Friday, November 16, 2007

Barebackers, Meth Heads, Young Guys, Sex Parties and Everything Else We Love to Blame

I admit it. I used to be that kind of person too. The kind of person that upon seeing an article about a surge or spike in HIV would immediately blame the so called monsters of the barebacking, anonymous, sex party going, crystal using community. It didn't matter that during this time of my life I didn't know anyone involved in these scenes- all that mattered was that people, somewhere at sometime, we're doing this. "They" were ruining everything. "They" were irresponsible, disrespectful and their behavior, disgusting. "They" were wrong. I was right. Then that all changed. I met Wayne.

Wayne is older by at least 10 years and he was an activist when HIV wasn't so manageable and still pretty fucking scary. He has been involved in some things like sex parties and hooking up but not others like crystal or barebacking. He's negative. He tackled Rudy Giuliani's New York based sex wars of the 1990's. A revolution not so familiar to my generation as it is to Wayne's. I've only known Wayne for a few months, but in this short amount of time, I've learned more than I could have imagined and within that, had to drastically revamp everything I was told and led to believe.

"Anonymous," "excessive," "bareback," "sex parties," "crystal meth," these were all words I loved to directly correlate to HIV infection in modern America. In fact, not only did I feel justified in using these words I felt righteous by not being a part of them either. But then, I was schooled. I was asked to look at the way I view the words I so matter-of-factly throw around. Excessive sex? What is excessive? Well, really, all excessive means is someone who has sex more than you. Anonymous? What's anonymous? Is anonymous knowing someone for 10 minutes or a full day, or less, or longer? Besides, having a circle jerk with 15 men is and always will be safer than having anal sex with one. Going further, performing oral sex on 3 men is still considered safer than having anal sex with 1. So, anonymous and excessive, where do you draw the line? Can you? I was beginning to find that even I was unable to put definition or quantification to these adjectives I so loved using. I was starting to find the amount to which you have sex matters less than the type of sex you're having.

"Bareback meth sex parties." This was a big one. This would be the largest hurdle to jump and one that also demanded the greatest amount of soul searching. I had this previous belief that despite how out and about I was that somewhere in this city and country there were scores of men attending parties where meth was freely passed around, men less-than-casually offered their holes and condoms were nowhere to be found. I also believed that these parties had some sort of unspoken recruitment process where they would encourage healthy, negative men to walk into their den of debauchery and walk out HIV+. But if this was happening then where were they happening? And why, despite my being in the scene, haven't I heard more about it? Why haven't there been more reports of negative now-turned-positive men running from these parties yelling, "The bareback sex party HIV's are coming! the bareback sex party HIV's are coming! Watch out!? It always seemed like these parties were a forecast of a thunderstorm that never came. That's because, despite how easy and tangible it is to blame these men and these communities, it simply isn't true to the level we think it is.

Yes, there are men who attend these parties, and yes some of them are reckless and some of them are high and some of them get HIV. And yes, we should be concerned, or angry, or upset, or frustrated but the majority of new HIV infections in this country aren't due to these barebackers and their sex parties, they only account for a minority of it. I know. Bummer, right? We so wanted to have a villain in all of this. It's easier that way.

But think about it yourself. Do you really think that in this world of modern information and STD knowledge that negative men are walking in by the gross to these parties and coming out positive? Do you really think that today's older and younger generations have such a high feeling of worthlessness that they're willing to throw themselves into these sloppy, sexual pits of hell? No, they're not. Some yes, sure. There will always be men who despite the most current and ubiquitous information will make the conscious or meth-rattled choice to not use a condom. Yet still, they're not to blame for any spikes or surges in current HIV rates.

The blame is on us. On all of us. It's within the simple human condition. We're people. We're not perfect and we all make mistakes. The majority of HIV infections in this country are happening in the antithesis of these bareback meth addicted sex parites. They're happening in "one time" mistakes, in "I should have been smarter," instances, in the "I just assumed he was safe," thought processes, in the "he's my boyfriend, I trusted him," in the "I'm a minority, I didn't know. I didn't think. I don't have the education," in the "English isn't my language," communities, in the, "I'm young," reality, and in the "I don't know about condoms," of the abstinence only world. Sure, positive men infect negative men. It's the only way the virus is transmitted, but keep in mind, much more often than not, it's "negative" men, unsure of their status, infecting negative men. And yes, of course, there are men entirely knowledgeable of their positive status having unprotected sex with negative men. But as the old, tired, cliched saying goes, "it takes two to tango."

