I Certainly Never Meant THAT!

Brian posted a rant yesterday about a site advocating serosorting as a means of preventing further HIV infections. Understandably, Brian’s pissed.

Some HIV positive guys only link together with other HIV positive guys. There is nothing wrong with that, but to pretend that this is some wave of the future of HIV prevention by attempting to ghettoize something that you cannot contain in a ghetto, is complete folly (to be nice). There is no nice little line that you can draw between “us and them” when it comes to preventing risk of transmission.

Someone left a long comment on Brian’s post to say that he “completely disagree[s]” with him on this point and concludes by asking him, “[I]s it really a festering resentment about the HIV-negative guys who reject guys who are poz?” Once again, as happened with Jeff and his article I called a misfire, critics are coming out to proffer pseudo psychoanalyses in an attempt to explain the author’s motivations. The only thing I’ll grant the commentor is that Brian’s posts can be abrasive at times, but he does warn everyone who enters his blog that “You are entering my mind, it’s not always pretty!”

Logically, if serodiscordant sexual contacts were to end immediately, there wouldn’t be new cases of transmission to “neggies.” But this is not only unlikely to happen; it’s also a division that shouldn’t happen. As Brian writes, clearly “stupidity falls on both sides of the sero-spectrum.” This advocating of serosorting coming from someone who’s poz is proof, as it is a position that [a] absolves everyone from taking responsibility for themselves and [b] could encourage a throwback to the hysteria of the early- and mid-’80s when some people feared that a handshake or breathing the same air could cause someone to seroconvert. To me, the notion of serosorting is as odious and has echoes of ethnic cleansing, which surely no one in his or her right mind would advocate.

A Day of Reflection & Taking Some Distance

So, I lied.

In my previous entry, I wrote that I would get to work immediately after I posted that entry. But I wrote that sentence well before the last paragraph in which I did my coming out as having a “work-identified” personality. Yes, believe it or not, that was another Oprah lightbulb moment for me.

That, in itself, is really quite funny. While it may have been an cunning insight for me, for anyone who knows me, that statement probably caused several sets of eyeballs to roll back so hard that now I’m probably responsible for said sets of eyeballs to have fallen out of their sockets. But finally I’ve come to a better understanding of why work for me is so damn personal.

So, instead of getting back to work like I said I would, I called the Queen of Sheba to see what she was doing on this fine, sunny Saturday. While she’s remotely acquainted with some of the actors [from the client I wrote about in the last post], she’s infinitely more detached than I am. She suggested an immediate audience over coffee in her garden, and I steadfastly accepted her indulgence. As I was leaving my apartment, I thought of swinging by Julien’s next door for pastries. Then, as I was driving to the Queen’s quarters, another thought crossed my mind: the problem for someone like me who has to fix situations like the one I’m facing is that they require taking non-existing time to figure them out. Like stealing from Peter to pay Paul, my taking time out right then and there could lead to pissing off another client, but by not taking the time out, I’d risk (at best) never resolving anything or (at worst) eventually losing everything.

As I wrote previously, I had been mulling over a few ideas in the previous 12 hours. What I was hoping for — and got — from my audience with the Queen were specific suggestions and leads. She also advised that I put a firm, take-it-or-leave-it proposal on the table, with only very few flexible points for compromise. In essence, I would finally [a] resolve the problem at hand while [b] start making my business work for me rather than only and always work for my business.

Buoyant from my audience with the Queen, I then visited BeeGoddess M, Stephanie and my too-adorable-for-words nephew Jackson. They (except Jackson who was too busy licking my face to care) agreed that the plan I devised with the Queen is sound. So, tonight as I’m heading to bed, I do fear a little if and how the plan will fly but, overall, I feel better because at least my having a plan is a much better position to be in than where I was last night as I went to bed.

7:00 on a Saturday Morning

Unbelievably, I woke up, got up and showered at 7:00 this morning — a Saturday. Gone are my days as a night owl; now I tend to wake up before my alarm goes off or, on days like today when I didn’t set the alarm before going the bed, before my alarm would have gone off on a weekday. And although I do sleep soundly because I’m completely drained when I hit the hay, all my dreams feature some aspect of work, be it the day job or the former job I’m barely managing on a part-time basis.

Yet this morning I just wasted. Instead of working as I should have, I caught up on blog reading and the news of the week. On the one hand, I feel guilty; on the other, I know that working constantly is no way to live. But as soon as I post this entry, I’ll finally get to work.

