Kyle Bella
     
Kyle is an MFA student at Goddard College. Previous freelance writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, TruthOut, Colorlines Magazine and Bilerico Project.
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    • Kyle Bella

      You say “I don’t understand a lot” many times throughout the article, but I’m actually very familiar with the difficulties of getting access to healthcare that covers HIV meds. It’s pretty well documented, and I have read up on it. The way you frame everything here is actually patronizing, and it’s unfortunate you have to frame things in that the way. A better thing to ask would be, “How can we improve access to HIV treatment medications and increase the effectiveness of our prevention programs?” And, yes, many would actually argue that my article did nothing to open dialogue. There are plenty of comments below (and above) that show name calling and unwillingness to even acknowledge certain facts about people. There are other, better articles, by people in the health care industry on the challenges of access to appropriate healthcare, not to mention there was not space to talk about the healthcare dimension (though it could certainly be in another piece I write). So while I agree with you in pointing out these healthcare risks, it’d be more productive to have a solutions-based discussion, rather than “I know better than you” one.

    • Kyle Bella

      Thanks for your perspective. I do think that it’s wrong to take one single reaction out of content. As remembrance over traumatic events (or documentaries), grief is a pretty acceptable and normal reaction. I didn’t say I only felt grief, so it seems a little reductive to call me out on that point. As far as your use of the word “unprotected,” I’m going to challenge that. You’re implying some form of sex is protected, and I’m not sure I can agree with that. Every time you have sex, there is some risk— whether physically, emotionally, socially, etc. So nothing is ever protected when it comes to sexuality/sex.

    • Kyle Bella

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful response! You do raise some interesting points. I would like more emphasis on risk reduction techniques (which I am familiar with many), but part of the argument many others here are making is that it’s never okay to emphasize anything other than not using condoms and you’re immediately self-destructive. So there’s something going on there that we need to talk more about.

    • Kyle Bella

      I’m really not saying I have an erotic (or preferred) attachment to not using condoms. I was trying to say I enjoyed it, and despite knowing I “wasn’t supposed to” enjoy, I did. Of course there are many other forms of kink, and certain there are plenty that have their risks as well. I don’t bareback most times I have sex, and wasn’t trying to indicate that. It’s certainly a reasonable question, though, to look at *why* some people are exclusively not using condoms. Or those who have some fetishistic attraction to it. Thanks for the interesting discussion!

    • Kyle Bella

      The statistic is problematic, but I’d argue that those numbers are typically undereported, due to people not feeling comfortable admitting their status. And while, yes, those apps reflect a percentage of total gay/bisexual/queer men, I don’t think it’s fair not to assume a lot of people aren’t barebacking, or that these men are necessarily engaging in more risky behavior. I’ve looked over that infection rate map, and sure, the Southern states rank higher, but NYC, Philadelphia, DC, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. all have VERY high rates of infection, despite allocating significant resources to campaigns, testing, treatment, and so on. To me, it’s clear there is a breakdown SOMEWHERE in how we’re discussing sex and sexuality. To me, that breakdown happens when condom use doesn’t follow a legitimate focus on risk-reduction strategies for particular populations. Of course access to information is unequal in terms of race. I’m not disputing that, but that wasn’t the purpose of the article. I’d love to write more about that, or have people who are strong advocates within those communities right about the challenges (and they already are). But this lack of access to information is part of a larger problem of stigmatizing sexuality in many forms, which is precisely why talking about condom use is not the be-all-end-all of the discussion. It’s a component of what needs to be a much larger conversation. I’m glad you get the message. And I’m sorry others can’t see it, but I’d even say it’s less “maybe barebacking isn’t so bad” (I’m REALLY not condoning all type of behavior, and most times I will use a condom) than it is “Significant percentages of people ARE engaging in barebacking sex. We have a lot of problems related to how we frame our discussions on sexuality, especially for LGBTQ people, or even how we have discussions at all. Because of this observation, we need to consider why risky sex is happening, how the way we talk about it shames people into silence, and how, in breaking those negative patterns, we can find more effective ways to promote more informed, healthy sexuality for all individuals.”

    • Kyle Bella

      Shaming anything, whether it’s the person or the behavior, isn’t okay. Working with people to understand their reasons for having certain kinds of sex and developing treatment models based on that is what works. As far as “bareback advocacy,” that’s not what I’m doing. I’m advocating for creating spaces where people aren’t shamed into feeling like talking about sexual practices or desires isn’t okay. So, yes, it is hard to talk about barebacking sex because, in placing yourself on some moral pedestal, work by closing off the possibility of really dialogue on how everyone can make smarter, more informed choices about risks they take when having sex.

    • Kyle Bella

      I really thank you for this compelling response. I think when you mention my being defensive, I think it’s because a lot of the comments were, in fact, full of hateful language and not structured in the way you’ve structured your post. I have tried to respond to criticisms in ways that both reflect my decision to stand behind this piece 100% and to recognize the editorial limits that prevented me from saying more.  As far as privilege, there have been a lot of claims made on who I am and what my background is (like that I’m gay, which is not true, I actually prefer the term queer, in part because the work I’ve done in these communities has revealed a lot of inequities racially, economically, etc.; or that I’m upper middle class or wealthy, instead I’m a student, scraping by on contract jobs in one of the most expensive cities in the country). Of course I have privilege as a white man and I do not deny that, and didn’t ever mean to suggest that access was universally the same because it’s obviously not. As far as the decision to use the term “barebacking” it did not come lightly, but it a term I have, and many others I have personally spoken to, have used. I’m aware of how it is used in porn, but I’m not trying to fetishize. I’m more looking at a word in common practice and trying to get a discussion going over what it means. I’m open to other alternatives, because “unsafe sex” doesn’t work “sex without condoms” is just not something that sounds like people would be willing to say. I look forward to chatting more!

