The "Post-AIDS" Era?

Author Eric Rofes calls off the crisis among gay men

You bring up scapegoating in Dry Bones Breathe--men who practice less mainstream versions of sexual relationships are chastised because promiscuity supposedly causes and perpetuates so many gay health problems. Where do you think monogamy fits in?

I was interviewed by that new magazine that was supposed to be called "Arrow"-- I think it's being called "Hero"--that is supposed to be for monogamous gay men. And they thought I was going to be the anti-voice. I am not opposed to those publications. I support them in my book, and I think even in my last book I talked about the need to create publications like that for monogamous gay men. I am not a monogamous gay man myself, but I have many friends who are or many friends who want to be, including many of my students. And I feel like it is appropriate to give them social support in constructing their lives that way. The problem we get into is men who feel forced into one way of organizing themselves and start representing themselves as monogamous when they're not, or when it's coming from unhealthy needs. But that's true for men who organize themselves in promiscuous ways too. I don't care how men choose to organize their lives, but it must come from a good place and have community support.

HIV/AIDS prevention and education efforts have never seemed, to me, to promote monogamy over any other form of sexual arrangement. Rather, it seems to endorse a variety of sexual lifestyles. What sort of sexual lifestyle should they be promoting?

My sense is that HIV programs for gay men have tried to do an end run around this question just to avoid it. They certainly don't seem to be endorsing monogamy--but it's not clear that they endorse anything. I think they need to shift in that way. It's fine to have programs that affirm and recognize that some men want to go to sex clubs and bath houses and have lives that are either sexually generous or promiscuous, and some men want to be monogamous or mostly monogamous. I think that those approaches require different organizing efforts.

This means prevention groups need to see themselves not in the role of advocating anything. Their job is to provide us with information and support for however we determine to organize our lives. And I think they have been very much afraid to be appearing to take a stand on things. As the epidemic shifts, they are going to need to take a stand if their work is to be credible anymore.

You write in Dry Bones that gay health issues need to be addressed more holistically, that we need to see AIDS as not one crisis, but as one of many problems.

I feel like HIV is a sign of broader issues in gay men's sexual health. And that to only work on AIDS is not to learn what AIDS is teaching us--which is that we haven't done much work on sex education. We haven't done much work on sexual empowerment. We haven't created clean and safe places for men to have sex in. And we have a huge amount of work to do in creating healthy sexual cultures for gay men. Decentralizing AIDS and HIV is important because, first of all, a lot of people are over it. It's just not meaningful for them to construct an entire health plan or health agenda around one virus. And they feel like there are other issues, be it substance abuse or mental health or STDs or various forms of cancer, that are meaningful and do not appear on the gay health agenda. This is particularly true as you have many men who are aging. And you have lots of openly gay men who are 50, 60, 70, and who have health issues in that context where they might not feel that non-gay providers are able to address their needs.

Some AIDS organizations say that they must still create a certain sense of urgency--almost a panic--to unify and mobilize men to fight AIDS and HIV transmission. How can communities of men find inspiration if AIDS is no longer a crisis for them?

I argue that AIDS is not escalating among gay men but that it is in fact contained right now. But the disease is escalating in certain communities of color and particularly through intravenous drug use. I also think that we have got to look for less involvement from gay men in HIV and AIDS efforts in the places where gay men are no longer experiencing AIDS as a crisis. There are other communities that can fill those places. It is OK and fine for gay men who have worked on AIDS for 15 or 20 years to decide to start working on some other issues. That doesn't mean they don't take AIDS seriously and are not concerned, and won't still give money and occasionally volunteer. But this idea that gay men own AIDS and are the only population that can organize around it is not going to hold for much longer.

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