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April 2013



Ryan Bergby guest contributor: Ryan Berg.
When I met Charles, I’d recently moved back to Des Moines from New York City, a stop-off, I’d intended, on my way out west. I sat in a coffee shop getting some work done when my mind began to wander. I logged on to a smart phone social networking application designed for gay men, and received a message from Charles, a college freshman.
We exchanged pictures, made small talk, and before long he got to the point: He was eager to meet right away. He didn’t mince words about what he wanted.
I might have been drawn to his youthful longing. Maybe I was acting out because being back in Iowa felt suffocating to my sexuality, or maybe his boldness triggered my own desire. Whatever the reason, I met with him. And not only did we have sex; we had it without a condom. I knew better. Here was a person I’d been acquainted with for less than an hour. We’d exchanged little more than first names, and yet I still found myself jumping into risky territory.
I’d broken a rule of contemporary gay life. As long as I’ve been having sex, it’s been understood: Don’t endanger your sexual health. Everyone knows it’s a death wish.
But Charles seemed fine with our slip, almost encouraged it. There were moments during our rendezvous where I could have interjected, impressed upon him the inherent dangers of unprotected sex; I could have shaken us both from the irrational haze of our desire. I could have grabbed a condom.
I can’t blame my lapse in judgment on drugs, alcohol, or the shame of being in the closet. I’m educated about HIV/AIDS, having worked with queer youth in New York and volunteered for both the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and Housing Works. I get tested regularly, and have been scrupulous about maintaining my HIV negative status. I know the studies; have researched articles about the resurgent HIV epidemic, climbing syphilis rates, new drug-resistant strains of Chlamydia. So why would I chance my sexual health for this brief encounter with Charles?
Risk is a relative notion. Perhaps I qualified my safety by being in the Midwest where the numbers of HIV infections are lower. Or, because of Charles’ age, and my assumption that he hadn’t had many sexual partners, my risk was lessened. Whatever the calculation, I felt daring enough to engage in a way contrary to my knowledge of the subject.
The more I talked to young men on the smart phone application, both closeted and out, the more apparent it was to me that the younger generation of men who have sex with men in Iowa– like most places across the country– were willing, and often times preferred, to engage in unprotected sex.
When considering risk, public health professionals tend to focus on how rational or irrational a choice is based on the information available. Rarely is it considered how emotions, our sense of self, can alter our decisions. It’s easy to isolate a situation like Charles and mine, and examine it, define it as a momentary lapse of reason. How else could such careless behavior be explained? But new studies show that nearly 50% of gay men using hook up smart phone applications engage in unprotected sex regularly. Momentary lapses are becoming habitual, repeated behaviors.
I grew up watching AIDS patients wasting away on television, and listening to the cries for action by activists as they faced social indifference and political neglect. Witnessing the near-death frailty of once youthful men on TV frightened a whole generation soon to come out of the closet into being meticulous about sexual safety. Later, as anti-retroviral therapies became available, and the lives of those living with AIDS were prolonged, a belief seemed to permeate queer culture. Sex, it appeared, was losing its danger. Youth have become more brazen, often times ignoring a host of complications that come with living with AIDS. One young man I spoke with recently shrugged when I asked about his habitual unsafe sexual practices. He told me it wasn’t a big deal if he tested positive, it’s no longer a death sentence.
People are living with the disease, true, but people are dying too. Even when you’re able to pay for the medication, a litany of problems can arise. The drugs can having serious side-effects, particularly in advanced disease; if patients miss doses, drug resistance can develop; providing anti-retroviral treatment is costly and resource-intensive, and the majority of the world’s infected individuals can’t access treatment services; individuals who fail to use anti-retrovirals properly can develop multi-drug resistant strains which can be passed onto others.
Results from a recent review confirm that HIV-positive adults are at a higher risk for developing cancer than the general population. In particular, people with HIV are about four times more likely to develop cancer than people without HIV and are slightly more likely to develop cancer than people who have had an organ transplant.
AIDS education has seemed to wane from public discourse and prevention instruction seems sequestered to HIV testing sites. Remember the days when red ribbons were fastened to the lapels of a host of public figures, serving as a reminder of the epidemic?
Luckily, we might see the reappearance of such reminders this year. Films like the Academy Award nominated How to Survive a Plague, and Jim Hubbard’s United in Anger: A History of ACT UP, are bringing AIDS awareness back into focus.
Young men who have sex with men need to grapple with, and face the facts these films present.
Youth can be perilous without support and education. As men of a generation that remembers the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, there is a need to reach out to our younger counterparts. Gay male mentors are nearly nonexistent for young men. Most men, myself included, have allowed desires to dictate interactions with younger men. As a result, many like Charles get terribly lost before coming to a healthy, integrated sense of self. Now it’s time to step up, to present ourselves, and our knowledge, in hopes of making the lives of our youth a little less lonely and a lot safer.