Thankfully, my supervisor at the day job is very supportive and understanding. She recognizes that I’m going flat out and, in fact, probably overdoing it. “Don’t burn yourself out or you’ll be of no use to me,” she frequently says to me. While it may not come across in the literal words she uses, she says that with genuinely caring tone in her voice. “Don’t lose any sleep and don’t worry about ‘that’ deadline” — the deadline we all know we can’t achieve but are collectively pretending is real. In truth, though, I’m not losing any sleep, for as I just wrote, by the time I go to bed, I’m so exhausted that I’m out like a light a few minutes after I rest my head on the pillow.

I still don’t know what awaits me after this contract officially ends. However, I do get the sense that some people who matter would like me to continue in one capacity or another. The only thing that worries me — although, again, not enough to lose any sleep — is that I might be urged to relocate in Toronto if I want to stay on. But the problem is that Toronto is one of the last places I want to be. My concern, therefore, is if I stand firm on this point, I might be pegged as someone who’s unwilling to “develop” his career. Yet in this day and age, especially given the work I’m doing, my locale shouldn’t be a problem.

Meanwhile, there’s the job I thought I’d be able to continue on a part-time basis. Reality is really setting in now. After working 9 …10 …sometimes 11 hours a day with breaks only to pour myself another cup of coffee or go to the bathroom, I can barely bring myself to make myself some supper, let alone consider working some more. Some days this week I tried to squeeze in a few hours on the part-time job before starting the day job, but I couldn’t even do that yesterday and Thursday. As a result, I’m keenly aware that I’m royally fucking up on the part-time gig.

Last night, someone kindly and confidentially gave me the head’s up on the possible impact of one of those fuck ups. Interestingly, aware of my fuck up, I had already decided not to bill the client in question this month (or send a bill for $0). What I find frustrating in this particular instance is that I tried so hard to prepare this client to be self-sufficient prior to starting my day job, but the client never grasped — and still doesn’t — everything I did for them on top of what I was formally hired to do. In fact, the way I over-serve my clients but don’t bill them commensurately is the very reason why I had to put my small business on ice. For that the blame rests squarely on my shoulders, not my clients’ (or my daytime employer’s, for that matter). I clearly see the pattern: I overextend myself over and over, and when I reach my breaking point and start dropping balls all over the place, clients get upset because they’re no longer getting the level of service to which they’ve become accustomed. I consistently get too involved with my clients’ business rather than sticking to my role of webmastering services. In short, I recognize that I’m the architect of my own downfall.

Several of my friends have advised me to just let the above client go. And truth be said, I’ve given it a lot of thought in recent weeks. But a few things keep nagging me and preventing me from doing so. I can’t stand the thought of years’ of work being flushed down the toilet and sending the client to start from scratch (although I would never really leave a client empty-handed). I also hate the thought of burning bridges, for if nothing materializes at the end of my day-job contract, what would I fall back on? And, additionally, I despise seeing what has been a good long-standing relationship — both professionally and personally — possibly coming to an end, ploughed under a wave of acrimony.

I’ve been mulling over some ideas in the last 12 hours that might allow me to save the farm in this case — an arrangement that would take the client out of the lurch it’s in while preserving my honour and reputation, so to speak. However, based on some of the things my informant told me last night, I can’t help wonder why I should be so accommodating. I tried to avoid this debacle, but the client didn’t comprehend that’s what I was trying to do……

When I think about it, I guess I’m finally figuring out what’s at the crux of my problem in general. I have what could be called a strong “work-identified” personality. It’s so strong that work is very personal for me. Too personal. It’s hard for me to separate the two. And when I come to a situation like this one, I find it difficult, if not impossible, to be cold and simply say, “Business is business.” Instead, I just feel numb and have a big knot in my stomach, and come as close as I’m capable of to crying.

Then and Now …Whatever: Take 2

Funny that Brian just posted an editorial from fab on roughly the topic I wrote about in my last post. It does not address specifically the motives for barebacking, aside, perhaps, that it’s “mechanically” better for some guys. However, interesting is the mention that being seen as slutty holds a stigma that can make one less desirable and so on.

Well, for the record, I guess I can count myself among the lucky ones: condoms do not induce any “problems of performance” on my part. It may also be generational for me in that I became sexually active just around the time that HIV/AIDS was identified and condoms, short of abstinence, were tauted as the best protection, so they have always been something with which I’ve had to be inventive so that they don’t become an obstruction to fun. Yes, I consider myself lucky that, for me, they’re as automatic as putting on my seatbelt when I sit in a car.