Is barebacking and the festishizing of bareback sex a problem for the gay community and the younger generations? Absolutely. Is Crystal Meth a problem in the gay community? Without a doubt. Do these so called bareback sex parties exist? Yes. Are they at the forefront of ongoing HIV infections? No, they're not. They're just a minority of people, within a minority, making the choices they choose to make. We all have the ability to make choices. I can only hope we choose to make the right ones for ourselves. Understand it takes more than knee-jerk moralizing to see who is getting infected and how and where and why.

Take your finger off the trigger, click your safety back on, and dislodge the, "your-lifestyle-is-dirtier-than-mine" bullet and think twice before reloading and taking aim at another problem.


Anonymous said...

It's really simple, and it always has been. Don't have unprotected sex and you won't get HIV. How much easier can it be? We learned it when we were 9 years old. It's hard to feel sympathy for those that get it when it's the easiest formula ever to avoid it.

NewPrevTech said...

Eric, great piece. The anonymous commenter above - I believe - makes something very nuanced and difficult way too simplistic. If only it were that easy - just use a condom every time. Period. Well, there are lots of other factors that come into play besides condomizing your cock - mental health issues (such as depression and other serious mental illness), substance use/abuse (including alcohol), partner violence, childhood sexual abuse, internal
and external homophobia, racism, poverty, homelessness, lack of access to medical care, stigma, discriminations, civil and human rights... This epidemic is fed by all these things and more... Pointing fingers and screeching helps NO ONE - though may very well make the screechers and the pointers somehow feel better, and/or superior... We really need to address gay men's health HOLISTICALLY and stop solely focussing on HIV and STDs and neglecting the rest of our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual selves... So, I just did a little presentation in Tacoma, WA a couple days ago called "Gay, Sexy and Healthy - Crystal Meth Prevention and Beyond: Addressing the Holistic Health Needs of Gay Men" that some of you guys might find interesting, or worth debating: Here is the link:,%20Sexy,%20and%20Healthy%20Crystal%20and%20Beyond.pdf

It can be found on the site - connected to the blog of Woof Wednesdays fame - under the Tricks de la Trade tab...

Check it out!

Jim de LifeLube

Unknown said...

It's really simple, and it always has been. Don't have unprotected sex and you won't get HIV. How much easier can it be? We learned it when we were 9 years old. It's hard to feel sympathy for those that get it when it's the easiest formula ever to avoid it.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

In response to LifeLube, I still believe mentally ill and substance abusing have the ability to wear condoms. If they don't then they have no one to blame but themselves (of course I'm not talking about situations like rape). I think all people need to take a bit more responsibility for their actions and the results that occur. Sure, holistic gay men's health would help, but if someone does not respect oneself enough to take the simple step to not acquire an easily preventable disease, where is the inspiration going to come from? Unfortunately, it seems like it's a long, uphill battle ahead, though I'm glad you guys are fighting it. It's worth it.

Anonymous said...

"The blame is on us. On all of us." Correct. These ills don't just fall out of the sky on some hapless victim. They are the completely avoidable direct results of dangerous, risky behavior. And to agree with a previous comment, yes, it really is that simple. We all have to take responsibility - for ourselves and each other - and stop playing victim.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Eric.

You alluded to here (and in other posts) about the lack of safer sex education and access to information. Most of us 30 and over may find it hard to believe that people simply don't know about condom use or condom access. In fact, it boggles my mind that in 2007 anyone over 12 years wouldn't know that. But the reality is that the current administration has systematically silenced safer sex education in many of this country's schools and institutions. That's the truth. My 15-year-old nephew learned about condom use from his mother (thankfully), not from his public school. It's like the war: if the Post doesn't talk about it, then it must not be happening, right? We cannot allow this form of morality-based passive homicide to continue. That's exactly what it is when the crook occupying the office of the President of the United States appoints Dr. James Holsinger to the position of Surgeon General: a man whose religious beliefs ("choosing a homosexual lifestyle nearly always leads to disease and/or injury") directly influence the health policies of this country. There's your villain.

