Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Restrictive Dating

My Gay Male Relationships class blew up again this past Monday night. I, once again, was the incendiary. We were discussing cross-cultural relationships. Our teacher was explaining the difference between attraction and fetishization. He began by saying,"When you will only date men from a race or culture different from your own that is fetishization because it is based on stereotypes and it is wrong." I raised my hand and suggested it also worked the other way. If you exclude men from your dating pool based on race or ethnicity, that was wrong as well. He responded by saying, "No, that is attraction, and okay. I disagreed and suggested that it was based on racism, at which point the entire class erupted. No one was willing to own their racism, they all denied it and said it was ridiculous to suggest that having a preference was racist. I explained that I believed we were all racist, that we could not live in our society and not be racist, that I was racist, saw my racism everyday and fought everyday to overcome it. I also suggested that I would not want to limit who I might be attracted to by excluding any type of person. It seems that racism is the big elephant in the room which no one is willing to acknowledge. One man went as far as to suggest that yes perhaps it was racism but we should call it something else!

I am really disturbed by this. I am disturbed that what we would never condone anywhere else is so freely acceptable when it comes to sex and relationships. I am disturbed that it seem to be an issue which we are not even willing to examine. I am disturbed that this behavior is being taught and reenforced in my community college.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Messages Concerning Safe(r) Sex

Persons with AIDS’s lives changed in March of 1996 with the introduction of what is referred to as “the cocktail.” I remember my lover Chris and I having a conversation about the future over lunch one day in 1990. We both were positive with AIDS diagnoses but were both healthy. Chris had a cultivated devil may care attitude about life in general which was one of the things I found attractive about him. I, on the other hand am more grounded and have a tendency to plan and save. Chris was chiding me for this propensity, “You know Woody, we will both be dead in five years and what good will all that money do you then?” Well, perhaps he was planning on being dead in five years, but I certainly wasn’t!, and I told him so. Chris died in October of 1995. Had Chris lived to see the introduction of the new “cocktail therapy” of non-nucleoside protease inhibitors would he be alive today? That is a question no one can answer. It is a question that certainly entered my mind many times when I started my new therapy in 1996.

Not only have most PWA’s lives changed but so seemingly has the face of AIDS itself. AIDS seems to have become a “manageable” disease. People are living longer. The sense of hopelessness and terror has been removed. No longer is the obituary pages of the Bay Area Reporter growing bigger and bigger with each passing week. It is so easy to slip into seeing the years following the introduction of cocktail therapy as “post-AIDS.” The fact is, people are still dying. The new drugs do not work for everyone. They do have catastrophic long term side effects.

AIDS has changed so many aspects of our lives and our culture it is really difficult to grasp the enormity of it all. It has made us more sex phobic, it has pushed us into a new conservatism masquerading as liberalism, and it has caused us to confuse the right to self-determination with misinformation. I am holding in my hands a pamphlet produced by the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health called “Reading This Might Save Your Ass.” It is the language of “straight talk” using code phrases such as “save your ass” and headings such as “Fucking, Sucking, Rimming, and Making Your Dick Work For You.” Under the heading of fucking I read, “Fucking with out a condom is the easiest way to spread HIV. Play it smart. Hopefully the people you have sex with will be honest and will know their HIV status . . . but they might not know or they might not want to tell you.” “The easiest way” belies the very concept of “straight talk.” What all of this “straight talk” doesn’t say is AIDS kills. What all of this straight talk avoids saying is Fucking without a condom is unsafe, if your partner is infected you will be too, if you are infected you will infect your partner and there is no cure. AIDS kills. Fucking without a condom these days is inexcusable. It is murder.

And now we seem to be getting the message that serosorting is okay. It seems the message of use a condom every time didn’t work for everyone, or some of us have become burned out on it. And we have the cocktail now. Well, if the message didn’t work, don’t soften the message, change it. A young man I know who, when I first met him, was expounding on how the message of AIDS, the very name AIDS, was too sex-negative. “It’s time to forget AIDS,” he told me. “It’s time to re-name it, call it something else, because it is not the same as it was in your day.” Well, six months later he came to me and told me he had seroconverted. Now that is a tragedy. That should not be happening today. Suggesting serosorting as a possible safe(r) sex strategy for positive men runs the risk of re-infection with a different strain of HIV and the possible mutation of a super-strain, for negative men of course the risk of one partner not knowing their current status or of lying is always going to be present. It just seems too risky and stupid to be a strategy which should be receiving any endorsement from the HIV, Inc. and public health communities. There is still no cure. AIDS still kills.

