Fellow blogger Peter recently had a letter published in the Globe and Mail, a national English newspaper in Canada. (I read it once on the plane and found it to be quite conservative. When I read articles with that "bent", I find myself wanting to yell at the paper. So I haven't read it since. Yes I'm biased, and that's why.) It's always exciting to have one's words in print, and I remember the letter of mine that the LA Times printed 7 years ago. (I wrote to protest the Pilot's union protest against the idea of cameras in the cockpits. The union said it was an invasion of privacy. Please, no more jacking off while flying the plane.) Anyway, it was fun to read Peter's words in print but then yesterday, an article was printed by a well known journalist here who had interviewed Peter. Her article was received badly by many attendees of the World AIDS Conference currently taking place in Toronto. In fact, protests were organized to denounce her words and demand a retraction.
I love me some good drama, and the comments are interesting to read. Brian also has some things to say on the matter. (As I'm sure many other bloggers do, I'm just too lazy to go look.)
From what I can tell, it is out of the question to suggest that anyone who contracts the disease may have had some responsibility for contracting it. Even though there are those who willfully engage in unsafe sex with strangers without even having a conversation about status, we are not allowed to talk about them. In my mind, we must talk about them, because that's reality. There are many other realities on contracting the disease, that is merely one of them. I see how the media should be more sensitive (that irresponsibility isn't the only factor, hey-accidents do happen) and balanced so that the general impression isn't that everyone who contracts it deserves it in some way. That I see. But I don't think there is anything wrong in discussing how to encourage people to be more responsible for their own health. (hypocritical drinker and smoker that I am)
I was talking with my ex the other day. We talk once or twice a year. He works in a hospital as an HIV treatment advocate. He was telling me how much better it's gotten over the years with the meds but that he still sees people dying. The big problem around there is crystalmeth and all the patients have to do is take ONE pill a day to stay alive, but they can't even do that, and they die.
Sounds to me like taking crystal (I know of what I speak, I was young and crazy once) makes one completely irresponsible. Personally, I think this should be addressed and outed in the media more than "the people who knowingly engage in unsafe sex". It's the drugs, stupid. Or the booze.
Now I've talked myself onto the fence. Because how can I hold someone responsible for what they did when they were shit faced drunk or tweaking on meth? That's not quite fair is it? Still, I think the link between the shitfacedness and the contraction of the disease should have more prominence in the media.
I'm just thinking out loud here, feel free to do the same.
It's interesting, because for all of the hysterical yelling and screaming that the protesters did, two things happened:
-Bill Clinton gave a speech on the need for personal responsibility
-the disporportionate toll HIV is taking on North Americans of African or Caribbean descent was adressed head-on at the conference
Margaret Wente wasn't that far off the mark.
IMHO, you are absolutely right. Firstly the HIV activist community is rabidly against allowing any acknowledgement of responsibility for the contraction of HIV. The blame is always placed on society or environment. Whether that's true or not, unless we ourselves take responsibility for our own actions, we will never make any progress with this epidemic.
Second, Meth is a huge problem. There has been a recent and fairly prominent ad campaign, privately funded I might add, here in NYC about the dangers of Meth addiction. "Silence = Meth" is the current slogan because not enough is being done in the GLBT community to create awareness, discourage use and penalize those who sell. I have been lucky enough, and geeky enough, to never have moved in such circles but I know people who barely escaped the addiction with their lives intact.
And the link between Meth use and contracting HIV is as clear as day.
smoker . . . quitting didn't take?
i got it because i was stupid enough to have unsafe sex while drunk... i accept responsibility for that... my bad... i have a partner in AA and i've heard all sorts of stories about what goes on with meth addicts... that should be addressed but again, it's personal responsibility...
i no longer drink, or swear, or rat my hair... look at me i'm sandra dee.... oh wait, that's a grease moment...
it's too embarrassing for the gay community to admit the problem, that's why i think it's not being addressed... i also think the bathhouses should be shut down... apparently meth and sex go hand in hand... so i've heard, never tried it.... good post...
The concept of personal responsibility for any actions or negative behaviors or occurrances has gone out the window...
There needs to be personal acknowledgement that "yes, I put myself in that position to catch this..." but how different is that from I needed to get groceries so I went to the store and caught the flu from the dude behind me in line..."(ok - bad anaology but you know what I mean) - acknowledgement is not the same as I/you was/were there and I/you got what I/you deserve... THAT is where the problem is - people try to turn responsibility into blame... no one deserves the flu - noone deserves HIV...
