Friday, 3 October 2008
Growing up gay...
('Iggy Pop finds the clap')
I found reactions to my earlier posting about my grandmother quite interesting. Afod made reference to pre and post the AIDS epidemic. It was not a connection I was thinking of when I made the posting but the reference reminded me that there is an entire generation of gay men alive today who have no idea what it was like to live a gay life before that horror emerged.
I think it was the early 1980s when I first read newspaper reports about a mystery illness affecting mainly gay men in the United States which was proving fatal. The illness was so new and unknown that it didn't yet have a formal name. I recall reading the reports with a mixture of anxiety and lack of concern. On the one hand it was worrying that there might be some deadly illness that could snare me and on the other a sense that surely the reports were exaggerations and nothing further would be heard of this illness.
At the time I would have been in my early 30s and already sexually active (often overactive) for about 20 years. And all of that sexual activity, like all gay sexual activity of the time, had been unprotected. After all what did gay men of the time need sexual protection against?
Well, for one thing, sexually transmitted diseases (STD).
I was about 14 when I collected my first STD and to this day I still recall the embarrassment of my visit to the doctor with this malady. You have to bear in mind that I was a minor and my parents accompanied me to the surgery. Furthermore, my STD was acquired through homosexual sex and homosexual sex was then illegal. Not only that but in those days doctors were required to notify the Government of all cases of STD.
The doctor assumed my STD was acquired through heterosexual sex and requested the name of the girl with whom I had the sexual relationship as he was required to notify the authorities. I couldn't reveal that it was homosexual sex I had been engaged in as that would be to admit that I was engaging in illegal activity and in any event I couldn't name my sexual partners because they were all anonymous encounters at public 'beats'. Either way, I also was below the age of sexual consent.
I remained silent and the doctor persisted. I think it was something like half an hour that I spent with him in this awkward standoff; the doctor demanding the name of the girl and me sitting there mute, glum and embarrassed.
I don't know how the doctor got over his notification requirements nor exactly what he told my parents when I emerged from the surgery but the trip home was not pleasant.
The next time I picked up a STD it was still before AIDS but I was then over 18 and able to find my way to a Government STD clinic where I could admit to engaging in homosexual sex and where, I assume, the authorities turned a blind eye to the illegal sexual activity.