A couple of weeks ago, a person in our community received the news at the age of 26 they were HIV positive. This young mans life has taken a turn that sadly was preventable.
As I write tonight I am worried…I am scared…I am deeply disturbed. For you see for the last 30 years or so I have seen this before and this is reality come home again, for there are no fairy tale endings.
Yes, there are miracles, yes there are new discoveries and yes there is hope…for with the unconditional love of God there is always hope, always miracles, and always-new discoveries.
So here we are half way through 2010 and I find myself once again climbing up on a soapbox. I want to sound a warning, ring an alarm, rise up and shout from the mountaintop to my brothers and sisters in the gay, bi and straight community…ENOUGH ALREADY…STOP IT…HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MINDS?
This is 2010 not 1994 nor 1982. We know for a fact how HIV keeps it’s bloody record of death going. We really know this is not a manageable disease, but rather a killer that does unbelievable harm to untold millions of people. We know that the medications used to fight off this virus have horrible side effects and in the long run lose their effectiveness. We know that whole generations of humanity will never see their 21st birthday.
Yet, many gay men, bi men and straight men still behave as if HIV is an after thought, as if the magic pill will arrive just in time for Christmas. While I dare say it is not a majority, it is significant enough to cause untold misery and destruction for millions of people.
This is 2010 and we know we have the weapons that can stop this disease in its tracks. The weapons are so simple. One is an object and the other a program.
The object is called a condom and the program is called “needle exchange” or harm reduction (needle exchange and harm reduction is another blog).
Yet when you talk to folks in the community you would think I was “Henny-Penny and crying the sky is falling…think I am kidding? Take a look at this: (not for the squeamish) Some samples from Craigslist:
“I'm into a lot of different things such as public sex, fisting, bareback, bondage, w/s, group fun, Master/slave type "relationships"... and yes, that is meant to mean "strings". I expect that anyone who wants to get to know me should at least be open minded and adventurous, even if they haven't done it all. I live a polyamorous lifestyle. I hope this stuff here sums me up well.”
“I need to suck a **** and eat a large load of ***. I also get into rimming, body contact, J/O and whatever else you can think of. If you are negative I am bb friendly.”
“Yeah, bb btm loves to get plowed hard by raw **** Into it? like seeding a hot, horny, furry hole?”
There are places in the fair city of Atlanta where one can go and have any number of sex partners in an evening and there are no condoms in sight or asked for. Before the straight folks reading this say ah hah it is you gays…let me be clear there are plenty of these clubs for straight folks as well and the men who are picking up women while out of town are not using condoms either. In fact go to any straight party club and well you get the idea.
I had a person in pastoral counseling who is now a recovering sexual addict tell me how he would go to a local hotel here in town…place an ad on Craig’s list giving his location and room number. He would invite anyone who wanted sex to his room to find the door unlocked and him blindfolded with his butt in the air waiting to receive all the bareback sex he could.
Or how about these websites that have thousands of subscribers for both gay and straight people:
Gay Bareback Sex and Hairy Masculine Men
The porn industry is a multi billion-dollar empire whose hottest films involve sex without condoms. If people are spending that kind of money you cannot convince me they are not doing what they see in film.
This is not a blog to sound a moral cry about how sexually loose society is, nor is it to start an ethics debate on adultery and or fornication.
Rather it is about admitting and recognizing people regardless of morals, ethics, or the churches teachings are going to have sex. They have been doing the “deed” since the beginning of time.
I will save the sexual ethics discussion for another time. Right now I am concerned about stopping the bleeding. For you see when a person is wounded, 9 times out of 10 before you do anything else you have got to stop the bleeding.
Stopping the bleeding in this case means if you are going to have sex be safe about it. Use a condom!
Believe me, I know they are easy to use, easy to dispose of and can save one from any number of life threatening or life ending diseases. My partner and I have been together 28 plus years and have never had sex without condom use.
My friends don’t we have a moral obligation to not put others at risk for our sexual enjoyment?
For those who call themselves Christian can you really in good conscience put your partner or yourself at risk of a shorten or messed up life for a night of taking care of a “sexual itch”?
Do not those who consider themselves tops have an obligation to say no to bare backing?
Do not those who consider themselves bottoms have an obligation to say no to letting someone inside them without a condom.
How about straight folks…unless you are making a child and you both have tested negative, don’t you have an obligation to keep each other safe? I know all about the marriage vows of fidelity, however it is what it is…I mean really…do you want to find out your partner cheated on you when you come up with a positive test?
