So started an open letter on my twitter last night.
[NOTE: I have edited this at 3pmEST on 5/30/15 as there were some sentences I just, er, didn’t finish! Woops.]
I’ve talked at length before about heterosexism in the queer male community. As a transgender non-binary person who still identifies very closely with gay male or queer male experience I have a strange outlook about it all.
Likewise I think some context for what brought this on might be welcome; that will be below all of the tweets and details.
So let me share these tweets.
Typically the issues that are raised by people who are trying to rationalize through their own internalized oppression come down to a few points:
- People who bareback “hunt” partners. The suggestion here is one of coercion, that the only reason they’re talking others into barebacking is not because, surprise, both people choose and want to bareback, but because they somehow trick partners into it. This can be anything from money, sweet talking/looks, or even “renegotiating” for it after sex has started and a partner’s more pliable. There’s a complete denial of the truth that some people CAN and DO assess the risks of barebacking and *choose* to do so with partners.
- Of course, important to note is that by denying that they also deny the simple truth and needs of sex education. I talk about this later.
- Everyone who does drugs lies. I can even understand where this stereotype comes from… but it’s a) patently false and b) frustratingly common. The simple truth is that, YES, while meth specifically and drugs in general can lead to erratic behavior (especially when you add into it addiction), people develop problems with these drugs because they use them to cope. The issues are in fixing what they’re coping over… which is typically a demonization of their sexuality. So. Y’know. Good on you for both contributing to the systemic issues that cause drug abuse and then the systemic demonization of drug abuse and addiction.
- Guys with HIV stealth and lie about it! Stealthing, for those who don’t know, is the practice of engaging in unprotected sex dishonestly, with a partner who believes you are having protected sex. There are a few different ways that men go about doing this (from puncturing holes in condoms to taking them off mid-intercourse), and many reasons. Typically the people suggesting this stereotype hold to the idea that the virus has somehow deranged men into wanting to infect as many people as possible.
- The truth is that those who DO stealth probably do so due to a combination of not being able to find (at least openly) willing bareback partners. Regardless, it’s a phenomenon we don’t know or understand well, yet… but its roots are surely in the vein of heternormativity that suggests bareback sex is wrong conflicting with their internal desires to do so, necessitating that they do so “stealthily” to avoid shame, guilt, and similar emotions.
It is also important for me to note that I do not think understanding the circumstances around these behaviors when/if they DO occur necessarily negates the responsibility of individuals. However we must not get confused by levels of system. The issue is that people holding to these stereotypes do so because of heteronormativity that says that drug use, bareback sex, and STIs (specifically HIV) are bad and evil. Meanwhile heterosexism denies the full breadth of diversity to non-heterosexual people; this means that the same internalized oppression that demonizes these things also puts them into the same class as the people who do or have them.
Cognitive dissonance then occurs which necessitates lashing out in order to relieve an internal sense of guilt, shame, or anger at being considered the “same” as someone who does something “evil.”
My words here are very general; the nuance necessarily depends on a more individual level. Generally, though, these are the overarching patterns.
Here’s I’m talking about the roots of what made this systemic. The people who engage in indiscriminate unprotected sex and who use (or abuse) drugs regularly have always been a minority in queer male history. Of course, between film and art and anything else that depicts that history you’d never think that and because these acts are so wildly against the dictates of cisheteronormative hegemony, they are both demonized and used to consolidate all queer men under that set of behaviors.
Unfortunately what that means is that those who are decidedly less “radical” in their actions and desires then feel attacked by public perception. They reject those who are like them in order to be better accepted by the oppressive group. All this does is isolate. If they instead dropped that “shame of affiliation” and reversed it onto that hegemony for even thinking to extend it they would find themselves less isolated.
- I’ve also spoken at length on twitter about respectability politics, which is the mechanism at effect here. You can find more information (including the slides I created with pictures) here or on facebook with captioning at the following links in order:
In the past when criticizing those who hold these stereotypes that is what I get told. That I am proactively trying to guilt/shame men into having indiscriminate sex bareback while high on more meth than they can quantify. It’s a straw-man argument that they’re suggesting I’m making. I haven’t talked about their behaviors at all, simply their beliefs.
Regardless, the truth is that I AM looking at real and viable change when I talk about these things. Drugs are a problem in the queer male community not because they’re drugs and drugs are bad, but because people are abusing drugs and dying in an effort to cope with their lives. It’s irresponsible to suggest this isn’t true.
It’s also irresponsible to not note that the plague, the current HIV rate, and the rise of activities such as “stealthing” aren’t tied to drug use… because people who are demonized for their sexuality and desires will tend to find other ways to cope. Indiscriminate sex and drug abuse ARE two ways in which this happens in addition to disordered relationships with food (hello, that’s me), money, family, and more. Put simply, the reason drugs are a problem is because people who do drugs even recreationally and responsibly are seen as a problem and we’re not doing anything to combat the frankly appalling conditions of our lives that make them an easy coping mechanism instead of something done for fun.
Likewise, the only reason why indiscriminate sex should be a concern is because it’s indiscriminate and we have a culture of not talking about sex which then leads to us making decisions about our sex lives that are uninformed, uninvestigated, and quite dangerous. Were we to discuss sex education more completely, especially under the philosophies of risk awareness, acceptable risk, and clear consent whether we would see a drop in sexual activity or not is immaterial; we would at least see men and others making more informed sexual decisions.
And teaching about clear consent would both give people tools to recognize coercion, as well as to reify the fundamental agency of every person. The only people who would then “stealth” would be those who have been doing it all along (and if you think the behavior is new to this decade you are quite naive; queer men took notes from straight mens’ playbooks when condoms began to become normalized in queer male sex).
Again, I’m talking about how succumbing to the ‘monolith’ created by cisheteropatriarchy means reifying and participating in our own oppression.
(a note “I support you” in that first tweet, but character limits are rough, and a reminder that not all people in the queer male community identify with masculine terms like “brother,” hence “sibling”)
Just a rehash.
And here’s the context I promised:
When it comes to politics of sex and sexuality in the queer male community one heavy influence has always been (and likely always will be) pornography. Regardless of an individual’s thoughts/feelings on this it certainly does bring out some interesting issues. Recently there was an awards show known as the “Grabbys” where a certain porn blog that is iconic in that industry won an award. The owner of that blog, for the first time in history, accepted the award. It was also that owner’s first time “coming out” into the open as the owner of the blog. Another blogger (who was up for the same award as far as I can tell) took the opportunity to then document the other one’s legal name, previous occupation, and more. This resulted in an uproar by the porn community (as he’s both done this before and it was unnecessarily punitive) including calls to boycott and remove his blog from affiliate links.
This is neither here nor there. The important bit is in this blogger’s reactions to those calling him out on the behavior and calling for boycotts. This blogger considers bareback pornography, men who bareback (even if they are on PrEP), and men who are HIV positive (even if they don’t bareback) morally reprehensible. He also considers men who do drugs (crystal meth specifically) similarly morally impaired. He’s pushed these ideas pretty heavily about some of the people in the porn industry and also in general.
I’m not saying that some of his points are without merits (especially about directors and such who are very coercive to their talent), but this fundamental idea that barebacking is WRONG or drugs are WRONG, when they’re literally a fabric of the history of being queer and male is offensive.
In the end what I think is important is for us to take the pressure off of each other and apply it where it’s really necessary: the hegemonic systems that want us to fight, police, and maim each other.