I still can’t comprehend how some guys figure that if they contract HIV, they plan to simply say, “Oh well, I’ll just go on the drugs the rest of my life.” I mean, thank gawd those damn drugs exist, but since when are we suppose to take so lightly the thought of going on chimotherapy? Then again, I should confess that I dislike the thought of taking any medication. One time, I didn’t bother get one for antibiotics filled since I figured it was useless and alarmist, and, some 5 years later, I don’t think I’m worse off for not having taken the prescription. But setting aside my personal aversion to prescription drugs, I still say that the effects of antiretrovirals is one picnic I’d rather avoid.

Then and Now, and Now as Then

It must be at least two years now that I’ve had a link to Jeff’s blog. I seldom leave him a comment, but there’s something I like about his blog and Jeff himself that keeps me going back, although I can’t quite put my finger on what. I like the fact he’s articulate; I like the fact he’s flawed just as we all are as humans; I like the fact he chooses to write on a eclectic range of esoteric topics, to the point of being a bit of a nerd. That said, I don’t think that we have much in common and I’m not sure we’d have much to say to each other if we met in person. Perhaps that’s why I continue to read him: we live a world apart, although, in fact, we’re only two hours apart by plane.

Jeff is an aspiring writer. He’s been wanting to write professionally long before he got laid off his State job earlier this year. And finally, with the appearance of an opinion piece he wrote last month for a “traditional” media outlet (as opposed to the blogesphere), he is now a published writer. His opinion piece is a reflection upon viewing the documentary Gay Sex in the ’70s, which has recently been released on DVD but that I, personally, have not seen.

Unfortunately for him, but understandably if you take the time to read his article, it has generated a storm of controversy and nasty comments. I say “understandably,” for I have to agree with his critics that the tone of his writing is judgemental and condescending towards — and downright pitying of — the New York men who engaged in wanton anonymous sex in the ’70s, not to mention that his comparison with the Nazi Holocaust of the ’40s is completely off. But more to the point, in my humble opinion as a former editor, the main problem with his article is not so much that he struck the wrong tone or may (or may not) have engaged in some serious projection based on his own sexual biases and taboos. Rather, the problem I detect is that he failed to account for the historical context.

Indeed, it’s insufficent to point out that “we know today what they didn’t know back then — that unprotected sex can kill.” Even though I was too young to be an active participant, I understand that the mindset in the ’70s was one whereby gay men could have as much sex as they wanted and not have to worry about their acts leading to an unwanted pregnancy — a situation, I’m sure, many straight men either secretly or openly envied. Granted, sexually transmitted diseases were a concern then as now; however, not only was it a concern shared by gays and straights alike, but also, as Jeff points out, in the ’70s, we “lived in a world in which modern Western medicine seemed to be conquering disease.”

Yet more significantly, the ’70s were a time when very few put into question the practice of discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation; therefore, furtive and “discreet” encounters was the era’s “protected sex” that most gay men required to shield themselves from a very real, existing threat at the time. As much as there is still a long way to go in many jurisdictions with regard to gay rights, today’s conjuncture places wanton anonymous sex in the realms of choice and thrill, whereas in the ’70s, necessity dictated that most closet doors could only be opened a crack. In short, while I take issue with Jeff’s comment piece, I am not about to proffer cheap putdowns or another (pseudo) psychoanalysis on his biases as some of his critics have done. Instead, I’m choosing to phrase my reservations on the grounds that I think his article is a misfire, and it misses the mark because it views an historical period through presentist normative lens.

I think it noteworthy that I used to have a link to the above-critic’s blog. He’s an excellent writer, but after a while I got tired of what I perceive[d] as the lack of humility in his tone, whereas Jeff’s writing style, at least in his blog, is far less showy. I’m just sayin’…

The odd thing, though, is that I stumbled on Jeff’s article just as I’ve been meaning — and hesitating for some time — to write about the rise in recent years in the desire for unprotected sex among some gay men. I don’t have much free time these days, but occasionally when I do, for kicks, I look at online ads placed by guys from around the world. (Yeah, yeah …nekkid guys.) And on these profiles, many are those — HIV negative or positive, top or bottom — who state outright that they have and want only unprotected sex.

