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Worried your partner might have a bisexual history? Why?

Myths about LGBTQ sexual health need debunking – and healthcare professionals are part of the problem

‘You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality.’

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“Use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” was the drill from sexual health practitioners who came to speak at my comprehensive school in Kent. There wasn’t much detail or thought beyond, “Some of these boys are going to get some of these girls pregnant before they hit 16 – let’s try to get that down to a lower number than we had last year.”

Thankfully, when it comes to the subject of sexual identity, there’s now more guidance than ever trickling down into the societal subconscious in the west – hopefully in schools, but certainly during publicity rounds for films starring Kelly Rowland and Cat Deeley. While talking about Love By the 10th Date to the New York Post last week, Rowland espoused the importance of knowledge when embarking on a sexual relationship with another: “I can’t tell someone how to feel about dating someone who is bisexual or had a past gay experience, but it’s proper to ask [if they have] in today’s times.”

It is “proper” to ask? Maybe it’s unfortunate phrasing, or maybe not being able to hear the tone of voice in which the opinion was offered gives it negative impact, but the sentence rings faintly of suspicion and mild disapproval: “Please submit your history of sex with people of the same gender, and it will then be decided whether or not you are too risky to be intimate with.” That’s how it comes across to this particular someone who is “bisexual or [has] had a past gay experience”, anyway.

Bisexuality just continues to have a bad rep, even though it’s on the rise (according to CNN) … or then again, maybe it’s not on the rise (according to the Verge). Statistics on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and which groups of people are spreading them, are easily found (and quickly wielded by those mistrustful of anything beyond heteronormativity), but they can obscure a simple and universal truth that applies to all groups, whether those groups are on the rise or not. And that is: whatever genitalia you and your partner(s) have, you should protect yourselves (condom/dental dam/wash your hands and accoutrement between uses, thank you). Ignoring that fact in favour of “it’s the bisexuals, mostly” is the source of so much harm.

You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality, because it goes beyond the myths of promiscuity, greed and dishonesty still held by some – biphobia also has an impact on physical health. Here in the UK, if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood (though that stance is currently being reviewed). Women who have sex with women are less likely to get a smear test, because many of us don’t realise we need to – we’re forgotten by the healthcare system, or our needs are misunderstood.

“Gay and bisexual women are at lower risk for HPV,” we confidently tell each other, “we don’t need a smear test.” A lot of us have heard that from our doctors, as well. It was only after seeing a leaflet about the issue from lgbthealth.org.uk during this month’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week that I realised this was just ignorance.

In 2008, Stonewall released findings that one in 50 lesbian and bisexual women had been refused a smear test, even when they requested one. The 2015 survey on training gaps in healthcare, Unhealthy Attitudes, found that three in four patient-facing staff had not received any training on the health needs of LGBTQ people. Many women get variations of the “use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” mantra from our doctors to this day, if we don’t declare our gayness or bisexuality as we walk through the surgery door. Sometimes even a declaration is ignored by an uncomfortable practitioner. Straightness is still automatically assumed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who doesn’t see heterosexuality as the default for everyone they treat.

According to that 2015 Stonewall study, a third of healthcare professionals felt that the NHS and social care services should be doing more to meet the needs of LGBTQ patients, which is encouraging. Knowledge is wanted – needed – to undo the harmful myths that block help and prevent education. And that is what is “proper” (to quote the star of Freddy vs Jason and Love By the 10th Date) – fighting ignorance and biphobia, rather than continuing to be suspicious of sexual histories that might have featured people of the same gender. Whatever and whoever is in our sexual pasts, we must protect each other, and stay informed. That’s healthy.

Complete Article HERE!

When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.

 

By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why Generation Tinder won’t go back to dating ‘the old-fashioned way’

By Jenny Noyes

“My most memorable Tinder date?” Kate Iselin gestures as if to say get ready. “It was a gentleman who invited me to lunch, took me to the food court at Martin Place and showed me a photo of his penis. Soft.”

