Another Progressive showdown between ideology and reality

I was in San Francisco during the peak AIDS years.  I remember how death stalked the streets (many, many people I knew died) and I remember how deeply in denial the gay community was.  The most visible sign of that denial was the fight to keep open the gay bath houses, which were scenes of unbridled debauchery and major vectors in spreading AIDS.  There was nothing untoward in the city’s trying to shut the bathhouses down, since the city’s efforts to control an epidemic’s spread fell squarely within government’s traditional role.

At the New Yorker, Michael Specter has written an article that reports something that people familiar with the modern gay community tend to notice on an annual basis:  young gay men have forgotten the scourge, and are repeating the pattern of unbridled, unprotected, promiscuous sex (on a scale heterosexuals cannot imagine) coupled with drug use.  It’s how AIDS gained such a foothold in America last time, rather than living on only in dusty medical journals, and it’s a worrisome sign that AIDS could be resurgent or that something equally awful could take its place (especially today, when we’re reaching limits on our antibiotics).

Specter’s article heads today’s New Yorker’s “most read” list.  It therefore makes a nice matched set with today’s news, which is that men who are openly gay and bisexual are trying to end the ban on blood donations:

A push by activists to ease the 30-year-old blanket ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men faces a key test this week as a federal panel hears results of the latest research. The findings will be released amid growing pressure from politicians and advocates, including college students, to change the policy.

Critics say the ban is a hangover from the early, fear-filled days of AIDS, stigmatizing gay men and ignoring advances in treatment and detection in the decades since.

Yes, the blood-donation ban is a hangover from the early days of AIDS, and yes, we have better techniques for screening blood . . . for HIV and AIDS.  Given that gay men are engaging in the same behavior that led to AIDS’ rapid spread, though, it’s sensible to worry that they might be acting as the vector from some nasty new disease for which we don’t yet have either screening techniques or treatments.

(I’ve sometimes wondered if my resistance to gay marriage doesn’t stem from the fact that I remember vividly the 1970s and early 1980s in San Francisco. Gay activists over the past twenty-plus years have advanced the gay marriage agenda by painting gay couples as ordinary middle class couples. That’s not the way I remember them. People having drug-fueled orgies with up to a hundred partners, all of them strangers, is not the middle class norm. The San Francisco Gay Pride parade does not present the middle class norm. The public nudity and sex that is a strong feature of the San Francisco gay scene is not the middle class norm. While there are indeed stable middle class gay couples — I know several such couples — I also know that they’re not the norm.)

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  • Ymarsakar

    The Ancients knew from experience that things such as this, gay sex, had problems and issues.

    They just attributed a bunch of stuff to deviant sexual behavior they could never verify. But there was always a grain of truth in the behavior of humans.

    The Left will destroy any civilization that allows a single Leftist to remain alive.

  • Caped Crusader

    Well do I remember the early days. Our son was playing basketball at the time and there were two fathers who were fellow physicians and researchers at St’ Jude, qnd every Saturday morning while sitting in the bleachers they would tell about this strange new disease that was killing young men with a strange pneumonia that ordinarily caused no harm to healthy people; Pneumocystis carinii. It was originally named GRIDS (gay related immune deficiency syndrome), and remained so until it gained a political following, and was renamed AIDS, so as not to offend anyone. My early thoughts were if it is easily spread as first feared, even to heterosexuals, mankind was doomed and a new Great Plague was upon us all

    Makes masturbation a little more user friendly, eh Ron?

    • Ron19


  • jj

    I’m old enough to remember that well before AIDS appeared, the medical community was already in despair when they looked at the gay community. The sexual appetite of that community was, in places like New York and San Francisco, well beyond the voraciously insane, and a thousand fluid-exchange contacts – 99.9% of them anonymous – in a single year was not at all unheard-of. As Selma Dritz (infectious disease specialist for the SF Dept. of Health at the time) pithily noted: “too much is being transmitted here.” She was not at all alone in the medical community. You can’t keep coming into contact with other people’s fecal matter and expect to remain in glowing good health. Or even reasonable good health. As quick as new drugs (Flagyl would be a good example) were found, that community’s promiscuity and subsequent demand for said new drug rendered it virtually useless. This was going on before AIDS even appeared, and became an issue. Diseases we thought were well-controlled or even on their way out the door in this country ran riot in that community.

