WHO AM I? PART 1
More than what I do with my dick!
So where to start with this seemingly important project called “HIV prevention” in the face of today’s realities? Defining just who you are addressing the prevention message to I suppose might be helpful. If you want to get a message across it is helpful that those for whom it is meant know they are being addressed! This particular dilemma in regards to homosexuals at risk for AIDS has taken an interesting turn in the last decade with the incorporation of the phrase “men who have sex with men (MSM)”. This phrase I think was cooked up at the CDC by a bunch of folks with not enough to do! I currently have contact with a significant number of homosexual men newly infected with HIV from various races and many from the under-class. I have yet to have one of them identify himself as “a man who has sex with men”.
Perhaps I rant too much about this point, but I can only blame the lesbian feminists who so influenced me in the 70’s (Thanks Carol and Karen!). Their message was quite clear on this matter and it was essentially that you give someone else tremendous power over you if you allow them to identify you with terms they choose.
Another piece of personal experience that makes me very distrustful of phrases such as “not gay identified”, which I feel to be nothing more than unexamined PC crap, is my work for many years with many men of color and my discovery of their very significant homosexual identities, and obviously “gay” may not be the right word here either. Though it did not always look familiar to me at first glance, being very white and middle class as I am, I have learned to recognize and appreciate the rich components of “otherness” in brothers of color and to see and recognize many common themes , behaviors, expressions and world views common to all homosexual peoples. Many men of color have biological family close at hand which makes a public and easily shared queer persona difficult and they also frequently experience issues of discrimination based on their race so why go looking for one more reason to get shit on.
However, the universal homosexual experiences of social isolation and gender role nonconformance were always there and very impacting for the individual, if I only took the time to look. These shared experiences either lead to an early suicide or most frequently fuel integration into some sort of queer sub-culture, unfortunately often primarily sexual in nature, since we are constantly told the only difference between them and us is what we do in bed. This is not much encouragement or support to explore more depth to the strong inclination of “otherness” that pre-occupies our every waking moment after about age 7!
This MSM phrase came along in the early 90’s as a larger phenomenon best described as the “de-gaying” of AIDS. There were some obvious political and fund-raising advantages to this, but at the same time and ever since it has helped divert too much of the focus away from the group most at risk of HIV infection in this town for sure, gay men. I contend that those most specifically disenfranchised from the AIDS prevention message in this regard have been gay men of color. My point is that the homosexual male community needs to acknowledge AIDS as a real and ongoing problem for us here in Denver Colorado in 2002. This is not comfortable to do but the alternative seems to have had dire consequences and may in part be responsible for the resurgence of new infections. There is a crying need to again focus on gay men with very specific prevention messages and not dilute it with the “there are no risk groups only risky behaviors” implying everyone is potentially at risk, so please just pass the condoms and everything will be OK! This is total crap!
How homosexuals self identify is a big can of worms. I most frequently use the term “gay” (I must say I also like “queer” though many people find it offensive) and I do believe, based on years of work with these queer folk, the label “gay” is a rather broadly accepted term across both class and racial lines. I admit it may not always speak directly to the experience of all but amazingly nearly all speak it! Let me tell you there are plenty of really quite “gay identified” folks of all races and classes who choose not to share that identity with biological family, fellow church members, health care providers etc. etc. But boy that is no reason to turn them into an MSM just because they are not comfortable sharing it with you! I think, without getting into too much psycho babble here, that what is often muddying these waters is the internalized racism of many white providers that does not allow them to see men of color as queer, but rather only sexual studs perceived to have much bigger dicks than their own, and why would they do anything with those appendages but fuck women. Or perhaps the issue is homophobia and in an attempt to not be “racist” many AIDS providers refrain from identifying these men as homosexual, which remains a pejorative thing in the minds of most heterosexuals. I don’t know for sure but we are definitely paying the price for seeing homosexual peoples as always white men!