On the Internalization of Homophobia: Understanding the “Little Boy with the Big Secret”

I was “out” for several years before I found a book which reflected the way I was socialized with homophobia, and had internalized that homophobia. When I was handed a copy of “The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in the Straight Man’s World” by a therapist, I felt a bit of what I can only describe as awkwardly offended. I expected to be given a number of self-help guides, although I still believed we were in need of much advancement in society, I also believed my personal struggle with my sexuality to be a non-issue, something dismissible.

The book identifies a certain self-loathing that manifests through our socialization as children in our relationships ranging with our fathers and mothers, to our playground experiences. The book makes a shocking omission of our socialization through media, although I will attempt to do such myself. It goes lengths to identify some of the common ways that this self-loathing, the internalized homophobia of which I am writing about, can manifest in our adulthood. In becoming overwhelmed by this shame, we find ourselves relentlessly trying to compensate for it. This cycle often reveals itself in self-destruction:

“What is being said is that the trauma from growing up gay is a world primarily run by straight men is deeply wounding in a unique and profound way. Straight men have issues and struggles that are no less wounding but quite different from those of gay men.”

Downs goes on to describe a “little boy with a big secret” and an adult who takes the shame from their childhood, and seeks validation (at any cost, even if it’s inauthentic) to compensate for this shame. He discusses the high substance abuse and suicide rates of gay men, and the tendencies of gay men to decorate our lives as if we’re trying to compensate for something. Suddenly, it became very clear to me that I was absolutely wrong about not having issues with myself. I was very much the “little boy with a big secret”, and I still exhibit all the behaviors of someone trying to protect a secret that isn’t even there anymore.

Unfortunately, the social analysis falls very short. Perhaps that is due to his limitations within clinical psychology, but I find it impossible to talk about “cultivating authenticity” in our lives as gay men without talking about social empowerment. I also find it impossible to talk about gay shame without understanding it as internalized homophobia, and therefore a symptom of hetero-supremacy. He may signify this with his title, but he leaves us with few solutions (most of which are self-care) to the systemic issues which we suffer, only therapeutic strategies.

I certainly do not blame Dr. Downs for having a more narrow focus on the subject. However, the problems he describes and addresses in the title of the book, cannot be solved by therapy. Likewise, those of us read his book, learning so much about ourselves, and put it down feeling defeated still. We still live in the same conditions that produced us. The book fails to empower us to win our struggle, only helps us understand the way in which navigate through the “straight man’s world”.

What I cannot look past is that this is written from a somewhat critical of what can be interpreted as “Queerness within Gayness”. That is. the things we often associated with, but may or may not actually identify with. Polyamory (and what Downs describes as “hypersexuality”) are described as a part of the “over-compensation” stage. I don’t think it serves us to be sex-negative in any way whatsoever. We need to have our sexualities affirmed and empowered before we dissent upon them as products of homophobia.

Stages of Shame: Life in a Constantly Evolving Heteronormativity

Downs also believes that our fulfillment entails navigating through a world that “affords us our share of joy, happiness, fulfillment and love” and “isn’t about ‘not being Gay'”. There’s a lot of problems with this. The most obvious being that we do not live in that world. Dr. Alan Downs, being a white male in the first world, might certainly live in such a reality, but is unfair to everyone who doesn’t get their share. That worldview falls victim to the naive notion that we are isolated individuals on an equal playing field.  A book about homophobia can’t afford that perspective.

“The stages are arranged by the primary manner in which the gay man handles shame. The first stage is “Overwhelmed by Shame” and includes the period of time when he remained “in the closet” and fearful of his own sexuality. The second stage is “Compensating for Shame” and describes the gay man’s attempt to neutralize his shame by being more successful, outrageous, beautiful or masculine. During this stage he may take on many sexual partners in his attempt to feel attractive, sexy and loved – in short, less shameful.

The final stage is “Discovering Authenticity”. Not all men progress out of the previous two stages, but those who do begin to build a life that is based upon their own passions and values, rather than proving to themselves that they are desirable and lovable.”

I would propose the idea that upon navigating through our heteronormative world, we are likely to find ourselves living in each of these stages based on our various different interpersonal exchanges. This means we never exclusively live in any of these stages, but rather all of them at once in various proportions. I can be closeted in a scenario where I still seek inauthentic validation and overcompensate again, then expressing my queerness, and once again may begin overcompensating for it out of fear and shame, possibly obtaining some authentic validation at some point. However, the “little boy with the big secret” isn’t something I believe to be completely inalienable, there’s some experiences that we have as a child that are difficult to disassociate from.