I guess I have talked myself into the same fence you are in Tornwordo...
I think that fence will fill up pretty quickly!?
Think it'll hold?!
Yeah, personal responsibility seems to be a dirty "word" in the activist community, and I was "denounced" for blaming gay men for spreading HIV. There are lots of complicated reasons why people have unsafe sex - it's not a simple issue at all, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't mention the role that personal responsibility plays in it. It kinda reminds me off all the obese people who have "glandular problems" - an easy cop-out.
Luckily for me, I got HIV from hugging, so there was nothing I could have done to prevent getting infected. :)
I couldn't have said it better myself. Nice job, Wordo!
Just because someone is partly responsible for something, it does not mean they deserve it.
If I get cancer from smoking, I am responsible for that. But I hope I don't deserve it.
If I get into a car crash while driving way too fast, I am responsible for that. But I hope I don't deserve it.
If I contract HIV from having unprotected non-monogamous sex, I am responsible for that. But I hope I don't deserve it. Although in this case, Wifezilla would probably kill me before I even got the test results!
It always comes back to the same thing - extremes and political correctness. One group yells "They're irresponsible, the lifestyle choices they make make it all their fault, so they deserve what they get" and the other side responds with "You CAN'T hold people responsible for catching a disease! That's inhuman!" And so the line gets drawn there. The problem with that, of course, is that it prevents us from looking at the reality honestly and openly, and WITHOUT assigning blame. Drugs are a problem, and we need to do more. HIV/AIDS is a problem, and we need to do more. Poor choices in life are a problem for most human beings at some point or another. And we need to factor that in as well. But we'll never be able to adequately address ANY of these things if we keep trying to blame everyone for everything, and at the same time deny that we all have a certain amount of personal responsibilty in our choices.
Great post, btw.
"Just because someone is partly responsible for something, it does not mean they deserve it."
I couldnt agree more~!
It's too early for this kind of thinking for me but I'll give it a whirl.
I have an aunt who is HIV postive from being a drug user. I don't know if she was sharing dirty needles or if she was having unprotected sex, but does it really matter? I think they should focus more on the cure and education rather than blame. People need to know of the connection to addiction as well. I think talking talking talking is the answer.
Yeah, and what do you mean about you're a smoker?! WTF?! Don't make me come off of this fence!
there are so many things that blur the edges of personal responsibility. drugs and alcohol just blur them more quickly. as do apathy, complacency, and denial.
I'm one of those people who gets all upset about the responsibility factor. Of course we are all personally responsible for our actions and we get the consequences of those actions. (Can you hear the mom coming out in me?) But when I hear people talk about responsibility or irresponsibility in relationship to HIV, it always sounds like the Finger of God is being pointed. As has been discussed already, no one flogs the responsibility of catching the flu, you know?
This is all because (as Dan mentioned) the fundies want to say that HIV is a retribution on the gay community (or people who enjoy having sex, maybe). IMO, we shouldn't even be having this discussion. We should be focusing on education.
People make mistakes. It's part of being human.
Some mistakes are small. Others are small but lead to bigger mistakes. Then there are the really big mistakes.
And some mistakes aren't really mistakes at all. Perhaps some people contract HIV (or smoke, or drink, or do meth, or eat a whole gallon of ice cream in one sitting) because they're convinced they deserve it (there's the "D"-word again).
Who's to blame? Who cares. Fix the problem. People are dying.
What's "the" problem? It is doubtful a single thing can be pinpointed as the sole cause. If this is true, the solution also needs to be multi-faceted.
Clean needle program.
Condom awareness and availability.
Abstinence eduction (*gasp!*)
Drug use education.
Self-esteem education (does this exist anywhere outside personal therapy sessions? Don't get me started on this one....)
What else can help?
Any program that focuses on only one solution will most likely fail.
My ever-changing $0.02.......
Thanks for starting the conversation, Torn.
Fence hostess: "Welcome to the Fence. How many in your party?"
Me: "Hi. There will be two of us, please."
Fence hostess: "Very good. Do you have a smoking preference?"
Me: "Yes, we'd like the maui-wowie section, please."
Fence hostess: "Right this way. The weather's been lovely, hasn't it?" ...
