I’ve always been a fan of Rich Juzwiak’s writing (not to mention the hilarious Pot Psychology and the genius Shit gay guys say to their cats). He’s been posting Pride & Shame pieces to Gawker, “a semi-regular series exploring sex and sexuality from the perspective of a newly single, 33-year-old, gay-sex enthusiast.” His recent piece in the series was about HIV. It’s definitely worth a read – as my friend Dan pointed out, Rich seems to be a lot more reflective than many gay men about his own status as HIV negative and how that affects (and, in fact, generally precludes) his sexual involvement with men who are open about being HIV positive.
As I was reading it, though, something bothered me and it took me a while to figure it out. At first glance, it seems quite servicey, recounting Rich’s discussions with HIV+ men and how they deal with the sexual negotiations that are part and parcel of life for those of us who are positive. And he discusses his own discomfort with the idea of engaging in sex with HIV+ men. He also provides some perspective on the risks of HIV transmission by getting some input from an HIV counselor.
But finally, it struck me – despite the PSA-ish tone, the underlying message that I got was pretty depressing – namely, that it’s kinda, maybe OK to be HIV+ and maybe guys might want to have sexy times with you – but obviously only if you’re objectively hot with a cut body and can easily score on Grindr; but, still, HIV is really more “ew gross!”
I’d already read some of the Rich’s other posts in this series – and had also felt the same vague sort of distaste for the underlying tone. I get that the writing is quite personal insofar as it’s about Rich’s own particular experiences – but it’s hard to overlook the “OMG, look at all these glamorous social events I attend, where I then meet other hot guys who want to sex me! HOT!” In another piece from the series, Rich is waxing philosophical about his long Pride weekend of socializing and sexing – but it’s hard to know what insights into gay life and culture he is providing when so much time is spent reminding us that he hooked up with a “thick slab of boy — 6-foot-4, 220 pounds” and also tricked with a 23-year-old who gave him a hickey: “That hickey, as burgundy as Kaposi’s sarcoma, was mortifying.” Wow, really?
I suppose much of my discomfort with both the tone and the content of his post is my recognition of the underlying truth of it – namely, that if you meet the objective gay standard for attractiveness, have defined abs and pecs, are under the age of 40 (possibly older if you have lots of money) and are HIV-, well then, life with the A-gays can be pretty dandy. And as an HIV+, not-very-happily-single, not-hideous-but-certainly-not-porn-star-material, solidly middle-class 48-year-old, this is a pretty depressing, albeit accurate, portrayal of my “community.”