Rather, we exist and live our lives going through these “stages of shame” not simply once in a lifetime, but constantly. Regardless of what our lifestyle is, we find ourselves forced into situations that revert us all the way back to the beginning. Understanding these stages is only a tool to help us live and assimilate to a world not built for us.

That’s not the world I want to live in either. Understanding the world we live in currently only goes so far to reconcile the problems in my life. There’s no dissociating and taming the “little boy with the big secret” inside of me. Faced with this contradiction, I’m faced with the difficult choice of letting it destroy me, or subvert the social order which created it.

The Social Construction of the Gay Identity under Capitalism

Homosexuality exists objectively in history. This much is true, and while we haven’t yet been able to reach a consensus of the biological (genetic) basis for homosexuality, it’s widely considered to be possible. A great advancement thus far in the academic community in regards to homosexuality, is that we’re starting to find more legitimacy granted from psychologists, who used to classify us as suffering from a mental illness, but now recognizes it almost universally as absolutely natural, the most significant result of this has been the APA’s (American Psychological Association) resolution denouncing “conversion therapy” as psychologically harmful, anti-scientific, and ineffective and traumatic. This had a large influence in California, where last year they conversion therapy for minors. This is probably the first time rights have been granted in the name of queer youth, breaking a silence that had lingered for too long. Generally, it can be thought that people are being to see homosexuality as something as inalienable from our society as heterosexuality, because it is.

Being Gay is much different. Being Gay is new. Our identity formed as a direct result of Capitalism:

“I want to argue that gay men and lesbians have not always existed. Instead, they are a product of history, and have come into existence in a specific historical era. Their emergence is associated with the relations of capitalism – more specifically, it’s free labor system – that has allowed large numbers of men and women in the late twentieth century to call themselves gay, to see themselves as a community of similar men and women, and to organize politically on the basis of that identity”
– John D’emilio in Capitalism and the Gay Identity

So this makes Capitalism seem rather empowering for Gay people. I assure you this, it is neither my intention nor that of D’emilio. It is important though, to recognize this very important distinction and creation of the Gay identity. It is the very marginalization of the alienated-labor system that created our identity, by reaction to the material conditions on my own. Tolerance for homosexuality is much more independent than that, it manifests itself in different points in history based on a number of variables, of which the system under which material goods are produced is simply one variable. While I am skeptical of most claims which paint the early USSR as some sort of Gay paradise, it is worth noting that they did bring some sort of legitimacy to us when Lenin legalized homosexuality, and decriminalized sodomy. This was some 50 years before the Gay identity formed in the Capitalist west. Almost a century later, we’re actually still behind Lenin in some places, in terms of our legal status with the state.

Judith Butler has a very interesting way of describing this. I suspect she didn’t title this herself. She speaks of the idea of the existence the of Gay culture being a phenomenon of “possibility”. At the end she specifies how society doesn’t “produce” homosexuals:

When we designate things as “social constructs” in social justice contexts, we’re quick to become abolitionists. I’m guilty of this as a relatively cisgendered “gender abolitionist“. I often have to clarify that by this I mean the dismantling and de-institutionalization of gender. “Gay abolitionist” sounds awfully reactionary, and I don’t think this is needed to understand what Gayness is in relation to both Capitalism and it’s difference from our Queerness and homosexuality. Perhaps a certain of buck-stopping should be done in regards to identity abolitionism. I have absolutely no interests in abolishing or erasing the elements of my culture which I identify with, much less anyone elses. The problems with this are numerous however, and they won’t be resolved here.

So what does this actually reveal about homophobia, the systemic oppression of homosexuality under capitalism? The spaces we have deemed as “gay spaces” are not exactly places in which we are safe from homophobia. In fact, homophobia is rather rampant within our community. The “possibility to be Gay” as Butler describes, doesn’t negate the possibility re-enforce and reproduce homophobia.

Male Self-awareness, Gay Patriarchy, and Cultural Homophobia

Gay men are hyper-aware of masculinity, and also have a heighten sense of self-awareness in regards to masculinity. We fetishize displays of power and dominion, sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. Some of us are insecure of our masculinity, some of us seek the validation of others in regards to our masculinity. We may even embrace misogyny in an attempt to reinforce our patriarchy.

We are greatest fanatics of the “Cult of Masculinity”, worshipers of the male body and everything there is to know about “men”. You can say we are amongst its biggest supporters. It’s doors remain shut to us, as a single portion of this Cult alienates us, the part concerning the objectification of women and heterosexuality. This has a painful ripple that I would say has a striking effect on Gay socialization.