    I guess when far too many members of a group’s defining characteristic is where they put it and how often they use it, they’re going to resist any and all attempts to moderate that characteristic. In this case right up to the point of suicide. (If you refuse to modify your behavior in the face of almost inevitable appalling consequence, then you might as well be walking around carrying a sign that says: ‘There’s something really, REALLY wrong with me.’)

    And today? It seems to be a characteristic of the human race. Every other generation seems to forget, and is required to re-learn – often painfully – that you cannot put liberals in charge of anything without inevitable disaster. Every other generation seems to need to re-learn that the way to approach manifest monsters is not to appease them, but step on their throats early. And every other generation of the gay community seems to need to have it spelled out in stark terms: “boys, modify that behavior, or there will be consequences. There’s plenty of stuff that can kill you other than AIDS. And you can no longer just pop some pills and hop back in the sack, antibiotics grow progressively weaker and diseases grow progressively stronger. Telling you this isn’t good enough? You have to see it with your own eyes?”

    And the answer to that one is yeah. Every generation has to learn it – everything – over again. We’re human, we retain nothing, except water and fat. We have to be hit in the face with a two by four before anything sticks. .

  • Bookworm

    I remember that time too, jj. The summer of 1981, I worked as a secretary for two San Francisco research virologists. The data that was coming in was scary. In addition to the Kaposi sarcoma and Pneumocystis carinii, both practically unheard of in young, healthy people, there was an explosion in SF and NY of syphilis, gonorrhea, giardia (a gut problem), crabs, etc. Anything that could be sexually transmitted was sexually transmitted.

    One of my friends contracted AIDS during its heyday. He knew when he’d gotten it, too — during an orgy when he’d had unprotected sex (all gay men then had unprotected sex, because they didn’t worry about getting their partner pregnant) with dozens of men, thanks to poppers. He died with a great deal of courage, dignity, and decency, and said to his dying day that he didn’t regret that party, something I thought ranked high on the denial scale. I didn’t begrudge him that denial, though, since he needed it to get through the terrible days and nights he suffered as he died.

    • jj

      The only comment I’d make is that the probability is that he had no idea where he contracted the virus. He wanted to blame a specific incident – okay. But that’s unlikely to be realistic, because this is a virus that can sit cheerfully within you for ten – possibly more – years before the first intimations of its presence. If your friend died in 1983 he may have contracted it in 1973, or even earlier: there really is no knowing. Few people are able to accurately tie it to a specific incident because the incubation period can be just too damn long.

  • Robert Arvanitis

    Besides AIDs, there are innumerable issues where ideology and reality clash.

    Deaf parents protest helping their children hear, because that would undermine deaf culture..

    Racial minorities likewise protest cross-racial adoption..

    In the end, reality always wins. The only question is the cost.

  • pst314

    “He died with a great deal of courage, dignity, and decency, and said to his dying day that he didn’t regret that party,”

    Did he regret that he might have subsequently passed the virus on to others?

  • KellyM

    I ride Muni every day to work, and have noticed that the Castro Metro station is filled, end to end, with adverts reminding men, specifically the under 30 crowd, that HIV is not a health issue from the past. Clearly there’s been an uptick either in HIV-positive test results or a resurgence in risky behavior, or both. I can’t tell if it’s a private health foundation that’s the sponsor or the SF Department of Public Health but no matter. It’s clearly on someone’s radar.

  • Ymarsakar

    Stay tuned for the next plague that’s designed by humans to wipe out humans: zombie virus.

