advice was to learn to live with it.

I had not volunteered the information that I had broken off the treatment myself.

One of my friends arranged a consultation with one of Berlin’s leading specialists in sexually transmitted diseases. He got the whole story. He thought that if the previous treatment had worked so well, then probably a 12-month interferon cure would effectively deal with the virus.

Provided that I carried it through, obviously.

Having lived with HIV for such a long time, the thought of having another active virus inside of me was very unpleasant. I mentioned my German doctor’s advice to the Copenhagen clinic, who reluctantly agreed to do it.

I was singing an opera in Bavaria during the summer-time and would then start the treatment when I arrived back to Berlin.

Coming back, my lover had heard that injections with crystal meth was even wilder than the cocaine rush.

I was somewhat uneasy. I was sick and not totally emotionally stable, and I feared that it would have unforeseeable consequences.

After some hesitations I agreed to do it anyway.

He got totally high and wanted to invite the whole world to my new apartment. Some of them came. I would have preferred to stay with him alone, but what could I do?

When the session was over, he went back home and I was totally miserable.

I have always looked after my lovers and other kinds of friends when they were in my company. Now I needed some support myself. I sent him a text message and he wrote back, that sorry, I had to take responsibility for myself.

That broke the synthetic magic. I saw him once again. One day I woke up, realised that this could not carry on, followed his advice, took responsibility for myself and found the strength to break off the connection.

2014, private photo

Poetic healing

I began the long interferon treatment and I also got myself a series of consultations with another astrologer/psychologist.

Practical as I am, I thought that I could both get myself some therapy and at the same time learn all about astrology. I did learn quite a bit. My biggest surprise was realizing how much anger sweet me contained inside.

I abstained from sex and stimulants. I got a year’s sick leave. As opposed to the time with the HIV-diagnosis where I felt a kind of duty to inform the whole world, this time I tried make a sober analysis of what I actually needed to get through such a long medical course.

It suited me quite well just to be alone and go into myself. I spoke to some friends, so someone could be there if I against expectations could not manage the treatment. I slowly talked to family and closest friends as I could feel that it went ok.

Then I let time work for me. I found a very difficult contemporary piece of music which I decided to learn. It showed to have an enormous therapeutic effect.

During the piece one goes on a poetic journey through the terrors of Hiroshima and Auschwitz and at last come back up from the deep darkness and sees that there are still temples, light and song.

I might not always be receptive to reason. But I am definitely receptive to poetry and music.

The repeated vocal wandering through darkness and into the light gave me both hope and faith that it would be possible for me to find a good path.

I began to analyze song and sorrow.

The singing had such a fine effect on my own grief, I had also always been happy to sing at funerals and found a profound meaning in using my voice in very emotionally vulnerable situations. There must be something to find there.

I listened to singers from the present and especially from the past and tried to sense how and why their singing affected me. I could both be touched by simple beautiful singing and by an expressive self-disclosing heart-breaking performance.

I searched for focus and emotional concentration.

I was asked if I would make a solo cabaret in Copenhagen with the wonderful elegantly crazy Berlin repertoire from the 20s and 30s Weimar republic. It was so much fun; I laughed every day when I went to my piano to practise.

I got a lot weaker physically during the interferon treatment. But my morals were boosted.

I organized a couple of concerts with the big contemporary piece. The composer came, was very touched, and wrote me a most positive letter, which gave me hopes for the future.

The solo cabaret also went really well. The naughty songs were just the thing for me.

I had met the leader of the German catholic military soul comfort service, who invited me to be a soloist in the annual World Day Peace Mass in the cathedral of Cologne. Afterwards we collaborated about a vocal program for comfort in sorrow, which was also fine and promising.

It was one the many strange times in my life where I on one hand had nothing to do and would quite low, and moments after I could be performing in fine concert halls. And then nothing again.

My interest in astrology had gotten me in touch with some very fine astrologers and therapists. I was asked if I would write an astro-biographical article to an American astrological blog. Here I described a lot of the things I also write about in this article.

I did, however, leave out all that had with drugs to do.

It seemed so overwhelmingly embarrassing that I did not intend to share any of this with the public. Furthermore, I was sober.

It was very liberating to describe my challenges with the sexually transmitted diseases. To try take out guilt and shame and have a kind of factual-emotional approach to what had happened.

