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This is difficult for me.

I've been kicking these thoughts around for some time now.  I've been reflecting on them and analyzing them on my own.  They've gradually taken form as I've tried harder and harder to find a place back within the gay community.  I was recently at IML and that event served to crystallize many of the things I'd been thinking about.  I've been rather depressed about these things for what they mean about me and what they mean about the community I once thought I belonged in.  I've also been wondering if anyone else was thinking these things.  So, I've finally put my thoughts together and expressed them here.  I've put this page up as a means to draw forth some comments and to get your perspective on all this.  I'd like to know what others are thinking and how they view the same world I've been looking at.  I wish it were a happier view I was seeing.

I'm a forty five year old bisexual man and I no longer feel there's a home for me in the gay male community.  This is especially painful for me as it was the gay male community in which I first found myself as an adult.  My alienation from the gay community has nothing to do with my bisexuality.  I've been bi for the better part of two decades now, recognizing myself as being bi within but a few years of first finding myself as a sexually aware adult in the gay community.  So I've long had a handle on being bi and being within the gay male community.  I do have some thoughts on all that however and those thoughts were originally part of this essay.  I found they distracted things from the main points I was trying to make here so I split them off onto their own page about Being Bi.

Instead, the alienation I feel is due to AIDS.

This is a very touchy subject and a very difficult one for me to talk to others about.  I'm leery of unintentionally hurting the men I love.  I don't want what I say here to seem a personal attack on them.  Most of the gay men I know, if they're not POZ themselves, then they've a long history of grieving for their friends, their brothers, their lovers who all died from the Plague.  A number of my friends are also in relationships where their lovers are POZ.  They face these risks every day and they have found a way through them.  I haven't.  What I have to say here is not an attack on them.  It is not an attack on my friends.  It is not a damnation of their lovers.  What I say here is about the gay community at large and as a whole.  I know what I am saying here is about emotional things.  I know what I'm saying here is, in the end, about real flesh and blood people and not just abstract statics.  That doesn't make what I have to say any less real but please do not take this as an attack on my part.

A bit of history here and I'm making mention of this for most het folks (and even a number of gay men) have little knowledge of it.  I'm also going into this to show that I have been there and the I have done that.  I've lived all this - it's not something I've read about in some history book.

The gay men's community has changed over the years and I've changed too - but not with them.  The biggest change that I've seen is wrapped around AIDS.  And that is something very difficult for me to write about.

I have been aware of AIDS almost from the first day I had sex with a man.  Back in DC in '82, AIDS was still somewhat distant.  Luckily.  Had I come out in New York or San Francisco, and had I had much the same initial experiences, then I'd most likely be very dead by now due to that virus.  That I'm not dead, and that I'm still HIV Negative, is something I attribute to pure luck - for back then I was as clueless about the virus as anyone else.  I was also very sexually active back then too.  I first heard the whisper of the axe in the summer of '85 when a guy I'd just had good sex with turned out to have lied about his having AIDS.  That he lied to all the other guys he'd been fucking was of little comfort to me.  That this lowlife negligent scum is now assuredly dead is also of little comfort.  Upon finding out how he had lied I beat a path down to the Whitman-Walker Clinic and got myself tested.  I wanted to establish a baseline to know whether I was already carrying the disease or not.  I wasn't.  I then sweated bullets as I waited to take the test again.  Six weeks I waited.  That is usually how long it takes for HIV antibodies to form and it was only then that the test could be accurate.  That was not a fun time and every time I've gone back since I also sweat it.  Even though I'm rigorous about following Safe Sex I still sweat it each time.  Yet, each time I still get my Negative result.  An odd world where the desired thing is to be Negative.

