"I CAN SEE in the gay community, just from my own observations and from talking to people, that the issue of HIV and AIDS has kind of been a little shelved or has changed... It seems to me that after that wave of 'we can get drugs, we can get treatment', there's almost a sense of a lack of emergency again... I'm not saying this because I'm a prude. I'm just saying 'oh my God'... I went to quite a few gay events [in the US] and I was talking to my friends, who are a bit older, and they were saying they were really freaked out by what people were doing in their 20s; they're, like, virus chasing... I think that the danger is that the alarm bell is left silent."
~ Annie Lennox [The Pink Paper, 17 April, 2008]
Born of a response to the siren call to contain and curtail the spread of HIV, the real fight against AIDS ended in the mid-1990s. Since then AID$ Inc. has systematically immersed itself in managing and commodifying the virus while paying scant lip service to preventing the spread of HIV and keeping the safe sex message alive.
"Many organisations...chose to tone down or scale back their prevention outreach for gay men, just at a time when infection rates for gay and bisexual men - particularly young men - began to climb again after posting declines in the 1990s."
~ Bob Adams [The Advocate]
By the early/mid-1990s, the compassion-led advocacy of many AIDS organisations in the West - not least the encouraging of safe, mutually-respecting behaviours combined with effective, hardhitting safe sex campaigning - had succeeded in substantially reducing HIV transmissions to the extent that their task was becoming minimalised. To survive and expand, many larger organisations abandoned their enshrined principles and objectives and "sold their souls" to outside interests. A process of bureaucratisation ensued that, ultimately, would see a devastating price paid by those whose health they were tasked to protect.
"Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopian fantasy film 'Brazil' satirized the debilitating apparatus of bureaucracy and how it completely dehumanizes the free thinking individual whilst being firmly supported by a zombified populous who absorb and repeat its disempowering memes without question. If you’re not familiar with Britain’s particularly exasperating brand of totalitarianism, watch Brazil (The Directors Cut) for a crash course in pen-pushing authoritarian squalor."
~ Neil Kramer [The Cleaver]
The resumption of the upward trajectory in HIV transmissions can be pinpointed precisely; to the emergence of combination therapies in 1995/6, when infection rates in most Western countries had fallen to their lowest level since the start of the epidemic.
Some AIDS agencies publicly hailed HAART - highly active antiretroviral therapy - as a miracle panacea, providing the pretext for a seismic shift in their priorities away from effective HIV prevention campaigning towards HIV management; one that would enforce a renewed dependency for a sector dispensing vital support services and life-saving treatments to HIV+ "clients" while justifying their demands for ever greater injections of cash to support their reconstructed, market-driven frameworks. Today, The Terrence Higgins Trust in London receives millions of pounds annually to provide HIV services from primary care trusts, local health boards and other central government health bodies. Its business plan, like most pre-eminent HIV management organisations in other Western cities, is simple: the more HIVers it provides for, the more central funding it receives.
The commodification of HIV saw extraordinary levels of manipulation, dishonesty, control freakery, bullying and intimidation creep into AID$ Inc.'s practices, and public relations experts - "spin doctors" - appointed as "health experts" to crush dissent and justify and deftly explain away the scaling back or complete abandonment of established and proven policies and procedures in favour of brutally efficient, market-responsive systems that would ultimately maximise the sector's new HIV services-oriented framework, and in ways which raised few eyebrows and prompted no questions from a compliant, ad revenue-hungry gay media.
[See Smoke and Mirrors]
The politically correct strategy of reducing HIV stigma via the avoidance of offending or hurting the feelings of HIVers and positively discriminating in their favour to obtain equality, was the pretext by which AID$ Inc. justified diluting the impact of established and proven graphic safe sex campaigns into "safer sex"/risk minimisation campaigns.
"95% of HIV+ people would not care if an advert implied it's dumb to fuck without a condom, or that saggy arses and diarrhoea stink and will ruin your lovely gay image - whatever it takes to deter someone going through what they went through!"
~ Ricky Dyer [HIV+ journalist]
Thereafter the impact of HIV campaigns was watered down, PC-filtered and diminished such that many who viewed them interpreted as a green light to dispense with precautions altogether, while the line dividing HIV- and HIV+ blurred as safer sex messages stopped attacking the virus and instead adopted a universal softly softly approach aimed at all MSM simultaneously rather than being targeted specific to status. These gave rise to oblique, confusing "one-size-fits-all" messages that prevail to this day, some advising the use of condoms, others the less safe withdrawal method. Devoid of the immediacy, consistency, accessibility and effectiveness of the aggressive, to-the-point campaigns they superseded, they have spectacularly failed to address the educational needs of negative men, as soaring HIV rates testify.
