Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Obligatory Comment on Andrew Sullivan Post

OK, here we order.

From Andrew Sullivan's side, here's the article that started this whole controversy on which I feel the requirement to comment.

Next, the blogosphere reaction:

Michelangelo Signorile

Boi From Troy

Gay Orbit (and Gay Orbit again)


And in response, Andrew Sullivan himself.

Finally, North Dallas Thirty's response:

Sully's right.

Let's be honest here on a few matters:

-- Bareback sex FEELS better than sex with a condom.

-- You will not necessarily be infected if you have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive person.

-- You can live a full and rich life with HIV, regardless of whether or not you take meds.

-- Meds have made it possible for HIV-positive gay men to survive, for all intents and purposes, indefinitely -- or at least for far longer than they used to survive.

-- People who are on HIV meds have a legitimate medical reason to use steroids and hGH and, as a result of choosing to do so, may appear more buff and sexy.

On the other side:

-- When you have unprotected sex, you are trading peace of mind and a completely-healthy body for sexual stimulation

-- You may be infected with HIV the first time you have unprotected sex with an HIV-positive individual.

-- HIV can kill, maim, or cripple you, regardless of whether you are on meds or not.

-- Meds are powerful, expensive chemicals on which the long-term exposure data is at best scanty -- and once you are infected, you may not be able to survive without them.

-- The reason that being on HIV meds is a legitimate one to take steroids and hGH is simple -- steroids and hGH slow or stop the wasting that these medications (and HIV) can cause which turns muscled circuit boy into hollow-cheeked starvation victim lookalike.

What individuals like Signorile and Weinstein seem to be missing is that HIV infection (and other STDs, for that matter) is a logical consequence of what the gay community encourages. We put our highest emphasis as a group on sexual expression. It's what to a great degree governs our culture, our gatherings, our language, our businesses, and even our humor. That's not necessarily right or wrong -- it just IS. However, in a society where sex is paramount, sexually-transmitted diseases can be expected to be endemic.

Whether we like it or not, the gay community and its attitudes have, like the human immunodeficiency virus itself, changed and mutated to accomodate the alterations in its environment. Before, unsafe sex was akin to Russian roulette. Now, with meds and undetectable viral loads, it's a lifestyle choice -- you can take some risk in exchange for greater sexual satisfaction without it being an automatic and immediate death sentence.

I will at this point make a clear distinction between what I see as Weinstein's attitude and as Signorile's attitudes.

In the case of Weinstein, his is one of prevention because HIV/AIDS is dangerous -- a perfectly-acceptable reason and hypothesis. His statement reminds me of the crushed car lesson that was dutifully repeated on our high school's lawn on an annual basis to show us the dangers of drinking and driving -- a lesson that, given the number of my classmates that were involved in alcohol-related traffic incidents, was both spectacular visually and in terms of its failure rate.

The problem with Weinstein's thinking is that HIV is, in the mind of most gay men, very similar to alcohol-related wrecks in the minds of my classmates -- something that will happen to someone else who isn't as smart or lucky as I am. In order to modify their behavior, they must be presented with alternatives that are BETTER than the undesirable behavior -- and let's face it, bareback is always going to beat out protected sex in terms of pure sexual stimulation. However, what protected sex provides -- peace of mind, the satisfaction of taking control over your health, avoidance of marathon pill-popping -- can outweigh the sexual stimulation aspect. Prevention of HIV/AIDS requires those kind of frank discussions, rather than people waving photographs of the dead -- especially when the "Get AIDS and you'll die" is disproved on a daily basis by people like Sully.

In the case of Signorile, though, HIV/AIDS represents two things -- power and control. With the specter of hollow-cheeked victims, money and sympathy can be guilted out of heterosexuals -- and robust citizens like Sully, especially robust citizens who will not do as they are told in exchange for token sympathy, directly threaten that. Within the gay community itself, HIV/AIDS provides a convenient moral scorecard for people like Signorile to "prove" that they are "better than so-and-so" because so-and-so is positive. He represents a perverse admixture -- claiming his sympathy for AIDS victims, but publicly tearing them down because of their sero-status.

In summary, one can argue from a community level that HIV/AIDS prevention is an excellent idea, given its ability to undercut the discrimination that exists (i.e. donating blood, donating sperm), currently based on the logical point that men who have sex with men are far more likely to have HIV/AIDS than men who have sex with women exclusively. In addition, HIV/AIDS represents an enormous outflow of dollars and resources for the gay community which could be an enormous help in educating voters about gay issues.

However, what it ultimately boils down to is that one's HIV status is now, more than ever, a matter of personal choice, and needs to be accepted as such, without bemoaning the lack of consequences.

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