Gay Men Are Flunking The Test

Also published on Bilerico.com

Yesterday, I posted an article about  a press release by the Journal Of The American Medical Association:

“…all adult patients, regardless of CD4 cell count, should be offered antiretroviral therapy (ART), according to an article in the July 25 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on HIV/AIDS. Other new recommendations include changes in therapeutic options and modifications in the timing and choice of ART for patients with an opportunistic illness such as tuberculosis.”

This follows the “treatment as prevention” model, based on the scientific research that people with HIV on antiretroviral therapy- with an undetectable viral load- are 96% less likely to pass on the virus.
us-statistics-2.jpgThis seems to be very good news. If you have HIV, you should find out early, get on meds and you’ll have a better chance of living a longer healthier life.

So what’s the problem? The problem is twofold:

  1. People at risk aren’t being tested: 20-25% of all HIV-infected people don’t know they have it.
  2. People at risk are still not being tested: Gay and Bisexual men of all races are the most severely affected by HIV

That’s not a typo- they’re basically the same reason, but there’s a difference. Any guesses?

Hint: It’s probably why most gay men won’t even read this article.

20-25% of all people with HIV don’t know they have it. Why not?

Here’s my take: Denial is one of the strongest mechanisms in the human psyche. It is fed by lack of information, by avoidance and by a strong desire for an alternative reality. If you’ve had unprotected sex, you’ve probably engaged in the process of denial. You’ve probably downplayed the risk, probably lied to yourself a little. You may have even gone over and over it in your mind, seizing every opportunity to deny the possibility of trouble.

“He looked okay”; “He didn’t seem sick”; “He pulled out”; “He would have told me if he had HIV”, etc, etc, and etc.

Well, we all know where that goes…. As individuals, we’re not facing facts. If we were, we’d be getting tested.

us-statistics-1.jpgGay and Bi men of all races are the most severely affected by HIV. Of course. We know that. Don’t we?

Again, denial applies. Gay and Bi men aren’t talking about HIV anymore. Our friends aren’t dying, so there’s no reason to be concerned. People with HIV aren’t out- aren’t well-known in our communities. Why? I was once told “You don’t need to harp about HIV all the time- it’s not that big of a deal.” Except that it is.

HIV has complicated my life in ways many people can’t believe. I am on catastrophic health insurance through the state- almost three times as expensive as my partner’s insurance. I get assistance for my meds- which cost about $25,000 a year- but (crazily), I can’t make more than $30,300 and still qualify for the program. I have joint pain, sleep issues, battles with depression, fatigue and a body that is aging at several times the normal rate– most probably due to inflammation- the hallmark of HIV disease. And yet, if I talk about this to friends or family, I’m seen as a whiner or someone trying unnecessarily to worry people I care about. It’s the “shut up- at least you’re not dying” defense. I know several HIV+ people who haven’t told anyone of their status, mostly because it’s “uncomfortable”.

No shit.

As a community, we’re not facing facts. If we were, we’d be talking to our friends about the importance of maintaining our health. We’d be talking about the hard reality of HIV.

But we’re not. Denial still holds sway, both individually and as a community. We’re lying to ourselves- we’re lying to each other- and infection rates stay the same.

We have a chance to change this trend. But only if everyone with HIV starts treatment, gets into care. This recommendation of the AMA may help with that. But it’s not up to doctors, nurses and social workers, it’s up to us.

We’re being tested, both as individuals and as a community. The problem is, we’re flunking.

Because we’re not showing up.

(Images source)

HIV+ and Partners Retreat

Montana does something that, to my knowledge, is not done anywhere else in the U.S.- we invite HIV+ persons and their partners/support persons to learn about coping and living with HIV. It’s a fantastic weekend filled with information, activity, relaxation, community and support, and I’ve been part of it for five years now.

I highly recommend it. Out-of-staters welcome. To check it out and/or register, click the pic below.

Still time To Register! Young Men’s Retreat

An awesome opportunity for young gay/bi men in Montana to feel less isolated, learn about themselves, talk frankly about life and make some friends!

