POZlife

POZLife: Life from the Infected and Effected point of veiw.

Archive for May, 2006

Sex- and death-crazed gays play viral Russian Roulette!

Posted by pozlife on May 30, 2006

By Andrew Sullivan

January 24, 2003 | It was an all-red, over-the-banner Drudge headline, guaranteed to grab attention. "MAG: 25% OF NEW HIV-INFECTED GAY MEN SOUGHT OUT VIRUS, SAYS SAN FRAN HEALTH OFFICIAL." Drudge was referring to a four-page story by one Gregory A. Freeman , in Rolling Stone magazine, owned by gay media mogul Jann Wenner. It was quickly picked up by conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity, who never misses an opportunity to denigrate gay men. For many who witnessed the media onslaught, it will soon be accepted as fact.

That's a shame, because not long after hitting the newsstands, the story has completely fallen apart.

The story centers on a bizarre sub-subcultural phenomenon known as "bug chasing." A few HIV-negative gay men, for all sorts of deep and dark psychological reasons, appear actually to be seeking out HIV infection. Some HIV-positive men, it is also alleged, are just as willing to infect these troubled souls with HIV. This disturbing phenomenon is not new. There were occasional stories about it in the late 1990s, stories that fueled an urban legend but that never made it to the mainstream. Why? Because of simple lack of hard evidence that anyone but a very few disturbed people were involved.

How widespread is this phenomenon today? According to the Rolling Stone story, a jaw-dropping 25 percent of new gay male HIV infections are due to bug chasing. That's an astonishing statistic, and it's what made this sub-subcultural practice suddenly an actual news story, worth four pages of Rolling Stone and a headline on Drudge. It's the hinge on which the merit of this story hangs. If true, we should indeed be alarmed.

But now for the obvious follow-up: Which study found this alarming result? The answer is: none. The entire premise for the story, as published, is based on one doctor's "estimate." And the more you read the story, the thinner it gets. How many actual bug chasers are interviewed? A grand total of two, one of whom — the one who provides all the most lurid quotes — is clearly disturbed and is given a pseudonym. How many HIV-positive "gift givers" are interviewed? None. So there you have it. One anonymous source; one named source; one doctor's completely unsubstantiated estimate; and lurid details from some Web sites. None of the major AIDS and gay specialists interviewed by Freeman agreed that this was a major phenomenon, let alone responsible for 25 percent of all new HIV infections.

Freeman's explanation for this universal view that, while troubling, bug chasing is a tiny facet of gay sexuality? All the experts, except his 25 percent-quoting doctor, are in denial, or engaging in a p.c. coverup.

Who's the doctor? He's Bob Cabaj, a psychiatrist and director of behavioral health services for San Francisco County. He has conducted no studies on the matter; he has no hard data; and he presides over a publicly funded body dealing with behavioral health, a body that would benefit from increased funding if this new alleged phenomenon is real. The piece doesn't provide this context, and the credulous author seems to take every claim Cabaj makes more seriously than Cabaj himself does. Freeman doesn't even provide any internal substantiation for Cabaj's personal estimate — no anecdotes of how many such bug chasers Cabaj has seen over the years, whether that number is increasing, and so on.

Moreover, Cabaj says several apparently conflicting things in the piece. He first says of his fellow HIV specialists, "I don't know if it's an active cover-up." Then he says, "Yes, it is an active cover-up because they know about it. They're in denial of this issue." Similarly, Cabaj first claims that a quarter of all new gay HIV infections are through bug chasing; then he says "it may be a small number of people … The clinical impact is profound, no matter how small the numbers." So what is it? A huge phenomenon, amounting to a quarter of all new infections? Or a "small number of people," who nevertheless have a massive impact on HIV transmission? It's unclear what the experts in Freeman's article are even trying to say.

There appears to be a good reason for that: As soon as the story faced any scrutiny, it began to unravel. On Wednesday, Cabaj responded to an e-mail from the blog site Morons.org and retracted the 25 percent figure altogether — and claimed he had asked Rolling Stone's fact-checker to do just that. Then Thursday, Newsweek reported not only that Cabaj denies giving Freeman the 25 percent figure ("That's totally false. I never said that") but that Dr. Marshall Forstein of Boston, quoted in the Rolling Stone story saying that "bug chasers are seen regularly in the Fenway health system, and the phenomenon is growing," says that quote "is entirely a fabrication" and that "I said, 'We have seen a few cases, but we have no idea how common this is.'" This is the paltry evidence Freeman provides for his astonishing claim, and it's been retracted within hours of being published. Way to go, Rolling Stone.

That didn't stop the writer, a freelancer whose latest book is about a fire on a Navy ship, from writing a piece that implies gays are heading toward another selfish, disgusting and sickening AIDS Armageddon. The entire lead of the piece is written in a prose style that reads like Jerry Falwell channeling Hunter S. Thompson. Freeman's pseudonymous bug-chaser's eyes "light up as he says that the actual moment of transmission, the instant he gets HIV, will be 'the most erotic thing I can imagine … But I think it turns the other guy on to know that I'm negative and that they're bringing me into the brotherhood. That gets me off too.'" Freeman elaborates: "HIV-infected semen is treated like liquid gold." Here's one quote from an apparent infecter: "If I know that he's negative and I'm fucking him, it sort of gets me off. I'm murdering him in a sense, killing him slowly, and that's sort of, as sick as it sounds, exciting to me." But then you realize this quote — relished by Sean Hannity — isn't from anyone who has infected anyone. It's from Freeman's key source, imagining what it might feel like to be on the other side of the equation. How do we know this guy isn't delusional? We don't. He's clearly deeply disturbed, but we are supposed to believe every word he says. Freeman doesn't actually substantiate a single episode of unsafe sex between someone HIV-negative allegedly seeking infection and someone HIV-positive knowingly passing it on. His source offers to prove it on one occasion. Freeman says he declined to witness the encounter.

The piece is also riddled with unbelievably shoddy work. Take this snippet: "With about 40,000 new infections in the United States per year, according to government reports, that would mean around 10,000 each year are attributable to that more liberal definition of bug-chasing." Huh? The 40,000 figure is a Centers for Disease Control number for all HIV infections per year. Anyone with the faintest knowledge of the HIV epidemic knows that men who have sex with men make up a declining number of this group — now 42 percent, according to the CDC. So even if you buy the bizarre 25 percent figure, you don't end up with 10,000, you end up with 4,200. I mention this obvious point, not because 4,200 is somehow more credible than 10,000. No one, I repeat, no one, has any solid evidence for either figure. I mention it because no serious AIDS journalist would ever write such an ill-informed and obviously fallacious sentence.

Any other evidence — besides the now debunked 25 percent figure — that the bug-chasing phenomenom is widespread? The piece points to various Web sites where unsafe sex is fetishized. (Oddly, the only Web site cited where bug chasing is allegedly explicitly encouraged no longer carries that message. We are asked to believe that it "recently" did so.) But we knew that already. You can find Web sites all over the place with all sorts of fantasies. And online, our fantasies rule. Just because some people fantasize online under screen names about HIV transmission, it doesn't follow that they actually carry out the act. I'm not saying they don't. I'm just saying we can't tell. Online many people express fantasies or adopt identities precisely because they are an escape from reality. What any serious piece of journalism would do is ask some hard questions and provide some real answers about how widespread this practice actually is. No such answers are found in the piece. None.

Again, I'm not saying we should be unconcerned about this phenomenon. It's not made up. It's been out there for years now. It is a problem, as many actual HIV counselors and officials cited in the piece clearly acknowledge. But the first thing a journalist has to do is find out if the phenomenon exists to any real extent, how significant it is, and how widespread it is — especially when it deploys the most sensational language to describe an already beleaguered and feared subculture. That's why this piece isn't journalism. It's hysteria, wrapped in a homophobic and HIV-phobic wrapper. Sean Hannity and other gay-haters are pleased as punch. Jann Wenner should be ashamed.

Technorati : , , ,

0

Advertisements

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

Bug Chasers:The men who long to be HIV+

Posted by pozlife on May 28, 2006

I am working on a post on of my own ideas and thoughts about bareback sex , bug chasing , gift givers and Bareback porn. As I stumble across interesting things I am posting them. It may look like I am on a rant, but to be honest , even as an HIV POZ man I am not sure where I stand.

POZlife

RollingStone.com ^ | (February 6, 2003) Edition | GREGORY A. FREEMAN

Posted on 01/23/2003 12:44:38 PM PST by Remedy

Carlos nonchalantly asks whether his drink was made with whole or skim milk. He takes a moment to slurp on his grande Caffe Mocha in a crowded Starbucks, and then he gets back to explaining how much he wants HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. His eyes light up as he says that the actual moment of transmission, the instant he gets HIV, will be “the most erotic thing I can imagine.” He seems like a typical thirty-two-year-old man, but, in fact, he has a secret life. Carlos is chasing the bug.

“I know what the risks are, and I know that putting myself in this situation is like putting a gun to my head,” he says. Some of that mountain music that’s so popular is playing, making the moment even more surreal as a Southern voice sings, “Keep on the sunny side of life” behind Carlos. “But I think it turns the other guy on to know that I’m negative and that they’re bringing me into the brotherhood. That gets me off, too.”

I met Carlos in New York’s Greenwich Village, the neighborhood where he usually hangs out. He is tall, with a large build, and plenty of gay men find him attractive. His longish, curly-wavy hair is jet-black with golden highlights, and his face is soft and just a bit feminine. He has a very appealing smile and laugh, and he’s a funny guy sometimes. The conversation veers from the banal — his fascination with the reality show The Amazing Race — to his desire for HIV. Carlos’ tone never changes when switching from one topic to the other.

When asked whether he is prepared to live with HIV after that “erotic” moment, Carlos dismisses living with HIV as a minor annoyance. Like most bug chasers, he has the impression that the virus just isn’t such a big deal anymore: “It’s like living with diabetes. You take a few pills and get on with your life.” Carlos spends the afternoon continually calling a man named Richard, someone he met on the Internet. They met on barebackcity.com about a year ago, while Carlos was still with his boyfriend. That boyfriend left because Carlos was having sex with other men and because he was interested in barebacking — the practice of having sex without a condom. Carlos and Richard are arranging a “date” for later that day.

Carlos is part of an intricate underground world that has sprouted, driven almost completely by the Internet, in which men who want to be infected with HIV get together with those who are willing to infect them. The men who want the virus are called “bug chasers,” and the men who freely give the virus to them are called “gift givers.” While the rest of the world fights the AIDS epidemic and most people fear HIV infection, this subculture celebrates the virus and eroticizes it. HIV-infected semen is treated like liquid gold. Carlos has been chasing the bug for more than a year in a topsy-turvy world in which every convention about HIV is turned upside down. The virus isn’t horrible and fearsome, it’s beautiful and sexy — and delivered in the way that is most likely to result in infection. In this world, the men with HIV are the most desired, and the bug chasers will do anything to get the virus — to “get knocked up,” to be “bred” or “initiated into the brotherhood.”

