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.)