    • Kyle Bella

      Okay, thank you for this response and for the clarification. I think that if you look at the comments, you’ll see most of them resort to childish name-calling, and make a number of claims which I find to be disingenuous and hateful. I’m glad that’s not the case for you. Having sex without condoms can be self-destructive, but people are so quick to label as people who have sex without condoms as totally clueless. Surely that’s something you can acknowledge and see is pervasive, and damaging to ANY kind of community affected by HIV/AIDS. I certainly wish I had more time to talk about how we can talk about more types of barebacking, but I didn’t have the space to do so. I certainly think barebacking within relationships is barebacking like the first incident I describe, or making a choice to do it in more intentional contexts. This doesn’t mean there isn’t any risk (there is always a big risk), but not every situation is equally. Hopefully in the future I’ll have more of an opportunity to talk about this. Of course there are barriers everywhere, but the burden for these barriers often get placed on victims of poor government social policy or health systems. Of course these policies are in cities all over, was just using Philly as an example of a place where there have been some inroads to barriers in part because there are people are committed to finding a delicate balance between talking about risky behaviors and informing more holistic routines for having pleasurable and risk-reduced sex. I’m glad you’re part of that conversation.

    • Kyle Bella

      Thanks for sharing this. Yes, I don’t do what I did with the French guy anymore. I just use that experience because it’s showed me that you can ways ways of reducing risk, and that conversation you have about sex can be framed in many ways. I do sometimes bareback, like you do, but it with friends and individuals I put my trust in. I just think that it’s so problematic that this discussion is so vilified and so wrong. It might actually be really helpful in spurring a lot of different changes in this conversation.

    • Kyle Bella

      “You don’t think you could be the 1; you don’t even think you’re a part of the 5 because the risk isn’t real to you on an emotional level.” The risk is real, very real, especially after the situation that started the above thoughts. A relative who has AIDS is in the hospital again with pneumonia, so it’s hitting close to home right now especially. But I also know there needs to be a space where it’s okay to recognize mistakes, and work through talking candidly to find better ways of looking at how desire and sexual practice are interconnected.

    • Kyle Bella

      STIs are rampant because they’re spread through oral sex, and nobody in their right mind is going to use a condom while having oral sex, unless they’re paranoid. This is how the *much more common* STIs are spread. As far as the first example, it’s illustrative of one particularly extreme situation, and not a representation of my behavior all of the time. Thanks for calling me an idiot, really makes me want to engage in any substantial conversation with you.

    • Kyle Bella

      Actually, they are. I’ve gotten other comments that have been positive, including from those who work in healthcare and those who are HIV positive. So clearly some people are getting it, maybe not right here on the BuzzFeed main page, but that’s because these forums are designed to spread negative comments. How might you suggest reframing this discussion, since it seems like you have all of the answers. Because you basically just called me a toddler who doesn’t really know how to write well. Is that a good way to get a conversation going?

    • Kyle Bella

      I’ve actually worked a lot with intercity HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations in Philadelphia, working with the Trans Health Conference, a Latino HIV prevention organization, a few organizations focused on campaigns directed toward black MSM, and others. There are resources, studies, free clinicians available for a lot of these populations. City governments, health workers, education programs in schools need to work harder to talk about these programs. Of course I have privileges, but let’s not pretend or diminish the localized HIV prevention work that’s going on. It IS happening, and there are resources and mobilization around this.  As this conversation illustrates, being safer means belitted, called names, and told that people know better than me. Not an effective way to encourage others, especially in these more marginalized populations, to look at changing their behaviors. Something doesn’t fit here.

    • Kyle Bella

      It’s interesting! You’re the first on here that has expressed this opinion (though some have messaged me privately who I already talk to on the internet). I guess it’s funny because I’m not advocating for any kind of behavior, or trying to justify my actions. I just want to open up a dialogue to talk about why behavior/actions can be so differently, and find ways to create spaces where as many people as possible feel comfortable to talk about sex and find the safest ways to do it. Somehow things got misconstrued, I guess opening up that dialogue is a lot harder than expected. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kyle Bella

      I am committed to staying HIV negative. I’m part of an HIV vaccine trial that’s working to help find a cure for everyone with HIV. I keep informed on the developments in terms of medical advances, political shifts, and am aware of a history that means a great deal to my own studies. As part of my HIV vaccine trial, I get a viral RNA blood test every 3 months, as required by the study, to detect for the presence of HIV in my blood. This works within 9 days after every concern of exposure, though my decision to decide when or use a condom or not is now, since that incident, very careful. I use the term “risk” because I work with a lot of clinicians and other health practitioners who favor that term because it shapes the conversation/dialogue better on how to change behaviors. I am imperfect. I make mistakes, but I try to learn from them so that in the future any risk I have from sex is reduced as much as possible. Sometimes that isn’t the case, but this incident I use above has forced me to think about the responsibility of my actions, no matter what you might say or think. I’m open about my sexual practices, my testing history, my status, so there’s nobody who will not have access to that information if they are willing to ask. Don’t make me seems stupid, reckless, or anything similar. It surely isn’t going to help me wanting to engage in a dialogue, and it’s going to do nothing to stop spread of HIV.

    • Kyle Bella

      I’m not encouraging barebacking at all. I don’t support everyone doing it or take pride in it. The piece was about the internal conflicts over sexual behaviors, and trying to understand why sexuality in general is seen as shameful. I think this mentality of labeling my actions as “irresponsible” or “destructive” is not a way to have a good discussion. The less people want to discuss risk reduction, the history of HIV/AIDS, etc., the less likely they’re going to be open to their partners about their past sexual histories, and ways to ensure that they’re both fully aware of the impact their behaviors could have.