That was almost twenty years ago.  I still get tested regularly and have been very rigorous about Safe Sex with the men I play with.  Yet that too has changed.  I used to accept the statements that oral sex was about the least likely way to catch HIV.  I held on to that dearly for it was one of the few uncluttered pleasures there seemed left.  Anyone who says Safe Sex is as easy or as good as doing it without protections or barriers is lying.  Safe Sex stinks when compared to fucking without a rubber.  Doing it "naturally" is natural.  There's no logistics or mechanical steps to have to stop the erotic process with.  Stopping to put on a condom - even when it's a practiced ritual - robs any encounter of erotic heat and has at times killed the ardor outright.  Given the alternative though, I've deemed it worth it in that it keeps me alive and healthy and does the same for my playmates.  Cocksucking though was beyond that and I was grateful for it.  Until recently.  Then that too changed.

About two years or so ago, I found myself up in San Francisco and at Blow Buddies.  Only in San Francisco's gay male community could you possibly find a place like Blow Buddies.  It is a sex club like none other for it is all about - and only about - cocksucking.  A man's dream!  No muss, no fuss, no rubbers, no lube, no bedsheets to change.  Just whip it out and have at it.  Surprisingly there are always more empty mouths at Blow Buddies than there are cocks to fill them but that's just how the world goes.  When I found Blow Buddies I thought I'd found the perfect place to feed my hedonism and my sex drive.  I could suck and get sucked all I wanted and not have to worry about the Plague.  Silly me.

That changed the night I was enjoying this one man's pumped up cock.  We had a nice rhythm going until we missed a beat and he pushed when I did.  His cock went in wrong and I felt something stretch in my mouth and I felt it tear.  Aside from hurting it also stopped me cold as I knew this guy to be POZ.  In short order I was in the bathroom and gargling with mouthfuls of the diluted hydrogen peroxide they have in a watercooler there.  That night I heard the whisper of another axe and that scared the crap out of me.  I realized I was kidding myself in thinking that the risk at Blow Buddies was acceptable.  It'd be a helluva thing to have come this far in my life only to pop Positive due to a blow job.  So I stopped.  I've not been back to Blow Buddies since.  I miss it.  Just like I miss the heat and the passion I used to find being with the men like I was back in the 80's.  Back before the Plague took root in DC as it had everywhere else.  I began noting the other changes then too.

Back about three or so years ago I began wondering where all these wonderfully muscular men were all coming from.  Looking around the streets of Hillcrest or West Hollywood or the Castro I was seeing more and more of these thickly muscled guys.  On top of that their physiques were all so cut and defined.  I was a bit mystified as to why so many of them also had what seemed to be beer guts but I just wrote that off to their doing too much ab work as they were too well defined and cut to be couch potatoes.  It was some time before anyone clued me in that what I was seeing was the "cocktail look."  That these remodeled physiques were the results of side effects to the protease inhibitors that were making such a difference in the gay community.  That put things in a very different light for me.  Instead of seeing men who were the epitome of health and vitality I was actually looking at men infected with the Plague.  And a great many of these men were those that I knew and those who were among my friends.

Ten years ago this would not have been so.  Ten years ago all there was to fight the Plague with was AZT.  Do you remember AZT?  When was the last time you heard that initialism even mentioned?  Ten years ago, most men infected with the Plague were dead within four or five years of going on AZT.  That was the best we could do for them.   And even that was a lousy deal.  AZT is a poison who's only benefit is that it's supposed to kill the AIDS in a person's body faster than it killed the person.  Some deal.  It did serve to keep some people alive just long enough for the protease inhibitors to become available though, so in that it was worthwhile.  For those "lucky" few at least.  But this too was something that changed.

Ten years ago, and certainly fifteen years ago, AIDS was a mark of death.  You'd see this occasionally as PWA's (another archaic term) with the wasting syndrome would still move about in public.  They looked dead already and as wraiths they were an all too visible reminder of why Safe Sex was the only alternative.  Now no longer.  Now the best looking, the most buff, the biggest studs in the gay community are most likely the POZ men. 

This is due to the major discovery that a way to combat the wasting syndrome has been to get pumped up on steroids.  The more muscle mass a person has on them the better able they are to fight any disease, HIV included.  And steroids put on those muscles like little else.  So now POZ men get their steroids legally prescribed and administered by a doctor.  When the pump from that won't do they are now getting Human Growth Hormone prescribed as well.  This has led to physiques previously unobtainable outside of body building contests.  It is also one of the bitterest ironies and most insidious changes within the gay community.