"Our community used to be at war with HIV, back when graphic campaigns worked, but truth is often the first casualty in war. Subsequent campaigns progressively failed to hit the message home why HIV must continue to be avoided at all costs. Instead they sexualised, romanticised, fetishised and ultimately normalised the virus to the extent where "bug chasing", bareback films and high-risk sex venues are tolerated and even endorsed. When will the dangerous PC rationalising and commodification of HIV cease and the compassionate task of preventing this disease spreading further begin?"
- Ben [Pink Paper letters]
"20 years ago the unequivocal message was 'AIDS means death - don't put yourself at risk'. How that message has changed since then. One recent [UK] sexual health campaign encouraged us to pull out 'like a porn star' rather than cum inside. There was no 'don't do bareback' message at all."
~ Paul Heeley [The Pink Paper]
"It's not rocket science to see that current efforts to prevent the spread of HIV are failing. The time is now ripe for a return to the kind of hardhitting grassroots education campaigns that worked so effectively in the 1980s. This is an unfashionable idea, but what is the alternative? The status quo is simply not working."
~ Paul Steinberg [Boyz]
Indeed, so zealous has AID$ Inc. been at legitimising HIV that “reverse stigmatisation” has become common place, resulting in a blase social toleration of bareback videos, the high-profile endorsement of high-risk sex-on-premises venues where the use of Class A disinhibiting drugs is rife, and the rise of the term “bug chasing” whereby some HIV- men - particularly those marginalised in AIDS-afflicted gay ghettoes - deliberately acquire the virus in order to conform to what they perceive as being the social norm.
"AIDS prevention messages had not weighed the needs and experiences of HIV- men specifically, choosing instead to broadcast a generic "play safe" theme tailored to avoid offending men who were HIV+. Other language in the AIDS liturgy seemed to dangerously minimise the impact of HIV, and failed to state plainly that being HIV- is better than being HIV+."
~ Duncan Osborne [Author, Suicide Tuesday]
In ensuring their long-term survival by exerting their dominance and responding to the effects of HIV and providing services to HIVers, AID$ Inc. globally devoted less and less energy and resources to addressing the causes.
In short, the sector’s approach to tackling the spread of HIV has been disastrously disempowering for gay men’s sexual health overall. It has demonstrably fostered a culture of wilful sexual recklessness among a generation of uninformed, docile negative MSM and one of victimhood among allegedly “demonised” HIVers by sidelining personal and social responsibility in favour of irrational PC belief systems that have served only to dramatically increase demand for AID$ Inc.’s services and Big Pharma's life-prolonging and potentially fatal combination therapies which, in conjunction with other factors, can lead to cancer, lung, liver, heart disease and a plethora of other deadly side effects.
Although HIV is now packaged by AID$ Inc. as a "manageable" disease as opposed to a terminal illness, with some highly irresponsible HIV agencies even touting a normal life expectency, hundreds of gay men still die from AIDS complications each year in the UK. In 2006, 2,076 New Yorkers died from the disease alone and AIDS remains the third leading cause of death in men under 65, exceeded only by heart disease and cancer.
Different people react to different drugs in different ways, and the message that should be being broadcast loud and clear is that HIV remains a terminal condition and life-long health risk for all who acquire it. There is simply no way of telling how a particular person may react to one or all three classes of antiretrovirals, nor whether complications that arise from ingesting toxic chemicals on a daily basis may lead to a fatal outcome. Antiretrovirals have simply not been around long enough for anyone to make a truly accurate assessment of their efficacy or safety, although recent studies of long-term users have found that such drugs dramatically age the body and can cause conditions and symptoms in middle-aged users more commonly found in people aged 80+.
“You may have heard somewhere that HIV is now a ‘chronic’ condition. I think what our HIV doctors mean is that it’s manageable: in a similar way to asthma or diabetes. So there you go, HIV is now ‘manageable’: just like long hair after using a good conditioner.”
~ Gordon Mundie [THT Outreach Worker]
"GMFA tells gay men 'If you start HIV treatment early enough you can live to be 100', which is a downright negligent and inaccurate representation. Nothing about the nausea or diarrhoea, body-changing deformaties, liver and kidney damage, the draining lethargy or a life on low state handouts because of the inability to keep a good job through HIV drug failures and side-effects or their overall highly toxic nature."
Jimmy Y [UK.Gay.Com discussion boards]
"We have the facts and yet we are still missing the message. Don't buy into the myth that HIV is like diabetes. There is nothing manageable when dealing with an uncertain future, side effects from medication and, to top it all off, rejection based purely on your positive status. An HIV diagnosis can rip through your core and make you question everything."