This cult doesn’t actually exist in any material manner, it’s more a spectacle that gay men exhibit though our behaviors, a phenomenon for which I don’t have a word for yet. I would say this Cult of Masculinity is an entirely separate institution than patriarchy. In many ways, we may attempt to reproduce or replicate patriarchy, in an attempt to appease the Cult. Some of us grow distant from our fathers and our heterosexual male role models, feeling like a disappointment to them, regardless of how they express their tolerance. The manner in which this can affect these kinds of interpersonal relationships is astonishing. Feeling inadequately male amongst my straight male friends is something rather consistent in my life.

This is because we only know what most people seem to know about gender. We undergo the same patriarchal socialization that all men do. We certainly may internalize it differently, we may not have some of the behaviors, but this does little to actually negate our patriarchy. John David wrote this in an article called “Gay Patriarchy” for an old magazine for Gay youth:

“The answer is that gay men are men with the same conditioned patriarchal upbringing in the same coercive structures. As boys, the apprentice men, we are taught:

  • to expect to be the rulers of the world;
  • to view all people as objects and services (sex, work, leisure, nurturing);
  • that men are competitors and there is no sympathy or celebration if you lose;
  • that men cannot talk about their feelings or be intimate without sex;
  • that there are immovable hierarchies of power and influence based on looks, money, class, education, and employment.

Very young homosexual boys get the same conditioning as all boys. We avoid, just as straight boys do, the name calling and bashing “in case we’re gay”. Our general society, family, peers and educators see us only as boys, and to avoid the punishment of not being “normal” (read patriarchal) we have to react as boys. Our dismissiveness and disdain of women and girls becomes installed successfully.”

Homonormativity

Homonormativity is the capitalist reconciliation of the hetero-normative class and queerness. It is the mechanism in which we assimilate, and form our culture within the heteronormative world as a reflection. It is also the source of devaluation of genderqueer and trans* people, over the elevated concerns of cisgendered homosexuals. It is the way we have found a sort of “detente” with heteronormativity.

Our success as queers is often measured by how well we can live as cisgendered/heteronormative people, or how they believe we should. This is our push for marriage and military equality, but on the other side of the coin, it’s also terming our weddings as “commitment ceremonies”.

Homonormativity is the entire embodiment of the liberal LGBT platform. I do not understand the means or measure of these alphabet soup conglomerations. I don’t know where exactly I decided they weren’t speaking for me, but it was definitely affirmed the moment I saw QUILTBAG. If you are that desperate to identify exactly what we are that brings us together, then we clearly need a departure in our political discourse from fixed identities. I don’t (in any way whatsoever) endorse that we abandon identity politics altogether, but I’m not “LGBT”, I’m one of those letters, but never can I be the others, and at this point I am staunchly opposed to using that platform for that reason alone. It is not our identities that brings us together, as we vary so much naturally in our beautiful species. What brings us together is our queer experience in the world of the heterosexual gender binary.

Alan Downs directly addresses Gay men and not other gender/sexual minorities, as he feels he cannot do them justice, and that his experience has not been theirs. For that reason, I think my ability to identify with the subject(s) begins with the shared experience I have with other gay men, but does little to reconcile my actual queerness (because reconciliation is not the idea anyways).

My primary issue with homonormativity, and our replication of some very oppressive bullshit, is the shit you will see on Grindr. Yes, I said Grindr. A lot can be learned about Gay men by giving them a radar app to which they use to whatever ends they choose (usually casual sex). Upon your introduction to Grindr, whether you like it or not, you will be assigned an animal or creature. You’re a “Bear”, or a “Seal”, maybe an “Otter”, perhaps a “Pig”, or “Twink”,  eventually you’ll be “Daddy”. I didn’t even consent to being Gay, but apparently I’ll be a couple of different animals in my lifetime too.

Don’t even get me started with the things people put in their profiles as “preferences”. This almost always is related to race, masculinity, size or HIV status. It’s not uncommon at all to see “White masculine male here. Fit and HIV negative. UB2”. Apparently if you’re a douche-bag, we can work something out. But if you don’t fit their idea of what it means to be masculine (as if we don’t struggle enough with that as it is), you’re screwed. You better have it straightened out by the time you meet them, because “masculine” is a range of things of which you can’t occupy all at once.

Hard as I try, and as objectively I understand Queerness, I cannot entirely remove myself from Gay culture, because that is what society designates as the place for homosexual behaviors is. You can’t really go “cruising” at a punk show, as much as Limp Wrist would like you to believe that you can. We also have to remember we’re mostly living in the same historical context that produced us. People have fought and died for my ability to be Gay, and while some of us have agreed to fight on more, I can’t pretend like the current state of things for me at the moment could be worse.

