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read_me.gif Southern Voice Washington Blade

HIV Status A Growing Wedge For Gay Men

Creates another division

by j. brotherlove

via Washington Blade / SoVo

As gay men struggle to make sense of steadily rising HIV cases, the rift between how those who are HIV-negative and HIV-positive interact is growing, especially in the black gay community.

Recently, Clay Cane called into question an upcoming social gathering "HIV – UB2" in New York City that "offer(s) support, empowerment, awareness and understanding so HIV- people can create the same support network that HIV+ people have".

The comments section is overflowing with passionate comments ranging from disbelief to support to disgust to praise over this type of event. Recurring points of contest are verification of HIV status; further stigmatization of HIV-positive men; and a possible underlying excuse to have unprotected sex.

Understanding The Event’s Purpose

I support any group’s desire to meet amongst themselves. With so much attention paid to HIV/AIDS in the gay community a support group for HIV-negative men to talk about experiences related to staying negative is a great idea.

But is this a support group or a dating association? I’m unclear. A gathering of gay men in a bar setting, each assuming they are meeting other HIV-negative men, sounds potentially dangerous to me.

Verification A Concern

It’s no secret that unprotected (raw/bareback) sex is on the rise. Many gay men use a partner’s presumed HIV-negative status to "reduce" their chances of contracting HIV while engaging in raw sex.

That’s a serious concern considering HIV positive people often hide or lie about their status due to fear, denial, peer pressure and shame. This type of social event isn’t likely to change that behavior.

In addition, many HIV-infected people aren’t even aware of their status. How would guests of this event know who really is negative? Marz of My Teenage Years asks "Will they stand at the door with cotton swabs and perform HIV test at the door to prove the accuracy of the partygoers?"

Stigmatizing Language

What makes the upcoming social event disturbing for me has less to do with its goal and more with the wording of the ad as in following:

For us to win the war against HIV, we must understand that HIV- people are the future. If you are HIV- and wish to meet other HIV- people, join us. It’s time to move forward and to reach our goal - the END OF HIV.”

Okay, that sounds creepy. HIV negative people are the future? This type of language drives an especially damaging wedge between black gay men who are already struggling with top vs. bottom, masculine vs. femme, out vs. DL divisions. It’s a wonder we get together at all.

Clay writes:

The language is the equivalent to Eugenics and the "master race" dogma. As if to "win this war” on those dirty, contaminated HIV-positive people, they should all be sent to a compound in a land far, far away while we wait for them and all of their HIV-positive children to die off.

Obviously, we are not doing enough to address the HIV issue. There are a number of steps we need to take to decrease the spread of HIV including eradicating homophobia to reduce HIV among blacks. An orchestrated event where HIV-negative guests can cherry-pick is not a good enough strategy for reinforcing personal responsibility.

A Need Identified

Yet, there is a definite need for gay men who are HIV negative to network, discuss issues around staying negative, and support each each other, especially with HIV on the rise among young gay men.

An anonymous commenter at Clay’s site wrote:

I don’t want to get HIV. I don’t. And I believe seeking out partners who are HIV- like me, and then continuing to practice safe sex, is my best chance to stay negative. If that makes me a bad person in your eyes, well too bad. I have to do what’s right for me.

His position is valid and common. But we’re learning that ‘HIV-negative’ serosorters increase their risk of infection because of the prevalence of undiagnosed, acute HIV infections. In other words, in an effort to "protect" themselves, attendees of events like HIV- UB2 could actually be increasing their chances of contracting HIV.

Working Together & Accepting Responsibility

Contrary to what the event ad states, the only way to curtail the HIV infection rate is for everyone to work together and support citizens regardless of HIV status.

I have lived in two, major American cities with large, black gay populations; and with numerous associates in AIDS Service Organizations. I have friends on all sides of the issue including, some who refuse to date anyone whose HIV status differs from their own. I support all of their choices because nobody can live your life for you.

