I gotta go get some of that hot poz seed!
June 23, 2005 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Dear Bareback Andy --a response by Signorile to Andrew Sullivan's recent article on HIV--"Still Here, So Sorry"-- how HIV vastly improved his life. (Sullivan also famously and prematurely wrote about the End of Aids in '96)
posted by amberglow (50 comments total)

I lived in a part of rural Africa where 60% of people admitted to the local hospital were HIV+. I saw so many young children die, so many futures taken away. Taken in long, painful and degrading deaths.

While I'm glad that so many in the West can live a long and healthy life, Mr Sullivan has nothing to say to the majority of HIV+ in the world. He doesn't appear to notice them. Indeed, his comments read like a sick joke.
posted by quarsan at 7:01 AM on June 23, 2005

how HIV vastly improved his life

For every buttered Andy Sullivan there are many, many more methed out and withered HIV tragedies. It is a killer, and to gloss over the reality of the majority is, itself, a tragedy.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:02 AM on June 23, 2005

If Andrew Sullivan's essay can enrage me - as an occasional neocon with a fascination for Catholic sensibilities and still personally in mourning for the brilliantly subversive UK AIDS columnist Oscar Moore (he was my son's agnostic godfather) - then who the hell is he writing for? His yappy little dog?
Signorile is correct that Sullivan's ego has interfered with his brain. Drunk at the computer, perhaps?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 7:05 AM on June 23, 2005

From Sullivan's article : “If everyone in your group is beautiful, taking steroids, barebacking, and HIV-positive, having the virus doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.”


I’ve even enjoyed sex more since I became positive—more depth, more intimacy, more appreciation of life itself.

quarsan says : I lived in a part of rural Africa where 60% of people admitted to the local hospital were HIV+.

Wow! Rural Africa must party central! I know where I'm spending MY next vacation.
posted by afroblanca at 7:11 AM on June 23, 2005

Drunk at the computer, perhaps?

That, or the steroids are giving a dangerous/obnoxious high.
posted by Jikido at 7:11 AM on June 23, 2005

No one is asking Sullivan to act like an afflicted victim all the time, it'd just be nice if he could acknowledge that HIV infection is a serious issue or shut up instead of pretending that getting a disease is awesome. Look, maybe the best prevention is seeing people die, but did it ever occur to him that the second best might be living a responsible life and leading by example?

The fact that he was able to reexamine his relationships and become more motivated with his life has fuck-all to do with HIV. He had a shocking, direction-changing (or affirming) event happen and it just happened to be infection. That's great it happened to him, but getting infected with HIV isn't exactly like finding religion or being shocked at someone else's death.
posted by mikeh at 7:16 AM on June 23, 2005

Maybe we can get Fox to create a reality show in which we follow people around as they try to get themselves infected – you can be the host! -- and then watch their lives transformed for the better, while all of those nasty, negative people who warn gay men against getting HIV are shut out of the most chic nightclubs, as their steroid-free bodies shrivel-up. We can call the show, “Getting Pozzed!”

"This is not a bad idea at all", thought the MeFi-reading TV executive in his Century City office
posted by matteo at 7:18 AM on June 23, 2005

wow, sullivan's piece was kinda disturbing. Sure, you can find positive things in negative events, you can become stronger and understand things more deeply, yadda yadda, but still, that doesn't mean you want to encourage other people to go through it... and just because at 41 he's doing well doesn't mean the disease won't shave some years from his life eventually, or that the meds/disease won't have an impact on his health in some other form, at some point. Being optimistic is fine. But this is just egotistic and stupid.

And Signorile's point about the lack of a link from his right-wing blog is intriguing... I wonder if he'll respond.
posted by mdn at 7:32 AM on June 23, 2005

I stopped reading his blog becuase of crap like this. He seems to get off on being contrary to conventional wisdown, which was cute for a while. Now he seems to be in it for the shock value.

Gone are the days of decent discussion at andrewsullivan.com...
posted by menace303 at 7:32 AM on June 23, 2005

Is this the first time he's written something egregiously myopic and self-absorbed? Andrew Sullivan's favorite person is, without question, Andrew Sullivan. The only consistent factor in his writing is that all things begin and end with him.