Like a lot of sexual fetishes and extreme behaviors, bug chasing could not exist without the Internet, or at least it couldn’t thrive. Prior to the advent of Web surfing and e-mail, it would have been practically impossible for bug chasing to happen in any great numbers, because it’s still not acceptable to walk up to a stranger and say you want the virus. But the Internet’s anonymity and broad access make it possible to find someone with like interests, no matter how outlandish. Carlos surfs online about twenty hours a week looking for men to have sex with, usually frequenting sites such as bareback.com and barebackcity.com, plus a number of Internet discussion groups. Most of the Web sites use the pretense that they actually are about barebacking, which is in itself risky and controversial but still a long way from bug chasing. For the Web sites, that distinction is at best razor-thin and more often just an outright lie. “We got Poz4Poz, Neg4Neg and bug chasers looking to join the club,” the welcome page to barebackcity.com, which claims 48,000 registered users, up from 28,000 about a year ago, recently said. “Be the first to seed a newbie and give him a pozitive attitude!”

Within this online community, bug chasers revel in their desires, using their own lingo about “poz” and “neg” men, “bug juice” and “conversion” from negative to positive. User profiles include names such as BugChaser21, Knockmeup, BugMeSoon, ConvertMeSir, PozCum4NegHole and GiftGiver. The posters are upfront about seeking HIV, even extremely enthusiastic, possibly because the Web sites are about the only place a bug seeker can really express his desires openly. Under turn-ons, a poster called PozMeChgo craves a “hot poz load deep in me. I really want to be converted!! Breed me/seed me!” Carlos’ profile on one Web site lists his screen name as ConvertMe, and he says he wants a man “to fill me up with that poison seed.” His AOL Instant Messenger name is Bug Juice Wanted.

It’s not uncommon to see people post replies to the profiles encouraging the men to seek HIV. One such comment reads, “This guy knows what he wants!! I would love to plant my seeds :)) Come and join the club. The more we are, the stronger we are.” A Yahoo! spokeswoman confirms that the company shuts down such sites when it receives notice that the subscribers are promoting HIV infection or any other kind of harm to one another, but the company doesn’t go looking for bug chasers in its thousands of discussion groups, most established by subscribers themselves. Recently, it was easy to find two discussion groups on Yahoo! that promoted bug chasing, one called barebackover50 and one called gayextremebareback. The first discussion group was established in 1998 and had 1,439 members at the end of 2002. Yahoo! closed the group after Rolling Stone inquired about it.

Condoms and safe sex are openly ridiculed on bug-chasing Web sites, with many bug chasers rebelling against what they see as the dogma of safe-sex education; constantly thinking about a deadly disease takes all the fun out of sex, they say, and condoms suck. Carlos agrees and says getting HIV will make safe sex a moot point. “It’s about freedom,” he says. “What else can happen to us after this? You can —-whoever you want, —- as much as you want, and nothing worse can happen to you. Nothing bad can happen after you get HIV.”

For some, the chase is a pragmatic move. They see HIV infection as inevitable because of their unsafe sex or needle sharing, so they decide to take control of the situation and infect themselves. It’s empowering. They’re no longer victims waiting to be infected; rather they are in charge of their own fates. For others, deliberately infecting themselves is the ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left on the planet, and that has a strong erotic appeal for some men who have tried everything else. Still others feel lost and without any community to embrace them, and they see those living with HIV as a cohesive group that welcomes its new members and receives vast support from the rest of the gay community, and from society as a whole. Bug chasers want to be a part of that club. Some want HIV because they think once they have it they can go on with a wild, uninhibited sex life without constant fears of the virus. Getting the bug opens the door to sexual nirvana, they say. Others can’t stand the thought of being so unlike their HIV-positive lover.

For Carlos, bug chasing is mostly about the excitement of doing something that everyone else sees as crazy and wrong. Keeping this part of his life secret is part of the turn-on for Carlos, which is not his real name. That forbidden aspect makes HIV infection incredibly exciting for him, so much so that he now seeks out sex exclusively with HIV-positive men. “This is something that no one knows about me,” Carlos says. “It’s mine. It’s my dirty little secret.” He compares bug chasing to the thrill that you get by screwing your boyfriend in your parents’ house, or having sex on your boss’ desk. You’re not supposed to do it, and that’s exactly what makes it so much fun, he says, laughing.

Carlos carries another secret that he says heightens the thrill of pursuing HIV. Sometimes he volunteers in the offices of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the pre-eminent HIV-prevention and AIDS-activist organization in New York. And about once a month, he does outreach volunteering in which he goes to clubs to hand out condoms and educate men about safe sex.

Carlos should meet Doug Hitzel, but he probably never will. A year ago they might have been online buddies, both sharing a passion for HIV that few others understood. Now Hitzel understands all too clearly what bug chasing can do to a young man’s life, but it’s too late for him. After six months of bug chasing, Hitzel succeeded in getting the virus. He’s now a twenty-one-year-old freshman at a Midwestern university, so wholesome-looking you’d think he just walked out of a cornfield.

Hitzel’s experience started when he moved from his home in Nebraska to San Francisco with his boyfriend. When that relationship broke up, Hitzel was at the lowest point in his life, and alone. He sought relief in drugs and sex, as much of each as he could get. At first, he started out just not caring whether he got HIV or not, then he found the bug-chasing underground and embraced it. He was sure he’d get HIV soon anyway. He thought he would always feel exactly like he did then; he was certain that ten, twenty, thirty years later he’d still be partying every night. It lasted only six months — then Hitzel got sick with awful flulike symptoms and lost a lot of weight. A doctor’s visit cleared him of hepatitis and other possible problems, but the clinic sent him home with an HIV test he could do himself. Hitzel waited before doing the test and decided to go home to Nebraska, to give up the bug chasing and the rest of the life that was killing him. Once he got home, he did the test and found out he was positive. He now wakes up each day with a terrible frustration that’s just below the surface of his once sunny demeanor. He hates the medication he has to take every day, and he realizes that HIV affects nearly every part of his life. While he was bug chasing, Hitzel couldn’t imagine ever wanting to be in a relationship again. But now that he’s getting his life back in order, he realizes that being HIV-positive can be a roadblock to new relationships.

“Whenever I have to deal with things like medication, days when I’m really down,” Hitzel says, “I have to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘You did this. Are you happy now?’ That’s the one line that goes through my head: ‘Are you happy now?’ ” He says it with a snarl, full of anger. “Some days I feel really angry and guilty. I’m pretty much adjusted to the fact that this is my life, but about forty percent of the time I look at myself and say, ‘Look what you’ve done. Happy now?’ “

Looking back on it, Hitzel says he was committing suicide by chasing HIV, killing himself slowly because he didn’t have the nerve to do it quickly. Hitzel is ashamed and embarrassed that he actually sought HIV, but he’s willing to tell his story because he hopes to dissuade others who are on the same path. He gets angry when he hears bug chasers talking in the same ways he talked a year earlier. The mention of “bug chasing” and “gift giving” sets him off.

” ‘Bug chasing’ sounds like a group of kindergartners running around chasing grasshoppers and butterflies,” Hitzel says, “a beautiful thing. And gift giving? What the hell is that? I just wish the terms would actually put some real context into what’s going on. Why did I not want to say that I was deliberately infecting myself? Because saying the word infect sounds bad and gross and germy. I wanted it to be sexualized.” He’s particularly angered by the idea of HIV being erotic: “How about you follow me after I start new medications and you watch me throw up for a few weeks? Tell me how erotic that is.”

Though he’s older, Carlos lives a life that has a lot in common with Hitzel’s in San Francisco. Carlos estimates that he has had several hundred sex partners throughout his life, and he routinely hooks up with three or four guys a week, all of them HIV-positive or at least uncertain about their status.

That’s a common trait among bug chasers, says Dr. Bob Cabaj, director of behavioral-health services for San Francisco County and past president of both the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists. Cabaj (pronounced suh-bye) calls bug chasing “a real phenomenon.” Some bug chasers are more likely to have a defeatist attitude, to think they’ll eventually get HIV anyway, whereas others are more likely to add the element of eroticizing HIV, Cabaj says: “For kids who have had a really hard time fitting in or being accepted, this becomes like a fraternity.”

As a public official, Cabaj is familiar with how the topic makes people uncomfortable. Most AIDS activists prefer to deny that the problem exists to any significant extent, he says: “They don’t want to address that this is a real ongoing issue.”

When I asked about bug chasing, leaders of groups such as Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Stop AIDS Project, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation weren’t interested in providing much education or increasing public awareness. To the contrary, most were dismissive of the issue and some actively dissuaded me from writing the article at all. A spokeswoman for the Stop AIDS Project, Shana Krochmal, characterized bug chasing as “relatively minor acting-out” and aggressively encouraged me to drop the article idea altogether, saying the issue is “not big enough to warrant a trend story.” Krochmal cautioned against focusing on “just a bunch of really vocal guys who want to continue this image of being reckless, hedonistic gay men who will do anything to get laid. I think that does a disservice to the community at large.” The San Francisco AIDS Foundation labeled the issue “sensational” and would not provide further comment. GLAAD spokeswoman Cathy Renna was more helpful, saying she had heard enough about bug chasing to be concerned, emphasizing that her group’s focus would be whether people use bug chasing as an easy way to disparage all gays and lesbians as sex-crazed and reckless. “The vast majority of the gay community would be just as surprised and appalled by this as anyone else,” she says.

At GMHC, where Carlos is one of more than 7,000 volunteers, spokesman Marty Algaze calls bug chasing “one of those very underground subcultures or fetishes that seems to have sprung up in recent years.” The assistant director of community education at GMHC, Daniel Castellanos, acknowledges that bug chasing exists but claims there’s not much need to discuss it because it involves such a small population. But would he try to talk a bug chaser out of trying to get HIV? “If someone comes to me and says he wants to get HIV, I might work with him around why he wants to do it,” he says. “But if in the end that’s a decision he wants to make, there’s a point where we have to respect people’s decisions.”

Cabaj, the San Francisco psychiatrist, says those arguments sound familiar. Then, without being asked, he adds, “But I don’t know if it’s an active cover-up.” He pauses for a moment, then continues, “Yeah, it’s an active cover-up, because they know about it. They’re in denial of this issue. This is a difficult issue that dredges up some images about gay men that they don’t want to have to deal with. They don’t want to shine a light on this topic because they don’t want people to even know that this behavior exists.”

Public-health officials also tend to dismiss the bug-chasing phenomenon, he adds, assuming that it is just an aberration practiced by a few, nothing more than a curiosity. Cabaj adamantly disagrees, though he admits numbers are very hard to come by. Some men consciously seek the virus, openly declaring themselves bug chasers, he says, while many more are just as actively seeking HIV but are in denial and wouldn’t call themselves bug chasers. Cabaj estimates that at least twenty-five percent of all newly infected gay men fall into that category.

