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!
Dave: And you don't?
Jamie: Maybe, maybe but I've never felt that I don't understand why I do it, or rather did it. I've always felt that I understood it and never had problems with it. I had a happy childhood and have had a normal, almost boring, life. I'm not depressed or dysfunctional and I'm not running away from anything. I've never felt that there are deep-seated reasons why I bug-chased. For me it was the biggest thrill ever and just another sexual "kink" if you like, like most people have.
Dave: Would you call it a fetish?
Jamie: Like BDSM, or water sports? I don't know. I think fetishes are maybe choices: I don't feel I had a choice; I just had to do it you know? Is that a fetish? A rose by any other name eh!
Dave: I've read that many people feel a sense of sadness when they convert but also a sense of euphoria and elation. How did you feel when you got the results?
Jamie: I was pissed off. The game was over. So I guess, sadness was my main feeling; certainly not elation but I can imagine that some guys do see it as an incredible high when they achieve their goal.
Dave: That sounds logical. Is it logical do you think; bug chasing?
Jamie: There's nothing logical about sex. It's an animal thing. When you start linking human emotions and psychoanalysis to sexual behavior, you're forgetting that every life form on the planet needs to fuck -- you don't need any more reason than that.
Dave: Do you think that wanting to be part of a club has anything to do with it? After all, it's also an animal instinct to want to club together for survival.
Jamie: Stretching a point a bit don't you think? Gay men and women love being in clubs; it sets them apart from the crowd and also gives them a safety in numbers feeling. It's a tribal thing but the only reason I wanted to be in the bug-chasing club was to be able to get together with like-minded people.
Dave: Do you understand why health professionals and authorities get so irritated with people who actively want to increase their workload and add to health costs?
Jamie: Fuck 'em. It's my party and I'll die if I want to. I hear this argument all the time but it's mainly a moral objection. You don't hear them going after drinkers, smokers and over-eaters with so much disgust in their voices and they provide the biggest percentage of health costs by far.
Dave: I have a feeling we could go on for hours about this subject but for publication's sake, I'll have to stop here. I'd really like to thank you Jamie for your honesty and being prepared to tell your story. What does your future look like now?
Jamie: Well, strangely enough, my future's pretty rosy. I've got a new job lined up, have just moved into the city and have lots of friends and a good social life. As I said, the HIV seems to be under control and apart from the bloody neuropathy which drives me mad sometimes, life's pretty good. Sex is my only problem. I'm going to have to work out how I can have a healthy sex life but I'm working on it. I'm not looking for new extremes (before you ask) but I am going to have to find new ways to get turned on. There's a real emptiness in that respect, now that I can't bug chase anymore but I'm working on it and internet porn helps! I'm a work in progress!
As I said at the beginning of this article, I don't know if I'm any clearer about bug-chasing. Jamie's story is his own story and can't be applied to all bug-chasers. I am pretty certain that demonizing doesn't help. Jamie seems a pretty decent, well-balanced guy, who went into bug chasing with his eyes open and came out of it equally aware of what's happened to him. I'm certainly not prepared to judge. Who knows what particular trigger in our brains makes us do what we do, with whom and how? It may be politically incorrect but one man's kink is probably another man's normality.
I just hope that people are as honest and forthright as Jamie is and having said that, we all know that that's not always the case but the ultimate responsibility lies within ourselves. There's no excuse for not knowing what we're doing in 2014. You can't be responsible for other's actions but you can take the blame for your own.
Please feel free to comment at will.