INTERVIEW JOHN LAURITSEN
By Mark Gabrish Conlan
Zenger's April 1997
Aside from UC Berkeley microbiology professor Peter Duesberg, Ph.D.,
it's hard to think of anyone who has done more to expose the conventional
wisdom about AIDS for the absurd mythology it is than John Lauritsen. A
Harvard-trained survey researcher, social scientist and Queer community
activist since 1969, Lauritsen may not have had any training in the biological
sciences, but he did have the expertise to notice how, even in the early
1980s, officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) were already "cooking" the AIDS statistics
to conceal the role of recreational drugs in causing the syndrome and create
a false credibility for their insistence that AIDS was caused by a single
Though Lauritsen's first AIDS article was published in 1985 in the Philadelphia
Gay News, it was the now-defunct New York Native which gave
his work--and his name--national and international exposure. In a decade's
worth of insightful and luminous journalism for the Native, he exposed
the scientific incompetence and fraud in the original 1986 clinical trial
that led to the licensing of AZT as the first "anti-HIV treatment,"
and demonstrated that no reliable evidence existed to support the belief
that the so-called "Human Immunodeficiency Virus," or HIV, caused
AIDS or any other human disease. Lauritsen also attended scientific conferences
and, in the best tradition of activist journalism, continually attacked
the misleading and false arguments cited in the public to bolster the HIV/AIDS
Lauritsen has published five books: The Early Homosexual Rights Movement,
1864-1935 (which he co-authored in the 1970s and which established
him as one of the pioneer Queer historians); Death Rush: Poppers and
AIDS (co-authored with San Francisco AIDS activist Hank Wilson in 1986,
the first book to link any part of the AIDS syndrome to abuse of a specific
substance); two collections of his New York Native AIDS articles,
Poison by Prescription: The AZT Story in 1990 and The AIDS War
in 1993 (both absolutely indispensable for anyone seeking to understand
what AIDS really is); and his latest, The AIDS Cult. A collection
of essays by various authors, co-edited by Lauritsen and Toronto AIDS activist
Ian Young, The AIDS Cult focuses on the psychological factors driving
the syndrome and the ways in which the expectations of AIDS health care
providers, service organizations and both the mainstream and Queer media
are actually helping kill people who have been diagnosed with AIDS or HIV.
A longtime resident of New York City, Lauritsen moved to Provincetown,
Massachusetts in 1995 and has continued to write articles about AIDS and
disseminate them through the Internet. Lauritsen will be in California
in March 1997 for a three-city tour to promote The AIDS Cult. (...)
Zenger's: How did you first get interested in looking at alternative
perspectives on AIDS?
Lauritsen: I started becoming interested in AIDS in 1983. It
was clear even then that the Public Health Service was on the wrong track,
and it certainly appeared to me that AIDS was not an infectious disease.
I thought it was very likely that the illnesses called "AIDS"
must have something to do with the behavior or the circumstances of those
Gay men who were getting sick. So I read everything there was on the topic
of AIDS--which you could do then. There were only about 18 to 24 medical
articles at that particular time. That's changed, because apparently now
there are over 100,000 articles on AIDS, and no one could possibly read
more than a tiny fraction of that.
But I came across an article by Arthur Evans from many years ago, on
the topic of poppers, and it mentioned Hank Wilson in San Francisco. It
struck me as very likely that there could be a connection there, so I contacted
Hank and we started collaborating. Towards the end of 1983, we published
our first pamphlet on poppers and AIDS. It was mostly a bibliography, but
we did make the point that you could make a reasonable case that poppers
had something to do with AIDS, particularly with Kaposi's sarcoma.
We were viciously attacked. Hank Wilson was called a "Gay
traitor" in the Gay press for criticizing this dangerous chemical.
In 1986 we published a small book called Death Rush: Poppers and AIDS,
which I think was on of the very first works to use Koch's postulates to
argue against the "AIDS virus" theory.
[Koch's postulates are the standard rules in microbiology used to
determine whether a particular microbe causes a particular disease. The
postulates are: 1) The microorganism must be found in all cases of the
disease. 2) It must be isolated from the host and grown in pure culture.