In this world of not accepting any responsiblity, it's not surprising that people would get upset over this issue. No matter what your state of being is, if you have unsafe sex and end up catching HIV or anything else, you are still responsible for your actions. Do you deserve it? No. Is it your fault? Partly. Is it the giver's fault? Partly. However, there is no cut and dry way to lay blame (as society constantly needs to do). Every case is different, everyone has their reasons. Do we not hold drunk drivers responsible when they cause an accident?
I don't believe in pointing fingers, or dwelling on what's already been done. But come on people. If we don't talk about why it happened, how can we help others to avoid the same situations and mistakes?
Ya but none of this will help to get the MF snakes off the MF plane.
Sorry, just had to try and lighten the mood.
Your post and all the comments so far have been thought-provoking.
Laying blame does nothing to solve any problems. Ever.
We all make choices. When we make bad choices, there are sometimes,bad consequences. These consequences have nothing to do with whether or not we "deserve" those consequences.
If we can get past the crap of guilt and blame... but at the same time be responsible for our actions, we've got a start.
Does my dad deserve to have Diabetes? Well, he ate too much, and became obese. Do we say it's god's way of punishing fat people? No. Could my dad take measures to be responsible for his own health? Sure.
I do think people who are positive, know they are positive, and have unsafe sex/share needles without telling their partners are shits. That's when it starts affecting others.
Because I like to name things I want to drop a phrase that has to do with this discussion, "Survivor Rage." I've been experiencing this myself while reading my brother's journals and his life after he found out he had HIV. I find myself wanting to exhume my brother's body and yell at his corpse, which would result in nothing.
Great post, Torn! I am often frustrated with the way that certain HIV/AIDS activists want to control public discussion. In particular, they don’t seem to want to address the reality of which you wrote.
I might disagree with different people, but I will not support movements to silence people. Then again, I probably worship too much at the Altar of Free Speech.
BTW Smokey!? lol
See, I was not the only one!?
Your friend Smoke!?
Goin' out for a drag, o and a cigarette!? lol
Watch: 20 years from now there's going to be some huge revelation about how, just like they had with crack among African Americans in the 80s, the CIA had a hand in meth's presence in urban gay communities...
I'm just against the whole blaming thing because I don't think that gets us anywhere. I think that it has to do with perceptions of self-worth and priorities, and these are not choices that we can make for other people. And I think many people engage in unsafe sex without drugs or booze. That's their choice, and I don't know if I want to simplify it. I guess I just am very hesitant on this topic.
I was struck, as I read your post, by how we all get consumed by our sacred cows. I think perhaps a fence is a good place to be. Perhaps there we can see both sides, calmly, rationally, and maybe, just maybe, we can do something about the issues without being blinded by our prejudices and preconceived notions about the other side.
Good post. Honest post. Thank you.
I think the reason it's such a controversy in the first place is because it started out as a "gay disease."
We all need to take responsibility for our own actions, but hell, which of any of us hasn't made a foolish choice under the influence?
And who deserves anything like HIV, really? Nobody.
My 2 cents.
I agree with you that the media and us in general should be able to talk about all aspects of contracting the disease. There are many ways of getting it and suppressing those ways because it may be a negative slant on (insert group here) is not a good thing.
Hiding one's head in the sand is never the answer.
However, I do feel that people should take responsibility for their actions. I do blame them, and I certainly don't have as much sympathy for them if they contracted HIV/AIDS versus someone who got it from a blood transfusion or from an accidental condom break. The assumption here is that the drunk/high person didn't follow safe sex practices.
I do think they should be treated. After all we all do stupid things once in a while.
I guess it all boils down to what the person intended to do and how educated they were in the choices they made. These are things we rarely know because people often don't tell the truth in those circumstances as they aren't very favorable.
This comment got way too long and yet I feel it is way too short to adequately express my feelings on the matter.
In short - We are responsible for our actions. We make mistakes. We as a society need to get over the stigma and treat the disease and do our best to support prevention.
Anyone who thinks this is just a Gay disease is only fooling themselves. (I'd use harsher words, but why? They don't care!)
What? You mean there's a drug you can take that enhances sex!?!
Every young man believes he is immortal. That's a secret that older guys know. It's also why every older guy secretly worships young guys. If a young guy is smart, he finds an older guy who's hip to his scene to guide him along the way, and how to avoid the pitfalls. Alas, the key word is smart.Unfortunately, stupid can be fatal. I wish there had been someone there for me.