As a possible side effect I have actually had none of the diseases that I used to attract magnetically since then.

The hepatitis had gone. A year after a blood sample showed a little amount of virus and Copenhagen asked Berlin for more samples.

I made a new negotiation with God. This time I said that if I was meant to be sick again, I would of course accept that. But if could choose myself I would prefer to be well and carry on what I was doing. 2 weeks after the Berlin samples showed no virus.

Good riddance.

2015, private photo

Crystal meth

And then I fell right down a new hole.

One night a guy came to my place with a lot of crystal meth. We took it together. When he had gone I knew that I was hooked.

‘This will be the most difficult you will ever experience in your life,’ I quietly said to myself.

Four very challenging years followed. After every crystal meth session I was finished, physically and emotionally. I had to find my voice again through very slow exercises. When it had come back I sang and carried on working with my programs.

It was especially difficult after a really big cabaret night. Having had a standing ovation, I had an irresistible self-destructive urge.

As if I were not allowed to be successful and had to punish myself.

To survive mentally as unharmed from this strong influence on the brain and the rest of the system as possible, I observed myself and my partners.

Many went from enormous enthusiasm and a rabbit-like sexual desire to rage and a nervous paranoia toward the partner.

I myself experienced an initial loving desire to please my partner followed by being annoyed that he did not want to please me.

I realized that I could fend off a lot of the rage by a humorous attitude, having fun when something did not work out as imagined instead of going into hysterics. A lot of the things that happened were also quite ridiculous.

When it was all over, I would have some strong after-effects. Where others could not stop talking, I for several days could not stop singing.

What I sang was not always real tunes, sometimes I could not stop singing the word Honolulu. I got very fed up with that island. But it always stopped after a couple of days.

It was very strange that the disgust I felt when a round was over, suddenly would be forgotten again after a while.

I was always totally sure that I was quitting now. And then I did not do it anyway.

My finances were in a very critical state.

I did not have jobs enough to get through or sometimes even to pay my rent. And quite a bit of my money would spontaneously be invested in my drug habit.

Sometimes I would not have money to pay for the ticket to the concert places where I was going to sing and earn my money. Good friends carried me through without asking too many questions so that I did not end up on the street.

I tried to find out what prevented me in stopping the drug habit. At the same time I got more and more uptight and would under no circumstances talk about the issue.

I hoped that someone would ask me what the matter was, but I probably seemed too dismissive to those who could see that all was not well.

At a certain point it was clear to me that not being able to talk about the issue probably was the biggest problem. So that barrier had to be broken down.

It was indescribably difficult.

I started with a dear cousin and worked my way through a friendly aunt into the core, my father and my mother. I only received friendly and loving answers. All my monstrous conceptions of rejection were in my own head.

2016, private photo

The end of drugs and rehabilitation

It still took another year until I found the inner strength to quit totally.

It was obvious that I needed help. I went at it methodically. I went to the Berliner AIDS-Hilfe, got myself a good social worker.

He helped me through the bureaucratic challenges of getting unemployment support and sickness fund. He also helped me with installment plans for all the unpaid bills that lay in a corner growing larger.

I gave up my Danish registration and became fully signed up to Germany. I went to my doctor and I also got counseling from the Berlin Schwulenberatung (gay counsel).

Most transgressive of all was to pass the threshold to a group meeting for men having sex with men on drugs.

At this time I had had long periods of abstinence. I had also had good sex without drugs.

But there was still no stop block in really challenging moments. I had a talk with an addiction therapist who asked me to stay away from drugs until we met again three weeks later.

That very same evening I had an enormous relapse with a man who kept provoking me.

At the end my otherwise very controlled rage was so challenged that I with my very loud voice screamed so much that he finally disappeared.

And then I had stopped. It was 15 June 2016.

I was hired to sing at a private silver-wedding some days later.

I did not have much voice, but what I had worked, I was fun and elegant and it seemed like a confirmation that were was still something that was in order.

Then I more or less just slept for some weeks.

The therapist thought that I had to go to an institution now I had not kept his deal.

This annoyed me so much that I just kept being abstinent. Pride and vanity can also be good weapons.

I went to meetings once a week and otherwise I kept to myself. I told my closest circle that I thought that now it was really over. Each time talking about the issue was very unpleasant.

The only person I wanted to see that summer was my mother. She came from Denmark to Berlin and we had a lovely fun week together.