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why anyone still bothers to read his self-congratulatory crap.
posted by Gamblor at 7:36 AM on June 23, 2005

I guess I don't really need to add anything, but I am seething with anger.

How like Sullivan to not think about the future of the disease, in particular drug resistant strains. Not to mention the extreme cost and strain put on healthcare systems. Nor the long term affects of medication.

How like Andy to see no bigger picture than an enlarged photograph of his own dick.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 7:38 AM on June 23, 2005

"...mentally healthier than ever."

I'm not so sure about that
posted by mr.marx at 7:38 AM on June 23, 2005

I'm always perplexed by why my liberal brethren hate Sully so much. He voted for Kerry, he's pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-war (now that he sees the light, at least) and usually pretty level-headed.

This article, though, he should've kept to himself. Now excuse me while I go get some of that hot poz seed.
posted by fungible at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2005

That article of Sullivan's is almost criminally irresponsible, and certainly morally irresponsible.

The "Bareback Andy" letter was excellent, rebuttal at its finest.

Item, let's be careful not to take the outrage too far, okay?
posted by orange swan at 7:44 AM on June 23, 2005

"...and just because at 41 he's doing well doesn't mean the disease won't shave some years from his life eventually"

Exactly. And when that time comes, he'll be writing about what a horrible disease AIDS is, and why didn't people take it more seriously? There will be no mention of how his previous writing might have impacted others, nor even any admission that he's ever changed his opinion.

See his posts on the war in Iraq as Exhibit A of this behavior.
posted by Gamblor at 7:55 AM on June 23, 2005


*pisses himself with laughter*
posted by matteo at 8:00 AM on June 23, 2005

Whoa, a right-wing, conservative, Republican gay guy? Maybe they're keeping him alive for historical purposes?
posted by wakko at 8:35 AM on June 23, 2005

Bareback Andy is an easy target because of his overinflated sense of self.

The real damage is done by Big Pharma putting out ads with smiling, beautiful infected men "living" with their disease without the consequences of taking toxic medication cocktails, and by publications like Out and Advocate that take in the juicy advertising money these corporations wave around.

Shame on them for doing so. Shame, shame, shame. Paying Bareback Andy to write an editorial is just the tip of the iceberg.

Bareback Andy is a blowhard and easy pickins. Signorile can and should set his sights much, much higher.
posted by Rothko at 8:38 AM on June 23, 2005

He voted for Kerry
And made a big show of it, holding his nose the entire time. And only after spending the previous four years swooning over Bush, and the previous two shitting on Kerry.

he's pro-choice
Big deal. Is he going to need to have an abortion at some point?

pro-gay marriage
Because he himself is gay. And this is the issue that finally got him to vote against Bush. That's blatant self-interest, not enlightenment.

You're fucking kidding right? He was the biggest cheerleader around, until the war turned into the shitfest people had warned about beforehand (the same people he had derided as traitors at the time). Then he suddenly changed his tune. How courageous.

Yes, he's a liberal's best friend.
posted by Gamblor at 8:39 AM on June 23, 2005

Well, Andrew Sullivan is a douche. I don't know what the rates are, but I definetly know that having AIDS is very uncomfortable for a lot of people, and those rates are probably known. The fact is sully is taking his own experiance and assuming it applies to everyone, and that's not true.

For every buttered Andy Sullivan there are many, many more methed out and withered HIV tragedies. It is a killer, and to gloss over the reality of the majority is, itself, a tragedy.

Erm, meth has a tendancy to do that, AIDS or no, I think.
posted by delmoi at 8:41 AM on June 23, 2005

Mother & I are still collating. We do not wish to lose the chance of saving our species.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 9:01 AM on June 23, 2005

From Sullivan's article : “If everyone in your group is beautiful, taking steroids, barebacking, and HIV-positive, having the virus doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.”

Sounds like a ripping fine recipe for cooking up a recombinant, drug-resistant super-strain of HIV.