~ Clint Walters [Founder of Health Initiatives]
"[HIV] is manageable, but to relegate it as another chronic condition makes many gay men feel that it is less of a threat... The main questions concerning HIV are: how would you view having another chronic disease, and would you want to be diabetic if you had the choice? Certainly no one should want to be infected, especially when it can be prevented."
~ Frank Spinelli, MD [The Advocate Guide to Gay Men's Health and Wellness, Ayson Books]
"It is true that the treatment has improved, but anyone who thinks that having the virus is nothing more than an inconvenience is a complete idiot. Taking all the pills is unpleasant, but aside from that everything stops working as it should. I have constant diarrhoea one week followed by constipation the next, I’ve lost four stone in weight and can’t sleep."
~ Anon [Pink News]
By reconstructing HIV in this way - in the process legitimising and even glamorising a virus that can still lead to full-blown AIDS - the declining effectiveness of safe/safer sex campaigning became inversely proportional to the burgeoning demand for AID$ Inc.'s portfolio of HIV services which, perversely and macabrely, require a steady flow of MSM to be seroconverting to be lucrative and cost-effective. In London, where the AIDS sector has presided over a rapid decline in the overall sexual health of MSM since 1996, HIV infection rates continue to spiral upward alongside:
• Glossy, dumbed-down HIV brochures packaged and presented in ways which, to the uninformed and uninitiated, can appear to glorify the virus and equate acquisition with gaining entry into an exclusive members' club;
• "Have-the-sex-you-want" courses ranging from "Bondage for Beginners" to "Sauna Cruising Tips" and "Arse Classes" advertised in scene listings magazines aimed at under 25-year-old club kids, 75% of whom no longer consider HIV to be a major health risk, according to a recent survey;
• Saturation advertising campaigns for PEP that resemble washing powder ads and lull some into a false sense of invincibility with PEP's reputation as an (unproven) "quick fix"/morning after pill, particularly among users of disinhibiting drugs like crystal meth.
"Younger gay males think if they get [HIV] it won't be so bad, and they're just plain wrong. The pills are horrifying and can cause heart attacks, liver failure and a host of other problems, but how would they know? In the gay community the face of AIDS is healthy, active, geared to go...hell, damned sexy in some cases!"
~ Here Magazine
During the 1990s, Spectator journalist Leo McKinstry infiltrated a GMFA sex course and exposed the group for squandering funds intended for HIV prevention. This resulted in The Charity Commission censuring GMFA, which narrowly escape closure. The validity of such courses to empower MSM to "get the sex you want" wasn't in question. That they were being run by a charity funded to address major issues around sexual health and HIV was. Today, GMFA gets around such technicalities by calling itself "The Gay Men's Health Charity"; a tacit admission that it is no longer in the business of "Fighting AIDS". Since 1992, just 10,000 men - a fraction of the readerships of many gay-oriented magazines that are deprived of effective HIV prevention campaigning - have attended a GMFA course, despite costing upwards of one million pounds in public funding to advertise and stage...
"The HIV community is very attractive. We have a glossy magazine full of gentle messages of love, care and support for our condition with lovely pictures of attractive people in drug company ads holding hands with a 'spirit of love' or 'we understand' message. The THT logo of two hearts entwined tells gay men to come be part of the 'love in' that is HIV/AIDS."
~ Anon [UK.Gay.Com message board]
Such approaches demonstrably foster a climate that subliminally encourages the naive, gullible and weaker-willed to "bug chase", while instilling in a significant core minority of HIVers the right to have unsafe sex with partners they know to be negative (a.k.a. "gift givers"/"breeders").
A climate in which:
• HIV treatments and testing - not prevention - are routinely hailed as the solution [See "HIV is no Picnic"];
• Gaydar features an option for safer sex on its members' profiles as something that "needs discussion" as opposed to being a non-negotiable plank;
• Three twinks catch HIV on the set of a bareback film - an industry that is catering to a growing demand fuelled by an HIV sector that refuses to stigmatise or speak out against so-called forms of "entertainment";
• Sex clubs that follow "codes of good conduct" are rubber-stamped by leading HIV charities, effectively legitimising unsafe and sometimes extreme sexual behaviours which continue in these venues regardless;
• Scarce HIV resources are channelled into a web site that provides titilating, step-by-step instructions on dangerous, degrading and disempowering sex acts ranging from barebacking and scat to felching and asphyxiation [see Dirty Little Secret];
• HIV prevention ads advise you to “Reduce the Risk: Cum Outside!” where once condoms were advocated at all times and without question; to “Get it on” and other suggestive messages with implied double-meanings seemingly conjured up by nuero-linguistic programmers; or, if you already have an STI, to “Get it checked. Get back out there!” instead of pausing to consider how your sexual behaviour might need to be addressed to prevent you picking up an STI in future (the latter, incidentally, relaunched by THT in mid-2008 coinciding with its latest chargeable services – STI testing kits by post and face-to-face counselling – being publicised in the gay press...)
