Category Archives: Health Information

Gay History: How Christians Turned Against Gay Conversion Therapy

Nothing raises my hackles more than watching any documentary on ex-gay conversion therapy! It is bad enough when adults submit themselves to this degrading process, brought about almost inevitably by peer and social pressure. However, when parents send their below age-of-consent children to places like a Love In Action/Refuge conversion therapies, one really has to wonder just how shallow parental love can be! These so-called ex-gay conversion therapies by a whole range of organisations that fell under the Exodus International umbrella display everything that is wrong, and evil, about Christianity: hypocrisy, prejudice, discrimination, stigma, deceit, misinformation, guilt, manipulation, and out-and-out lies to force an antiquated system of belief on teenagers at a difficult and confusing time of their lives, a time where personalities and sexuality are running rampant through rapidly changing bodies. We know, for a fact, that gay people cannot be turned straight. You’ve just gotta love how some of these ‘ex-gay” members love to flaunt their wives, kids and marriages as proof that the therapies work! Denial can be a strong motivator in some people’s lives. Both the 30% suicide rate amongst ex-gay conversions…probably motivated by the so-called therapy apparently not working…and that there are ex-ex-gay groups for those who attended therapy sessions and yet still found themselves with gay inclinations would seem to say all that needs to be said about the high failure rate of conversion therapy.

Obama’s call to ban the practice reflects a tectonic shift within the community that once championed it.

ANDREW KELLY/REUTERS

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Christian right poured money and muscle into promoting the message that homosexuality was a curable disorder. It advocated conversion therapy, which promised to turn gay men and women straight. But last week, when President Obama announced his support for a national ban on such therapies, few voices on the Christian right spoke up in protest. The announcement confirmed the evaporation of support for these approaches among the communities that once embraced them. As Alan Chambers, who once ran America’s largest ex-gay ministry, told me, “sexual orientation doesn’t change.”  

It was a shift rooted in the accrual of evidence and experience. After she came out as a lesbian in high school, Julie Rodgers’ conservative Christian parents urged her to join a ministry in Texas to help make her straight. Ministry leaders promised her that if she continued praying, reading the Bible, attending meetings, and of course, refusing to identify as gay, her sexual orientation would eventually change and she could even marry a man. Rodgers didn’t want to go, but she did want the food, shelter, and love her parents offered. So she agreed.

The program worked great—except that it didn’t. After a decade of compliance, neither Rodger’s orientation nor those of her fellow group members budged toward straightness. And worse, the empty promises and feeling that she was “less than” normal left her drowning in a sea of shame.

It’s a sad story, but one that grows gloomier when you consider that Rodgers is one of the lucky ones. Countless LGBT youths have been subjected to much worse, not just in Christian ministries, but also at the hands of licensed counselors who perform what is known as “reparative” or “conversion therapy.” These controversial mental health practices, intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, are ineffective and often drive participants to depression, anxiety, drug use, or suicide.

In recent years, however, conversion therapy has been much maligned if not completely discredited. Almost all major medical and public welfare organizations oppose it, and even conservative Christians—once counted among its strongest supporters—are changing their minds. New Jersey, California, and Washington, D.C., have already outlawed ex-gay therapy for minors. By all accounts, therapies attempting to cure gayness appear to be going the way of the buggy whip.

But this hasn’t always been so. According to Kenneth Lewes, in his book, Psychoanalysis and Male Homosexuality, some began to view same-sex erotic behavior less as sin than as a mental-health disorder as early as the 19th century. This was true of other “sinful” behaviors as well—for example, drunkenness morphed into alcoholism and demon possession became schizophrenia or a personality disorder.

The shift was spurred on by the work of Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s, even though the iconic neurologist was pessimistic about either the possibility or desirability of changing homosexual orientation to heterosexual. Freud’s belief that human beings are born bisexual and can move along a continuum of sexuality formed the basis of the belief that homosexuals could be “cured.”

This way of thinking about sexual orientation persisted into the mid-20th century as many Americans fantasized about an idyllic “traditional family” in the Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver molds. By the start of the American cultural revolution in the 1960s, many mental-health professionals, clergy, and politicians supported the idea that homosexuality was a mental-health disorder that could be cured through some combination of prayer and “therapy,” which included electroshock therapy, masturbatory reconditioning, and giving patients nausea-inducing drugs while forcing them to view homosexual erotica.

“One reason why homosexuals are so rarely cured is that they rarely try treatment,” proclaimed a 1965 Time magazine article. “Too many of them actually believe that they are happy and satisfied the way they are.”

But the late 60s and 70s brought on a blitzkrieg of social change. Women’s liberationists energized the feminist movement, the conflict in Vietnam provoked an anti-war movement, a growing awareness of ecological degradation brought on the environmental movement, and an increasingly mobilized LGBT community morphed into a powerful gay-rights movement.

In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental health disorders. This inflamed many conservatives, especially the Christians among them, who were now mobilizing in the public square against what they believed was a growing tumor of secularism.

Christian pastors promoted anti-gay messages from their pulpits, even advocating the idea that HIV/AIDs was a special form of God’s wrath and judgment against human sinfulness. Christian funders helped bankroll ex-gay ministries like Exodus International, which grew into a coalition of more than 80 ministry partners across 34 states. In 1998, Christian political groups even spent $600,000 on pro-conversion therapy ads in The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Robert Knight of the Family Research Council called it “the Normandy landing in the culture war.”

As a result, ex-gay therapy experienced something of a resurgence in the 1990s. Newspapers often treated it as a medically viable option, and Newsweek ran a sympathetic cover story in 1998.

But the foundations of this effort began crumbling at the turn of the 21st century. While peer-reviewed evidence for the efficacy of aversive therapies was lacking, a growing body of scientific studies indicated that it was not effective in altering subjects’ sexual orientations and was potentially harmful. (The main study cited in support of conversion therapy was conducted by Robert L. Spitzer, who later apologized and admitted his data was tainted, unreliable, and misinterpreted.) After reviewing such studies, major medical organizations—the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Organization, National Association of Social Workers, World Health Organization, and others—systematically repudiated these practices as harmful.

While science was discrediting conversion therapy, high-profile ex-gay leaders were either apologizing and defecting to the other side or being exposed as frauds. John Paulk, a man who had been a vocal and visible supporter of gay conversion for more than a decade and claimed to be happily married to a former lesbian, was photographed in a Washington, D.C., gay bar in 2000. Three years later, it was discovered that Michael Johnston, founder of “National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day,” was having unprotected sex with men he’d met online despite being HIV-positive. In 2006, Ted Haggard, a fiery opponent of gay rights and then president of the National Association of Evangelicals, admitted to having gay sex with a male prostitute after unsuccessful attempts to change his orientation through counseling. A few years later, John Smid, former executive director of the ex-gay advocacy group “Love in Action,” apologized and said he “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.” These names are only a sampling.

By the second decade of the 21st century, the scientific foundation of reparative therapy had eroded, every major medical association had repudiated it, the movement’s leaders were falling away, and viral horror stories from former participants were popping up across the web.

But the death-knell sounded in July of 2013 when Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, America’s largest ex-gay Christian ministry apologized to the LGBT community and shuttered his organization. Chambers once claimed he knew “tens of thousands of people who have successfully changed their sexual orientation.” But last week, he told me “99.9 percent of people I met through Exodus’ ministries had not experienced a change in orientation.”

Chambers’ announcement seemed to unleash a broader shift among conservative Christians, the last defense against reparative therapy’s demise. Julie Rodgers, the ex-gay ministry survivor from Texas, now serves on the ministry staff at Wheaton College, one of America’s most prominent evangelical universities, where she has spoken against ex-gay therapy. Russell Moore, the political pointman for the Southern Baptist Convention, has publicly repudiated the practice. Even the opinion editor at the school newspaper for Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, editorialized against it.

In 2011—roughly half a century from gay conversion therapy’s heyday—only 24 percent of Americans said they believe it works. The number is presumably even lower today.

While some disparate pockets of support remain, they are waning. The day when ex-gay therapy enjoyed legitimacy in mainstream medicine, media, religion and society is now heading for the history books. And in its place, there is a growing consensus that such practices are distasteful, irresponsible, unethical—and perhaps should be illegal.

Religious Faith Linked To Suicidal Behaviour In LGBQ Adults

(Reuters Health) – Although religiosity is generally tied to reduced suicide risk, the opposite may be true for some young lesbian, gay and questioning adults, researchers say.

Based on data from more than 21,000 U.S. college students, researchers found that greater religious feeling and engagement was tied to increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for participants who identified as LGBQ.

“Religion has typically been seen as something that would protect somebody from thoughts of suicide or trying to kill themselves, and in our study our evidence suggests that may not be the case for everyone, particularly for those we refer to as sexual minority people,” said one of the study authors, John Blosnich of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University in Morgantown.

Previous research suggests that belonging to a religious faith reduces risky behavior in young people, such as substance use and unsafe sex, Blosnich noted in a telephone interview. Religiosity has also been linked to a lower risk of suicidal behaviors, but there is some evidence to suggest that the impact of religion may be different for lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning (LGBQ) individuals.

The study team analyzed survey data from the 2011 University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium on 21,247 college-enrolled 18- to 30-year-olds, including 2.3 percent who reported being lesbian or gay, 3.3 percent who identified as bisexual and 1.1 percent who were questioning their sexuality.

All participants rated the importance of religion in their lives on a 1 to 5 scale, from “not important” to “very important.” Between 21 percent and 28 percent of LGBQ participants rated the importance of religion to them at a 4 or 5, compared with 39 percent of heterosexuals, researchers report in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Questioning youth had the highest rate of recent thoughts about suicide, at 16.4 percent, compared with 3.7 percent of heterosexuals, 6.5 percent of lesbian/gay individuals and 11.4 percent of bisexuals. Lifetime suicide attempts were reported by 20 percent of bisexual youth, 17 percent of questioning youth, 14 percent of gay or lesbian youth and 5 percent of heterosexuals.

For bisexual youth, the importance of religion was not associated with suicidal behavior, while religiosity was protective against thoughts of suicide and suicidal attempts in the heterosexual youth. But lesbians and gays who reported that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts. For lesbians only, religion was associated with a 52 percent increased likelihood of suicidal thinking.

Questioning individuals were almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide recently if they reported that religion was very important to them.

Among lesbians and gays who said religion was not important to them, there was no association between sexual orientation and recent suicide attempts. But being homosexual did significantly increase the likelihood of recent suicide attempts in people who said that religion was very important to them.

“Some sexual minority folks are really at odds. They feel very confused or they feel that they are in conflict with their faith because of who they are. That’s a very scary place to be in,” Blosnich said.

“We are definitely not saying that religion, period, is bad; it’s not,” he added. “There are many sexual minority people who find great strength and great sources of support in their religious communities, but unfortunately we hear many stories about people who do not.”

Faith-based partners in public health suicide prevention and intervention services “should be willing and equipped to assist all people who seek their services, regardless of sexual orientation,” the study authors write.

