In 2011 Michael Musto wrote a column for The Village Voice called "Why I Hate Being Gay.” At the time I thought it was tongue and cheek. Perhaps not. It made me stop and think.
I do not hate being gay, but I am dismayed. After thirty years plus of AIDS, a very large number of young men continue practicing unsafe sex and dismiss the cancer as if it was a headache or a chronic illness. It is even idiotically referred to as “The Gift” by a subculture who actively seeks out getting infected with HIV/AIDS. They call themselves bug-chasers and they look for an HIV positive man who's a gift-giver to pass on the gift of HIV.
"Bug-chasers" and "gift-givers" can be found on the Internet: a sick phenomenon world-wide. It is a case of arrested development. They live in a fallen universe of denial.
It is a battle some say it isn’t fought very hard to win. All around there is indifference to the alarming 22 percent increase of HIV infection among young gays. If HIV continues to spread at current rates, half of college-aged gay men will have the infection by the age of 50. New HIV infections have remained steady in the general public. Gay men represent two-thirds of new infections.
Of course pharmaceutical companies bear part of the blame as well. Their ads, for drugs controlling HIV, the same ads featured in this newspaper, make it sound as if it can be easily kept under control. Pop a few pills, go to the gym, take an “aspirin” and it becomes manageable.
Little thought is given to the fact that the cost of these drugs is astronomical, their side effects, debilitating. Nor are HIV drugs keeping people alive: Nearly 6,000 gay men are dying of AIDS every year, but they continue, mindlessly, going bareback. It is not justifiable with ignorance of not knowing anymore.
Instead they seem to be saying (especially when high on crystal meth): “I never met a cock I didn't like.” AIDS has been a bonanza for Big Pharma. Why not? For them the side effects may include enlarged profits. From a business standpoint it is more profitable to keep sick people alive than to cure them. If a patient must continuously take a daily cocktail of pills to survive, then pharmaceutical companies make tons of money by selling these drugs for years and years. Irresponsible gay men are accomplices in this cozy status quo.
The biggest problem we have within the drug industry is that it is funded by profit centered corporate money engines. This leads to the million dollar protocols as an attempt to recoup spent funds which are often a 20 year investment in trials, materials, facilities and labor costs. Unless research is government funded, then someone has to pay for it. Obviously the easiest pockets to pick are the end-user’s. There is a huge conflict of interest and ethical dilemma posed by having profit-centered corporate funding at the helm of the R & D’s pharmaceutical conglomerate. There is no incentive in scientific venues and disease control centers to wipe out this scourge. Farfetched? Cynical? Paranoid?
The only conspiracy here is GREED mixed with stupidity. Until there is a drastic realignment of funding, starting at the university level, it will continue getting worse by keeping new vaccines or cures out of reach. Not just for AIDS patients but all people with major illnesses.
Wearing the red ribbon on your lapel, throwing or attending fundraising parties and events are not the answers. But it is the sort of thing people like. All you have to do is “feel their pain,” write a check, pour an ice bucket over your head, and you are doing the right thing.
Americans have a tendency to believe that to “feel” is more important than doing something or, at any rate, it is the same. As CEO of this newspaper, I could flex my muscle and pull rank on the Publisher and the Associate Publisher but I rarely do besides getting into heated discussions. What irks me the most is the way AIDS is often shown. We did it again a few issues ago. Our front page read: “Ten Things HIV Positive Guys Want Negative Guys to Know” printed over the well sculptured, statuesque chest, of a young gay man. Really? Why always associate beautiful pecs and abs with this plague? How is that going to help? We are not alone, other publications do the same.
I would put the emaciated body of a patient dying of AIDS, over and over, with the caption: “This is What Aids Look Like” to shock people into thinking instead of making it sexy. Our responsibility is to inform and educate the public not perpetrate a myth of deceit and lies. It’s time to wake up and have a reality check. Enough already.