The "brain surgeon" thing too. Gotta go.
And we're right, preventing an HIV infection ain't rocket science. Whatever that actually is. Preventing HIV is harder. Infinitely harder.
Just knowing the mechanics of safer sex, how to use lube and rubbers properly, what's high risk, what's low risk -- easy. We all get it. We all know. I knew, c'mon, I knew. But let's talk about the incredibly complex emotional, psychosocial stew each one of us swims in, with all our neuroses, our impulses, our needs for connection in a stressful, difficult world -- this is where a brain surgeon can't help us.
I tested positive in 1995, well into the epidemic. I fucking knew better. I knew knew knew til I was blue. I practiced safer sex, a lot of it, with zillions of men, many positive, and stayed negative. And I loved it. The sex drive has always been healthy here, and very well fed like the Wisconsin farm folk I hail from. So why the hell did I discontinue condom use with someone I became involved with?
Because I suddenly forgot that HIV existed? That I suddenly forgot what condoms were, let alone how in the hell d'ya work these things? That I did a hit of Ecstasy and consequently fried every single brain cell that had learned and absorbed the horrors of AIDS and what to do to avoid that nightmare?
No, I started "barebacking" with a boyfriend, when the term still implied horses, because ... hmmmmm ... denial? Was I thinking, "I made it this far, I'll be okay?" Was I lonely? Was I afraid if I said, "We shouldn't have done that. Condoms next time" -- that there wouldn't be a next time? Was I ever so in love?
Was I complacent?
Did I adore how it felt, skin on skin, skin in skin, how hot and slick and intensely intimate, an amazing, erotic sensation I hadn't experienced for 10 long years? Did I quiet the voices so I could get to that place again? And again? Did I scream his name? Did I have an ongoing conversation in my head around the theme of "Maybe I'm one of the lucky ones, who for whatever reason, don't get infected?" I have always enjoyed an enormous amount of sex, after all, and in the first couple of years after I came out, from 1984 to 1986, I didn't use condoms that I recall, and I got fucked a lot, which I do recall, so I must have been exposed at some point. I must be special. Did I think I was special?
Was I calming my fears by saying to myself, "Well, he never comes in me, so it's not so bad?" Did part of me think I was doomed anyway, did part of me want to get it over with so I wouldn't have to stress one more day? Did I feel alienated and disconnected? Did I feel at odds with the community I was initially so thrilled about joining, to fling into high-fiving, twirling around the dance floor in total exuberant abandon, but left me more times than not hurt, disrespected, devalued, dehumanized and lonely?
So lonely? Was I tired? So tired?
I was on the cusp. I was barebacking before the cover stories. I was taking risks before the advent of new medications gave us new hope, before magazine advertising made being HIV positive a sexy, youthful lifestyle, before people with AIDS were turned into an attractive marketing demographic, before crystal became the scourge it has become, before Viagra kept people fucking for days, while there was still tons of social marketing around prevention, when I was still seeing my friends, tricks, and amorres dying.
A rocket scientist or a brain surgeon can't help us address these sorts of issues. Preventing HIV is much more than wearing a condom every time. It's addressing our full range of needs as human beings in an increasingly commercial, crass, disjointed, disconnected, fearful society -- human beings, who at the end of the day, just want to be close to somebody, to feel some human warmth, in some way, any way. And we will throw all the education in the world out the window, along with caution and experience, to get that. To connect. We are human beings ... who still have to contend with the deadly, alienating and devaluing affects of homophobia, both internal and external, racism and stigma.
We are human beings.
I took the risks I did in a significantly less complicated world. How will we change to appropriately, impactfully respond to the world we are in right now? With formidable barriers like dwindling funding and a hostile political climate that puts so much value on idiocies like "abstinence only?" How will we fight complacency?