The study is limited by a lack of detail about whether a participant’s specific religion had stigmReligious Faith Linked To Suicidal Behaviour In LGBQ Adults

atizing views of sexual minorities, the authors note. Because the study population was drawn from an academic setting, it may not represent the general population, they add.

“We want to engage religious and faith-based providers in a way that benefits all people,” Blosnich said. “Faith-based communities are major participants in suicide prevention. We just want to make sure that the services that people provide through faith-based organizations or through community faith partners reach everyone who comes to them for help, regardless of sexual orientation.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/2qt3gYC American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online March 15, 2018.

Former Love In Action Leader Marries His Same-Sex Partner

John Smid, the former director of Memphis-based ex-gay ministry Love In Action, has announced his marriage to partner Larry McQueen. The two married in Oklahoma on Sunday, November 16th.

Smid has been living as an out gay man for several years now, and he’s been in a relationship with McQueen for one year. Gay marriage just became legal in Oklahoma last month. The couple live in Paris, Texas, where Smid moved from his Memphis home in the summer of 2013.

Smid’s journey from ex-gay leader to happily out gay man has been a long one. He was promoted to the role of executive director of Love in Action in September 1990, and in 1994, the organization moved its ministry to Memphis. Love in Action operated here quietly until 2005, when protests over a youth “straight” camp called Refuge sparked a national media firestorm.

In early June 2005, Zach Stark, a White Station High School student, posted these words on his MySpace page: “Today, my mother, father, and I had a very long ‘talk’ in my room, where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays.”

That fundamentalist program, described by Stark in a later post as a “boot camp,” was Refuge, a two-week day camp where gay kids were taught how to become straight kids. After Stark’s MySpace post, local LGBT equality advocates held a week of protests outside Love In Action, and the Memphis ministry made national headlines, including a story in The New York Times.

Love In Action eventually discontinued the Refuge program and moved to an adults-only conversion therapy model. All the while, Smid was struggling with his own beliefs. During the week of protests in 2005, Smid met Memphis filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox, who was working on a documentary about Love In Action. Smid told the Flyer in a previous interview that it was Fox’s influence that helped open his eyes to the fact that conversion therapy was doing more harm than good.

“As we got together, we were willing to lay aside our agenda and get to know one another as people,” Smid said of Fox. “That was very instrumental in my processing where I am today.”

Smid eventually resigned as director of Love In Action in 2008, and he founded Grace Rivers, a monthly fellowship for gay Christians. At the time, he remained married to his wife. But they eventually divorced in 2011. Earlier this year, Smid told The Lone Star Q, a Texas LGBT news organization, that he couldn’t continue living the rest of his life in a marriage that didn’t feel right.

“I’ve believed in faith that something was going to happen, and it never did, and so at my age, right now in my life, I don’t have that many good years left in me, and I can’t live like this for the rest of my life, so I said no I’m not willing to keep pushing after something that’s not going to happen,” Smid told The Lone Star Q, regarding his divorce.

Smid met McQueen three years ago, but they were just “acquaintances with common friends,” wrote Smid in his Facebook announcement of their marriage Sunday.

“I gradually got to know him over time until we reached a place in our lives that we saw we wanted to get to know one another through a dating relationship. As we dated we shared our vision for life, our personal philosophies, and our faith values. We found a compatibility that was comfortable and exciting,” Smid said.

He went on to say, “I realized this week that my relationship with Larry is a mirror I see in every day. For most of my life, the mirror I saw reflected my mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. The reflection I see today with Larry shows me the positive things in my life, my strengths, gifts, and talents. I see how I can succeed at a mutual intimate and loving relationship. For this, I am truly grateful.”

Ex-Gay Group Exodus International Shuts Down, President Apologises

Exodus International, a group that bills itself as “the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality,” announced June 19 that it’s shutting its doors.

Exodus’s board unanimously agreed to close the ministry and begin a separate one, though details about the new ministry were unavailable at the time of the organization’s press release.

The announcement came just after Exodus president Alan Chambers released a statement apologizing to the gay community for many actions, including the organization’s promotion of efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation.

“I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents,” Chambers said. “I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite—or worse.”

The announcement comes at a critical point for gay rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue two potentially decisive rulings on gay marriage and public opinion shifts rapidly in favor of gay rights and even gay marriage.

A recent Gallup Poll showed that 59 percent of Americans now view gay or lesbian relations as “morally acceptable,” a 19-point swing since 2001 and the biggest change seen on any social issue, including divorce, extramarital affairs and other issues.

Chambers disavowed reparative therapy at the annual Gay Christian Network conference in January 2012. “Alan has been moving this way for awhile … but this apology is much more explicit and leaves no room for support for change therapies or demonizing gays.” said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College who has long observed the ex-gay movement.

“Exodus has been a lighting rod for Christian discussion about homosexuality over the years and with today’s events will probably continue to be for awhile.”

John Paulk, who was spotted at a gay bar in Washington D.C. in 2000 and left his role as chairman of Exodus, also recently apologized for the reparative therapy he once promoted.

Chambers announced the closure of Exodus at the ministry’s 38th annual conference in Irvine, Calif. Local affiliated Exodus ministries, which are autonomous, will continue, but not under the name or umbrella of Exodus.

Exodus began in 1976 by a gay man, Frank Worthen. “Perhaps nothing has brought Exodus into the mainstream of evangelicalism more than its embrace by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family,” wrote Christianity Today in 2007. The ministry has faced some challenges in recent years, including a split with Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago and dissolved partnerships.

In his apology, Chambers acknowledged stories of people who went to Exodus for help only to experience more trauma.

“I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope,” he said. “In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me.”

On Thursday, journalist Lisa Ling’s program “God & Gays,” which features Chambers among others, will air on The Oprah Network. “The organization needs to shut down. Shut down!” a man in the trailer tells Chambers.

References

Domestic Violence A ‘Silent Epidemic’ In Gay Relationships

Back in my dim, dark past I was picked up one night in the Midnight Shift by a very cute guy. Nothing odd about that…until he took me to the back of the bar and introduced me to his boyfriend. The intention was obvious, they were both good looking men…and I didn’t say no. The sex was great and both guys seemed quite at ease in the threesome situation, and I stayed the night. However, the next morning was a real eye-opener…over breakfast, things took a real turn to the dark side…and I was caught right in the middle of it…with no idea what to do. Graeme…the guy who had picked me up the last evening…was relentlessly verbally abused by his partner, Peter. It was as though I wasn’t even there, as the abuse went on around me, and needless to say, it was a very uncomfortable breakfast. It seemed that Graeme could neither do, nor say, anything right. I never witnessed any physical abuse, but you could feel it underlying the verbals. Peter ordered Graeme to drive me home, and said he’d be timing it. I felt so bad for Graeme, as he was a really lovely, gentle guy. We got to my apartment building and I asked him if he would like to come in for a coffee…but he stated the obvious! If he wasn’t home in the allotted time, he’d cop it. A number of months later, I ran into Graeme in my local watering hole. The whole puck-up thing happened, though this time he was on his own. When I questioned what was happening with Peter, he said they’d parted company. I mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Graeme and I then went on to have a fuck-buddy thing for about 4 years. Last time I saw him…about 20 years ago now…he was in a happy relationship with another guy. I all my years on the gay scene, both amongst a large, close social circle, and in my day-zoo-day picks ups, fuck buddies and one night stands, that was the only incidence of gay domestic violence that I’ve ever encountered. However, it made me very aware of its existence, and how it can be so easily covered up just by presenting the normal semblance of a relationship. It did make me wonder just how much could have been going on amongst those I did know.

Domestic violence has become a “silent epidemic” in the gay and lesbian community despite being the subject of increasing scrutiny in heterosexual relationships, according to the AIDS Council of NSW.

Roughly one in three lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) couples experience domestic violence. Those statistics are echoed among the general population.

After years of fighting to prove their love is valid, LGBTI victims of domestic violence can feel like they are in another closet, making it harder to get help.

Russ Vickery was six months into his first gay relationship when the violence began.

“We went out for dinner and then drinks at a local pub … he got angry about something and the night ended with me having a broken nose,” Vickery says

Same-sex couple Russ Vickery (L) and Matthew Parsons have both been in domestic violence situations in their previous relationships. CREDIT: PAUL JEFFERS

“After the first time he was very apologetic and it was never going to happen again.” But it did happen, again and again over a period of five years, culminating in Vickery being thrown down a set of stairs at home in front of his children.

For Matthew Parsons, domestic violence came in other forms – psychological, financial and emotional abuse.

The smallest of triggers would set off a torrent of abuse, like the time he left the do not disturb sign on a hotel room door.

“When we returned, the room hadn’t been serviced for towels and so he flipped out and threw champagne, strawberries and chocolate across the room. I spent the night crying in the parking lot.”

Parsons had no control over his own finances either. The final straw came when his partner knowingly withheld from him the few dollars he needed to purchase lunch.

“I thought, you don’t even think of me as human, I’m just your play thing. That was a really horrible realisation to come to.”

It took both men years to realise they were experiencing domestic abuse, which is little talked about in the LGBTI community.

“He kept telling me that when two men get involved in a relationship, things turn physical,” says Vickery, who had been in a 17-year marriage prior to coming out. “I had no barometer so I just assumed that was how it worked.”

Parsons says the gay and lesbian community has spent so long trying to prove their love is valid, they are afraid to ruin it by admitting domestic abuse occurs.

“There’s an unspoken fear that if we start to tell the mainstream community that actually sometimes our relationships are toxic and horrible and abusive, then that will be used against us to say, ‘see it’s all unnatural and a sin anyway’.”

Vickery likens it to coming out a second time.

“A lot of people ask me why I didn’t leave [sooner] … but I’d come out and told everyone it was a wonderful thing. I didn’t want to come out again…”

ACON chief executive, Nicolas Parkhill, says for this reason, domestic violence is under-reported within the LGBTI community.

And because same-sex domestic violence “doesn’t look the same” as in heterosexual relationships, people don’t always recognise it, Parkhill says.

Unique to LGBTI victims is the fear the abusive partner will “out” them to family, friends and work colleagues, or reveal their HIV status.

Within the LGBTI community abuse is more frequently reported by women and transgender males than by gay men but Parkhill says more research is needed to determine the full extent of the problem.

He applauds the naming of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year which has already raised the profile of domestic violence in the community, but says “the silent epidemic within this public profile raising is how that plays out in relationships that aren’t perceived as ‘the normal’.”

More needs to be done to raise awareness of domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships, Parkhill says, and more government funding is needed for LGBTI-specific support services.

Matthew Parsons remembers calling a domestic violence hotline only to discover it was run by a Christian organisation.

“They were very unhelpful to say the least and I thought from that experience there wasn’t help out there, which isn’t true,” he says.

He eventually found help through the website Another Closet and counselling which encouraged him to do a “pack and dash” – fleeing while his partner was out.

The stair incident was the catalyst for Vickery to leave, but it still took him a year to come to terms with the relationship loss.

The men have been together now for four years and finally know what it is like to feel happy and safe.