With about 40,000 new infections in the United States per year, according to government reports, that would mean around 10,000 each year are attributable to that more liberal definition of bug chasing. Doug Hitzel says he fits that description. Though he now says he was a bug chaser for six months, he explains that he would not have admitted it to anyone outside the subculture, and he sometimes even lied to himself about what he was doing. Even if you consider only the number of self-proclaimed bug chasers and not the overall group of men seeking HIV, Cabaj still sees cause for concern because of the way one bug chaser’s quest can spread the virus far beyond his own life. “It may be a small number of actual people, but they may be disproportionately involved in continuing the spread of HIV,” he says. “That’s a major issue when you’re talking about how to control the spread of a virus. A small percentage could be responsible for continuing the infection. The clinical impact is profound, no matter how small the numbers.”

The problem is not restricted to any one community. Cabaj’s counterpart in Boston reports a similar experience with bug chasers. Dr. Marshall Forstein is medical director of mental health and addiction services at Fenway Community Health, an arm of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that specializes in care for gay and lesbian patients. Forstein is on the medical-school faculty in psychiatry at Harvard University and chaired the American Psychiatric Association’s Commission on AIDS for eleven years. He says bug chasers are seen regularly in the Fenway health system, and the phenomenon is growing. He adds that bug chasers can be found in any major city, though officials might be reluctant to discuss the issue either because it is unseemly or because it has escaped their notice. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Health confirms that bug chasers are known in its health system. Public-health officials in New York refused multiple requests for comment.

One standout in public-health circles is the Miami-Dade County Health Department in Florida, which is taking steps specifically to address bug chasing. Evelyn Ullah, director of its office of HIV/AIDS, readily admits that bug chasing is “a definite problem” in the Miami area, having become more common and more visible in the past few years. Miami health officials regularly monitor Internet sites for bug chasing in their community, and they keep track of “conversion parties,” in which the goal is to have positive men infect negative men. The health department also is launching new outreach efforts that include going online to chat with bug chasers and others pursuing risky sex.

Cabaj and Forstein stress that more should be done, particularly on a national level. For starters, federal health officials will have to familiarize themselves with the problem. Dr. Robert Janssen, director of the division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, says he has never seen the Web sites that promote bug chasing and does not know of any organized efforts to spread the virus. There is virtually no research on people who intentionally seek HIV, he says, but he notes that several studies have shown a growing complacency among gay men and the population in general about the risk of HIV and a misconception that HIV infection is completely manageable. Ongoing outbreaks of syphilis and gonorrhea (which Carlos recently had) in large cities indicate a tendency to forgo condom use, he says. Recent data from the CDC show that syphilis rates among men in the United States rose 15.4 percent between 2000 and 2001, which the researchers attribute to outbreaks among gay and bisexual men in several U.S. cities. Janssen says the CDC has not addressed bug chasing in any way but might if researchers determine that it is a significant method of spreading the virus. “I’m interested that you’re saying there’s that much out there on the Web and that it’s easy to find,” Janssen says. “If we can confirm that it’s happening to any real degree beyond just an anecdote here and there, we may need to address it.”

What frustrates health-care professionals the most, Forstein says, is that “gay men who are doing this haven’t a clue what they’re doing,” he says. “They’re incredibly selfish and self-absorbed. They don’t have any idea what’s going on with the epidemic in terms of the world or society or what impact their actions might have. The sense of being my brother’s keeper is never discussed in the gay community because we’ve gone to the extreme of saying gay men with HIV can do no wrong. They’re poor victims, and we can’t ever criticize them.”

Furthering the epidemic doesn’t bother Carlos. Bug chasing requires a great deal of self-delusion, and he easily acknowledges the contradictions in what he’s doing. He notes that while he seeks HIV, he doesn’t eat junk food or smoke, and that he drinks only socially. “I take care of myself,” he says proudly. He also notes the hypocrisy in his doing volunteer work at GMHC, in which he tells other men to use condoms and practice safe sex, while he’s hunting for partners for his secret hobby. The conflict doesn’t bother him in the least.

Forstein says that attitude is disastrous for gay men. “We’re killing each other,” he says. “It’s no longer just the Matthew Shepards that are dying at the hands of others. We’re killing each other. We have to take responsibility for this as a community.”

After several phone calls to work out a time, Carlos is ready to go see Richard. He’s had sex with Richard about thirty times in the past year. “Knowing he’s positive just makes it more fun for me,” he says. “It’s erotic that someone is breeding me.” Richard is in the entertainment business, in his mid- to late forties.

“Lots of guys want to know who breeds them,” Carlos continues. “When I have sex, I like to always make it special, a really good time, something nice and memorable in case that is the one that gives it to me.”

Carlos offers, not for the first time, to have me come along and watch him and Richard have sex, but I decline. In the taxi to Richard’s place, the conversation falls silent. He hasn’t been tested in a couple of years, and he’s reluctant to get a test now. He might very well be positive already. But as long as he doesn’t know for sure, he can always hope that tonight is the night he gets the virus. Every date is potentially The One. Stepping out of the cab into the rain, I ask what he will do if he finds out one day that he has succeeded in being infected — ending the fun of being a bug chaser. He stops, then says he might move on to being a gift giver: “If I know that he’s negative and I’m —-ing him, it sort of gets me off. I’m murdering him in a sense, killing him slowly, and that’s sort of, as sick as it sounds, exciting to me.”

Technorati : , , , , ,
Del.icio.us : , , , , ,
Ice Rocket : , , , , ,
Buzznet : , , , , ,
43 Things : , , , , ,

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

The Bareback Lie

Posted by pozlife on May 26, 2006

It was unfortunate that much of the reporting by the mainstream media from the recent XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona gave short shrift to one of the most important, and apparently most gasp-inducing, findings presented, as well as its logical conclusions: that the notion that it is harmless and inconsequential for HIV-positive individuals to have unprotected sex with one another-“bareback” sex, in the parlance of its hucksters-appears to be a tragic myth, one that may be fueling the epidemic among gay men in the United States and promoting the transmission of drug-resistant strains of HIV.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post largely overlooked this news of “superinfection,” as it is called, amid many other stories from the conference that the papers dutifully reported. The Wall Street Journal gave strong play to it, but focused more on the study’s crushing implications regarding the development of an AIDS vaccine. (That is an equally important conclusion of the study, so I’m not going to beat them up about it.)

As far as I could tell, only the Pulitzer Prize-winning AIDS reporter Laurie Garrett, in a piece in Newsday headlined “Hope for AIDS Vaccine Fades; News of Superinfection Case,” captured and conveyed the gravity of the finding: “Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Bruce Walker startled scientists with word of an unusual case of a patient who, despite building up an immune response to HIV, then acquired a second HIV infection from a closely related virus and suffered a major setback. Scientists could be heard cursing and gasping as Walker presented his data… [Walker said that] ‘The public health implication of this is that it is possible to become infected with a second strain of HIV, even a very closely related one.'”

Garrett, author of 1995’s The Coming Plague, has been out front on AIDS for more than 15 years, and in recent years her reporting has taken on an almost prophetic quality. She has also written articles about the implications of the failure of protease inhibitors in some people and the future emergence and spread of drug-resistant strains of HIV-as we are now seeing-back in the mid-90s. She also was among those who foresaw the increases in rates of infection among gay men as many would give up safer sex practices believing AIDS was less of a threat.

According to Garrett, Walker told the scientists in Barcelona that he’d treated a gay Boston man with anti-HIV drugs immediately after infection for several weeks, as he’d done with more than a dozen other patients. The man seemed to do very well, beating back HIV. But after a month, he was surging with virus, which turned out to be a different strain of HIV-a strain that was, genetically, 12 percent different from the strain with which he’d originally been infected. His “immune system was helpless in the face of the apparently new HIV,” Garrett reported. The man told Walker that he’d engaged in unprotected sex with another man within 30 days of his original infection.

What this, tragically, means for a vaccine is that even a strain of HIV close to one that you might be vaccinated against can still cripple your immune system, rendering the vaccination useless. (And there are at least seven classes of HIV, each including many strains.) Cornell University AIDS vaccine researcher John Moore told Garrett: “This case, albeit anecdotal, has shattering implications for the development of a prophylactic vaccine.” And what it means for HIV-positive gay men who have unprotected sex with one another is that they can be infected with other, perhaps more powerful strains of HIV, and, chillingly, may be passing on drug-resistant strains, helping to promulgate a super-HIV.

“While it’s true Walker’s patient is ‘only one case,'” Garrett tells me, “it would be disingenuous to suggest there is no other evidence of superinfection, or immune system failure, to recognize secondary HIV infection. In fact, [at the conference] three other superinfection cases were described, and by my count at least 10 others have been cited in recent years. What made Walker’s case stand out is the extraordinary caliber of his work on the case. Nobody has previously tracked so many aspects of the virology and immunology of a case, almost from the moment of infection.”

Though he believes further studies should be done, Walker explained to the Washington Blade last week that “the detail available on this particular patient allowed us to conduct laboratory studies that make this a very solid study with measurable, reliable conclusions.”

Garrett, who has been to these conferences year after year since they began in 1988, is someone you would imagine to be quite jaded when it comes to alarming reports. That’s why it’s significant that she was blown away by Walker’s finding.

“On a personal level-which we journalists don’t like to mention-I was stunned by both the quality of the work and its results,” she says. “I just couldn’t scribble notes fast enough-I felt every single word out of Bruce Walker’s mouth that morning mattered deeply, in an historical sense, for this epidemic.”

Garrett is careful to say that it is not known how common superinfection is, as there’s been very little study of the phenomenon. We do now know with considerable certainty, however, that it does occur, and it may be more common than some would like to believe. Garrett notes that, with current data showing a quarter of new infections in San Francisco involving “clinically significant drug-resistant viruses,” HIV-positive people on protease inhibitors who have unprotected sex are not only at risk of being infected with another strain of HIV but with one that won’t respond to drug regimens.

Even those HIV-positive gay men who say they only have unprotected sex with other HIV-positive men and who claim they are scrupulous about asking their partners’ HIV status-something that’s not always so easy to do in the heat of the moment-thus may be infecting one another with new and more powerful strains of HIV.

You’d think that since the issue of “bareback” sex has been a flashpoint in the gay community in recent years media organizations would have focused more attention on the remarkable and ominous findings out of Barcelona. Twenty years ago much of the media stuck their heads in the sand on AIDS, in part because of a squeamishness about discussing gay sex. With successive waves of the epidemic now under way among younger generations of gay men, let’s hope that squeamishness is not keeping reporters from now exposing the “bareback” lie.

Michelangelo Sigorile

Technorati :
Del.icio.us :
Ice Rocket :
Buzznet :
43 Things :

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

Sex without condoms – what’s the trend?

Posted by pozlife on May 26, 2006

Straight as a Pretzel

“I want it RAW.” These are not the words scrawled on a Diversity Fair poster in a University of Washington hallway, as noticed in a column before. These were in an e-mail sent to my friend Dom after leaving an AOL chat room for New York City gay men.

The caller was referring to “barebacking,” or intercourse without a condom. The Gay and Lesbian Community Center in New York hosted a forum on RAW sex, and Seattle will be having a similar forum this month.