Gay Brunch w/ The Small Town Queer

Remember those surveys you used to love to fill out on Facebook and Myspace? I’ve brought them back with some of my Best Brunch Buddies to have a frank, open, and honest discussion about life, love, and the pursuits of happiness as Queer Men.
Judson is 26 years old and self-employed living in Omaha.
Waylon is 33 and works for a Fortune 500.
Drew is 26 and works for a non-profit.
DiAndre doesn’t want you to know his age, but is an artist living in Chicago.


If you could go to dinner with any personality who would it be?
Waylon: I would have to say Madonna (which should be no surprise). She’s a fascinating person, but I think it would be interesting mainly because she has personally known every single celebrity who has mattered in the last 30 years and many from the previous eras of celebrity too.


Diandre: I would really enjoy dinner with Ryan Seacrest. I know it sounds cliché, but this is a man who started as a TV host, ended as “News Anchor,” and now runs an entire production empire. He has swirling gay rumors, and recently broke up with the prettiest dancer in Hollywood. I’m intrigued.


Is a weird sex-face or orgasm-face a deal breaker for you?
Judson: It will only be a problem if I am not allowed to make fun of it.


Drew: I probably have a weird one myself. I have yet to have the opportunity to be filmed while being fucked, unfortunately. No it is not a deal breaker; voting Republican or telling me you only watch Fox News: I hope you enjoy your lonely blue balls.


Have you ever dated someone who wanted to change you?


Waylon: Yes, both. That never turns out well. I think it’s good to learn from the person you’re dating, but it’s bad when you feel pressure to change to please them.


When someone attacks your friend publicly and they aren’t there to defend themselves, do you jump to their defense?
Diandre: I always defend appropriately. I wouldn’t say anything until it needed to be said. However, I’m always a recorder. I’m running to tell momma, honey!


Drew: Darling I read & write books. That should answer that.


Judson: What am I a real housewife? It depends on the situation. I would probably warn them with like “Oh stop it. I love them!” then immediately text the friend to see what I should do.


What words in the Gay vernacular bother you?


Judson: White guys can’t say “Hunty” and I think being called “Mary” all the time is annoying and weird. My mom’s name is Mary.


Drew: Tragic. I hate it I hate it I hate it. Where’s the camp factor in becoming a lame Valley-esque girl without the irony? The overuse of the word “class” gets to me too. So many gays use it like a dog marking its territory. The ones using it are the ones who lack restraint and decency. I prefer being filthy and sassy.


Small Town Queer: Life Lesson

The first day I met Mattie he yelled at me for telling an offensive joke in the Alliance office at Iowa State University. I was freshly 18 and thought I was incredibly hot shit. I’d spent that summer being told what hot shit I was by a group of very wealthy, very powerful, at times very beautiful, Queers.
My personality at the time was less than cute, so I usually tried to feel people out by telling a joke, checking the pulse of the room and trying to proceed. Mattie, at that time, was in the process of proving to himself that he didn’t take nothin’ off nobody, no how, no Ma’am. That day it was his delight to put me in my place and knock the tiara off my spray gelled hair.
Matt and I spent the next 5 months figuring one another out. We both had incredible things to prove that were much more alike than different, but to tell us that at the time would have been certain suicide. He thought I was vulgar and cut throat. I felt he was an uppity-assed Bitch. We would have made a great romantic comedy: I’d be played by Kevin James while Tina Fey took on his role. Box office gold!

It was late February and we’d just finished a fundraiser that I’d chaired. It was a modest success, but nothing you could squeeze praise out of for more than a weekend. At the board meeting I was being yelled at for not controlling the drinking going on backstage. I’ll say it today, “Yes, I knew they were getting sloshed. No I didn’t give a shit. Yes I could have tried to stop it. Had I not been getting sloshed with them, maybe better judgment would have prevailed. Alas, it did not.”
Like I said, I’ll say that TODAY.
On that late February day, I REFUSED to acknowledge that it was my fault. I cast a wider net of blame than a Real Housewife looking for a husband. Matt in turn, wasn’t havin’ it. She put on her calmest voice and her fakest Miss America Smile and read me for filth. I’m telling you a forklift couldn’t have picked my jaw up off the floor. This was the first time in my life I was ever terrified, busted, and turned on at the same time. To this day I haven’t felt that way again (Thank GOD!) and hope I never will. It’s the closest thing I think I have to the experience people get out of S&M.
Much to my chagrin, but having been busted, the next Alliance event was dry. I apologized to Matt after the meeting, and he and I set up a meeting for later in the week at Stomping Grounds, an incontinently located Ames coffee house. I went into that next meeting with a lot more respect for him, and strikingly enough, we started developing a friendship. I stopped trying to be impressive, and he started to laugh. He did something, and I decided maybe he wasn’t such an uppity Bitch. Through the rest of that semester, and well into the next we became very close friends.I like to tell this story because I think I’m so dramatically lucky to have Mattie in my life today. He’s an incredibly vibrant soul who’s classier than this “Bawdy Broad” could ever hope to be. I almost missed out on the opportunity to know him and learn from him because I was too scared to let down my defenses. He had to burn them down, in order for me to open up. I’m very thankful he did that.
The lesson I’m remembering today: I have never once regretted reconsidering an enemy.