“Even if the rate of HIV infection among MSM remains at the current level, by the time a group of young MSM (18 years old) reach the age of 40, 41% of them will be HIV-positive. We cannot make any progress in fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. unless we find ways to lower rates of HIV transmission among MSM.”
Ed pulls out a condom from his pocket and says to the crowd, “We’ve always had the answer all along. We couldn’t figure out how to use them.” As an international HIV/AIDS educator and one of five subjects of the award winning AIDS documentary, We Were Here. Ed Wolf reminds us that waving our finger at each other to use condoms never worked and never will.
This is the second interview to inquire how the film impacted younger gay men.
Roy is 25, bright, reads Nietzsche and graphic novels and spends most of his time in the cyber-sphere from where he predicts a future he can get behind. He’s an artist saddled with a student loan he says he’ll never pay back from an arts program he never finished. After washing dishes in Toronto he’s moved to our place on a small west coast gulf island for several weeks to work in our quarter acre garden. On the surface the exchange was a few hours of daily labour for room and board. The inter-generational mentorship will last a lifetime. For now he’s planning to live in a tent tucked away in the woods for the summer, read and make art. A reasonable choice considering how disconnected much of his cohort has become from the natural world.
My husband and I are the first out poz men he’s got to know. He was only peripherally aware of the history of AIDS. From the beginning of our time together we have ruminated over the relationship between gay past and queer future. Today we talk about the documentary, chaos and condoms.
Birch: Having seen the documentary on the SF history of AIDS what questions emerged for you?
Roy: It was more of an exposition of what happened. No questions. It showed people reacting with their best from a crisis. I got to hear their stories of their triumph and suffering. I’m trying to relate it to now. The audience was made up of people who care about the subject already - because they are emotionally attached, mostly people who had history with it. I came because I was told to come. I love stories and I love stories that paint people as human beings. It was about authentic stories. Later, I went to my friend’s house to tell him about how great the film was. We realized we have no contact with people who lived through it or are willing to talk about it. It is important for young men to see this film early on before being introduced to the disease-focused sex education in high school. It’s important to hear stories of the people who have HIV before you scare them about it.
My friend said, “Maybe they shouldn’t all have had sex with each other.” I reminded him that it was a completely different time. The condom is taught in school because of what happened, and yet it creates such a naïve outlook (without the context of what happened). It has created an us vs. them rationality (especially in gay culture) because we are not exposed to people who are positive and their stories. It is no surprise then that there is so much prejudice within the gay community toward positive men, especially in younger generations.
Birch: Do you think younger gay men blame positive men for having to wear a condom today themselves?
Roy: No, lots of them just do it because we were taught to do so. It depends on your upbringing. Some of them go bareback, they see it in porn, or someone fucked them bareback. It depends on what version of sex ed. you got. Some of us were imprinted; as a teenager I heard ‘always put it on’…and now that I’m here (at 25) it is more to do with the guys I’ve been with….
Birch: How would you describe the sexual culture you have inherited as a younger gay man?
Roy: Sex is more clinical. It’s not just about the condom anymore. Sex is very fearful now - in every regard. It is not about connection in the way it should be. Not on a level that makes people feel good. A temporary thrust, bam and quick see if the condom broke or not. Gasp. Fear. It is clinical. I look to porn to see where guys are having great sex. Mr. Steeds Bareback blog. He just talks about all his bareback connections. Maybe it’s all fiction. He’s a good writer. It’s entertaining. Maybe it’s not all fiction. It is fascinating. He makes it sound a lot more fun – a lot more connective.
Birch: How do you relate to condoms?
Roy: The condom represents boring sex. Every sexual encounter that started off potentially great, the ones that felt more connected, always wanted to go bareback. Then I told them to put on a condom. I always have the fantasy to go there (raw sex), even drunk as a mess…so, sex ed. did a good job. But when I told them to wear a condom the sex always became more lacklustre, putting order on chaos.
Birch: What is it about ‘chaos’ you desire?
Roy: It’s more free. More connection. It’s not antiseptic. It’s sweating. It’s nasty. It is so scary to try. The ‘order’ is so…I have a condom on my subconscious, on my being. When the fear is so ingrained the bodies are manipulated into ‘over-thinking’ and then (by default) we end up masturbating on each other. I’ve only had mutual masturbation. I’ve never had bareback sex which I equate with real sex. Condom sex, at least the mentality that comes with it, is like two people masturbating – we’re so caught up in our heads. I’m talking about my fantasy world. I’m not going to say you can’t have great sex with a condom.
The people who risk themselves will fuck you. There are not there to masturbate. It’s not just about condoms and bareback. Its what the whole thing represents. It’s all about order and chaos. Dionysus has always had a big hand up. You know what I’m saying, darling. The maenads fuck better than the congressmen - unless of course the congressmen are a little crazy. Never mind - congressmen are probably all fucking bareback.
Birch: So how would you describe the culture of raw sex?
Roy: The whole thing represents more masculinity to go bareback. It just comes with that. The straight community never wears condoms. So you have to wrap yourself to go have sex? It feels cheated. Like we’re not having sex. Straight guys can fuck at the party. Being a gay man we are seen as disease carrying vessels. With a straight guy, it’s just a guy fucking. You have no condom-tations with it. Wrapping ourselves up as clinical specimens - it’s not sexy. AND we hear stories of the 70s where gay men were having sex: breakfast, lunch and supper, sex, sex, sex. How orgiastic. Then the pendulum swung back to order. Now we want to swing back, it’s just that natural swing of things and we want an orgy. We never had that.