Sex Panic: Gay group-think promotes murderous irresponsibility
The San Francisco Examiner; Monday, Jan. 12, 1998 - Page A 23
David Dalton; Examiner's computer systems director and is working on a novel, "The Crippled Collie of Haight Street."
YOU'RE going to want to slap me after a few paragraphs, so let me acknowledge even before I start that I grew up in the South, and that Southerners rarely abandon a cultural assumption that is almost hard-wired into us: That there must be limits to tolerance, and that there are times when we simply must tell people that they are wrong and that their ideas are dangerous.
Still, that does not mean that we Southerners are necessarily fascist. Some of us have read a little Locke. We strongly uphold individual freedom, the right to speak out and the right to pursue happiness. Nevertheless, I've been hearing a new idea lately that is both wrong and dangerous. That is the idea that higher quality sex is worth dying for, and that life after 40 is so worthless that one might as well have better sex and die young.
This idea is being put about by a fairly new organization called Sex Panic.
On Jan. 4, Examiner medical writer Lisa Krieger wrote an excellent piece on why HIV infection rates among gay men have not declined in three years. She quoted Eric Rofes, former director of the Shanti Project here, who described, probably accurately, what is going on: "There is a dawning realization that many gay men are engaging in unprotected anal intercourse not because they're drunk, or due to self-hatred, but because (sex) is a meaningful act . . . Sex acts are a major part of what constitutes your identity . . . anal sex was seen as an expendable act.
"There was the notion that this act . . . was something that was easily given up, all the time . . . But the act is very powerful. It gives meaning to who you are, as a gay man."
Krieger also quoted Scott O'Hara, a former porn star who is HIV positive:
"Feeling a man inside me, condomless, that's when the sex becomes spiritual in its intensity . . . I believe in exchanging bodily fluids, not wedding rings."
I am not proposing that we horse-whip O'Hara, or that we try to shut him up. I only propose that we gay people do what a Southerner would do when someone says something outrageous: That we glare him down after he speaks and tell him he is wrong and that what he is saying threatens the lives of young gay people.
Some of those young gay people are my friends.
After I read Krieger's piece, I was particularly worried about a young friend named James, who I knew would read the O'Hara quote and find something appealing in it. James is 21. He's a senior at UC-Berkeley who has struggled greatly with his sexuality, with his self-esteem, with promiscuity, with insecurities about living up to the gay ideal of beauty, with fears about whether he can succeed in the world he'll face when he gets out of school.
I invited James to lunch to talk. I showed him Lisa's story, and then we set out across Buena Vista Park, walking west. The gay logo was all over the sky that day - rainbows - and I was enjoying life, despite my advanced age and the fact that I haven't had much sex lately. I asked James, Is sex worth dying for?
He didn't think for long. It depends, he said, on whether the person you're having sex with is a one-night stand or whether he'll stay with you. And it depends on when you die. If you don't die until you're in your 40s, then yes, he said, sex is worth dying for.
I was stunned and kept silent. I waited for a few neurons to fire in his head so he'd realize that he'd pretty much said that my life doesn't have much value because of my age.
He's actually very smart, and he knows perfectly well that I'm 49. Even Berkeley seniors aren't very smart, though, when gay group-think and Berkeley Left-think has gotten hold of them and they're not thinking for themselves. I'm not blaming James. I used to believe that stuff myself. We grow up.
But that's the problem in a nutshell: It's gay group-think, combined with most gay leaders' strong investment in fringe ideologies, and the awful hunger of young gay men for community, social approval and the existential high that Scott O'Hara says you'll get from dangerous sex. Not too long ago, no one at a dinner party I attended had even heard of Sex Panic. Carol Ness, who frequently reports on lesbian and gay issues for The Examiner, did a story on Sex Panic in October and had a hard time finding reaction. Few people had heard of it.
But in November, Sex Panic had a conference in San Diego during the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force's "Creating Change" meeting. Stories about the conference appeared in the Nov. 27 issues of Bay Times and the Bay Area Reporter. At the next dinner party I attended, everyone knew about Sex Panic.
And guess what? Everyone's opinions precisely matched the Sex Panic propaganda printed in the local gay papers. There are entirely too many gay men in this town who are not sure what to think until the Bay Area Reporter prints the fringe point of view and tells them what to think.
I give a lot of credit, though, to the Bay Area Reporter's Liz Highleyman. She worked in a quote from a lesbian, Robin Tyler, who said in San Diego: "It does upset me to see gay men still getting sick . . . Do what you want, but I'm not going to clean up after you this time." We should listen to Robin Tyler. She's telling us that lesbians aren't feeling very tolerant anymore toward gay men's promiscuity and immaturity. I'm sure there are plenty of straight people who agree.
There will be a backlash if Sex Panic prevails. And make no mistake about it: A backlash is exactly what Sex Panic members want, because a backlash would help to keep gay people on the fringes of society, which is where Sex Panic wants us.
Sex Panic people may think that absolutely anything (except those who speak out against them) should be tolerated. But lesbians, Southerners and most of the rest of America understand that there have to be limits on what ideas get our blessing and what ideas don't. Guys (And I hope Tom Ammiano is listening):
A lot of stuff has happened in the world while you were reading nothing but the gay newspapers. We might mention 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down. After 50 years of disastrous experiments all over the globe, 1989 was when we knew for sure that Leftist ideology is somehow fatally flawed and does not work. So why does the gay movement still have all its eggs in such a basket?
And everyone except queer theorists seems to know that Foucault is dead, that he pretty much admitted before he died that he had been a young poseur. As long as we're deconstructing cultures, why don't we deconstruct the gay subculture we've produced since Stonewall?
Is it really all that fine? Is the right to public sex really so important to us that Sex Panic's agenda should become our agenda? Why does the gay elite that claims to speak for us want to keep us marginalized?
The gay community in San Francisco is large, secure, mature and diverse. Many of us - maybe most of us - are in the mainstream because that's where we want to be. It's all right to stand up to the brats in Sex Panic and say in a loud, firm voice: Stop claiming to speak for all of us.
And above all, we should say to young gay people that there are plenty of things that make life worth living after the age of 40, though we have to make our own lists and post them on our refrigerator doors.
There probably still will be sex after 40, and there are dear old lovers who've become best friends, dogs, garlic, wine, opera, Unix - but that's just my list. You make yours.
Meanwhile, all you wonderful young men (I wish I could take all of you to lunch): Pursue your happiness. Don't accept life on the margins of society. Join the mainstream.
Demand, to use Bruce Bawer's metaphor, your Place at the Table. Take seriously the principles that apply to all equally in American society - that it's about responsibilities as well as rights.
Take care of each other. Don't give your all to anyone unless you like him and trust him. Use a condom.
And if you insist on rebelling (I'm sure you will), then please consider rebelling against Sex Panic, the people who are telling you that a sex act - any sex act - is worth more than your life.