POZ Exclusives : Killer Gay Sex! - by Tony Valenzuela

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May 7, 2008

Killer Gay Sex!

by Tony Valenzuela

The clueless tabloid and public health hysteria over man-on-man sex may be hindering HIV prevention efforts. From an imaginary “super strain” of HIV to the sci-fi MRSA superbug: What is it about gay sex that makes U.S. health officials want to play Chicken Little with AIDS prevention and public safety?


With this special report, we are pleased to introduce POZ Podium, a highly opinionated forum for leaders in AIDS prevention, treatment, advocacy and activism. Periodically, POZ will ask those shaping policies, trends and theories to share their most critical thinking. Our hope? To ignite a conversation around the hottest topics connected to HIV/AIDS.


POZ's February 1999 issue

To illustrate his passionate defense of unprotected sex, or barebacking, HIV-positive activist Tony Valenzuela posed naked on horseback for the cover of POZ’s February 1999 issue and was interviewed for the accompanying story on barebacking (click here to read the piece ). Now, for this POZ Podium, Valenzuela offers a provocative essay exploring what he considers U.S. public health officials’ demonization of gay male sex and how the pathologizing of gay men’s behavior hinders successful AIDS prevention efforts. Valenzuela traces a compelling history—from the mythic hyper-promiscuous “patient zero” of the 1980s, to the fictional meth-addicted sexual compulsive at the center of the bogus 2005 New York City HIV “supervirus” scare, to the recent tabloid headlines that described MRSA staph as a “gay disease”—pointing out how the hysteria and misperceptions around gay sex stigmatize gay men, stereotype them and disenfranchise them from the public health system. In a reporting coup, he interviews the New York supervirus patient—the man whose legendary “superbug” was documented in an article in New York magazine in April 2005 (click here to read the piece). Through their conversations, a radical proposal for rethinking gay prevention efforts emerges.
 
Tony Valenzuela’s community work and writing focus on the politics of sex, gay men’s subcultures and an assets-based perspective in health promotion. He is currently writing a book about gay men and sexual risk told through his own personal story and has most recently been published in the LA Weekly, Frontiers, Inside Him and ZYZZYVA.





Activist Tony Valenzuela

In February 2005, a New York man with a multidrug-resistant strain of HIV and a crystal meth dependency became the source of the most reported AIDS story of the decade, but he had never, until now, spoken about his trying ordeal.  A slew of chilling claims was made about this man – that he carried a new, more virulent strain of HIV dubbed a “supervirus” that progressed from infection to AIDS in as little as two months; that his meth-induced promiscuity would instigate a deadly epidemic potentially undoing a quarter century of progress against HIV; that he signified what many in the gay community had been dreading would occur, given that gay men—stubbornly, recklessly—refused to give up their uniquely nefarious brand of promiscuity.  It is, then, no less remarkable that these allegations that gripped the world with renewed fears of gay plague proved comprehensively false, yet the cycle of alarm that equates gay men with disease—as seen once again this past January in San Francisco with a drug-resistant “gay staph” scare—continues unabated to this day.  By the time the man with the “supervirus” disappeared from the headlines, those still paying attention would learn he did not have a never-before-seen strain of HIV nor did he set off a new epidemic.  Instead, he carried a very rare and difficult-to-treat multidrug-resistant virus that is today fully suppressed as he adheres to a complicated regimen of antiviral medications.

In Paris, the same year the “supervirus” story broke, the late gay-rights pioneer and scholar Eric Rofes declared to an audience of international activists, “The pathologizing of gay men’s communities and cultures and spaces is the most powerful challenge we face to promoting gay men’s health.”  Three years later, this man’s story lays bare how far too many who work and report on gay health narrowly imagine the sex lives of gay and bisexual men inside a realm of disease and dysfunction. 

“This was something that changed my life radically,” the New York man told me in the thoughtful, considered tone that marked our many conversations. “I had to give up my job.  I had to stay in bed.  I got HIV.  Sometimes I feel like I wish I had cancer so I wouldn’t have to deal with the stigma that goes with this.”  I would speak to him only by phone at first, each of us on different coasts.  He has been careful to keep his identity secret for fear, not ungrounded, that past sex partners or public health vigilantes stoked by the yellow journalism that covered his story would seek him out for retribution.  In addition, he has yet to tell his family what he’s been through.  For these reasons, I have omitted some details of his life.  Because I cannot use his real name, I will call him the New York Patient, a problematic epithet but one relevant still since he is like so many gay and bisexual men today—awash in diagnoses. 

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Search: Tony Valenzuela, barebacking, supervirus, Thomas Frieden, Larry Kramer, Michael Weinstein


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  comments 1 - 15 (of 16 total)     next > >>

Jesse, , 2008-07-07 15:43:21
Please...Tony V. has once again decided to come out of hiding to try and be a flavor of the month. Every couple of years critics like Valenzuela crawl out of the woodwork and complain about how much gay HIV prevention work sucks. But do any of them put in the hours/weeks worth of work to advocate for and actually create effective programming? How about helping to build up glbt health workers and advocates instead of incessantly harping about how much we suck?