"HIV+ gay men now demand the right to have unprotected sex with anyone of their choosing without disclosure of their own status to their partners. In this these men are supported by major UK AIDS and gay men’s health charities who maintain that it is not the responsibility of an HIV+ man to take control of safer sexual practices, thereby ensuring future service users for their own charities. After all, where would these agencies be if HIV was stopped in its tracks by all HIV+ gay men insisting on safer sex each time?"
~ Jasper Reynard [Chairman, GMAF]
That the HIV "charity" sector more actively supports the rights of HIVers than those of negative men is borne out by their insistence that it is not the responsibility of positive men to disclose their status if engaging in unprotected sex. Not surprisingly, AID$ Inc. has also proven to be the most outspoken critic of the recent spate of criminal convictions of HIVers who wittingly or carelessly pass the virus on to others, even dispensing tips to those wanting to avoid prosecution such as "Don't keep a diary listing your sexual exploits". A disturbing new development is the demonisation by the HIV sector of anyone who dares speak out against, or criticises, reckless HIV+ individuals.
According to the last UK Gay Men's Sex Survey, 31% of the respondents whose last HIV test was negative had unprotected anal sex with someone whose HIV status they did not know and 3.5% of negative MSM had unsafe sex with someone whose status they knew to be HIV+, while 42% of positive respondents had unprotected anal sex with someone whose HIV status they did not know and 21% had unprotected sex with someone who hadtold them that their last test was negative. Furthermore, a 2008 study by the UK Medical Research Council, which questioned 3,500 gay men, reported that a third of respondents who knew they are HIV+ are still having unsafe sex and were statistically more likely to have unprotected sex than those who did not know their status.
"These are truly horrific figures, but it is the PCGM (political correctness gone mad) AIDS lobby who insist that [HIVers] are innocent parties and relentlessly defend them, and who maintain that it is negative
men who should be taking the lead where safe sex is concerned. Yet who is it holding the loaded gun here?"
~ Seb C [UK.Gay.Com boards]
”People can shout as loudly as they like that they only bareback with other HIV+ guys but the figures, and my experience, tell another story. As a community we need to ditch the ‘barebacking’ debate and speak with one voice on prevention to tackle these alarming figures. It is time to drop the softly-softly approach and get tough... Today, there is a new generation of young gay men playing HIV Russian roulette.”
~ Philip Rochester [UK.Gay.Com discussion board]
"Public health officials and AIDS advocates say many gay men have adopted a laissez-faire attitude about safer sex, and they cite as examples the continued popularity of crystal meth, a rise in barebacking, and widespread apathy in which HIV is seen more as a nuisance than a life-threatening disease."
~ Andrew Jacobs [HIV Plus]
"'I challenge you to go into a UK gay bar, pick up any HIV prevention leaflet, and find a clear statement why you shouldn't catch HIV,' says Yusef Azad, senior policy officer with the National Aids Trust. And Azad is not the only one who thinks we've got it wrong."
~ Gus Cairns [Positive Nation]
"Placing small booklets in selected venues does not amount to a proactive public awareness campaign."
~ Shayne Chester [CAAMA]
When, in 1999, UK AIDS charities were told that American MSM were responding to the complacency of their AIDS agencies' wishy washy safe sex messages and returning, en masse, to unsafe sex practices in the wake of the popped corks and premature sighs of relief that greeted combination therapies, and that hard-hitting campaigns were again needed to reinforce the message to UK MSM that AIDS remained a chronic and incurable killer disease, they dismissed the warning out of hand. It clearly did not make good economic sense for them to do otherwise: today, calls by newly-seroconverted MSM to most gay organisations and helplines in the UK are automatically referred to The Terrence Higgins Trust.
In the tax year 2005/6 The Terrence Higgins Trust announced in its annual Trustees Report a cash haul of £12,842,000. In 2006/7, a year that saw a further record rise in HIV transmissions, this had risen to £13,452,000 and to £15,700,000 in 2007/8. In 2008/9 it leapt to a staggering £18,019,000, and by 2009/10 had reached a truly mind-boggling £21,285,000 million... [Click here]
"What figures are THT giving the government to secure future funding? Lets say they are predicting a further 6000 gay men next year, what is the rate of increase for the year after? That's how it works. The number of gay men becoming HIV+ is their business plan."
~ Thomas [UK.Gay.Com discussion board]