August 18, 2009

To The Barebackers

An online conversation about unprotected sex began with the publication of Father Tony’s recent column in the South Florida Blade. Other bloggers have responded with essays of their own, The Milkman's being especially eloquent. I offer here a different point of view.

You who continue to have unprotected sex:

You think this is only about your right to choose. You think that you should have carte blanche on how you live and whether you die young or not.

Let me tell you from terrible experience: this isn’t all about you.

If you contract HIV, your quality of life will be irrevocably altered. If you have good insurance, you will still have to deal with reactions to harsh and costly medications. If you do not have insurance, you will likely lose your job because of the hours you will spend in clinics and the emergency room.

In the end, though, it comes down to this: do you have anyone who loves you? Anyone at all? When money, health and time run out, when that end of life comes, the people who love you will have to watch you die.

Those who love you will try to help you keep a sense of “normal,” taking you to the store for food which you cannot eat, keeping watch on you so that you don’t wander away, and hurrying you through the line before you soil yourself in public.

They will have to stand by helplessly while you slowly starve on a diet of up to 4000 calories a day, because the simple yeast infection which ravages your digestive system won’t let the food stay in your body long enough for the nutrients to be absorbed.

Those who haven’t seen you in a long time will try to hide with forced smiles their shock at your appearance when they first see you, looking for all the world like an aging prisoner of a concentration camp, with joints bigger than your limbs, sunken eyes, bleeding gums.

The people who love you will push you to the TV room in a wheelchair in which you are strapped with a belt across your slender chest because you will be too weak to sit upright. Before you are bedridden and hooked to IVs, they will watch the hospice nurses carry you in their arms to set you down in the living room to talk about things that don’t matter at all.

Those who love you will agonize over what to do when you hallucinate that there are insects crawling all over you, helping you to brush them off so that your panic will subside.

They will try to stop their tears when you have no idea who they are or that they have traveled hundreds of miles to make sure you know they love you.

One who loves you will hold you as you struggle to stay in this life, giving you permission to leave; and, with a final whispery sigh, you will go.

The people who love you will ultimately be grateful for the peace—yours and theirs—that your death will bring, even though they will always be haunted by the images of your slow and excruciating demise.

Those who love you will most likely go through this in silence, for even today no one wants to talk about it.

You who have unprotected sex do in fact have the right to choose. My brother and those many thousands who were decimated by this cruel disease did not have what you do today: a sort of informed consent. You know how to stop HIV from spreading.

Image courtesy of Tony Adams

The greatest enemy of autonomy is self-destruction. Police yourselves. Claim the brotherhood you share by honoring the deaths of those who came before you. Choose love. Choose life.


Jeff said...

Thank you for writing this.

This past week,a young man that I once mentored told me that he became HIV positive from barebacking at age 24. I am stunned.

I fear that gay men have failed in the simple art of looking after each other.

Websites and blogs spring up glamorizing barebacking, bug chasing and drug use, especially among our youth - could this possibly be the same community that collected money nickels and dimes at a time to help fund AIDS research 25 years ago as we watched our brothers die?

I'm crushed by the loss of our humanity.

Brian R said...

Yes thank you for this. I may be old but I lived through the time whe nwe did not know what was causing the deaths and how you caught it. I retreated in fear from nearly all gay contacts and I still bear the scars today. Now we know how to avoid risk, we should be able to enjoy life again while taking the necessary precaution. However as a teacher I despair when kids take up smoking and refuse to use sun protection for their skin.

Greg said...

Yah, thanks, Birdie. One simply can't have too many reminders of what may come as the result of a few minutes of unbridled pleasure.


Java said...

Powerful, Birdie. thank you

Ur-spo said...

but people are selfish alas. they drink eat badly have sex and go drugs as it feels good. They don't think of consequences alas

Rox said...

WOW Birdie, powerful writing!