Thanks, Andy...just what's needed: a writer with an ego that takes on the role of "Epidemic Blogger Zero." /sarcasm
posted by Dunvegan at 9:17 AM on June 23, 2005

Andrew Sullivan's blog was also paid for/sponsored by those very pharmaceutical companies, while he was writing mash notes to them in all sorts of publications.

He's always been about himself, and has always thought that his experience is also everyone else's, but he's going way too far now, i think. It's annoyed many of us, since he's been the go-to writer on gay issues for the Times, New Republic, and many many other pubs--he's such a bad choice.
posted by amberglow at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2005

Amberglow, that is an amazing conflict of interest. I'm surprised it doesn't get more attention when Bareback Andy opens his mouth.

Like Santorum, maybe we all need to spread this Bareback Andy meme around like a disease. He could write another editorial about the joyous, carefree irony of being tagged that way.
posted by Rothko at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2005

He closed his eyes to Iraqi deaths, and he closes his eyes to his (statistically impending) own.

Not a man I admire.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:59 AM on June 23, 2005

I'm surprised it doesn't get more attention when Bareback Andy opens his mouth.

maybe Jeff Gannon/Guckert will do an in-depth investigation
posted by matteo at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2005

Bareback Andy is a total asshat. Until he got disgusted with Bush's anti-marriage rhetoric he was their biggest cheerleader.
posted by mike3k at 11:02 AM on June 23, 2005

I have actually emailed him and called him to task for this type of behavior. I was shocked that he responded and - this is the most scary thing - his brilliant response almost had me changing sides. Then I realized that good points don't change the underlying truths. HIV sucks. People's lives change, often for the better, after surviving tragedy, but no one is advocating crashing your car to better your life. And OH, he HASN'T survived. The game is far from over for him. It's not like he broke his arm and now the cast is off and all is over. HE STILL IS POSITIVE.
If only he would use his genius for good, instead of EVIL.
posted by juggler at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2005

"The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places." - Ernest Hemmingway

Hemmingway wishes to posthumously retract this statement in light of Bareback Andy's blinding stupidity.
posted by nofundy at 12:07 PM on June 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sullivan went to my college where there were, in fact, a crowd of "Log Cabin" Republicans. He was a sort of celebrity with the literary societies and the gay community for his instant rise to prominence in the magazine world upon graduation. I remember people awaiting articles and then furiously discussing how great he was.

Then came the "bareback" article. Instantly he was the bane of campus. No one ever wanted to admit they had ever met the man. Even his closest friends were absolutely appalled.

He sealed the deal by convincing a friend still on campus to come out in a scathing editorial in a national magazine rather than talk about it to family and friends. It was all done for the shock value and personal notoriety and had nothing to do with issue awareness.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:43 PM on June 23, 2005

You're fucking kidding right? He was the biggest cheerleader around, until the war turned into the shitfest people had warned about beforehand (the same people he had derided as traitors at the time). Then he suddenly changed his tune. How courageous.

Yeah, as the Repubs often remind us, so was Clinton. So was most of the Congressional Democrats.

But some people, like with the GoDaddy guy or the Freedom Fries congressman, might be willing to admit they were wrong. It's not very constructive to burn people when they do so.
posted by fungible at 1:43 PM on June 23, 2005

well, i'm genuinely glad he can be positive, but the majority of aids sufferers don't have access to medicine.

and they die. quickly. and so do their children.

i might be too sensitive, but this whole article was just sticking two fingers up at Africans who are dying in their millions. trust me, from my experience they don't think AIDS was the best thing that happened to them.

but, they're black, so who cares
posted by quarsan at 1:49 PM on June 23, 2005

that's really the sin of all of it, quarsan--Sullivan's in a rare position to do enormous good on behalf of people with HIV all over the world--he has the bully pulpit whenever he wants, but he uses it for this?
posted by amberglow at 1:52 PM on June 23, 2005

make sure this gentleman reads your editorial, so he'll know how fucking lucky he is, Sullivan

posted by matteo at 2:28 PM on June 23, 2005

posted by gorgor_balabala at 5:04 PM on June 23, 2005

Sullivan's got a mini-rebuttal up on his blog. I wrote him a long email, but I'm sure he's not reading incoming mail tonight -- probably thousands and thousands of notes -- and I spent to long on it not to do something with it, so I'll post it here.

