The Bug Chaser's Tale: An Interview
March 3, 2014
This article originally appeared on PositiveLite.com, Canada's Online HIV Magazine.
"It's my party and I'll die if I want to." -- Jamie
"Hi, I've got neuropathy in my feet and it's killing me ... any ideas?" -- Jamie
That's how it started. I've been exchanging emails with Jamie for about 9 months now; at first not for any other reason than he has neuropathy and has got it bad. He has followed the same frustrating path that many people do when faced with burning feet and loss of sensation in toes. Each treatment is equally as ineffective as the last and like many of us he has ended up on opiates which have finally given him some relief.
However, this story has nothing to do with neuropathy and everything to do with the fact that he was a bug chaser and having chased the bug, has tracked it down and it chases him these days. He's annoyed that he's now positive -- not because he's positive, but because the chase is over and that was the kick.
After some discussion, I asked him if he was prepared to do a sort of interview about bug chasing and what it means to him personally. I emphasized that many people have a fascination for what drives people to do it and that his story may help others understand the phenomenon a little better. He eventually agreed but the name is changed in case any of his friends or family recognize the details.
As it happens, I'm not sure anyone will be any the wiser about bug chasing after reading this. I'm certainly not but I wasn't prepared to be judgmental; I just wanted to know a bit more about why anyone would do something seemingly so illogical; perverse even. Jamie's answers don't reveal any great mysteries, except maybe that the human brain and its urges sometimes just follow their own path. I'll leave it up to you to come to any conclusions you wish.
Dave: You've been HIV positive for about two years now; has that changed how you feel about having actively chased it for so long?
Jamie: I'm pissed off that I've got neuropathy because of the virus or the meds but the worst thing is how sad I am that I'm not a chaser any more. Being HIV positive hasn't changed my life that much. I don't mind taking the pills and apart from the burning feet, I pretty much go on as usual. The problem is that sex doesn't give me the same thrill any more.
Dave: Is that because HIV has put you off sex, or because you've got nothing left to chase and part of the thrill has disappeared?
Jamie: Exactly! I used to really get a kick out of wondering if the last sex I had was the one that converted me. It was like Russian roulette and I should imagine it's much the same feeling -- wondering if the next bullet would be the live one. Now all the bullets are safe, so the excitement's gone. HIV hasn't put me off sex but with nothing to chase, it's just not as exciting.
Dave: [Half jokingly] Well you could always become a hepatitis C chaser!
Jamie: God no, hep C's really dangerous. I know someone with hep C and he goes through hell with all that treatment.
Dave: How can you say Hep C's dangerous and HIV isn't? 'Cos that's what you're saying in effect.
Jamie: Yeah but as I said, HIV hasn't changed my life much -- the meds take care of that. There's no cure for hep C and the side effects of the treatment and what it can do to your liver is really scary.
Dave: So you thought that if you finally caught HIV, you'd be okay and all you'd need to do was go on the medication? So where was the danger, or the thrill of chasing the virus? Why was it so exciting when you knew you'd probably have reasonable health if you caught it?
Jamie: I don't know. I guess if you look at it like that, it shouldn't have been so exciting but it was like being in an exclusive club. Bug chasing was chasing HIV. Then every bit of sex I had was a real turn on because I knew there was a chance of getting it. Nowadays, I can't even get an erection most of the time. It's just not the same.
Dave: So the sex itself didn't turn you on; it was the prospect of converting that did it for you? When did you start having these feelings, or these desires?
Jamie: I read about it on the internet and watched some porn videos about seeding and breeding and bug chasing. They were wild. Before that, sex was okay I guess and I could do everything just like everyone else but when I knew there was a risk involved, it was like, doubly erotic. The first time I did it bareback, I couldn't stop shaking with excitement. The guy thought I was just nervous but I wasn't, I was just so turned on at the prospect of getting HIV.
Dave: You do understand that most people find bug chasing very difficult to understand don't you? Most people think it's totally wrong and that you may be psychologically unbalanced. Some even think you're acting as a criminal.
Jamie: Was ... acting like a criminal. I'm poz now, so I guess they'll say I got what I deserved. I knew what people think and I couldn't care less. It's my life and it was my risk.
Dave: Are you still barebacking now that you're positive?
