Un documentar şocant despre bărbaţii gay care în mod deliberat se lasă infectaţi cu virusul HIV.
An American documentary about gay men who deliberately become infected with HIV is about to shock a hardened community, writes Steve Dow.
A young, redheaded San Franciscan man is seen in close-up. He is telling the tale of how, at age 19, he set out to become infected with HIV. „I thought being positive was a positive thing,” he says. „I thought I was just going to have a lot of promiscuous, unsafe sex. I didn’t know I was going to change so fast.” He dissolves into tears. „No one told me.” So begins the confronting, sad and controversial American documentary The Gift by director Louise Hogarth, who aimed to find out why otherwise healthy gay men would seek to become infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
The phenomenon is known as „bug chasing” – HIV-negative men who seek to become infected because they see being part of the HIV-AIDS community as a way of belonging. As the film reveals, HIV-positive men who knowingly and deliberately infect others are known as „gift-givers”. The film will be the most talked about in this year’s Melbourne Queer Film Festival, which begins on Thursday. Many gay men will be displeased by its message. Quite possibly, the behaviour discussed and displayed in the film will be extrapolated by some to define the entire gay community.
It is an important documentary, however, and canvases a range of American gay men: monogamous couples; men who slip up occasionally and forget to use condoms with casual partners; and the regretful, infected men who talk about how their medications have given them heart conditions and how they have watched their partners die. And then there are the men who regularly „bareback” – have anal sex with multiple partners without condoms, often celebrating and advertising the fact – either because they want to be infected; because they are already HIV-positive and know or assume their partner is, too; or, regardless of their HIV status, they simply don’t care about the consequences. This final group – the reckless men who take risks, but do not actively seek to give or receive the virus – are probably by far the biggest group of men who „bareback”, although there are no useful epidemiological studies of intention among barebackers.
„Bug chasers” are currently getting the greater share of media attention, however, because the intent to attain HIV is unfathomable and repugnant to many. The issue, it seems, is much more complex than safe-sex fatigue, some 21 years since AIDS emerged in American cities. The advent of triple combination therapies for HIV commuted what was an almost certain death sentence to a long-term, manageable illness – though the treatments do not always work, and have toxic side effects. Yet AIDS has been glamorised, says a circle of HIV-positive men interviewed in the film. Those with HIV are living longer, and often don’t show the outside signs of the disease.
US safe-sex campaigner Walt Odets makes the point in The Gift that campaigns on wearing condoms have been neglected in deference to the sensitivities of HIV-positive gay men. „We had to stop doing it because it was frightening to positive men,” he says. In January, the US edition of Rolling Stone magazine ran a controversial expose on bug chasing. The article quoted a psychiatrist’s claim (who says he has been misquoted) that 25 per cent of new HIV infections were a result of bug chasing. The estimate seemed to include all gay men who „bareback”; as though most gay men who abandon condoms are chasing the virus, whether or not they are conscious of the desire. Introducing The Gift to an audience at last month’s Mardi Gras film festival, AIDS Council of New South Wales president Adrian Lovney said his problem with the debate was that it mixed irresponsibility (slipping up occasionally) with those gay men at the extreme end seeking infection. He confirmed there were bug chasers in Australia.
„It is true that there are a proportion of gay men who are deliberately seeking out exposure to the virus for some reason – described by others as ‘acting out’,” he said. „We must listen to these men’s stories because they are important to our overall response to HIV. „But it would be unfair and irresponsible to extrapolate their behaviour across the entire gay community as the moral majority in America have done.” The problem, however, is that an indisputably increasing number of gay men are advertising for unsafe or bareback sex on the internet. As one doctor says in The Gift, internet chat rooms are becoming the new gay bars. A search of one offshore, bareback website reveals hundreds of gay men from all Australian cities have placed personal advertisements on it.
The reaction of the gay press in Australia and the US to The Gift and the Rolling Stone article has largely been to report the controversy, but not to investigate the phenomenon. Conservative gay commentator Andrew Sullivan argued in Salon that what people advertise sexually on the internet is often fantasy, and not always acted out. Louise Hogarth is not enamoured with this response. She told Frontiers Online Magazine: „These so-called experts, pundits and leaders of gay culture who have chosen to stick their heads in the sand are throwbacks to the early days of the epidemic when denial and enhanced victimisation reigned, but did little to stem the tide of infection. „Statistics are easily convoluted and bandied about by both sides of this controversy. „I have seen – and this film chronicles – the abundance of websites and persons who are dedicated to becoming purposefully infected with HIV. They clearly think infection is no big deal. „The percentages and statistics are mostly irrelevant. „Myself, I wouldn’t have devoted two years to this project if I thought it was just a passing fad or if I thought it didn’t pose a threat to the vitality of a (gay) culture that I adore.” And as for bug chasers in Melbourne – do they exist?
At least one man previously involved with HIV prevention seems to think they do: „Well, they’ve finally put a name to it, have they? Bug chaser is both distinctive and catchy, and finally gives a name to some men I first encountered in Melbourne (several years ago). „There was a small group of gay men who were negative and, simply, wanted to be positive. Reasons varied: government entitlements; a lover recently diagnosed; (and) perhaps the most frightening, those who just wanted to experience what a ‘minority’ were experiencing.”
text by: The Age (theage.com.au)
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