All this caused me to recoil.   What I was now seeing was not a renewed vitality in the gay community but instead, it was more proof that the Plague was stronger than ever.  Death was still walking among us only now it was a buff, tanned and pumped death and not the Kaposi covered wraiths of old.  That pained me to see.  It also pained me to realize I was no longer admiring a man's physique when I was checking him out but was looking at his face instead.  Not to see how handsome he was but to look at his cheeks.  The cocktail body look could be seen there too.  Sunken, deep, hollowed cheeks became as sure a sign of it as is the abnormal vascularity or the "buffalo hump" fat deposits around the neck.

The biggest change though is how the gay community itself has reacted to all this.  Personal accountability and personal responsibility are no longer in vogue.  At least not like they used to be.  Ten years ago, Safe Sex was it.  It was Safe Sex or death, period.  Safe Sex was the ONE thing we had to deal with the Plague.  Ten years ago we knew AZT wasn't cutting it.  Ten years ago we were all betting that medical technology would come up with that Magic Bullet and we'd suddenly have The Cure.  But ten years ago we knew there was no Magic Bullet in hand.  So, we watched our brothers, our friends, and our lovers die.  Ten years ago there was nothing we could do but watch this and cling to Safe Sex as being our one personal means of salvation.  Then came protease inhibitors, i.e. the Cocktail.

Protease Inhibitors were a new approach to fighting the Plague and gave every promise to eventually becoming The Cure.  That they weren't an instant Cure, that they didn't work overnight, actually served to make their promise all the greater.  AIDS was a tough disease so it would take a tough thing to cure it, right?  When protease inhibitors didn't cure AIDS overnight the thought was that it would do so over time.  That if protease inhibitors kept the virus suppressed long enough then the body's own immune system would come back strong enough to fight it and win.  Either that or the body would flush the virus out of itself.  So, the Cocktail was it.  The Cocktail was the thing and the Cocktail was worth every penny.  Even its appalling regimen was worth it too.

The Cocktail has saved many of my friends.  Without the Cocktail my life would be a colder and emptier place.  The Cocktail also changed the gay community and I don't think it did so for the better.

The Cocktail turned out to just be a sustaining treatment and not a cure.  This left us with the worst of all possible worlds in terms of a public health crisis.  The gay community has long fought to keep the Plague a political crisis and not the public health crisis it actually is.  This has meant that from its very start, the standard public health responses - responses which have worked with every other communicable disease in human history - were responses which we deliberately chose not to take.  While this may have been the best possible political move back then it served to allow AIDS to spread into our community and go from a horrifying but rare lethal disease to a horrifying and pandemic lethal disease.  Some day, when AIDS is finally cured and when they are writing the history of the epidemic I've little doubt of the horrendous blame that is going to be placed on the gay community for its politicizing our response to the Plague.

Now though, things have changed.  Back even when there was only AZT, people with AIDS usually didn't live long enough to have a systemic effect on the gay community.  I know this firsthand as I buried too many of my friends who died of the Plague.  Back before the Cocktail there was some hope of containing the Plague.  Safe Sex was a poor second best to quarantine but it was the best we could do once quarantine could no longer be applied.  The Cocktail has changed this.  First off it gave an impression that it was The Cure and that the Plague was at an end.  Thus there was no longer a need to put up with Safe Sex.  When this myth was dispelled there came a fatalism among many that Safe Sex no longer mattered as you would eventually catch AIDS no matter what you did - so why not have fun in the meantime?

As the Cocktail changed into being a sustaining thing, even the risk of HIV infection seemed to lessen in importance.  What was the big deal if you got HIV?  In many ways, being POZ was better than the alternative.  Being Positive meant you enjoyed a special protected status both within the gay community and without.  Initially this was to fight the vicious and very real homophobia and bigotry that was using AIDS-phobia as a convenient mask to hide its hate behind.  Come the Cocktail this has become another change in the gay community.  What had been empathy and perhaps pity for PWA's has now become an institutionalized reverse discrimination that extends to absolving positive men from their deliberately negligent behavior.  It is here that I feel the most alienated by the contemporary gay community.  