  • Mike Devx

    It has always been interesting to me that I was both incredibly naive until I was about 32, and I was also completely in the gay closet, even to myself. I remained convinced that if I just kept trying *harder*, I could change myself to straight. It was a miserable time, and I finally accepted that it just was not going to happen, when I was about 30.

    What interests me is that I was born in ’62, so it was about ’92 when I accepted being gay. What if I’d accepted it at the age of 18? That would have been 1980 – right at the start of the exploding AIDS crisis. As naive as I was, and I was totally naive, I probably would have bought into all the prevalent customs of the gay ghetto, including the correctness of promiscuous, casual anonymous sex. I was liberal, I followed the crowd, I had few to no convictions of my own.

    Detroit was not exactly a hotbed of AIDS nor a gay mecca, but they had their share of cases. For all of my so-called “misery” and “struggle”, I often wonder if I’d have been just another forgotten AIDS victim had I not spent my teens and 20s closeted in the struggle.

    By my 30s, I’d develped a sense of self, and I’d rejected the path of easy promiscuity as a dead end. And, of course, AIDS was a well known scourge by that time, so you’d have to be a complete blithering idiot then to do what these new young gays are apparently doing now.

    There’s a category of light, humorous reading called ‘The Darwin Awards”, covering stunts and actions by people (idiots) who remove themselves from the human gene pool. This is not that funny, but if removing yourself from the gene pool is the way they choose to go, well, you can’t really stop them, can you?

    • Bookworm

      That’s a very interesting point about maturity, Mike. I was never a substance user (even social alcohol), but when I was young, I could dance or I could work all night, whichever was needed. Now, I can’t do either, nor would I want to.

      I certainly did stupid things in my 20s, some of which still affect me today, although none (thankfully) in an STD way. I just made dumb decisions at some of the crossroads in my life, and always have to pay a price for dumb decisions.

      So yes, maturity matters a great deal. In the old days, because there was no welfare and no birth control, young men didn’t really have the luxury of immaturity. They needed to work to live, they needed to marry to have sex, and they needed to be stable to support their children. Not all young men did this, but most did, because society was structured around the demands of food, shelter, and procreation.

      By 1975 or so, for young single gay men, none of those demands figured into their lifestyle choices. For the first time since ancient Greece, they could be openly gay, and they were openly gay with a vengeance. I can’t even blame them. If I thought I could eat Haagen Daaz chocolate ice cream by the quart every day without getting sick or fat, I would. Who knew that Mother Nature was the piper demanding to be paid?

      And now, once again, young men, freed from worries about starvation, sexual access, and a woman’s pregnancy, are partying away, forgetting that Mother Nature is standing there, ready to impose the inevitable reckoning for excess. Mother Nature doesn’t like excess and always seeks to redress it.

