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May 7, 2008

Killer Gay Sex!

by Tony Valenzuela

The Absence of Politics

On a Fuzeon preparation mat, a laminated work station that comes with the drug, the New York Patient places alcohol pads, two syringes and two small vials, one with sterile water, the other with the powdered medication.  With the larger syringe he draws the sterile water out of one of the tiny bottles and shoots it at an angle into the other filled with this powerful drug that has kept him alive for three years when other treatments have failed.  We are in his living room.  He’s wearing khaki shorts, flip-flops and a pale baby-blue print shirt which he lifts to show me his belly covered in a shocking rash of welts—red, bruised and painful.  He grabs my hand and directs my finger to one of the injection-site sores, a smooth, flat and surprisingly hard lump of inflamed tissue about two inches in diameter.  He lifts the legs of his shorts to show me his thighs, also covered.  The fabric from his clothes can become an unbearable irritant, and every day he places ice packs to soothe the pain and swelling.  With his fingers he searches, alternating from legs to belly, right side to left, for a spot with the least amount of tenderness.

The Fuzeon powder takes 10 minutes to mix in water, and at that time he draws the prepared mixture into the smaller syringe then flicks it gently with his finger to release air.  He locates a small area on his thigh more in recovery than healed amid this field of sores, dabs the spot with alcohol, takes a quick deep breath, then presses the needle into his thigh letting out a small gasp as it disappears into his leg.  Slowly the liquid drains into his subcutaneous fat and almost immediately bubbles at the surface of his leg into a reservoir that will take several hours to absorb.  Every day, twice a day he repeats this procedure. “I wouldn’t be here without it,” he tells me.

This is what can happen with HIV in its most rare and dangerous of strains.  Preceding the injection, he’d swallowed 18 pills, a staggering array of HIV prophylactics and vitamins, down in one gulp of smoothie he’d prepared with protein powder, fresh strawberries and apple juice.   On the coffee table sits a square black zipper case, the size of an extra-large makeup bag, which stores all these medications taken every day to stave off his difficult-to-combat virus.  He will soon start Isentress, the first integrase inhibitor class of HIV medication approved by the FDA in October—a respite if not permanent alternative to the harrowing daily injections.

I watched the unsettling scene as if in another time, say the early ’90s, evoking the history of AIDS suffering I know mostly from the literature of the day, the devastatingly immersive detail of misery by great chroniclers of that era, men not much older than I who bore the brunt of the plague.  The New York Patient is of that generation, but his experience with AIDS is distinctly of this time—solitary, stigmatized, yet hopeful that pharmaceuticals will take him from one decade to the next.
“I was put back on Fuzeon,” he told me somewhat exasperated, after failing a different regimen that caused his liver enzymes to skyrocket.  “I was feeling like I wasn’t succeeding in my treatment even though I was putting so much work into it.  I also had this interaction with a guy I had romantic feelings for that didn’t work out.  I started getting angry at the virus, angry at the medications, angry at the injections,” he told me. “In the past I felt frustrated for having the virus, but never angry.  Now I felt really pissed.”

Anger has not come easily to him in our conversations.  He had told me he felt “numb” during the initial crush of media attention that portrayed him as depraved.  He felt scared to be so ill and grateful to get better.  His process of picking up the pieces has depended more on a spiritual awakening than a clenched-fisted response to poor decision making and even worse luck. 

A friend of mine recently commented that the absence of anger in HIV activism today is the absence of politics.  By politics he did not mean “equal rights,” or the sort of “Fight AIDS” activism that resonated in the past but feels meaningless now.  The absence of politics, of anger, is one in which the voice of ordinary gay men unbiased by funding streams and institutional affiliations is rarely heard outside the researcher’s qualitative interview.  Anger is an emotion the New York Patient could hardly access given the anger directed at him, at people who do meth, who have unprotected sex, who become HIV positive.  The New York Patient’s anger is not externalized; it’s directed at his virus, at his tainted blood, at himself.  What he is reflecting is a state of affairs of being a gay man today, in particular one with HIV.  Anger is not allowed.
It barely seems to matter that he, like others with HIV, is stigmatized, or that gay men’s sex practices are pathologized, as long they keep HIV-negative men uninfected.  Gay men’s very existence is equated with disease in a call to protect the “general public” while our national LGBT leaders are more inclined to call gay men “complacent” than to indict a health establishment that has built an entire industry around the so-called deficits of gay men.  How have we arrived at this place where in the interest of health, stigma has become institutionalized?

From his living room we moved to his bedroom where he showed me his altar sitting on top of a bureau. There sat a small Buddha statue, some rock crystals and a golden elephant. He had a quill and a stack of papers he said were prayers. He also had the results of his last blood test, his health insurance certificate and a flyer for the Path to Self-Mastery workshop at Friends In Deed.  “The circumstances of your life do not determine the quality of your life,” he said, one of the teachings of his Mastery class.  On the wall above his altar hung a painting, quite beautiful, that he did in a workshop at GMHC: vivid colors of red meant to signify pain, green for hope, yellow for light, blue for serenity and purple for melancholy in abstract blocks side by side like dramatic rock formations.  He has taken refuge in the spiritual, which along with psychology, has come to mediate our inner selves with the world at large.  The personal used to be the political.  Today it is simply personal and best worked on in therapy.  What we are left with is accountability that starts and ends at the individual.  This is a time in American HIV activism that is militantly anti-political.

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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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