It’s Saturday evening as I type from my apartment in Neukölln, Berlin. I’ve been here since Tuesday evening, and already, without even having visited the archives at Schwules Museum, the world’s first LGBTQ history museum, I’ve been overwhelmed by the intensity of the threads forming in Viral Legacies. Writing about the very subjects I’m simultaneously living and experiencing for the first time probably add to this feeling. But there’s something about queer sexuality being everywhere and being so accessible in Berlin that I’ve also never encountered before. So, where do I go from here?
I must continue to make my project visible and dynamic. How do I do that? Keeping a running log of thoughts has provided opportunity for me to collect snippets and ideas the moment they emerge, allowing me to return later to flesh out those that stick. I have also advertised the project on my Grindr, Scruff, Tinder, and GayRomeo profiles, and have received numerous suggestions for other materials to look at. Gay apps might seem like an odd place to advertise this project, but with everyone impacted by HIV/AIDS in some way, these spaces are the most emotionally raw places to talk about sexuality. The level of frankness I’ve experienced so far has been welcome, and has also forced me to reflect on my own behaviors and experiences.
A lot of people ask if I’m conducting interviews but I’m not. I find the use of interviews perfect for an academic text, but Viral Legacies, though critical about history, sexuality and remembrance, is not a formally structured text. Instead of interviews, I use these experiences from gay apps to build a project structured on the idea of contact logic. This is to say, I explore ideas around sexuality in sudden and casual contact, which brings me closer to both the immediacy and intimacy of sexual acts themselves. As a result, we develop a rapport through sex talk that cannot be so easily categorized. I want to embody these desires while resisting the scientific methods that have medicalized gay sex.
I’ve already been struck by the prevalence of bareback sex requests in Berlin. Bareback sex happens everywhere, but among men in Berlin, the requests to have bareback sex are direct and sex club culture has helped facilitate an open fetishization of bareback sex. People have made raw sex something erotic because of the risk involved in these situations. Even though I haven’t used condoms in the past, this kind of openness surrounding barebacking is unfamiliar to me. As a result, I must also check myself and avoid making snap judgments without trying to look deeper into how queer sexuality has developed in Berlin.
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? It is. But each day, each request for sex, each conversation about sex I have with men on apps, every poem I read or essay I peruse, I feel like I’ve stumbled into a field of landmines that I want to blow up. Tonight a poet friend in Berlin has given me a collected volume of poems by Tim Dlugos, and I’ve been particularly struck by a poem titled “Radiant Child,” dedicated to Keith Haring. When I find these landmines in my research, I’ll be reminded of the lines, “by the time she’s old enough /?to crawl like the child?/ in the drawing, his hand?/will wear a coat of dust, / or long ago have been /?reduced to ash.” With every explosive thought, emotion or desire, the smoke and ash of this past settles on my skin for me to see. These are our viral legacies.