But being “Gay” comes with being associated with other Gay men, and often we find homophobia from each other. I grow exhausted trying to live up to the expectations of other Gay men, to be hyper-masculine sex-god and a ton of other things that can be difficult to perform. I’m also tired of trying to fit this juggling act of assimilating to the straight world and fulfilling my obligations to the Gay world. Apparently having a wedding stylized like a straight persons, but calling it a “commitment ceremony” is a win-win for everyone, and “progressive”.

Conclusions

When I finished with Down’s book, I did feel a sense of individual strength in my ability to navigate through capitalism, but I also looked to my queerness with a certain disempowerment. Once identified, the pain of being “little boy with the big secret” doesn’t really go away. In fact, you start to see it more. I realized that my life had been the accumulation of a lot of Gay shame. I saw this pain in other gay men as well. In short, the whole world and my whole life made a bit more sense to me.

Making a bit more sense doesn’t really change the fact that we are deeply damaged lot. The wounds are dug deeper at times, quite often we cannot even rely on each other to not do this. We can’t even find refuge in our heads from this. It can be difficult to love yourself, after you lose the love your father or grandfather. It’s an everyday battle to not shame ones self in a world hell-bent on shaming you.

This was during a time where I was undergoing a period of deep self-reflection and reflection of my worldview as well, which continues to this very day. I came out of that with a few things, all of which are both personal and political:

1.) Everyone (regardless of identity of lack thereof) is socialized with homophobia.

2.) My life (at the time of finding the discussed pieces from Downs and Butler) is being ruled by gay shame and internalized homophobia, and the source of a lot of self-destruction.

3.) The primary contradiction in my life thus far has been with hetero-normativity and capitalism.

I think there are certainly unique manifestations of social repression within and amongst Gay men. I would like to take Radical Queer perspective and explore these issues. Sociologists can be as fascinated by us as they want, the truth is only we know the things we know. These issues shouldn’t be elevated over trans*, genderqueer, intersex and lesbian issues, that is absolutely not my intention.

From here I am given a unique set of choices of what to do with the pain of the “little boy with the big secret”. The “pain” has matured into a Queer rage. I cannot say I see a future for myself by doing what Dr. Downs would have me do, which is to constantly deconstruct this shame and anger with therapeutic methods. Sure, these may make it easier for me to live my life, but I still think (despite his efforts to say otherwise) Dr. Downs still plays the game of “let’s be like the hets!”.

So instead of discarding my “Velvet Rage”,  I’ll make use of it, and take my chances with plan B, the negation of normativity through a Queer revolution:

In a Capitalist society, there can be no reconciliation of Queerness and Normativity, and that’s what the Gay identity seeks to do, was meant to do. I normally don’t mind being Gay, but I have to objectively understand what it means. The only reconciliation can be the total negation of normativity by Queerness under Full Communism. Until then (most of us) are hopelessly “identified”, navigating through a capitalist world that isn’t meant for us.

Position regarding “Homosexuality”, “Gay” and “Queer” and the difference between them.

1.) Homosexuality is a fixed and material condition. I am attracted to those with a similar gender identity as I. This is objective.

2.) Being Gay is my identity. I never consented to this, society came up with it for me long before I was born. My identity as a Gay man is more or less comfortable for me, which backfires into conflicts with both homonormativity and assimilationism.

Gayness is a social construct, and is usually used to signify a culture. The materialist term for being “Gay” is that I’m homosexual, and my homosexuality is objective and a part of my essential self. However, I am not biologically linked to a “culture”, yet I simultaneously often find myself unable to navigate away from Gay society.

Lastly, being Gay might manifest in my personal life and social life, but I have little use for it in a socio-political context, but I cannot fail to recognize that my personal struggle has been overwhelming “gay” (internalized homophobia, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse/mental health),

3.) Being Queer is not my identity. While also being something I never consented to, it’s a social condition which is an unstable place to inhabit. The evolution of Queerness is constantly ongoing, as normativity is constantly changing as well. The Queer perspective is the understanding of Gender and Sexual minorities as social constructions having material manifestations in identities, and regards the historical objectivity of these identities to be intrinsically tied to social construction.

It means analyzing from the perspective of a person objectively homosexual, yet “Gay” in a social and historical context.

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Queerness and Communism: Building a Genderless Society through Social Warfare with Normativity

The world I agitate for is a stateless, classless, genderless society. Only a social revolution can end the oppressive social forces of gender and sex. These forces, while much older than modern capitalism, have been intrinsically tied to capital and coerced into particular relations. The social relations of capital and hetero-normativity intersect in a way that is puts our bodies in a perpetual social war. The normative gender binary is a force which also, like capitalism, seeks to exist in totality.

