Radical Red: Li'l Fucker
I started doing this sexual health activism stuff in the early '90s, when I was around twenty. Way back then, when I was young and impressionable, I had a conversation with a man I've mentally named "Li'l Fucker." I hope it's not breaking confidentiality to reproduce it here, because I can still remember it verbatim (and probably always will):
Li'l Fucker: "I got syphilis from this whore I was banging. Is that curable?"
Me: "Yes. Syphilis is a bacterial infection; it's curable if you get it treated with penicillin."
LF: "Yeah, I got that."
Me: "Then you should be cured."
LF: "What about my wife? Should I make her get treated?"
Me: "Did you have sex with your wife while you had syphilis?"
LF: "Well, yeah! Of course I had sex with my wife! And if she doesn't get treated, then she's going to give that shit right back to me, isn't she?"
Um, yeah. Those wives can be awfully inconsiderate when it comes to re-infecting you with infections they don't know you've given them. Bitches. How could they?
I never spoke with Li'l Fucker again, but I've had conversations with many of his brethren over the last ten years. None of the brethren have been as openly and pathologically sexist as LF, at least not while speaking to me. They've had other names and other stories. Bachelor party. Forest preserve. Business trip. Chat-line hookup. On the down-low. But-I-love-my-children. And while their circumstances vary, they all have these things in common: A) they have HIV or a sexually-transmitted infection, or are having sex that puts them at high risk for such; and B) they're also having sex with a wife or girlfriend who has no idea she's at risk for infection.
Some of them have been stepping outside for years. Others "never, ever thought they would," but did.
Just once. Every weekend. To see what it was like. Because they were drunk. Because they were out of town. Because they can't help themselves. Because their woman won't do "that." Because their woman isn't a man.
When they tell me they're having high-risk sex with one or more people while continuing to have sex with their wife or girlfriend, I ask the pertinent questions. Does their partner know about the other person/people? Do they use condoms with their wife/girlfriend? If not, how are they reducing the chance of passing an infection to their wife/girlfriend? Are they going to tell their wife/girlfriend if or when they pick up an infection, including HIV?
"I can't tell her about this -- she'd leave me." "I can't use a condom -- she's on the Pill." "I can't avoid having sex with her -- she'd wonder what was wrong." "I can't tell her I have (insert infection here). She'd never forgive me."
"I don't want to hurt her." "I don't want to have to move out." "I don't want to lose my kids." "I don't want to see her cry."
I don't want to be "that way." Gay. Bisexual. Not-a-man.
If all you male readers think I'm going to bust out the Whoop-Ass here and paint the wall with these individuals' blood, think again. I'm not out for vengeance. I'm not the judge or the jury here... I've done a partner wrong before too, so that's not my place.
What I'm out for is accountability, responsibility, whatever "ability" makes men realize their wives' and girlfriends' health -- these women's lives -- simply matters more than their emotional turmoil or everyday comfort. Whatever will make them act accordingly, whether that means committing to safer sex with outside partners, breaking out the condoms or avoiding sex with the wife/girlfriend until those test results come back, telling a woman you've exposed her to an infection, starting an honest discussion about bisexuality or polyamorous relationships (sometimes you can re-negotiate that monogamy thing -- you might be surprised!), or simply saying "I can't do this anymore, I have to leave."
Most men are not Li'l Fuckers -- and yes, yes, women need to take responsibility for protecting themselves from HIV/STDs. But it's a little different when you have a monogamy agreement. One of the best things about a monogamy agreement is the assumption that you don't have to use those damn rubbers anymore (did you think we liked them? BWAAHH!).
But monogamy isn't masturbation -- you can't do it alone. And as women's HIV and STD rates continue to skyrocket, we need men to come to terms with their behavior. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves, but we need our men to take care of us too.
Because if seeing a woman cry is bad, imagine what it's like to see her sick. Or dead.
Laura Jones is a sexual health activist and the Hotline Coordinator for the Illinois AIDS/HIV & STD Hotline.
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