Safe Sex used to be IT.  There was nothing else.  Most PWA's were either too ill to have much sex or all too aware of how horrifying their illness was to even consider having unsafe sex with other men.  The Cocktail has changed this too.  By being a sustaining treatment and not The Cure, protease inhibitors have indeed given a new lease on life to men who would otherwise be long since dead by now.  And as these men are very often pumped up on steroids and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) their sex drives have also been given a new lease on life.  So, within the past five years or so, a new term has come into use; barebacking.  Deliberate unprotected sex.  Fucking without a condom.  It is the gay community's reaction to this that has pained me the most.

Five years ago, barebacking was an incendiary topic.  You were taking your life into your own hands if you dared speak publicly in favor of barebacking.  At one town hall meeting about barebacking here in San Diego I remember the crowd's reaction was pure rage toward the individuals on the panel who failed to speak negatively about it.  Some of these guys took their positions to spark debate as to the effectiveness of Safer Sex education methods.  In short, Safe Sex ed is failing.  The number of newly infected individuals is on the rise and that means the message being put out there isn't working.  That means more folks are being infected.  That stinks.  One other unforeseen fact about this is that due to protease inhibitors being a sustaining treatment and not The Cure, that means that these newly infected individuals aren't dying off like they used to.  A cold statement, that, but the hard truth. 

Back when there was just AZT, infected individuals would be dead within five or six years and during that time they'd most likely not even think to be sexually active enough to help spread the Plague.  With the Cocktail and steroid pumped bodies of today's HIV infected, being sexually active is everything.  And since the POZ men of today aren't dying as fast that means they are infecting others at a much greater rate than ever before.  That's just the basic statistics.  Most individuals with HIV do practice Safe Sex and most are acting responsibly when it comes to their safety and the community's safety.  Most are.  Not all.  Not by a longshot.  The community's reaction to barebacking is proof of that.

Five years ago it was pure rage and damnation.  Nowadays it is indifference at best.  The gay community seems to have rationalized away any responsibility for the negligence shown by POZ men who bareback.  That safe sex is now mentioned at all [and note the lack of capitalization] it is only as a hollow ritual with empty words.  That ignoring safe sex no longer even raises an eyebrow is proof of just how much the gay community has changed.  Whereas before, barebacking videos were underground and radical things, things which some POZ men made as a way of sharing the fact they were still alive and still could have sex, now there are  plenty of video porn companies which specialize in producing porn videos explicitly about barebacking and you can buy these titles at any adult bookstore in every gay community in the country.

Safe Sex is dead.  It's now just a "personal decision" or "an individual's responsibility" which are really modern code phrases for indifference and apathy.  In the meantime the number of HIV positive in our community continues to grow with each passing day.  And The Cure?  The Cure is still just as distant today as it was in 1982 when I first came out.  That saddens me.  I'd hoped we would have found The Cure by now.  I'm glad I didn't bet my life on that.  But I'm repelled by seeing that so many men are betting their lives on it now.  I'm even more repelled by seeing the gay community's reaction to this.  No denouncing.  No public outcry.  No earnest appeals to stop.  No new effective Safe Sex campaigns.  Just more barebacking video and DVD sales

I'm doubtful that I'll get much support for my views here.  I'm sure some who read this will accuse me of attacking POZ men.  Or of wishing them all dead.  I'm not and I don't.  I just see what our community is doing to itself and I want no part of it.  That too saddens me.  There was a time when I would have railed against it all.  I don't have the energy now.  Nor the hope.  And that is the saddest of all.

When I was at this year's IML this all came crashing down on me.  I was there to have a good time and I did have a good time - but not with the men there.  I first went to IML for the men and the connections that entailed.  I fucked my brains out at my first two IML's and loved all of it.  I played safely and so to it seemed did all of the men there.  There was no mention of even the concept of barebacking or having unsafe sex.  "No glove, no love" was it.  I took comfort in that and I took great security in that.  I felt very safe in having the sex that I did because I was being as responsible as I could with these men and they were being that way with me.