I had a solitary cabaret performance and even if I felt tired and stiff in my body and voice, I could perform for two hours and the audience was happy enough.

I had been looking for a therapist with whom I could work through all these issues.

The sickness fund gave me a list of available psychotherapists. I met a couple. One lady asked me whether I drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes. “Neither”, I said. “Oh but isn’t one allowed a bit of fun once in a while?” she said.

“Oh yes,” I thought “that could be pretty nice,” and then I started to smoke and drink.

When I came back to her and told about my progress, she looked at me horrified and said, “This is ‘Suchtverlagerung!” a lovely German word which means something like addiction-replacement.

Then I fired her.

At the meetings the leading therapist said that if one entered the course of therapy of the Schwulenberatung, total abstinence was required for 18 months, also from alcohol.

I saw/heard myself sitting with crossed arms and with despise in my voice say that alcohol absolutely never had been a problem for me. That angry reaction made it clear to me that was probably something to discover here.

I deleted all my dating apps. Got a new phone number. Set me up to a very long process. With many difficulties on the way. But I was not unaccustomed to difficulty so that would probably be useful here.

I read on a support site what others had done. Some had used meetings, 12-step-methods, clinics, some had needed a lot of support, some had just walked away.

It probably worked best for me just to walk away. I had had many times alone and it generally worked very well for me.

There was a lot of anxiety of whether I would relapse again. How to deal with that.

I sent it up to God. Said if I could choose I would prefer not to relapse and I intended to keep working on it. That quietened the fear.

In the weekly meetings I could hear what the other addiction fellows struggled with. Even if there were differences, the parallels were most apparent.

Anxiety, solitude, hurt, anger and boredom were shared experiences.

Good routines and rituals worked well for me. Cooking, cleaning, a walk, a practise program, listening to music, watching a film, reading about astrology were all very stabilising.

My own previous fear of death had through the many small and big disasters changed into a kind of intimate relation with life’s endings.

I stopped smoking and drinking again, and finally met a very friendly therapist.

Three months had passed and I had not experienced any urge to go back to the drugs. “Apparently you have done it yourself,” he said, “what do you want with me?”

I felt that I could very well need / deserve a friendly companion on the further journey, and he made it possible that I was granted 42 sessions with him.

The German sickness fund is very generous once you find out how it works.

Now when I did not have to struggle for my mental, emotional and physical survival, a lot of saved up reactions emerged.

I sang a cabaret performance where inner voices, from the beginning of the first song to the last encore, kept degrading my singing: false expression, bad singing and generally totally useless what I did, every time I opened my mouth.

But I kept singing, I knew the program well, and the audience reacted precisely as any other night. Even very positively. A very strange experience.

Apparently these voices had a need to be heard. They stayed with me for a good while.

I implemented a strategy where I let the thoughts and feelings pass through me. Observed them but did not act on them. That would also have been very difficult.

I put on 10 kilos and an old joint sickness violently came back. My knees and ankles were very swollen. It was difficult to walk.

One day when I went for a little slow walk, I met an old friend and sat with him on some chairs on the street.

An old drug-lover passed by and said “My, you are fat!” Well yeah. What could I say? I got up. “Look, he can’t even walk!” he cried after me.

I went home.

2017, private photo

The dear holes

Some times you have to be desperate to do what you know is right.

One of the persistent inner voices kept telling me that I was past 50 years of age, and what had I done with my life: Sexual diseases and drugs.

Partly it was true of course, but it was not very constructive.

I decided to counter the voices and tell myself that these special experiences could also be seen as a preparation for my coming life.

One perception of life can just as good as the other, and there was absolutely most perspective in a positive attitude to myself.

What else could I do? The only thing I wanted was to sing.

On one hand I had some fine ideas that had also proved to work well, my voice was ok fine. On the other hand a classical singer over 50 is rarely booked to the normal repertoire out of nowhere.

I was really bad at auditions. I always froze in terror of the situation, so I rarely gave an impression of what I was actually able to do.

I quietly left the opera and oratorio world.

Nobody, however, asks you for your age and your CV, once you get to the stage.

My therapist encouragingly said that there was huge difference between retraining and to return to your own profession.

“A relaunch of a much-loved product,” as he beautifully put it.

I made a plan.

I needed to have my own series of products.