3) It must reproduce the original disease when introduced into a susceptible
host. 4) It must be found in the experimental host so infected, and the
growth of symptoms in the newly infected host must correlate to growth
in the numbers of the microbe present in the system. HIV does not meet
Koch's postulates as the cause of AIDS because at least 4,621 documented
cases exist of AIDS with no trace of HIV exposure.]
My first major article criticizing the "AIDS virus" hypothesis
was in early 1985 ["CDC's Tables Obscure AIDS-Drugs Connection,"
Philadelphia Gay News, February 14, 1985, reprinted as the first
chapter in The AIDS War]. It made quite an impression and was reprinted
in about five other papers. One thing led to another and I started writing
for the New York Native. My first article for them was in 1985,
and the last one was in December 1996 ["Tragedy by the Sea: Provincetown
Is Becoming Protease Town," Native, December 9, 1996].
Zenger's: You said that even from the beginning you were suspicious
of the idea that AIDS could be caused by a single infectious agent. Why?
Lauritsen: It wasn't spreading beyond Gay men very much. Also,
there was no reason to believe that it was an infectious agent.
There was also some doubt in my mind as to whether the illnesses being
described really could be considered a coherent disease. I was influenced
by the ideas and writings of Dr. Joseph Sonnabend in New York City. I've
known him for many years, and he was one of the very first AIDS critics.
A couple of his early articles in the New York Native addressed
head-on the issue of whether there is really such a thing as "AIDS."
Back then the surveillance definitions were sort of a process of elimination.
They had this concept of "immune deficiency," and the idea was
that if you eliminated all known causes of immune deficiency, that anything
left over had to be "AIDS."
Even in the early days there was something very peculiar about the definition
of AIDS, or what I would later call the "AIDS construct." The
two original hallmark diseases--one being Kaposi's sarcoma, the other being
Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia--really had nothing in common. Even
if you accepted the notion of immune deficiency, which they defined in
a way in which it had never been defined before, using newly developed
techniques to count T4 cells, Kaposi's sarcoma could not rationally
be linked to the idea of immunodeficiency. People can have Kaposi's sarcoma
and yet have perfectly normal T-cell ratios and immune systems. So the
notion that some as-yet-undiscovered microbe had caused an underlying condition
of immune deficiency, which in turn caused all of these other illnesses,
never did hold water--not even in the beginning.
Zenger's: You were instrumental in writing the first set of safer-sex
guidelines in 1983 and I recall reading that you and the late Michael Callen
essentially became leaders of competing camps as to recommendations for
how Gay men could reduce their risk of AIDS by changing their sexual practices.
Could you tell me a little more about his?
Lauritsen: Actually, Michael Callen and I were basically on the
same side in the debates that took place in the committee. Both of us did
not accept the idea that AIDS was caused by a new infectious agent,
and both of us insisted that it was necessary to recommend against drug
abuse as well as recommending practices which would reduce the likelihood
of acquiring either known or unknown venereal diseases.
Zenger's: How did these guidelines compare to what we know today?
Lauritsen: Well, they did recommend using condoms, and
avoiding activities which exchange body fluids. But they differed from
the guidelines today in that they also said don't use poppers, and
they cautioned against excessive use of alcohol and drugs. I believe they
also mentioned nutrition, and in general just taking care of yourself.
That changed very much because Gay Men's Health Crisis, which funded the
committee, in an act of betrayal issued their own guidelines, which they
had been secretly preparing. Their own guidelines had no mention whatever
of curtailing drug or alcohol use, or anything at all in terms of nutrition
or general health. Their own guidelines were exclusively concerned
with what we now think of as "safer sex."
Zenger's: I noticed the book The AIDS Cult began with a very long
paper from 1984 by Casper Schmitz that takes up about one-third of the
total length of the book, and focuses on the theory that AIDS is exclusively
a psycho-social construct. How much of that material do you think is still
relevant, and how much of it needs to be modified?
Lauritsen: It's a good question. Every time I read it I have
a somewhat different take on it. I think it's a brilliant essay, and I
think it was the first major challenge to the "AIDS virus" etiology.
I don't accept that AIDS is solely caused by psychological
factors. On the other hand, I don't think that we can understand AIDS especially
as affecting Gay men, without taking into account the cultural context,
which he supplies quite brilliantly: the warfare which was waged against
Gay men by the Moral Majority, or the much older Judeo-Christian tradition
of the death penalty for men who have sex together.