Jamie: Listen, let me set the record straight here; I only ever had sex with positive guys and I still only have sex with positive guys. I never put anybody else at risk. I'm not completely stupid. I was chasing HIV, so why would I have sex with negative people?
Dave: Okay, point taken but let me ask you this: Would you have sex with a bug chaser who is still negative?
Jamie: What are you trying to make out? You sound like a tabloid reporter trying to trap me into confessions. To answer your question truthfully: I don't know; it hasn't happened yet; or at least as far as I know. When I was chasing, I told guys I was already positive, so it may already have happened but short of using a lie detector, how can you tell if someone's lying? I sense you're going to repeat the question anyway and honestly I don't know. I know what it's like to want the bug so desperately and I wanted poz guys to take pity on me and help me, so maybe I should do the same for other guys who are just as desperate to get converted.
Dave: So what you're saying is that everybody is responsible for their own health and their own attitudes to HIV?
Jamie: Yes exactly. It makes me angry when poz people get criminalized for having unprotected sex even when the other person doesn't get infected. Everybody knows what the risks are. If you don't want HIV then you wear a condom -- what's easier than that! Why should people be put in prison because their sex partner didn't take precautions themselves? Pretending to be all innocent; it makes me sick! I could bring a court case against the guy who pozzed me up; how twisted would that be!
Dave: Okay, on a different tack. How did you go about chasing the virus? Did you just have random encounters and hope it would happen, or was it more planned than that?
Jamie: Oh no, it's not that easy, you know, and if you advertise yourself as a chaser, you get all sorts of shit thrown at you. There's really not that many people who bug chase; you've got to know where to look. I went to a lot of parties where people were prepared to give the bug and the others were there to get it. The idea is to have as much unsafe sex as possible and hope that you get pozzed from one of them but it was nearly always the same people in my area and you could never say that the parties were over-subscribed. I sometimes had to travel a long way to join in.
Dave: Some people call it a suicide wish and others call it "informed consent"; what do you think?
Jamie: Maybe in the first years of the virus it was a sort of suicide thing but when the combination therapies came in, I think it's definitely more "informed consent" The kick was in the Russian roulette aspect of it but I don't think I ever wanted to die.
Dave: Would you have done it if that was a real possibility?
Jamie: That's a difficult question but a bit irrelevant in my case: I knew I probably wasn't going to die. I don't know, maybe I would still have done it because the urge is so strong you know; it's something out of your own control.
Dave: How do you react to the accusation that you're spreading AIDS?
Jamie: How was I spreading AIDS? All the people I had sex with were already positive. I spread it to myself but I haven't knowingly spread it to anyone else. I think people look at headlines and think it's happening all over the scene. It's not. Barebacking is everywhere but 99% of barebackers aren't bug chasers; they just love sex without condoms and let's face it, who doesn't?
Dave: It's clear that your bug chasing was a conscious decision and because you chased within a limited group so to speak, you could say that you were serosorting in a way. However, do you think that a lot of people may be bug chasing subconsciously and aren't really aware of it?
Jamie: Ha, ha, serosorting; yeah, I suppose that's true. As for other people's motives, I can't speak for other people. Maybe they do unconsciously look to get infected by barebacking but then there must be deep-seated reasons. Maybe they need to see a psychologist to sort out their childhood traumas or something!
This article was provided by TheBody.com.
Comment by: Demy T
Sun., Mar. 8, 2015 at 9:46 pm EDT
I feel awful saying that, but I find Jamie is a kind of hypocrite. After so much stigmatization and so much pain that has been caused due to this virus, he and others try deliberately to contract it knowing that the treatement is there to pick them up. It is a disgrace to those who have died all these decades, to their loved ones and to those who contracted it accidentally. the only moral thing to do is to decline treatment. Live your life as you chose. Don't exploit research and world efforts aiming to make this world a better and safer place
Comment by: NMG
Fri., Mar. 28, 2014 at 12:07 pm EDT
Thank you for the article it really opened up my eyes.
