Katrina and HIV: our blighted response

Bill Weintraub

Bill Weintraub

Katrina and HIV: our blighted response


The paralysis that blighted our response to the disaster may be less disturbing than a broader type of paralysis that the calamity exposed: As a society, we seem unwilling or incapable of confronting our most ominous, long-term risks - especially if confronting them might require inconvenience or sacrifice or simply challenging the status quo.

These words, by John Sugg, appeared in an article about New Orleans and the failure to prepare for a hurricane like Katrina.

But they could apply equally to anal and HIV:

"...we seem unwilling or incapable of confronting our most ominous, long-term risks - especially if confronting them might require inconvenience or sacrifice or simply challenging the status quo."

In the face of AIDS, which among "men who have sex with men" (MSM) is an anally-transmitted disease, the gay male and AIDS prevention communities have resolutely refused to address the issue of anal penetration itself.

Instead, both communities have concentrated on preserving the anal status quo while attempting to minimize the damage by encouraging men to use condoms.

The thinking is, and always has been, that eventually HIV / AIDS will be cured or preventable through vaccination, and that then gay men will be able to return to unlimited, unprotected, promiscuous anal "sex."

Fact is, however, that even if and when HIV has been conquered, the anatomy and physiology of the anus and rectum will not have changed.

It is that anatomy and physiology which renders the anus exceptionally susceptible to HIV and virtually every other sexually transmitted pathogen when penetrated.

That vulnerability to infection constitutes, in John Suggs' phrase, an "ominous, long-term risk"; yet no one is willing to even talk about it, let alone address it by "challenging the status quo."

No one, that is, except ourselves.

And for challenging that status quo, we've been attacked, pilloried, censored, and marginalized.

As a consequence, there are today more gay and bi men infected with HIV than ever before in history, and their numbers increase daily.

And just as it is reasonable to assume that, given the increasing number and severity of hurricanes, the US will face more challenges like Katrina;

so is it reasonable to expect that there will be other anally-vectored MSM epidemics, of terrifying proportion and effect.

What's NOT reasonable is to think that, given the anatomy and physiology of the anus, hundreds of thousands of gay and bi men can engage in promiscuous anal penetration -- without any ill consequences.

That's NOT reasonable.

Yet that's what the gay male establishment thinks -- or, properly put, doesn't think.

Because that establishment doesn't think about this; it just keeps its collective head in the sand.

Some years ago, and much against my will, I was made to attend a seven-year-long seminar which I came to think of as AIDS 101.

AIDS 101, though a grueling course, had a simple theme:

The universe is an unforgiving place.

Have the wrong sort of sex with the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time -- and you'll suffer and die.

The buttboyz have yet to learn that lesson.

And not having learned it the first time, they'll be required to repeat the class over and over and over again.

Until they finally figure it out.

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