Queerness as an anti-identity

Queer theory began as a radical alternative to the liberal movements of Gender Studies and Gay and Lesbian Studies. Much of the analysis is post-modern, but has it’s roots deep in modern social science. Queer Theorists like Judith Butler study the performance of gender, and several others have elaborated quite eloquently on the intersections of gender roles, expressions and identities (or lack there of). Some of these developments inevitably have caused head butting amongst Feminists.

Queerness can not be seen as a stable place to inhabit. It is a response to normativity, the social force which queers us. It is in that we find those who “identify” as a part of the LGBT community, and those who absolutely not. We find all the alphabet soup acronyms (QUILTBAG being the worst offender I’ve seen thus far) to have far to many inadequacies. We’re a anti-identity, unstable and full of loose ends.  I never asked to be a “Gay man”, society socialized me as such, in the process the same force queers me.

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In seeing the class dynamics of Queerness, how to we organize a mass that is a theoretical anti-identity, and unstable place to inhabit? We are already at war, between our bodies and society. This war is already not voluntary. We face societal violence with a character unlike any other struggle.

Much of the Post-Left Anarchist movement identifies with Queer theorist critique of identity. This gravitation, although I’m not identifying a correlation, occurs simultaneously with a general (from my experience) straight and cis domination of Anarcho-Syndicalist and Class War Anarchist movements. Beyond that, it seems much of modern Marxist thought depends on notions of “LGBT rights” and less on Queer Theory. I find this to be far too great of shortcoming for any revolutionary leftist ideology.

Queerness and Class

To be Queer is to have your mind and body born into conflict with capitalism. It comes with material and social conditions which leave us marginalized.

This is a different kind of social war we are talking about with the queer struggle. The forces of gender polices the bodies of queer people. With transperson life expectancy estimates ranging from 20’s-30’s, we must resolve that queerness is irreconcilably antagonistic with it’s “other”, the social force of cisnormativity and heteronormativity. Social conditions inflict us with higher rates of depression, substance abuse and other issues like HIV/AIDS plaguing our communities. All over the world, punishments for queerness range from ostracization and marginalization, to systematic death. We can deduct a social war has already begun.

Just as Marx said “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property”, the theory of Radical Queers can be summed up in a single sentence as well: Abolition of the Normative. These struggles intersect, they also are capable of existing independently. They can also serve as replications of capitalism, in which queerness can serve capitalism and therefore counter-revolution. It is of worth to note the ways in which Queerness behaves like a class. It is important to note that some things do not. Trying to paint a shared experience of a queer identity is a boundary crossing into the normative.

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When the masses are provoked to attack capital, one can expect that our social war will be able to strategize and mobilize as well. While the nature of our queerness remains unstable, the relationship with our class struggle can only be symbiotic. After all, our enemies tied these struggles together. We cannot afford to devalue these intersections.

All too often our struggles are internalized, coerced into self-destruction, all too often our lives reflects a battle against shame. We find all the spectacles of assimilation do not heal the pain of growing up queer in the normative world. We often have a list of estrangements, trauma and a general socialization of isolation and otherness. We cannot wage this social war with assimilation. That kind of trade with the ruling class is not a solution.

Queerness versus Liberalism

The “LGBT Rights” movement is inherently assimilationist. They seek to soften the irreconcilable, our Queerness, by seeking union with the status quo. I never have consented to a seat at that table. They do this in a variety of ways. Homonormativity serves as a force to commodify what little identity we struggle to create. The totality of the forces siding with capitalism at the moment can be seen here. We are an anti-identity because our identities are in constant conflict with the ruling class.

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As Radical Queers, bucking this party line has its obvious conclusions. Should we support things like “Same-Sex Marriage”, which may improve the lives of many of us? Despite my past critiques of “marriage equality”, I don’t think it is really something to oppose in anything beyond theory. However, many of us do not cheer being assimilated into a feudal institution, a contract with the bourgeois state. It’s obvious that this victory has a ripple effect that only goes so far.

Our conflicts with liberalism bring us to another conclusion, one that’s an inherent distrust and skepticism to those organizing in representation of us. This can be seen as a dialectical conclusion between our distrust of those organizing the people in general, and having our identity being a state of constant warfare with normativity. Reminders of Lenin’s idea that classes fight with irreconcilable antagonism. This is true of Queerness and our war with the Normative.