Drawing on those experiences, they co-created a highly acclaimed cabaret show My Other Closet about domestic violence in gay relationships, for the Sydney Mardi Gras festival in 2013 and have plans to revive the show in Melbourne.

“[Our] horrible relationships … taught us both everything we never want to have in a relationship again,” Parsons says.

“We want to turn our negative experiences into a positive and put the message out there … that abuse is abuse and it’s the same in any relationship.”

Reference

Getting On With It! A 37 Year Retrospective of Life with HIV/AIDS (UPDATED)

The challenge of writing about 37 years of living with HIV/AIDS isn’t so much to write tomes about what actually was witnessed over that period. That is easy to do, and I could ramble on forever about it. The challenge lies in being objective and succinct, to tone down the schmaltz and sentimentality and cut to the chase. Not as easy as one may think, as these were the most challenging, relentlessly ruthless and heartbreaking years of my life. But if survival is the gauge of ones strength and tenacity, then I have come out at this end of it with flying colours. Indeed, the cup is half full!

The author at 65

So what was it really like in 1982 to be reading snippets in our local gay press about this mysterious illness in The States that seemed to be targeting gay men who frequented the saunas, and quickly killing them? Well, cynicism and disbelief to start with, and the surety that within a short period of time they would find an antibiotic to clear up yet another STD. Soon the snippets were to become columns, then pages as the mysterious and deadly illness leapt from the shores of America and found its way here.

Our response was mixed. The first recorded case of HIV at home was 1982, and the first death in 1983. We had our usual ratbags who yelled and screamed about God’s vengeance on the evil, sick and perverted gay lifestyle (obviously a different God to the compassionate, all-forgiving one that I had heard about), the advocates of hate who demanded quarantine for all infected persons, and those who either quietly or vocally wished that we would all die or just go away. Not that easy folks!

Thankfully, common sense prevailed and both the government and the grassroots gay community combined to put both AIDS Councils and NGO programs in place. Our quick response was instrumental in Australia always being at the forefront of HIV/AIDS care. Within 2 years every state had an AIDS Council under the national umbrella of NAPWA (National Association of People with AIDS), and the formation of support organisations such as The Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (named after the first person to die from AIDS in Australia), Community Support Network (CSN) and Ankali. Without these organisations life would have been grim for those infected. In 1985 testing was introduced. It was a bit of a strange affair in the early days. Due to hysteria and discrimination no one wanted their personal details on a database, so you chose a name, and Albion Street Centre issued you with a number that then became your ID. You had a blood test, and waited for two weeks – talk about high anxiety – to get your result. I had a mystery illness in 1982, a flu-type illness that wasn’t the flu, and already suspected that I had sero-converted and was going to come up HIV+. I was right. Counseling? Oh yeah, we had a lot of that back then. “You’ve got about 2 years to live”. Shrug shoulders “Okay”. And off we went knowing the inevitable was rapidly approaching, and it was time to PARTY!!! What else could you do?

However there were horror stories. The disgusting treatment of young Eve Van Grafhorst is something for all Australians to be ashamed of. Born in 1982, she was infected with HIV via a blood transfusion. When she attempted to enrol in her Kincumber pre-school in 1985, parents threatened to withdraw their children due to the (supposed) risk of infection. The family was literally hunted out of town, and forced to leave the country and go to NZ. I will never forget the sight of this poor, frail girl on her way to the airport. I, like many others, was horrified that this could happen in Australia. Thankfully, her NZ experience was quite the opposite, and she lived a relatively normal life until her death in 1993 at 11 years of age. Her parents received a letter from Lady Di praising her courage.

Eve van Grafhorst was diagnosed with HIV and hounded out of Australia, but her legacy endures

Meanwhile, the Australian nightmare was well and truly hitting home. My first close friend, Andrew Todd, died in 1986. At that time there was no dedicated AIDS ward, and Andrew was shifted between wards as beds were needed for other cases. He died on Boxing Day in A&E (called St Christopher’s ward, due to people usually just “travelling” through it on their way to a dedicated ward) at St, Vincent’s Hospital In Darlinghurst. It is interesting to note here that the Sisters of Charity, who founded this hospital, put the hospital at the centre of HIV care very early in the epidemic, and also provided palliative dare through the attached a Sacred Heart Hospice. I had the sad duty of ringing all my friends at a party to tell them the sad news. Party pooper recognition acknowledged! Ward 17 at St Vincent’s eventually became the dedicated AIDS ward, and for the next 10 years was never empty. Other hospitals such as Westmead hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons; full contamination clothing for those working with HIV people, rooms not being cleaned, meals left outside doors. Even the poor old mosquito copped a hiding as a means of contamination, along with toothbrushes, glasses, cutlery and crockery. An advertising campaign featuring the Grim Reaper bowling down poor people created an apocalyptic vision of HIV that scared the life out of everyone. It was quickly withdrawn. In the interim, my 2 years became 4, which became 6 followed by 8. My life became a haze of alcohol and cigarettes, not shared alone.

In the 80’s I held a lot of parties with anywhere from 40- 60 friends attending. By 1996, if I had tried to hold a party I would have been lucky to have dug up 10 friends to attend. In the blink of an eye my social circle was effectively wiped off the face of the earth. Hospitals, hospices, funerals and wakes became the dreaded regular events. It was death on a relentless and unforgiving scale. The Quilt Project became the focus of our sorrow, and it’s regular unfoldings and name readings were tear-filled times of remembrance and reminiscence, along with the yearly Candlelight Rally. I attended until I became so empty that I could no longer bear it. I submitted my names but no longer attended. In the early 90’s four friends died close together – two from AIDS, one a heart attack and one cancer. This was a particularly heavy blow as two of these friends had been regular “gutter drag” partners, and that part of my life effectively ended. In a perverse way, it seemed strange that the Big A wasn’t the only thing stalking our lives.

Ready to do a quilt unfolding at the Government Pavilion, Sydney Showgrounds, around 1991. From left Peter McCarthy, Peter Gilmore, Bevan Lambert, Steve Thompson, Tim Alderman.

Despite its reputation for being human Ratsac (the Concorde Study in France named it such, after conducting an unethical trial; turns out they were correct!) I started taking AZT when my CD4 count started to take a dive. Hard work, long hours, heavy drinking, chain smoking, a shit diet and emotional turmoil didn’t help. Pub culture became lifestyle. Did several drug trials – D4T, which was sort of successful, though the same class of drug as AZT. Also p24 VLP (Very Light Protein) which proposed that stimulating the p24 antigen may help control HIV. Total waste of my time. It did nothing. We started alternating drugs – 6 months on AZT, 6 on D4T, 6 on DDI, 6 on DDC. Perversely it seemed to keep the wolf from the door. Dosage was huge. Everyone on it ended up with kidney problems and peripheral neuropathy. Prophylactics added to the drug burden. In the meantime there was no HIV dental service and our teeth rotted or fell out due to bouts of candida. I left work in 1993 after being seriously knocked around by viral pneumonia which should have killed me…but didn’t.

Like many, I went on every drug or alternative trial that came my way. There are those who have described us guinea pigs as brave, or “heroes”, but we certainly didn’t feel like that at the time, despite it being a very selfless act. The thinking at such a desperate time was that…well, if it works for me, the benefit will flow onto everyone else! But there were, in the early days at least, more failures than successes. D4T:FAILURE…caused anaemia; P24-VLP:FAILURE…was hoped it would boost the p24 antigen – it did nothing: Goat Serum:FAILURE…though I did get a very scary skin rash from it; Vitrasert Implants: FAILURE…though due more to HAART eradicating the scourge of CMV retinitis. Were intended to leach Ganciclovir into the eye over a 9 month period, thus eliminating the need to have it injected into the eye regularly. Two minor operations to insert them, with an initial estimate of a 4% chance of developing cataracts. Turned out to be a 100% chance, thus further operations to remove the cataracts. Fun, baby!

I was shuffled onto the pension, and given rent subsidised housing by DOH (Department of Housing). The subsidy seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, weren’t we all eventually going to be killed by the Big H, so no one would be on it for that long? Famous last words! My alcohol consumption and chain smoking increased, if that was possible! Was losing weight at an alarming rate, and naturally no one noticed because I took to wearing baggy clothes to disguise it. Nothing quite like being delusional. Moved from Darlinghurst to Bondi. Nothing like moving away from the scene to help your health…not! Collapsed in the street, and admitted to St Vincent’s not with PCP as suspected but a collapsed lung. Two weeks later and a change of female GP’s saw me back in the doctor’s rooms while she read my hospital discharge report. Had they tested me for CMV retinitis? No! Was I having trouble with my vision? Yes, but I do wear glasses. Guess what? We’re sending you for a little holiday at Prince Henry Hospital (now closed). I was a little bit sick. Chronic CMV retinitis, chronic candida, chronic anemia, had 10 CD4 cells and weighed 48 kgs. Mmm, prognosis was not good. Well, it had been a good life. I was certainly joining a band of party people. But no! Life hadn’t finished with me yet. Protease Inhibitors had come along at an auspicious time, and within a fortnight I had been stolen from the arms of death. Mind you, that fortnight had been no picnic. Ganciclovir injections into the eye, Deca-Durabolin injections to help put weight back on, blood transfusions, and enough finger prick blood readings to last me the rest of my life. And the problems had just started for this return-to-lifer. Not dying when you are supposed to really fucks up your head space.

So started the next round of therapies. Peer Support groups; counselors; Caleo (Greek word which means “To Stick”, a treatment management group who help you maintain the impetus to take the billion pills a day (I was taking over 360 pills a week – anti-retrovirals, prophylactics, and pills to control side effects – at one stage) we were taking); clinics; dental care (now up and running); volunteer work (to keep one sane). What started out as volunteer work at the then PLWHA (NSW) Inc (now Positive Life) turned into paid employment as a research assistant. I started writing for “Talkabout” magazine, joined the Positive Speakers Bureau, and learnt to use a computer. A couple of stints back in full-time employment made me realise that big changes needed to be made with my life. By this time my health was pretty well back together. A couple of nights out pushed home just how few people I knew, however did lead to meeting my current (now ex) partner. A brief encounter with Indinivir sludge in my kidneys (which involved having a stent inserted then removed) also made me aware that for HIV+ people the unexpected can happen at any time. Yet another change of doctor. Self-empowerment had become an important issue, and I wanted a say in my health management, as distinct from being dictated to. Big changes were about to happen.