Comment by: Devin
Thu., Mar. 27, 2014 at 6:02 am EDT
It just irritates me that someone sought out so desperately to obtain a virus that I would give just about anything to be rid of. There is nothing sexy or erotic about having an uncurable virus. And also, there have actually been many people that have been cured from Hep C with the newer meds, so "Jamie" is clearly misinformed in that respect. HIV is a huge burdon to live with; as gay men we already have a small segment of the population to choose from, add HIV to the mix and you've become a minority within a minority and further complicated dating. I'm trying my hardest not to judge this man but despite my efforts I find myself questioning this man's sanity, as well as his intellect.
Comment by: Philly Joe
Wed., Mar. 26, 2014 at 6:11 pm EDT
I don't know what to make of this story. Treating this person's inclination to get HIV as if it was a generic condition--"bug chaser"--falsely suggests some sort of commonly understandable experience. I don't deny that such a person could exist, but I've never met anyone of this sort. He clearly has some mental issues, and not enough meaningful to do with his time. We are just dignifying this in calling it "bug chasing," something that is about as foreign to me as the planet Pandora.
Some of the comments to this article, however, betray a fundamental ignorance about the condition of having HIV. While I don't condone punitive actions against anyone who is supposedly trying to get HIV, let's keep in mind that many people, myself included, got HIV decades ago when the mode of transmission and prevention was not properly understood. The notion that all people with HIV somehow represent a unified group to be criminalized or heroized ignores the diverse life situations that brought us here. I feel nothing in common with this so-called bug-chaser, but of course I support him in getting treatment for his condition.
The time-warp quality of this article, characteristic of much of what gets posted on this web site, seems out of synch with the reality of living with HIV nowadays. This person was allegedly trying to get HIV, an irrational aim by any measure. But nothing is mentioned about the fact that having a fully suppressed viral load basically stops transmission. So, was this person trying to find only people not on treatment? Is his virus now not undetectable?
And nowhere is it mentioned why the treatment or even HIV itself should be causing neuropathy; this is like reading someone's journal from 20 years ago. We are not told why this person is taking a HIV medication that causes this condition, nor why this person has not switched to something else. A bit flip or tongue-in-cheek, I think.
Comment by: Melissa
Sun., Mar. 23, 2014 at 4:47 am EDT
Smokers pay higher health premiums, why shouldn't those who engage in high risk sex? There are many people born with, or who develop diseases through no fault of their own. I pay higher premiums for Alcohol/Drug dependency treatment, even though I'll never use it. That's the way insurance is set up. "Jamie's" behavior is despicable when you consider the number of people who died waiting for a "cure" in years past.
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Comment by: Seer Clearly
Tue., Mar. 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm EDT
Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately assess which people are having unsafe sex. Very few are willing to admit it, certainly much fewer than actually do it. There is also disagreement among health care practitioners as to what is "unsafe." So what you're suggesting is that we penalize those who admit it, rather than those who actually do it. Really, the only conclusive evidence that someone had unsafe sex is a HIV positive blood test. Even then, they may have been infected through circumstances beyond their control. All of these qualifications are not present with smoking.
Of course, charging people more because they have a disease it itself not ethical, since it presumes intent on their part to get it. (Some may consider it moral, but morality is relative to the perceiver, and often based on dogma rather than scientific fact.)
These reasons alone should be sufficient to make this a bad idea. However, there is another: promoting moral judgement of people with a disease is a disincentive to admission that they have it AND a disincentive for them to get treatment, both of which will promote transmission of the disease. So charging premiums based on any kind of objective evidence of risk of HIV infection is a public health nightmare.
Comment by: Marc Paige
(Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Sat., Mar. 22, 2014 at 7:45 pm EDT
I can't help but think, after reading these stories, that in some cases it might be a profound internal homophobia that drives some bug chasers. After all, as gay people, most of us are taught or learn at an early age that the world judges us as sad or bad. Could bug chasing also be a manifestation of an attitude that, as a gay man, they deserve to have bad things happen to them; they deserve HIV disease?
Comment by: Joey
Sat., Mar. 22, 2014 at 6:21 pm EDT
I don't know what to make of this piece at all. Part of me wants to condemn this guy for what he did because I think it has to be wrong somehow. On the other hand it's really cool to read a real life story instead of a description of what bug chasing is and because of that,I sort of get it although I don't have those drives myself. I do like barebacking though so maybe that doesn't make me that much different. it's really confusing but at least this interview makes you think about the things that are involved.