The War of Queerness and it’s place in the building of Communism

Whether our social war takes the form of an insurrection or a class struggle is of little concern. Our attack should reflect our existence, our queerness, and all its instability, irreconcilability, and antagonisms. This war is permanent until the social order has been destroyed. Much like those of other struggles, we cannot pretend our ultimate victory will come with the end of Capital. The construction of our material conditions is not that simple, and the socialization of gender (the battleground for our war), will continue to reflect the status quo.

Our enemies call us dangerous. They say we attack the feudal family unit. They say we attack the sanctity of marriage. They say we are waging a social war. Not only do I think we should embrace that, we should develop strategically around that. Our existence might agitate the ruling class, but this is not enough. If we are fighting a social war, one we did not start, we need outlets and skills to defend ourselves. We need our own spaces and our own revolutionary strategy, but in a day where some of us are still struggling for pronouns, our biological justice, and our autonomy over our own bodies, we come out on the losing end here too, thus far.

The war we call for is not easy, and it is also not voluntary. The war itself is our queerness. Failure to act is our downfall, and trade with rich will avail nothing but allowing our communities to get run over. Our only defense is destroying that which queers us.

Can we develop Communism without the dismantling of gender? Can we afford an error like such? When forces of apartheid and dominion exist, can we possibly resist reversion into relations of capital? This is something for the modern world to discover, we cannot look to our past revolutionaries for the keys with which to wield our Queerness and build a genderless society.

Towards a Queer Communism!

On Capitalism, Queerness, and Living with HIV/AIDS

Radical Queers and Anarchists do not talk about this enough. I was diagnosed HIV positive in 2009, likely seroconverted in 2008, and was diagnosed with AIDS in 2011. I have recovered rather well since then, and have adjusted to what may seem fortunate and hopeful in comparison to AIDS victims in other times and places. Just as different struggles mean different experiences, navigating through capitalism as a person living with HIV has been painful. HIV and AIDS has everything to do with capitalism as well.

What it means to live with HIV:

Living with HIV means taking toxic pills the size of jolly ranchers on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, in fear of imminent death should you not do so.  It means dealing with opportunistic infections and hospitalizations even while your are recovering from an AIDS diagnosis. It means awkward conversations and tears from friends and families. It means fear and suspense while you wait for blood work. It means worrying about obtaining and paying for your medication (more below) without which you may die. It means side effects from anti-retrovirals from which we know little about the long-term effects. It means walking into AIDS clinics and worrying about being seen, it means judgement and lectures from doctors, it means worrying your virus might mutate into drug resistance, it means a looming fear when you pick up the prescription your medical insurance will go through and you won’t be left without your medicine,  it means worrying about your boss firing you when the insurance company commits a HIPPA violation and tells them to ask you why your healthcare is so expensive, it means dealing with people’s ignorance of how you actually contract HIV and having to tell them you can share the same glass and the same mosquito can bite you, it means complexity in moving to another state and making sure you’re insured there, it means your disease coming between you and your HIV negative partner, it means having to worry about all these things for the rest of your life.

It can be difficult to not feel an overwhelming shame and sense of defeat as someone living with HIV. As with all of life’s challenges, these issues weigh harder on working class people and other marginalized people. I do not know the experience of someone living with HIV/AIDS in the Third World. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color living with HIV. I don’t know what it’s like to be a sex-worker living with HIV. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman living with HIV. I could imagine my experience could be a lot harder.

The Marginalization of HIV/AIDS and Serophobia as a system of oppression:

As does race, gender identity, sexuality and disability can all affect your relationship with capital and serve as barriers in the navigation through capitalism we’re tempted to call “life”, having HIV has much the same effect. The fights for education, access to medication and blood work, housing, workplace protection, are all relevant to the struggle for those living with HIV. Have we had victories? Absolutely. Have we “arrived” at liberation? Absolutely not.

While we have things like the Ryan White Care Act and some folks have a chance at an abnormal life with HAART medication (highly active anti-retroviral therapy), we still have folks getting HIV at alarming rates, even within the very HIV-aware queer community. We also still have a suicide rate five times higher than the general population. People like myself still get AIDS because access to medication is a bureaucratic circus at best, and being uninsured with HIV means you have been sentenced to death.

Yet somehow, it’s us that society is afraid of. We’re the diseased and afflicted. We die, and you go on never knowing our struggle. I don’t think many of my HIV-negative friends actually have these notions, but regardless of how you feel about it, this is what has been dictated by the ruling class and oppressive social forces. The ruling class is not only white, male, abled, rich and heterosexual. It most surely is also HIV negative.