NewPrevTech said...

No one is playing the victim by addressing things like mental health, substance abuse, poverty, homelessness, racism, homophobia and lack of access to quality health care. Working across the myriad of issues that affect our lives - and the choices we make in that context - is hardly going "boo hoo" for ourselves. Because YOU - Eric Z and Anonymous - have no issues that make it difficult for you to make good, sound choices about your health and sexuality does not mean that is the case for everyone... The CDC has 129 HIV interventions developed and approved for African Americans. Guess how many of those are specifically for gay black men? ONE. This is a STRUCTURAL problem that goes WAY BEYOND one's one personal behavior. Much like the fact we are not going to really tackle global warming by encouraging people to turn their lights off, we aren't going to get at the nitty gritty of HIV incidence without some major structural changes in our society.

Go ahead and yell at people to "grow up" and wear a condom. Screan some more when they don't listen your wise and so very sage advice. And go ahead and feel no pity for them when they sero-convert.

Good to feel part of the solution, eh?

Jim de LifeLube

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Anonymous said...

the blame is on all of us? how heroic, how polite.

the blame is everywhere, whether it is on everyone, i doubt.

it is hard to blame the victim when you know someone with HIV. oh, you should have worn a condom. is that true? yes. is it helpful, no.

rather than masturbating about shouldering blame for those infected, the real focus should be upon supporting those who are and educating those who are not.

Anonymous said...

The component that, it seems to me, is being left out of this discussion is the notion of human desire. More specifically, we may be overlooking the role that a normal human desire for normal human intimacy plays in the transmission of HIV.

It is absolutely true that HIV is preventable, and that we all should know how to prevent it. But can anyone out there really, honestly say that condoms don't interfere in some small way with intimacy? And can anyone out there really, honestly say that he would have no problem going through his entire life without ever ONCE having intercourse with another man that doesn't involve a condom? If you have no problem with never, EVER experiencing or knowing what it is like to make love with another man without a rubber barrier between you and him, then I tip my hat to you.

But I believe that most gay men are at least MILDLY interested in what it MIGHT be like at SOME point in their lives to PERHAPS at ONE time have unprotected anal sex. (You think?) And because most gay men will weigh the risk involved with having unprotected anal sex in certain limited situations -- "we've both been tested and we're monogamous, so we're safe"; or, "he absolutely assured me he was negative and that he never gets fucked"; or, "he just showed me his negative test results from last week"; or, "I'm not putting myself at that much risk if I'm the top and the bottom guy keeps insisting he's negative"; or whatever rationale may be used either in the heat of the moment or even with advance planning -- and because these men might decide to actually choose to engage in unprotected sex in these carefully-selected, specific situations, then they are indeed putting themselves at risk for HIV-infection.

But can any gay man really look me in the eye and tell me that he has not ever -- not once -- ever at least THOUGHT about having unprotected sex in some situation that he has deemed to be a possible "exception" to the condom rule? And can any gay man past 40 really look me in the eye and tell me that he has not ever -- not once -- ever actually engaged in unprotected sex in such an "exceptional" situation? I seriously doubt it. Accordingly, can we really have absolutely NO compassion or understanding for the man who succumbs to temptation in what he has assessed to be a very safe, extremely low-risk situation, but who tragically becomes infected anyway?

I am an HIV-negative man. But I have to say that I am somewhat annoyed by the "high horse" mentality of those who callously say that infected men have only themselves to blame. When push comes to shove, such an assertion may be true at its base level, but where is our compassion for the man who simply wants to have, at SOME point in his life, the natural human experience of having latex-free intercourse within the context of a situation that he has carefully evaluated to be almost certainly safe, but who is incredibly unlucky when it was not, in fact, safe?

Yes, unfortunately, some of these men will become infected.

But here's a news flash for you, Anonymous, and for any others who might easily dismiss an HIV-positive man as being careless: YOU might be the next one to become infected. YOU just might find yourself on the other side of the fence that you think is safely protecting you. No, it might not be today, or tomorrow, or five years from now, or even ten years from now. But yes, you, too, just might take a calculated risk at SOME point in your life -- and let's not overlook the calculated risk that you aren't even acknowledging that you are ALREADY taking by having anal sex to begin with, even with a condom, because condoms can break -- and find yourself, to your shock and disbelief, infected. Yes, you just might get burned.

