My mother, an articulate, imaginative woman whom I admire, love and respect, has often said that as far as she is concerned there is nothing wrong with homosexuality per se, merely with its actualization. For her this reality comes from a devout espousal of Christianity, but for all those who believe in manifold variations of this sentiment, this creed has been further emboldened by the onslaught of AIDS. Their refusal of gay sexuality can be encapsulated thusly: How can gay men continue having sex when the ultimate result of such activity, for so many of their number, is illness and death?
In an attempt at brevity, and for the sake of this very specific and tumultuous question, I shall limit my discussion to AIDS among gay men. And for many, regardless of the myriad faces of AIDS, it does remain a queer sort of killer clap.
So how do we continue to be sexually active? Well, there I was in the late ’80s and early ’90s, knowing all there was to know about safer sex, since as an educated, gay white male in an urban center, I had all the facts at my disposal. Yet I continued to have all the sex I wanted -- and some I didn’t -- and I eventually tested positive. Due to the shame that surrounds this disease, which is virtually identical to the shame that surrounded syphilis for a thousand years, many believe that blame must be assigned somewhere when a person seroconverts. I am keen to accept responsibility for all aspects of my life and am physically revolted by any notion of denial, which would place me in the loathsome light of a victim. So I can say without rancor, accusation or shame that I am positive today because of the life I have always led and always intend to lead.
Namely, a complete life. Which entails not only devoting myself to my art, but also improving my mind and spirit along that “road of excess that leads to the Palace of Wisdom.” Work that holds no joy for me I cannot do, and when I am able to play, I invest my all to the reaping of all the delights this world affords the dandified gay male. Despite my mother’s prejudices, I cannot deny myself the consummation of my sexual desires. Desires which I believe to be as innate as hunger and thirst. As an epicure, I dine on more than bread and water.
“Good” is the most relative of terms. And if we only ever did what was “good” for us, no one would drive automobiles, eat sopresata or drink coffee. Yet most of us live lives that constantly incite dangerous variables, justifying such quandaries as best we can so that we are not reduced to stammering imbeciles contained in white padded cells.
So it is naïve to imagine that simply because sex for the gay male suddenly has another dangerous element, I shall squelch my natural impulses. Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered by a street hustler, and countless gay men have met similar deaths, but that never stopped us before, and many men continue to court sex ’along the waterfront.’ Orwell predicted that sex would become a crime -- and for many it long has been. What sexual nay-sayers must accept is that for many of us, sex is not wrong but very right indeed. While the act itself can unfortunately be an empty, desiccated conjunction -- nothing more than involuntary reflex for the sake of the perpetuation of the species -- it is also the ultimate expression of love -- of life, of the self, of another and of pure, deliciously carnal sensation.
If AIDS is that unfortunate accident on the highway of love, condoms are the seatbelts. They can prevent the spread of the disease the way they can prevent unwanted pregnancies. But seatbelts don’t always work, and sometimes, upon slipping into my crimson roadster for a spin, I haven’t put my seatbelt on. And that is what occurs when those of us who know the rules of the road suddenly tests positive.
Is it because natural sex is better than sex with a rubber? Maybe, maybe not. That depends on what you like, and what risks you wish to take. It is a decision far more complex than a “yes” to this and a “no” to that. Yet in truth the thesis need be no more morally laden than: Should I book a flight on TWA tomorrow? Or not eat that ambrosial cheese soufflé? Or not smoke another cigarette? Or not drink another martini? Or not stroll along the promenade for fear of being hit and mutilated or possibly killed by an errant in-line skater or demonic cyclist?
No, I am not sorry, Mother. I can only live my life at full throttle, tasting joy and bitterness, victory and defeat, boredom and delight, everything in the human realm that it is my privilege to encounter. Though I may be gay, I am first and foremost human.