Barebacking is on the cover of “The Advocate” this week, but hasn’t appeared in mainstream media yet. Who should take responsibility for the intentional or unintentional practice of unsafe sex? Why aren’t gay men educated enough, or in possession of the skills and self esteem, to protect themselves? The debate is an emotional one and ultimately laden with sadness.

I’m not going to present an answer to this issue, but I am going to present questions. Is this a “male” issue rather than a “gay” issue? And shouldn’t we be talking about male attitudes in general?

When one hears that gay men are soliciting bareback sex in on-line chat rooms, it’s difficult to tell if this is just an open expression of fantasy. Is this happening in real life? The preliminary data shows that it is.

According to a 1997 CDC survey of gay men in San Francisco, 61 percent said they “always” used condoms during sex, down from 70 percent in 1994. In addition, right here in King County, we are experiencing a significant and concerning increase of syphilis and gonorrhea among gay men.

The potential public reaction to these statistics is troubling. Twenty years after AIDS surfaced as “gay cancer” in our major cities, many people feel it is hard for a gay man to not be able to protect himself from HIV. Given that HIV disease care runs about $20-50,000 per year, people are asking who should pay the tab. Right now, it is mostly you and me. And who will donate money to an AIDS advocacy organization now that – according to some – the ignorance and fear surrounding HIV has largely passed?

With the current atmosphere, this seems equivalent to donating money to organizations that support people who break their legs after they decide to go skiing. HIV care costs a lot of money, but so do a lot of other things, such as unintended pregnancy.

In both cases, we provide resources to promote long and productive lives for mostly young people who otherwise would not live. Both goals are compassionate and appropriate responses to human behavior that is ultimately preventable.

Perhaps gay may are affected by additional factors, such as societal attitudes, that make their lives seem less worthy. However, I’ve seen these same attitudes affect vulnerable teenage women as well.

Imagine for a minute what men might say in an opposite sex chat room on the Internet. Would they openly demand sex without a condom? Probably not. They don’t have to. The trend in gay men to talk about wanting “raw” sex is nothing new. Males (straight, bisexual or gay) have always not wanted to use condoms.

It seems for some that there is a feeling of entitlement that makes men think they have the right to have unprotected sex. I reviewed a draft of an HIV prevention document put out by a major Washington insurance company once. There were proscriptions galore about what men should not do, but nowhere was vaginal intercourse mentioned as something to consider not doing, or doing more safely.

This shows how uncomfortable even doctors are about challenging the idea that men have a right to engage in certain behaviors. Even advertising supports this view – condom manufacturers claim their products “feel like you don’t have anything on,” and that they are “the thinnest brand available, allowing for maximum enjoyment” as if this is the most important consideration.

Where’s the honesty in this? Are we afraid that if we don’t appeal to men’s right to pleasure, they won’t be interested? I’d like to see a condom manufacturer put on a box, “Wearing one of these condoms is going to feel like taking a shower with a raincoat – but it will save your damn life.”

Finally, look at the cover of this week’s “The Advocate” magazine that discusses barebacking. They adorn their story with the image of a naked, perfectly built man, which seems misleading to me. Sex certainly does sell, but we aren’t talking about sex in this case; we’re talking about death.

Does appealing to men’s libido help educate them about unsafe behavior, or is it simply the easiest way to get their attention?

I wonder what will happen if we isolate and limit the broad, society-wide dialogue that needs to happen. Should we only be concerned about HIV, or about a host of problems that emerge when we don’t teach people to care about one another?

As Dom commented, “We have a lot of work to do when raising our males. Let’s start early teaching all of our young males to care about the health of others. We can only hope that a caring 4th grader will grow up to be a thoughtful adult male who sees using a condom as a sign of respect and care.”

Technorati :
Del.icio.us :
Ice Rocket :
Buzznet :
43 Things :

Posted in POZ World View | 1 Comment »

Return this ‘Gift’

Posted by pozlife on May 26, 2006

Washington Blade – January 16, 2004
Brian Moylan

Louise Hogarth’s documentary, ‘The Gift,’ which explores barebacking among gay men, suffers from sloppy, sensational reporting.

MANY GAY MEN and lesbians know from anecdotal evidence or their own experiences that bareback sex (anal intercourse without condoms) is going on. This behavior is definitely dangerous, with some claiming the activity is widespread and others arguing that its scope is limited.

The same claims are made about “bug-chasers,” men who seek to become infected with HIV, and “gift-givers,” those who want to infect HIV-negative men with the virus.

Bug-chasers, gift-givers, and the pervasiveness of bareback sex is the subject of the documentary “The Gift” by lesbian documentarian Louise Hogarth. The film, winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 2003 NewFest/New York Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, airs on the Sundance Channel at 11 p.m. on Feb. 2, and at three other much later, middle-of-the-night times next month.

“The Gift” made its D.C. debut at the Reel Affirmations film festival in October, and premieres nationwide on the Sundance Channel as part of the “KNOW HIV/AIDS” campaign. The campaign involves a partnership between the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and media conglomerate Viacom in which they use selected media outlets to highlight information about the virus with public service announcements, programming and specials.

With “The Gift,” Horgarth said she wanted to generate conversations about HIV again.

“I’ve lost friends, and I think that there’s a lot of complacency [about HIV],” she said. “I think [bug-chasing] is a fringe activity, but I think that barebacking isn’t on the fringe. If you’re barebacking in this community, you’re at great risk, and that’s the norm.”

“THE GIFT” HIGHLIGHTS TWO men, Doug and “Kenboy” (neither of whom are identified by their last names), who were bug-chasers. After becoming HIV-positive, Doug is unhappy with his decision but Kenboy is relieved to not have to worry about the possibility of infection anymore. He even throws a bareback sex party for his birthday, where his goal is to have unprotected sex with as many men as possible.

Some in the film, including psychoanalyst Dr. Walt Odets, blame this activity on survivor guilt and the failure of HIV-prevention campaigns by gay health organizations.

“In the beginning of the epidemic, people were ostracized and not embraced and the gay community embraced people who were infected,” Hogarth said. “But we didn’t think this disease would be around so long. The gay community has made it positive to be positive, and the pendulum has swung too far.”

What Hogarth doesn’t offer in the documentary, however, is enough scientific evidence to support or refute the claims made by people she speaks with.

“I just did research by talking to people and looking on the Web,” she told the Blade. “I think [statistics] are boring, I’m trying to keep people’s attention.”

In some circles, this works. A jury at the NewFest, the New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, selected “The Gift” as Best Documentary last year, along with a film titled “I Exist.” Festival organizers said they honored Hogarth for her “commitment and courage to bring a controversial topic to the attention of the general public.”

“The jury felt it was an important topic that, while difficult to address, needs to be addressed,” said Basil Tsiokos, director of New Fest. “[Hogarth] was able to get people to talk about the subject and did her part to get the message out.”

Hogarth certainly will get the audience’s attention and “The Gift” should generate conversations about HIV-prevention efforts. But a lack of solid reporting about this problem makes this documentary lackluster at best. To really shine, it should include concrete facts as well as anecdotal evidence about what still remains a complicated crisis.

Technorati :
Del.icio.us :
Ice Rocket :
Buzznet :
43 Things :

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

Unsafe Sex

Posted by pozlife on May 26, 2006


Our intrepid reporter probes the gay orgies that have helped to spark a runaway syphilis outbreak

Neil Swaab
BY TREVOR AARONSON
trevor.aaronson@newtimesbpb.com
The online ad was clear. Framed by images of stretched anuses dripping with cum and engorged penises, some in the mouths of mustached men, the text read:

Orgy style, no attitude, private sex party for HIV POZ guys ONLY ! You must be in shape and 18-45ish. For invite, send pic/stats to brandonpozptyfl@aol.com. Visit our website at www.brandonpozparty.com for more info. This is the same legendary party that started it all years ago back in NYC. This is NOT a PnP [party-and-play] event. No drugs allowed please.

“The nation’s oldest organized POZ only party” — OUT magazine April, 2002

Cum check out what makes this party so great!

The advertisement was pushing an event called the Brandon Poz Party that is held in New York City and Palm Springs to Key West and Fort Lauderdale. It was one of at least four ads posted on the Internet in late April for so-called bareback parties (orgies in which men do not wear condoms) in South Florida. Websites such as Bareback.com, Barebackcity.com and Barebackjack.com list skin-on-skin sex parties according to ZIP code for cities across the country. They also provide personals sections where men can search for, as Bareback.com calls it, “local meat.”

Recently, the Internet has emerged to replace the AIDS-ridden bathhouses of yesteryear. Bareback parties organized and advertised online draw men from South Florida and around the world into circuits of traveling sex parties. Gay and bisexual males have sex, swap bodily fluids, and in some cases exchange sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Syphilis, a curable illness that was nearly eliminated from the area in 1998, has made a strong comeback recently, largely as a result of these parties, authorities say. In Broward, 131 new cases were reported in 2002. Four years ago, only 13 new cases of syphilis were reported here. “We had actually hoped [in 1998] that we could eliminate syphilis from South Florida in a couple of years,” says Jim Cresanta, an epidemiologist with the Broward Health Department.

By contrast, health officials in Palm Beach County have seen a decrease in syphilis, with just 26 cases tallied last year. At least part of the difference is likely due to the makeup of Broward’s population — Fort Lauderdale is second only to San Francisco in its percentage of gay households, according to the U.S. Census.

In the past, public-health workers in Broward and elsewhere relied on patients to volunteer the names of recent sexual partners. “If they [cooperated] with us, they might go in the car with us and take us to the place where they had sex,” explains Howard Sommers, acting director of the Broward Health Department’s STD division. Health workers would then contact previous partners in confidence and offer free testing.

But bareback parties organized online make that impossible. “Now these fellas have no idea who they had sex with and where to find them,” Cresanta says. (The knowing transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner without prior consent is a felony; doing the same with other STDs is a misdemeanor, according to Florida Statute 384.)

The phenomenon has been documented. In a 2000 study published in the Journal of American Medicine, an official with the San Francisco Department of Health linked an outbreak of syphilis to an America Online chatroom. Seven gay men diagnosed with syphilis said they’d found their most recent sexual partners there.

So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to respond to the ad for the Brandon Poz Party, which started in New York City and takes its name from a founder of the same name. In less than ten minutes, I created an anonymous Hotmail account and e-mailed the host, attaching a photo of myself, sans shirt, as instructed. At 24, I met the age requirement and figured that, despite a little flab around the belly, I could pass for an in-shape young man on the prowl for action.

One thing I wanted to discover was whether the apparent phenomenon of bug chasers — or men who actively try to acquire the HIV virus — was real. I had heard, in a much-publicized Rolling Stone article in February, and then from local activists, that Florida has a significant contingent.

