March 10, 2014
... Or have my values been colonized by the heteronormative hegemony of a previous generation?
In my home state, you cannot graduate from college without satisfying a "Diversity Requirement." When my turn came, I chose "Native American History." Truly, the most depressing of all "Diversity" you can study, but I was introduced to a powerful sociological concept known as "colonization." It is a force we are all subjected to. Namely, during childhood, when norms and social morays are instilled (or, for First Peoples, instilled at the end of a gun or bad treaty). It can be extremely difficult as an adult to escape from these "colonizing forces" of our youth.
I think the initial thrill for me of being gay, way way way way back when, was knowing it was socially deviant, a faux-pas. After all, nothing's hotter than being naughty. Within the first decade of being out, that sense of deviancy wore off and I settled into my skin; chilled out a bit.
During those first 10 years out of the closet, however: I was at my most innuendous, lascivious, voracious, and a whole host of other Triple-Word-Score words that for all intents and purposes I'll just call "slutty." It is mostly for this reason that my recent diagnosis is probably the greatest anti-climax of my life.
I skirted serious danger for 20 years. This unfortunately did not mean that HIV did not touch my life; rather, within my first year out as a young teenager in the early 1990s, I was exposed to men all over the spectrum of infection and decay, including:
+the man who had wasted away to skin and bones, resigned to death;
+the man who had tested positive in the mid-80s and lived, terrified, as he watched and waited for the symptoms of decline to come knocking;
+the closeted man who became infected by a prostitute/hookup during "happy hours" in the city before commuting home to his wife and daughters in suburbia.
... These men are all long-dead.
It is extremely important that the reader understand: there was NO DIVORCING "GAY" FROM "AIDS" back then. If you came out as gay in the 90s, you were afforded the extra burden of having to place an asterisk at the end of your de-closeting sesh:
* -- but I don't have AIDS.
The fact of the matter is AIDS was ignored for most of the 1980s because it only happened to "fags and junkies." Indeed, social conservatives of my childhood were quoted as saying "Praise God for AIDS."
Because gay culture has always had the connotation of being slutty and oversexed, in some conservative circles "the problem" was expected to "take care of itself." Meaning: the American Gay Experience would go extinct if they just ignored the Great Die-Off for long enough.
Which brings me to this. I really don't like this whole "Sexy HIV" shtick. I understand ALL that it is grounded in stigma, raising awareness, homophobia, body dysmorphia, and probably a little bit of insecurity.
Yes, you've figured it out: I'm one of those gays from another time who really doesn't see how selling "sexy HIV" furthers anyone along but the object themselves.
Because truly: is this about conveying health, or about conveying sexual potency? Altruism? Or vanity? And who does this help, exactly? Is this raising awareness, or confirming stereotype?
I know many gay men in our current era who, upon a Positive diagnosis, go the factory-farmed gym bunny route (including, but not limited to: steroids, excessive animal protein resulting in massive carbon footprint, etc.). That some of these men are now "HIV celebs" means they get noticed by mainstream society, the media, et al.
It bothers me immensely that these "sexy HIV celebs" are propping up the ancient stereotype of the "oversexed gay." That this peacocking is often paired with the Grindr pose and the Myspace face only screams louder what I already don't like about the post-modern gay experience: namely, egocentric smoke & mirrors.
(Sidebar on Grindr pose: I have boundless respect for this kind of open admission on hookup sites. Dear "Sexy HIV celebs": you've actually confused "hookup app" with "mainstream media." We DO need more "sexy HIV" portrayals in those arenas because that ACTUALLY performs a function for the greater social good; not to mention it's extremely brave and a turn-on to own your sexiness in these cyber-venues, where it may be at its most vulnerable).
I'd like to make a distinction here, and I plan on fully dissecting this in a future post: I'm willing to give more slack to Millennials, who truly must define what HIV is going to mean for them, than for men of my own age group (affectionately titled "80s kids") or older.
Ultimately, I can't blame Millennials for ignorance on notions I had to dispel daily in my youth, while they drank Sunny-D from a sippy-cup and watched Power Rangers in their jammy-jams. I prefer to view this as the irony of history, and I'm aware that my perspective is dated.
They never lived through the Die-Off, so is it fair for the rest of us to ascribe OUR "survival wisdom"/conditioning upon them?
I guess I would just ask that while it's important to redefine "HIV" as a sociological concept for a new generation, it's even more important that this be done smartly and in a non-self-aggrandizing manner (Sarah Palin and other Republicans stupidly working the microphone, invoking slave rhetoric in criticizing the first black POTUS, and then wondering why they get called racist would be a great analogy here). Perhaps what these "sexy HIV" guys fail to realize is: the onus is on THEM, not the rest of us, to provide a respectful definition of "sexy HIV" without dancing on the graves of millions who perished prior.
As HIV does not define us, it's up to us to define what HIV is TO us. To some, maybe nothing has changed: just keep up with the same "come hither" Myspace pout, while upping your reps and taking gym selfies. To others, perhaps moreso we "80s kids" and older: it invites a complete top-down reorganizing of the colonization thrust upon us in our formative years.
When I finally emerge from this cocoon I've allotted myself, it's more important I have a "tranquil, knowing, serene" aura than a look of "I have HIV and here are my muscles and BTW I am still sexy." Think: a Bodhisattva; I didn't die, but instead chose to help others.
I wanted to make sure this came across as judgemental and over-generalizing as possible, without sounding hateful. Why? Because I am an "old gay" (prematurely, bitches). I revere men like Oscar Wilde, Yukio Mishima, Jean Genet, Harry Hay and Vito Russo. I resent the HELL out of any postmodern attempts at "codifying an Outsider Culture." And I see this happening on multiple fronts. The first gay Millennial who attempts to write a "Gay Manual" will get a crobar to the shins, because that will mean that LGBT has finally lost all meaning.
The point of this post is I really don't believe the "Sexy HIV celebs" are thinking about the macro-issue; I feel it's really more about proving to themselves (and others) that they're still sex objects. It is a symptom of that egocentric smoke & mirrors that runs rampant in 2014 gay culture.
Which I completely understand. Even as I reject that notion. It as, after all, a form of Millennial "colonization." And we are, after all, part of a subculture that puts youth on a pedestal.
HIV belongs to each of us and to ALL of us. It also belongs to the millions of dead people who were ignored, and therefore consideration should be afforded these poor souls. And I think some of that is getting lost.
Because Circuit Princess, while you're totally TDF rocking that Grindr pose with that Myspace face: Never forget that the dancefloor you're on is actually a mass grave ...