Tuesday, June 2, 2009

All That Is Left Is All That I Hide (or: Further reflections on the meaning of HIV)

There is a boy, a potential boyfriend in the least demanding sense of the word "potential"--I've yet to actually meet him, save that one time almost a year ago, but I hardly think that counts--though, perhaps because I've not yet met him, not had the opportunity to interact with the actual person, I'm allowed freer range to cultivate in my mind the phantasy that could conceivably support a relationship for a few months... fuck, maybe even a year. It is so delightfully easy to be "oneself" when transmitting the entirety of one's body through emoticons: here I am (my name in Hebrew)!

We are going to see a movie this weekend, and as he likes to multiplex--which is the only way I stand seeing a movie for the despicable rates they charge--we will probably end up seeing more than one. If I like him, it will be a scary movie, so I have an excuse to grab his body, like they did in the old days, like my dad did with my mother--though that plan back-fired in a wonderfully beautiful way: it was "Jaws" and he spent the whole movie with his hand clamped on her knee squeezing his fear out of his body and into that resistant, hard, curved shell of her bone where it would be safely trapped; it was a thoroughly unromantic evening, but makes for a truly lovely story about two people falling in love with one another's foibles and idiosyncrasies.

If I don't like him, the second movie we see will be a typical summer B-blockbuster and I will spend the rest of the date critiquing the movie--It was so bland, so predictable, lots of spectacular and pretty special effects but no substance--with thinly veiled allusions to the boy himself.

One strike against him, though, is that he outed the status of a friend of mine. I loathe that. I have next to no willingness to forgive that sort of thing: it is petty, and nasty, and cruel--gossip, a Woody Allen character says in "Manhattan," is the new pornography. And just like bad porn, it is vulgar and obscene. I didn't know what to say, and so I decided to say nothing: I pretended it hadn't happened and changed the subject.

Today, as it turns out, I got my own pointer finger pricked--something delightfully symbolic in that act--and my blood drawn and co-mingled with chemicals. I sat very calmly with a precious little hispanic gay man while he asked me questions--Do you have sex while drunk and high? Yes. How often? Almost always. Protected a) all of the time, b) most of the time, c) some of the time, d) eh...? Most of the time. ...When it comes to HIV testing, I, like Bartleby, would rather not. Rather not know, rather not endure the wait, the asinine questions, the tortured attempts at recalling who it might have been... But this time there was a scare.

I should elaborate: HIV does not scare me. Not any more than mono or the chickenpox. What scares me is what HIV means to so many stupendously stupid people. This boy, let's call him "Peter," was going to besmirch the quality of character of my friend because of his status. "He didn't tell me he was positive," he whined, and though I can't rightly assume, and don't rightly know because I didn't push it (I was too angry), I imagine "Peter" never asked, either. During the 20 minutes it took for my blood to incubate a test result my "counselor" asked what I would say if one of my anonymous fucks asked after my status and it proved to be positive. My impulse, my first answer, was to say, "Yes." But I caught myself: "No, I wouldn't say 'Yes'--I'd say, I only have safe sex, so there is no risk." The end is the same--no transmission--but I lied. It was that moment, when I felt obliged to say "Yes" in the hypothetical scene of address, when I realized I was answering like a guilty person who was being called to account, whose bad conscience compelled him to confess his dirty sin: I've been fucked.

In the face of such stigma, though, I have a circle of friends--the German, the Vegan, Sokrates, the Lawyer, and my NY friends--who would never view me, nor objectify me, as someone who "got fucked". They would not tell stories about me--"My friend, unfortunately..."--as morality tales, nor would they scold me, nor would they shame me when I--as I would--continued to sleep with anonymous partners. So I walked in defiant and buoyant, imagining the peeling rolls of their laughter as we managed to somehow find a way of not succumbing to despair. And I walked out.

When I was a boy I posed for a book cover. The book told the story of a girl whose best friend, a boy my age (at the time), gets AIDS through a blood transfusion. I was maybe 11 at the time, but profound enough to realize that AIDS meant death, and, from being an alert child with a keen memory I knew it was what happened to faggots. That summer, when I went off to all boys Christian sleep away camp, I donned the mask of that character in the story and told a boy I'd come to befriend--who had the palest blue eyes, the only thing I remember about him--that I was HIV+. I told this lie, I think, because I wanted to see if he would still be my friend once he knew this about me. He didn't, as it happened, stay my friend and when one camp councilor asked me later that night if my mother wore combat boots it was the first of an almost unrelenting series of jibes. I said yes just to spite him. And to feel a little less alone. It was the first time, I think, I saw the vapidity of the cornerstone of Christian ethics: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (or: "Love your neighbor as yourself").

HIV contributed to "making" me gay, in that coming-out was so very intimately bound-up with killing God, and this event, that boy's fearful rejection, was the first arrowhead to pierce the scales of that dragon. And, to be a faggot, I always thought, was to be rejected, alienated, feared, harassed, but also potent, powerful, magical, seductive--the perfectly taboo figure. A community of men and women, I imagined, that could transform their marginalized existence into a socio-politically potent bloc, to launch salvos of withering critique at our enemies--like our very existence as beautiful, proud, and fiercely intelligent men and women was an acid that would eventually eat through the edifice of our oppression--while also being a therapy for our loneliness: a pharmakon par excellence. But we treat our own very badly: we make "faggots" out of those with HIV, and with such simplicity and yet such grandiloquence: they got fucked, like nancy-boys, sissies (but me, I'm a real man: impenetrable).

The extent that I deploy "faggot" as an affirmative modality of self-identification lies in its reminder that, in fact, we remain a marginalized community and to remain attentive to ways in which identification with the aggressor can so subtly move people to effect ideological distances in a vain effort to escape the responsibility of appropriating one's status as a pariah; that is, the ethical responsibility of identifying with one another as faggots, of caring for one another. To my mind this response-ability (to borrow from Derrida) should have its ears pricked (to channel Joe Orton) to our peers, to resist repeating the marginalization of these men and women. Because if not, you're still a faggot, just one who doesn't want accept that fact. Perhaps we have reached a point in our community when an honest and (queerly) ethical affirmation of self would have to include this in the impossible task of giving oneself over in an account...

And with this I talked myself out of going on this date. There are so many possible excuses I could muster in his defense, and I have tried on his behalf. But I can't imagine myself being able to see beyond the very real possibility that I could just have easily filled the role of my friend in this guy's mind. Because he didn't see a person in my friend, he just saw a disease. No differently than so many straight people see only a disease or whatever other narrow lens they view us through. (The Writer supposes that perhaps they resent the fun we have and I will go along with him on that, but would add that we drank the cool-aid and now pathologize our fun.) That's just not the sort of person I want to spend my time with: the obscene double of the very thing I fled when I killed God, pursued the life of the mind, moved to Boystown: an ideologue, no matter how pretty he is.

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