Sexual shame creates a breeding ground for HIV within the gay community, says activist Hussain Turk.
A few days after HIV Plus magazineprofiled me as one of the “Amazing HIV-Positive Gay Men” of 2014, the editors at HIV Plus andThe Advocate made me aware of an extremely disturbing reader response. Never mind the many achievements I worked so hard for, which landed me a position among this list of accomplished people. This reader instead recognized me from a bareback porno and was appalled that these publications “would be lazy enough to promote and endorse a person who has no sense of safety for our community … who encourages reckless sex with no regard to the struggle itself, or to its history … who is encouraging us all to forget where we came from and what threats still exist.”
In concluding his admonishment, the angry reader urged the publications to “think of what you are telling our gay youth.”
Contrary to his allegations, I know my history, and I know that the gays of yore who fought like hell to survive at ground zero of the HIV epidemic had absolutely no room in their agenda for the kind of slut-shaming and prudishness that the gays of today resort to. This kind of moral rectitude is an honest reflection of the mainstream gay community’s retreat into a closet where good sex has been forsaken for same-sex marriage. I don’t just mean good in the sense of orgasmic-good, I mean good in the sense of healthy, consensual, engaging, and mutually fun.
The painfully obvious irony is that in order to recognize me, this reader had to watch me. Basic economics posits that a product’s supply will vanish absent consumers’ demand for it. So why not hold himself, as a consumer of bareback porn, as accountable as the actor he condemns? Because the mainstream gay community has become a self-policing bastion of heteronormativity. We have shamed each other into sexual silence. We don’t talk about sex — and we certainly don’t celebrate it, unless it’s the kind that is on its way to becoming part of an acceptable marriage. Sex work is certainly not that kind of sex, and the fact that my scene partner and I are both undetectable and treatment-compliant is moot when some of us can’t even admit that we watch bareback porn.
Our sexual shame is a public health problem of epidemiological proportions. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a major increase in the rate of new infections among gay and bisexual men who are between the ages of 13 and 24 — a 132.5 percent increase between 2001 and 2011.
Our sexual shame erases the history of years of queer community organizing and consciousness-raising around good sex. It blinds us from our own desires as homo-sexual beings. It prevents us from showing our faces on Grindr and Scruff, forcing us instead to beg for face pics after we’ve supposedly already come out of the closet. It sucks us into bars and meth houses in thirsty droves, desperately seeking escape from our inhibitions. It precludes the gay rights corporations we fund from campaigning for treatment as prevention and PrEP or for educating about the implications of an undetectable viral load.
The concern with condomless sex is not unwarranted — and sex with condoms is not always safe. But concerns with risk and safety cannot be effectively addressed so long as our community continues to suffer from sexual shame. And shame will not disappear overnight. We need to know our history as gay men — and not the PG version that Justice Kennedy wrote about in the Supreme Court’s opinion inLawrence v. Texas. We need increased and affordable access to mental health services. We need Queers for Economic Justice. We need each other, in love, more than anything.
HUSSAIN TURK is a second-year student at University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law, a member of the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity, and one of HIV Plus magazine's“Amazing HIV-Positive Gay Men."