Whenever I read that, my heart sinks a little. I don’t understand it. To be blunt, the short-term sensual benefits of a guy engaging in barebacking simply don’t stack up against the long-term effects. Even if the parties involved are all “poz,” it seems to me that it’s rather defeatist, as in “I’ve ‘got it’ already, so why bother?” I’ve come to know guys who take their poz status to paint themselves as victims, and others, like Brian (via his blog writing), who take a totally opposite view. But there’s one thing both groups of guys have in common: the effin’ drugs they end up having to take. Although being poz is no longer the death sentence it was in the ’80s and early-’90s, it’s by no means a picnic. Certainly, as someone who has the good fortune of being negative, I certainly want to avoid that “little bit of fun.”

Lately, in an attempt to try to understand the barebackers rather than judge them, I have been taking a look at my own risky behaviour outside the sexual realm. Take, for instance, the fact I’ve gone back to smoking despite coming so close to quitting last year. I cognitively know and understand that what I’m doing is not only irrational, but it could lead to a slow and painful death. In fact, lately that thought has been bothering me a lot (again). So why am I so freakin’ unable to knock some sense into myself and quit while I might still have a chance? I don’t know if it’s possible or fair to make such inferences given how chemical addiction complicates smoking cessation. However, I suspect there are possibly more psychological than chemical factors that make quitting the weed so difficult. Is it possible that a similar set of factors come into play among those who choose to bareback, either occasionally or exclusively?

Here’s the rub (pun intended or not): I have no problem with anonymous sex. In fact, I like it a lot. But not so much that I would take senseless risks. For instance, I remember one time a few years ago being in the dark back room of a bathhouse in Montreal after having spent the evening in several Village bars and getting pretty drunk, and suffice it to say that I was far from alone in said back room. At one point, however, some guy behind me attempted to stick his unshielded you-know-what in my you-know-where. Yet despite my state of intoxication — from both alcohol and what was going on in the room — I managed to firmly prevent the “intrusion” and remove myself from a …err …position that would have given Mister Bare an opportunity to try again.

I’m not telling you this to feel holier-than-thou, for let’s not forget where the hell I was in the first place. But it struck me only a few minutes later that [A] I was really drunk yet [B] I still assumed responsibility for myself. I guess one could call my m.o. “healthy distrust,” and I don’t care if it makes me seem like I’m buying into the faulty assumption that all gay guys are poz. Cognitively I know that’s not the case, but it’s akin to the little trick I play on myself every morning by setting the time 7 or 8 minutes ahead on my alarm clock. By the time I figure out in my sleepy mind what 7 or 8 minutes before 7:03 is, I’m reminded that I set the clock ahead for a reason — in that case, that I’m the slowest morning starter you’ll likely ever meet. Similarly, assuming everyone’s poz status reminds me of why I make that assumption and alerts me to the risk if not the fact — evidently even when I’m drunk.

In the same vein, the reason I have never done drugs (aside from the garden variety C.A.N. — caffeine, alcohol and nicotine) is not because I haven’t had the opportunity, but because I know myself to have an addictive personality. It is possible that I wouldn’t get addicted after one try, but it’s probable that I might. To me, the pleasant short-term trip is not worth the difficult long-term recovery.

Often, one will hear or read pop-psychology theories that attempt to explain why some people willingly engage in self-destructive behaviour. Commonly cited are ills such as low self-esteem, depression, low sense of worth, having a death wish or a desire to become a victim, and so on. But taking again as an example my own addiction to cigarettes, that doesn’t seem to fit. While I have my moments of self-doubt like everybody else, generally I’m satisfied with what I’ve accomplished and what I’ve become. I know there are a lot of things I suck at, but there are many endeavours in which I know I excel. I very fortunately do not suffer from dysmorphia; while I know I’m physically not a gift from the gods, I do think I’m the kind of guy that another guy wouldn’t mind bringing home to Ma and Pa. I’m far from perfect, for no one is; but I have few regrets so far and I’d like to continue this adventure as long as I can. Yet I persist in smoking.

Maybe it’s hedonism, pure and simple — both on my part and on the part of barebackers. Maybe it’s a simple, matter-of-fact acknowledgement that we’re all going to die one way or another. Maybe for some it’s a decision derived from seeing people spending their life doing all the healthy things, only to die of some horrible cancer in the span of six months, which could lead them to the conclusion that cause/effect relationships are nebulous (e.g., “My 93-year-old aunt has been smoking two packs a day since she’s 20” or “This poz guy stuck it up my ass three years ago and I’m still neg”).

Could it be as simple as saying that smokers and barebackers are engaging in some weird game of Russian roulette?