You're probably filing subject lines with "hiv" in them straight into
the trash at this point -- can't imagine the amount of mail you've
recieved -- but on the off-chance this gets read I wanted first to say
(1) you're a brilliant writer, and (2) I've always admired your
intellectual nonconformism. I'm liberal, but in a nonprejudiced
society sexuality should have nothing to do with (say) gun control,
and you've been way ahead of your time in blazing that path.

But. Sometimes I get the feeling that you just like to stir stuff up,
and I think your Advocate article will do more harm than good. I can
give the benefit of the doubt and assume that your point was really
the one you made in your blog post -- in the article, it was so buried
in bragaddicio (tounge-in-cheek, sure, but there's a thin, blurry
line) that I didn't see it on first read.

I'm 22 -- not old enough to remember the AIDS crisis among gay men.
When I was in middle school (8th grade, 1997, was the last time I
remember lessons on HIV), they made sure to teach us it was a disease
that could strike anybody, showed videos about kids dying after blood
transfusions, etc., and I think most people have retained that

Thing is -- at least in the west -- that's not true. Gay men have a
much higher risk of contracting HIV than anyone else.

Not many people my age are interested in queer history, which is a
shame -- it's full of love, truth, heroism. What queers went through
10-25 years ago was a war and a plague; it killed so many people, and
it brought out much in others. And above all, I think we need to
respect the memories of the people who died (and those who survived,
yeah). I agree -- let's recognize that for those with money, HIV need
not be fatal, and aim prevention accordingly -- but hearing brags
about new abdominal muscles (under veils of satire, yes, but not
entirely sarcastic) feels very very wrong. We owe everything to
people who fought for their rights while their friends were /dying/,
who couldn't put up an art exhibit with a same sex photo without being
prosecuted for obscenity, who got beat up by rednecks outside bars and
kicked out of their homes by their parents, who went to Castro and New
York not because they were drawn by the art galleries but because they
had nowhere else to go. Not many people my age (I'm in the midwest,
maybe it's different elsewhere) ask, "are you family?", and that's ok
-- we've got our parents and siblings. But the ones who came before
us didn't, and we should never forget why that expression existed. We
should never forget what it was LIKE (or learn and not forget it;

When I came out to my mom, her response was "gay people die" -- she's
a PhD -- a *science* PhD -- but that was her response, partly becuase
googling "gay statistics" brings up old, fraudulent data. I showed
her newer, rigorous refutations of that data, walked her through the
studies and Salon articles, and she felt better. I didn't bring up
some new studies that show the rate of HIV infection among young, gay,
black NY club-goers who think they're negative to be 49% (my
boyfriend's black; she'd freak out). That's a horrible statistic.

It remains horrible, even today, because there are at least 3
important differences between HIV and diabetes:

1. HIV is communicable, even if only sexually. Nobody's nervous about
shaking the hand of a diabetic.

2. HIV costs 50 times as much as diabetes to treat -- costs /somebody/
that much, whether it's parents, insurance providers, nonprofits (or,
in state-run healthcare systems, society at large). As a
conservative, you should appreciate economic assessments; this one's

3. STDs are stigmatized. They've been stigmatized for a long time and
are likely to remain so for a long time. It's much easier to get
people to recognize that being gay isn't immoral if you don't try to
convince them of other things at the same time -- and now there are
arguments for the morality of being gay that are consistent with
republicanism, with teetotalism, with abstinence-til-marriage, with
christianity (even with literal readings of the bible!). The concepts
of HIV and homosexuality should never be so closely intertwined that
in order to convince people one is alright, you have to convince them
the other is, too. They were in 1985, when most out gay men had HIV,
and I hope they never are again. But they will be if infection rates
keep rising.

