Reckless Young Gay Barebackers

Forgive me, please, but I am pissed off to the point of despair.

Doug Pollard, the original ‘Rainbow Reporter’ and for a gay news addict, the voice of God, posted this Guardian article on Facebook.

Simon Papson, an amateur thespian and semi-pro writer of aggrieved letters to the editor, had the following little moment of “I told you so” for yours truly…

No argument from me. I tried to make this very same point right here last year, and was shouted down by a friend of yours as being wrong. “Young gay men only want monogamy and safe sex,” he said. Hmph.

And when I called him on putting words in my mouth…

You didn’t use THOSE EXACT WORDS, but you strongly argued with me when I said the opposite. Even pointed to studies which confirmed that young men were looking only for monogamy and safe sex, to make your point. Any time I mentioned a significant sub-culture of casual unsafe sex among young gay men, you disputed its existence.

The irony here is that I got my head kicked in MCV for weeks by VAC after I raised concerns about HIV infection rates among young men – in particular the fact VAC waited until infection rates began to rise before investing in a prevention campaign that targeted younger gay men specifically.

The problem with what Papson said, in both cases, is the word ‘only’.

As I wrote here, young men have different, age-specific concerns about HIV and sex, relevant to the challenges they’re facing at that point in their lives.  Such as finding partners, forming relationships, dealing with monogamy and infidelity, and figuring out how to have safe, unprotected sex in relationships.

“Not invariably, but generally” <– what I said.

And yes, I cited more than one paper to support that argument.  It’s quite bizarre that people like Papson want to dismiss as unreliable all the research I cite and rely entirely on articles in non-scientific outlets like the Guardian.

Sorry, what the fuck?  How is that more reliable?

Let’s look at that Guardian article.  The headline does all the damage:  “Young gay men fuelling HIV epidemic, study warns”.  Unfortunately, that headline is a close derivative of the headline on the press release issued by the journal that’s publishing the study. The study article itself is not an easy read, so I’m going to try and summarise it in plain English here.

The study analysed the similarity of genetic code taken from HIV in blood samples from 519 HIV-positive patients at a clinic in Belgium over seven years.  This technique is called phylogenetic analysis.  Phylo- means ‘tree’ in Greek, and scientists are basically computing a viral ‘family tree’ showing whose infections are related.

In this study, they found quite a large number of ‘clusters’, where people had viruses similar enough to say they were related. The study found that men in those clusters were younger than men outside of clusters.

Not “young”.  Younger. The median age of those “younger” gay men was 36 years old, compared to 38 years in the non-cluster group.  (PDF p25).

Now, let me get back to Papson.  Papson offers a version of the RYGB meme.  That stands for Reckless Young Gay Barebackers.

When HIV infection rates first started rising, a number of commentators, from Steve Dow to Adam Carr, leapt to the intuitive but wrong conclusion that the rises were being driven by barebacking among young men who never lived through the AIDS crisis and therefore suffered from complacency.

It took a long time for the AIDS Council to get the message across that infections were happening among men in their thirties and forties, and they got their heads kicked repeatedly in the gay press all the while.

As a result, they developed a defensive, kneejerk response to any mention of young gay men and HIV risk, even from their own staff members.

The RYGB meme actually made it harder to raise awareness of the issues facing young gay men.

Papson’s no doubt patting himself on the back for fighting the good fight against a “sub-culture of casual unsafe sex” amongst young gay men;  meanwhile I’m banging my head against a desk…