Some of his insights, I think, are still absolutely relevant. The idea
that we are in a "group trance" is something that I have observed
many times in the last decade. The concept that you have on the one side
sadistic persecutors, which would be the Moral Majority; and on the other
side the willing, sacrificial victims, which would be Gay men and also
I also believe there is a type of death wish among some Gay men who
have acquired AIDS or HIV diagnoses. Simply rational arguments don't avail
with them. They are determined, for whatever reason, to go through with
the sacrificial ritual. I also agree with some of the insights--for example,
the idea that in some of the South American religious cults, they had to
display the skulls of the people who were sacrificed so the gods could
see them and indicate at some point that there had been enough people sacrificed.
I think that fits in very well with the idea of the AIDS quilt, where all
these panels of tens of thousands of people who have died of AIDS are spread
out, and people visit the site and walk around it in a very religious way.
However, my own viewpoint has a different emphasis, which is why my own
essay follows right after Casper's, and goes into the toxicological aspects.
Zenger's: One thing I noted, particularly about Casper Schmitz's
essay, was that he said that the Gay community's response to the attack
of the Moral Majority and the radical Right in general essentially played
into the role of sacrificial victim. He was especially critical of our
adopting the pink triangle as a symbol of Gay liberation, and taking a
very meek, pleading tone in some of the ads that were put out in response
to the radical Right's attacks. As someone who has been involved in Gay
liberation from the beginning, do you agree with that analysis; and if
so, how should the community have responded to AIDS?
Lauritsen: I agree with Casper's analysis there. We have to bear
in mind that groups such as the National Gay Task Force and the Metropolitan
Community Church are not necessarily the "Gay movement." They're
very top-down organizations, and who knows where these so-called "Gay
leaders" come from? They just come out of nowhere. It's not as though
it were a grass-roots thing.
How should we have responded with an uncompromising demand to
know what the facts were--to know the truth. In fact, this has not been
the case, and it fits in very much with Casper Schmitz's emphasis on the
extremely irrational aspects of the AIDS phenomenon.
The Gay press, Gay people at all levels, don't want to know the
truth. There has been more censorship in the Gay press, if anything, than
in the straight media. I myself have witnessed on many , many occasions,
where Gay men became hysterical whenever any attempt was made even to discuss
AIDS beyond the usual mythologies. There may be reasons for it. There probably
are intense guilt feelings over some of the causes of the illnesses that
were called "AIDS," including the type of drug abuse that took
place in some of the Gay scenes in the 1970s and early 1980s; as well as
types of sex which were not very sensible or healthy.
The "AIDS virus" myth is very welcome to some of them because
it completely absolves Gay men of any responsibility for AIDS. It allows
them to see themselves as just innocent victims. Just out of the sky, or
out of nowhere, there comes this evil virus and it does it all by itself.
It has nothing to do with snorting poppers, nothing to do with popping
pills or smoking or injecting drugs of different types. All of that's irrelevant.
The virus does everything.
Zenger's: I think that's what conditioned the response to Peter Duesberg,
Ph.D. when he first went public in 1990. He found himself subjected to
this incredible critical assault from the Gay community. He was called
a homophobe and told that the mere fact that he was suggesting that AIDS
might have something to do with the behavior and lifestyle choices of certain
Gay men was politically incorrect, bigoted and generally horrible.
Lauritsen: And both Duesberg and I have been called homophobic
simply for criticizing poppers--not even for saying they might cause AIDS,
but just saying that they're powerful mutagens, powerful oxidizing agents;
that they damage human cells, and that it's a bad idea to use them. Now
why it should be homophobic to point out the toxicities of a chemical
is beyond me.
Zenger's: My immediate thought at that point is that certain people's
lives and identities are so embodied in the chemicals they choose to use,
that when you attack the chemicals you're attacking their identity.
Lauritsen: Of course, there's also the whole phenomenon of addiction.
Whether the addiction is only psychological or whether a very real physical
addiction--such as heroin, alcohol or cigarettes--people can become highly
irrational in defending their addictions. They're hooked, and they don't
want to give up their substances.