      • jj

        Nature is always waiting, standing quietly in a corner, dark-robed, dark-hooded, implacable and disinterested.  Maybe even brooding.  But – with a very, very, long memory.
        Which is the part I’m referencing in this instance.  I knew a guy, now gone, who was a pretty highly regarded and broadly admired virologist beginning to come to the end of his active career back in the 1980s.  In, I believe, 1988 we had a conversation in a downtown bar one afternoon, sitting in the front window and watching the action on the busy sidewalk.  (What we were really doing was checking out the perambulations of the NYU miniskirt brigade, of course; a large and diverse group.  Appealing to all ages.)
        Anyway, we got to talking about AIDS, and he made a remark that I found interesting at the time, though perfectly obvious in hindsight.  He said (I’m paraphrasing, I assume): “The interesting thing will be when the population starts throwing off people the virus just bounces off of without infecting them.  That’ll be when the big breakthrough happens, when we start seeing some naturally immune people.”  I said: “you think they’re out there?”  He replied: “oh sure.  Inevitably.  It’s a big population, and it’s been around for a while.  In the three million year plus history of the human race and simian offshoots we’ve encountered practically everything at some point.  And some survived.  Some always survive.  There’s a mutation somewhere in the genes, on the DNA string, that can handle this virus.”
        That’s interesting to me – and, I suppose, to Nature, standing there quietly in her corner with her long, long memory – because there’s so much stuff in the genes and on the DNA that we can see but don’t understand.  Stuff we call ‘junk,’ mostly because we have no idea what the hell it does – or did.  A switch, currently ‘off,’ that’s a complete unknown.  And we’re not machines: we’re not identical copies.  We have mostly the same stuff, but not everybody has all the same stuff, in the same order, etc.  There’s variability.  Anyway, I thought it was interesting when in 2007 he was so beautifully vindicated when it turned out that there’s a mutation on the CCR5/delta 32 gene that confers virtual immunity to AIDS.  It’s there, original equipment, and it makes about 1% of those descended from northern European stock virtually immune to the virus.  It, in my old friend’s phrase, just ‘bounces off’ people equipped with that mutation.
        Which also of course makes it highly probable that yes indeed: the human race has encountered this virus somewhere in the past.  And survived it: a portion always survives. 
        Not going anywhere in particular with this, just that your anthropomorphizing of ‘Mother Nature’ took me away with the fairies for a moment, into the labyrinths of memory.

  • shirleyelizabeth

    I went through elementary school in the 90s and clearly remember the class times devoted to changing our minds about AIDS. I don’t think I had any notions of it beforehand, but in case my parents had told me anything about the bad gays, I could have told them they were wrong and little crippled girls had AIDS and we needed to be their friends and you can’t get it by touching someone and it’s just so sad but people with AIDS are normal and…I guess everything but the true history.
    But hey it was better than putting condoms on a banana.

  • Matt_SE

    I remember the gay lobby and Democrats in general blaming Reagan for not being serious about a cure. As if one could be found by just wishing hard enough!
    I remember the AIDS quilt, and other propaganda designed either to pull at our heartstrings or to tell us that the danger to heterosexuals was just as great (it wasn’t).

  • Charles Martel

    There are sins of commission, such as the antics of San Francisco homosexuals whose libidos are running amok, and there are sins of omission, such as the city establishment’s spineless approach to reining in plague spreaders. KellyM’s observation about the growing number of ads on Muni reminding under-30 homosexual men to get tested and have so-called safe sex might resonate with a few, but it will probably take the spread of the recently detected virulent African mutation of HIV to get the happy revelers to sit up and take notice.
    The bus and train posters are probably about as far as the city’s officials can go in trying to stave off a disaster. The irony of leftist politics is that once you have cowed and coerced people into accepting your line of political reasoning (“Gay is grrreat and if you think otherwise we’ll destroy you!”), the people who should stop you can’t and won’t when your precious lifestyle threatens your very existence .

  • Bookworm

    One of my friends was one of those people, jj.  He was diagnosed with HIV and began showing symptoms — and then it just went away.  He’s been totally HIV free since 1989 or 1990.  I know that he was the subject of a great deal of research back in the day, but I don’t know if his body’s ability to reject HIV led to any breakthroughs for others.  It doesn’t seem as if it did.

  • jj

    They’re working on it.  They have a bunch of people to look at now, a useful pool, and, as noted, they’ve figured out what and where the mutation is that confers immunity.  We’re not so far along in the science as yet that we can manipulate your genes while you’re standing there in the doctor’s office, but it’ll undoubtedly come.  Knowing where to find the button is a huge step, and they’ve known that now since 2007.  But it’s only one part.  Knowing how to push that button, or flip that switch, is a horse of another color.  But it’s encouraging as hell – and interesting – that there IS a button. 