In 2000 David and I did a big (and expensive) holiday to the Red Centre. It was an amazing experience. Before leaving Sydney I had applied to the University of Technology in Sydney to do my degree in writing. Shortly after arriving back home I was informed that I had been accepted. Ah, the advantages of mature age AND disability. So spent three years doing my Graduate Certificate in Writing, was office- bearer for the Special Needs Collective…in fact I WAS the Special Needs Collective, and discovered I hated having to deal with the moronic “radicals” who called themselves the Student Association and did nothing except rant and rave, and waste student money. I was glad to leave uni. Towards the end of 2004 I decided to get my chef’s credentials from East Sydney TAFE, and crammed a 12-month course into 6 months. As much as I hated uni, I really loved TAFE and found it more grassroots and honest. David and I started Alderman Catering, a top-end catering business though it only lasted about 2 years as I found it very exhausting. I then sort of returned to my retail roots by opening a web site called Alderman Providore to sell Australian made gourmet grocery items. The site proved successful, and within 4 years I was opening my second site, this time specialising in tea, coffee and chocolate products. I got involved in a trial using Goat’s Serum to treat HIV, but again another waste of time. I did manage to get a skin rash from it, and managed to score a $1,000 for participating. In late 2009 the GFC hit, and online shopping took a major hit. After a disastrous Christmas that left me severely out if pocket, I decided to sell the business and put it behind me.

More eye problems followed, this time involving my blind eye. Back to the regular rounds at the Sydney Eye Hospital, and an injection of Avastin (a cancer drug that reduces blood flow) into the blind eye to stop it creating new blood supplies to an eye that couldn’t see. By this time, the interior of the bad eye was collapsing, and it took on an unnatural colour. Before this I hadn’t looked blind. Now I did! Scary how anyone you talk to can pick an anomaly – and stare at it while talking.

The next step, which sort of brings us up to date (this was 2011), was a major move. Plans to move north had been on the agenda for 10 years – in 2011 it finally happened, though we did jump the border which wasn’t in the original plan. No sooner were we there than my retina detached (I had been warned to eventually expect this, due to the amount of CMV scar tissue in the eye) in my one seeing eye…or rather was pushed off by all the scar tissue present from my original CMV infection. An emergency operation to scrape down the scar tissue, and replace the retina and fluid (called a vitrectomy) has seen my sight degenerate even further and I am now the proud owner of a white cane curtesy of Guide Dogs Queensland. It has become obvious that our two Jack Russell’s are not, despite their best of intentions, good seeing-eye dogs. I can see, though very poorly. A lot of life is a blur these days.

However, I am not going to complain. I have always enjoyed a challenge, and this presents yet another one. I gave up smoking 23 years ago, and drink only lightly and socially these days. I adopted a healthy diet and exercise program 10 years ago when I started getting unattractively over-weight and inactive.I have turned my life around by adopting this course of action. In 2013 I attended Southbank Institute of Technology in Brisbane and obtained my Certificate III in Fitness. I hoped this would lead on to becoming a Personal Trainer for mature-age and disabled people both individually and in conjunction with my local gyms. I was almost 60 by the time I finished. Just in time for the next stage of my life.

In 2014 David and I called an end to our 16 year relationship. It had run its course, and with a 14-year age gap…I’m the older…we were both at different stages of our lives. It was amicable, and we are still friends. However, it was the start of a year from hell. A disastrous 60th birthday followed, them an attack of shingles that was the worst Royal Brisbane Hospital’s Infectious Diseases Unit had ever seen, leading to an infection in the blisters that landed me in hospital with blood poisoning, followed by two weeks with a portable drip through their Hospital In The Home initiative (Neuralgia and numbness from this are still a problem 5 years down the line). Then our first rescue dog, Ampy, died. I was also faced with some serious decisions. With the parting of our ways, I could no longer afford to live in the house we were in being on a pension, and of the options open to me, returning to Sydney to move in with an ex from the 80s was the only viable one. I also made a nerve-wracking decision to have my blind eye removed, and replaced with a prosthetic. After years of ongoing problems with it, was time it came to an end, and the operation occurred in early 2015 just prior to my other dog, Benji, and myself returning to Sydney.

I stayed in Sydney only for as long as I needed to be there. I hated it! A cold, over-populated, rude city. Within 12-months, we…I include my housemate, who also came with me…moved to the Central Coast, where life is quiet, and more civilised. Life goes on…I’ve lived long enough now to start seeing the truth finally being told about many aspects of HIV – the high toxicity and ongoing problems caused by AZT, exploitation by Big Pharma, misuse of funding, unresearched and often inaccurate advice on therapies and treatments, the rushing through of many treatments that proved detrimental to those who took them. It’s time to clear the air, and take the sentimentality out of an often rose-coloured glasses view of the epidemic.

37 years eh! OMG where have those years gone? Despite all the discrimination, stress, anxiety, illness, deaths, survivor guilt and despair, there have been moments of great introspection, illumination, strength and enlightenment. That over-used word “empowerment” springs to mind and that is perhaps the one word that sums all those years up. Victim? No way! Survivor? Not in my words! And I have never been one to wallow in self pity. You just need to grab life by the balls, and get on with it. I trust that is what I have done.

Tim Alderman 2019

The Pressure To Be ‘Macho’ Can Damage Gay Men’s Mental Health

Living in a hetero-normative world often demands men to act according to strict societal rules on “masculinity.”

GETTY IMAGES

I remember when I first thought my body was not good enough to be desired by other men. This feeling of disappointment with myself and envy of other men happened when I started going to gay bars and clubs. I noticed that men with defined muscles and often perfectly groomed facial hair received all the attention.

What they did not display was anything that was even slightly feminine.

Many gay men feel the pressure to have the perfect muscular body, which can be for their own self-confidence and health, but it may also be an attempt to exude society’s notion of masculinity in order to be desirable to other men. And part of this perception is due to toxic masculinity.

The term became known after Terry Kupers, a renowned American psychiatrist, published an article in 2005 titled, “Toxic Masculinity as a Barrier to Mental Health Treatment in Prison.” Kupers wrote that toxic masculinity was a “constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”

MRBIG_PHOTOGRAPHY VIA GETTY IMAGES Muscular men getting more muscular.

“It (toxic masculinity) is when these traits and ideologies that (men) ascribe to as historically belonging to men, are exaggerated in a kind of dangerous form,” said Adam Davies, a doctoral candidate in education, gender and sexuality studies at the University of Toronto. “Many gay men therefore believe that in order to act like the ‘manliest’ man possible, this often means shunning anything that can even slightly be interpreted as feminine.”

“For a lot of gay men, just by being gay, there is this sense of insecurity of being a failure because they’re not performing their masculinity in the way that they (feel like they) are expected to,” said Davies.

Miah Mills, a Toronto resident, said that while he was very fortunate to have a non-gendered upbringing at home, his peers at school bullied him.

“They would police the whole boys do this/boys don’t do that nonsense,” said the 36-year-old. “Eventually, you police yourself.”

He said it took him many years to feel comfortable around effeminate gay men.

GETTY IMAGES Crowd of people in Berlin, Germany participate in a parade celebrating the LGBTQ community on June 21, 2014.

“I always knew that I should support them and be proud of them, but my first response was always to cringe. In them I saw the parts of myself that I hated. The parts of me that others saw in me and bullied me for.”

Alex McKenzie, a sexologist based in Montreal, said that he has also seen this same feeling of failure when working with predominantly LGBTQ2S men.

“This is a health risk because there is a constant dissonance between what they are trying to achieve versus what they actually want, which slowly has an effect on one’s mental health … it erodes your well-being the more it goes on,” says McKenzie. “I see a lot of issues in regards to anxiety come up, as well as depression, when people find themselves living in situations not right for them.”

https://youtu.be/C3SJeM8ed_Q

Video above is a trailer for “Men Don’t Whisper,” a comedic short film about a gay couple emasculated at a sales conference, which screened at Sundance and SXSW earlier in September.

According to McKenzie, these mental health effects are also caused by dating apps, such as Grindr and Tinder.

“Dating apps are a phenomenon that started out as something innovative and fun, but has changed the landscape of dating and how we not only treat each other, but also how we view ourselves as individuals, which directly links to our self-esteem,” says McKenzie.

My own experiences on apps such as Grindr and Tinder have shown me that fit and active men (all traits seen as masculine) are the most desired men. While I consider myself to be fairly active, my lack of muscles and toned figure have made me close the apps at times wondering why I should even bother if I’m not the “ideal man.” Davies said this form of masculinity has always been put on a pedestal.

“In the (early 20th century) when gay men had different labels for themselves based on their gender expression, the feminized gay man was called ‘the fairy’ and was always seen as … the lowest denominator of gay communities,” said Davies. The word “fairy” was also often used as a homophobic slur.

A historical trope during the 1970s and 1980s that many gay men looked up to and tried to emulate was that of the “Castro” clone. Named after the historically gay Castro district in San Francisco, this stereotype was a rugged, muscular man with a moustache who would have sex with many different men without any attachments. I still find myself, from time to time, aspiring to be like one of them because of how they were so lusted after.

GETTY IMAGES Individuals congregate in the Castro District for the annual Pride celebration on June 27, 2015.

Rusty Souleymanov, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work, whose doctoral work focused on the health and well being of substance-using gay, bisexual, as well as two-spirit and queer men in Toronto, said the desire to be seen as more masculine can also influence behaviours and lifestyles sometimes practiced by gay men.

“There’s this ongoing view that the manliest of men have a lot of casual bareback sex (penetrative sex without a condom) and also engage in substance use while having sex, and it can lead to a lot of health risks,” said Souleymanov, who has conducted research about HIV education among gay and bisexual men who use drugs.

The health effects that Souleymanov describes include higher rates of mental health issues and eating disorders on top of higher HIV rates. A 2007 article titled, “Eating Disorders in Diverse Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Population,” by Matthew Feldman and Ilan Meyer showed that gay and bisexual men are up to 10 times more likely to suffer from eating disorders than heterosexual men.

None of the above is to say that toxic masculinity is the sole reason why these issues exist, but it does play an important role. Davies said that gay, bisexual and queer men need to be more vulnerable with each other.

For a lot of gay men, just by being gay, there is this sense of insecurity of being a failure because they’re not performing their masculinity in the way that they (feel like they) are expected to.

Adam Davies, a doctoral candidate

“A lot of men think that it isn’t masculine enough to talk about our emotions, our struggles and things that make us appear weak, but we need to be more open with each other,” said Davies. “We need to practice being more vulnerable with each other and start working to take away this stigma to really come together as a community.”

I am more at ease with my sense of self and my own body these days. Of course, there is still some work I can do on myself (I mean, who doesn’t?) but at least now I know that when I see these standards for gay men, they’re not what I should necessarily be. I would be lying if I said that I never feel a little bad looking at my scrawny self in the mirror, but I do know that it does not take away from my sense of masculinity.

Reference

Gay History: June 5, 1981. Pneumocystis Pneumonia. Los Angeles.

In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died. All 5 patients had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candidal mucosal infection. Case reports of these patients follow.

In honor of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, I’m republishing my article on the first report documenting the emergence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. That article, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on June 5, 1981, describes five cases of an unusual form of pneumonia in atypical patients, all young men. The broader social and public health implications of these five cases were not understood at the time of the article’s publication, but would be in just a few unnerving months. In short time, it would become clear that this pneumonia, caused by a tiny fungal organism, was part of a constellation of diseases associated with a novel and highly unusual viral infection that was spreading rapidly through a subset of the American population.

