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Give Us Morality or Give Us Death

By Jim Pickett

September/October 2000

HIV is being spread by HIV positive people.

Admittedly, this is no news flash, but it seems as though we forget this very basic fact regarding this very infectious disease. It takes two to have sex, it takes one to pass along the lovely and enchanting virus that causes AIDS. Of course, before you start to screeching, it takes two to be responsible and safe during sexual activity, it takes two to make smart decisions, or dumb ones.

But it only takes one to infect. It only takes one.

We all need to take ownership of safe sex. It is, or should be, of paramount concern to all of us regardless of serostatus. But, still, the fact remains, that two negatives cannot infect the other. A positive must be in the equation.

Sadly, HIV prevention work has sorely overlooked the targeting of positives, for a couple of reasons. One being that, well, once you're positive, there ain't no more prevention happening for you, my dear, and two, the whole issue of stigmatization, demonization, and blaming that might and probably will happen. Well, screw stigma! Target me! Target me and every other positive person on earth -- it's the only way we'll contain this disease, if not end it. I'm tough, I can take it. And ya know, it's not about blame, it's about practicality, it's about facts, however cold and hard they may be. Remember, there is no cure. Remember, the treatments are often worse than the disease itself. Remember, it takes a positive person to infect -- it will take a positive person, it will take positive people, to stop infecting. Stop neglecting us.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that close to 900,000 people in the U.S. are HIV positive, and that approximately one-third of that number, 300,000 or so, do not know their status. Mildly put, that's highly problematic. Everybody needs to get their ass in for testing -- for their own health and for the health of others. Studies are proving that people who know their status have more responsible, more safe sex. That means less infections.

What really disturbs me, however, are the people who do know they're positive and continue to have unsafe sex. Yes, it takes two. But, again, it takes only one to infect. We justify our behavior, saying, "Well, he didn't want to use a condom, he must be poz too." We say, "Well, if he's so stupid, if he's so foolish, let him get it, and let me get mine." We say, "Well, things were moving too fast, and before we knew it . . ." I am talking about gay men, for that is what I am and that is what I know, but I suspect these rationalizations and excuses cut across all sexual boundaries.

Where is our compassion, our human compassion for another living being? We would not knowingly run over someone with our car, why would we knowingly participate in sex that would put another person, another living being, at risk for a harrowing, deadly (and totally preventable) disease? There are so many reasons. We need to examine them, closely, and we need to start a dialogue, many dialogues, and keep them going ad nauseum.

This brings me to those two nasty words so many of us are afraid of, and indeed, loathe -- morals and ethics. We need to reclaim them from the right-wing horror shows that have bastardized them and made them these big, bad bugaboos. Morals and ethics need not be about hate and judgment, for they are simply about the distinction between right and wrong, about objectively defined principles regarding human conduct -- about doing the right thing, about treating another as you would have them treat you, about being nice to each other in coffee shops, and in the bushes.

Hey, being moral doesn't mean being a Sex Nazi or a Good-Time Gestapo. I can have loads of anonymous sex in bathhouses and bushes and truck stops, tons of sweaty, hot, delightful, animal, grunting, heaving, lusty sex, with complete and total strangers, and do so morally and ethically. Yes, I can. How? By protecting the warm body I am enjoying. By protecting the warm body that is mine. I do that by insisting on safer sex. If the person does not want to go along, sorry, no hot sex in the city tonight. But ya know what? It's the right thing to do, the moral, ethical thing to do. What is immoral is the callous disrespect of another.

A friend, a gay PWA (person with AIDS) who has worked in prevention for many years in California, says, "Yeah, but fact is that changing community norms happens slowly, over time. Imagine how difficult it would be to reclaim something as tainted as the concepts of 'moral' or 'ethical.' As soon as someone hears it, their first thought is 'judgment' and then they shut down."

Yeah, but . . . sounds like a battle I am willing to fight.

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