My invitation arrived the day after I inquired. “Please introduce yourself at the gate with the screenname/email address you have used in communication with me,” the e-mail from brandonpozptyfl@aol.com instructed. The orgy was to be held at the Inn Leather Guest House at 610 SE 19th St. in Fort Lauderdale, which is near a Harley-Davidson dealership on Federal Highway. Poppers — slang for amyl nitrites that, when inhaled, help to relax the sphincter muscle and ameliorate anal sex — were optional. No bug chasers allowed, the ad warned. I didn’t think the warning would make a difference.

Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, I arrived at Inn Leather on April 26 around 10:10 p.m., 20 minutes shy of the 10:30 p.m. deadline. The small, white stucco hotel looked like a duplex. Its only sign was a small plaque posted on the wall. A gatekeeper stood outside the hotel entrance, which was a gate in the eight-foot-tall wooden fence that surrounded the pool area and the building’s west side.

After a rainy day, the ground was still wet, and cloud cover made for a dark evening. Black lights lighted up Inn Leather’s secluded pool area, which was visible through the gate. Behind the gatekeeper, toward the rear of the fenced area, I could make out about four men lounging on plastic furniture, their bodies creating slim silhouettes on the dusky patio. I couldn’t tell whether they were fully clothed, in bathing suits, or naked.

The gatekeeper, a man in his late 20s with short black hair and a neatly manicured goatee who wouldn’t give his name, didn’t let on that he was there to screen attendees. “Hello,” he said, his eyebrows rising to make sure I knew it was my turn to talk.

But I knew what he wanted me to say: “I’m trevorinftlaud@hotmail.com.”

Gatekeeper pulled a Palm Pilot from his back pocket and tapped the stylus on the screen a few times. “Yep,” he said, looking up from the device, “I’ve gotcha right here.” Already, about 35 men had arrived, he said.

I asked if I could just watch. I’m straight, not gay, and I didn’t feel right taking off my clothes while surrounded by an orgy. Call me shy.

The gatekeeper seemed baffled. “I don’t know,” he said. “No one’s ever asked before.” He dialed on his cell phone. “Matt, can you come out here?”

Matt strolled out of one of the rooms. A handsome blond who appeared to be in his early 30s, Matt had his shirt off and held a red plastic cup in one hand. Jovial and smiling, Matt didn’t look like someone ravaged by illness. His hairless torso was ripped, his muscles drawn distinctly, and his abdomen divided into a six-pack. I hadn’t expected an HIV-positive man to look like Matt, but that was indeed naive. Combinations of protease inhibitors known as “cocktails” make HIV manageable. In fact, many HIV-positive men look even better than Matt.

“This is Trevor,” the gatekeeper told him.

“Oh,” Matt replied, “I remember the name.”

I asked Matt if I could watch. “I’ve never been to a party before,” I admitted.

“I don’t know how anyone could just watch and not participate,” the gatekeeper interjected, his voice tinged more with curiosity than disdain.

“Haven’t you ever been to a bathhouse?” Matt asked.

“No.”

Matt explained that the party had two rooms — one for “getting warmed up” and the other for sex. I could start in the first room, Matt told me, and then work my way up.

Next, he looked me up and down. “But no,” he said, “you just can’t watch.”

I tried to be persuasive, describing how I’d had only monogamous partners and how I just moved to Fort Lauderdale to escape a failed relationship. (To be fair, that was only partially true. I have had monogamous partners, but all have been female, and I moved here after being laid off from a weekly newspaper with which I had a professional relationship.) Watching would be therapeutic for me, I said.

Rubbing his bare feet slowly on the cement path leading to the room doors, Matt stood firm. To come in, he explained, the clothes would have to come off.

I declined.

Matt had one last sales pitch: “You’ll meet some nice people and have great sex.”

I again declined, and Matt reminded me that the parties occur regularly if I want to come back at another time.

As I walked back to my car at the end of SE 19th Street, a man passed me and smiled. His shaved scalp glimmered dully in the moonlight, and in one hand he carried a plastic Publix bag containing a towel. Later, the bag would hold his tank top, shorts, and ankle-high boots.

He was most likely HIV-positive, but even if he weren’t, the gatekeeper and Matt wouldn’t have known any different. He might have been a bug chaser. Or he might have infected someone with syphilis or herpes.

Or he might have contracted a mutant strain of HIV that’s resistant to his cocktail — which is the possibility that troubles Cresanta most about HIV-positive bareback sex parties.

At least three more bareback parties will take place in Broward County this month, according to online ads. One of them will be hosted by a Chicago man who would like “to collect as many loads as possible” while he’s in town. Matt will also hold another Brandon Poz Party in Fort Lauderdale on June 28.

In response to the recent syphilis outbreak, the Broward County Health Department recently began free testing at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has promised help, but so far nothing has arrived, Cresanta says. “It’s a nightmare,” the epidemiologist says of the party atmosphere.

I never talked with anyone actively trying to contract the HIV virus. Sam Burns, a San Francisco writer whose 2000 short story Bug Chaser was one of the first writings to address the real if fringe phenomenon, explained the barebacker’s logic in an e-mail to New Times: “I think they represent a remarkably common condition in modern American society — the pursuit of intimacy. Since the rise of AIDS, sex has demanded wearing a condom. That meant having sex while encased in the equivalent of a Hefty trash bag. How intimate is that?… I think the intake of fluids actually becomes a type of desire, as if obtaining the essence of another person — even if only for a moment, and only in the physical sense.”

newtimesbpb.com | originally published: May 22, 2003

Technorati :
Del.icio.us :
Ice Rocket :
Buzznet :
43 Things :

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

No Limits: Necessary Danger in Male Porn

Posted by pozlife on May 24, 2006

Paul Morris

(presented at the World Pornography
Conference, LA, Summer 1998)

I’m a pornographer. Part of the job is
trying to stay in touch with what’s going on in sex. One of the
things I do regularly is to interview men who define their lives
according to sexual practices. Recently I’ve been focusing on
men who self-identity as “bottoms” who submit to the dominance
of other men. Here’s a fragment from an interview with a 35 year-old
man who calls himself a total bottom, who is exclusively submissive.
He’s connected with “Gainers and Encouragers”, a national
group of men exploring the sexual connections between submission
and obesity. I asked how large he hopes to become. He currently
weighs around 200 pounds. “Frankly,” he responded,

I’m considering five-hundred to six-hundred
pounds. There’s something very sensual about being fed by another
man. Something very nurturing and sexual. And there’s something
incredibly erotic for me about the idea of eating a lot, eating
with the idea that I am getting fatter. And I like on occasion
to eat very large amounts of food. Enough for five or six meals.
Getting myself stuffed to the point that literally I cannot eat

another bite: there is simply no more room left. Being force-fed
is very tender, very slow love-making. In the end I can’t move.
I can’t respond. I’m absolutely immobilized. A point of negotiation
with a top is whether to move into and beyond that weight where
the bottom literally can’t move on his own, where he’s absolutely
and permanently dependent on the top to take care of him. He
becomes an extravagant possession, not a man but a thing to be
owned.”

Another man I interviewed is a successful
businessman, remarkably intelligent and well-educated. Also a
“total bottom”, he talked about diminishing his mental
capacity for sexual reasons:

“If I could seriously diminish
my intelligence I would do it. I’ve had very serious conversations
about this in the past several weeks. By letting someone reduce
your mental capacity–through drugs or surgery or brainwashing–you’re
giving over a tremendous amount of responsibility to someone
else. And he is willing to take it. This is love, I think. That’s
what this is all about: I’m searching for a new type of love.
It would involve my mental incapacitation. And physical mutilation.
The grafting of a ten-inch cow tongue flap of flesh into my mouth.
Having my nose modified so it’s a snout. I would be unacceptable
in public, except that I wouldn’t know that I’m unacceptable
in public. I’ve found a place where they actually do tongue-grafts.”

Later, the same man continued:

“We had just been going at it for
hours, my mouth and his sloppy butt-hole so connected that they
made up one perfect sexual organ, one connected thing, this big
wet sloppy organ. It was continual orgasm, for over an hour at
one point. A little machine, one organ coming together there.
A pleasure level far above what I had always thought of as orgasm.
So that I thought my body or my mind would just blow up. And
he [the top] turns around in the middle of it and leans down
over me and pukes all over me. We’d never talked about it. And
I threw myself back on the floor, threw my arms back on the floor
and collapsed and cried out “Thank you! Thank you! I love
you!” And he looked down at me and said “I did it because
I love you.”

These two examples may seem extreme.
And in some ways they are. But I’ve been conducting interviews
steadily over the last four years and find that while these men
are somewhat extreme, they and the things they are exploring are
not exceptional or isolated. They represent two particular points
on a very broad spectrum of an exploration of possible ways to
interconnect serious sexual practice and everyday life.

In order to consider the meaning and
the role of pornography in this context of sexual experimentation,
I think it’s helpful to hold in mind several generalizable characteristics
of the American character. It’s important to recognize that sex
and porn are immutably informed by the basic behavioral rules
that determine how we, as Americans, perform in every other aspect
of our lives. There are traditional and unchanging elements in
the American character that impact directly on the development
of porn and our sexual culture.

One such element is a love of adventure,
of danger and of violence. This probably needs no elaboration:
it’s celebrated nightly on the evening news, and in every movie
theater in the country.

Secondly, we distrust the intellectual
overview and the logical conclusions that derive from it. Ours
is a “hands-on” culture: “hands-on know-how”
is more believable and real to us than elegant and coherent theory.
We are pragmatic, first-person, step-by-step experimentalists
by whom academic analyses are distrusted. Unless, of course, they’re
seen on Jerry Springer.

Third, we have a nearly religious trust
that we will triumph, that we as Americans are “chosen”
and that in the end some lucky stroke will rescue us. The Cavalry,
constantly morphing to suit the times, lives deep in our hearts.

So: American men are fond of adventure
and are reckless. American men privilege experience over intellect.
American men will be rescued or will rescue themselves. American
men are lucky, chosen, correct in their gutlevel impulses.

These character elements are instrumental
in determining our day-to-day behavior. Whether or not the beliefs
they embody are true isn’t important in this context: they are
believed at a level where national character finds individual
expression. And they inform the current surge of experimentalism
and risk-taking vitality in sexual practice.

Because we are living in a cultural and
historical moment in which such basic concepts as identity and
subjectivity are necessarily undergoing reconceptualizing, there
is a concomitantly even greater need for and dependence on inventiveness
and choice. We are creating ourselves, as Americans, with the
attitudes I listed above, in a context of post-modern refraction,
a time of de-centeredness and destabilized subjectivity.

In part due to alienation from the larger
processes of the politicization of gay life in America, unapologetically
specific and often “extreme” sexual behaviors in the
gay or queer male world are becoming more important as elements
in the building of personal identity. That is, as homosexual men
become alienated from the political program of the movement, as
one mode of experiencing personal meaning and engagement evanesces,
they enter into a more fundamental, individualistic and physical
relationship with the social and sexual spheres.