Zenger's: In fact, the AIDS establishment in general seems far less
judgmental of people's drug use habits than it is of their sexual behavior.
Very often, particularly when people still in their 20s, become "HIV-positive,"
they're given horrendous amounts of guilt in the community. Fingers are
pointed at them saying, basically, "Well, we were ignorant. But you
knew the rules. You knew what kinds of sex were 'safe.' You knew what kinds
of sex weren't. And you turned 'positive,' so obviously you had the wrong
kind of sex."
Lauritsen: Here you get into the heart of it, the really sticky
question: whether or not people should even bother with "safe
sex"? I would say that sex is something about which people should
use judgment and common sense. They shouldn't just get intoxicated and
screw around in back alleys with people they don't know. they should not
live in a way that means they get gonorrhea all the time, which a lot of
the guys were doing in the 1970s. But I frankly don't see any rational
need for this whole elaborate set of strictures that are represented by
There is a need for Gay men to live in a healthful way, which would
include everything from not using drugs to getting enough rest and exercise,
and taking care of themselves psychologically. I think that's far more
important than practicing "safe sex."
Zenger's: Why do you think so many Gay men respond to any questioning
of the HIV/AIDS model with this kind of vicious hysteria?
Lauritsen: I'm not sure, but not only is there an incredibly
intense fear, there's also a multi-billion dollar AIDS industry that's
employing the practices that businesses use generally: psychological warfare,
espionage, sabotage and all kinds of things. I mean, that's business as
usual. So there have been slander campaigns conducted against Duesberg
and me, and other AIDS dissidents, some of them quite grotesque, claiming
that we have all sorts of weird beliefs or other things. Some of them are
quite ad hominem. But this is a part of the picture. There's nothing
in the Gay press to challenge the orthodox view of AIDS. The propaganda
of the pharmaceutical companies now regularly appears in all of the Gay
papers, and it has an effect. It molds people's beliefs about this thing.
Zenger's: In fact, the AIDS model that has been created by this giant
propaganda machine seems to have a life of its own. There've been so many
times when I've thought, "Oh, no. They can't get out of this one.
They can't get out from under the documentation that there are AIDS cases
without HIV. They can't get out from under the documentation the Concorde
researchers came up with, that there was absolutely no correlation between
CD4 T-cel counts and clinical health. They can't get out from under the
failure of AZT as a front-line treatment." And yet they've been able
to get out from under all of those, and maintain the myths.
They may twist logic, reality, common sense and the previously known
facts of microbiology and biomedicine in general totally out of shape,
but they do have an explanation for everything. And because they have been
so successful at dominating the media, their explanations are accepted
without question. So, given that "HIV, the virus that causes AIDS"
has become that much a part of people's basic cultural knowledge, regardless
of the utter lack of rational evidence that that is so, how do you attack
it, and where?
Lauritsen: One thing that mainstream Americans can respond to
is the extreme cost of the HIV/AIDS hypothesis. There's been $40 billion
of taxpayers' money which has gone down the drain on this crazy hypothesis.
In addition to that, there's been a wild range of estimates of the annual
cost of treating one person with AIDS with the new drug "cocktails."
I've never heard less than $10,000 a year, and some of them go to $40,000,
$50,000 or $60,000.
The people with AIDS do not pay for this. There may be one or
two who are sufficiently wealthy that they could. But basically, we
pay for it, the taxpayers, either through our tax money or indirectly through
higher premiums in our medical insurance. There's no such thing as a free
lunch. And it's not fair that taxpayers should have to pay these sums for
"treatments" which in fact are harmful no help at all.
In addition, there's the question of the disability benefits. At least
some people with diagnoses of being "HIV-positive" or "AIDS"
are perfectly capable of working, and yet they call themselves "retired"
and they get far better benefits than ordinary people on welfare. It's
not fair that hard-working citizens should pay taxes to support people
who simply have a diagnosis that actually doesn't mean a damned thing.
I'm not saying that people when people saying people shouldn't get help
when they really are sick. But I am saying that this whole
structure of AIDS organizations, counselors, and so-called "service
providers," as well as the people with the diagnoses, is harmful.