Phillip Schwartz, , 2008-05-14 13:30:22
Than you for printing this story! I worked for 12 years as an HIV test counselor at a free clinic serving the GLBT community. Our client base was mainly unable to access health care elsewhere, many were non white and impoverished and many were also closeted. These circumstances put our clients at high risk for STD infection and HIV infection. I want to applaud Tony Valenzueala for publicly debunking some of the myths surrounding new HIV infections among men who have sex with men. Thank you.

Bruce, miami, 2008-05-14 13:03:36
First and formost i want to remind everyone that you do not have to be gay to catch HIV. I have been positive for 12 years and in my line of work on medical equipment been through treatment for being stuck with sharp objects 3 times. They power dose you with HIV mneds in an effort to prevent you catching the disease. I have a tattoo that i wanted many years ago.You can get this virus from many different paths today. Just protect yourself and those you love. Make them aware. Live Life and Love.

PAC, Baltimore, 2008-05-14 01:01:54
This is the most pathetic rationalization of the self-inflicted self-destructive squalor so many Gay men choose to live in, now rebranded as defiant acts of pseudo-liberation. The loveless compulsiveness, the men who intentionally chase down HIV to fill the "hole" in their lives; why examine this sad nihilism when it can be glamorized and everything else blamed on the MOSPs (Mean Old Straight People)?

josewilsonmontoya, long island, 2008-05-13 23:33:16
great story about gay men have been treated over the past 25 years since the beginning of HIV. I think we should be more aware about all the messages out there that instead of helping us is hurting us. Good job

Gary, Jacksonville, FL, 2008-05-13 18:25:54
As for that couple in 2003, he’s not angry at them and says only, “They're very good people. I don't blame them. I blame crystal.” So much for responsibility for your own actions. I popped POZ too after a bad crystal habit. Guess who I blame? ME!! Being high is not an excuse to forgo protection. It's just stupid, which I was and so was he. Seems like he still can't come to terms with the life he created.

Kim Watson, New York, 2008-05-13 15:53:05
Re-inventing the wheel from HIV 101,STD,STI's is fantastic...I am 23years HIV positive,living with AIDS,but I am of trans-experience female,I am employed at one agency as the Navigator and Retention Care Specialist,I will always be your ally.....each one teach one. Kim,.

Johnny Guaylupo, brooklyn, NY, 2008-05-12 16:40:31
Hello, I thank you for bringing this back to life, this is the NAKED TRUTH and we should all know about it!~

Rod McCoy, Washington, DC, 2008-05-12 11:05:10
I'm an HIV educator, and I became infected in 2002. The question put to me was "How could you be come infected?" The truth is I enjoyed sex with condoms, but felt I couldn't share that with anyone. Demonizing unprotected sex (and the people who practice it) won't make HIV or AIDS go away. Honest and nonjudgmental messages about unprotected sex with REALISTIC strategies for reducing risk is what's needed. Especially since many naysayers have unprotected sex themselves! Thanks, Tony!

James, Minnesota, 2008-05-11 14:57:14
This article should be published in the TIMES magazine and on the front page of every newspaper in the country. Unless this information is given to the general public this disease will continue to be mis-represented.

David, Atlanta, 2008-05-10 11:33:12
I dont buy the author's argument that just because other groups are also sexually irresponsible, its ok for gay men to behave that way. Just like lung cancer from smoking, heart disease from overeating, HIV and other STDs come from promiscuity. The more cigarettes you smoke, the higher your risk for lung cancer. The more anonymous sex parters you have the more likely you will become infected. Sure, sex between consenting adults should be a right but promiscuity is hazardous to your health

Jim Pickett, Chicago, 2008-05-09 17:58:45
Fantastic piece! Would like to let readers know about IRMA - International Rectal Microbicide Advocates. Our global advocacy group supports the research and development of safe, effective and acceptable rectal microbicides that could provide extra protection with condoms, or some protection in the absence of condoms. They could be in lube or enema form, for example, and would be another prevention tool. There is vaginal research happening too! For more on IRMA www.rectalmicrobicides.org THX

agnes, new york, 2008-05-08 19:16:44
i am an hiv-negative woman in love and in a committed relationship with an hiv-positive man. his viral is very load is undetectable. we sometimes have unprotected vaginal sex--really just some strokes. i definitely feel stigmatized, particularly from other women, about that and have rarely told other folks because of it. people look at you like you're crazy. as if there is no way to reduce your risk or simply make an informed decision to take a risk once in a while and feel ok about it.

Sergio Sanchez, Los Angeles., 2008-05-08 19:14:18
I completely agree with you on every single point. I have been working on the HIV field for 14 years, always dealing with the impositions of CDC and OAPP contracts. They are so narrow that don't left any room to improve or for feed back from HIV poz people. I am too a long term survivor, and I am too a gay man claiming his right to have sex, love and the natural way. It is a choice among two people, not goverment has to be allow in it.

Thomas B. Bowie, Jr, Village of Rossie, Upstate New York, 2008-05-08 16:05:13
I am glad to hear Tony is alive and well. I was fortunate to bring his show to Hartford back in 2000. I was working then as a positive gay man bringing information to other positive men through one of the many HIV Prevention Programs offered under the Clinton Administration. Then all education that was honest stopped in the years of the Bush Administration. All the work done to that point was put aside as ASOs and CBOs ran for cover to continue funding under the new rules of Bush. Pray its over

comments 1 - 15 (of 16 total)     next > >>


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