If I could manage to pass through the embarrassment, shame and guilt of the sex and drugs experiences I would have a vast bank of exciting artistic material.

Hopefully it could also do some good to other struggling people.

There was no way I in my present state could handle being an overnight sensation, it would also not suit my age. I settled for the long haul with no deadlines for achieving my goals. Finding a way of doing proper work, and then do it.

I looked at the artistic areas where I was most happy and where my own joy and compassion could meet some needs of the world.

Sorrow, sex, cabaret, poetry, ensemble singing. Beautiful sound. General exploding fun is also my thing. I could not see a singing life for me without Schubert so whatever I did, it would be on a basis of classical technique.

The idea from the group meetings to make a routine of taking your trauma to a special place once a week and see how it was doing inspired me to develop a series of comfort-in-sorrow-concerts.

Here you could bring your sorrow to the same place, the same time, hear a caringly selected program, unpack your sorrow as much as would be fitting, let the song massage it lovingly, wrap it again with the knowledge that you could unpack it again at the next concert.

I suggested the idea to the leader of Berlin’s cemetery administration, who liked it. He found a small budget and a beautiful chapel in a cemetery in Kreuzberg where I from 2017 organised a summer series of six concerts.

It was very difficult to share my drug challenges.

Every time I talked to friends or family about the issue, there was a passage through a lot of discomfort and awkwardness. But after a while it became easier and the trauma was at least on a personal level easier to deal with.

There was never a day when I was not at least at one point in a good mood. I respond very well to praise and acknowledgement, so I trained my critical brain to be an encouraging coach.

If I stayed in bed all morning, that was great, if got up and worked, that was super too. Working-resting-working-resting also showed itself to work well for me.

When I had nightmares about relapsing into drug abuse, I interpreted it is a processing of the issue. Told myself, that was a dream, now you are awake.

If I imagined that I was probably dying from cancer, heart attack, brain tumour, car accident or something else, I would end it by saying. But probably not. I was right.

If I got scared that nobody would support me, I told myself, maybe it was like that once, but now is now. Some support, some don’t. Just like you sometimes support and sometimes don’t.

I tried to visualize how I really was and am and direct me in that direction.

When I had put too much pressure on myself, small panic attacks and Tourette-like swearing sessions informed me that it was time to relax and let the things find their place by themselves.

There came a point where I was so controlled positive that it was hard for me to stand my holier-than-thou self-righteousness.

I was binging herbal tea, had no sex, cooked, did the dishes, and worked with focus.

Maybe I needed a shake up?

2018, private photo

Challenging medications

My swollen joints were diagnosed as a psoriatic arthritis, an auto-immune disease, and I began a medical treatment with cortisone and methotrexate, an immune-suppressive drug.

At the same time, my doctor, ironically, had observed a very low level of testosterone in my blood samples, and I got a depot shot with a six-month-lasting testosterone supplement.

That shook me up.

The cortisone made me very jittery and nervous. During a concert I first lost all my top notes and later all my middle high notes.

Thankfully it was contemporary music, so I made some improvised drastic revisions of the score. The audience apparently did not notice anything, but it was a most unpleasant experience.

I stopped taking the cortisone, but my voice kept being woolly and darker than usual. Otherwise the medicine worked well for my joints.

I went to an endocrinologist who phased out the testosterone.

I also got a series of voice therapy sessions prescribed. Lovely Germany.

The voice came back, with a restricted top.

Selfie with my Mum, 2018

Sexy cabaret

I had already in 2014 written a rather wild synopsis for a piece about a lesbian proctologist (a specialist in male rectal diseases) and a gay karmic astrologer.

The piece was full of sexual and emotional manipulations, medical and esoteric, medical research experiments with of drugs. Altogether a lot of great stuff.

If I seriously wanted to transfer my sex, disease and drug experiences to my public sphere, it was time to get going.

A part of me actually thinks, that saying the word gay is rather embarrassing and in my general artistic life I had never played the gay card, so it not something I just did.

I talked to a friend who is an addiction therapist in the Danish AIDS-Foundation in Copenhagen. Through him I got in touch with the Gay House, Bøssehuset, in the autonomous free town of Christiania in Copenhagen.

 I joined one of their Monday meetings and suggested a cabaret, ButtStuff, with this story. They were happy to let me play it.

I decided to use French Piaf and Brel songs and wrote some grotesque-satirical songs with clinical-rectal contents.