But what does porn have to do with this?
And what about the dangers of life today? I think it’s a job of
porn to reflect the experience and the character of the people
who watch it. Since danger and risk are so much a part of the
sexual experience, it’s necessary that dangerous activities be
represented, and that the danger be at least occasionally real
and shocking. Danger and death, not surprisingly, have always
been themes in male porn: rituals or rites of passage that threaten
one’s identity, sanity or life are found in Wakefield Poole’s
“Bijou” or Michael Zen’s “Falconhead”. Mutual
suicide, vampirism and necrophilia in the work of Brad Braverman.
Snuff, bashings, drugs and radical submission in Christopher Rage’s
work. Through the last several decades of male porn, the models
are often escaping from the law, falling in love while hiding
out or in jail, getting caught while committing burglary and getting
lavishly fucked as a “punishment”. Christopher Rage,
in his unpublished autobiography, wrote that at the heart of his
experience of sex from the age of nine on was the fact that “it
threatens everything. Cruising, letting a stranger know you want
him, is hot because you know you can lose, you can get arrested,
injured, killed.” This knowledge informed his work.

But in the last ten to fifteen years,
representation of dangerous or even just unusual practices have
all but disappeared and porn has been dominated by a nearly universal
acceptance of broad strictures that allow not only for very little
danger, but also set stringent limits on the types of acts that
can be depicted and the types of people who will be allowed to
perform. And today, while gay sex is in the midst of a second
1970s, porn is mired in the strict conformity and conservativism
of a new 1950s.

In his paper “Pornography, Ethnography,
and the Discourse of Power” Bill Nichols, a professor of
film studies at S.F. State, has written about the documentary
or ethnographic function of porn. He writes that “If truth
stands as a cultural ideal or myth within a larger ideological
system that attaches it to matters of power and control, it also
stands in close proximity to documentary.” He also states
that “Both (ethnography and pornography] rely on a documentary
impulse, a guarantee that we will behold ‘the thing itself,’ caught
in the indexical grain of sound and image.” This “documentary
impulse” is the basis for a representational meeting point
for the recognition of truth and the utilization of depicted truth
in the functioning of power and the control of desire. Porn depicts
sexual practice, and a uniformity of sex in porn is indicative
of submission of the subculture to larger power. The careful porn
of the gay mainstream allows a strictly policed repertory of acts
and styles that represent not who we are but what we seem to believe
we should be. Among other things, this can’t make for a productive
relationship with power. Danger, accident and specificity in porn
insofar as they are honestly depicted (i.e. documentary), enhance
the possibility of a more complex, demanding and therefore productive
relationship with power.

“Documentary truth” stands
as a central element not only, as Nichols points out, in the representation
and recognition of reality, but also in the constitution of social
and individual identity. We not only see ourselves in ethnographic
or pornographic documentation, we also build ourselves from what
we see and believe. It is our sexual self represented for us.
At issue, then, is whether these images constitute a valuable
rendering or a restraining caricature. And this depends in part
on whether we link porn to the function of directed education
(i.e. control) or accurate representation.

This is a central element in the social
contract that enables and sustains porn. It must excite, yes.
And it must be commercially viable. But in addition to the necessity
of commercial viability, it must also accurately point toward–be
indexical to–“the thing itself.” But who defines the
nature of “the thing itself”? What is our sexual nature?
In this case, the thing itself is the range of complex and specific
knowledge and communion that is available for experience between
or among men through sexual connection, a broad territory that
is being created and explored by men such as those I quoted earlier.
The representation not only of the truth but also of the complexity
of the truth–the tangled and individual realities of practice
and identity–is a responsibility of porn, the sexually indexical
documentary genre.

While all porn participates in and benefits
from the accepted sense that there’s an element of the “documentary
impulse” at work in it, not all porn producers are equally
concerned with the issues this brings up. I’m reminded of the
recent non-porn movie “Krippendorf’s Tribe” in which
an unethical academic, in danger of losing his funding, fakes
documentary videos of a bogus tribe. Because the tribe–the invented
faux-culture–is created by a single man it becomes a meaningless
but fascinating caricature, a conglomerate of rituals, costumes
and signs that are indexical not to anthropological truth but
to Krippendorf’s hyperreal fantasy.

This hyperreality, while entertaining
and exciting is dangerous when taken as representative of anything
other than disconnected fantasy. If Krippendorf were “real”,
an actual academic at an actual University, his work would be
seen as scandalous and irresponsible. In porn, when the same sort
of duplicity occurs, there is no censuring.

In a Titan or a Falcon fantasy there
is very little truth-content, very little that can be associated
even distantly with documenting anything other than an unreal
world. These videos, for the most part, are about sex in exactly
the way that Krippendorf’s studies are about serious Anthro, or
Bruce Webber’s photographs are about male sensuality. All three
(Titan, Krippendorf, Webber) are primarily about exclusion, inaccessibility,
the delineation not of true or real worlds but in each case of
a single man’s manufactured fantasy of a world that has many of
the signs of reality but is in fact able to function because it
is perfectly unattainable yet terribly attractive. In these
cases, the erotic connection is primarily masochistic and teaches
the observer that eros is something only those in the inaccessible
worlds can experience fully.

This is an odd and unfortunate dovetailing
of the nearly universal gay confusion of masochism with eros on
the one hand and on the other hand the response of a new generation
of porn makers to the safe-sex imperative. The positing of sex
and eros as things that occur in hyperreal worlds removes them
from the mess of viruses, germs, test-results, imperfections and
real intimacy (physical or emotional). Sexworlds like those of
Falcon and Titan are arid paradises that are inhabited by unexcited
actors who move through tableaux that call for replications of
sex. The “safety” that is enabled through the creation
of other worlds for perfect sex is a safety of relative lifelessness
for the viewer. I don’t know how a video that enhances disconnection
and a masochistic relationship to eros can be called safe.

Let me talk about barebacking. As you
know, barebacking is fucking without a rubber. The term itself,
with its horsey allusion, links to the same American mythic construct
that, say, the Marlboro man is meant to connect with and exploit.
The difference is that it wasn’t an advertising agency that made
the link but the general population of gay men. Gay men who bareback
are called “bug chasers” or “bug-friendly”.
They are also called “gift givers”, with a virus being
the “gift”.

In interviewing gay men, I have found
that barebacking is far more generally practiced (and tacitly
accepted) than I had suspected. It is in a sense an element of
a new closet: it is one of those things that gay men don’t usually
discuss even among themselves. Yet I would estimate that more
than fifty percent of the men I have spoken with engage in bareback
sex with strangers regularly. Some perhaps once a month. Many
on a weekly or daily basis. Some love it because it is raunchy.
Some love it because it is a sign of unlimited intimacy. Some
men who fuck without a condom are wild and compulsive. Others
are balanced, healthy.

In San Francisco there are weekly parties
in homes and rented play spaces; bars, clubs and organizations
enable and support barebacking among large numbers of men. There
are on-line encouragement groups for barebackers around the world–including
groups specifically for those most trusting and optimistic of
men, HIV-negative barebackers. There are at least three porn production
companies that specialize in barebacking scenes, mine being one
of them.

I had coffee a few days ago with a young
man who calmly and cheerfully told me about his Wednesday night:
he had snorted a bump of crystal, gone to a sex-bar South of Market,
and been fucked by so many men that, as he put it, “I lost
count at 20 of the hot loads that I took up my ass.” He fucked
there until the bar closed, at which point he walked to a nearby
sex club, Mack, with cum dripping down his pants legs. At the
sex club he was fucked by a half-dozen other men. I asked him
why he was doing this. He responded, “My diagnosis was a
wake-up call. My life is limited. I want to be happy.”

In no sense does this young man feel
unusual when you speak with him. He is not rabid, not crazed,
not stupid. He is level-headed, quite brilliant and works at a
high level in the Gap organization, making a great deal more than
I do. Yet in the context of the larger culture–and certainly
in the context of the medical/epidemiological culture–this is
irresponsible behavior, a fact argued with intelligent futility
by Gabriel Rotello.

In the context of a sexually-based American
male sub-culture, however, “unsafe sex” is not only
insane, it is also essential. For a subculture to be sustained,
there must be those who engage in central and defining activities
with little regard for anything else, including life itself. In
a sense, not only the nature but also the coherence of the subculture
is determined and maintained by passionate devotees who serve
a contextually heroic purpose in their relationship with danger,
death and communion.

At the heart of every culture is a set
of experiences which members hold not only to be worth practicing,
but also necessary to maintain and transmit to those who follow.
In the case of a sexual subculture, one often has only one way
to do this: by embodying the traditions. Within the complex system
of beliefs and practices of an American male sexual subculture,
there can be little that is more defining than the communion and
connections that are made possible through these central practices.
The everyday identity evanesces and the individual becomes an
agent through which a darker and more fragile tradition is enabled
to continue. Irresponsibility to the everyday persona and to the
general culture is necessary for allegiance to the sexual subculture,
and this allegiance takes the gay male directly to the hot and
central point where what is at stake isn’t the survival of the
individual, but the survival of the practices and patterns which
are the discoveries and properties of the subculture. In this
context, danger is allegiance to hard-won knowledge.

This is a nexus, a heart of our problem:
the subculture and the virus require the same processes for transmission.
In such a situation, how does one balance the struggle between
the needs of the survival of the body and the needs within the
body for the survival of traditions, truths and practices? This
is a problem that pornography not only documents but also defines.

One way this manifests is in the equation
today of spunk with truth and death. The viscous fluid jetting
from all the cocks on screen is at once the documentary proof
that Bill Nichols speaks of, the documentary evidence that we
are watching “the thing itself”; and at the same time
it is a lethal agent, the sign of being in harm’s way. In a sense,
all other elements of porn today have become ancillary to this
central factor: the moment of greatest excitement and commitment,
the moment of communion, is also the moment of greatest physical
jeopardy.

In the 80s, porn culture turned to straight
men and bisexual scenes in order to move away from this vertiginous
point–the ejaculatory consummation–while still maintaining the
rote and perfunctory porn genre mechanics. We watched beautiful
straight men, shaved to look more innocent and healthy (i.e. too
young and too straight to have been infected) engaging in the
mechanics of sex with none of the damning heat of passion that
might lead one to slip up and either ingest semen or take it up
the ass. These men didn’t like semen, didn’t live for it. Medieval
European alchemists believed that it was the passionate heat of
the mutual orgasm that was as responsible for fertilization as
the semen. It was the passing into the womb of the quinta essentia.
Straight–“gay for pay”–porn actors were in no danger
of losing their essence in their porn sex, no matter how much
sperm they squandered safely on the backs or bellies of their
passive partners. There was no passion involved. And the lack
of passion in itself seemed to remove the action one step away
from danger. This quality of industrial dispassion acted then
and continues to act as a behavioral condom: if one fucks with
dispassion, there is little point in taking the risk that fluid
exchange entails. This has become an implicit message in much
porn, again equating gay sex with disconnection.