Alright, I've rambled long enough.

posted by Tlogmer at 2:38 AM on June 24, 2005

Even if Sullivan scoots over your message, no one reading here will. Often the best rebuttals are the ones not spittle-flecked with fury -or offering benefit of the doubt over Sullivan's slippery sarcasm in his original article - something I can't yet manage.
Very, very well put - and you're only 22? (gulp...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 3:17 AM on June 24, 2005

Oh god, I can't stand it! From the supportive email Sullivan quotes in his blog today: "Back in 1988, the people in my support group who were busy writing wills and going on long term disability died very quickly. People like me who insisted on living a normal life - seemed to keep on trucking."
Which means - what? That's it attitudethat keeps you going? By quoting this, is Sullivan still hung up on the evil of perception of the disease?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 3:30 AM on June 24, 2005

from his rebuttal: From being an automatic death sentence, it's now in the diabetes spectrum, if you get tested early and treated effectively.
No, Andrew, it's not. And you're ensuring thru your own barebacking that it will never be like diabetes.

He forgets that almost 50 million Americans don't have health insurance, so won't get tested early or treated effectively. And that's just one fact of life that doesn't even enter his mind.

Tlogmer, rates are up for your age group (a group that doesn't carry health insurance in the same rates as older folks), partly because you're not as afraid of it as we were who were around your age when it was raging thru our communities in the early-mid 80s--Sullivan shares
some blame for that, even though that's when he himself contracted it. (and Tlogmer, most out gay men didn't have or contract HIV back then--the media incorrectly said that, and more importantly, we were taught to assume that, and to act accordingly to stay alive and uninfected. We wouldn't
be here to talk to you at all if most of us had contracted it back then--the drugs aren't that much of a miracle and don't work for everyone.)

And far from scapegoating and blaming, we did the exact opposite--maybe we shouldn't have, if this is the payback for ensuring that he wasn't Seen as a pariah or AIDS victim, and could keep his job and wasn't tattooed or quarantined somewhere, and had drugs fasttracked to keep him alive, etc. Even now, people who are infected are routinely
presented as healthy, hot, rock-climbing hunks, instead of the dangerously irresponsible roid-engorged fools a few like him actually Are. Even now there's no scapegoating or blaming from us.

If he truly believes that the AIDS establishment is in denial about it--an establishment that has fought for decades to keep him alive and unstigmatized, then he really needs therapy, and giant smack upside the head. I think he's never taken any responsibility at all for his own roles in it--from the need to be personally responsible, to his many published writings on it all, to the fact that he wouldn't still be here spouting this dangerous bullshit if it wasn't for everyone else who played any kind of role in it, from scientists to public health officials to those of us who
marched with ActUp to the volunteers even now who do all sorts of things to help people.
posted by amberglow at 12:12 PM on June 24, 2005

I agree with everything you wrote -- if my letter seemed too, I don't know, blase` about hiv it was because I was trying to give sullivan as much credit as I could while communicating with him.

And he actually did write back to me, surprisingly. I won't post his letter because it's bad form to make something public that wasn't originally, but basically his points were

1. HIV medication costs are dropping (though he seemed to concede I had some sort of point about costs)

2. The investment in HIV meds has led to breakthroughs in other research areas. (God, what a ridiculous argument, like saying the space shuttle program advances life sciences. It costs so much more to advance other sciences indirectly than directly; still a waste of money (or would be if HIV wasn't a crisis).)

3. He knows about the plauge years; he, unlike me, lived through them, and I should read his memoir. He thinks his dead friends wouldn't want more people to get the disease, but would also be happy that people with the disease can live full, healthy lives (including sex lives). (This one still rubs me the wrong way, even if I were to concede all his other arguments. But at that point it becomes subjective, I think.)

4. He finds the word "queer" offensive. Heh.

Didn't adress the stigmatization point.

