1. The discussion started with a question: Why can’t we discuss gay men and sex without shouting?
2. Thrasher highlighted the difference in public reaction between Michael Sam and Michael Johnson: “It’s really different when they can make money off of you.”
Thrasher: “It was really interesting for me to see how overwhelmingly embraced Michael Sam was… There you see the real division of how this country falls. Nobody there largely at that time seemed to care about Michael Johnson, just as he was not a person of much interest to national LGBT groups.”
3. After reporting from 10 college campuses, Thrasher was baffled by the lack of condoms or birth control methods available to students.
Steven: Condoms are the lowest hanging fruit of public health disease control. It’s the most obvious thing that they [colleges] do. You have all these students, they are having sex. You put condoms on the RA’s door, you have them in the hallway, you put them in bowls on the table, you have them in the student health center.
And this college didn’t have them anywhere, they didn’t even have them for sale. Nor could you get a birth control prescription at the college health center. It’s a historically religious institution, I would assume that somewhere on the board of something that’s not how they want it to be… They did not want to deal with it as a public health issue.”
4. Tuller disagreed with the idea that the onus of protection should only be on the HIV-positive partner.
Tuller: “I never really asked people in the ’80s or ’90s whether they were positive or negative because to me it was sort of immaterial — we would be using condoms either way… I never really understood the idea that the onus was solely on the person who was positive to inform the other, when the other had every opportunity to protect themselves should they choose. I mean, it seems to me there’s an equal responsibility if you’re having sex with somebody not to believe whatever they say.”
5. Lorena Bobbitt became the patron saint of the AP Stylebook.
Tuller: “Basically, Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her husband’s dick, made the word ‘penis’ be acceptable in mainstream media.”
6. Tuller described the fear that was pervasive early in the AIDS crisis.
Tuller: “We didn’t have access to constant information all the time. You know, the Times wasn’t it covering it basically at all. I remember GMHC in 1983 sold out Madison Square Garden for a benefit and no one had ever done that before and the Times didn’t have a word about it the next day, even though there were — I don’t know how many people can fit in Madison Square Garden — but it was a huge crowd and there was nothing.
The New York Native was actually the only publication covering it, so people were looking every Monday and seeing what was the latest because we didn’t have access to all the studies and what was going on among the researchers.
There just wasn’t a way to get information. You really didn’t know in the beginning could you kiss even — forget about fucking — but sort of the other basic touching, it was very, very scary. We just didn’t have good information or much information for the first few years.
It was pretty scary. I remember one time for three days I had a cold and my mom was freaking out and she was calling me constantly, and she was like, ‘I’m worried you have AIDS,’ and I said I don’t think so it’s just a simple cold. Every time you had a sniffle or a little mark on your skin you were terrified of what it was or was it going to be the start of something — or you wouldn’t see somebody for six months and you would be wondering were they dead or were they in the hospital, you know, what had happened to them.”
8. Because of HIV/AIDS, there is a generational divide when gay men talk about sex.
Thrasher: “There is this demarcation of the age of 30 where you have a big difference in how gay men approach sex because you came of age sexually either before or after it was assumed to be a death sentence. I was with my sometimes-boyfriend in Europe this summer, he’s 10 years older and he talked about when he was first realizing he was gay and becoming sexually active he thought OK, there are certain things I want to do. There was a project he was involved with that was supposed to last five years and he just assumed he was not going to live.”
9. Will the Hobby Lobby decision affect the way people talk about Truvada?
Jones: Will the Hobby Lobby decision, which was about birth control and women’s rights, prevent its gay employees from having access to Truvada? Have you noticed that parallel at all? Do you think it’s overzealous to worry?
Tuller: I don’t think it’s overzealous to worry because I think the Supreme Court could do more or less what it wants…but I don’t think it’s unreasonable. I think the Hobby Lobby decision leaves a lot of questions open and that’s a really good question, I don’t think we have any idea yet if some corporations would be using it in that way. They could also say any gay anything is against their moral values, so we’re not going to provide medication for people with HIV I suppose, one could make the argument, I doubt it would get very far. I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.
Thrasher: “On that point, I think the debate stands to be even more charged than it would be around HIV medication. Along the lines of fundamentalist politics, there is some compassion around disease after it’s been acquired. But this pill will be framed strictly about pleasure. I think the real problem with the pill from the time that it first came out until Rush Limbaugh in the past couple months is saying, ‘Americans are having pleasure, and sex should not be pleasurable, and women should not be having sexual pleasure.’ So I think that with something like Truvada — that’s a powder keg. Saying that we should just allow people to enjoy having sex that’s not procreative.”
11. The panelists talked about the challenges of covering sex and sexuality.
Jones: “America loves talking about sex, I’m pretty sure we love talking about sex, I’m pretty sure we love porn but there are also these silences. The three of us in different ways have been writing about sex and sexuality for a few minutes and I’m interested in some of the experiences you had in coverage.”
Tuller: “It was very hard to say a lot of things or be very specific about sex, which we wanted to be. I mean — pre-seminal fluid. Nobody really wrote about pre-seminal fluid in the newspaper, which was an important factor in talking about the relative risks of different behaviors.”
Thrasher: “At the time, the Times had a 44-paragraph obit of [Bayard Rustin] and it’s not until paragraph 41 or 42 that they said the Village Voice alleged that he was a homosexual.”
12. The audience began with a question about the generational divide in sexuality.
Q: “America loves the idea of sex and the fantasy of sex, but not the reality of sex. So my question for Dave is, do you feel like the younger generation has not connected with the reality of what gay sex is about, gay life is about? Why is it that people are barebacking and not educating themselves… Is there a disconnect between what the older generation went through and what young gay men are experiencing now?”
Tuller: “It would be nice if they could figure out how to take care of themselves and stay healthy, but I think that maybe that’s not what 22-year-olds do. People think that they’re immortal and they don’t think about what’s going to happen when they’re older.
15. Listen to the full audio of the talk below! There’s lots more to think about.
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