Alex Blaze

Barebacking?

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 02, 2007 4:22 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: barebacking, HIV/AIDS, sex, STD

I don't really know how to start this conversation, but I really think that it's one that gay and bi men need to start having again. So I'll just tell you all about a few of my experiences from the past several months that I've been here in Indiana.

It is my impression, as a result of recent events from this past weekend and these past several months that I've been in Indiana, that men who have sex with men in this state are rather adverse to using condoms when appropriate. I've been rejected several times solely because I told men that I would not bareback with them. I've experienced a few guys trying to initiate barebacking with me, sometimes even after we've previously discussed it and I made my choice clear. These people's nonchalance and entitlement to have anal sex without condoms makes it clear to me that this is the way things work, at least for a significant number of men.

It's easy for gaystream media to condemn these people as idiots or sensationalize them as bug-chasers. But these specific men I met were neither. Among them there was a lawyer, an engineer, a certified public accountant, and a college student. And I didn't see any indication that these people had a death wish or wanted to infect me with a disease. One guy said "I don't have any diseases" (even though the CDC estimates that a quarter of people with HIV in the US don't know it) when I brought it up. I replied that I don't know that and he certainly doesn't know that I don't, and that was, well, the end of the conversation. Just walked away. And this was in 2007, not 1967.

So I'm left feeling a little bit helpless. Yes, we should treat our seropositive brothers and sisters with respect and care for them when they need it. But we also need to do what we can to stop the transmission of STD's. While HIV transmission has been decreasing in the US, syphilis has recently made a comeback. And I don't need to say how our work in turning back the tide on HIV/AIDS can be undone if people have rediscovered a pre-epidemic innocence.

So I'm wondering, what's the solution to this? Calling people who bareback stupid or suicidal is not only inaccurate, it's counterproductive because it prevents us from finding real solutions to this problem. I realize that sex is a lot better without a condom. It's less awkward, more spontaneous, closer and more pleasureable. It's something to miss, even if I was born several years after the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Even so, I can't understand why some men would risk their lives for it.

Does anyone have any answers?


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Tony Kariotis | May 2, 2007 8:43 PM

Alex, these are all really interesting questions, and though I'm not sure if I have an exact answer, I have a theory as to why this goes on (at least for younger gay men...and by younger, I mean men who came into their sexual activity after the early '90's). When HIV was finally signified as a virus, the stigma of "gay-disease" had already been irreversably branded into the psyche of not only straight people, but gay people as well. Out gay men, seropositive or negative, throughout the 80's had an identity association with HIV regardless of status. As Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy "cocktails" in the '90's changed the idea of HIV-as-a-death sentence into HIV-as-a-manageable disease, HIV activism went from being THE agenda of Gay male activists into AN agenda of Gay male activists. As a new generation of us emerged (in masses Post-Ellen especially) we hadn't lost half of our social circles, let alone had the (same degree of) forced stigma of GAY=AIDS as did our earlier counterparts. With numerous other societal factors remaining constant (including our celeb-obsessed consumer culture), the post-Ellen generation got to easily fall back into "It-Could-Never-Happen-To-Me-itis" as I like to call it.

I hope that helps paint a picture of how I understand it, and I'm interested in hearing your and others' thoughts...

Alex -

This is such a tough issue -- and, you are right, in my experience, guys in Indy don't really want to deal with the possibility of HIV. Having moved back to Indy (I grew up here) HIV Positive (I contracted the virus in SF during oral sex - when I got cum in my eye - yes, you can get the virus that way), I found many guys unwilling to discuss status....and more than a few negative guys willing to have unsafe sex with me, even though they knew I was positive.....its left me more than a bit "gun shy" when it comes to sex (in fact, I've been abstinent for nearly two years now)....thanks for being willing to bring up this tough subject....it will be interesting to see what, if any conversation your posting engenders....

David

Alex,

I really appreciate the discussion you've started and I think you and Tony have excellent points. I run an after school program for queer teens. There is a lot of nonchalance with the teens I work with about HIV. They see people like Magic Johnson living healthy lives and they think it's no big deal to be positive. Also, HIV has become normalized in gay culture (i.e. it's inevitable), so many think that it's better to get it sooner rather than later, because then they can stop worrying about it. Or, worst case scenario is that for those who have been kicked out of home, they have survival sex to earn money or have a place to live. And one youth I work with got infected on purpose because he had access to more social services as an HIV positive person than he did before he tested positive.

I am not passing judgement on anyone's choices. But I think that we all have a huge debt of responsibility to the LGBTQ activists who fought the good fight during the 1980's so that we can have AZT today. It makes me very sad that we as a community have lost the sense of urgency we once had. It also makes me sad that we are still failing our youth. 50% of new HIV cases each year are MSM between the ages of 18-24. If they test positive during that age range, the risk behaviors are starting much younger than that. I think that as more of us have moved into middle-class "respectability," we've loss that sense of radicalism that was so necessary to get us where we are today, and this is what has contributed to our complacency.

