I first met Ian via the LGBTQ Connect “Pre-Conference” session of Netroots Nations in June 2012. While it is hard to miss the only guy with a pink mohawk in a room of middle aged bloggers and organizational folks, it also didn’t take long for me to realize that what he was saying resonated with me – Liberation! How does marriage equality help the rest of us? Remember HIV? (Hint: if you are surprised that a room of LGBTQ bloggers and non-profits folks included only one anarchist in attendance – well, you should be. sigh.)
His was the voice of conscience who often brought (my?) attention to the topics we weren’t discussing – like poverty. During a break, I chatted him up and learned about the “food justice” movement which did my heart good. The deal was sealed when Ledcat told me that he was her favorite.
Ian Awesome is a disreputable Occupy organizer and general rabble-rouser living with HIV in the Pacific Northwest. A former anti-DADT activist and current radical ne’er-do-well, he can usually be found publishing his ire at his blog, One Angry Queer.
Ian has recently launched an HIV etiquette series for the website GayNet. The first piece focused on relationships (“How To React When Your Crush Says He’s HIV-Positive“, the second on disclosure (“How To Respond When Your Friend Tests HIV- Positive“.) I found to be insightful, interesting and thought-provoking, so I asked Ian for an interview.
Well, it’s certain that there are now many more options to HIV prevention than simple condom use, and I certainly do believe that some of the options out there, such as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) that foster a sense of complacency. Also, with the advent of HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy), there’s this idea floating around that can be deadly. “Even if I contract HIV I can just take meds and this will be fine.” People then forgo tried-and-true methods of prevention and open themselves up to a high risk of contracting other diseases that can harm them or even kill them.Back when HAART first was approved by the FDA, Dan Savage stated to readers that the HIV crisis was over, and I can’t help but feel that a lot of the community agrees. This is incorrect. There are still SO MANY people across the globe who cannot access treatment– either because of societal or economic roadblocks– and those that do often face other challenges that they have not previously considered.
I actually find it a bit worrying the reaction we have as a community every time a new method of HIV prevention gets released– such as PrEP or this new bee venom HIV-killing compound. People suddenly start thinking “Oh! Well maybe I can forgo condoms with a clear conscience.” This is so problematic, considering all the other things that are out there and considering the implications of HIV infection.
You really know how to touch on subjects that are likely to get me to rant, Sue. The myth of gay affluence– the idea that queer people all have the same disposable income as well-off, educated white gay men– is terribly frustrating and really defines a lot of the discussions that we, as a community, have around what issues are important to us. LGBT advocates frequently want to cast us as a powerful, monied community that politicians must listen to in order to get re-elected; this frequently is not the case.The fact remains that LGBT Americans are still less likely to earn as much as their counterparts and they are still, in many places, discriminated against in the workplace. Even more alarmingly, 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Poverty is not just an important issue that doesn’t get discussed; it’s the elephant in the room and MUST be discussed. We need to break out of this rut where we focus all of our energy and resources on achieving social equality when in reality, to get HIV and all of our other issues addressed, we need to seriously start tackling socioeconomic inequality. Getting married won’t get you a job and unless one of you has a really good job it won’t get you good health care either. Poverty, in the LGBT community, is the elephant in the room that no-one wants to talk about when we should be screaming about it.
You don’t believe in intersectionality – I believe you posted on Facebook “Fuck Intersectionality – Its All a Queer Issue” Explain what you mean with regard to HIV.
Stop Facebook stalking me, Sue! Ha.Just so your readers get some context, this is what the status update was:
“Dear folks: Racism is a queer issue. Economic justice is a queer issue. Food justice is a queer issue. Police brutality is a queer issue. Immigration is a queer issue. Education is a queer issue. Health care is a queer issue. Sexism is a queer issue. Ableism is a queer issue. Imperialism is a queer issue. Apartheid is a queer issue. Homelessness is a queer issue. Rape is a queer issue. Mental health is a queer issue. The prison industrial complex is a queer issue. The environment is a queer issue.
“Fuck intersectionality. QUEER LIBERATION IS CLASS STRUGGLE.”
This outburst, which is sadly only too typical for my Facebook, was sort of a reaction to a discussion about Israeli apartheid that I was having with a Facebook friend. He was saying that Palestinian liberation wasn’t a queer issue, therefore LGBT advocates don’t have a responsibility to address it. Of course, this marginalizes the thousands of queer Palestinians who suffer in the West Bank and Gaza.
This illustrates my problem with intersectionality: while it’s fine to identify similarities between LGBT equality and say, immigration reform, it’s important to realize that this whole concept separates LGBT equality from just about everything else. It shouldn’t. There are queers in every demographic, every struggle, suffering every injustice there is. We need to stop making these divisions and start acting in true solidarity with our black and brown siblings, our female-assigned straight friends.HIV is the same. It touches every country and every class of people. We won’t be able to tackle HIV adequately until we challenge poverty. We won’t be able to end the epidemic until we destroy patriarchy. Until we start looking at these problems organically and as a whole, we won’t find solutions to our very deadly problems.
I grew up in Pittsburgh and was in college in DC during the early days of ACT UP! But I had no clue – I was very sheltered and not remotely out. It was only when I saw the documentary “How to Survive a Plague” that I realized how much I don’t know. That was a little heartbreaking for me – what’s the etiquette guidelines for middle aged white LGBTQ women who want to help? (I have scads of friends who don’t know if they know someone living with HIV now.)
Learn. Always be learning. Learn about HIV and how it effects the people around you. Like I say in my first installment of the series, pick up a copy of HIV Plus magazine and start experiencing the issue of HIV from a different lens. Go to your local HIV alliance, pick up literature, talk to a counselor about HIV and ask what you can do to help. Volunteer in a vaccine study! There are so many ways to help that are far beyond writing a check to charity. Having solidarity in these ways can oftentimes not only help the material aspects of the epidemic but can help address stigma head-on. Like that now iconic slogan from ACTUP: “Silence = Death” and the only way to break silence is to be active in the issue.
Well, I’ve been writing off-and-on for years at my personal website, OneAngryQueer, and will surely go back to ranting on there when my time at Gay.net runs its course. I’ve been working on ideas for pieces on sexual violence in queer communities and addressing rape between men. Lots of really heavy stuff, but really worthwhile ones.