The Queerness and Ableism of HIV:

HIV is queerness. Not everyone with HIV is gay or trans* (obviously), and not every queer is HIV positive. If you have an understanding of Queer as an unstable place to inhabit based of normativity vs. deviance, and being born into conflict with normativity, then one might certainly see how society might “queer” someone living with HIV. Sexual and social relations will never be the same with HIV. AIDS jokes induce a traumatic self-loathing and discomfort. My experience, is most people are private about their HIV status and usually wish to control and limit who knows. For me, this experience as I type this is eerily reminiscent of the pain of coming out of the closet with my queerness in the first place.

AIDS, being the deadly and progressive disease that it is, certainly entails a disability. Even as I recovered from my own AIDS diagnosis and my blood work showed improvements, I still could feel the impact of the opportunistic infections I contracted while I was unmedicated. I have ailments I will have for years to come (neuropathy, arthritis, neurocognitive variance, visual issues). No one needs to be told that on a physical basis, AIDS will destroy your body even if you survive it, and it will leave its mark.

I cannot describe the difficulty of publicly going through a disabling illness, while not being able to give people the whole story because it means telling them that you have AIDS. Your friends and family watch you suffer but cannot know why for one reason or another. Even after giving up on trying to lie and keep track of who knew, I found myself pondering the same thing “Am I okay to tell them I have HIV?”, because there’s an overwhelming fear of losing control. On a societal level, we can see the forces of sex-normativity and ableism at work.

Big Pharma, healthcare and anti-retrovirals:

One of the things many people are unaware of is the cost of HIV anti-retroviral medications. The retail cost of these medications is about $2000-2500 a month, or roughly $60 a day. That is entirely too much for any working class person to pay for. For us, to be uninsured means death, it’s not an option. So this means a juggling act of going through ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Programs), Medicaid, Medicare, Cobra, and Work Benefits. Getting the maximum coverage on your prescriptions can make the difference in eating or not that month. Also, it can mean getting fired or moving to another state can create serious health issues from having to discontinue your medicine. There’s absolutely nothing scarier than having to discontinue your life saving medication.

Big Pharma, the major pharmaceutical companies whom anti-capitalists are already highly critical of, demonstrate the most draconian sides of corporations. In an effort to capitalize on the general need for these medications for individuals to live, the game played by Big Pharma is that of commodity, monopolization and scarcity. These are manipulated and the cost of human life means nothing to the institutions of profit. The allure of accumulated capital will always rise victorious even when weighed against mass graves.

With their eyes turned to the Third World, Big Pharma blocks access to low-cost medications and the development of generic medications. Most Big Pharma companies have a stake in AIDS drugs as well. They nearly unanimously proclaimed that the lives of HIV positive people are worth as much as we are willing to pay. Solving their problems means ending the patent system and monopolization system which allows them to keep these medications scarce. It means changing the entire industry. Also, we can alleviate sub-Saharan Africa’s AIDS epidemic with humanitarian aid all we want. They will still live under the same conditions that produced them until we attack those conditions directly.

The drugs themselves come with an even longer list than usual in terms of side effects. Some drugs are psychoactive, some drugs are toxic and make it difficult to eat, some can cause your body to grow disproportionately, some attack your liver in the process, some are so powerful they make a normal life unlivable. Not to mention, these drugs are prescribed long-term. We don’t know what the effects of these drugs are to be long term, we can only speculate as they already relatively toxic. Also, you don’t just take one of these drugs, you take a combination of 3 or more.

One thing is that these drugs work very well in reducing viral load so that your immune system can recover. Sometimes, they work so well, your immune system becomes hyper active in its rebound, which can lead to other health issues. Another factor of them working so well, is that they also reduce your transmissibility significantly. Infection rates will fall as more find access to medication. Medication should be prioritized, medication and prevention need to be viewed as one in the same.

Meth as a Gay Genocide:

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, one of my favorite Anarchist Black Panthers, once referred to the crack epidemic in the Black community as “a new Black genocide”. I would say that one could easily view the gay meth/HIV co-epidemic as genocidal. While meth wasn’t the only drug I used, it is a drug I used almost exclusively with other gay men. I associate it with sex. I associate it with HIV. This is a social phenomenon that straight people don’t know about. It’s an epidemic within an epidemic.

This is a lot of despair in the world in the gay meth sex circles, it’s almost a dark underground. In that culture, condoms aren’t an option, and seroconversion is glorified. There are certainly vocal liberal LGBT activists who might be brave enough to address this, but few are viewing this issue as systemic. Any fair social analysis will reveal that we’re talking about marginalizations on top of marginalizations. I’m the product of statistics, I’m gay so I’m more likely to both have a substance abuse issue and have HIV. If you are as fortunate as I have been to get off of drugs, you will find that disassociating drugs and sex is difficult. My sex life has never been the same, and that has as much to do with the drugs as it does sex.

