The Truth About Gay Men’s Health

“Gay men are healthy,
happy, and life affirming. We’re creative, strong, and resilient; more than
almost any other male population, we think outside the box, take responsibility
for our actions, and care for ourselves and others. We know how to get what we
want and we know how to create lives that are satisfying and fulfilling.”

 With these
words Eric Rofes, the late gay health activist, began an article on the gay
men’s health movement in the White Crane
just three years ago Are these words still true? Were they true then? Today we are bombarded by grim statistics on
rising HIV rates, alarming amounts of syphilis and other sexually transmitted
diseases, the lives of partners and friends ruined by meth and other
substances, and a disquieting acceptance that its okay not to talk about our
health status with our sex partners. 

 Are we
healthy, happy, and life affirming? I
admit that one can easily get discouraged. After twenty plus years of AIDS crisis mode, much of the celebration of
gay life and gay sex that began after Stonewall has been diminished. Gay sex today is often seen as something to
be feared, contained and controlled. Many
gay men are viewed by society at large (and unfortunately by some other gay
men) simply as vectors of disease who are hypersexual, tweaked-out, and
potentially destructive to themselves and anyone around them. Society views many of us as complacent at
best, and pathetic at worst.

 We need to
reject this narrative of pathology. Like
any stereotype, it is simplistic, polarizing and personally destructive. Are there gay men who are sexually reckless? Of course, but judging and shaming accomplish
little. Much of this behavior was caused
by feelings of separation in the first place. Let’s start sharing information about issues that are important to all
of us, such as how to discuss serostatus, or use a condom, or know the facts
about safer sex, or how to heal “taught shame.” It’s happening already, at forums like those sponsored by Out in the Open or at groups at the
GLCC, or at many other locations.

 What about
Tina’s rampage? I probably have worked with more individuals caught in the
vortex of crystal meth than anyone in this community, yet of all the men I have
been privileged to know, not one planned to venture into the darker realms they
experienced on meth.  Like most of us, these men sought to increase
their confidence, feel sexually desirable, overcome their inhibitions, or
experience increased sexual intensity. Sound
familiar?  Pretty normal?  It’s not the person who is bad or shameful; it’s
a very nasty drug that hijacks sexual desire and clear thinking, often with
disastrous personal consequences.

 There is,
of course, a need for responsibility and accountability. Both personal and community health and
wellness are something that each of us must create. Solutions can’t be found in avoidance or
demonizing. As a community we experience
way too much divisiveness: negative versus positive; older versus younger; those
who “party-and-play” versus those who don’t. By identifying what unites us as gay men, what we all share, we can
generate strength and healing.

 Are gay
men really creative, strong, and resilient? Absolutely, yes. Can we think outside
the box? Of course. Many of us have witnessed such resilience in
other times and places and it’s happening here again. Gay men, our allies, agencies, churches, and
a host of other organizations are actively working together to create a
healthier and stronger community. I’ll
be writing about some of these challenges and solutions in the months to come
and I invite you to join us in creating personal lives and communities that are
not only satisfying and fulfilling, but in Eric Rofe’s words, healthy, happy,
and life affirming.