Chris finally did learn how to save. After four or five bouts with pneumonia for which his Kaiser Hospital health plan refused to admit him to the hospital -- take these antibiotics and make an appointment to see your doctor in three weeks, they would tell him and I would drive him home and carry him up the stairs to his apartment as he was too weak to walk -- his sister and I finally had to place him into a hospice. One October morning my phone rang. It was the hospice calling to say that Chris was non-responsive and I should come over as I was designated his agent to make health care decisions. Apparently Chris had been diagnosed with cytomegalovirus and was going blind. Rather then tell me he decided to save his sleeping pills until he had enough to take his life. The nurse told me that usually they don’t resuscitate at the hospice, a fact I already knew, but since Chris had had a hand in this they would pump his stomach if I wished. This was what Chris wished now though. I sat with him for the next ninety minutes, holding his hand, stroking his head, reassuring him that everything was okay and that he should just let go. I know he heard me. I know he knew I was there. I could tell by the way he responded to my words, my touch. He finally died as I sat next to him, holding him.

This is what we have forgotten. Scenes like this still happen today, just not as frequently. We must not forget this still happens. AIDS has not changed. It still kills. There is still no cure.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just How Serious ARE We?

(03-05) 07:28 PST WASHINGTON (AP) --
President Bush says the United States has to change its habits and "get off oil" to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign suppliers.
Bush made his comments in a speech in Washington after OPEC said it would not put more oil on the global market. During a trip to the Middle East in January, Bush had urged OPEC to increase production in order to ease soaring gasoline prices.
While calling for energy conservation, Bush joked on Wednesday that it probably did not help that he rode to his speech in a 20-car motorcade.

Last evening on the news I watched how George Bush told OPEC that they must start pumping more oil because energy is costing too much which is hurting the economy. If our economy tanks, he reasoned, we will buy less energy. Well, I am not really sure we can blame our current economic situation on OPEC or entirely oil dependancy. Rather forty years of failed economic policy which stifled growth in production due to inflationary fears in favor of uncontrolled growth in financial speculation brought about by deregulation in the financial markets, the latest manifestations of which we have seen in the sub-prime market implosion, corporate junk bonds, asset-backed commercial paper, and muni-bonds insurance companies collapse.

Well, it is much easier to blame it on the Arabs, isn't it. So today Bush says we must "get of oil." All joking about 20 car-motorcades aside, if we were serious we wouldn't be talking conservation, we would be actively seeking and investing in real sustainable alternatives and a major shift in the way our infrastructure is structured. We would be turning away from a growth based economic model to an economic model based on sustainability. An economics that sees the economy as a vehicle to improve human well-being rather than as humans as cogs to further expand the economy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Queer as Stereotypes

I don’t watch television. Although I have seen a few episodes of Will and Grace, I admit I have never watched Queer as Folk. The episodes I have seen of Will and Grace I found to be unrealistic stereotypes of the LGBTQ community and not very funny. I do not view these shows as a sign of progress towards a wider acceptance by society but rather a minstrelization of homophobic, sexist, and classist stereotypes presented in such a way as to placate an oppressed community while formulating a corporatized, sanitized model which may be used ultimately to regulate identity. This explains my surprise and apprehension to find a segment of Queer as Folk being used to demonstrate the pitfalls of dating in my Gay Male Relationships class without the benefit of any type of disclaimer or qualifier from the class facilitator beforehand.

I was not disappointed. A younger character in the show was preparing for a date. His date was a doctor, an older man. From the very start of the scene we are told by this man’s friends that anyone over 40 was, well “OLD.” The implication being of course that older gay men are not worthwhile, are pretty much invisible within the community. Of course all of the young, groomed, clipped, toned, white friends were portrayed as being immature; which is agist as well. We were fed the myth of the older man as more successful while the younger man needs to borrow clothing from his friends to look presentable.

I admit that the clip did highlight some information about dating and being open to exploring differences, although in extreme exaggeration. I do also realize that Queer as Folk is ‘just’ a television show, admittedly one I had never seen before. At the risk of making hasty generalizations, let me say why I am concerned with using this sort of teaching aid without first qualifying it. It only serves to re-enforce those stereotypes which are already so embedded in our culture by an out of control media. All too often we take for granted that which is presented to us, we take for granted not only the messages it is imparting on us but we also take for granted our ability to examine and dissect that message with a critical eye. When I hear my fellow class mates refer to all younger gay men as being immature like the ones in the show, I am saddened for the younger gay men in the classroom and in the community. When I heard the remarks being made by the shows characters about ‘old’ men over 40, as a queer man of 51 who often feels invisible within my broader community, I was hurt an offended. When I saw the stereotype of what that ‘older’ gay man is, I knew that it was just that, a stereotype, but it still serves to define and re-enforce what are and are not acceptable notions of success. When I continually hear my fellow classmates refer to men who are sex-positive as ‘sluts,’ when I hear how narrow their expectations are for a prospective dating pool, I know that these media stereotypical messages are having an effect.

The only real interest the media has is its own bottom line. It is not interested in building community, understanding, or bridges. It is interested in profit. What is the best and easiest route to profit? A universal need. A universal consumer. Homogeneity. When we unquestioningly allow the media to define us we lose the ability to control our own futures, to say who we are, to be individuals.