It's harmful to the people with the diagnoses, and it's harmful to society
Zenger's: That touches on one of the things that has always bothered
me most about this. I had a 2 1/2-year relationship with a man who was
quite sick with chronic fatigue syndrome and a rare ear disorder called
hyperacusis. I really began to get quite upset at a personal level that
here was someone who was incredibly sick, who was being consistently rejected
for Social Security disability, while people who were quite healthy not
only had disability payments, they had a whole infrastructure of help available
to them because they happened to test "HIV-positive." I would
say that the real forgotten victims of this are people in the Gay community
who are genuinely sick, but with illnesses that don't fit the "HIV/AIDS"
Lauritsen: There's a whole industry of providing services for
people with AIDS. They now get free massages, free maid service, and all
kinds of things. There has to be a certain resentment at some point among
people who are having to pay for all this. Once again, there's no such
thing as a free lunch. These things don't grow on trees.
Zenger's: Yet it seems to me that one of the major successes of the
AIDS establishment, politically, has been to cast anybody who expresses
that kind of resentment as a villain, as someone who is uncaring and uncompassionate
and doesn't realize the genuine tragedy of AIDS. I noticed that Pete Wilson,
the Governor of California, who is far from a liberal put in his latest
state budget a major increase in funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.
Now, Pete Wilson is not someone whose natural constituency is the
Gay or AIDS community. But he's felt compelled as a politician to respond
to this and direct a lot of state resources to buying these drugs for people
with AIDS--which, if we're right, will not only kill them faster but will
also mean that other people that the state could help, who are genuinely
sick and might actually benefit from some of this money, will not be helped.
Lauritsen: Yes, and there's another example. Politicians or other
people who oppose clean needle exchange programs are branded as bigoted
and ignorant, whereas in fact in many cases they're better informed than
the people who are advocating this needle-exchange nonsense. In
the Black community, many leaders oppose these needle-exchange programs,
and for very good reason: because they have seen how the Black communities
are devastated by the drug epidemic. And yet they have been sharply criticized
for doing so.
In New York City--and I'm sure this is true in most communities--ACT
UP members go throughout the Lower East Side and other places, giving clean
needles to drug addicts. The message is very clear; it's encouraging them
to keep on shooting up. It tells these drug addicts that the drugs themselves
are harmless; that it's only the needles that might be dangerous.
After many years of living in New York City, I have seen with my own
eyes what drugs do to people. I've seen them kill people. I've seen people
waste away quickly. And there are people--some of them Libertarians, some
of them in the AIDS establishment --who actually claim that drugs, if they're
not "cut" with harmful contaminants, are perfectly safe. They
have the idea that there exist middle-class people who have used heroin
for years and years and are in wonderful health. Well, that's absolute
nonsense. There may be a few people who can use a small amount of
some substance for a number of years, and get away with it. But all of
these things have very serious long-term toxicities.
Zenger's: One of the essays in the book The AIDS Cult that most fascinated
me was the concluding one by Ian Young, focused on young Gay men and how
the HIV death cult has manifested there. By sheer coincidence, right after
I read the book the Gay & Lesbian Times published a four-page article
by its editor, Corri Planck, called "Twentysomething HIV-Positives,"
which pretty much confirmed everything that Ian had written in his essay.
In particular, it made the same point [Berkeley psychologist] Walt Odets
has made in his work: that the "safer sex" guidelines have become
so restrictive and so arbitrary, that people are looking over them, throwing
up their hands and saying, "Well, if that's all it takes to get HIV,
it's not a question of if, but when."
Lauritsen: I think Ian's essay is really brilliant, and I've
observed what he's talking about, particularly when he writes about how
so many Gay men actually feel validated by being told they're "HIV-positive."
there are a lot of Gay men who are in a state of shame and guilt, who are
frightened. Some of them have had rather goring and meaningless lives,
low self-esteem. And then all of a sudden the AIDS cult is presented to
them, and they realize their can all of sudden be meaningful; that they
can acquire status and "be somebody" by falling into this role
of the sacrificial victim.
In his book The Golden Bough, Sir James Frazier draws a picture
of how in primitive societies a great fuss was made over the sacrificial
victim. They were treated with all kinds of benefits and privileges, up
to the time when they were actually sacrificed. I think there is a parallel
to the incredibly "privileged" way people who have AIDS, or have
just tested "HIV-positive," are treated by the Gay community.
