Why did AIDS explode among gay men in America bt never took off as a pandemic among heterosexuals here? And even though straight people get HIV through unsafe sex every day, why don't their seroconversion rates look anything like ours 16 years into the plague? Gabriel Rotello says it's because we're sluts. News flash: Having sex with many different people who are also having sex with many different people promotes disease. Despite the emergence of the Condom Code in the '80s-"a classic technological fix" to an ecological problem, as Rotello puts it-gay men keep getting infected and dropping like flies. With the introduction of increasingly powerful anti-HIV drugs and transmission rates still far above what Rotello calls the "epidemic threshold," the future promises new waves of infections with resistant strains of virus unless each promiscuous gay man radically reduces his number of sexual partners. If anyone but Gabriel Rotello were telling us to zip it up, I'd be the first to crucify him. But because he's a groundbreaking journalist, stalwart AIDS activist and champion of gay rights, this warning is harder to dismiss. Gabriel is no erotophobic Chicken Little.
Sexual Ecology blows the doors off the epidemiological closet. Rotello makes the case that the gay male sexual revolution of the '70s created ideal conditions for the evolution and spread of HIV. With surgical precision and fearless intellectual honesty, he speaks he unspeakable and lays out the inexorable arithmetic of death that is our current destiny. Paying full tribute to how AIDS has been used to scapegoat and further stigmatize gay men as sexual outlaws, and without retreating from the sacred text of sexual liberation, he suggests that thinking with our dicks is killing us-and something's got to give if we're to have a future on Earth.
Much as Larry Kramer's Faggots demonstrated in 1979 how finding love becomes almost impossible amidst too much sex, Sexual Ecology argues convincingly that maintaining group health is highly improbable if fucking around remains the pre-eminent expression of gay male sexuality. Without "rewards and incentives" for "responsible and moral" behavior, thousands of gay men are doomed. Creating a culture where comrades, freinds and lovers outnumber tricks, while maybe not a new idea, is a noble and daunting challenge. Whatever the complexity of the task, though, the first step must be an honest assessment of how we got into this mess and what each of us can do to end it. Rotello delivers that in spades.
Rotello thoughtfully explains how the very organizations sworn to end AIDS have helped perpetuate the myth that "AIDS is not a gay disease," which obscures the fact that it's within our own power to halt transmissions. He parses the shortcomings of generic prevention programs-such as eroticizing anal sex and ignoring negotiated safety-and lays blame for our collective denial on enemies ranging from the far right to our own private hopes that we can hang on to our epic sex lives and not make one another sick.
Having made the ecological case against promiscuity, he then puts forth some sensible ideas for encouraging a queer society based more on mutual respect than on orgasmic potential. Gay marriage, serial monogamy, emphasizing the dangers of oral sex without a condom and closing sex clubs are among the many tools at our disposal. It may not sound like much on paper, but when you try to put these changes into practice in your own life, you instantly realize that such a proposal is revolutionary.
I'm 42 years old, hot, single and, as far as I know, still HIV negative. I've fucked around with legions throughout the plague-hundreds of them HIV positive. I still find free love life-affirming and central to my identity; the older I get, the more friends I lose, the more I want it. Two decades after the introduction of HIV into my sexual peer group, I make a huge leap of faith each day and conclude that whatever I've been doing must be working. As Rotello proves beyond a shadow of doubt, I've been lucky. If every gay man walked around thinking like that, we'd all be dead.
I dreaded reading Sexual Ecology because I didn't want to be scolded about my sex life by a friend and a colleague. What I discovered was one of the seminal works of the plague years. It belongs on the shelf next to And the Band Played On and Reports from the Holocaust. This is no sermon on unbridled libido. It's a monumental testament of love for which we should thank the author.