Comment by: Berry
Fri., Mar. 21, 2014 at 3:57 am EDT
I too was a bug chaser and thought it was the most exciting thing anybody could do. For me the kick was knowing that it was so wrong and that everybody else would hate me for it. Then I got infected and it nearly broke me down not physical but in my head because I realized what I'd done to myself. People said serves you right man and I knew they were right. This guy Jamie actually has helped me because he seem to have his stuff together. You get what life serves you up I guess but it's not easy to come to terms with.
Comment by: Jerry Lagonda
Fri., Mar. 14, 2014 at 3:15 am EDT
Why is the Body setting up social misfits like this guy to be heroes all of a sudden? This sort of behavior is what gives us all a bad name.
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Comment by: Dave R
Sat., Mar. 15, 2014 at 4:50 am EDT
I'm sorry to disagree with you but I don't think this interview sets Jamie up to be a hero at all. Journalism is all about presenting all sides of a story and letting the reader come to their own conclusions. I think we have to be careful not to be people in glass houses throwing stones. The world is full of people with differing views and behaviours to our own. Trying to understand why that is, without judgement, is the key to increasing our own knowledge and adjusting our behaviour if necessary. To call Jamie a 'social misfit' only says that his behaviour is different to your own standards but I really think we need to look at ourselves very closely before passing judgement on others - are we all that perfect and have we never indulged in what others may call 'anti-social' behaviour? I somehow doubt it. As people living with HIV, we're bound to have offended somebody, somewhere don't you think?
Comment by: Seriously?!?
Wed., Mar. 26, 2014 at 11:26 am EDT
I disagre Dave. The preoccupation of this site and others with bugchasers confirms the worst about what negative people suspect about those with HIV, that we got this disease by looking for it or by being unusually reckless. The truth is, I've yet to meet a single bugchaser in real life, and most of the poz guys I know aren't different than the negative ones.
MOST people who contract this disease get it from a combination of bad luck and the same lapses of judgement all people are occasionally guilty of. We didn't have a fetish for the virus, get off on the risk or think it was a joke. The underpublished truth is that most poz people who are diagnosed and treated early are probably MORE responsible and health conscious than average.
When this site focuses on the suicidal, people who think it's a game or those who habitually don't use condoms with strangers "because they don't like them", it spits in the face of every single normal person who happens to be HIV+. It winks at the term "deathstyle". "A Bug Chaser's Tale" may get page views, but it is terrible journalism and highly stigmatizing.
Comment by: Jay Squires
Sat., Mar. 8, 2014 at 11:41 am EST
As a county HIV Youth worker, I've met two bug chasers recently and both of them said almost exactly the same things that the subject of this interview says. It's all about the chase and the sexual tension caused by that need but after conversion the sense of disappointment leaves them confused and unsure where that leaves them sexually. That suggests that the virus is only a vehicle which services a drive. It has little to do with disease but the need for something others have and they can't. Psychologists may eventually discover that this is no different an addiction than smoking, drinking and even kleptomania. The fact that it involves HIV makes it a more emotive subject than most but the treatment and therapies needed may be just the same as for other addictions.
It needs to be brought into the open much more and without prior discrimination.
Comment by: realhonor
Thu., Mar. 6, 2014 at 11:29 am EST
Jaimie clearly indicates that his story of bug chaser will not necessarily bring much enlightenment on the issue. While I agree with him, I congratulate him for giving the world his insight on the issue. In the heterosecual black community of which I am a member, most people have probably done so in some sub-conscious levels that have little to do with childhood trauma. There was an article more specifically related to the black community, talking about the sub-conscious spread of HIV/AIDS. She emphasizes gender discrimination, poverty and other social factors as the root causes of the problems. Most people, probably men, that lie about having AIDS were doing so just to get leverage in the negotiation of sex but not as bug chasers. They believe the women were using HIV as a subterfuge. I heard of 2 sympathetic cases of a real bug chaser. Actually I heard of the story from the teller who admitted doing so. He was in love with his partner. And the HIV partner were denying him sex because he was so afraid of infecting his loved one. He admitted putting himself in harm ways to allow his partner to be more comfortable. After the partner's death, all the surviving lover talked about was his intoxicating love for the deceased man. Something, you do not hear, many sufferers of AIDS were the ones denying themselves affectionate, intimate sexual contacts for fear of spreading AIDS. I also heard a woman who willingly did that for her husband. I said willingly because I have heard/read of many cases in which the girlfriends/wives were being physically forced or blackmailed. I also read about cases in underdeveloped countries where the parties were being paid to do so for scientific studies.