Zenger's: One other factor that might make Gay men unconsciously
want to be "HIV-positive" is the obsession with youth in the
Gay community, the extent to which people in our community are ostracized
once they're no longer young and sexy. Do you think that there may be Gay
men who are in a sense willing themselves to be "HIV-positive,"
to get sick with AIDS diseases and to die young, simply because they don't
want to face the social ostracism that they fear will come with age?
Lauritsen: It's a terrible thing to say, but I think that is
true in some cases, and it's not only sex appeal. There's a certain type
of Gay man who doesn't ever want to grow up. They want to be little boys
always. There are different phases of life that we go through, and at a
certain point in life you're supposed to make the transition from one to
another. But I think a lot of Gay men don't want to make those transitions,
so they seize on AIDS as a way out of having to.
Zenger's: Another thing that occurred to me reading Ian Young's essay
is that the very language that is used to communicate the test results--the
terms "positive" and "negative"--itself seems to imply
a desirability to the "positive" state. They don't have to use
that language. The terms that actually appear on the test strips are "reactive"
and "nonreactive." But for some reason, instead of using those
terms, they embrace this concept of "positive" and "negative,"
which seems to carry with it an undercurrent of meaning that "positive"
is the desirable thing to be.
Lauritsen: At least for Gay men, and of course the campaign to
get tested has been waged almost entirely either for or against Gay men.
I don't believe there's been any concerted attempt to get nondrug using
straight people to get tested. Correct me if I'm wrong. I can't really
think that anything really has been sustained along those lines.
Zenger's: Actually, under the provisions of the CARE Act renewal,
there will be major campaigns on pregnant women. And it's occurred to me
that whenever the AIDS establishment feels it's running out of suitable
victims, the way to generate more victims would be to expand the "get
tested" campaign and get more people tested. A certain amount of people
who take the test will test "positive" for whatever biological
reasons there are, and if they accept the overall paradigm that testing
"HIV-positive" means they have the "deadly AIDS virus"
and they need to go on "treatment" immediately, that would seem--if
you and I are right on this subject--to be the way that the AIDS establishment
can keep itself going by generating additional victims.
Lauritsen: But I don't think that it will, because it doesn't
fit in with the group fantasy. Straight people aren't all that vulnerable
because they haven't had to deal with the theological condemnation of Gay
sex. So I think that something like that might start off for a little bit,
but would end up fizzling rather quickly. I don't think the pregnant women
thing will get very far, either.
Another point made very strongly in several essays in The AIDS Cults--the
ones by Michael Ellner and Andrew Cort, Cass Mann and George Hazelhurst--is
that the mortality of the people who have achieved a diagnosis has a lot
to do with the message that is given to them. They're taught to believe
that they should get sick and die, and that in this case a belief in doom,
a belief in death, becomes the cause of death. Cass Mann especially
went into the really harmful aspects of AIDS counseling, which I see right
here in Provincetown. The message is given that if someone is "HIV-positive"
or has an AIDS diagnosis, that they should already prepare for death; that
they should come to some "spiritual understanding" that would
allow them to die in a "spiritually correct" way.
There's nowhere any suggestion that people with a diagnosis should
return to health--should simply get better and go on with life as somebody
who once had a diagnosis. That's never recognized as a possibility.
It also fits in with what I would call the "Christian mindset."
Christianity is a religion which glorifies death, and which has great antipathy
to the intellect and to the body. Both body and mind are downplayed in
favor of something called "spirituality," and if you had to define
the "spiritual" state, I guess you would say that death comes
pretty close to it.
The emphasis of the essays in The AIDS Cult is on the psychological
and cultural issues, and part of it is something as basic as the desire
to live. This vicious campaign that the religious Right waged against Gay
men helped destroy the will of many Gay men to live at all. they were told
that they should die; and in fact, Judeo-Christian culture has been
telling Gay men for at least 16 centuries that they ought to die. It does
take its toll. And there's no pharmaceutical "quick fix" to give
somebody a desire to live.
