The resurgent gay plague

Robert Knight wrote a long article commenting on a Washington Post article stating that homophobia is the main cause of  a huge increase in AIDS among the world’s homosexual population.  Here’s the WaPo take on the subject:

Twenty-five years after AIDS was branded the “gay plague,” the virus is again exacting a disproportionate toll on men who have sex with men, not only in the United States but also in countries where the epidemic is just emerging.

Globally, men who engage in homosexual relations are 19 times as likely to contract HIV as the rest of the population, according to data released at the International AIDS Conference. Here in Mexico, men who have sex with men are 109 times as likely as others to develop HIV, while in the United States, 53 percent of new infections in 2006 were in gay and bisexual men.

Homophobia, biology and misplaced confidence that AIDS has become a treatable chronic illness are contributing to a disturbing flashback among scientists and activists, who say much of the world appears to have forgotten the early lessons of the AIDS epidemic.

To Knight, it’s ludicrous that the WaPo writer lists homophobia (as in “people are afraid to get treatment”) as the top cause for the disease’s resurgence.  Knight points to a little thing called personal responsibility:  less promiscuity, more safe sex.

This whole thing sent me whirling back through time to the summer of 1981.  That was the year I got a job in a research lab as the secretary to two virologists.  That was also the year that AIDS was first appearing as a blip on the medical establishment’s radar.  It wasn’t until 1982 that AIDS was a headline, rather than a minor medical conundrum.  (I can place these events so exactly because the job was before I left for England, and AIDS as an explosive news story was after I came back from England.  Given that I knew about the situation long before just about everyone else, I followed the stories with avid, and fairly informed interest.)

What I remember from the myriad articles and letters I typed up back in 1981 was the limited information that these virologists had to work with, information gathered mostly from physicians in New York and San Francisco.  What we knew then was that a small number of gay men were presenting with two hitherto rare diseases:  Kaposi’s Sarcoma and Pneumocystis carinii.  If I remember correctly, this was extremely bewildering, because KS had never before appeared to be a contagious cancer, while Pneumocystis carinii was a disease of the aged, not of healthy young men.  The virologists, still only groping towards the idea that they were looking at compromised immune systems, were worried that two hitherto rare and mostly non-contagious illnesses might have turned into epidemic diseases that could infect the rest of the population.

What my employers also knew about this handful of gay men with these bizarre dieases (and it really was a handful, perhaps 25 or 30 at that time), was that they were exceptionally promiscuous.  These sick men had hundreds of partners per year, through the bath houses and the discos.  Their drug of choice was poppers, rather than intravenous drugs.  In other words, all of the sick men in this small sample had three things in common:  KS, pneumocystis, and Olympian promiscuity.  Put the three together, and it was obvious that these guys were not ill because they were afraid to go to a doctor; they were ill because something in their lifestyle had either caused fairly rare diseases to morph into monsters diseases, or had created a whole new virus that made them vulnerable to ordinary diseases.  As it turned out, the latter hypothesis was true.

Given how quickly AIDS was politicized, it’s very easy to forget AIDS’ humble beginnings in America.  Those beginnings, however, readily put the lie to a belief that homophobia spreads the disease.  What spreads the disease is behavior.  And in a world saturated with AIDS information, in a way unimaginable back in that summer of 1981, personal responsibility has to be the frontline in the battle against the spread of homosexual AIDS.

(BTW, I have the sense that Ceci Connolly, who authored the WaPo article, is a fairly young woman.  She came of age after AIDS was completely politicized, and probably has no adult memory of the period when it was a nascent disease.)

(Second BTW:  I feel compelled to add here a caveat since I’m posting about a fairly sensitive subject.  I am a libertarian.  I do not have a problem with gay sex — although I want it to take place in the privacy of people’s homes, not on public streets.  However, since I am a libertarian, I also believe that personal responsibility is an essential element of any type of sex, gay or straight, and that’s what this post is about.)

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  • 11B40

    Greetings:

    I was living in Manhattan when AIDS was first establishing itself. Back there and then the “presenting” populations were homosexual men and Haitians. The joke du jour was the worst thing about AIDS was trying to convince your parents you were Haitian.