The Song of the Rectal Examination, The Song of the Sexually Transmitted Diseases, The Song of the Medical Research Experiment. I thought it was hilarious.

I also wrote a song praising hyper-sexual gay activity. Nothing wrong with that! Even if I myself apparently had taken early sexual retirement.

Together with my AIDS-Foundation-friend we organized an Open-Mic meeting for men who combine sex with chems (as we call drugs nowadays), where I told parts of my personal story and sang some of the songs.

It worked well, the songs were actually very funny.

I went home, sat down, wrote the stories and 14 songs. I made press work, practised the songs and stories until I was blue in my face, organised a home concert for Danish friends in Berlin.

Shortly before, there was a big accident in our family which shook me very much.

During the performance the voice acted out again.

The top disappeared again and even though I managed to get through the piece in a spontaneously transposed low key, I had to postpone the actual premiere for 3 months.

I got a tremendous panic attack, my inner voices told me that now I was definitely through as a singer.

At the same time, I kept organizing new concerts and cabarets, so I decided to observe what I actually did and not listen too much to what the hysterical voices said.

I transposed my songs a bit down since the top was still difficult to find.

A sign of aging?

I got a new prescription for voice therapy, practised and carried on.

ButtStuff 2018, private photo

ButtStuff and an interview

I thought it might be a good time to relinquish more of my control, offer an interview about the colourful background for the creation of ButtStuff, and of course also get some promotion for the show.

I contacted a journalist I knew at the Danish paper Politiken, and they were happy to cover it.

Now I had plenty of time. I practised peacefully, got everything better in order and a friend in Copenhagen organised a new private performance.

There were quite a few people and they were very enthusiastic. Especially the young gay guys. That was quite a pleasant surprise, since I mostly have a mature audience.

The journalist was also there. The day after we had a long talk, I was still quite high after the success the night before and I spoke joyfully and very freely.

The AIDS-Foundation helped me with press releases and informative material, and the two performances went really well.

It seemed that my crooked view on the many challenging themes worked as I had imagined.

The article did not appear until three weeks after the premiere.

It did, however, fill eight whole pages in the Sunday paper and almost only focused on the time with drugs and special sexual practises. Very little about the piece and nothing about the work that I had done to create a well-functioning life afterwards.

The only thing that was written about my voice was that I was a wild guy, not the type to sing Danish art-songs in museum.

I sing a very pretty Danish art-song.

I got the article to read through a couple of days before, but I could not read it soberly at all. Apart from the art-songs, I had absolutely said everything that was written.

I froze again. When does a medium well-known classical singer ever get so much space in a public paper? And then with that topic!

There was a day with a lot of Facebook reactions, and then total silence. I told myself that I would never ever work again after that scandal.

I was singing at a private charity event in Berlin a week after with my beloved 20’s Berlin repertoire.

It was a lovely relaxed evening, I was in good voice and a gentleman friendly said to me, “You must be much sought after.”

Yes, if only. Then I got myself a considerable relapse.

Mads Elung-Jensen
2019, photo Luca Pravato

Buildung up again

When it was all over, I was exhausted, beside myself and sad.

So much work.

Had it just been for nothing? I wrote to the journalist who was very shocked by the effect of the article and asked if there was something he could do. I was still in quite an excited stage.

Friends advised me to let it rest, get well again and carry on slowly. Good advice.

I told myself that such an experience was more of an opportunity to correct my course and put myself under less pressure.

It was not a total failure.

Furthermore, I had no cravings at all to go back to my past.

I had taken a month’s vacation and spent a good deal of it telling myself that I would never play that piece again. Knowing very well that I probably would do it again sometime.

I made a relatively sober analysis of my situation.

My top notes had to my immense delight returned. I had not considered that testosterone supplements frequently lower the sound of the voice.

I was still a tenor.

My projects worked well. I would probably get new work.

I needed to write to new cabarets as a basic income.

I still made my comfort-concerts. Even if I did not make much money on them, they were in every sense rewarding to do. Here I could sing all the Schubert, Mozart and Bach which is the core of my self-understanding as a singer.

Together with good friends I had developed a concert concept with challenging poetry and contemporary music. Mediating moderations made these concerts beautifully accessible for a larger audience.

I missed a steady young ensemble who could sing the repertoire for comfort in sorrow with me and also make elegant entertainment music.

