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Friday, January 31, 2003

The Gift

A new documentary, The Gift, by filmmaker Louise Hogarth is a timely investigation into a fascinating phenomenon -- the eroticization of deliberate HIV infection -- that shines a balanced yet uncompromising flashlight on the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies and the mixed messages that continue to dangerously fuel a psychologically complex and potentially deadly game . Evenly presented yet unapologetically honest, Hogarth’s film wades through very tricky and fragile political waters without being preachy or judgmental.

Perfectly timed, The Gift, a documentary by American filmmaker Louise Hogarth, is set to hit the film festival circuit, beginning with a debut at the Berlin film festival in February. Unlike the media firestorm, The Gift offers a far more enlightening, balanced and thoroughly researched exploration of the issue, without having to resort to faux statistics and far-fetched extrapolations.

Stripped of sensationalism, Hogarth’s documentary follows the stories of men who have involved themselves in an all-too-real fantasy world, where sex involves a dangerous game of Russian roulette. “Bug chasers” are men who actively seek to infect themselves with HIV, while “gift givers” are men who are already infected and seek unprotected sex with HIV negative men.

A seductive underworld -- spurred in part by the easy global reach and access made available through Internet sites -- does indeed exist, where bareback “conversion” parties are commonplace and where criteria matching of sexual proclivities has become something of a technological art form. For those attempting to cast blame on the Internet, as Rolling Stone’s article implied, think again. The Internet is no more to blame for this phenomenon than the telephone is for obscene callers.

Despite the provocative name of the documentary, and in spite of the few extremists who will undoubtedly point to this trend as proof of the dangerous “choice” that homosexuality represents, say Jerry Thacker, for instance, the bigger and far more important story revealed by Hogarth’s documentary is the crisis that has resulted from almost twenty years of mass confusion in AIDS and HIV messaging. And while the documentary focuses primarily on American gay men, the hard lessons offered by this exploration offer a sobering and foreboding insight into the difficulties and challenges that governments and organizations face in their media and messaging dealing with HIV and AIDS, especially in Africa.

Without leveling criticism or pointing accusatory fingers, Hogarth’s subjects explore the mixed messages and themselves offer conflicting and varying responses that reflect the complexity of the issues and the difficulties involved in reaching or even defining their intended audiences.

Read the complete version of Clinton Fein's review.

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The Gift: A Review
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January 31, 2003

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SENSATIONALISM OR JOURNALISM?

The Gift: A Review
By Clinton Fein
January 31, 2003

Frightening images of sick-looking people are unlikely to resonate with Kenboy, another of Hogarth’s young interviewees, who responded to an ad and moved from Illinois to a house in Los Angeles existing solely for the purpose of sex parties; where a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mantra served as the house rule; and where condom use was about as common as the compassion in compassionate conservatism. Lured by a world of uninhibited sexual activity, he reveals in a poignant moment what is perhaps the deepest insight into why healthy young men would actively seek a virus that will more than likely kill them.

[Read article]


Bug Chasers
The men who long to be HIV+
By Gregory A. Freeman
Rolling Stone Magazine

Carlos is part of an intricate underground world that has sprouted, driven almost completely by the Internet, in which men who want to be infected with HIV get together with those who are willing to infect them. The men who want the virus are called "bug chasers," and the men who freely give the virus to them are called "gift givers." While the rest of the world fights the AIDS epidemic and most people fear HIV infection, this subculture celebrates the virus and eroticizes it. HIV-infected semen is treated like liquid gold. Carlos has been chasing the bug for more than a year in a topsy-turvy world in which every convention about HIV is turned upside down. The virus isn't horrible and fearsome, it's beautiful and sexy -- and delivered in the way that is most likely to result in infection. In this world, the men with HIV are the most desired, and the bug chasers will do anything to get the virus -- to "get knocked up," to be "bred" or "initiated into the brotherhood."

[Read article]


Is Rolling Stone’s HIV Story Wildly Exaggerated?
Magazine says that 25 percent of all newly infected gay men are purposefully seeking HIV. Now sources quoted in the story are disputing that
By Seth Mnookin
Newsweek

The Feb. 6 issue of Rolling Stone features what appears to be a groundbreaking investigative report, the kind of story that helped establish the magazine as a journalistic force in the 1960s and 1970s. It was exactly this type of reporting that doomsayers feared would disappear after former laddie-mag editor Ed Needham was named the magazine’s managing editor last year.