    I have long maintained that the biggest problem with the homosexual political agenda is the homosex, and that is what is never discussed nor permitted to be discussed. Anal intercourse is a most excellent way to communicate any number of diseases. The fact that the politicization of the epidemic so subverted the public health regimes that had been protecting us still boggles my mind. I am also amazed that it is apparently verbotten to state that people with infectious, sexually-transmitted diseases should not be having sexual intercourse.

    Now, almost 30 years later, with increased immigration from all kinds of “developing” countries and here today, there tomorrow air travel, who knows what’s coming or has already arrived.

    P.S. Thanks for not linking Zombie’s “Up Your Alley Fair” work.

  • Ymarsakar

    AIDS spreads very fast when you keep breaking the skin to where the blood vessels are.

  • BrianE

    2009 HIV/AIDS National Institute of Health Research funding is $2.9 billion dollars, when coupled with 14,016 deaths in 2008 means we’re spending $206,906 per patient death. This is a magnitude of 10 greater than the research on any other disease in the US.
    In raw dollars, only funding for all types of cancer exceeds HIV/AIDS funding.

    In addition to the amounts in the table above for AIDS research, another 11 Billion is budgeted for housing, care and cash assistance to AIDS patients, and 1 Billion for prevention. Separate from that, the US has committed to spending 15 Billion on global AIDS over five years. From 1981 to 2005 our country has spent 170 Billion on AIDS and in one more year of funding at 20 Billion+ per year, the total AIDS expenditures at 190 Billion will approach 1/5th of a Trillion dollars, or 200 Billion. See Kaiser Foundation statistics here

    More than half (59%) of the $18.5 billion of funding for FY 2004 was for care activities, 9% for cash and housing assistance, 16% for research, 5% for prevention, and 10% for international.

    http://www.fairfoundation.org/factslinks.htm

    Note: 2006 Deaths in California in newly infected patients have dropped 98 percent from their 1992 high–see it here.

    AIDS is a very political disease and while it ranks 9th in number of deaths per year, it’s funding is astronomical– for a disease that is totally preventable.

    I would suggest that the continued funding for aids is homophobic– political fear of the AIDS lobby.

    Deaths from HIV/AIDS has dropped dramatically, so the research or education has been effective, but the level of government funding for AIDS/HIV is out of proportion to the effects at the national level.

  • kalifornia kafir

    I worked for an AIDS research program for six years, and you are absolutely correct to say that the funding for this research is way out of proportion to the number of folks who are HIV-infected (more men suffer from prostrate cancer but funding for research in that area pales in comparison). It’s also well-known that the disease is spread by behavior (e.g., see Zombie’s “Up Your Alley Fair”), but you can’t criticize that behavior without suffering significant backlash. I’ve always found it ironic that people have no problem treating smokers like pariahs and feel justified in berating them for the habit, but you will not find anyone who will do the same to MSM. If the rationale behind restricting tobacco use (or alcohol, transfats, etc., etc.) is the high-cost to society of providing health care to people when they get sick from these behaviors, why isn’t anyone complaining about the high-cost of treating MSM whose behaviors results in HIV infection? The HIV/AIDS and gay lobbying groups are extremely well-organized, well-funded and aggressive. One of the Research Administrators that I worked for had gay activists stalk him through San Francisco and threaten him (personally and professionally). That Research Administrator was gay. Very few people are willing to criticize MSM behavior because they don’t want to deal with being branded a “homophobe” and have the Political Correctness Police make their lives and careers miserable.

  • USMaleSF

    BW

    Your main point, personal responsibility, is true. I do not underestimate the enormous power of the sex drive in derailing rational calculation but in the end, we are rational animals, not just animals. A lot of our dignity as humans, and as men, comes from taking frank responsibility for our behavior.

    Homophobia as a causal element? Well, yes and no. Depends a lot on where you are and who you are. I have no sympathy for a gay man in Manhattan’s Chelsea trying to use that as an excuse. For some guy in Jamaica where being clocked as gay can easily get you assaulted or killed, his level of fear and self-loathing has to be factored in.

    Minority groups, especially nowadays, love to blame other people for things that they actually have a lot of control over. Doesn’t mean that they don’t face some obstacles, but the blame game has been going on since Adam and Eve. The first conversation between God and our First Parents consisted of blaming someone else. Genesis 3.9ff. But to make this the first or central issue infantilizes us, encouraging us to see ourselves once more as victims.