HIV counselors and case workers will tell you that new diagnoses are often linked to crystal meth use. I can not say for sure, but I most likely seroconverted through sexual contact but likely while on drugs. I’m not quite sure what exactly was going through my head at the time. It’s a big mess of risk fetishism, porn brainwashing and drugs that I can’t quite describe. Some have called this phenomena of Gay men contracting HIV as “bug-chasing”. While some folks do this very consciously, I would say my own experience finds that to be a bit harsh. I think subconsciously the risk of HIV was a confusing internal debate, being buried by lots of drugs and sex, which become more important than your health. It’s not as simple as “I got HIV on purpose”. I do accept a good amount of responsibility, but to say I went out looking for it is a stretch. It’s not that simple.

There’s resources that need to be more accessible to Gay men caught in the grips of HIV, meth and meth-crazed sex. As with the drug epidemic in general, if addicts are going to get better, they need treatment not handcuffs. On top of that, therapy like PrEP might help to prevent new infections. It’s not like the struggle of gay men and meth is not winnable, but it means we have face this as we face our other systemic problems. Marriage equality is important to some, but the most marginalized of people in our community face a much scarier issue with meth, and one that is shaping into what may be our downfall. This has been dubbed our “second coming of AIDS”, and just like the first time, it’s time for us to escalate our tactics and win by any means necessary.

Ally politics, what helps and what reinforces Serophobia:

These are all things I have heard before upon disclosure of my status:

So upon this we arrive on issues of serophobia, ally politics, and the inevitably troublesome (albeit very necessary in my opinion) privilege and identity politics. It’s not my job to educate ANYONE on HIV. I know my status at the least, which is something many people cannot say. Everyone has a responsibility to know their status, disclose it to their sexual partners, and act accordingly. That’s it.

One of the things I encounter often from comrades and friends alike, is self-righteousness and a desire to pry into my sex-life when I disclose my HIV status. Don’t do that. I don’t care if you’re concerned. Don’t do that. While I do carry myself with a great deal of accountability and responsibility, I don’t think there is much to be gained by campaigns of which induce condom fatigue. I feel I have a very good sense of where I am accountable, and my obligations as a socially responsible individual.

Remember that safer sex is meant to be individualized. If you’re a safer sex educator, you probably know that people are aware of HIV transmission routes, and often will seroconvert anyways. We can know all about safer sex, if every option is not delivered to us (including serosorting) as safer, then we’re being told what to do. This is why unprotected sex in the gay community is fetishized. Risk becomes erotica.

Also, never “out” someone, or assume that because you’ve been told they have HIV, that others can know. This has happened to me as well. You are not doing anyone any good by making the world more aware of our “affliction”.

What HIV means to Anarchists and Communists:

We need good revolutionary leftist answers to HIV/AIDS. If our revolutionary mechanisms cannot meet the needs of those who die without modern medicine, we need examine that. Prioritizing health care is not just strategic, it should be principled. We will never end this epidemic under capitalism. Adversely, we need a strong and effective revolutionary strategy around this issue.

We need to oppose austerity at any cost. Every moment and every place where health care is not accessible, acts as a ticking time bomb of the AIDS epidemic. The HIV positive impoverished worker knows the meaning of “austerity is violence”. When we fight against austerity, we are literally fighting for our lives.

Those of us with HIV don’t need moral support as much as we need social empowerment. Accounting in your revolutionary theory the idea that some people need modern medicine to survive is something that shouldn’t have to be explained to socialists. We cannot allow anyone to left behind in our revolution, this is the call for intersectionality in our revolution.

In the capitalist world, the diseased represent a unique social caste. We can only begin to remedy the epidemic by dismantling that system. The cure for HIV might never be found, but the cure to the epidemic is revolution.

Out of fucks to give

(originally published March 26th, 2013; I have since lightened up, but all the more angry)

I’m out of fucks to give about marriage. I’m sick of our movement being reduced to a single-issue that doesn’t represent our broader struggle. I’m sick of acting as if we’ve arrived somewhere because we’ve been told where to live, what to wear, what to like, as if that’s a vast improvement beyond being told who to fuck. I’m sick of acting as if a legislature of hets can possibly bring reform to a deeper more ubiquitous cultural oppression that they never can under stand. I’m tired of an assimilationist agenda.

I’m not sorry if this russles the jimmies and liberal sensibilities of the queers in my news feed, but it’s crucial we now shift the focus from a gay male-oriented single issue movement that desires an assimilation into a society which never wanted us anyways.

Fuck the liberal praxis. Embrace the queer within. Marraige is a burning building. Instead of asking in, let’s fan the flames.