[Read article]


Sex- and death-crazed gays play viral Russian Roulette!
Rolling Stone claims that a full quarter of new HIV infections stem from morbid thrill-seeking. Sean Hannity is swallowing the story -- should you?
By Andrew Sullivan
Salon
Jan. 24, 2003

As soon as the story faced any scrutiny, it began to unravel. On Wednesday, Cabaj responded to an e-mail from the blog site Morons.org and retracted the 25 percent figure altogether -- and claimed he had asked Rolling Stone's fact-checker to do just that. Then Thursday, Newsweek reported not only that Cabaj denies giving Freeman the 25 percent figure ("That's totally false. I never said that") but that Dr. Marshall Forstein of Boston, quoted in the Rolling Stone story saying that "bug chasers are seen regularly in the Fenway health system, and the phenomenon is growing," says that quote "is entirely a fabrication" and that "I said, 'We have seen a few cases, but we have no idea how common this is.'" This is the paltry evidence Freeman provides for his astonishing claim, and it's been retracted within hours of being published. Way to go, Rolling Stone.

[Read article]


Bug Chasers
By Dan Savage
The Stranger
January 30, 2003

While the 25 percent figure is clearly bullshit, the barebacking websites Freeman writes about are real and some men with HIV are only too willing to engage in unprotected sex with guys who aren't HIV-positive. And before gay men congratulate themselves for "only" making up 42 percent of all new HIV infections, consider this: Gay and bisexual men make up only three percent of the population. Regardless of how gay men are getting the virus--bug chasing? stupid risk taking?--they are getting infected at appalling rates.

[Read article]


Chasing The Bug
by Matt Butts
Positive Thinking
August 15, 2002

Don’t ask me to explain all this; I don’t understand it myself. Why would anyone want to consign themselves to a lifetime of pills with horrific side effects and so many blood draws their veins eventually collapse? Do they think people will still consider them cute when their faces explode with seborrheic dermatitis, or that their bodies will still be sexy when mottled with KS lesions? And who’s going to want to kiss someone with a mouthful of thrush? Think I’m being too preachy here? Well, mark my words: ten years from now, when these happily “pozzed” young men are stumbling on neuropathic feet to get to the biffy before they soil their tighty-whities with explosive diarrhea, they’ll be singing the same song. They might as well start learning the lyrics now. Those who think having HIV is something “hip” or “cool” are sadly deluded. The “gift-givers” are deceiving these misguided young souls. Worse, they’re deceiving themselves. Someday they will curse this “gift” and the son of a bitch who gave it to them.

[Read article]


A Ride on the Wild Side
An HIV-negative prevention activist goes through the looking glass to discover who's doing it raw, and why.
By Michael Scarce
POZ Magazine
1999

My own thoughts on barebacking have shifted radically in recent months, especially in regard to my stereotypes about the men themselves. After the barebacking parties, I was overwhelmed by what I perceived to be sex without limits, a lack of critical thinking, and short-sighted hedonism. Later, interviewing and interacting with barebackers made me realize that they possess personal ethics, political consciousness, and self-control in addition to the relative extremity of their sex. These experiences have led me to believe that barebackers do not deserve to be vilified, but rather more fully understood, and the very real problems to which barebacking may contribute should also be examined. In essence, barebacking represents the classic conflict inherent to public health. But there's great difficulty in balancing rights for people who make choices that are "extreme" with the potential for collective burden and actual cost to be borne by all of us. A harm-reduction approach is merely the beginning and doesn't address what is perhaps the greatest danger currently surrounding barebacking: the inability of community members and leaders to discuss these issues with mutual understanding and respect.

[Read article]


Bug Chasers
By Dan Hill
Alternatives Magazine
Fall 2000

I began my research into the behavior of bug chasing by turning to the wisdom of psychology to try to understand. But I have learned that, to get to the whole truth, we must let go of the definitions and the story, let go of the "bug chasers," for ultimately their story is not qualitatively different from the story of smokers, drug addicts, alcoholics and the rest of "us." Their story is little different from those who drive their cars too fast, or choose not to wear a seat belt, or use cell phones that cause brain tumors. Everyone is in the closet about something. The only real difference is the demonization of their behavior-and that's not about "them," it's about us. It is easy to condemn others for what they do, but are we able to own our own self-destructive tendencies, conscious or unconscious? Bug chasers are members of the human race, like everyone else.

[Read article]


 
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