May 24, 2005

Politically correct party animals on redneck cocaine

I'm a firm believer in looking after your own health, prevention being better than a cure and all that jazz, but now I'm a bit taken aback that this attitude is regarded as somehow disrespectful of people with HIV.
In a nutshell the question is: can I be as celebratory proud of being HIV negative as we have been celebrating and supporting HIV positive people?
A very thoughtful and quite scary article by Michael Specter on AIDS, speed and gay men cruising online covers a lot of ground, from age issues, loneliness of older unattached gay males, drug use, AIDS fatigue, the medicalisation of US society to all night sex marathons and a lot more.
Highly recommended reading, and I'm unsure whether to feel pity for all those partying souls, or angry at the denial and self-denial going on or sad about prevention messages for HIV negative men being labelled as un-PC.
Here's a short extract:
"[Bay Area psychologist named Walt] Odets said the gay community split in 1985, the moment a reliable H.I.V. test was available. “Before that day, everyone was in it together,” he said. “Nobody knew who had it and everyone acknowledged that it was a horror. And then, in April of 1985, we started protecting people who had H.I.V. And we did that by normalizing infection - and we have done that all along. It has completely compromised prevention work, to the extent that when the aids Health Project, in San Francisco, put up a banner outside its facility that said ‘Stay Healthy Stay Negative’ the gay public was incensed. Men wrote in and said, ‘I have H.I.V. and I am perfectly healthy. How dare you imply that I am not?’
While it has always been important to protect and support H.I.V.-infected men in the gay community, Odets argues that it has become difficult to teach men who test negative how essential it is for them to remain uninfected. “This is not about making positive men feel good about themselves,” Odets said. “It’s about protecting H.I.V.-negative men.” He told me that he had even conducted workshops where it was nearly impossible to shift the primary prevention message from supporting positive men to remaining uninfected. “There is just way too much guilt. Too much discomfort because what you are saying to a positive man is ‘I don’t want to be like you.’ ”
Daniel Carlson agrees. “There is some level of guilt about not living with the disease,” he said. “About staying negative. People will say, ‘Oh, look at you going around and glorifying your negative status.’ I don’t go around and say, ‘Hey, I tested negative today, joy to the world.’ And, believe me, when people test positive they do talk about it and they get support. People like me - we keep our mouths shut.”

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