I respect anyone’s reasons for ruling out potential partners no matter how narrow the filter. It’s your choice. Of course, this practice comes with the acceptance that these must-have/can’t be filters decrease our chances of making true connections with wonderful people. I try to leave as much room as possible for love and important friendships to walk through my door.

pub: 09/26/2007 | previous entry | next entry | feedback x 8 | subscribe
1. different opinion

I posted the comment over on Clay’s site asserting my right to date whomever I want. I’m still miffed by the reactions of some, many of whom are HIV+.

If the gathering had been for “Black gay men interested in dating only other Black gay men, because of the large number of single Black gay men out there unable to connect with one another and who are not interested in interracial dating” would any of the dissenters be complaining? Of course not. They would all assert their right to associate with their own.

A party for HIV- men is not being anti-HIV+, it’s just being pro-HIV-.

Wow “D.O.”, that was quick… I’m actually surprised by how many comments are opposed to the event; I would have guessed the reverse.

As a 40 year-old black gay man I never imagined this flip of assertive HIV-positive and defensive HIV-negative men.

That said, I’m doing my best to stay balanced. I really do respect people’s need to connect with whomever they wish. I’m just sensitive to how we use language to express ourselves.

3. different opinion

I am not insensitive to the rejection often felt by HIV+ men, which I believe is at the root of the comments opposing this party. There is almost a “why are you excluding us, we’re still good people” aspect to many of the responses. All completely understandable.

But for those of us who are negative and want to stay that way, the best way to do that is to a) date those who are also HIV-, b) practice safe sex, c) get tested regularly, and d) stay monogamous with our partners. Even safe sex with someone HIV+ creates a higher degree of risk.

I’m not hating on my HIV+ brothers, I’m trying to protect myself.

4. Jeff

You know j, I have to agree with the first poster. I’m older than you are and most of the guys who go to such an event and even in the dating scene, which I’m not in. I saw the scourge of HIV and lost some dear friends who I miss to this day. Now you can live with HIV, in the 1980’s, it was a death sentence and a nasty one at that.

I personally would not date anyone that was positive, but, at the same time, don’t think people should be marked with a scarlet letter if they are. I don’t think its discrimination, its called looking out for your own best interests.

And, all that said, I’m amazed and shocked that at the fast rise of positive young people, and for the life of me can’t figure out why unsafe sex seems to be going on in 2007. And, we all have to figure out a way to combat it.

Yes, this event raises a great debate. Whether the word choice was appropriate, it at least serves as a catalyst for a very important discussion. Even if we assume we’re with someone who is HIV negative, how many times have we verbally posed the question before hitting the sheets? That’s why if we choose to be sexual beings, than we must treat every encounter as if our partner is HIV positive. Even if he says he’s not, we have no 100% guarantee. So protecting ourselves is simple; use a condom each and everytime. If anyone out there is naive enough to think they have never slept with an HIV positive man, then think again.

Aaron, that’s my approach (which is not to invalidate anybody else’s) because there is no way to know someone’s HIV status without actually taking the test with them and seeing the results; rinse and repeat.

For the record, I’m ambivalent about the event. I’m not even terribly upset about the exclusionary nature; exclusion can be a good thing at times.

I understand the intended purpose; I just don’t think it’s realistic or a good idea to group people in this way as a means to find a mate.

I’ve actually attended a similar social setting in the past and felt uncomfortable because the “status thing” underscored the entire evening and creeped me out.

In my experience someone’s HIV status has made for a poor test of romantic compatibility. Your mileage may vary.

At the end of the day, it’s a personal decision. But at least more of us are addressing it.

7. KBJr.

I’m actually a HIV- man in a committed relationship with an HIV+ man, and I’ve gotten the obvious question a lot: “Why would you put yourself at such a risk?” My opinion on the matter is, whether cynical or not, at least I KNOW the status of my partner. There’s no mistake about it, we MUST have protected sex, end of story. I tend to believe that in this day in age, because its such an elusive problem, you have to believe that every man is HIV+ when it comes to sexual contact. And the guessing game could very well become the end game.

And I agree with J; I see the argument both ways.

i’m a bit confused. is the gathering in question a dating party, sex party or just a “support” group? also, if this is indeed a sex party, is it a bareback sex party?

i agree that the wording is a bit exclusionary, but the language has been used for quite some time.

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