This MMWR article is the first record of an emerging outbreak that, in just one decade, would be the second leading cause of death in young American men 25 to 44 years and have infected over 8 to 11 million people worldwide. As I note in my article, “the June 5th report is a symbol of a time before HIV/AIDS became ubiquitous, before it became a pandemic, before a small globular virus became mankind’s biggest global public health crisis … June 5th marks the beginning of a radical transformation in how disease surveillance and medicine was conducted.” The HIV/AIDs outbreak, since this report’s publication and the growing awareness of the virus, has profoundly changed medicine, public health, virology, and the lives of millions of people.

It often seems that gay men are disproportionately, and perhaps unfairly, bludgeoned with HIV educational and awareness campaigns. After all, this virus is an equal opportunist infector infecting both genders of all sexual orientations. And, yes, men that report having sex with other men represent a truly tiny proportion of the United States population, a slim 2% of the three-hundred million that live in this country.

However, as the CDC reports, gay men account for 63% of all newly diagnosed HIV infections in the United States and make up 52% of the current population of people living with a HIV diagnosis. Stopping the continued transmission of HIV/AIDS in this country critically relies on affecting change and promoting awareness among these men. In 1981, we just became aware of the HIV/AIDS virus. Today, we continue to bring awareness to prevention, testing, and treatment of a virus that continues to percolate through the same vulnerable population that was brutally affected nearly thirty years ago.

June 5, 1981. Pneumocystis Pneumonia. Los Angeles.

“Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles,” in the June 5, 1981 edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, was an economical seven paragraph clinical report cataloging five observed cases, accompanied by an explanatory editorial note on the rarity of this fungal disease. It seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary from MMWR, a publication that has been issuing the latest epidemiology news and data from around the world for 60 years. The report was included in that week’s slim 16 page report detailing dengue in American travelers visiting the Caribbean, surveillance results from a childhood lead poisoning program and what measles had been up to for the past five months.

Since 1978, Dr. Joel Weisman, a Los Angeles general practitioner, had been treating dozens of gay men in the city presenting with a motley collection of uncommon illnesses – blood cancers, rare fungal infections, persistent fevers and alarmingly low white blood cell counts – typically seen in the elderly and immunocompromised (1). In 1980, he was struck by two profoundly ill men and by the similarity of their symptoms, their prolonged fevers, dramatic weight loss, unexplained rashes and swollen lymph nodes. He referred them to Martin Gottlieb, an immunologist at UCLA who just so happened to be treating a gay patient with identical symptoms.

All three men were infected with Pneumocystis pneumonia, caused by the typically benign fungus Pneumocystis jirovecii, and soon Gottlieb would hear of a two more patients with the fungal infection from colleagues (2). The MMWR editorial note accompanying the report of these cases would mention that Pneumocystis pneumonia, or PCP, is “almost exclusively limited to severely immunosuppressed patients” and that it was “unusual” to find cases in healthy individuals without any preexisting immune system deficiencies. The disease would later be cataloged on immunological graphs illustrating the awful decline of the infected – first the CD4+ T-cell count falls as the viral load ascends, then a marching band of viral, fungal, protozoan and bacterial infections capitalizing on the loss of CD4+ T-cells. PCP is now known as a classic opportunistic infection of those infected with HIV/AIDS.

In the first sentence, the report would note that the young men were “all active homosexuals.” These five were all “previously healthy” men in their late 20s and 30s. They did not know each other, they did not share common contacts and they did not know of any sexual partners suffering with similar symptoms.

Three of the men were found to have “profoundly depressed” numbers of CD4+ T-cells. All five reported using inhalant drugs, or “poppers,” common in that era among gay men, which would later serve as a lead into this new syndromic disease (3). Cytomegalovirus, found in the five men, was also suspected as a culprit behind this strange outbreak. The editorial note stated definitively that “the fact that these patients were all homosexuals suggests an association between some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and Pneumocystis pneumonia in this population.”

By the time the very first report on this acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, which we now know as AIDS, had been published by Gottlieb and Weisman and three fellow physicians in the MMWR, two of the patients had already died.

New reports showed up after the June 5th report, the list of cancerous malignancies and bizarre diseases killing young gay men blossoming in number, seemingly inexhaustible in scope and variety. The first reported cluster was in Los Angeles but by the summer and fall of 1981, reports would trickle in from San Francisco and New York City, and then Miami, Houston, Boston and Washington, D.C. would represent new epicenters.

The July 4th report on 26 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare cancer that only appeared in elderly men of Mediterranean descent, in California and New York City was another pivotal report on this new syndromic disease. The entire December 1981 issue of The Lancet was dedicated to the disease and hypothesized on the origins of this immunological deficiency but, tellingly, none of the articles proposed an emerging infectious disease as the culprit. The disparate constellation of diseases seemed to be linked only by their aberrational appearance in men in what should have been their prime, their gay lifestyle, and abnormally low CD4 cell counts. It had no apparent origin, and physicians were scrambling to find an appropriate treatment to decelerate the rapid progression to death.

By December 1981, it became clear that this disorder wasn’t limited to gay men but also affected intravenous drug users, recipients of transfused blood products and immigrant Haitians. The escalating numbers of cases reported daily and the disastrous mortality rate – 40% of patients were dying within a year of diagnosis – began to sow panic in the public health and medical world that soon spilled into the public (4).

It would take three years before the virus was detected and AIDS was definitively linked to an infection caused by a novel virus, human immunodeficiency virus or HIV. In just a decade, AIDS would be the second leading cause of death in young men 25 to 44 years in the United States and would have infected over 8 to 11 million people worldwide (5). The most recent estimate for the number of people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS is 34 million in 2011, with 68% residing in sub-Saharan Africa (6). That year, there were 2.5 million new HIV infections and 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths.

Though the June 5th, 1981 report was overlooked at first, for many years it would be “one of the most heavily quoted articles in the medical literature” (2). And since its publication, we have seen a cataclysmic shift in how the interrelated worlds of public health and medicine view infectious diseases, especially how to prevent, control and educate the public about them.

June 5th marks the beginning of a radical transformation in how disease surveillance and medicine was conducted. In the seventies, the scientific consensus on infectious diseases was that they were largely eradicated, that they were finished. Vaccines had diminished their presence in modern society, and antibiotics and antivirals would sort out the rest. HIV/AIDS changed that mentality and reality. It seemed to come from nowhere, the blossoming epidemic completely unforeseen and unprecedented in its scope. The June 5th report is a symbol of a time before HIV/AIDS became ubiquitous, before it became a pandemic, before a small globular virus became mankind’s biggest global public health crisis.

Author’s note: This article was originally published in January 2013 at the Pump Handle blog as a part of a series on “public health classics,” exploring some of the classic studies and reports that have shaped the field of public health. Check out the original article here

References
(1) E Woo. (July 23, 2009) Dr. Joel D. Weisman dies at 66; among the first doctors to detect AIDS. Los Angeles Times [Online]. Accessed November 16, 2012 athttp://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-me-joel-weisman23-2009jul23,0,7095313.story

(2) E Fee & TM Brown (2006) Michael S. Gottlieb and the Identification of AIDS. Am J Public Health; 96(6): 982–983.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470620/

(3) S Israelstam et al. (1978) Poppers, a new recreational drug craze. Can Psychiatr Assoc J;23(7): 493-5

(4) V. Quagliarello (1982) Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome: Current Status. Yale J Biol Med; 55(5-6): 443–452

(5) Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (1991) The HIV/AIDS epidemic: the first 10 years. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep; 40(22): 357. Accessible athttp://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001997.htm

(6) UNAIDS (2012) UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report. UNAIDS. Accessible athttp://www.unaids.org/en/resources/campaigns/20121120_

Article Reference

The Truth About Gay Men, Sex and Penis Size

The surprising facts prove we have bigger things to worry about.

What is it with some gay guys…and huge cocks! I have to say I just don’t get it! My NewTumbl feed is full of them…as was my old Tumblr feed! I can’t seem to get away from them! I don’t know about you, but the sight of an elephant’s trunk dangling between some guy’s legs is not my idea of sexy …or hot! No…it does not turn me on! The vast majority of them are either Photoshopped, deformed looking, or just downright ugly! The very prospect of sex in any shape or form with these huge things repulses me! Not only would oral sex be almost impossible, but having anal with them would be so uncomfortable for both parties. If guys really are hung in such a way…and despite the proliferation of photos I don’t think it’s as common as the posters make out…I truly feel sorry for them. Buying underwear and clothes must be an absolute nightmare, let alone what to do with it when not undressed. How the hell could you ever sit comfortably with such a huge appendage constantly in your way! As a gay man, I’ve handled a large variety of cocks in my day, and most have been – average or just above. One boyfriend back in the 80s had a cock no bigger than my little finger…but boy… didn’t he know how to use it. It wasn’t ever about his cock, though…he was a genuinely beautiful man. My recent ex – who I spent 16 years with – was undoubtedly the biggest, clocking up around 8″…big, but not hideously huge. As for me…well…I always considered myself average, but am told differently. We’ll just leave it at that! No, give me your nice, sexy Mr. Average, thanks! A guy I can play with, have fun sex with…and not grit my teeth!

What is the ideal penis size?

We all know that penis size is one of men’s greatest obsessions but most don’t know the surprising truth behind the size myths.

Did you know, for example, that humans are better endowed than all our primate cousins? You may expect a gorilla to be better hung than you but you would be wrong, both in terms of absolute and relative size.

The subject has been firmly on the agenda with a couple of big stories over the last few weeks.

Over the weekend we heard a penis transplant on a 21-year-old in South Africa had apparently been a success. He had lost his penis in a botched circumcision at age 18 but now has a fully functioning member, capable of urination, erection, orgasm and ejaculation.

It makes you wonder if one day, lab-grown or donated penises will be grafted on to men who have extreme concerns over size.

And at the start of March we learned about a study of 15,000 penises, finally answering the question of average size.

The typical penis is just 13.12cms (5.16ins) long and 11.66cms (4.6ins) around when erect.

The study also busted the myth that size varies with race. While scientists say the sample wasn’t quite big enough to reach a firm conclusion on this, they found no link between size and race.

Most people assume average size is much bigger. 6ins or even 7ins are commonly quoted figures.

Despite everyone wanting to be big, we tend to underestimate our own size too. The angle at which you look down on your penis leads you to think it’s smaller than it really is and if you have any fat on your belly, that only makes it worse.

There’s evidence gay men take all this particularly seriously. A study by Utrecht University in the Netherlands around a decade ago showed penis length had a big impact on gay men’s self esteem.

In the worst cases men – gay, bi and straight – can suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. This can even lead to anti-social behavior, depression and suicide.

No wonder newspaper and web advertising continuously pushes various methods to increase size. Of course, it is very well established none of them work. The fact we keep trying, however, is the clearest signal of all that most of us believe bigger is better.

For me the kisses and embraces are the most important part. The love and the quality of the time you give each other means more than size.

But perhaps the biggest question of all is not about average size but about how important it is in sex.

Let’s start with the assumption you can’t dismiss this notion of being ‘big’ as entirely worthless. After all, on the internet there are rather more searches made for ‘world’s biggest dick’ but very few links for the shortest.

