Listening to certain gay pundits and many public health officials around the country you could be led to believe that safe sex for gay men is a relic of the 90’s. It does seem that transmission of HIV is on the rise in the gay male community, here in Denver and across the country. The debate on how this should be addressed is heating up and it is imperative that we as a community participate in and direct the discussion. The response can not be left to largely heterosexual public health officials.
One of the amazing things I hear occasionally from newly diagnosed gay men is that they personally do not know anyone who has died of AIDS. My initial gut reaction is “well where the hell have you been!” For some of these men the issue is simply one of age, they were only eight during the peak dying times. Another issue here though is that as individuals and as a community we do not discuss HIV much anymore. Ignoring the issue though has not made it go away.
Condoms really do not break as often as reported and the fact that condoms were not used to begin with is probably under reported. That we might want to hedge our bets and fabricate a bit for the health care provider or the health department may be understandable.
What is not acceptable though is not discussing with our sexual partners our HIV status particularly when we know what it is or that there is a good chance we might be positive but haven’t been tested. Any excuse to not discuss the issue of HIV status often leads to unexamined assumptions that can have tragic consequences. If you are both thinking “well, he would certainly say something if he were positive” and proceeding on the basis of each other’s silence on the issue, then very important things may be left unsaid and the condom stays in the package.
In the 1970’s Harry Hay pulled together a group of gay men in northern New Mexico and they called themselves “A Circle of Loving Companions”. In my mind the only long term solution to the “AIDS Problem” in our community is viewing each other, always, as loving companions, even when it’s only for a night or a few quick minutes in a video arcade or park. There is always time to approach one another with respect.
Something that I hear often, and that I am sure it is a real problem, is the fear of being ostracized and rejected if you share your positive HIV status. Well let me throw down the gauntlet to my positive brothers and say the issue of HIV needs to be on the table for discussion with any sexual encounter and we need to lead the way! One of our amazing strengths as gay men is how we have handled rejection by the heterosexual world. That rejection started for most of us at a very early age, but most often we handled it with great courage and skill. Let’s bring those skills and strengths on home! The main issue isn’t a broken condom or even no condom, its broken communication.