THE THING IS, you can always change the channel when you don't want to watch the news. Early last week, the media ran urgent reports

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Im Not a Whore, but I Play One on TV

The mainstreaming of gay culture leaves no room for realityand opens the door to shame-based HIV.

THE THING IS, you can always change the channel when you don't want to watch the news. Early last week, the media ran urgent reports on the local increase in HIV diagnoses at public health clinics. As quoted in The Seattle Times, Dr. Bob Wood, director of AIDS Control for Public Health-Seattle & King County, called the alarming 60 percent jump in infections "the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic." This shook me and every still-single gay man I know, though I wonder how much it's going to change anyone's behavior. We all know what's been going on. What's most frightening to me about these recent HIV statistics is what the fear engendered by the announcement will do to a gay community that is not in any way prepared to handle it. I'm not talking about the hardworking nonprofits or the earnest public health outlets that will no doubt step up with compassion and the proper literature. It's the gay men at large to be worried about, a majority of whom don't actually consider themselves to be members of a community at all. We've all become just a portion of the larger crowd, something we've been waiting for since the closet doors opened, and now it's every man for himself. The '80s AIDS awareness movement, after its initial dumbstruck struggles, managed to combat the panic with massive solidarity that ended up giving more weight to gay political concerns in general. I don't expect to see any such strength in numbers this time. If you want to see proof of the downside of a subculture's assimilation, look at what's happened since being gay became a commodity. The burgeoning appeal of queer voices in the media has given us buying power, a semblance of public respect, and the chance to thank our lovers on national television when we win a Tony. But what were once signs of pride to many gay mene.g., a gleeful appreciation of camp, a way with a punch line, etc.have become kitschy, ironic sitcom fodder for tolerant straights and

their domesticated queer guests. And homoeroticism is now the property of corn-fed, Abercrombie & Fitch collegiates10 half-naked Adonises enjoying a carefree game of touch football in the quad where some overeager player makes an innocent tug at the quarterback's $35 pair of khaki cargo shorts. We've been divided and conquered: You're the neutered boy making lewd jokes at the dinner table, or you're the buffed average Joe who occasionally gets carried away by that impromptu wrestling match back in the dorm room. Our disparate, individual identities have been tossed onto the heap. What was once a mainstay of gay cultureour shared, unashamed sexual carnivorousness, the kind that had straight men green with envyhas been cutely mainstreamed under the carpet to keep the house looking clean. If you've done something dirty, by all means, don't tell anybody or it's outside for you.

I'd be lying if I claimed I kept my sexual behavior to my handI go to bathhouses and sex clubs and enjoy the gay chat line, where everybody pretends to be casual while arranging "discreet" connectionsand lying would put me in league with most of my peers. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard some supposedly self-aware homo call his proudly promiscuous friend a slut, then go on to describe, sotto voce, a risky personal encounter with a total stranger in the park or a supermarket parking lot. Anything dangerous is being done by somebody else, see, and how can you be a whore if you're not claiming the behavior as your own? And how can you get HIV if you're not a whore? Whores are the people on Queer as Folk.

This goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of inhibition-free recreational drugs like crystal meth, which allow you to let go of all concerns and experience the kind of bacchanal people used to associate with the freedom of being openly gaya dangerous, condom-free illusion that people on the drug are willing to risk their lives for. I've tried crystal, and I'll tell you this: The rush is liberating, prompting you to wonder: Am I really as carefree as I think I am? Isn't this how sex is supposed to feel? It made me feel revolutionary in my sexual generosity. I was like one of those supposedly swinging stewardesses of the '60s, entertaining the masses at ground level with my sky-high benevolence. Hell, I felt like Gandhi. It was an astonishing sensation. Sex not only felt good; it felt important, freeing, like some kind of triumphant statement that I was alive (until the ugly crash days later).

Anyone looking honestly at everyday sexual behavior should be able to tell you that gay men don't have a copyright on fiddling while Rome burns, then panicking when they smell the next day's smoke. Most of my single straight women friends have monthly I-might-be-pregnant bouts of paranoia; most of my straight male friends, not coincidentally, seem to have an aversion to condoms. And with the potential apocalypse brewing on the planet stealthily weighing on all our psyches, we can complacently convince ourselves that a lot of dire concerns don't matter in the long run.

We like to see reckless fearlessness as the property of the very young or the exceedingly ignorant, but that's never been completely true. None of us really thinks anything bad will ever happen to us. Bad things, we think, happen to other people on other channels. We are aching for human connection in a world of surface intimacy. Maybe now we're simply seeing the results of giving up personal responsibility for the secret enjoyment of something real.

swiecking@seattleweekly.com

 
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