Thursday, June 23, 2005
by Wayne Besen
First, I want to say that in some respects I am an Andrew Sullivan fan. At his best, he is an articulate spokesperson and a brilliant writer. On more than one occasion, he has obliterated gay rights opponents on television, helping to advance our cause. As an openly gay man living with HIV, Sullivan has also accomplished the remarkable feat of starting a wildly popular Blog with a sizable conservative following. For this, he deserves nothing but respect and admiration.
Unfortunately, Sullivan has crossed the line of reasonable and responsible writing with his breathtakingly reckless column in the Advocate Magazine
where he glamorized HIV and made it seem about as burdensome as a hangover.
"I have never felt better. HIV transformed my life, made me a better and braver writer, prompted me to write the first big book pushing marriage rights, got me to take better care of my health, improved my sex life, and deepened my spirituality," writes Sullivan, in his typically persuasive prose.
Wow, what an advertisement for the bug! Where can I get that HIV? Sullivan makes it sound more like a panacea than a pathogen. The disease suddenly comes across as highly desirable, if not intoxicating - like a blissful combination of Viagra, Spanish Fly, Prozac and Ecstasy all rolled up into one.
If this glamorization of HIV isn't bad enough, Sullivan sarcastically mocked HIV prevention efforts for using fear to promote safe sex.
"Young negative men need to see more of us keeling over in the streets, or they won't be scared enough to avoid the disease that may, in the very distant future, kill them off, " Sullivan flippantly wrote. "You know, like any number of other diseases might. They may even stop believing that this is a huge, escalating crisis, threatening to wipe out homosexual life on this planet…But the bottom line is that HIV is fast becoming another diabetes."
I think it is important to concede Sullivan's main points: 1)
It is no longer as scary to catch HIV today, as it was in the early 1990's. 2)
Catching HIV is not necessarily a death sentence for many well-off gay men.
However, Sullivan went overboard where he appears to tacitly endorse unsafe sex. His apparent message: "Hey, AIDS is no big deal. Don't worry if you get infected, you'll barely notice." To reinforce his misleading point that HIV carries a limited burden, he quips that he takes only "five pills a day", as if AIDS meds were nothing more than Flinstones vitamins.
While HIV might not be the plague that haunted the gay community in the 1980's and early 90's, it is an awful epidemic that still claims too many lives. Sullivan's column, which begins as thought provoking dissent, quickly devolves into dangerous denial.
Activist Michelangelo Signorile, a long-time nemesis of Sullivan, forcefully responded
to the controversial column by asking Sullivan some tough questions.
"Should gay men try as hard as they can to stay negative, including always engaging in protected sex? Unless we warn them against getting HIV by using the fear of becoming infected, what else will be the incentive to stay negative? And why are you so angry, anyway, about people using fear as a way to warn people to play safe - the way we use fear to warn people that obesity will lead to adult onset diabetes or smoking will lead to lung cancer - even if it sometimes isn't as effective as we'd like it to be?"
As someone who is HIV-negative, it is always a struggle not to get carried away in the heat of the moment and do something regrettable. The GLBT community desperately needs our leaders to reinforce safe-sex messages, not undermine them, as Sullivan has done.
The last thing gay youth need to hear is that it is okay to ignore warnings about the dangers of contracting HIV. We already have the religious right working to kill us by falsely claiming that condoms don't work. We don't need Sullivan to help Rev. Jerry Falwell by offering young men one more excuse to keep the condom in the wrapper.
What a shame that a once influential class act is quickly becoming a circus act, whose ridiculous rhetoric on HIV will surely help lead to more infections. Andrew is gifted writer with enormous influence. We expect better from someone who has a platform to do so much good for the GLBT Community.
One of the sickest articles I've ever read.
A pitiful human being.
We all understand the Psychology 101 behind his rant.
Sadly, all too well.
Good night, Andrew.
Godspeed, as they say.
The HIV has apparently overtaken your relevance.
posted by , at
I think Andrew Sullivan's article in the Advocate is quite appalling. One wonders if he would have written it had he been HIV negative. The fact that HIV positive people are living longer lives as a result of improved drug technology, the fact remains that it is, in spite of greater life longevity nowadays, a death sentence on hold. There is no cure, lets be realistic. It is sad Mr. Sullivan chooses to paint a rosey picture that all is well when the epidemic is soaring in other parts of the world. How on earth are we to further our access to equal rights with damaging articles such as this? This is clearly a man in denial.
Robert, Bayside, NYC
posted by , at
I am not a fan of Andrew Sullivan's work, for the most part.
I have long been a huge fan of Michelangelo Signorile.
However, Signorile's "screed" against Sullivan makes me more than a little uncomfortable. It is reminiscent in tone of the right wing's "what'll we tell the children" campaigns to prevent any talk of sex at all.
As a gay man with AIDS who has been living with HIV for over 20 years-- sometimes well, sometimes not-- it has been my experience that most men in the gay community want nothing to do with men who are infected. There's a real divide between gay positive men and gay negative men (and those in denial). Signorile's message, while noble (protecting the young people), is also damaging to relationships between positive and negative men. His attack-- despite the fact that he was attacking Sullivan-- feels personal (and I have nothing in common with Sullivan except HIV).
I can't speak for Sullivan, but sex (after 10+ years of antiretroviral therapy) is the last thing on my mind. I do, however, miss the feeling of community I used to experience with my gay brothers before I became "expendable."