What what are we going to do about it as a community?

I don't know about your theory, Tony. I mean, it sounds right, but those situations where I've been the one explaining condoms or being rejected for not barebacking, well, it's me at 23 advocating it to people all the way up to 42 (ummm... TMI). I think you're right in general about the generational issue, especially considering the stat Serena brought up, but I think David also has a point about this being an Indy issue as well. I think there's a stereotype that HIV only happens in big cities or Africa. I've been sexually active elsewhere, and the Indy area seems to have a larger disdain of condoms.

I think these are both causes of the problem (just because I'm a younger guy who's found some pretty big risk-taking older guys doesn't mean that it's indicative of what's going on in general). So I'm left thinking "They don't seem to want to die or get an STD, they don't seem stupid, they don't seem to be such risk-takers that they are willing to risk an STD for some valuable sexual pleasure, and I think they understand what being HIV positive means. All that adds up to using condoms." But they don't, so I'm wrong in my logic somewhere, so that's why I'm bringing it up as a group discussion. Maybe these people's values are so fundamentally different from mine that I can't understand their actions.

Or maybe people just need to talk about it more. With the LGBTQ rights movement being all about marriage for the last decade, we might have lost focus on other issues like sexually transmitted diseases. So maybe I just need to post on it more.

I'm not meaning to diss on anyone here, but I want to use David as an example. David and I don't know each other at all, so please don't take this as a claim that he's lying or anything remotely similar. His story of infection sounds plausible. I simply use him as an example because he's already commented.

Why do so many in our community also feel it necessary to say how they became positive? But no one ever just says, "I had bareback anal sex." It's always "I got cum in my eye," "I had a cut on my lip," or "My aunt's dentist sneezed on me and one of his nose hairs penetrated my brain." There's always some reason or another - but never just "I did something I knew could result in catching HIV."

Straight people tend to do something similar in my opinion. You hear a lot of stories about cuts and nicks and "My partner had it and didn't tell me" which leaves out the person's own responsibilities entirely. Plus, it's always "innocent victims" for children or anyone that didn't contract via sex. But aren't we all technically "innocent?" HIV isn't a punishment for any behavior. It's a disease.

And why don't more people just stand up and take responsibility for how they got the disease as versus trying to find some other way of explaining it away as if they were guilty of something. I mean, it's as if HIV positive people weren't just allowing others to shame them but also keep shaming themselves unnecessarily.

Tony Kariotis | May 2, 2007 10:38 PM

Excellent point Bill...even if means of transmission is absent, there's still the stigma of "acquired" though. I would suggest that HIV+ people have a visibility issue (it's definitely another closet), but there's also a whole new set of repercussions one faces by coming-out.

This is amazing we're talking about this...

Lynn David | May 3, 2007 3:12 AM

1984... I last had bareback sex, I got cancer (no connection), first I knew a person who had AIDS, first I knew a person who died from AIDS and I got read the riot act by a doctor over bare-backing. No fiction could be more Orwellian than that reality.

Were people always "smart" about their choices in sexual partner, perhaps one might get away HIV- throughout their life. But HIV doesn't understand demographics and we certainly aren't always "smart" about sex.

Making that choice to not bareback is that first, best action one can take to protect oneself. If it segregates you, sexually, then perhaps so be it.

Do I miss it... yeah, I miss that burn; but then also I'm 52, and I miss sex in general....

Bil -

One of the reasons I always discuss how I contracted the virus is as a life lesson that the virus can be spread in more ways than just anal sex. I always thought I was careful and "safe" just because I used condoms during anal sex (and didn't use them during oral sex).....so I was quite suprised to learn, in January 1999, that I had sero-converted....and I could trace acquiring the virus back to one particular sexual encounter in June 1998. Many folks that I've met over the years seem to believe that they can only get HIV through passive anal sex( ie tops don't get it, and you can't get it via oral sex)....so I share the way I contracted HIV as a way of being open, honest and trying to educate -- I don't think that there's a "bad way" or a "better way" to get the virus....trust me, it sucks all the way around....

That's a really good point, David. I think you're right - a lot of folks think that the only way to get HIV is through bottoming in anal sex. My point was just for the 90% of folks who try to name something else as if anal sex was a demeaning way to convert or they "deserved" to get it somehow. Especially when you consider, as Alex pointed out, how many goofballs are barebacking and then are ashamed of how they got the bug. I just wish we had more folks standing up and saying, "I was stupid and barebacked. I got HIV. Don't be stupid like me."