I sometimes wonder whether the need to control the behavior of others is programmed right into human DNA. It's a nasty idea, I know, but we just can't seem to let people live their lives in the way they see fit.
When it comes to AIDS, it's hard to fault a bit of moralistic outrage. Gay journo Rex Wockner is very good at it, and his rant about keeping gay men from killing themselves
seems like a good cause.
Rex got going because of all this talk of a new, nastier strain of HIV in New York -- a bug whose existence may or may not be true. Wockner writes: "Now, it is quite possible this case may prove to be a fluke -- a matter of genetics combined with a bizarrely unhealthy lifestyle. Or, HIV 2.0 could be on the loose, which is the assumption under which health officials seem to be operating.... If they're wrong this time, it's likely only a matter of time until HIV 2.0 does arrive, given that promiscuous gay barebacking has gotten completely out of control. I could provide paragraphs of evidence but one factoid will suffice: The most popular member-created chat room on very mainstream Gay.com, day after day, is 'Bareback.'"
Unlike Rex (an American), the AIDS Committee of Toronto is obsessed with niceness and understanding. One of its staffers recently wrote this: "To clarify about the current story about a superstrain: NO NEW HIV STRAIN HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED, DESPITE THE MEDIA CONTINUALLY REPORTING ON THIS AS IF IT WERE A PROVEN FACT. To clarify: what much of the media attention has achieved is to create a sense that gay men are 'irresponsible' or 'stupid.' Such a perception stigmatizes us as gay men, stigmatizes those of us who continue to take risks due to a wide and complex range of reasons that many times go beyond meth use, stigmatizes those of us who are substance users. IT DOESN'T HELP US FURTHER PREVENT THE SPREAD OF HIV; IT ACTUALLY MAKES IT MORE DIFFICULT."
This is taken from a really interesting experiment by the folks at Gay Guide Toronto, an online entertainment digest that proves that barflies are not the shallow morons many activists think they are. It's a message board called InterACTion, and the current question is, "Does the act of riding raw turn you on? Is poz a fetish? We hit the hot button hard this month, talking openly and honestly on our hot anonymous online forum." Okay, the "hot" part is a bit shallow... but serious talk can still be sexy. (Past topics include "Tina and You" and "OnlineSex." Go here and click on
the InterACTion logo in the column at the far left of the page.)
American AIDS educators have traditionally used fear to stop the spread of AIDS; Canadians prefer education and talk of managed risk and choices and all sorts of other really good and smart-sounding things.
The problem is, if you use the same tactics for 20 years, the message eventually gets tuned out. And the Canadian refusal to change tactics every so often, to reject just coming out and telling gay men that yeah, they should use condoms for anal sex (unless they've got HIV test results in their back pockets), reminds me of the original communications disaster we queer Canucks suffered circa 1981. The gay media stories I've read from back then, when the disease was first identified, were all about denial: The panic was homophobia masked as medical knowledge. There was no "gay disease," the pundits sniffed.
Coverage changed as thousands of gay men died.
I don't want to encourage hysteria about AIDS. I don't blame people with AIDS for having this horrible disease. I understand why some don't care about their health or seek danger or believe themselves invincible. Et cetera, et cetera -- you all know the drill. But I will speak out about self-hatred and stupidity when I see it. After all, is it more important to save lives, or to manage media profiles?
ADDENDUM A teeny tiny paragraph in my morning paper announces that "Health officials have found no evidence that the drug-resistant strain of HIV recently discovered in New York City has been spreading in this country, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said yesterday. A check of the genetic code of the virus against those logged in the database of HIV viruses isolated in most provinces and territories turned up no matches. Quebec and British Columbia maintain their own HIV databases and have not yet been able to run checks."