A source in a Salon story accuses the author of fanning flames of panic about the sexual practices of gay men.

By Salon Staff
Published March 1, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

[Read "What Ever Happened to Safe Sex?" by Alysia Abbott.]

While I appreciate the effort of Salon.com contributor Alysia Abbott to educate herself quickly about gay life and culture, I consider her article "What Ever Happened to Safe Sex?" shabby sermonizing. Ms. Abbott interviewed me and distorted my analysis to fit her moral crusading. I never told her, nor implied, that I studied gay male "sex parties." I am studying gay male circuit parties. The fact that she doesn't know the difference simply points out that she was out of her league and should have left this story to someone more familiar with gay culture.

Moreover, it is clear to me that she had a point she wanted to make in this story, and no amount of research, despite my efforts to get her to consult some, was going to disabuse her of her preordained thesis: Gay men are out of control, harming themselves and others, and young gay men, in particular, are not taking heed of the suffering that Ms. Abbott's father apparently endured. Yes, she found a few interesting quotes from residents of the Big Apple. Big deal.

Where is the systematic evidence confirming these moral tales and truisms and tsk-tsk remarks of the now middle-aged? Where are the statistics on new HIV/AIDS cases? Where are the demographic facts about new cases? Where is the systematic evidence on safer-sex rates and practices among gay men? Where is the data on meth usage and on meth-related HIV seroconversion? Had such data been included, most readers would find this kind of reporting little more than sensationalist drivel, because the facts would reveal just how mundane the true story is: Gay men living, loving and caring for each other and, on rare occasions, slipping up in their safer-sex practices and becoming infected with HIV.

Ironically, Ms. Abbott got one point right: This sensationalist coverage will breed further contempt and mistrust of imprudent public health officials, and the all-too-willing journalists ready to fan the flames of panic and fear.

-- Christopher Carrington

Alysia Abbott replies:

I'm sorry that I erroneously described "circuit parties" as "sex parties." This is incorrect, and I apologize for mischaracterizing your upcoming book.

However, I don't think that my article was a "moralizing sermon," nor did I set out to prove that gay men are "out of control." Many of the men I interviewed are genuinely concerned about the sexual practices in their community, as are health organizations like the Gay Men's Health Crisis, which associates meth use and unsafe sex in one of its ad campaigns.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

I used to admire Salon as a bastion of balanced journalism (and recommend it to a lot of my friends). And yet on the whole HIV/AIDS question you're strangely silent about the dissidents, from Peter Duesberg at Berkeley to the many others out there. I'm sorry, but when dissidents of that caliber are given no voice, you cannot possibly call yourself balanced journalists. Every side needs to be heard, especially when they're respected in their field.

You've almost lost me as a reader because of this. I keep asking myself why the hell they don't ever mention these people.

-- Martin

Why do gay men still engage in unsafe sex? The same reason that people still smoke. Forty years have passed since the surgeon general told us that smoking is deadly.

In the intervening years cigarette ads were taken off of television and cigarette packs themselves warn about the risks of lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, birth defects and erectile dysfunction. Not only did everyone not quit smoking but millions have taken up the fatal habit knowing that it is fatal.

Human beings live by denying that risky behavior is just that. I see no need to ask endless questions about why gay men have unsafe sex when millions more smoke or choose not to wear seat belts.

-- Margaret Kimberley

The article on the supposed decline of the safer-sex message didn't really inform. It was all about gays and drugs, gays and sex, gays and HIV/AIDS, etc. What about infection rates among people not identifying themselves as gay? Are gays the only people using online services to meet potential sex partners? Are gays the only subculture with its own drug sub-sub-culture? Are gays the only people to possess the supposed complacency about safer sex? And where is the data supporting that anyway?

Limiting itself to discussing HIV/AIDS only in terms of gays, the article then wonders why the safer-sex message isn't being heeded! Well, step one: Stop reinforcing the stubborn notion that it's a disease that affects "those people." But I realize an article only about sex -- gay sex! -- gay sex on drugs! -- is vastly appealing. And step two is more for gays and "spokesmen" for us: Stop acting like our collective personal lives are somehow collective or that they warrant any more scrutiny than the personal lives of any other group. AIDS is a really big picture, but in America it seems we're still stuck on the little picture of AIDS among gays.

Beyond that, I was really bothered by some of the man-on-the-street quotes (especially in an article all about AIDS with not one quote from someone with it). Why include a quote from someone who equates the visible symptoms of AIDS with seeing Satan? I understand the shock value of language and all that, but what a cruel metaphor! I think for too many people it's just the sort of thing that further blurs any separation of their fear of HIV and AIDS from those who carry it.

I currently have two KS lesions, one visible and one not. The only thing to fear is how I'll respond if you're a jackass and clutch your children to you (it's happened) or compare me in any way to Satan (it apparently happens at Café Big Cup). If you're lucky, I'll pity your stupidity. But if you're not lucky -- say it's one of those days when the side effects of my meds are bad and I've run to the bathroom 20 times wondering if I will literally shit myself to death -- well, those are the days when I'm to be feared most. I just might be tired of dealing with assholes that upset me.

-- Gabriel Smith

Salon Staff

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