In my last article I looked at the imbalance of power between tops and bottoms, provoking some very interesting comments from GSN readers.

I have noticed in particular that bottoms tend to look for ‘more hung’ men and I often seen tops boasting about their size and capacity on dating sites.

I have often seen gay relationships fail after three or four sex meetings. After this it seems everyone wants to put their hands in a new man’s underwear, wondering what new and big thing they will find there. Can this size worship be one reason gay romances are so fragile?

My first relationship was with someone I met online was with a guy I met on Facebook. We chatted a lot on phone, including talking about sex and he boasted about his size a lot.

So when we met in person I was a little shocked to see his little master. Not shocked that it was anything unusual but only because of the mental picture he put in my mind.

Despite this, I have to say I really enjoyed myself with him and the smaller-than-advertised size of his penis made no difference at all. Frankly I can say we had some of the best sex I’ve ever had in my life.

I’ve met plenty of guys in my time, of all different sizes, but honestly as a bottom I can’t agree that bigger is always better. I simply can’t say that I have had better experience with larger guys.

The law of averages means, of course, that most of the sex I’ve had has been with guys with an average penis. And from that, I’ve taken the very clear lesson that having sex is not just about the sex – it’s an important moment, which is only good when you feel safe with someone and your partner treats you well.

For me the kisses and embraces are the most important part. The love and the quality of the time you give each other means more than size. Sex is not limited to physical intercourse. Mental satisfaction is what it’s all about. And I can promise you – if you are worried about your own size – that in bed, it’s not your partner’s length or girth but their performance that matters.

To me, the idea that size is important in gay sex is just a myth. If you are craving for a bigger penis for yourself, or for your lovers, remember that ‘bigger is better’ is not always true.

Reference

Exonerating “Patient Zero”: The Truth About ‘Patient Zero’ And HIV’s Origins

The man blamed for bringing HIV to the United States just had his name cleared.

New research has proved that Gaëtan Dugas, a French-Canadian flight attendant who was dubbed “patient zero,” did not spread HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, to the United States.

A cutting-edge analysis of blood samples from the 1970s offers new insight into how the virus spread to North America via the Caribbean from Africa. More than 1.2 million people in the United States currently live with HIV.

The research, conducted by an international team of scientists, was published this week in the journal Nature.

“No one should be blamed for the spread of a virus that no one even knew about, and how the virus moved from the Caribbean to the US in New York City in the 1970s is an open question,” co-author of the research, Dr. Michael Worobey, a professor and head of the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of Arizona, said at a news conference Tuesday.

“It could have been a person of any nationality. It could have even been blood products. A lot of blood products used in the United States in the 1970s actually came from Haiti,” he said. “What we’ve done here is try to get at the origins of the first cases of AIDS that were ever noticed. … When you step back in time, you see a very interesting pattern.”

‘Patient zero’ and the power of a name

In 1981, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first documented a mysterious disease. In their research, they linked the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to sexual activity.

In 1987, the National Review referred to him as the “Columbus of AIDS,” and the New York Post called him “the man who gave us AIDS” on its front page.

“We were quite annoyed by that, because it was just simply wrong, but this doesn’t stop people from saying it, because it’s so appealing. You know, ‘The man who brought us AIDS.’ Well, if it were true, it would be annoying, but since it isn’t true,

Gaëtan Dugas was dubbed “patient zero.”

However, the letter O was misinterpreted as a zero in the scientific literature. Once the media and the public noticed the name, the damage was done.

Dugas and his family were condemned for years. In Randy Shilts’ seminal book on the AIDS crisis, “And The Band Played On,” Dugas is referenced extensively and referred to as a “sociopath” with multiple sexual partners.

In 1987, the National Review referred to him as the “Columbus of AIDS,” and the New York Post called him “the man who gave us AIDS” on its front page.

“We were quite annoyed by that, because it was just simply wrong, but this doesn’t stop people from saying it, because it’s so appealing. You know, ‘The man who brought us AIDS.’ Well, if it were true, it would be annoying, but since it isn’t true, it’s even more annoying,” said Dr. James Curran, dean of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and co-director of the university’s Center for AIDS Research.

Curran, who was not involved in the new research, coordinated the AIDS task force at the CDC in 1981 and then led the HIV/AIDS division until 1995.

“The CDC never said that he was patient zero and that he was the first person,” Curran said of Dugas.

“In addition to the potential damage to his reputation, it was also a damage to scientific plausibility. That there would be a single-point source to start the epidemic in the United States is not very likely. It’s more likely that several people were infected,” Curran said. “I think that the concept of patient zero has always been wrong and flawed, and scientists never said it.”

Dugas died in 1984 of AIDS-related complications. Now, more than 30 years later, scientists have used samples of his blood to clear his name.

Going back in time with blood

For the new research, Worobey and his colleagues gathered archival blood samples in New York and San Francisco that were originally collected for a hepatitis B study in 1978 and 1979. The samples came from men who had sex with men.

The researchers screened the samples and noticed that “the prevalence of HIV positivity in these early samples from hepatitis B patients is really quite high,” Worobey said Tuesday.

From the samples, the researchers recovered eight genome sequences of HIV, representing the oldest genomes of the virus in North America. They also recovered the HIV genome from Dugas’ blood sample.

As many of the samples had degraded over time, Worobey’s lab developed a technique called “RNA jackhammering” to recover the genetic material.

The technique involves breaking down the human genomes found in the blood and then extracting the RNA of HIV to recover genetic data about the virus, an approach that’s similar to what has been used to reconstruct the ancient genome of Neanderthals in separate studies.

“The major contribution which interested me the most was their capacity to restore full sequence genomes from very old serum samples using the jackhammer technique,” Curran said of the new research.

After analyzing the genomes, the researchers found no biological evidence that Dugas was the primary case that brought HIV to the United States, and the genome from Dugas appeared typical of the other strains already in the United States at the time.

The researchers discovered strong evidence that the virus emerged in the United States from a pre-existing Caribbean epidemic in or around 1970.

How HIV arrived in the United States

Sequencing genomes allows scientists to take a peek back in time to determine how a virus emerged and where it traveled by examining how many mutations appear in the genome.

Scientists estimate that HIV was transmitting in humans after a chimpanzee infected a single person sometime in the early 20th century in sub-Saharan Africa. The general consensus among scientists is that HIV then crossed the Atlantic and quickly spread through the Caribbean before it arrived in the United States, probably from Haiti, Curran said.

Scientists at the University of Oxford published a separate study in June suggesting that HIV spread through specific migration routes — based on tourism and trade — throughout the past 50 years as it made its way around the world.

The research team behind the new genetic analysis now hopes that its findings may lead to a better understanding of how HIV moved through populations — and how blaming a single patient for the pathogen’s rise remains troublesome.

“In many ways, the historical evidence has been pointing toward the fallacy of this particular notion of patient zero for decades,” Richard McKay, a historian of medicine at the University of Cambridge and a co-author of the new research, said at Tuesday’s news conference.

“The study shines light from different angles to better understand the complexity of an important period in the past,” he said. “In view of this complexity, one of the dangers of focusing on a single patient zero when discussing the early phases of an epidemic is that we risk obscuring important, structural factors that might contribute to its development: poverty, legal and cultural inequalities, barriers to health care and education. These important determinants risk being overlooked.”

Reference

Gay History: Shock the Gay Away: Secrets of Early Gay Aversion Therapy Revealed (PHOTOS)

With the recent announcement from Exodus International that it is closing its doors, and with its leaders offering apologies for their actions, the LGBT community is now left wondering, “Can this really be the end of ex-gay reparative therapy? Is it really over?” While the dust settles on all of this, we have to remind ourselves that it wasn’t too long ago that reparative therapies had less to do with praying the gay away and more to do with physically removing it.

Before the American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, aversion therapy was used routinely in hopes that it would prevent or eliminate homosexual behavior. Devices like the one below were used by therapists treating homosexual patients, and some of them were even available for use in the convenience of your own home.

In the more brutal therapy sessions, the shock was delivered directly to the male patient’s genitals every time the patient experienced any form of positive response to the slides being shown to him. The following excerpt from a Farrall Instrument catalogue advertising electroshock therapy products details how the therapies worked:

Aversive conditioning has proven an effective aid in the treatment of child molesters, transvestites, exhibitionists, alcoholics, shop lifters, and other people with similar problems. Stimulus slides are shown to the patient intermixed with neutral slides. Shock is delivered with stimulus scenes but not with neutral scenes. In reinforcing heterosexual preference in latent male homosexuals, male slides give a shock while the stimulus relief slides of females do not give shock. The patient is given a “slide change” hand button which enables him to escape or avoid a shock by rejecting a shock cue scene.

In the 1940s, homosexuals were also involuntarily committed to psychiatric facilities by their families, with the hospitals promising that the patient would eventually leave the facility cured of their “sexual illness.” Not only were they not allowed to leave, but they were often subjected to cruel and inhumane treatments, including castrations, torture drugs, shock therapy, and lobotomies.

The surgeon most credited for the rise of lobotomies was Dr. Walter Freeman, who was best known for his transorbital lobotomy, or “ice pick lobotomy.” In this procedure, the surgeon entered the prefrontal area through the patient’s eye sockets, using an instrument that resembled a common household ice pick. Out of the thousands of lobotomies Freeman performed, up to 40 percent of them were on homosexuals.

In 1941, he performed a botched lobotomy on U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s sister, Rosemary, to help calm her mood swings and occasional violent outbursts. The results were abysmal. She lived the rest of her life seriously disabled in a private psychiatric hospital, along with most of Freeman’s homosexual patients, who were in perfect health before the surgery. By the end of the 1940s, lobotomies had won the acceptance of mainstream medicine and were being performed at Johns Hopkins, Mass General Hospital, the Mayo Clinic, and other top medical institutions.

Ultimately, the fate of the lobotomy would be decided by a pill. In 1954, a new drug called Thorazine began to make its way through state mental hospitals and was initially marketed as a chemical lobotomy. With a viable alternative now in hand that didn’t require surgery, the medical community turned definitively against lobotomy.

The APA removed homosexuality from its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973. This decision occurred against the backdrop of great cultural shifts brought on by the civil rights movements of the 1950s to the 1970s, beginning with the African-American civil rights movement and then continuing on with the women’s and gay rights movements.

In the late 1960s, Christianity Today began printing articles and editorials concerned with the growing homosexual movement. In the early 1970s, ex-gay ministries began to emerge. In 1973, the first contemporary ex-gay ministry, Love in Action, was started in Northern California. In 1976, the first national conference of “ex-gay” ministries was held, resulting in the formation of Exodus International.

Now, 37 years and 260 ministries later, Exodus International is closing its doors. It remains to be seen whether this is truly the demise of the ex-gay movement. What we at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives do know for sure is that the LGBT community has persevered, regardless of what was hurled at us physically, psychologically, or spiritually, then and now. We have endured and withstood, and have the history to prove it.

PHOTOS

‘I Was A Homosexual’
Real Magazine, 1953 Courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries Discover more images from LGBT history at www.onearchives.org

‘What Is A Homosexual?’