Comment by: Andy
Tue., Mar. 4, 2014 at 3:06 pm EST
People should have to pay for their $30,000+ a year medical treatments from getting HIV. Then they wouldn't think it's some sort of game. That money to keep this man alive is poaching resources that could be helping people born with diseases or defects.
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Comment by: Dave R
Thu., Mar. 6, 2014 at 2:12 am EST
I see here that you've repeated the comment you posted on PositiveLite, so I'll do the same because my reaction hasn't changed:-
So, let me get this straight; you want all people who get HIV to pay $30,000 a year for their treatment? And you assume we all think it's a game we play? I take it you don't have HIV yourself and live the perfect life, free of smoking, drinking, recreational drugs, fast food and other human weaknesses that would put a strain on health budgets; otherwise you would be ashamed to make such comments.
Not everybody is perfect. We make mistakes and bad judgements and sometimes we can't help making those decisions because we're hot wired to behave in a certain way but throwing out hate-filled opinions is not the way to make people change.
Comment by: Jaz
Tue., Mar. 18, 2014 at 8:26 pm EDT
I Think Andy meant that people who intentionally contract HIV should be mandated to pay for their meds. Still, it would be difficult to prove that someone did not. And those that do contract it intentionally aren't going to admit it, if they will have to supply the funds themselves. So, essentially, this solution is still pretty stupid and not a solution at all.
Comment by: Dave R
(Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Thu., Mar. 20, 2014 at 4:55 am EDT
But then you'll have to mandate heavy smokers, over-eaters, alcoholics, drug users and others for their own health care costs. The problem with intentional self-harm is that if you try to legislate against it, where does the line end?
Comment by: fogcityjohn
(San Francisco, CA)
Tue., Mar. 25, 2014 at 6:29 pm EDT
So, Andy, are you willing to pay for the cost of any medical treatment you might require if you're involved in a car accident? Because we all know that driving is a risk. Statistically speaking, a certain percentage of motorists will be injured (or even killed) in accidents on the road. Those injuries can happen even if you're the safest driver in the world, since you can't control the negligent or reckless driving of others. By getting into a car, you assume a well-known risk. According to your logic, you should have to foot the bill for your treatment if you're injured in an auto accident.
I'm guessing you won't agree. You'll say that driving is different from sex and that somehow taking one risk is okay while the other is not. But that's just a value judgment on the risk behavior in question. Why should we pay for the treatment of, say, a person who plays extreme sports just for the thrill of it and gets injured? Why would such a person be any less responsible for his injury than a guy who has unprotected sex? In fact, there's no real difference. The only thing that separates how we view these things is the way we feel about the underlying behavior. And way too many people, including plenty of gay men, think physical intimacy between two men is of no value whatsoever. Hence it's never worth any risk.
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HIV, Neuropathy and More: Avoiding Becoming a Nervous Wreck
English but living since 1986 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. HIV+ since 2004 and a neuropathy patient since 2007. I've seen quite a bit, done quite a bit and bought quite a few t-shirts if you know what I mean; but all that baggage makes me what I am today: a better person I believe, despite it all.
Arriving on TheBody.com, originally, was the end result of getting neuropathy as a side effect of the medication, or the virus, or both. I found it such a vague disease and discovered very little information that wasn't commercially tinged, or scientifically impenetrable, so I decided to create a daily Blog and a website where practical information, hints, tips and experiences for patients could be gathered together in one place.
However, I was also given the chance to write about other aspects of living with HIV and have now contributed more articles about those than about neuropathy. That said, neuropathy remains my 'core subject' although one which unfortunately dominates both my life and that of many other HIV-positive people.
I'm not a doctor or qualified medical expert, just someone with neuropathy and HIV who has spent the last few years researching the illness and trying to create information sources for people who want to know more.
I also have my own personal website and write for PositiveLite.com.
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