Eric Leven

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

Filed By Eric Leven | November 16, 2007 3:24 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: bareback, HIV/AIDS, morality, sex parties

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 freaking 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? 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 not to 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 parties. 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 that 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 fetishizing 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 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.


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Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 16, 2007 3:46 PM

Great post, Eric. In my experience, sex is soooohhh complicated, involving as it can desire, guilt, obsession, compulsion, self-esteem (or lack thereof), religion, shame, pride, hormones, ecstasy, vulnerability, love (sometimes) and a vast array of emotions that there will never be a simple, easy explanation for why a person sero-converts.

Nice article--I like the spirit of honest questioning you use to approach what is a more complicated issue than just telling people to stay off drugs and use condoms. Even very rational, logical people sometimes lose their heads -- even when the repercussions could not be more serious -- and anyone who doesn't relate to this on some level probably doesn't have much of a soul.

It's easier to moralize about sex than to find solutions to epidemics and it's easier to create a terrible bad guy than to accept partial responsibility for a problem.

Good post, Eric.

Daaaaaamn good post, Eric. I'm going to send this one around.

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.

Great metaphor!

And a good post!

Too much liberal use of relativism for my taste, but the idea behind it is just right.

These are conflictive topics, no doubt. On one side, we have the issue of sexual freedom and the seeking of liberation from Abrahamic mores and its restrictions. On the other hand, we see a struggle to break the stereotypes that often harms us, a struggle that often conflicts with the achievement of sexual freedom. What is important here, though, is that we achieve a state which I have learned to be of unmeasurable importance through my endeavors in the feminist movement: the ability to choose and not be imposed on nor suffer negative repercussions because of unorthodox choices.

This issue often shows in the exclusive/open dating debate, along with many other pertinent issues present in the lives of our community. What I have found is that both sides demonize each other to an agonizing degree. Nevertheless, the side most often demonized in our community is that of conformists. Conformity is abhorred in our community, certainly an understandable knee-jerk reaction taking into account the often less than pleasant interaction gays have with mainstream culture. However, I would caution against this reaction, for it is equally another form of "repressed" conformity itself; a certain ideology is being promoted among gays while also leaving no room for other ideologies. We have to understand that while conformity can be a very damaging concept, it is also a naturally human method of community building. Don't scold people for wanting to fit into "hetero culture;" scold those who'd wish to impose it on others, and vice versa with those wanting to impose camp as the only legitimate form of out and proud gay man behavior, for example.

Summed up (too late, I know), don't promote diversity, for this is defeating to the concept itself. Diversity is to be protected, instead. Like Eric stated, alienating others to absolve oneself from blame is the easy way to take; to create bridges in order to approach our problems in a more efficient and timely manner is the tedious but promising way to follow. Good article, good community build, thanks for this contribution, Eric; it is very much appreciated and a nice health perspective-based addition to the myriad politics-related posts present in the project, all of which can only serve to foster dialogue among a community which is so often used to keep things under the rug as a result of imposed censure.