It would also suit my age to begin passing on my experiences.

Most important was to surround myself with good colleagues who had a good high artistic level and a loving approach to life.

Who at present were willing to make concerts for the low fees that I was able to offer, and which I also got myself.

God told me that a positive attitude to life, combined with a change of diet and exercise would be good for me. I lost 10-15 kg. I phased out the methotrexate, my joints stayed well.

I carried on working.

I have nothing at all against the glory of the world, but what I love most of all is to work, to work as a singer. Now also as a writing song-entrepreneur.

2019 I wrote a cabaret about the wild sexual life in Berlin in the 20s in Danish and German, and 2020 one about Denmark in the time around the second world war.

Over a couple of years I had found the wonderful, talented people with whom I work in my ensemble Die Goldvögel.

I practised my cabarets, had them performed in a first form, let them rest and mature and then I took them up again.

I translated ButtStuff into German and organized a couple of performances in Berlin.

Now I also performed in drag. For the first time in my long life. That was immensely transgressive. To me, not to the Berliners. The piece also worked well here.

Sometimes I was tormented by a tremendous hurt anger. It was most difficult falling asleep and waking up. An old record was played on repeat with black feelings, who seemed very authentic when I was not totally clear in my head.

I realized that the feeling was over-dimensioned, but it was real too. Sometimes the hurt would jump from one person to another, no matter who I wanted to feel hurt. Very unpleasant.

I got used to telling myself that I would always take care of myself. Take it easy. I got it. It worked well.

ButtStuff 2020, photo Luca Pravato

Lockdown and the time on the other side

I was practising a new cabaret in the Spring of 2020, when everything suddenly locked down, and I got hit with my pants down (so to speak).

It was a huge shock suddenly to have to totally stop up, and it took me a while to get used to the new situation.

One thing is to be voluntarily alone, another to be forced to be it. And surprisingly exhausting to sense all the uneasy fear in the whole society.

I postponed my performances, we managed to do the summer-sorrow concert series with mouth and nose coverage (the audience) and a lot of disinfect.

During the autumn I suddenly had three premieres in three months due to the postponements.

When everything locked down again, I was ready to close down too. I pulled out the plug and a lot of material emerged and demanded to be processed. More anger and hurt.

One of the most difficult and to a certain degree incomprehensible challenges over the many years had been that it seemed like I never heard from people.

Even when I invited to be disturbed.

The healing person is not the one to reach out.

It comes very natural to me to check in on friends and family if they are going through a hard time.

It is also clear that many people care for me and send friendly thoughts in my direction. But what about showing it actively?

A good HIV/chemsex-therapist explained to me that the challenges that he, I and many other people have had can seem very overwhelming and difficult to approach.

Like sorrow and death.

But there are people you can talk to and it is up to you to find them.

This made a lot of sense and the realization has also helped me to get rid of even more old sad luggage.

It is also one of the reasons that I write this article now.

It has absolutely been difficult for me to speak of these matters. Much less today. And probably even less in five years.

Gay men have sex. Artists are often at the same time very sensitive and very energetic. Things happen. What you do with them counts.

During this past winter I watched all series on Netflix. Then it became clear to me that I had actually done all the things from my original plan.

That was a big relief. As if I did not have to prove myself to myself or others anymore.

If I did not starve to death under a bridge during the wintertime because of a lack of jobs (not likely), my calendar for life on the other side would be full of good performances.

So now I carry on in my crooked and happy way.

As a general reassurance I am not sexually abstinent anymore, but the wild sexual urges are not so overwhelmingly pressing as they once were. And honestly, it has become much more exciting to meet a partner with my own mixture of joy, sensitivity and lust. Without stimulants.

Apparently the astrologer was right in his observations. My little flat on the 11th floor in Berlin has been my own convent. Here I have thought, felt, sung. And shared body and soul with many a passing-by brother.

I am performing ButtStuff in Copenhagen at the World Pride this August. I have started practising again. It is such a lot of fun! I have practised accepting applause, so do not fear showing appreciation!

So many people have supported me and thought of me over the years. Thank you. You know who you are, and so do I!

2021. In the background you can see the joint gravestone for people who have died from or with HIV on the Alter St. Matthäus Friedhof in Berlin. I often go here to think about life. Photo Jeremy Knowles