11.21.13 Editor’s Desk

By : Steve Blanchard
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SteveBlanchardHeadshotIf this issue of Watermark makes you uncomfortable, I’m glad. The bug chaser story makes me incredibly uneasy-and I wrote it!

My job has placed me in unpleasant situations before. But sitting across a small cafe table and listening to a young man talk about his immediate goal of contracting the virus that causes AIDS was heartbreaking-and confusing.
Why in the world would someone want to test positive for HIV? I’ve written in this space before about my experiences with the test, which I’m sure are universal. Even when you’re certain results will come back negative, the wait for that conclusion from the 15-minute test is excruciating.

But bug chasing is a very real activity within the gay community, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. It may be a small percentage of our ranks who actively seek out HIV infection, but any percentage is too large.

Finding sources for this story wasn’t easy. In fact, I had to be somewhat resourceful and misleading to find the young men we feature. It was an awkward experience posting a faux “personal ad” on two social networking/dating sites, one geared specifically to those seeking unsafe sex and another one dedicated to spreading HIV infections.

I was amazed at the number of messages and “hits” my simple and vague profile received. By simply asking if “any studs wanted to be injected by a Poz Top,” my inbox was immediately flooded.

That’s crass wording, I know. But I didn’t create the profile on a whim. I read many of the ads listed, and saw a pattern in the language used to ensure a hook-up.

With each eager bug chaser who responded, I was direct and immediately told him I was a writer wanting to learn more about their desire to contract HIV. Reactions to my intent were varied.

Several were offended that I was using their community and the practice of willingly spreading HIV to “sell papers.” Some were simply miffed that I wasted their time and distracted them from finding a positive partner.
Others simply stopped corresponding.

The editorial team at Watermark discussed this story on bug chasing for several months, and each time, it spiraled into discussions about free will, medications, AIDS research, historical timelines and stereotypes. Discussions went in even more directions when I presented the story to our advertising staff.

It was evident this would stir discussion, and I know some people will not be happy with our approach. I’m ready for your emails about perpetuating the stigma of what it means to have HIV. Hopefully this story will disturb you. I want it to make you angry. Honestly, that was my goal from the minute I put up those profiles on these dating sites back in September.

We are fortunate to live in a time where anti-retroviral medications make HIV and AIDS a manageable condition.
Overwhelming numbers of funerals resulting from the disease are a thing of the 1980s and 90s, and I’m thankful the younger generation of LGBTs will not have to experience what so much of our community endured over those two decades.

There’s more good news about HIV now than ever. It’s manageable. But HIV isn’t a game, and most of our community, especially those living a positive life, know that. This cover story in no way seeks to imply that HIV-positive individuals are to be feared or pitied.

In fact, I hope our readers understand that those living with the infection are responsible adults who simply must take extra precautions to remain healthy and to ensure the health of those they love.

The timing of this cover is no accident. Dec. 1 marks World AIDS Day, and organizations around the globe and here locally are commemorating the day with special events. I encourage all of our readers to attend at least one of these solemn events, whether you have been directly affected by HIV or not.

Look at it as an educational experiment. Like with our cover of this issue of Watermark, you may be a little uncomfortable at first, but you’ll walk away with a knowledge you can use to help us push HIV/AIDS to just a reference in the chronicles of history.

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