In the 90s, maverick video producers
reintroduced semen worship and the lust for ingestion as an element
in their sex scenes. In “Diamond Stud”(1992), for instance,
young men keep their mouths wide open as their partners ejaculate
onto their faces. These videos were remarkable for the fact that
the viewer was sure that he was watching gay men having sex not
only for money, but also for the passion and hunger of it. For
the most part, however, the style of the late 80’s had become
too successfully commodified for most companies to risk change.
Although efforts were also made to code saliva as a substitute
for semen, using it to denote passion, spit has associations of
its own. Spitting into another man’s mouth isn’t the same as coming
in his mouth.

***

Let me jump here, and bring in for comparison
another American physically-based male subculture–skateboarding–and
compare elements of their representative videos. The following
are several simple points of similarity between the two:

1) Both skateboard videos and gay pornography
emphasize the contextualization of the creative and erotic act
in everyday life.

I experienced a nice coincidence that
illustrated this. I interviewed a couple of young skateboarders
several months ago. They told me that they came up with some of
their best tricks on the way to the local 7-11 a few blocks away.
That night I happened to watch a male porn video in which the
central character met his first trick on the way to a convenience
store. This is more than simply playing with the word “trick”.
In both cases, the practices that are peculiar to the subculture
occur in the context of everyday life and are given a heightened
meaning through the contrasting uses of these public spaces. They
take place within but apart from the mainstream world.

2) The videos in both cases connect isolated
members to the subculture. They show the viewers what people are
doing, how these things are done and what they mean.

3) Both focus on places or situations
in which the denizens of the subculture predominate and the conditions
for their optimal functioning are readily available. These are
videos that tacitly imply that “We are everywhere”.

4) Both represent acts that are essential
to the subculture because they are on the edge, because they are
dangerous and illegal. Some skateboard and skateboard video company
names I’ve encountered are Death, Danger, Watch Me Masturbate,
Skull, Numbskull, Boner, Gloryhole.

In a remarkable skateboard video called
“Radioactive Throwup”, boarders not only skate, they
also juggle while they skate over and off the roofs of houses.
In many skateboard videos, unpleasant encounters with cops are
shown, and risks are taken that are exhilarating, beautiful and
irresponsible.

Let me footnote this–taking myself further
afield–with a story about surfing, a sport that is obviously
related in many ways to skateboarding. I spend a good deal of
time in Santa Cruz and around the Monterey Bay and have many friends
who surf and skateboard. As you know, the Monterey Bay is a favored
habitat for Great White sharks. A few years ago, a young surfer
was killed by a Great White, literally bitten in half. The next
day–the very next day–I watched young friends of mine surfing
in the same spot. When I talked with them about this, about risk
and fear, they said that this is what often makes it best. This
was the point of surfing: to experience not only of the proximity
of danger and death, but also to feel a kind of species humility
in being shunted down to a low point in the food chain, animals
again. It’s a practice of exploring the wilder animal self in
the restrictive context of a neurotic society. That the price
of admission includes the real possibility of death serves to
point out the seriousness of their commitment as well as the ultimate
expendableness of what they experience as self. Danger is the
boundary that demarcates their cultural territory.

There was recently a controversy in the
world of skateboarding videos. The controversy was due to the
fact that larger companies such as Transworld had been making
skateboarding videos that were slicker, more expensive and more
polished than most. Many skateboard videos are made by the boarders
themselves. The Transworld videos, in contrast, were designed
not only to represent the practices of the culture and sport,
but also to promote the sport to novices in order to encourage
the purchase of merchandise being sold by sponsoring companies.
In these videos, the “best” skateboarders (a term which
rankles the sensibility of the street skater) performed extraordinarily
difficult tricks. And they did them beautifully, perfectly.

I was fortunate enough to be “on
set” for the shooting of one of the Transworld videos. The
location was an outdoor staircase near the gym at UC Irvine. One
boy was to ride down the banister of the staircase. He did the
trick over and over. I counted fifteen tries. He got it right
two or three times. He got it perfect once. By the end of the
shoot he was bloody. The perfect take was the only one that made
it into the video, with no blood in evidence.

This sanitizing of the performance of
the trick epitomizes commercial duplicity and irresponsibility.
These videos sell well across the country. Newbie boarders try
incredibly difficult tricks and are seriously injured. Important
information–information about desire and danger–is being excised.
The problem wasn’t the dangerousness of the tricks. The problem
was the way in which they were depicted, a basic dishonesty that
is linked to the needs of merchandising.

The corporate skateboard video producers
are presenting an image of skateboarding that is more saleable
to the general public because it is buffered from the dangers
the sport actually entails. The producers carefully remove images
of either physical mishap or conflict with the law. These videos
lead to a misunderstanding by the viewer of the nature not only
of the “sport”, but also of the culture that has developed
about the sport. They also set the idea that only “special”
or especially talented young men skate–young men such as those
chosen for the videos, young men who seem able to perform the
impossible trick perfectly in a single try. This allows the creation
of a competitive elite among skateboarders which in turn enables
the development of a lucrative system of sponsored competitions,
sponsorship of marketable skaters and intracultural celebrity.

I think of male porn videos that are
currently being made by companies like Falcon. There is a parallel
elite world that has developed, that of the “porn stars”,
and there is a parallel irresponsibility in not accurately representing
the world that makes the porn videos possible. The viewer is never
told, for instance, that Caverject is used by the models during
production. Caverject is a drug that is injected directly into
the cocks of the models, insuring perfect hard-ons for hours–with
or without sexual excitement. Several studios include money in
their video budgets for supplies of Caverject and/or Viagra (often
for men in their late teens or early 20’s). Other companies place
the responsibility on the models by stipulating in their contract
that an erection must be maintained during the hours of the shoot
or the model will not be paid in full.

The world of slick porn is a stylized
and damaged representation of the drive men feel to experience
physical communion. The connections among the men are represented
as being so purely sexualized and hot that there is, in the simplicity
of acts and images and in the directness of the drive to satisfaction,
a sterility that has become in itself a trademark, if not a stigma,
of several of the larger companies. The videos are constructs
of pure and impossible sexual energy, carefully directed and edited,
into which the director ultimately inserts a nearly invisible
but definitely present nod to political responsibility: a condom.
Never has an object been so physically actual yet so representational
ly unreal. It is as if a surfing video might show a surfer catching
a perfect wave in the Monterey Bay, but at various crucial moments
would edit in close-up shots of a shot-gun in his hand for any
possible sharks. It’s not only dishonest, but more importantly,
it misses the point. And in both cases editing toward a commodifiable
safety is a betrayal of the population that is supporting the
making of the videos.

This style of porn is an irresponsible
representation of crucial information about who we are, and why
we do what we do. Condoms in this context–a context of stylized
and commercially driven political correctness–actually say little
about safe sex or personal responsibility. They become instead
the final sign for the absolute unavailability to the viewer of
the communion and connection that the entire well-practiced language
of the video had promised. It’s as though we are being punished
for our impunity in watching these “hot” men in their
“hot” videos by the stupidly inevitable intrusion of
the rubber which seems to remind the viewer that he is too spineless
to be trusted to decide on his own what constitutes adequate responsibility
for his own body. These beautiful men must be called upon–quashing
their stylized passion–to act at the critical moment of their
intimacy as teachers and good influences for us. The audiences
are either trained to a docile acquiescence, or, if they are of
a different dispositional cast, they are moved to anger at the
duplicity. I have met more than one man who cited frustration
with such nearly universal imagery as having been a factor in
their decision to bareback.

In a recent issue of Adult Video News,
a gay editor wrote that he feared that barebacking in gay porn
was probably an inevitability. In an editorial entitled “The
Bareback Nightmare Wakes Up in the Porn World”, Mickey Skee
writes that he’s “had this nightmare before: what if they
stopped using condoms in gay porn?”. He goes on to write
“the porn world is a fragile ecosystem. It only takes one
company, one video, one director to make it crumble.”

The entire editorial is wrong-headed
and full of misinformation. Rather than an editorial called “The
Bareback Nightmare Wakes Up in the Porn World”, I would have
preferred one called “Barebacking May Wake Up the Porn World
from a Nightmare of Dishonesty.” The porn world is far from
a “fragile ecosystem”: it is a robust and flexible industry.
And while Skee’s attitude toward barebacking in porn–wary and
frightened yet wearily resigned–seems at first to be reasonable
and responsible, it’s my sense that it’s focusing on the issue
in a perfectly counterproductive way.

The editors of Adult Video News are misreading
the structure of the current sexual world as badly as the makers
of slick porn are misrepresenting it. They are both locked in
to the merchandising of particular and formulaic representations
of male connection as being somehow quintessential. These acts,
portrayed by this type of man, shot in this setting with these
camera angles: this is enough. This is Sex. Worse, the industry
presents the porn world as being separate from rather than integrated
with the everyday world. Just as Bruce Webber created a make-believe
world inhabited by pretty look-but-don’t-touch models, porn makers
populate their world with “pornstars” who are chosen
and groomed to be caricatures of sexually driven men. By setting
up an impossible discontinuity between the porn world and the
world of the viewer, they create the possibility of commercially
exploiting the basic hunger we all feel for connection with ones
own sexual culture.

Unlike mainstream porn, the sexual renaissance
I spoke of at the beginning of this paper is not organized in
its development according to “safe” or “unsafe”.
Nor is it organized according to the needs or dictates of the
law or the market. It is organized by passion and need in the
real world. Safety and risk are weighed and negotiated as an integral
element of each individual’s path of personal exploration. Porn,
however, continues to work along the lines of an erotic that is
defined on the one hand by an abstracted concentration of barren
sexual energy and on the other by frustration and fear, by the
perceived political and commercial necessity of a denial of the
nature of sexual experience and a privileging of medical and social
terror over the deep necessities of the life-experience of the
individual.

It’s perhaps sad but it’s true: we cannot
be trained not to do things because they are unsafe. We smoke,
we drink, we eat wrong, we drive faster than we should, we leap
from airplanes, we bungee jump, we skateboard, we have sex. It
isn’t that we must do these things, it’s just that they must be
done.

This is one of Gabriel Rotello’s errors:
in our world, safety cannot be mandated, particularly where the
passions at the heart of our identities are concerned. As a people,
we do believe in miracles. We are optimistic and irrational. We
believe that we can be saved if we will just be ourselves. We
smoke, drink, fuck and play because this is what we are and this
is what we do. It is this depth, this complexity and this eloquent
and tragic irrationality that porn has the responsibility to represent
and represent accurately and honestly. That is its job. An avoidance
of unsafeness doesn’t work as an anti-AlDS strategy, and it has
been bastardized by the slicker elements of porn in ways that
have only exacerbated the problem, promoting not a culture of
sex and sexuality, but a perfectly tantalizing world of vapid
heat and “sexiness”.

Let me close with three brief and tentative
suggestions regarding porn today.

