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March 3, 2009

Eric Leven's Recent Barebacking Video: "Why are we..."
FILED UNDER: "Gay Men's Health & Culture"
TAGS: barebackEric Levengay men's healthHIV Prevention
By Trevor


Why are we... from Eric Leven on Vimeo.

Eric sent this to me weeks and weeks ago -- I've been a terrible blogger lately! Sorry, Eric, for the much delayed posting and commentary. I may have hesitated to post it because, though I deeply admire and respect Eric's intentions and labor here, I'm a bit nonplussed by the execution and message of the video. The main message of the video, "After all we've been through / And all we know / Why are we still barebacking each other?" isn't a particularly new line of questioning, and I think not particularly productive.

I guess Eric intends for the viewer to respond with, "Yea, what the fuck?!?!?" But let's get real: the guys who are having unprotected sex and at most risk for contracting HIV wouldn't view this video and reflect critically on those decisions. The reason I think this is true is largely because the video relies on the language of "barebacking," a category which has become so terribly villianized in the media that next to nobody chooses to identity with it. Barebacking as a label has come to be associated with pathological, irrational, and self-destructive gay men. In this way, it's easy to view this video and dissociated yourself from the label and, thus, the message it contains.

In fact, it's almost imperative to dissociate from the category. I've noticed in stories of men who test positive an immediate effort to reconstruct their sexual lives in order to fit a more socially acceptable seroconversion narrative. "Oh, you know, I slipped up and we didn't use a condom." Nevermind the fact that some guys were looking for sex on hookup sites built to facilitate sex without condoms. I'm not saying that they're to blame for doing so -- quite the contrary. Rather, I'm saying that to acknowledge oneself as a barebacker is to acknowledge oneself as a "bad" gay man.

I would also lament that the category / video fails to distinguish between Poz and Neg guys for whom engaging in sex without condoms carries VASTLY different meanings. Indeed, the silver lining of testing positive for many guys is the future of a life without condoms, an ability to relinquish those deep-seated anxieties about seroconversion that many negative guys feel deeply limits their sexual possibilities. Thus, a Poz guy might watch the video and respond with a healthy dose of resentment.

Just some thoughts. On the plus side, Eric really knows how to show sexy gay men getting it on without being overly lewd (which is only good because it allows the video to posted more broadly) or overly sanitized. Despite my reservations, I look forward to seeing more videos from him in the future! He's one of the few guys out there doing this kind of ad-hoc prevention work, and he should be commended for it. So a big hug and thanks to Eric!

PERMALINK | Posted at 5:54 PM | Post a Comment (2)

2 Comments

Great points, Trevor. It's seems like a difficult proposition to effectively campaign and advocate for safer sex practices.

But I suppose it depends in what circles you socialize with, because it doesn't seem that barebacking makes you seem like a bad gay man across the board. However, that may just reinforce your earlier point that it is important to distinguish the word, which has seemingly taken on a life of its own, to the act.

J. Clarence | March 3, 2009 8:34 PM

I think Eric might be on some tricky footing with this video. I think it's great that he used imagery that isn't typically associated with "barebacking" (two seemingly put together gay boys vs. shady characters, backrooms, drugs etc.)presumably to reach that "it's not barebacking, it's just sex" audience. However the video took a turn the min. he focused on the bottom with that look of helplessness on his face. He applied that age old public health message of fear/shame and tied it up in new packaging.
At this point I'm down for almost any images of gay men that don't vilify, dismiss or dis-empower us, but this wasn't exactly what I had in mind.
I think the saving grace of gay men's health will be grassroots activists, like Eric, that are willing to spend their time and money creating health information and messaging for us, by us. But I think we need to do it in smarter, riskier and more empowering ways than public health is doing. Otherwise, what's the point?

Jackson | March 5, 2009 2:24 PM


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