Confidential Magazine, 1957 Courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries Discover more images from LGBT history at www.onearchives.org

‘Homosexuality Is A Mental Illness’
Confidential Magazine, 1957 Courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries Discover more images from LGBT history at www.onearchives.org
‘New Theory Claims Homosexuality Can Be Cured’
Uncensored Magazine, 1969 Courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries Discover more images from LGBT history at www.onearchives.org
‘Spitting Image’
Uncensored Magazine, 1969 Courtesy of ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries Discover more images from LGBT history at www.onearchives.org

Reference

Gay History: History Of The Ex-Gay Ministries and; The Abominable Legacy of Gay-Conversion Therapy

For most of the twentieth century, homosexuals were considered mentally ill by the psychiatric profession. This diagnosis was due entirely to prejudice and was not backed by legitimate science. Studies on homosexuality were poorly conceived, culturally biased and often used institutionalized mental patients as study subjects.

After reviewing the evidence, in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), which is its list of mental disorders. There was simply no logical or coherent reason to stigmatize gay and lesbian Americans. Not long after, every respected mainstream medical and mental heath association followed the APA’ lead.

Only four years before this monumental decision, the Stonewall riots in New York City’ Greenwich Village ushered in the dawn of the modern gay liberation movement. For the first time, GLBT people began to receive media visibility and coming out finally seemed like a viable option.

As more people chose to live honestly and openly, and gay communities began to flourish in areas such as New York and San Francisco, this presented a challenge to conservative churches, which had long believed that homosexuality was sinful behavior. Many conservative gay Christians were deeply conflicted between their beliefs and their sexual orientation. Their answer to this heart-wrenching dilemma was starting ex-gay ministries. Influenced by the miracle-seeking Jesus Movement, the ex-gay ministries adopted name and claim theology. Essentially, this meant if you kept repeating you had “changed” — even if you had not — God would eventually grant you the miracle of heterosexuality as a reward for your faith.

Love In Action was the first contemporary ex-gay ministry and was founded in 1973 in San Raphael, CA, by three men: John Evans, Rev. Kent Philpott, and Frank Worthen.

Evans ultimately denounced Love In Action after his best friend Jack McIntyre committed suicide in despair over not being able to “change.” Today, Evans assists people in healing from the psychological damage incurred by the ex-gay industry. Frank Worthen still remains with the ex-gay ministries.

Philpott, who is straight, wrote “The Third Sex? ” which featured six people who supposedly converted to heterosexuality through prayer.

Eventually, it was revealed no one in his book actually had changed, but the people reading it had no idea about the unsuccessful outcomes. As far as they knew, there was a magical place in California that had figured out the secret for making gays into straights.

As a result of Philpott’ book, within three years more than a dozen “ex-gay” ministries spontaneously sprung up across America. Two leading “ex-gay” counselors at Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim, California – Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee – decided to organize a conference where members of the budding ex-gay movement could meet each other and network.

In September 1976, Cooper and Bussee’ vision came to fruition as sixty-two “ex-gays” journeyed to Melodyland for the world’ first “ex-gay” conference. The outcome of the retreat was the formation of Exodus International, an umbrella organization for “ex-gay” groups worldwide.

The group was rocked to its core a few years later when Bussee and Cooper acknowledged that they had not changed and were in love with each other. They soon divorced their wives, moved in together and held a commitment ceremony. In June 2007, Bussee issued an apology at an Ex-Gay Survivors Conference to all of the people he helped get involved in ex-gay ministries.

The Expansion of the Ex-Gay Industry

In 1979, Seventh Day Adventist minister Colin Cook founded Homosexuals Anonymous (HA). But Cook’ “ex-gay” empire crumbled a few years later after he was scandalized for having phone sex and giving nude massages to those he was supposedly helping become heterosexual.

As acceptance for homosexuality grew in the late 1970′, the “ex-gay” ministries had trouble attracting new recruits and growth of these programs stagnated. With the advent of AIDS, however, the ex-gay ministries found fertile growth potential from gay men who were terrified of contracting the virus.

Nonetheless, even as the epidemic spurred new growth, the “ex-gay” ministries remained relatively obscure in mainstream society. This dramatically changed in 1998 when the politically motivated Religious Right embraced the “ex-gay” ministries. Fifteen anti-gay organizations launched the “Truth In Love” newspaper and television ad campaign, with an estimated one million dollar price tag.

But the ad campaign soon backfired after University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was murdered because of his sexual orientation. Americans began to see the Truth In Love campaign as discriminatory and debated whether it had contributed to a climate of intolerance where hate could flourish. Due to withering criticism in the media, the anti-gay coalition ended its campaign prematurely.

Additionally, “ex-gay” poster boy John Paulk, who the ad campaign sponsors placed on the cover of Newsweek under the large headline, “Gay for Life?,” was photographed in a Washington, DC gay bar in 2000. In 2003, Michael Johnston, the star of the Truth In Love television campaign, stepped down after allegedly having sex with men he met on the Internet. He has since moved to a residential sex addiction facility in Kentucky.

Today, the main financier and facilitator of ex-gay ministries is Focus on the Family, which hosts a quarterly symposium called Love Won Out. Exodus International has also grown to more than 100 ministries and has a Washington lobbyist. Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention has entered the fray by hiring a staff member to oversee ex-gay programs.

Sadly, as long as people are made to feel ashamed for who they are, these groups will exist. The best way to counter their negative influence is showing an honest and accurate portrayal of GLBT life. When people learn that they can live rich and fulfilling lives out of the closet, the appeal of these dangerous and ineffective groups invariably wanes.

The Abominable Legacy of Gay-Conversion Therapy

Joseph Nicolosi, one of the pioneers of the practice, died last week. But his contribution to the field of psychology lives on.

“I don’t believe anyone is really gay,” Joseph Nicolosi told the New York Times in 2012. “I believe that all people are heterosexual, but that some have a homosexual problem.” Nicolosi, a psychologist, had by then written four books, with titles like Healing Homosexuality and A Parents’ Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. In 1992, he founded the National Organization for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, an organization of psychologists that aims to help gay people “realize their heterosexual potential” through a practice that is alternately known as “conversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” and “reorientation therapy.” Nicolosi died on Thursday, March 8, at age 70; NARTH’s announcement said that the cause of death was the flu.

Before NARTH’s founding, there was a small but violent history of gay conversion attempts by doctors and psychologists. In the early 20th century, Freud made attempts using hypnosis. In the 1950s, Edmund Berger advocated a “confrontational therapy” approach to gay patients, which consisted of having practitioners yell at them that they were liars and worthless. Other attempts to convert LGBT people to heterosexuality throughout history have included methods like lobotomy, electroshock to the hands, head, and genitals, testicle transplants from dead straight men “bladder washing,” castration, female circumcision, nausea-inducing drugs, and beatings. But it was Nicolosi who brought gay conversion therapy into the mainstream, popularizing it among religious communities and the American right, and turning what was once a scattered practice of abuse into a multi-million-dollar worldwide industry.

Nicolosi grew up in New York; he received a master’s degree from the New School and spoke in a thick Long Island accent. But he spent his career in Los Angeles. He received a PhD in clinical psychology from an obscure school there, and opened his own clinic in Encino in 1980. He seems to have focused his practice entirely on gay conversion attempts. The time was ripe. The social movements of the 1960s and the gay rights activism that flourished after the Stonewall Riots in 1969 ignited profound fear on the American right. Nicolosi found an eager audience for his claim that heterosexuality and traditional gender conformity were not only superior, but that deviations from them were pathological.

What Nicolosi offered was a way for homophobic parents, patients, and psychologists to validate their anti-gay feelings as being legitimated by nature, science, and psychological evidence.

The field of psychology had never been particularly welcoming to queers, but by the time Nicolosi began practicing, attempts to convert gays had already been relegated to quackery. Freud wrote that the prognosis for heterosexual feeling in homosexual patients was grim (though he did believe that gay impulses could be reduced under some circumstances). In 1932, Helene Deutsch published her study “On Female Homosexuality,” which recounted Deutsch’s attempts to instill heterosexuality in a lesbian, only to find that her patient had begun a relationship with another woman while the study was ongoing. In her conclusion, Deutsch noted that a straight relationship would have been her preferred outcome, but also seemed to acknowledge her patient’s lesbian partnership as psychologically healthy.

In 1948, just a year after Nicolosi was born, Alfred Kinsey published his groundbreaking report Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which found that homosexual tendencies were much, much more common than had previously been assumed. In 1978, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list of clinical disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Anti-gay stigma and bigotry were still rampant, both within the culture and within the field, but establishment psychologists had given up conversion attempts as a lost cause.

What Nicolosi offered was a way for homophobic parents, patients, and psychologists to validate their anti-gay feelings as being legitimated by nature, science, and psychological evidence. He established NARTH in 1992 alongside Benjamin Kaufman and Charles Socarides, two other obsessively anti-gay psychologists, explicitly in reaction to the removal of homosexuality from the DSM. They spoke in appealingly professional jargon, using phrases like “trauma” and “bad attachment.”

The organization became a network for homophobic psychologists, as well as a link between the industry and the growing number of ex-gay ministries and “pray away the gay” programs on the Christian right. Nominally secular, NARTH and Nicolosi frequently embraced religious rhetoric and prayer tactics, and were listed as ministry partners by a number of homophobic Christian organizations. The Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic, where NARTH is headquartered, is named after a Catholic saint. “We, as citizens, need to articulate God’s intent for human sexuality,” Nicolosi told Anderson Cooper in 2007. That same year, he told an ex-gay conference, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy.”

Nicolosi’s treatments often involved multiple one-on-one sessions per week. According to accounts given by former patients, he seems to have used a mix of Berger’s “confrontational therapy” methods of emotional abuse with what’s known as aversion therapy. Aversion therapy applies pain or discomfort to patients in conjunction with homosexual impulses or behaviors: Everything from snapping a rubber band around a patient’s wrist to giving them electric shocks to making them vomit. He believed that gay people had bad relationships with their parents in absolutely all cases, and spent a great deal of therapeutic time probing patients for incidents of humiliation, neglect, or contempt in their childhoods.

In his books, he instructed parents to monitor their children for supposed early signs of queerness, including shyness or “artistic” tendencies in boys.

For unclear reasons, he also believed that viewing pornography could cure homosexuality, an idea he repeatedly defended to professional gatherings. Programs associated with NARTH have been found to administer beatings to their patients. The majority of Nicolosi’s patients, like the majority of conversion therapy victims generally, were children and adolescents, forced into his care by parents who were bigoted, sadistic, or merely scared. Nicolosi encouraged these impulses; he claimed to be able to identify and reverse homosexuality in children as young as three. In his books, he instructed parents to monitor their children for supposed early signs of queerness, including shyness or “artistic” tendencies in boys.