    Interesting phrase, men who have sex with men. One of the themes of my life and work in the last few years has been to raise with other gay men the issue of being men. Many of us spend so much energy and time dealing with the gay part that we neglect or put off the man part. I have worked in the HIV field (86-92) and live in the SF Castro ghetto. I do not recall ever having an HIV prevention ad aimed at me which called me to act like a man and do the right thing. I am always being appealed to or coddled or pleaded with, but never confronted on my duties as a man.

    One factual point. You wrote: “they were ill because something in their lifestyle had either caused fairly rare diseases to morph into monsters diseases, or had created a whole new virus that made them vulnerable to ordinary diseases. As it turned out, the latter hypothesis was true.” No theory of the origin of HIV that I know of holds that the virus was created by a “lifestyle”. HIV has been found in preserved tissue both in the US and Africa many years before the epidemic began. “Created” is simply wrong.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Your last paragraph is absolutely correct, USMaleSF. Had I written more carefully, I would have made clear that the initial discoveries showed that the lifestyle in which these first AIDS victims engaged created a vulnerability to an existing (but almost unknown) disease that, in turn, destroyed their resistance to myriad other, fatal diseases.

    Interesting point you make, by the way, about the quality of the ads aimed at the gay community. I never thought about it. I left San Francisco a decade ago, and was not politicized when I left. I saw the ads — on buses, in BART stations, etc. — but never thought about the tone. But in retrospect, you’re definitely right, that they appealed to everything but a sense of male self-discipline and self-respect. I wonder if that’s because studies show that ad campaigns telling people to give up pleasurable, but dangerous, behavior work better if they are soft, or because it no longer occurs to anyone to appeal to people’s . . . well, backbone, for want of a better word.

  • Mike Devx

    11B40 says:
    “I have long maintained that the biggest problem with the homosexual political agenda is the homosex”

    Book maintains:
    ” feel compelled to add here a caveat since I’m posting about a fairly sensitive subject. I am a libertarian. I do not have a problem with gay sex”

    These are both in response to many things, but in particular I’d like to point out that they are in response to, at least in part, this:
    “Globally, men who engage in homosexual relations are 19 times as likely to contract HIV as the rest of the population, according to data released at the International AIDS Conference. Here in Mexico, men who have sex with men are 109 times as likely as others to develop HIV, while in the United States, 53 percent of new infections in 2006 were in gay and bisexual men.”

    This gets very frustrating for me. The frustrating part is that gay sex is always treated as if it is always the same. It’s either all bad, or it’s all ok. I sincerely wish that wasn’t case, but especially for 11B40 and for the original author, that’s the case.

    For 11B40, it’s all about ‘the homosex’. For the original author, you’ve got these statistics and percentages flying around you’re head like so many global communications satellites, that it gets confusing.

    I prefer to focus on this paragraph from the article instead:
    What my employers also knew about this handful of gay men with these bizarre dieases (and it really was a handful, perhaps 25 or 30 at that time), was that they were exceptionally promiscuous. These sick men had hundreds of partners per year, through the bath houses and the discos. Their drug of choice was poppers, rather than intravenous drugs. In other words, all of the sick men in this small sample had three things in common: KS, pneumocystis, and Olympian promiscuity. Put the three together, and it was obvious that these guys were not ill because they were afraid to go to a doctor; they were ill because something in their lifestyle had either caused fairly rare diseases to morph into monsters diseases, or had created a whole new virus that made them vulnerable to ordinary diseases. As it turned out, the latter hypothesis was true.

    Yes, you can get a disease from one regrettable one-night stand. You can EVEN get HIV, if you’re a woman, from a guy. But the statistics state the truth: It’s harder to! Quite frankly, the more sex you have with strangers, the more likely you’re at risk.

    But is it ‘the homosex’ itself, as 11B40 puts it with such elegance? Suppose two gay guys decide they are in love, and they commit themselves to a monogamous relationship, and they never cheat. But yes indeed, they have sex. Lo and behold: There shall be homosex! Is that exactly the problem causing this new gay plague.

    No, it is not. It’s the wildly rampant re-emergence of anonymous sex, and frequent sex, and wild sex, and yes, 11B40, it’s the bachhanalia of the “Up Your Alley Fair”, for which Zombie should in fact be linked to, and frequently. It’s the wretched excess that is causing the Gay Plague to reemerge in all its viral deadliness.

