On Valentine's Day 2010, I was dumped twice.
While one gentlemen (who was already infected) told me that we could not date or ever become seriously involved because he liked bareback sex, the other thought this was a good time to let me know why our eight year relationship didn't work out. Both of these men were beyond forty and you would think a helluva lot wiser.
I began to think about these very isolated but very connected events recently.
Bachelor number one wanted to engage in all types of reindeer games; he was only interested in unprotected sex. Being a student of gay male social behavior, I was completely friggin' shocked. Being dumped for being negative and wanting to stay that way was shocking.
What if it was give up the goods or sleep outside?
What if it was have unprotected sex or go hungry that night?
These are things that we have to remember when attempting to save young men from becoming victimized in their attempts to survive. When your options are have unprotected sex with a stranger or go hungry, this is victimization.
According to the recent study by Justin Goforth, men of color who are in their 30's and older men (which I am assuming means the forty plus contingent) have the highest infection rates.
This sounds as if the older generation who has watched innumerable friends, lovers and tricks die because of this epidemic are now infecting a younger generation. I truly hope this study has made a mistake and this is not the case.
This would lead us to believe that either a whole slew of older men don't know their status and are inadvertently infecting other people or there is a great deal of barebacking going on that nobody will admit to. This I find shocking as well.
In the 21st century - and third decade of this disease - people are still willing to take certain unimaginable risks.
A major problem that I personally struggle with is how to both support folks in their sexual honesty and willingness to take risks while withholding judgement. If older men know the consequences of unprotected sex and yet engage in it with younger men, which party takes responsibility for staying HIV-?
I understand that perhaps folks will not disclose their status if it is "only" a trick.
I also understand that if you are hungry, homeless and broke you probably won't be as willing to ask a lot of questions regardless of whether or not it would be in your best interest. So how do we get men who are having unprotected sex to stop? How do we impress upon them the seriousness of this disease and the devastation that it can cause?
I mentioned an earlier incident where I was given a pink slip because I was not positive. I can also recall the many reasons people have shared with me for not demanding that the trick "cover that stump before he humps." I know a nurse who told me he could engage in certain behaviors because they were considered low risk.
He is now infected.
As older men, myself included, perhaps our interaction with young gay men should or could move beyond sex and into some serious mentoring. If we are going to sex our younger members why not make getting tested part of the fun? If there is some young person you absolutely have-to-have why not change the nature of the conversation to one of mutual sexual and health oriented concerns?
This could cause problems because that may mean looking at the identity that they have claimed. Trying to get someone to look at, give up and challenge, and/or change their identity is a tall order. If he won't refer to himself as gay or bi or even questioning, he probably will be less than thrilled about getting tested, playing safe or any of the other things that will decrease risk, ensure pleasure and eliminate a certain amount of anxiety.
Nobody handles a problem they don't see or won't acknowledge.
Not recognizing the problem and or misunderstanding the subsequent consequences will engender some pretty awful decision making. How do we make the consequences of unprotected sex clear? How can this most sensitive of issues be addressed and the number of new cases lowered and or eliminated?
Of all the things that were mentioned in my previous post regarding staying HIV-, the final one, making our health a priority, is by far the most important and the single most difficult concept to change.
Perhaps someone will admit to sleeping with men and even enjoying it on certain occasions. But getting men, both young and old, to get tested and stay healthy is another challenge in and of itself. While I would love to take older men to task for not knowing or in some cases flat-out lying about their status, I have no understanding of this type of trickery or deceit.
With our younger generation, I am aware that many of them have only seen one side of this epidemic. In my discussions with some young folk, they honestly think that it is no worse than a cold.
You just take a pill daily and you will be fine. Rather than trot out all the things that you can do and the type of access/resources you will have once you become infected, it would be easier to not become infected and usher in a new reinvigorated approach to prevention.
Prevention, however, requires that we do things we are most uncomfortable with: discussing sexuality and making the lives of young black males significant.
Do we really think screaming abstinence is going to work ?
Have you ever seen a young person follow the wise and insightful mutterings of an elder? Rarely. Why not attack from this standpoint: You may or may not be ready for sexual activity and here are some of the consequences of sex both protected and not. If you still feel the need to be sexual, then here is how you indulge intelligently.
What would it require of us to make sure that our young people recognize that staying healthy is a choice?
What does it say of our community when we are willing to ship our boys off to risk their lives in war and yet refuse to encourage and support them in learning their HIV status?
If you have children, you have had unprotected sex. Why is this never brought up when there is mention of an unplanned pregnancy or social disease? My hustler friend was very worried at one point about an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.
I asked him: If you've fathered a child and you're still tricking how are you protecting yourself or the people you are with?
He had no answer.
Staying healthy and uninfected was not a concern. Without a strong sense of staying healthy and disease free, the decision to raw dog/hope for the best and trust that you would know if a person is sick, can lead to some very troubling decisions.
Moving beyond not taking care of ourselves into some serious self-care means going from surviving to thriving.
As a mentor, I can offer the insight that is steeped in knowing how young people think and behave. I can give the "think of your future" nonsense a rest. I can actually "listen" to them give me the reasons and thinking behind their decisions. I can make self care something they witness by modeling it for them via my behavior.
I can listen to their very valid and perhaps a little bit shocking reasons for not offering themselves care and intervene with suggestions. I can show films where people had to make some serious hardcore choices.
Ultimately, I can create a documentary that deals with finding 1,000 young men who know their status and then point them toward resources that either prevent infection or help them navigate the terrain that goes along with being newly infected.