But even before Nicolosi died, NARTH was facing a host of challenges. It lost its nonprofit status in 2012, and an important accreditation from the California Board of Behavioral Sciences was revoked in 2011. Prominent members of the group have been embroiled in controversy, including George Rekers, a conversion therapy psychologist who was discovered to have hired a 20-year-old male sex worker in 2010. California outlawed the practice for minors in 2012, cutting deeply into NARTH’s L.A.-based operations; New Jersey, Illinois, New York, Vermont, and Oregon have since passed their own bans. But the group and its imitators continue to harm both children and adults.

Discovering that you are gay, or that your child is gay, is frightening. It means confronting a future that will not look like the one that you expected, and it means realizing that you and people you love will be subjected to stigma, discrimination, harassment, and the punitive whims of the state. It means staring down a life with fewer certainties and more vulnerabilities than a straight person’s. Scared and misguided people went to Nicolosi for help, and he exploited their fear to perpetuate hate, inflicting horrible pain and incalculable psychological damage on his victims in the process. It is unfortunate that his legacy won’t die with him.

References

The Terrifying Truth About HIV Long-Term Survival!

The harsh reality is that the only people really qualified to comment on long-term survival are – long-term survivors.

Being a HIV long-term survivor is a bit like being a Vietnam veteran…more often than not you feel delegated to the sidelines of history. Like the Vietnam vets, we fought a socially unpopular and unacceptable war, and like them, our continuing presence is a reminder of things that many would sooner either forget, or just not acknowledge.

That is a harsh – and raw – assessment, and I can see hackles rising already amongst those who choose to observe it through rose-coloured glasses. The harsh reality is that the only people really qualified to comment on long-term survival are – long-term survivors.

Yesterday (June 5th) was HIV Long-Term Survivor Awareness Day. I can’t say that I didn’t personally feel a certain…pride…not the right word, though I’m hunting for the right one…that at last there was an acknowledgement of my part in HIV history. I posted the event as a Facebook status update, and I’m truly humbled by the response from my friends, and at the same time reminded that there are others in my current social “circle”who are also chalking up survival terms equal to my 36 years. Yet despite the acknowledgement, the most telling word to me was”Awareness”! And perhaps that word, more than any other, takes us back to the start of this article. It is an important word, as it suggests – very strongly – that we are the forgotten, those of HIV “past”, and our very existence needs to have attention drawn to it; that there needs to be a reminder that we didn’t all succumb to the ravages of AIDS.

Reality hurts, doesn’t it! And that really is the reality of long-term survival. To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what to do with us, apart from just leaving us alone to muddle through. On the general overview of HIV history, and considering the numbers of those who died – and continue to – as a result of AIDS, the numbers of us who have survived 20 years or more are small. We are now a disparate group, spread far and wide by the great diaspora that resulted from HIV diagnosis in the day. We are no longer concentrated in the areas of ground zero for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and in many respects that is a major reason for our being in the background of modern day HIV.

I don’t want to call this “awareness” day tokenistic…but, recognition of the sheer tenacity of HIV long-term survivors has been a hell of a long time coming! Considering that those of us with early diagnosis, who were still alive in the late 80s/early 90s were already long-term survivors…it’s recognition that is – like so much in HIV – well and truly overdue!

I have attempted to convey the harsh reality of long-term survival in past articles, and in my talks when I was a speaker for the Positive Speakers Bureau (PSB). Myself, and other speakers, whose history went back to the key points of HIV in Sydney were always in demand, as we were the living history of HIV and AIDS, the harbingers of the tales of horror, stigma, discrimination, political and religious turmoil, and the community response to the pandemic. But over time – I was a speaker for 12 years – I saw this group slowly dropping away for various reasons, and by the time I chose to retire from speaking I was one of the last of these “history” speakers. By that time, I personally felt that HIV in its modern guise was leaving me behind, lost in its dust as it moved into new territory. A HIV diagnosis still came with its fears and insecurities, but it was no longer a death sentence.

To be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what to do with us, apart from just leaving us alone to muddle through.

So, who are these people who are having “awareness” drawn to them? I can only speak for myself; can only put a personal perspective on HIV long-term survival. Perhaps the reality of it has always been something I have downplayed, in an attempt to NOT come across as a victim! The true reality of the horror years was TERROR!

My CMV diagnosis in 1996 filled me with terror! It was the ultimate reality that I was now on borrowed time. But even before that time, it was terrifying to get what was a death sentence in 1985! It was truly terrifying to watch the horrendous deaths happening around me on a daily basis! It was terrifying to know that that was what could be in store for me! It was terrifying every time I visited the doctor, every time I had a blood test! It was terrifying to know that treatments were limited, and of short duration! It was terrifying to be subjected to the side-effects of huge dosages of same treatments – side-effects I still live with today! It was terrifying visiting friends and lovers in hospital, knowing each kiss could be the last! It was terrifying to find myself losing weight, and trying to hide the fact under baggy clothing! It was terrifying to find myself the figure of HIV discrimination in my workplace, and powerless to do anything about it! It was terrifying to realise I could no longer go on working! It was terrifying after a lifetime of independence to realise that I would need to go onto DSP, and housing subsidies! It was terrifying watching myself head towards alcoholism, chain smoking and life in the fast lane to deal with everything that was going on – uncontrollably – around me! It was terrifying to find myself in hospital for the first time – a collapsed lung! It was terrifying to lie there for 2 weeks, having Sandy from the Oxford Hotel visit another friend and suddenly stumbled upon me! It was terrifying to see – very briefly – the look in her eyes! It was terrifying to think I could be there for reasons of HIV – yet denying it…I would go home…life would go on…yeah…right! It was terrifying to live the 24 hours between my possible CMV diagnosis, and its confirmation! It was terrifying to know that this was a reality- AIDS! It was terrifying only hours after that, getting off a bus at Prince Henry Hospital at La Perouse, and wobbling towards admissions…and thinking…what the fuck! It was terrifying to realise the reality of your health status; 10 CD4 cells, 48kgs weight…could that be right? Chronic candida, chronic anaemia, chronic CMV retinitis! It was terrifying to realise I was dying! It was terrifying to lie again in a hospital bed with nurses, and drips, and medications…and wondering if it was all worthwhile! It was terrifying finding myself at POW the next day, having drugs injected directly into my eyes! It was terrifying that day…and every day after! It was terrifying to sit in that waiting room days later, holding the hand of another guy going through the same thing, trying to reassure him as he wept, a reassurance I didn’t feel myself! It was terrifying trying new drug combinations, not knowing if they would be successful, or in time! It was terrifying to realise I accepted my fate, and was not frightened! It was terrifying to be told the combination had worked, and I’d soon be going home! It was terrifying to realise that I felt robbed, felt that I didn’t deserve to be spared that which so many I loved had not been saved from! Terrifying to realise I was going back to a world I no longer knew! Terrifying to realise that in many respects, I was now a freak…someone who just didn’t fit in! It was terrifying to know that no one, no individual, no organisation, was prepared in any way for the return of the living dead! It was terrifying to sit at home…lost, alone, isolated, unsure, unknowing, afraid! It was terrifying to have the reality of ongoing life, of being whisked from deaths door! It was terrifying going through the panic attacks, the anxiety, the depression! It was terrifying to discover that every one was so unprepared for “us” that necessary help was not available when we needed it! Terrifying to be taking massive numbers of drugs – 3-4 medications, with anywhere from 4-6 pills for each medication, 3 times a day (with dietary and time compliances on them), plus prophylaxis, plus pills to control side effects! It was terrifying to find I needed medication compliance counselling, return-to-life counselling, peer support groups, weekly clinics, specialists! Terrifying that I felt myself useless, at a loose end, disconnected! Terrified to realise I wanted nothing to do with life as it had been – so few friends survived the ravages of AIDS, and those not infected had no point of connection with me, and where I now was. I cut back my drinking, stopped smoking, adopted a healthier lifestyle, decided I wanted my life to head off in different directions to that which it had been going in! It was terrifying to find that there was no one to help me do that, and despite being at the forefront of a needs assessment project concerning the return-to-work requirements of others like me, the reality was that help was a couple of years away! It was terrifying to have lost the sight in one eye, and a good deal of the sight in the other due to the CMV, and learning to deal with that, and its uncertainties! It was terrifying to fall flat on my face on footpaths due to lack of depth perspective; tripping over tree roots, or low street benches, or falling down steps because I could not see the edge; It was terrifying going through the surgery to have Vitrasert implants put in my eyes to negate the regular intraocular injections, then surgery to remove the cataracts caused by same! Terrifying to get the Deca-Dorabolin injections to help put weight back on! Terrifying to return to a normal job – albeit temporarily – knowing that it made access to doctors appointments and hospitals (for drugs) very difficult! Terrifying to find myself collapsing in a gift store, and unable to use my legs…and even more terrifying to find the store owner dumping me in the gutter under the illusion I was a druggie…and everyone else ignoring me – then finally managing to walk again, only to collapse in the middle of Bondi Road on my way home! Terrifying to find I was losing my ability to walk a straight line, but drifted all over the footpath…and no one knew why! Terrifying going through many tests and scans- with dire predictions of what was happening in my head – to finally ascertain that THE virus had jumped the blood/brain barrier and was resident in my brain! The terrifying wait for it to resolve itself! Terrifying to go out to a pub for the first time after an 18-month recovery period! Terrifying to know I knew no one in the pub! Terrifying to go home with someone despite a previous very promiscuous life! Terrifying to get into a relationship again!

Terrifying! Terrifying! Terrifying! I could go on and on with the lists of terrifying experiences over this period, but the word count would be astronomical! Suffice it to say – terror had a name…HIV/AIDS! No one diagnosed these days will – I hope – ever have to go through it.

Survivor guilt was something that came later, after all the pandemonium of getting my health back on track quietened down, and left me with time to think, to mull over the events just past. It felt so unfair that I was still here! Felt unfair that, having prepared myself to die, it hadn’t eventuated, and I was left to continue mourning for those gone, continuing to live thanks to the hoped for medications that others hadn’t managed to hang around for! It was unhealthy thinking, but it happened anyway! More counselling to reconcile that!

So – has the terror stopped? For me, not really! A detached retina, and complex surgery to replace it in 2013, and the removal of the blind eye -it is now a prosthetic – in early 2015 has reduced what was bad vision even further. I joke that every time I walk out onto the street, I take my life into my hands…but it is, in reality, no laughing matter! It is quite frightening! It restricts what I do in some respects, but I deal with it. However, the fears of further detachments – I had one scare recently – or anything else that may affect what little vision I do have is always there.

However, it hasn’t all been terrifying over the last 22 years. I’ve taken control of my own health, I’ve reeducated myself, and fulfilled a few frustrated ambitions. I’ve reconnected with some old mates through social media, and it pleases me to know that not all disappeared like many did. I’m in a happy place as far as everyday life goes.

I hope this gives those that bother to read it an “awareness” of what long-term survival is really about. It would be fulfilling if something could be set up to make us more visible, less confined to the sidelines of HIV. I don’t have an answer to that conundrum only to say that it should have nothing to do with sitting in a circle, knitting and discussing HIV! Now that is a truly terrifying thought!

Tim Alderman © 2018.