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The last word

Thursday, 10 July 2014

FS Magazine responds to reaction, positive and negative, to their article about barebacking in Britian “we had to face sometimes uncomfortable truths about the ways gay men think and the ways that they negotiate, or ignore, risk.”

The last word

This article by Matthew Hodson @Matthew_Hodson first appeared in FS magazine, a publication of GMFA, here.  

No REAL sex talk please – we’re gay

A couple of issues back FS ran with a raunchy cover proclaiming ‘Bareback Britain’. (Note: PositiveLite,com ran that story here.)  Horses were frightened. In truth, the feedback for that feature was overwhelmingly positive but those that didn’t like it really hated it. We got a couple of people saying that it was inappropriate for us, as a charity primarily concerned with preventing HIV, to discuss bareback sex. “Discussing bareback sex promotes it”, we were warned.

Tackling the tough issues head on is not a responsibility that we take lightly. We’re passionate about improving gay men’s sexual health but we can’t do this by pretending that every single gay man is having protected sex and loving it. If this were the case the infection rate would plummet. Exploring the reasons why so many men don’t just slip into barebacking but actively seek it out meant that we had to face sometimes uncomfortable truths about the ways gay men think and the ways that they negotiate, or ignore, risk. Men who bareback aren’t some alien race, they are everywhere: on the scene, online and not more than a couple of swipes away on your favourite app. Men who bareback read this magazine 

What those who objected to the feature seemed to get most riled up about was that we let people who bareback speak for themselves. The honest responses of barebackers were that sometimes they worried about their own behaviour, sometimes they didn’t; some wanted to change their behaviour, others did not. A lot of it made for uncomfortable reading but then honesty often has that impact. 

Similar issues arose with our youth issue. As a man in his mid-40s I felt uncomfortable about some of the things that our young interviewees had to say, not least the frequency with which the word ‘creepy’ was used to describe anyone over the age of 35. As the boss of this outfit I have the power (if I jump up and down and stamp my foot) to get that kind of change made – but I didn’t. Editing something out because you don’t like it, don’t agree with it or wish that it was otherwise, doesn’t stop it from being someone’s truth. If we can’t acknowledge that there are problems, or if we censor out any viewpoint that doesn’t support our campaigning aims, then how are we going to be able to come close to finding the solution? 

Ultimately I think that what distinguishes GMFA and FS magazine from some other health agencies is that we reflect, honestly, the insights and experiences of gay men. It’s an intrinsic part of the way that we have always worked: we are gay men working to improve the health of gay men; we are the targets for our own work. This includes our small staff team, our larger army of volunteers and all the thousands of gay men we communicate with every week, through our website and through social media. Between us we can reflect the diversity of opinions, and the range of experience, that you will find within our communities. 

Of course I would be delighted if every gay man simply loved condoms, valued their own health and treated all those around them with dignity and respect. The truth is that they don’t. Just as with our heterosexual brothers and sisters, gay men can at times be selfish, short-sighted or bullying. There are problems within our communities which contribute to poor mental or emotional health, to problematic drug-use and to risky sexual behaviour. 

We don’t live in a simple world. The challenges that we, as gay men, face are often complex; we all struggle and sometimes we fail. But if we are going to be able to meet these challenges, we can only do so by recognising the scale of the problem – and we do this by keeping our eyes and ears open, however difficult that may be. 

About the author: Matthew is the Chief Executive of GMFA. This article is Matthew’s own opinion and not necessarily the view of GMFA as an organisation. 

This article was taken from FS magazine issue 140.  To view the DIGITAL MAGAZINE: CLICK HERE