  • Mike Devx

    AIDS is just one of a variety of auto-immune diseases caused by viruses. (virii, I know, I know.)  It would be awesome for mankind to discover a technique to combat them all.
    Just in time for the super-bacteria that are becoming immune to all of our anti-bacteriological efforts to threaten us!  If it’s not one thing, it’s another.  JJ’s dark Mother Nature, lurking in the shadowy corner, ever ready and ever patient, comes to mind…

  • jj

    One Lexus, a parking lot filled with Lexi… which is in fact correct – as is virii; but the language has been corrupted so thoroughly the case has moved beyond hopeless.  And where the hell did “indices” come from, as the plural of “index?”  (Not that it matters; even “indices” is vanishing in face of the lowest common-denominator display of ignorance: “indexes.”)

  • Robert Arvanitis

    As our hostess has in fact named this site “Book…”  I take the liberty of noting that index is the nominative singular in Latin, the plural of which is indices. Likewise matrix (matrices) and appendix (appendices).
    We seem to accept the Greek plurals: phenomenon/phenomena, bacterium/bacteriaa

  • Charles Martel

    I don’t have any problem doing what most English speakers do when assigning plurals to words: es or esses works just fine, thank you. People easily grasp the meaning as opposed to having to stop a second to wonder at what bacterium vs. bacteria or index vs. indices means.
    The point of everyday language is to communicate ideas as clearly and simply as possible. I don’t think memorizing Latin suffixes ranks as all that great a criterion for judging an English speaker’s mastery of his Germanic-at-heart tongue. 

  • Robert Arvanitis

    I beg your indulgence for a moment of art.
    “Communicate ideas as clearly and simply as possible.”  Yes, for engineers and scientists.
    But there are good reasons to cherish the voice of the language.  Karl Shapiro wrote about that in “Essay on Rime.” He spoke of the three voices – the voice of the language, that of the Age, and that of the writer.
    And in “Dead Poets Society,” the teacher says:  “Language was invented for one reason, boys, to woo women. So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do”.
    Thus we are obliged to remember and honor the old forms, to make language our instrument of music.

  • Charles Martel

    Robert, as always, you make your points so [very] artfully well. I should have said that when it comes to Latin especially, we English speakers seem to tremble before it. We don’t end sentences with prepositions because Pliny and Ovid didn’t (never mind their language’s niggardly regard for the preposition), and we fumble around endlessly with alumnus, alumna, and alumnae, rescuing ourselves with masterful Anglo-Saxon improvisation by coining “alums.”
    We don’t honor Italian’s old forms by pluralizing piano as piani, or writing chateaux instead of chateaus to honor French. Somehow we muddle through.
    But your wonderful citations are a reminder of just how strong the sinews of our language are—even give or take a few incorrect or inappropriate suffixes.

  • Ron19

    Thus we are obliged to remember and honor the old forms, to make language our instrument of music.
    It’s OK to end a comment with a proposition?

  • Charles Martel

    What else are prepositions for?

  • jj

    Well, that’s exactly it, Martel: we muddle through.  There are seemingly no rules.  In one instance we will follow an Italianate/Latin lead, in another we’ll go with the Greek, and anything else whenever it’s convenient.  There’s no particular consistent justification for any of them being used rather than any of the others.  There is in fact nothing consistent, and in some cases there never was.  Our grammar is a free-form riot.  Plus the language is in a constant state of flux, as it evolves (or ‘devolves’) right before our eyes.  We don’t in fact honor the old forms, and as a personal matter I will never be accepting of an abomination such as ‘alright’ as meaning anything in English.  When and where I grew up ‘alright’ was an illiterate mistake, and that’s the old form I’ll honor.  (I’ve accepted that ‘traveller’ and ‘travelling’ are spelled with one ‘l’ these days, but ‘alright’ is a conclusion toward which I do not aspire.)  As regards plurals, no one can elucidate a rule that is actually respected as a rule – because there doesn’t seem to be one these days.  I heard Bill O’Reilly – admittedly an overblown horse’s ass with an ego the size of Montana, but usually literate – referring to ‘deers’ Tuesday night, and my thoughts descended into the unprintable.