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Michelangelo Signorile Signorile Views Dear Bareback Andy
by Michelangelo Signorile
2005-08-03

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Dear Bareback Andy

Dear Andrew Sullivan:

I just read your latest column, the one in The Advocate in which you—former New Republic editor and current right-wing blogger —extol the virtues of having HIV and the wonders of being positive. I must say: Very effective. It was enough to make any young gay man declare, 'I gotta go get some of that hot poz seed!' Maybe we can get Fox to create a reality show in which we follow people around as they try to get themselves infected—you can be the host!—and then watch their lives transformed for the better, while all of those nasty, negative people who warn gay men against getting HIV are shut out of the most chic nightclubs, as their steroid-free bodies shrivel-up. We can call the show, 'Getting Pozzed!'

In The Advocate column, titled, 'Still Here, So Sorry,' you write: 'I'm sorry … . It's been almost 12 years since I became infected with HIV, and I haven't died yet. I haven't even had the decency to get sick. I am a walking, talking advertisement for why HIV seems not such a big deal to the younger generation—and indeed, many in my own age bracket … . HIV transformed my life, made me a better and braver writer, prompted me to write the first big book pushing marriage rights, got me to take better care of my health, improved my sex life, and deepened my spirituality. I'm sorry. I'll try to do better … . I've even enjoyed sex more since I became positive—more depth, more intimacy, more appreciation of life itself. Sorry. I look physically and mentally healthier than ever. Sorry again … .'

You then opine, sarcastically, about how, 'Young negative men need to see more of us keeling over in the streets, or they won't be scared enough to avoid a disease that may, in the very distant future, kill them off,' telling positives to do their duty and, 'Die, damn it.'

Now honestly, Andrew, what is the purpose of this column—beyond you masturbating on your testosterone-fueled self? There is nothing wrong with building self-esteem, for yourself, for others who are HIV positive, or for people who are challenged by any adversity in life. But this is an angry rant in which you're speaking not to positives but to negatives, about whom you have enormous contempt for what seems like one simple reason: They are still negative.

It's a fairly common and completely understandable reaction among cancer patients, people with diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses as well. Life is unfair, they tell themselves. Why me? But many move beyond the rage, become transformed, help others afflicted with the disease.

You, however, seem to have never come to terms with it. Because HIV is mostly acquired sexually among gay men, and because of that Catholic guilt you've talked all about often—and which I know a thing or two about myself—it's been devastating for you, sending you into all kinds of mental contortions.

If I am wrong, please answer, clearly, the following questions: Should gay men try as hard as they can to stay negative, including always engaging in protected sex? Unless we warn them against getting HIV by using the fear of becoming infected, what else will be the incentive to stay negative? And why are you so angry, anyway, about people using fear as way to warn people to play safe—the way we use fear to warn people that obesity will lead to adult onset diabetes or smoking will lead to lung cancer—even if it sometimes isn't as effective as we'd like it to be?

Because we warn people of the downsides of HIV—from complicated drug regimens with terrible side effects ( yes, many people don't respond to the drugs as well as you have ) to strains of HIV that simply don't respond to treatment ( and they have been around for years, long before the 'super strain' hype, and mark my words, and the words of respected epidemiologists around the world, they will spread ) , to the fact that people still die from AIDS, however, thankfully, lower the numbers may be right as this moment, as the still very new drugs continue to hold out for many—you feel that the message somehow hurts your self-esteem. It somehow affects your well-being. It somehow makes you feel that you must scream from the rafters of your blog—and the pages of The Advocate—that, no, HIV truly is the best thing to happen to me, honest!

And that tells us, Andrew, that you don't feel good about having HIV at all. You perhaps even hate yourself for having allowed yourself to become infected via unprotected sex long after it was known how HIV is spread. It's been difficult for you, someone who found yourself at the center of attention, the golden boy editor of the New Republic, the Gap model, to suddenly be in a group that is certainly not, nor should ever be, considered 'hip.' So you would turn that around, and write about how wonderful it all supposedly is. And this is where I believe that you actually want young gay men to seroconvert. You want them to become positive. You want them to join your club, so that it just becomes hipper and hipper and those mean negative people just look more and more marginalized.

If all of that is not true, Andrew, then please state so unequivocally, and sing it from the rafters. Here you have this platform to actually impact people's decisions on prevention, and what do you do? You spend all of this time and space attacking other people's prevention methods—those nasty lecturing negative people—without offering any of your own, or even your opinion that HIV is not good.

I honestly wouldn't care what you think at this point—you've destroyed your credibility on AIDS and HIV, beginning when you wrote your tragically wrong 'End of AIDS' piece in The New York Times magazine in 1996 and ending when it was revealed all over the Internet that you were looking for 'bareback' sex with multiple partners, which I wrote all about a few years ago—but I'm concerned about young gay men who read The Advocate. They don't have a clue who you are or what you are about. They don't have any idea of the fraud you've perpetrated—distorting studies on infection rates, or putting out completely false information—nor your hypocrisies. Some will say that the editors thus had a responsibility in this regard, and I'm not going to absolve them of that. But I'm writing specifically to you here. These young men are struggling every day to maintain safer-sex practices. Some are very successful, while others will look for every rationalization to have unprotected sex. And now you just handed them another one: That their careers, their bodies, their sex lives will be fabulous and that there's no downside at all, really.

You're glamorizing illness, for your own selfish reasons, for your own ego. And I think you know that because, oddly, you have not linked to The Advocate column on your Web site, where all of the legions of your right-wing, Republican conservative fans can see your recklessness and irresponsibility, and be appalled. It's funny because you link to everything you write, making sure your fans can get every bit of Andrew Sullivan. But this column, directed squarely at the gay audience in The Advocate—and particularly at all those horrible negative people—seems to have gotten overlooked. Why Andrew? Hey, if you are really so secure and proud of your HIV infection, you might even link to this open letter of mine too, so your conservative Republican fans could see how supposedly ridiculous I'm being. But I bet you won't.

Signorile hosts a daily radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio, stream 149. More on Signorile: www.signorile.com .


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