Click pic for registration link.

Montana Young Gay Men’s Retreat

An awesome opportunity for young gay/bi men in Montana to feel less isolated, learn about themselves and make some awesome friends!

Click pic for registration link.

 

Free Food, Lodging And Community!

 Click Pic To Register!

Perspective Blindness

By Bart Vogelzang | VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA — We have recently seen some strong examples of perspective blindness; that is, not being able to see something because our perception of something ‘distant’ is obscured by something closer to us.

Most of us have heard the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees” but that is only the tip of the issue. Physically it happens all the time that we cannot see something further away because something closer to us obscures the view. In fact, kids even make a game of it, putting their fingers in front of their eyes to not see something. Your view from your windscreen can be obscured by something dangling from your mirror (which is why you are not supposed to drive with a handicap placard), or your passenger’s head may obscure the view out the side window, leaving you with a major blind spot when changing lanes. For that matter, the frames on your sunglasses might take away enough of your view that you don’t see something vital.
Sadly though, perspective blindness is not just physical in nature, but also mental and emotional. We can see the overall picture of starving children and adults in Somalia, but the nearness of our own worries about our next paycheck obscures it from our view. We see and cheer the drive for freedom in Libya, but it only takes a relatively moderate earthquake to make it all disappear from our consciousness. We feel sad and upset at the near loss or actual loss of a revered politician, but a freak storm in our own town completely negates all that angst and upset and we focus on the nearer and more prominent disaster immediately next to us.
This perspective blindness is a good thing, a survival instinct, which insists that nearby is more urgent than distant, more important as it could affect us right now, as opposed to some time in the future. However, it is also a very bad thing, because we don’t live our lives in little pockets of nearness, but live it in the overall world, interacting with all the various people surrounding us, both near and far. To not see the distant problems means not dealing with them, and that spells long term catastrophe, or at best, suffering. We need to make sure that we look away from our immediate surroundings and needs, at the more distant ones. We need to see developments before they become dangerous to our welfare.
The LGBTQ community is suffering from this perspective blindness to a huge degree
We are wrapped up in our own personal angst, with bullies, family condemnation, ignorant remarks, seeking a loving partner, getting married, etc. What we are not seeing is the systematic attack being mounted by the conservative religious rightwing zealots, who are slyly using false and slanted language whenever they talk about homosexuality. We are not seeing their attempts to erode our support, with lies, faked reports and phony statistics. We are not noticing their efforts at changing laws, replacing politicians, and removing judges. Sure, the odd one of us does, probably because an incident is close to home, but for the most part nobody notices.
When Montana screws with their citizens’ rights, it is NOT just their problem, but only they seem to notice. When Maine is in a struggle for equality, is it NOT just their problem. When an idiot Governor holds ludicrous prayer meetings it is NOT just affecting that state, it is affecting everyone.
We need to clear our localized perspective away from our eyes, see the bigger picture, and deal with the greater issues which are coming to meet us; and they will come to meet us, whether we see them or not. If we don’t fix our perspective and deal with things, we will all pay the price. What we need to do, quite simply said, is take ANY attack on any one of us as being a personal one, and respond with all the strength and vehemence as if it was happening right now, to ourselves

A Problem- And A Proposal

Also published on The Bilerico Project

“Why can’t they just let me have this? Why does it have to be such a fight?”

These words came from the mouth of one bisexual client, but they have been echoed by almost every bisexual client I’ve ever had- and there have been many. They were describing the pain, the anger, the sadness felt as a result of comments and treatment by gay/lesbian friends.

Surprised? I’m not. I hear these stories of pain all the time. You’ve probably heard comments like, “Bi? More like bi now, gay later; She says she’s bi, but it’s just a college thing; He’ll screw anything with a hole- that doesn’t make him bi, just a dog, etc.”

There’s a perceived pecking order in our communities, generally with wealthy, healthy, gay, white males at the top and poor, differently abled, positive, transgendered Christian bisexuals of color at the bottom.

OMG. Did I just say that out loud?