If you are going to cheat on your partner or even if you have an open relationship do you really want to introduce HIV or God knows what other disease to the one you say you love?
Isn’t the whole relationship thing difficult enough without adding a premature death sentence to it?
The moral police will tell me the answer is abstinence and then only sex in wedlock.
Well that has really worked well hasn't it? Read the court dockets and the reasons for divorce. Look at the record levels of teen pregnancy. HIV rates of infection are up not down. STD’s are on the rise rather then declining.
People committing adultery in the State of Georgia can go to jail…but that is of little good to the one they infect and I might add too little too late. People who do not disclose their status if positive can face jail time...of course this is a little late isn't it. Kinda like closing the barn door after the horse is long gone.
Gay folk are denied marriage, so their only answer is no sex? Right-so now convince me that a healthy 20 something man is not going to have sex regardless of the marriage laws.
I was talking to a Pastor who works with folks who are HIV positive and he told me about an informal survey that was done for men in prison. People going into prison are given an HIV test. Of those who tested negative when they went into prison, 54% of them tested positive when they came out. Of course you don’t give prisoners condoms because that would be approving sex and the wrong kind of sex at that. What kind of screwed up thinking is that?
I want with all my heart to have conversations around long-term monogamous relationships.
I want to teach values, respect and commitment as a part of our sexual relations.
My faith walk encourages and even demands me to support and model that kind of sexual responsibility.
However, we are left with the reality people are going “sow their oats”, they are going to experiment, they are going to be wild, they are going to be stupid and do sexual things out of a lack of judgment.
Like it or not that is the condition of the human race, it is the way we live and learn.
Yet if I can convince folks who are going to have sex regardless of some moral authority, to use a condom they might live long enough to learn a sense of responsibility.
If I can convince folks that if you have sex without a condom you are either suicidal or are a totally self-absorbed selfish person they might live long enough to learn there is other peoples lives at stake.
So to those men in the gay, bi and straight community…I am begging you, pleading with you, save a life and use a condom.
For those who would blast me for writing this blog, thinking this is the wrong subject for a minister to write about or it was just too graphic please remember:
Silence=Death and my friends we have been silent far too long in the matters of safe sex and the use of the condom.
Gross' article focuses on Manhunt.net, a site for men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) and the fastest growing gay website in the world, with over 1 million members and more than 400,000 unique visitors per month, all in the USA alone - and the site serves some 100countries.
More importantly, the article considers how online cruising has changed gay urban social life by, for example, driving human interactions from physical spaces to virtual ones and encouraging the "pornification" of gay self-expression.
Apparently, one UK study found that in 1993, 2.3% of gay men found
their first male sex partner online; by 2003 that number had risen to
61.2%. OUT quotes Jeffrey Klausner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health: "It means that gay men who were once socialized in brick-and-mortar establishments, surrounded by other people, are now being socialized online."
The question for conscious, spiritual LGBT people then becomes, "Is that virtual socialization creating a community of healthy, self-actualized MSM?" The answer seems to be an obvious "No."
As Gross puts it in OUT, "If you were asked to design the perfect weapon to exploit this vulnerability as it manifests in attractive, urban gay men, you'd want something that would intensify our isolation, exaggerate our propensity to objectify ourselves - by encouraging us to believe that our purpose is to look good and have lots of sex."
So much of our work is about affirming that LGBT people (in this case, MSM) are so much more than just bodies - that we are not only physical/sexual, but intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual beings. The hardest part of the job, it often seems, is convincing LGBT people themselves of that truth.
Gross writes, "The most powerful secrets we keep on Manhunt aren't the ones we keep from the outside world. The most powerful secrets on Manhunt are the ones we keep from ourselves. Practically every gay man has his own version of this secret, which we learned to keep while growing up in the closet: the secret fear that, if we were truly known, we would never be loved.
"...When you came out, you did it because you wanted something," Gross continues. "Part of what you wanted was sex, but part of what you hoped for was the possibility of being loved as your true self."
As always, online or off-line, we are choosing between Love and Fear, living fully or shrinking from our potential, shining our light or hiding it under a bushel.
I won't ruin the whole article - there's a lot more there ripe for discussion and consideration, and I hope you will choose to leave your comments on the article at OUT.com as well as in response to this post.
With the near ubiquity of online cruising among MSM, it's important that conscious LGBT people like the readers of this Gay Spirituality Blog look directly at the problems that virtual socialization may cause and how we can remedy them before it's too late. That said, we also have to be realistic - online social networking, cruising...these things are not going away. We need a BOTH/AND solution, not an EITHER/OR solution.