While re-reading your post, I just had a flashback when I read the title. In the greater scheme of things and for your discussion it is not at all pertinent, but... Is the title a "Rocky and Bullwinkle" allusion? Are you a closet Rocky and Bullwinkle fan?! I seem to remember Rocky appearing on screen and using this phrase to introduce commercials.
Are you really a fellow alumna of Whatsamatta U.?
Are we not yet as a society beyond the blaming issue? Like an earlier commenter mentioned, we need to find both prevention and treatment solutions and that is what we who are attending AIDS 2006 are focussing on. I wish that those of you who believe that AIDS activists are people who are not open to criticism and who don't take any personal responsibility in life (?????) could have heard yesterday's plenary where people from all over the world talked about coming together over prevention and treatment. It is the most marginalized groups in societies that were infected.
Margaret Wente has the huge public audience, but her article is rife with inaccuracies. She has no knowledge beyond her own biases of what is going on in the HIV movement. That's why we're protesting.
I think Doug said it best:
Who's to blame? Who cares. Fix the problem. People are dying.
from where i come from, there are people who believe that some people deserves to be HIV+ because they have unprotected sex. man, i feel sad like hearing that. there's such a lack of information here in Singapore, even though we have a good group of activists.
I know from history and from my career as a doctor that disease has always been political, and people are blamed for their ills; it is a punishment/it is poetic justice/it is a sign of their immoral living. So HIV isn't too different that way.
MDs always have a handful of people that repeatedly don't follow advice/go back out and do bad things - but the most of them are trained to heal/treat the disease.
Shaming never works.
as a person who is in a comitted relationship with a person who has done meth for 29 years i think i am qualified to say, "yes, it does affect the decision making process." and it also very adversly affects your health with long term use. and yes,it makes sex more fun. and i have never done it but i do other herbal things daily, so i have made my peace with it!
those are the only judgement calls i feel qualified to voice. i have seen some death and dying and it seems like even if you live a pristine life it winds up kicking you in the ass. ( oops, i guess that was another judgement)
In parousing a recent Rolling Stone magazine-- not something I normally parouse/read/wipe my ass with, and noticed how blatantly liberal their slant is. So if you're looking for writings closer to your own political bent, I recommend Rolling Stone as it's unapologetically liberal. I've also noticed that Vanity Fair's political articles tend to have a bit more of a liberal bent to them...
But this is coming from an avid reader of both Reason and The Weekly Standard magazines. For more liberal newspapers check out The New York Times which doesn't even really try to conceal it's liberalness any longer.
How do we get to the bottom of why we do what we do? Without being evils, we sometimes make mistakes that may reflect on us as being Evils with a huge capital 'E' (a different 'E').
So a form prosecution, in many ways, begins the moment an individual test positive for HIV. The fact is, there is no way to explain with words alone how much life changes from that point on. The reality is that the same community that 'parties', gets wild, gets funky, leaves 'Fly' at 6 AM on Sundays... in other words behave as human beings should: Free to have fun. Well, that same community labels the HIV+ individuals in many ways. The HIV+ population should not be doing the same things: get wild, crazy, be normal human being. They had their chance and they blew it, right? The ability to fail as humans is not admissible anymore. In fact, responsibilities are then assigned for sure and prosecuted without understanding the balance of the responsibility or the cause behind why a human being does what he/she does, even when he/she is not evil. We cannot ALWAYS MAKE THE RIGHT DECISIONS, whether HIV+ or not. The pressure on HIV+ is that failure to be socially functional individuals and falling into any of the social 'sins' is no longer an option.
The truth of the matter is that even when they are labeled 'recreational drugs', they are really 'escape goats' for inner isolation, thirst for affection, fear of the unknown, self-acceptance... and as human beings we grab onto anything we can to stay afloat ONE more day, and sometimes that means making mistakes along the way. SO: RESPONSIBILITY SHARING AND PROSECUTION (interpret these two in anyway you would like to) ARE TWO ELEMENTS OF THE WHOLE PICTURE that remains and will remain unclear to all of us.
We, each, only hold one end of the double-handed-boiling-water pot, and as I am sure we could all say at one point or another, we have all been burnt by the water in the pot. When OUR handle burns we let go and blame the other hand. No???
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