Last October, a person claim-ing to be a gay, HIV negative man in his mid-20s launched “Confessions of a Bareback Top”
(confessionsofabarebacktop.blogspot.com), his explicit, allegedly true diary of unprotected sex. Despite the glut of other explicit, allegedly true diaries of unprotected sex fighting for market share, Bareback Top knew his would dominate. And, sure enough, the site’s a sensation. The blog’s spicy subtitle might help explain why: “Publicly—a SAFE ONLY top on many websites including Manhunt & Adam4Adam but secretly—a raw cum-dropping top.”
Bareback Top chats his way through gay pick-up sites, insisting he plays safe. But when push comes to shove in his Manhattan bedroom, he persuades nearly every one of his dozens of partners to lose the latex. The reasons for this, if true, are many and complex, and get to the heart of mistaken identity and sexual fantasy amid the epidemic. But they are generally unexplored in the actual postings, which are essentially pornography disguised as social commentary.
In a gala Christmas episode, for example, Bareback Top allegedly encounters a cosmetics salesman at the exclusive New York department store Barneys—in a customer bathroom, during business hours. The bottom demands that Bareback Top use a condom, and then, overcome with pleasure, relents. Afterward, the posting reports, “I gave him my number, and told him I would be glad to fax or mail him my STD results. He told me not to worry about it—he had never done it before—and he didn’t want to do something so intimate with a stranger ... but he loved every second of it—and thank you.”
Less grateful are HIV prevention advocates. But Bareback Top has come prepared. He has anticipated their objections, telling POZ via e-mail: “I hope that guys read this and realize that there are guys out there who meet on the Internet, or the street, claiming to want protected sex while hoping to have unprotected sex. It feels better. It’s the one thing that you shouldn’t do but many guys say ‘yes.’ So if you choose to have unprotected sex with someone who claims to have always been safe, you may not be able to trust them.” Can we trust Bareback Top? How often is he tested? “Every three to five months.”
It’s hardly news that such a casual assurance is routinely accepted in cyberspace and during happy hour. But Bareback Top appears to traffic in an especially dangerous fiction: that tops can’t contract HIV. He may hope to downplay risk by insisting that he’s negative. But he doesn’t ask if his partners are, acting as if they could never infect him. This misguided power trip, it seems fair to argue, drives his site’s morbid allure—as if Bareback Top, through the power of suggestion, can reach through the computer screen and exploit readers’ love/hate relationship with the notion of condomless sex. No wonder he claims that he’s overheard nervous bar patrons whispering that they fear they are the site’s unnamed tricks. “Email me,” he says on the blog. “I will tell you the 100% truth.” A truth he can create—and one that can become your perceived reality.
For now, we are tempted to say, Yes, Virginia, there is a Bareback Top. He is the longing that lives within many HIV positive people, who may feel they can only fantasize about making their own adult sexual decisions in the face of moral condemnation or potential criminal prosecution. They may feel that having or wanting unprotected sex is shameful, something to “confess.” Perhaps Bareback Top taps this socially conditioned guilt—in a long, slow mind fuck.