I also don't think the rate of HIV infection was as high then.  If for no other reason then that back in the early 90's there was nothing available to keep infected men alive long enough to change that percentage.  The hard fact is that the Plague killed them that quickly even with AZT.  Perhaps this is just a perception on my part but that is what it seems like to me.  Today's IML and today's gay leather community is different.  I've noticed this over the past few years as I've tried finding my place back within the gay leather community.

Once I realized that all those muscular and buffed men I was seeing owed their physiques to the Plague I began to pay closer attention to what I was looking at.  As I did so I began to see this almost everywhere.  When I go out to the leather bars here in San Diego it is about all I see.  When I head up to LA or SF it is about all I see there to.  When I was at Inferno last year I saw that in the faces of almost every man there.  I also saw it all too often at each of the past three IML's I have attended. 

I'm glad these men are alive.  I'm glad the Cocktail is working for them even if it scourges their bodies.  They obviously accept that price as the alternative is almost a certain death from the Plague.  They too are betting that medical science will come up with yet another Magic Bullet or perhaps even The Cure and do so soon enough that they'll be alive to see it.  That's a sucker's bet and it's one that the gay community has made every year since the Plague started.  And every year it's been a losing bet too.

While I'm grateful that these men are alive, and I've friends who've benefited from the Cocktail, I can not eroticize any of it.  I can no longer even contemplate playing with these men.  It wouldn't work.  I know that in the back of my mind there'd be a part of me screaming about the health risk I was taking and that would kill any connection, any intimacy and any pleasure I might have in the attempt.  So I can't make the connections any more.  Looking out at the crowd of leathermen at IML I saw only POZ men looking back at me.  I saw no connections there and no possibility of connections there.  Just as I see no possibility of connections within the gay leather  community either.  At least not any connections like I used to be able to make.  Quick, simple and uncomplicated things.  Connections that were all the more intense because they were so free and unburdened.

Now there's too many barriers in the way.  Now there's too much burden up front.  Now there's too little spontaneity.  Now there's too much fear.  With the health risks being what they are, with the prevalence of HIV infection being what it is, with the new HIV infection rate being what it is, and with the gay community's reaction to the barebacking being what it is, I see no place left for me there.

I know that not every gay man is POZ nor that every gay man wants to bareback.  But the HIV Negative gay men out there seem well nigh invisible and also seem to be getting increasingly scarce.  I don't know what to do about this.  I don't know how to react to it.  I have put myself out there for the last three years in the hope that I could find a way past all this.  I'd hoped that be being as clear as I have been that I could find some men to be with.  I've failed.  I've not found one.  Not here in San Diego in any event, and not HIV Negative. 

So I'm putting all this out here as a means of getting it out from inside my head where its been driving me nuts and off my chest where its been eating at my soul.  I've been chewing myself up over this.  I've been wondering if anyone else out there has encountered the same things and I've wondered how they've reacted to them.  I can't be alone in feeling alienated by how the gay community has changed.  At least I hope I'm not.  So, I've put this up here on my site to spark some comment and hopefully to hear from others as to how they've handled this and also what they think of what I've thought.  I'd like to hear from you on this.  Drop me a line and let me know.




Well, it's been several years now since I first put up this essay.  To help spark some rational conversation I also created a Comments Log for this page.  I intended it as a place where folks who read this essay could enter their own comments.  That worked, to a point.  This essay didn't elicit nearly as many comments as I thought it might and the Comments Log soon became a target to spammers.  After a point, it became more of a pain in the butt to keep removing the spam postings.  You can still read the comments that others have left but there'll be no more new entries.

Changes Comment Log

Thank you,

Madoc



 

If you would like to learn more about me – just ask!   Drop me a line and we’ll see what happens.  I can be reached
here at: madoc@madoc.us.

Until later then,

Madoc

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This page was last updated on: 17 August 2007