And I'm sorry-- if most of the time I'm not scary enough for your prevention campaigns. This is why I hesitate to do AIDS education any more-- they always seem to want me to tell my "HORROR" stories about living with this TERRIBLE, DEVASTATING DISEASE. Hate to be a disappointment, but I'm focused on trying to find the positive in my life-- not be a walking AIDS prevention advertisement to scare the young. What I might end up saying is, "I feel old before my time-- and tired." Is that scary enough?
It is possible that Andrew Sullivan doesn't have an agenda here-- he's merely trying to live his life with grace and acceptance (and publishing articles in The Advocate that would perhaps be more appropriate for a personal diary).
As for bare-backing-- as long as it's with other positive people-- it's no one else's business!
To Andrew: stop writing these silly articles! I haven't read this latest one-- but if you are claiming to speak for all of us, STOP IT! Your experience with HIV-- if true-- is atypical!
To Michelangelo: lighten up! If you think Andrew seems to be sending a dangerous message, then construct your argument and present it without personal attack. Your current style gives the impression that you are attacking all of us (although I am certain that's not your intention).
posted by , at
Sullivan's comment in the first excerpt seem to speak only to his own personal struggle and transformation since becoming HIV+. I don't think he's trying to paint a rosey picture of HIV, or dissuade people from having safe sex.
The second comment is a bit much!
posted by , at
Maybe Andrew is doing well...now let's have a word from all of those who have died from aids who might just have a different view on the disease. Come on Andrew... just because your doing well, and we mean that in a good way, doesn't mean that millions of others arn't suffering the horrible effects of this life threatening disease....wake up!
posted by , at
Sullivan's irresponsible remarks about HIV/AIDS--that since he became HIV-positive, he is an improved human being with an improved sex life--are reckless in several senses--and DANGEROUS! His comments as a "practicing, conservative gay Catholic" (an oxymoran, if every there was one) are tainted with poison. Why? Because Sullivan lives in two opposing worlds at the same time: one queer, the other Catholic. He wants to have it both ways: an impossiblity for any rational human being. His ideological bent is to accept on faith that his becoming HIV somehow has the hand of God in all of his choices, free though he claims them to be. Does he know nothing of self-destructive, unconscious motivations out of self-hatred? His perspective, like the Jewish one referred to as "beshert" ("destiny"), is also not unlike the one held by the 18th-century English Catholic poet Alexander Pope, who, in his brilliant verse "Essay on Man," asserts that "Whatever is is right." Such a religio-philosophical bent allows Sullivan to claim that he is grateful that he HIV-positive, for it has taught him much and made him a better human being. At last view, I read that Sullivan makes $6,000.00 per week and has all the benefits of health insurance and a fabulous drug plan--what most human beings who are stricken with HIV/AIDS do not have here or around the world! So whence come the glorification of the illness? By such reasoning, war is good because it teaches mankind suffering and bravery and self-sacrifice. Do not suffering and bravery and self-sacrifice not make human beings wise? What Sullivan might devote more of his life to is to standing on streetcorners in America and in underdeveloped countries handing out condoms and teaching young straight and lgbt human beings how to love themselves in a world where the vast majority of their fellows around the world want to teach them otherwise for being sexual outside of marriage, which they do not support within lgbt communities--raining hatred and violence against them, instead. Forget the Catholic Church. In time it will go the way of all flesh as the world becomes more and more technologically, educationally, and scientifically savvy and the standard of living rises around the world in the course of the third millenium--change takes time. Orthodox religion preaches love and compassion, but practices intolerance and rejection. It will never teach women to use condoms to help stop the pandemic in the straight community or to encourage prisons to provide condoms to inmates who, straight or gay, are likely to indulge in anal sex while incarcerated or to advocate sex education in all public and religious schools. Such support would truly be a humanitarian approach to a disease that is killing millions of men, women, and children worldwide. Stoical acceptance of a reality over which one has no control--a tsunami, for example--is one thing; embracing HIV/AIDS so as to make one a better human being is "twisted." There is enough that mankind goes through in the course of a lifetime to teach moral and philosophical principles galore--one does not need to embrace HIV/AIDS as a glorification of the residual "benefits" of having come down with a deadly disease.
June 28, 2005 11:53 AM
posted by , at
I missed that issue of ADVOCATE. Obviously I didn't miss much. But I have a sneaking and terrifying suspicion that Andrew Sullivan is more than he is letting us believe he is - like a pawn of the Repubs or other anti-gay group who is trying to wipe out gays by promoting unsafe sex.....
And hey, SYD, by the way, in regard to your statement about most men in the gay community not wanting anything to do with HIV+ guys......I want you to know that there ARE men out there who want you regardless of your HIV status. I'm HIV-, but I met my last partner in a chat room when he posted a message looking for someone HIV+ like himself. When I gave him the same encouragement that I hope I'm giving to you, that you should settle for nothing less than the best, we ended up falling in love, getting married, and living happily until his death last month. We had a wonderful married life, a wonderful sex life, he passed on in peace with me at his side, and I'm still HIV-. I would never ever let HIV stand between me and a chance at true love. SO HANG IN THERE!!!!! It's NOT a cliche when I tell you from the bottom of my heart: Mr. Right IS out there for you.
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