Zenger's: One passage in your own essay in The AIDS Cult that particularly
struck me was this one:
Over the centuries, Gay men have been outcasts in societies governed
by Judeo-Christian morality. The companionship of their own kind made it
easier to bear this onus. Against a hostile world, they found solace in
each other' arms. AIDS propaganda changed this. It killed love. The deepest
relationship in life became fraught with fear and suspicion, and the fellowship
of Gay men increasingly became one of mutual support for victimhood.
Lauritsen: Yes. Everything from "safe sex"--you know,
the idea that you should "negotiate" a sexual encounter as though
it were a business transaction of some sort--and with all of the literal
prophylaxis, as well as emotional prophylaxis, involved in it, it's
hard to see how there could really be any passion there. I suppose one
should distinguish love from eroticism, but the spontaneous experience
of either one is really killed off by the AIDS propaganda.
And as far as the victimhood thing goes, the effect of AIDS has not
been good in the Gay community. There are some Gay men that have just pretty
much ignored the whole AIDS thing, which I think is a healthy attitude.
I mean, nobody is untouched by it, but these men have gone about
their social lives and the rest of it, trying to pretend as much as possible
that it's not there. But then there's the other extreme, also: the people
in support groups who do nothing but live AIDS, all day long.
Zenger's: In fact, one thing that struck me when I read that paragraph
was that this is really not confined to the Gay community. A straight woman
named Meghan Daum, who was born in 1970, and therefore has lived her whole
sexual life in the AIDS era, wrote a really extraordinary article in the
New York Times Magazine on January 21, 1996, on how the mantras of "safer
sex" have affected her life. She said:
One of the main tenets of the safe-sex message is that ageless mantra,
"You don't know where he's been," meaning that everyone is a
potential threat, that we're all either scoundrels or ignoramuses. ...
The message we receive is that trusting anyone is itself an irresponsible
act, that having faith in an intimate partner, particularly women in relation
to men, is a symptom of such profound naïveté that we're obviously
not mature enough to be having sex anyway. ...
We know that an "unsafe" man generally means someone who
has shot drugs or slept with other men, or possibly slept with prostitutes.
We find ourselves wondering about these things over dinner dates. We look
for any hints of homosexual tendencies, any references to a hypodermic
moment. We try to catch him in the lie we've been told he'll tell. What
could be sadder? We're not allowed to believe anyone anymore. And the reason
we're not isn't so much because of AIDS but because of the anxiety that
ripples around the disease.
So here was Meghan Daum telling the world that the statement "AIDS
has killed love" is not merely applicable to Gay men, as you wrote
in your article. It seems to stretch to everybody who's having to deal
with sexuality in the current era.
Lauritsen: It's certainly not had a good effect on society's
overall attitude towards sex. I think it's horrible that children in grade
school are being taught about "safe sex" and, in some cases,
are being given condoms before they're even capable of having orgasms.
There's something to be said for not having these things prematurely foisted
on gradeschool children.
Zenger's: In fact, Debra Chasnoff's film It's Elementary, which about
teaching grade-school and middle-school children about Gay issues and the
contributions of the Gay community, just premiered in San Diego. At a showing
which the director attended, one person commented that there was hardly
anything in the film about AIDS--which this person was concerned about,
and I must say I found quite refreshing. I actually rather like the idea
of children learning about our community without getting foisted either
with the minutiae of sex--which I think everybody would agree would be
inappropriate for them at those ages--or the incubus of AIDS.
Lauritsen: Yes. I'm sick of AIDS, and I think most Americans
are sick of AIDS. And I think this may be something in our favor. It will
be hard to sustain the AIDS myth when everybody is sick of the whole thing
and doesn't want to hear about it anymore. And so it may be that reality
may break through, if from nothing more than simply a collective sense
of boredom, although I don't know what form it would take.
I used to think it would be quite explosive once the truth about AIDS
gets out. Certainly, given how many tens of thousands of people have died
unnecessarily, you would expect that there would be an explosive social
reaction. But it may not happen that way. It may be that one day, almost
by default, just suddenly it's not really there anymore. I don't know how
it will happen, but somehow they will have to extricate themselves from
it. It will be kind of messy, but it can't go on this way. There's no way
to sustain anything as preposterous as the "HIV/AIDS"
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