On the surface Andrew Sullivan is not unappealing. He is an intellectual in the tradition of William Buckley except that he is an openly gay man. In fact in the last election he supported Kerry-Edwards. He also accepts and openly promotes legislation to legalize gay marriage. As a political animal there is no doubt that he accepts individual rights. The politics espoused here also accept and encourage the rights of the individual. The conclusion was reached that among the rights of individuals to be supported is also the right to be stupid, even if one is an intellectual. People have every right to be stupid.
Here is what Mr. Sullivan recently wrote:
Not Dead Yet
"People are in such denial about how serious HIV is. Unfortunately, the best prevention is seeing people die." - Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
I¹m sorry. It has taken me a long time to say this, but it's time: I'm sorry.
It's been almost 12 years since I became infected with HIV, and I haven¹t died yet. I haven't even had the decency to get sick. I am a walking, talking advertisement for why HIV seems not such a big deal to the younger generation ‹ and indeed, many in my own age bracket. I know this is a terrible thing, and I promise in the future to do better. As gay activist Michelangelo Signorile recently told The New York Times, "If everyone in your group is beautiful, taking steroids, barebacking, and HIV-positive, having the virus doesn¹t seem like such a bad thing."
I'm sorry. At the tender age of 41 ‹ a year longer than I once thought I would live ‹ I have never felt better. HIV transformed my life, made me a better and braver writer, prompted me to write the first big book pushing marriage rights, got me to take better care of my health, improved my sex life, and deepened my spirituality.
I'm sorry. I¹ll try to do better.
Yes, I take testosterone and human growth hormone, and I now weigh 190 pounds. I discovered a couple of abs in my midsection the other day. I'll try to disguise them. Do they sell burkas online? I've even enjoyed sex more since I became positive ‹ more depth, more intimacy, more appreciation of life itself. Sorry.
I look physically and mentally healthier than ever. Sorry again. I know that by just going daily to the gym, walking on the beach, or dancing at the occasional circuit party, I am the cause of more people getting infected with HIV. I have helped persuade them by my very existence that HIV isn't such a curse, that it can be survived, that it can be treated effectively, that you can live well and long with HIV if you look after yourself and stay alert and informed. I'm sorry. I'm almost as bad as those damn drug ads showing people with HIV triumphing over adversity.
In the future I'll try to look sicker. Or I'll stay home more. Promise. I'll try to get depressed. I won't work out. I'll stay off TV. I will never tell anyone that treatments are far less onerous than they used to be (and I went through medication hell for several years in the 1990s). I'll even repeat the lie that HIV transmission rates are exploding because of people like me, even though the latest solid data show HIV rates to be stabilizing or even declining in many cities. (A decline in infection rates in New York City last year! Sorry again. I shouldn't have told you that. It will make you less scared.)
If all else fails, I'll tell people I may have gotten "super-AIDS," an old, extremely rare, now debunked viral strain that is being successfully treated in one gay man in New York City. Promise.
I'd even be prepared to stop taking my meds if that would help. The trouble is, like many other people with HIV, I did that three years ago. My CD4 count remained virtually unchanged, and only recently have I had to go back on meds. Five pills once a day. No side effects to speak of. I know that others go through far worse, and I don't mean to minimize their trials. But the bottom line is that HIV is fast becoming another diabetes.
You can see the symptoms. Far fewer gay men are dying of AIDS anymore. Sometimes local gay papers have no AIDS obits for weeks on end. C'mon, pozzies. You can do better than that!
Do you have no sense of social responsibility? Young negative men need to see more of us keeling over in the streets, or they won¹t be scared enough to avoid a disease that may, in the very distant future, kill them off. You know, like any number of other diseases might. They may even stop believing that this is a huge, escalating crisis, threatening to wipe out homosexual life on this planet.
What are those happy HIV-positive men thinking of? Die, damn it.
Of course, we could always be thrilled that so many people are living longer and better lives with HIV. We could celebrate our reclaiming of sexuality after years of terror. We could even try new strategies for risk reduction among gay men ‹ strategies that emphasize positive ways to care for our health rather than negative ways to scare the bejeezus out of everyone. But then we'd have no more people to scapegoat and blame, would we?
July 5, 2005, The Advocate.
copyright © 2000, 2005 Andrew Sullivan
Some time thereafter an email was sent to Mr. Sullivan via his website asking him to disabuse us of the notion that he encourages unsafe casual sexual encounters. It was also pointed out to him that there were other STDs that might be transmitted if not necessarily as fatal.
Willy nilly Mr. Sullivan is a public openly gay figure and as such has a responsibility.
It is to be lauded that his HIV+ “health” exists and that he allegedly feels so well. There are those who take issue with his statements: those who know him from the ‘neighbourhood.’
There was much made of Sullivan’s alleged ad on www.bareback.com and it begged the question how one would know. Sullivan was given the benefit of the doubt. He has done nothing to erase those doubts.
Mr. Sullivan has made himself an issue, but it is much bigger than even his apparently rejuvenated life. Who knew that being HIV+ could actually improve one’s life?
Of course, there are HIV+ individuals who are flourishing, but at the same time there are many who are not. All need to live each day as it comes. Ill or not to be sure stupidity should not be part of the equation. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Everyone has a right to be stupid. Remember the British headline following Geo. W. Bush’s reelection? However, the right to be responsible far outweighs the right to be stupid. When stupidity encourages death as Sullivan virtually does in his “apology” perhaps it should be a right that one does not need to take advantage of. It just might be superseded by life affirming statements. Unless, of course, an HIV+ individual dislikes the idea of others not having the same affliction. Do not misunderstand anything here. It is an affliction. By the way, Diabetes is an affliction and often fatal. AIDS which very often is the result of being HIV+ is, more often than not, a fatal affliction. So sorry, Sully, you are sick. But, please, don’t encourage others to be the same.
Sully has been known to play fast and loose with statistics as he did on Maher’s show. Shortly thereafter he went looking for stats where he stores them [as pictured]. AIDS worldwide is a huge problem. People are dying.
No, no one should scare the be-jesus out of anyone. But, perhaps younger HIV- people should be led into a different kind of positive direction: a life affirming safe sexual encounter direction.
No one should want anyone to die before a well allotted time. It’s good that Sully’s alive. It should follow that he wants the same for others.