It’s a human trait to want to feel satisfied and happy, and to avoid feeling like shit. There’s nothing inherently wrong in that. However, sometimes the finessing of our feelings can get a little sloppy.

Psychologically, one of the fastest ways to feel good is to make someone else feel/look bad. You know it’s true. We all do it- or have done it. The problem is, when this behavior occurs, the good feeling it brings to the perpetrator is fleeting. So, like an addict who is becoming used to the heroin, it takes more and more to feel good as time goes by. It’s also not very sophisticated psychologically, it takes far fewer skills to simply react or attack than to actively evaluate and respond with integrity.

People tell me what they see, and I also know what I myself have seen. We see the cliques that form at clubs and bars and in social circles- the packs that hold court and put down and look down. We see sides being taken in problematic relationships. We see people flirting overtly and disrespectfully to our dates and partners right in front of us. We see posturing and gossip intended to intimidate and hurt.

There are also power struggles in our organizations and communities- outcries of pain and rage among members who feel left out or ignored by those in power. From ENDA to the HRC to our local AIDS organizations, people are struggling to be heard, fighting to be included. Ironic, huh?

Many of us were bullied in school because we were different. Some would argue that we are still being bullied by public policy and perception today. We know what it’s like to take that kind of abuse. Maybe we think that’s what people in power are supposed to do, because we certainly know how to dish it out. In fact, we do it so well, someone responded to a survey I was doing about LGBT Community by saying, “I’m more afraid of my gay friends than my straight friends- they can hurt me more.”

And so it goes.

Don’t get me wrong, I think we can be fantastic and loving and supportive as a community- we have plenty of examples of courage and loving kindness. My concern however, is with the amount of pain we can cause each other, which seems so contradictory to the kindness and support many of us have experienced. Is it a sign of confusion? A result of bullying? A type of post-traumatic stress disorder manifesting in confused and non-reflective behavior? Are we so desperate for security that we will trample over others in order to get it? Have we become so interested in self-preservation that we’ve lost all compassion for the other wounded people around us?

I certainly have my suspicions.

Maybe I’m oversensitive to this because in my work I hear so many stories of pain and confusion- it’s the nature of the beast. I hear about the anger and sadness felt by people who feel disadvantaged by their peers- real or perceived. I hear tales of insecurities exacerbated by pressure from LGBTIQ culture. I see the damage caused by the struggle to fit in to two worlds- and in the case of bi or trans persons, more than just two. Maybe my sense of this is over-exaggerated, hyper-inflated and ridiculous.

Maybe. But the pain felt by my bisexual clients is real. It is echoed by others, by me and maybe by you reading this now. That’s my concern- the suffering we cause each other, often out of ignorance or fear.

I have a proposal. A not-so-modest one.

It hinges on the science of personal development and experience which says that self-understanding unfolds over time. It develops gradually. That applies especially to sexual orientation of LGBTIQ persons who face the added difficulty of pleasing several different groups of people- and attempting this with the added difficulty of often having to do so with a still-developing brain. My proposal is this:

When our own people are easy targets for us, let’s refuse to take the shot.

When a person says, “I’m bisexual,” let’s give them that. Let’s allow them that place of self-understanding and respect. Let’s quit being so hard-assed, bitchy, petty and small-minded about defining people- it’s damn near impossible anyway….

Let’s even take it a step further: When someone isn’t wearing the right clothes or eating the right food or going to the right places or in the right job, or… you get the idea- let’s find ways to be supportive instead of destructive. Look a little deeper and maybe we’ll see the fear and the pain and the anxiety and the need for a friend. Maybe we’ll see people that remind us of ourselves at some point along the crowded way….

I’m proposing that we let each other be human- that we actively work towards respecting and understanding each other and create a community, not just a Political Action Committee. And that will take some work. It will mean taking steps outside of our established circles, being a little uncomfortable, standing up when someone’s being put down, looking a little more deeply instead of making a shallow snap judgment.

It will mean being more reflective, more responsible humans.

I think we owe each other that.