Young Ken Monteith kept a lttle list. Of men. Ring any bells?
You know that thing that ardent ornithologists do? You know, writing down their sightings of each different variety of bird they have laid eyes on, where and when. This post is not about that. It's not about looking, and it's not about birds.
No, when I was a fresh-faced young gay, just out of the closet, I briefly kept a little list of the men I had slept with. No euphemisms: I had had sex with them, usually with very little sleeping involved. My WASPy prudishness caught up with me a few months in and I stopped with the list after a few entries where I didn't have names, but only situations or the make and model of the car that picked me up… Who am I kidding?! It was probably only the colour of the car, which pretty much exhausts my knowledge of cars!
Even with this abrupt end and the short experience of my list, I was already up to about fifty entries when I stopped. Such a shame I didn't keep it up, as it might have been a very interesting sociological artifact by now. This came to mind in a conversation recently, as I also discussed filling out an online "How gay are you?" quiz with a friend. My friend got to the question about how many different men he had had sex with and he said, "There were only three spaces, so I put 999." I, much more modestly, put 500 at the time.
Now are you seeing how my list might have been interesting to revisit after a lifetime of encounters?
You might actually be wondering aloud why I should be so proud of being such a slut, whore, whatever, and thinking smugly that you now know why I turned out HIV-positive. I have two answers to share on that topic. First, it isn't that I'm necessarily proud; it's that I refuse to be ashamed. Second, as I frequently assert in meetings with public health types in the context of my work, it really doesn't matter how many partners you have, it matters what you do with them. So clearly, I am on the sex positive side of this debate.
The other thing that I feel the need to express is about the source and timing of my HIV infection. I don't know, and I have a smidgen — but not really more — of intellectual curiosity about the answers to those questions. They do not preoccupy me.
I am a gay man who started having sex before we knew about HIV. This is not in any way to suggest that I was or wasn't infected before we knew, or that that would really matter. I was as human afterward as anyone who might be infected today. We aren't machines making cold rational decisions based on available data, we are humans who sometimes don't think about what they are doing or just need some human contact at the moment, or don't always make decisions about our pleasure based on fear of risks.
When we found out about HIV with my sex life already underway, there was some adaptation around the equipment or the acts, but not around the attitude. I think that changed for those coming of age and coming out post-HIV, at least until recently, which only makes it more of a shame that I didn't maintain my life list.
I could have written my autobiography as a thesis.