I don't know. I respect him for writing back, but obviously not convinced of anything. I'm a bit annoyed at the condescending "you're not old enough to have lived through it", but he has a point: I'm not (though it's not like only people my age disagree with him). Eh. I'll still read his blog from time to time, but I don't really respect him anymore.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:38 PM on June 24, 2005

Hm. Actually. I just went to andrewsullivan.com and found myself embarrased whenever he mentioned gay rights, for exactly the reason I wrote about -- the possible conflation, among politically distant people, of gayness and hiv. So no, I probably won't read the blog much.
posted by Tlogmer at 4:49 PM on June 24, 2005

So Sullivan indicated that "He thinks his dead friends wouldn't want more people to get the disease, but would also be happy that people with the disease can live full, healthy lives (including sex lives). "
People ought to be very, very careful when selectively ventriloquizing the dead. It's generally a feeble rhetorical device.
And if THAT had been the entire gist of Sullivan's excruciating essay (which it certainly wasn't), none of us - I think - would mind at all, including the poor departed souls who didn't have his luck so far, the unselfish efforts of uncounted medical researchers etc etc.
By the way, did you know that teflon - used for saucepans - was an ancillary breakthrough from NASA research? Possibly this is the sort of accounting that appeals to Sullivan too!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:07 PM on June 24, 2005

Tlog, don't let him play that card "oh, you weren't around then"--i'm telling you otherwise, and millions of others of us will too--we all were around then, and stayed negative and will be around when Sullivan is with those friends he uses to justify his actions. Most of us stay negative because we loved and still miss those dead friends, and their loss was the impetus for us to be responsible always, given the alternative--and Sullivan barebacks in their honor? wtf?
posted by amberglow at 8:18 PM on June 24, 2005

That response has made me more angry at him than before, Tlog. He's not just any anonymous gay man like me--he's the gay man whose every thought gets published in national magazines and newspapers. he's the gay man who gets on tv to pontificate... You think he's someone worth giving the benefit of the doubt to--and that's because of his fame and position.

Please please don't give his words any more creedence than anyone else's--he's selling disease to make himself feel better--and he's the one with the bully pulpit.
posted by amberglow at 8:26 PM on June 24, 2005

read this, everyone--Larry Kramer on Sullivan right after his "end of Aids" piece was published in the NYT in 96.-- ...Get out there on the line and give everyone hell for allowing the world to be such a shitty place for people with HIV. But Andrew patently doesn't want to do this. Otherwise he wouldn't have waited three years to announce he was HIV positive. Otherwise he wouldn't have so quietly exited (quit? been fired from? pushed out of?) The New Republic, ... filled with the messianic fervor of the true believer. It is a rich white boy's fairy tale, almost racist in its total oversight of the rest of the world. I'm still aghast as I write this description. How could anyone on drugs for only a couple of months, on a regimen that's also in general release for not much longer, claim as factual so much that isn't?...
posted by amberglow at 8:35 PM on June 24, 2005

Nonono, don't worry. I'll never be convinced by Sullivan's arguments (at least, not these ones). I gave him the benefit of the doubt because I wanted him to take me seriously and be convinced of something -- or, if that's not terribly likely, at least write me back. Yeah, maybe I wouldn't have put so much energy into being intellectually approachable if he wasn't famous, but I think that's the best approach whenever you're debating someone. You shouldn't let your rhetoric get pulled around by your anger; that leads to mutual disengament and ideological bloodfeuds that lead nowhere. We should all be on the same side (LGBT people, but, more utopically, people in general).
posted by Tlogmer at 11:24 PM on June 24, 2005

Since it's under so much discussion, I might as well quote that line verbatim: "and i believe that my dead friends, while wanting to keep people from getting this disease, would also be thrilled that so many are surviving and reclaiming our vigor and, yes, our sex lives."
posted by Tlogmer at 11:44 PM on June 24, 2005

But he should know better--doing that does not require trashing the very people and groups that made that possible in the first place. Barebacking while poz is not mandatory for a good or great sex life. And his vigor is very much doctor-prescribed.

It's not you so much i worry about, but all the people that read him, and aren't as well-informed or don't read other views...And the media deserves much of the blame--their "token gay" is spreading dangerous misinfo.
posted by amberglow at 8:19 AM on June 25, 2005

more at Sullywatch
posted by amberglow at 6:35 PM on June 27, 2005

Another good response.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:22 AM on June 29, 2005

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