"Gay men are healthy, happy, and life affirming. We're creative, strong, and resilient; more than almost any other male population, we think outside the box, take responsibility for our actions, and care for ourselves and others. We know how to get what we want and we know how to create lives that are satisfying and fulfilling."
With these words Eric Rofes, the late gay health activist, began an article on the gay men's health movement in the White Crane Journal just three years ago. Are these words still true? Were they true then? Today we are bombarded by grim statistics on rising HIV rates, alarming amounts of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, the lives of partners and friends ruined by meth and other substances, and a disquieting acceptance that its okay not to talk about our health status with our sex partners.
Are we healthy, happy, and life affirming? I admit that one can easily get discouraged. After twenty plus years of AIDS crisis mode, much of the celebration of gay life and gay sex that began after Stonewall has been diminished. Gay sex today is often seen as something to be feared, contained and controlled. Many gay men are viewed by society at large (and unfortunately by some other gay men) simply as vectors of disease who are hypersexual, tweaked-out, and potentially destructive to themselves and anyone around them. Society views many of us as complacent at best- and pathetic at worst.
We need to reject this narrative of pathology. Like any stereotype, it is simplistic, polarizing and personally destructive. Are there gay men who are sexually reckless? Of course, but judging and shaming accomplish little. Much of this behavior was caused by feelings of separation in the first place. Let's start sharing information about issues that are important to all of us, such as how to discuss serostatus, or use a condom, or know the facts about safer sex, or how to heal "taught shame." It's happening already, at forums like those sponsored by Out in the Open or at groups at the GLCC, or at many other locations.
What about Tina's rampage? I probably have worked with more individuals caught in the vortex of crystal meth than anyone in this community, yet of all the men I have been privileged to know, not one planned to venture into the darker realms they experienced on meth. Like most of us, these men sought to increase their confidence, feel sexually desirable, overcome their inhibitions, or experience increased sexual intensity. Sound familiar? Pretty normal? It's not the person who is bad or shameful; it's a very nasty drug that hijacks sexual desire and clear thinking, often with disastrous personal consequences.
There is, of course, a need for responsibility and accountability. Both personal and community health and wellness are something that each of us must create. Solutions can't be found in avoidance or demonizing. As a community we experience way too much divisiveness: negative versus positive; older versus younger; those who "party-and-play" versus those who don't. By identifying what unites us as gay men, what we all share, we can generate strength and healing.
Are gay men really creative, strong, and resilient? Absolutely, yes. Can we think outside the box? Of course. Many of us have witnessed such resilience in other times and places and it's happening here again. Gay men, our allies, agencies, churches, and a host of other organizations are actively working together to create a healthier and stronger community. I'll be writing about some of these challenges and solutions in the months to come and I invite you to join us in creating personal lives and communities that are not only satisfying and fulfilling, but in Eric Rofe's words, healthy, happy, and life affirming.