    Is all homosex the same? Are all the action of gay guys the same? I hope not. Else, the straight activities of one man and one woman are always to be valued the same, too. Whether they be the activities of a married, committed couple in the privacy of their bedroom, being judged equal to any spring break grunt grind on the beach, following the chug a lug of a keg of beer and a wet t-shirt contest.

    And no, I’m not going to restate the frequency of my own sexual activitity here, not with other men, women, animals, light bulbs, buttons, azeleas, nor anything else. (No poster should have to list sexual proclivities nor frequencies.) I’ve said it before here and elsewhere. A quick search of Book’s blogs will get you that info if you really need it.)

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    I agree with you completely, Mike, about the fact that gay sex isn’t, without anything more, the sole source of AIDS. Maybe I just didn’t make that clear in my post, although that’s what I was trying to say at the end of the post with my point about personal responsibility. Personal responsibility means that, if you decide to practice a behavior that’s dangerous, don’t be surprised if you don’t pick up a dangerous disease.

    In the old days, promiscuous men got deadly syphilis (and sometimes their non-promiscuous Victorian wives were unlucky enough to get it too). In the new days, promiscuous men (and women, usually prostitutes) get AIDS. (BTW, I know that needles pass AIDS too, but I’m focusing on sexual behavior here.)

    There is no doubt, however, that promiscuity tends to be more male than female. That is, there are promiscuous females, but they still have fewer notches on the bedpost than their counterparts among the men. And promiscuous straight men, who have to look to women for sex, are going to have fewer bedpost notches promiscuous gay men, who can look to each other. The fact is that I think statistics will bear me out when I say that gay men are more promiscuous than straight men or than women, either straight or lesbian.

    Also, when it comes to sexual transmission of HIV, I’m under the impression that anal sex puts a person at more risk (as Ymarsakar noted) of torn blood vessels, which create a pathway for the virus into the body. It’s true, of course, that men who are monogamous and/or who practice safe sex can have anal sex with a very, very low risk of disease. But people who are wildly promiscuous (usually gay men) and who practice anal sex (usually gay men) are in the highest risk class. So that’s where you get the correlation between male sexuality and AIDS.

    To go back to your main point, though, gay men who embrace a staid, middle class lifestyle shouldn’t be any more at risk than anyone else embracing that staid lifestyle, whether straight, gay or lesbian. And that’s true personal responsibility.

  • 11B40

    Greetings:

    This is getting even more interesting; I’m glad that I stuck my nose back in.

    I grew up back in the Bronx in the last ’60s. When the heroin plague began, I had a couple of interesting experiences with addicts. One was the individual whose contribution to the folk wisdom was “I don’t have a drug problem; I have a money problem, because if I had some money, I could get some drugs.” The other was the minimization analysis. “I’m still messing (with heroin) but I’m only (pick one) smoking… snorting…skinpopping.” What those addicts taught me was that the problem was doing drugs.

    The point I wanted to make about “the homosex” was not that it is universally the same but that it is the core of the problem. As my father used to tell me, “That’s not what that tool is for.” I don’t think we can analyze this problem effectively if we start off by saying that there is good homosex or responsible homosex that cannot be challenged anymore than we can say there is good heroin use or responsible heroin use, although I am sure there are those who would, possibly on libertarian grounds.

    One of my high school teachers introduced me to his concept of teaching and studying being on a continuum from mostly student to mostly teaching. His point was that the two activities were inter-related. I think that something similar exists with public-private behavior. While we may want to consider certain behaviors to be private, they will almost always have some public component. Back in the Bronx of my youth, heroin addicts were invited to leave our neighborhood and not to return regardless of what else they were doing besides their drugs. This was a good thing.

    It seems to me that human learn a lot of things by observation and modeling those observed behaviors. When we legitimize deviant behaviors, we get more of them. When people give in to their behavioral compulsions, they habituate and eventually require a greater intensity in their experience. Did you all not think that the “Up Your Alley” fair was predictable?

  • Mike Devx

    I can see how my prior post lead Book and 11B40 to believe that I was equating male/female sex with male/male sex. That wasn’t my intent and I simply goofed in my wording. I can clear that part up:

    ANY male/male sex act will leave you far more at risk than any male/female sex act. The only possible exception to this is two virgin males remaining committed to each other compared to male/female sex acts by two people with sexual history.

