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April 17, 2008

HIV Prevention Politics in Detroit
FILED UNDER: "HIV/AIDS"
TAGS: AIDS IncDetroitHIV Preventionleatherpublic health
By Trevor

So while I was in Detroit partying my face off Friday night with Maxime / Nat / Andre, I happened upon a flyer in the bathroom of Gold Coast for a public meeting on HIV/AIDS the following Wednesday (last night). I ripped off the flyer from the bathroom wall and hurried over to see if I could coax any of my friends in their drunken states to commit to attending with me. Nat was interested, so we made a date.

The event was being organized by a group called The Leather Institute for Education (LIFE) Detroit (I love their motto: "Where leather learns"). Nat and I made the drive out to Diamond Jim's Saloon, a kind of country-western style gay bar in Detroit proper. It's always sort of depressing to drive into many of the areas surrounding Detroit -- bombed out buildings, abandoned strip malls, and trash litter the scenery. But Nat was thrilled when we took a detour and drove through "an African-American neighborhood." He's such a British tourist here!

We walked into Diamond Jim's and found a very friendly atmosphere. Seemed like a good place to have a meeting. Nat ordered a cocktail; still hungover from the previous night's festivities, I ordered a Sprite. We introduced ourselves to some folks (including Mister Michigan Leather!), and then took our seats for the meeting. It wasn't particularly well attended, but we weren't deterred. We wanted to get to know the people doing prevention work in Detroit, after all. Get out of the University and meet the real activists doing the hard work!

The conversation provoked by the panel was an interesting one. It was at times candid and at other times political, as any conversation about barebacking / gay sex can be. There was a particularly frustrating tendency for one of the panel members to conflate any unprotected sex with a desire to "bug chase," which just isn't factually grounded. But more broadly speaking I think we had a good dialogue. I spit out my latest question on the topic, which is this: What is the relationship between porn and desire production? And more pointedly, what is the impact of the shift in gay porn to it being primarily manufactured in San Francisco -- a city where unprotected sex and serosorting have become en vogue, and a city where this seems to be working because of the extremely high testing rates there? What happens when these kinds of fantasies get produced in that context, but consumed in a context (say, Detroit, where testing rates are very low) where serosorting would not be particularly good strategy for moderating new HIV infections (because so many men are of unknown status).

Perhaps more broadly speaking, there was a tendency to advocate for what gay men "ought" and "ought not" to be doing in their bedrooms. This seems to follow the trend in public health today to focus on individual behavior change, rather than structural changes (see the fabulous article "What Ails Public Health?" -- sadly behind a $$ firewall -- for more on this). This is not the only strategy for reducing new infections. For instance, we know that higher rates of regular testing by gay men limits the number of guys out there who are "question marks" -- as well as the number of guys who are newly infected and who don't know it (who are highly infectious in the first few months of their disease progression). Treatment is another tried and true prevention mechanism. Guys who are poz who take meds regularly can often manage to become undetectable in viral load, which makes it very difficult to transmit the virus. So expanding access to testing and treatment, in my mind, are two very effective and much less complicated methods for prevention folks.

Towards the end of the meeting, I was surprised when tensions in the prevention community there were revealed as a result of the absence of ALL of the major AIDS organizations at the meeting. Apparently, the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project and AIDS Partnership Michigan had both confirmed their participation at the event beforehand -- yet they were both noticeably absent. Several folks there commented that this was not the first time these organizations had "stood them up," and that these organizations were notorious for their lack of community participation in general. One man relayed a story of how a local leather organization raised big bucks for these groups at a fundraiser, and asked that a representative come down to the bar to pick the check up. A representative from one of the groups came down, demanded that they not pay cover for entry, grabbed the check and walked out. Now that's out of touch with your community!

I'm looking froward to continuing my participation at events like these in Detroit. There's apparently an AIDS conference in Detroit in November, although sadly the organizing committee did NOT put out a call for workshops -- opting instead for an invitation-only presentation model. That reflects the kind of out of touch, "insider" professionalized culture ("AIDS Inc") that these men were lamenting at the LIFE Detroit forum last night. Hopefully I can stir up some trouble here. I'm always good at doing that :)

Off to Chicago! Have a great weekend!

PERMALINK | Posted at 9:29 AM | Post a Comment (0)


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