First, a conceptual reframing of the
situation would be helpful. The problem must not be defined–particularly
in porn-according to a posited need to restrain male sexuality
and the male sexual impulse. This will never work, and has already
caused terrific damage. By defining practices as “safe”
or “unsafe,” we force the creation of a dichotomy that-again
particularly in porn– inevitably magnifies the allure of danger.
Disastrously, erotic specificity and creativity become the provenance
of recklessness when everything is divided and categorized according
to these two labels that derive from a context of terror. The
process of developing and fulfilling one’s sexual and erotic individuality
is seen too easily as a relinquishment of the bounds of good sense,
an unequivocal lapse into “unsafeness”. What greater
error could we be making than representing the totality of queer
sexual experience through an equation that places all sexual acts
on one side and “safe/unsafe” or “good/bad”
on the other? This can only result in a representational semiotic
of physical communion that derives not from strength, curiosity
or exuberance but from fear, disconnection, prurience and ultimately
greed.

Secondly, all acts of queer sex should
be represented on screen with equal honesty. The entire spectrum
of behavior from innocent to depraved, from life-affirming to
death-enhancing should be available for the viewers.

And third, in order to develop porn toward
a greater eloquence and inclusivity–and toward possibilities
more creative than worn-out concepts like “safe” and
“unsafe” have allowed–the practice of porn should veer
away from the directed film and toward the more straightforward
and generous practice of real documentation. Rather than fulfilling
the career-based, industry-bound vision of porn directors who
aspire to make “meaningful film,” pornmakers might turn
with honest curiosity to the wider community of their queer peers,
investigating with a less ambitious eye the explorations and inventions
that are sprouting like wildflowers everywhere. As long as we
have an industry dominated by porn directors who want to make
“films”, directors who are intent on promulgating either
a commercial or philosophical point, porn will continue to function
in a crabbed and politicized discourse that disables the possibility
of direct documentary honesty. How can those who work and prosper
in the world of sex today have any job more important and timely
than the accurate, detailed and truthful depiction of this creative
world, a world of men who are risking life itself in pursuit of
the possibility of cultural survival and personal happiness?

0

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

BareBack Porn

Posted by pozlife on May 20, 2006

I am posting some  articles from my investigation into bareback porn, in a few days I am going to post my views , I am going to be as honest as I can be about the subject….

POZlife

Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

Barebacking, porn debated at gay men’s forum

Posted by pozlife on May 20, 2006

Bay Area Reporter – December 8, 2005

Kevin Davis


The continuing acceptance of unprotected anal sex, gay
pornography’s depiction of the act, and the extent to which online
dating has replaced face-to-face cruising were the most compelling hot
button issues during a gay men’s health forum last Wednesday night,
November 30.

At the San Francisco Gay Men’s Community
Initiative-sponsored forum, panelists from the health department and
others weighed in on subjects like serosorting sex partners, Internet
cruising’s body part fetishism, party drugs, and methods for activism.
The event had a game-show format and was moderated by Joan Jett Blakk.

Not everyone embraced unprotected anal sex and the topic remains
controversial. At points during the meeting several participants
pointed to the fact that unprotected anal sex is the most common way
HIV/AIDS is transmitted among men who have sex with men. Audience
members applauded during these comments.

Many of the 70 attendees, mostly in their 40s, voiced strong opinions on the social effects of barebacking porn.

It glamorizes and normalizes the behavior, said panelist and LGBT
events Web site editor Ggreg Taylor, who said he lobbied Miller beer to
withdraw sponsorship from the Folsom Street Fair for allowing one
bareback porn producer to advertise in the fair’s program guide.

Such films fetishize internal ejaculation, said Titan Media Vice President Keith Webb.

“How many cum loads can they take? I’m not going to help a 20-year-old
kid in Iowa do something unsafe,” said Webb. “Twink barebacking is
reprehensible – using kids, paying them to risk their lives.”

David Van Virden argued that not producing such films, even with
external cumming, takes Titan out of the dialogue and leaves it wide
open for renegade producers.

“As barebacking evolves, they can’t justify being in the discussion,” said Van Virden.

Several in attendance pointed to the popular Treasure Island Media title, Dawson’s 20-Load Weekend, as irresponsible.

Reached for comment, officials with Treasure Island Media defended their films.

One should not model one’s sex life on entertainment and the peer
pressure argument against particular pornography, responded Treasure
Island cameraman Nick Stevens.

“You can’t say I watched a
murder mystery and now I’m a serial killer,” said Stevens, a four-year
employee of the 7-year-old company. Treasure Island does not pair
actors of different HIV statuses, with few exceptions.

“Our movies are for models to have sex the way they want,” said Stevens. “Why should we not film that?”

The health department has no official opinion on the films, as there
exists no current data on how they affect viewers’ behavior. “In the
meantime,” said STD Prevention and Control Director Dr. Jeffrey
Klausner, “we have to support free speech.”

Acknowledging
barebacking’s “liberating” feel, Klausner said that while many super
infections are related to unprotected anal sex, it’s uncommon in men
infected for over a year. “It’s a much more serious concern with
re-infection, if recently infected,” he said.

Serosorting –
sex between those with the same HIV status – might help decrease
infections, said Klausner, who urged sexually active men to lobby the
http://www.Craigslist.org Web site for a “Poz for Poz” personals section. He
also urged men to ask their doctors for nucleic acid amplification
gonorrhea and chlamydia tests.

‘Disability queens’

While the evening was energetic, one invited panelist’s absence
overshadowed the event. Jeff Sheehy, UCSF AIDS Research Institute
communications director and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s AIDS policy adviser,
objected to the term “disability queens.” Sheehy declined his
invitation, calling the forum topic, “What do we think of disability
queens?” a way to replace a doctor’s objective diagnosis with what he
views as judgment. He questioned whether the topic was part of a health
department agenda instead of a community-initiated topic. The SFGMCI
was started by people who work for the Department of Public Health.

“Deciding the health status of another individual is not a subject for
community debate,” said Sheehy. “What is the relevance of that question
to community building? We’re passing judgment on people living a life
of medical duress,” whose condition is defined based on specific
criteria and circumstances – serious opportunistic infection or
progression to full-blown AIDS and CD4 counts under 200.

A
vibrant-looking gay man may have “a carefully calibrated lifestyle that
preserves their physical resources,” said Sheehy in his RSVP to
SFGMCI’s Doug Sebesta.

Addressing misconceptions, debunking myths, and changing attitudes results from open dialogue, countered Sebesta.

“As one panelist said, it’s the elephant in the room that everybody
makes reference to,” said Sebesta, a DPH epidemiologist. “Whether in
jest, whether or not it’s based on fact or not fair, it’s out there.
Who is hanging out in the Castro during the day – the Starbucks boys.”

Disability queen is an inflammatory, derogatory label for many people
living and struggling with HIV, agreed Sebesta. “But, there are many
healthy people who get to hang out.”

The DPH staff who
brainstormed the forum’s topics included Frank Strona, the recently
deceased Mike Pendo, and Sebesta, who noted they’re all longtime
members of the gay community.

Sometimes called “AIDS
exceptionalism,” the disability queen label is potentially
stigmatizing, implying taking advantage of the system, said Klausner,
who noted that PWAs fought for their resources and are still
underserved in areas such as financial support and housing.

Online cruising

The emergence of dysmorphia – internalizing displays of steroid-pumped
body parts in what many view as cold, disheartening, limited
communication of online cruise sites – was another theme the panelists
passionately laid out. Body fetishism creates narrow self-conceptions,
and Web sites like http://www.Manhunt.net eclipse brick and mortar gathering
places, making, as Taylor noted, reopening the baths “a mute point.”

Instead of making friends in baths or in bars, “We start viewing people
as body parts, if that’s your major mode of social interaction,” said
Sebesta.

Although some meet long-term partners online, and
hypothetically, online discussion groups can lead to real life
meetings, a compulsive, hyper media-focused, Internet-based social and
sex life creates isolation, said Sister Constance Craving.

Disappointed in the low turnout at recent marches and memorials, Craving said, “The activism we engage in is seeking dick.”

Taylor agreed, saying that promiscuity and using growth hormones for
validation is a symptom needing self-reflection, not societal judgment.
He added that men lie about their penis size and HIV status online.

“Blow Buddies has no business,” said Taylor. “Buena Vista [Park] is lonely.”

For those coming out before Will & Grace , body image resulted from
childhood “chronic concealment,” said Steven Tierney, the new deputy
director for programs at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “It’s a
miracle we’re here with the hostility we grew up with,” he said.

Meth

Drawing on his background in adolescent substance abuse counseling,
Tierney eloquently explained the ongoing meth crisis, the drug’s quick,
deep, and permanent effect on neurotransmitters, relapse patterns, and
the thousands of addicts who have talked in recovery meetings about how
the drug robbed them of housing, jobs, and dignity. He persuaded the
crowd to take responsibility for change from within, not abandoning
that role to public health.

Government should not regulate
erectile dysfunction drugs, Tierney added, with a wary glance toward
Klausner, who only recently abandoned his campaign to get federal
officials to increase the penalties for illegal use of erectile
dysfunction drugs.

“Activism works when we believe we have something to offer [that] we’re worth saving,” said Tierney.

***

The SFGMCI will hold a community planning summit Saturday, December 10
from 10 a.m. to noon at 1360 Mission Street, Suite 401 (between 9th and
10th streets). Interested community members are invited to participate.

Bay Area Reporter

POZlife


Posted in POZ World View | Leave a Comment »

Kenyan first lady in Aids storm

Posted by pozlife on May 20, 2006


Lucy Kibaki

This not the first time that Lucy Kibaki has courted controversy



HIV/Aids activists in Kenya have been shocked by the first lady’s comments that young people had “no business” using condoms.

Lucy Kibaki called on students at a school prize-giving to abstain from sex in order to avoid infection with HIV.

Her statement contradicts government policy that promotes condom use.

The BBC’s Caroline Karobia says Mrs Kibaki is
influential, as she chairs the Organisation of the 40 African First
Ladies Against HIV/Aids.

This stance puts her in line with Ugandan first lady
Janet Museveni, who backs a campaign for young Ugandans to pledge
abstinence until marriage.



Sex is not for people who are still in school
Lucy Kibaki

“Those who are still in school have no business having
access to condoms. Those who are in university and are not married have
no business having condoms in their halls of residence,” she told
schoolgirls in the capital, Nairobi, on Thursday evening.

However, Aids activists say research shows that young people in Kenya are often sexually active from the age of 14.

‘Truth’

Elsa Ouko, the national co-ordinator of the Kenya
Network of HIV-Positive Teachers, says Mrs Kibaki’s remarks come as a
shock because in her opinion condom use is the only option.

“Let us be frank, because I think abstinence is not
there. If it was there, kids who are 15 years old would not have been
giving birth,” she told the BBC.

“The truth is that in Kenya even a youth who is 12 years old knows what sex is.”

On a visit to a Nairobi boys’ secondary school on Friday
morning, our correspondent says most pupils interviewed admitted to
being sexually active.

Some 1.5m Kenyans have died of Aids or HIV-related diseases since 1984, reports the AFP news agency.

It is not the first time Mrs Kibaki has courted controversy.

Last year, she stormed the offices of the Daily Nation
newspaper to complain at coverage of her and slapped a cameraman
filming the outburst.

Posted in HIV | Leave a Comment »