    Also:

    11B40 in post #9 indicates that homosexuality must be considered deviant, and that it is a good idea to chase it out of your neighborhood. It must be chased out of your neighborhood because knowledge of a gay person living within the neighborhood is itself a “public component”. And of course being gay is equated with being a heroin addict. I find myself wondering: What are the, oh, five worst things are that 11B40 would equate with homosexuality?

    I believe all of my statements in the above paragraph are reasonably stated based on the content and flow of 11B40’s comment. Since I certainly misworded my own, it’s possible that he misworded his, too, and my statements would then also be mistaken.

    Is the “Up Your Alley” fair predictable? Sadly, yes. And I predict that next year will be worse. And the year after that even worse. I’m sure of it.

    But this is not because “gay men” are involved. This is because LIBERAL, politically-outrageous gay men’s groups, and in fact other non-gay groups of the same sort, are driving its agenda, and the gay ghetto culture is full of gay men who believe in, value, and honor every excess of that movement. (This is why I constantly urge everyone, but especially gay men, to avoid contact with that particular sub-culture.) A fair organized and run by the Log Cabin Republicans would never experience such an unending downward spiral. I’d like to believe they would not put on a fair unless they had guaranteed enough enforcement that any such behaviors as shown in the “Up Your Alley” photos would result in immediate expulsion. But I’m not familiar enough even with that group to say for sure.

  • 11B40

    Greetings, (Mike Devx et any al.):

    I was trying to use my historical experience vis a vis heroin users as an analogy, not an equality. I don’t recall there being any homosexuals in my growing-up neighborhood, though there may well have been some. Back there and then, I don’t think they would have been willing to risk confronting the local mores. At the same time, I don’t know that the perceived threat would have been anything approaching that of the purse snatchings, burglaries and muggings that were so dear to heroin addicts. So, I don’t really have a fact based answer to your assertion.

    I don’t know if you recognize it, but I see a certain similarity with the current arguments coming from many Muslim activist groups. They seem, to me, to assert that they are not with or of the jihadis but yet they seem very reluctant to criticize those jihadis to anywhere near the degree they criticize American society. The operational difficulty becomes how does one separate the sheep from the goats. One of Chairman Mao’s axioms was that the revolutionary must be like a fish in the sea of the general population. This pretty much implies that vanguard will always be a small percentage of the society and that this is all that is necessary. Just as today’s Muslim have their carefully ambiguous statements, if any, after an atrocity, I don’t see any male homosexuals condemning the “Up Your Alley” fair and demanding corrective action from Mayor Newsom, just as there was no outcry when Supervisor Leno wanted to increase the amount of child pornography one could possess without serious criminal charge. In fact, Mr. Leno has since won a primary election for higher office.

    I am convinced that we have entered the age of the “tyranny of the minorities”. As each new group forms and espouses its perceived sense of grievance, it finds politicians unwilling to stand up to it, no matter how dubious its moral claims. The result is the continuing erosion of American culture and values. There is no operational apparatus to protect the whole. My father used to like to say that, “when the pie comes to the table, the knives come out.” I believe that too many “victim” groups have been given political knives and the American pie is quickly disappearing.

  • Mike Devx

    Hi 11B40, I agree with every word you wrote. If I could, I’d shut the “Up Your Alley” fair down. I suppose I consider it a local or a state issue, and since I’m in Texas, I am “hands off” to whatever’s going on anywhere near San Francisco. Do we have any national laws that address the worst of what was seen at this year’s “Up Your Alley” fair?

    As far as the victim groups go, you’re right in my case. I complain bitterly about them, I warn people to stay away from them because their philosophy, culture, and way of life is so profoundly destructive… but I don’t agitate to ban them. I’m not sure I’d want to ban their ability to organize and speak. I would vote for laws banning public lewd behavior.

    The tyranny of the minorities can only occur when we pay attention to them. Who knows, maybe someday the American people will realize that out of 1000 such groups screaming for their attention, only two or three have a legitimate grievance. Too many of the other such “protest movements” are staffed by very experienced political operatives who simply migrate from movement to movement as each succeeds or fizzled. It’s a network of paid protest professionals; it’s their way of life, and their livelihood. It’s all they know, and they can never stop protesting; they will ALWAYS be protesting something.

    I ignore them.