And then you will have to listen to the righteousness of those who tell you that you have only yourself to blame and you will have to listen to those who are incredulous that you could be "so stupid" as to have something like that happen to you.

...Again, if you are a gay man who has no qualms at all with going his entire life without EVER ONCE not using a condom for anal sex, then hopefully your condoms will never break and you will never become infected.

But I suggest that gay men are indeed human and are thus indeed inclined -- even if only one, single time in their life -- to get a taste of what it is like to fuck raw. But one time -- even in the most carefully calculated of circumstances -- is sometimes all it takes to get infected.

Can we really be so harsh, then, on HIV-positive men?

After all, perhaps we should look at them not as men who were not careful, but as men who were just terribly, terribly unlucky.

Anonymous said...

Mister Leven, as you're aware, I'm one of those who yell (and will continue to yell) at gay men to not take risks and to actually behave like the "community" to which we so cavalierly refer to ourselves at the end of June each year. Community members take care of each other and nurture each other and educate each other and encourage each other and, yes, even get angry at each other.

Rationalizing all the bad choices doesn't solve the matter of continuing --and increasing -- infection rates. Coddling people's bad -- or thoughtless -- behaviour doesn't do it, either.

I think there MUST be an equal and opposite force to challenge the blithe disregard gay men show to their own and others' health. A healthy community is healthy not just in body but in spirit and pursuits. I long for a focus on those pre-HIV attitude of fun, playful, celebratory sex that is very much possible still. Consumptive, "outlaw" and desperate sex isn't joyful, it's damaging. To the individual and community.

It's not moralizing or finger-pointing to state that, is it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kevin Pendretti. But we can all agree that under-21s who came of age in Bush/Gingrich's USA are the ones who are completely fucked. In my experience, very few take HIV/AIDS seriously, and are just completely blithe about condom use. Is it a coincidence that the main victims of the right wing's crackdown on safer sex education happen to be young queers and African Americans?

Anonymous said...

Sorry whatever little credibility you ever had about HIV, safer sex, and correct information about both, just went right out the window.

There is no such thing as safe/safer sex, as condoms do have a failure rate, and people will talk about anal sex being high risk but oral sex and rimming can be high risk too as all it takes is broken skin that you don't know about or an open sore.

It's been proven that there is a direct link between HIV and meth use/abuse and that men who bareback or use meth are A LOT more likely to get HIV.

Also people do lie about their HIV status or they simply won't tell at all if they are POZ, and they do this before having sex with people and think that it's not big deal at all. Talk about fucked up.

You can get HIV from oral sex and I have friends who did get it this way.

I know that they got it this way because they don't do anal sex at all and they're sick and tired of being treated like pariahs and being called liars because they tell the truth that they actually did get HIV from giving oral sex when for years they were told by doctors and other people that this was "safe" sex and that they had nothing to worry about when it came to getting HIV.

As far as your "friend" Wayne goes, he's a complete idiot and a whore and it would not surprise me if he too is HIV+ and simply lies about it, or has lots of other garden variety STDs that you can easily get from oral sex like Herpes since during his "tour" for his book reading about his stupid and pointless book about NYC's sex clubs and bath houses that spread HIV and other STDs (not to mention are host to lots of people on meth every weekend), he offered to blow me and God knows how many other random men just because we're hot or because we bought his book. Yes he was VERY open about how he'd gladly suck anyone that just came along on his bear411 profile and his profiles on other sites.

News flash to Wayne: Nobody gives a fuck about sex clubs, sex parties, or bath houses in the gay ghettos of NYC. Only promiscuous losers like Wayne do because it's the only way that they can get laid or pretend to have a life or even a relationship/friendship with someone, and want to hold onto their youth like so many
gay men with Peter Pan syndrome do.

Pick and choose your "friends" wisely. HIV+ men already have the disease and many of them inculding Joe Jervis (JoeMyGod) and FarmBoyz have their heads in the sand and are in complete and reckless denial about how it's very possible to get reinfected with another strain of HIV, and they recklessly bareback and spread other strains of HIV among each other.

Also there's no such thing as an actual GLBT/gay "community" since if there were HIV would not be so prevalent among gay/bisexual/queer men like it is.

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