"We need to put our heads together and try to figure out what we want normative social life to look like. Whatever the answer turns out to be, it will involve creating social structures that serve and gratify our desire to have sex with each other and also promote and support the possibility of developing and sustaining intimate relationships." I would add to Gross' call for our attention: whatever the answers are, they must consider the development and well-being of the WHOLE person, not only sexual and romantic. And frankly, there's no time to waste.
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A guided visualization specifically for people with HIV/AIDS, customized by the author for the introduction of integrase inhibitors into a combination therapy (i.e., his own situation). HIV/AIDS patients are invited to record this visualization in their own voice, making changes appropriate for their own treatment situation, and then listen to it daily as a guided meditation. Time: approximately 10 minutes.
Once upon a time there was a garden, a beautiful field of a thousand flowers. There were purple and red and golden flowers. White flowers and blue flowers. Flowers of many petals, flowers that look like radiant starbursts, and flowers so bright they make you want to smile...
Full visualization in HTML, Word doc, PDF. Feel free to copy, redistribute, and make derivative works with attribution to the author (Joe Perez).
In his column for the Southern Voice, Paul Varnell looks at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's coinage "MSM" (short for "men who have sex with men.") He acknowledges the utility of the term MSM for including men who don't identify themselves as gay but nevertheless engage in homosexual sexual behavior. The impetus for Varnell's look: a recently published telephone survey of more than 4,000 men in New York City discovered that MSM who deny the gay or bi labels are actually more numerous than self-acknowledged gay or bi men. That's a lot of "straight" dudes getting it on with blokes!
The community of gay men experienced an enormous loss this Monday with the death of Eric Rofes of an apparent heart attack.
Eric was a scholar and an author (Dry Bones Breathe, Reviving the Tribe). He was an outspoken advocate for gay male sexuality at a time when the AIDS crisis was causing many to submerge the importance of the erotic in the face of the epidemic. At the same time, he fought to help the medical establishment and the gay community understand that gay male health couldn't be reduced to safer sex education. His concern led to the formation of the gay men’s health movement.
As most of you surely know, too few drugs that show early promise ever pan out, so it's wise to remain cautious. There's been too much hype and false "AIDS cures." But this BYU study, reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, sound hopeful. If future tests confirm the early promise of a new compound, it could be the first drug that actually kills HIV. The compound may also be effective against other viruses ranging from herpes to influenze. Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan for the link.
There's a t-shirt in my closet at home, black with white lettering, that bears the words above. It expresses the sentiment that's in my heart today. It's World AIDS Day, and a day on which I can't help thinking about all the people who have been lost; the ones close to me and the people never knew but who meant something to someone.
It was on my mind this morning when I picked my son up and carried him downstairs, and it was on my mind when I kissed him and my husband goodbye and made my way out the door. It wasn't until I was on the train that it truly hit me. I was sitting, reading and listening to music, and the next song that played was Warren Zevon's "Keep Me In Your Heart for a While," written before his own death from lung cancer.
Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for a while
If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for a while
When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for a while
There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done
Keep me in your heart for a while
Sitting there on the train I did something I almost never do. I wept. I closed my book, bowed my head, covered my face so that no one would see, and quietly wept. Sentimental, I know. But I couldn't help it.
One initiative from the Gay Spirit Culture Summit is a storytelling gathering hosted by the HIV + HIV- HIV ? group. It is an opportunity for men of HIV+, HIV- and unknown HIV status to have conversations about their stories in order to experience the healing that comes from deep listening and from sharing one’s truth in a safe and caring space.
Four talented performance artists who have taken their story and their healing to a public level will share their stories and their performances that touch hearts and open dialogue that results in healing. The weekend may reveal how performance can enhance the healing power of your story!
For more information on this gathering to take place September 10-12, 2004 at Easton Mountain, please visit our HIV +/-/? page or call Easton Mountain at 1 800 553 8235.
A dear friend -- bright, loving, sexy and sophisticated -- informed me the other day that he had recently had unprotected anal sex with a stranger. A client told me the same thing later that day. In fact, several clients have told me the same thing over the past several months. These are not stupid men. They were not seeking out “bareback” sex. Rather, they found themselves in an erotic encounter with someone who turned them on and decided not to stop it.
A former safer sex educator in Atlanta once said that gay men care more about their next orgasm than about their own lives. He expressed deep frustration over his lack of success in “educating” men to make other choices. Is he right? Are there things we gay men don’t know about safer sex? Are we such pleasure-seekers that we lose sight of our own well-being in the process?