24 August 2009


Voices from "The Gay AIDS Industry"

"Why I gots Andrew Sullivan Delendum Est
a-tattooed on my hairy chest"

Okay, so I don't actually have that (or anything else) tattooed on my chest -- my skin is way too prone to keloid scarring, and besides, what if I wanna convert to Orthodox Judaism someday? I think it'd make a nifty motto for an embroidered throw-pillow, however, questionable Latin and all.

I really DO dislike Andrew Sullivan, though. Of course, I don't really want to see him destroyed, but I think it would be quite fitting if he had to sell himself into indentured servitude to pay for his antiviral meds, instead of passing on the cost to the readers of The New Republic.

But don't think that I seethe with contempt for Andrew because he did a 180 on the Gulf War after Dubya supported the Defense of Marriage Amendment; nor because he claimed to be shocked when the Pope reaffirmed the Vatican's total disapproval of homosexual acts; and not even because of his deranged, Downs-phobic obsession with the maternity of Trig Palin.

In my mind, all those are as trifling peccadilloes compared to Sully's astounding pile of slimy sarcasm and self-serving lies that was published in the 5 July, 2005 issue of The Advocate. (Though, admittedly, I haven't been a regular reader of America's #1 LGBT News Magazine™ since I was in college, and therefore didn't find out about Sullivan's 2005 Advocate column until seeing a reference to it in a 2008 metafilter thread.)

The column's official title is "Still Here, So Sorry" -- by which Andrew means to say "Ex-cuuuuuuuuuse me for not dropping dead of AIDS." Like Sullivan, I was raised Catholic, so with a tip of the hat to John Cardinal Newman, I'd suggest that a better title for Andrew's pathetic scribbling might've been Apologia pro Vita Suina (et Scrofulosa).

Although many HIV+ individuals have testified that being infected is not the end of the world -- it's an evergreen topic in gay media -- Sullivan goes way, way beyond that, and in my view takes it all the way to glamorizing his "poz" status. There's a lot of self-justifying ridiculousness, but what truly earns Sullivan a special place in Hell is this:

At the tender age of 41—a year longer than I once thought I would live -— I have never felt better.


Yes, I take testosterone and human growth hormone, and I now weigh 190 pounds. I discovered a couple of abs in my midsection the other day. I'll try to disguise them. Do they sell burkas online? I’ve even enjoyed sex more since I became positive -- more depth, more intimacy, more appreciation of life itself. Sorry.

Aarrgh. Just aargh. That's exactly the message that non-infected gay men need to hear, Andrew.

Later he writes about how easy it has become to manage HIV infection:

Five pills once a day. No side effects to speak of.

But his earlier comment about taking testosterone and HGH reveals how deceptive that "no side effects" assertion is -- since both substances are prescribed specifically to help reduce certain side-effects of the antiviral drugs. (And incidentally, Sullivan's bulked-up form has led many to speculate that he's probably using testosterone considerably in excess of the "hormone replacement therapy" levels that a doctor would normally prescribe.)

Some gay media figures rip Sully a much bigger hole...

Journalist and "professional activist" Michelangelo Signorile responded with a blistering column entitled Dear Bareback Andy. Although I am decidedly not a fan of Signorile -- whose claims to fame include involvement with ACTUP's headline-whore "consciousness raising" at Catholic Masses -- I give him major props for being harshly and tirelessly critical of the barebacking trend. And aside from the gratuitous slams on Sullivan's "right wing" politics, Signorile's scorn for "Bareback Andy" is wonderful to see -- "I gotta go get me some of that hot poz seed!"

...while others rush to his defense

On the other hand, Washington Blade columnist Chris Crain took umbrage at Signorile's attack, and Crain's defense of Sully even endorsed Sullivan's likening of HIV infection to diabetes:

Rather than losing all credibility by trying to scare people into abstinence until marriage or safe sex until death, HIV prevention ought to arm people with useful information from which they can make their own judgment about what risks to take.

If you're at a high risk for diabetes, your doctor wouldn't dream of scaring you with warnings like, "Don't you ever eat another chocolate cake in your life!"

If Crain's name rings a bell, it's possibly because he and his boyfriend were once beaten up by "Moroccan youths" in Amsterdam, which got plenty of coverage in the non-gay press. But quite honestly, I was inclined to get in line behind the Moroccan youths after reading the final grafs in Crain's response to Signorile:

Gay men, who are by nature at higher risk of getting HIV, can take certain steps to lower their risk: explore safer sexual activity like oral sex and frottage; stick to being a top in anal sex if you do not want to wear a condom

Fifty points to Crain for at least mentioning ''frottage,'' but minus a thousand points for neglecting to define it for readers who might think that he's talking about the criminal practice of rubbing one's crotch against unwilling strangers on a crowded subway (that's "frotteurism"). And minus a further 17 quintillion points for the recommendation that I've highlighted in bold text. Since every top requires a bottom, Crain's dipshit advice actually translates to: "Let the other guy(s) bear the brunt of the risk for your unwillingness to put on a raincoat."

Sex columnist Dan Savage has astutely noted that anal "tops" who feel no ethical responsibility to wear a rubber if the "bottom" doesn't insist on it belong in the same category as straight guys who say that worrying about birth control is entirely the woman's problem. Or, in the immortal phrasing of Todd the Squirrel from Chris Onstad's online comic Achewood:

With the minor difference, continues Savage, that people were customarily quite unembarrassed about saying that straight men who hold this attitude are appalling pigs. But Crain (who later became Executive Editor of the Washington Blade) apparently thinks that would be too, you know, judgmental. And Crain continues with the lethal non-judgmentalism:

Gay men who already have HIV should also be hearing a message grounded in reality: explore non-risky sexual activity like oral sex and frottage; stick to being a bottom in anal sex if you do not want to wear a condom; if you really want to bareback as a top, make sure your partner knows your HIV status.

So, to HIV+ men who wish to anally penetrate other men without a rubber, Crain's reality-grounded answer is "Okay-doke, just be sure to mention in advance that you have HIV." Which is a bit like saying to Todd the Squirrel: if you really want to fuck a bitch without wearing a gunny sack, it's okay as long as you remind her that sperm can cause pregnancy.

I just wish I could say that Crain and Sullivan were odd anomalies in the gay world, but their attitudes here are just the logical ends of a "mainstream gay culture" which holds that stigmatizing bad behavior is a sin far worse than the bad behavior itself could be.


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