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Return of Unsafe Sex

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To the editors:

Your article on "The Angriest Queer" [17 August] was very good as far as it went--a character sketch of Danny Sotomayor. But it seemed briefer than your usual cover article, with its endless detail, and it did not say what Sotomayor has really accomplished. I don't mean to suggest he hasn't accomplished anything; I expect he's done quite a bit, but that was not communicated by the article. Without an evaluation of his or ACT UP/Chicago's actions, the subject is somewhat trivialized, and that could be a cause of additional anger.

Similarly, Michael Miner's piece on ACT UP's critique of Mike Royko, in the same issue [Hot Type], was very good, but Miner's cool analytic approach to Royko's arguments could have used some of Sotomayor's anger. When a writer such as Royko knows very well what readers will see in his writing, he does not have to spell out all assumptions (or enthymemes, as Aristotle called them), and the careful analyst such as Miner who looks at the text but just doesn't find one thing or another there may be just naive.

One issue in these debates is the CTA poster that says "Kissing Doesn't Kill: Greed and Indifference Do," referring to causes of AIDS. While on the subject of anger, greed, and indifference, I'd like to raise a difficult point. It's difficult because it involves criticism of the gay community, and as long as bigots such as Royko and Alderman Shaw are abroad in the land, it's a terrible thing to give them and their ilk ammunition. If it were not a matter of life and death, I wouldn't do it. But after all, the poster was supposed to raise debate. So here goes.

Recreational sex has returned to Chicago's gay baths, X-rated bookstores, and to some bars. Much of it, in my direct observation, is unsafe. For the past few years, this was not widespread, but recently, matters have changed drastically. People who have so far lived through the plague are loosening up, apparently under the hope that HIV infection is becoming treatable, and younger people without appreciation for the dangers are diving in. The gay community was justly proud of its prevention behavior in the mid-1980s. But everyone I've spoken to lately agrees that a second wave of unsafe sex has begun among gay men, a fact also reported at the recent international AIDS conference.

Ten years ago, there really was no gay community, and there certainly were not pages of listings of AIDS service agencies, as there are now. What are these organizations doing about this situation? Absolutely nothing. If you want to talk about greed, look at the businesses themselves. It builds clientele to have a back room of a bar for recreational sex, or to have the whole place devoted to that, as an X-rated bookstore, movie theater, or bathhouse. The owners of these places could keep them open and transform them into safe-sex environments. Things could be done. Nothing is being done.

It would be too much trouble, perhaps it would cost something, and it might scare people away. Of course, the gay baths in New York and San Francisco were closed years ago under pressure from public health authorities. Chicago's baths got a pass because hardly anyone was going to them. Now that they are booming again, everyone's looking the other way. Some people say that people who go there are already infected and will soon die anyway--a stupid, cynical position. Local gay publications seem reluctant to look into this for fear that if bars are closed their advertising revenues will decline. People may be ashamed of publicly admitting this sort of behavior takes place--or still takes place. And yet, there is reason to believe that people are daily being newly infected in these places. That doesn't have to happen.

What about the myriad AIDS service organizations? They are set up to provide services to individuals and do not seem capable of handling anything institutional like this. STOP AIDS Chicago, a more outreach kind of group, recently claimed in print that their volunteers had been working regularly in one of the baths--the one I frequent, as it happens. I've never seen them there.

So the band still plays on! The federal government pours millions of dollars into "prevention research," a Prevention Research Center exists over at the University of Illinois at Chicago--so what? It all provides good jobs and builds careers for academics but has not the slightest impact on preventing disease. Appalling hypocrisy.

I regret very much bringing up this issue at all. On the whole, the gay and lesbian community does not deserve criticism. What we deserve is legalization of same-sex marriage, which would go a long way to prevent sexual promiscuity by encouraging permanent couples. The real devils are those whose stigmatization of gay and lesbian relationships leads people to seek recreational sex in the first place. I realize that many people will strongly disagree with me. Floods of issues swirl around this point. But amid self- serving indignation and protective self-righteousness, let us not forget that greed and indifference do cause AIDS, just like the poster says.

Name withheld

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