It’s not the fondest memory Iselin – a writer and former sex worker – has of her experiences on the app. But the negative and the bizarre do have a tendency to stick with you.

Horror stories aside, Iselin, 28, is overwhelmingly positive about the impact apps like Tinder have had on the contemporary dating experience. And she’s not alone.

Despite a steady stream of articles about Tinder “killing romance”, making people depressed, or putting them in danger, the app and others like it are as popular as ever (even if some users are loathe to admit it).

Iselin herself has recently returned to 30 Dates of Tinder, a blogging project she’d abandoned a year ago due to “personal stuff” including a relationship. The concept is fairly self-explanatory: she goes on 30 random dates, and writes about them. Now halfway through, she’s accepted every date request received – “provided the date location was safe and they didn’t seem like a closet serial killer,” she says.

Clearly, there’s an appetite for reading stories about Tinder – and part of that is a fascination with what can happen when virtual strangers attempt to light a flame.

But as dating via Tinder increasingly becomes the norm, it’s less about the novelty of using a phone app to date people off the internet. Four years since Tinder launched, Iselin says she’s returning to her project with “a slightly more serious goal”. It’s now more about answering an age-old question than exploring a curious new technology: “To prove that love exists.”

Of course, the proof is already out there among the growing number of successful, lasting relationships launched via Tinder or its myriad competitors. These apps aren’t just facilitating one-night stands. People are finding lasting love in such significant numbers it is no longer considered “weird” to have a partner found online.

Fairfax Media columnist Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen has met almost all of the people she’s dated, in her 28 years, online. Whereas five to 10 years ago there was a stigma attached to meeting people via the internet, it is now “completely normalised” among Gen-Y.

“Most people I know in relationships that have started in the last few years have met their significant others on Tinder,” she says.

Eliza Berlage, 26, met her boyfriend of 10 months on Tinder. She says it’s really a numbers game. “You could go to so many bars, libraries, music festivals, house parties, and still have as much luck … just swiping it lucky and giving it a chance and seeing how it goes.”

With numbers comes choice. And according to Iselin, it’s the choice these apps offer that makes them truly revolutionary – especially for women, minorities, and people whose preferences lie outside the norm.

Although there are some who feel nostalgic for the pre-Tinder dating scene, Iselin reckons women have never had it better; and she doesn’t see us ever going back.

“I know a lot of people say, ‘I would never use Tinder because I want to meet the love of my life the old-fashioned way’. But when we talk about old-fashioned times, we’re talking about a time when women in particular did not have a lot of choice in meeting partners.”

The same goes for people who may be otherwise constrained from exploring their sexuality ‘the old-fashioned way’, says Senthorun Raj, Grindr enthusiast and academic in law and gender studies.

“For people who are busy, those who have social, mental, or physical mobility issues, or individuals who are worried about ‘outing’ their sexual or gender identity in public spaces, dating apps can be a more comfortable way to chat, socialise, and become intimate than meeting people at clubs or bars,” he says. “For same-sex-attracted and gender-non-conforming people especially, these apps can be lifelines to connect with others dealing with similar experiences.”

What’s more, they have the ability to make connections “with people who we would never encounter in the places or circles we normally frequent,” he adds.

Of course, it’s not all rainbows, love-hearts and wink emojis for women, racial minorities or LGBT people. Prejudice and harassment is a real issue – but Raj says it would be a mistake to suggest apps like Grindr and Tinder have unleashed it.

“While Grindr does not cause these stereotypes, apps do make it easier in some ways to express harmful racial, age, and other ‘preferences’ because of anonymity or because the lack of ‘in-person’ interaction makes you feel like what you say or do online is … subject to less critical scrutiny.”

Nguyen says rape threats and racist, sexist comments are things she’s personally had to deal with just as much offline as on dating apps and social media.

“There’s such a big moral panic when it comes to online dating and safety, and it’s valid but we also need to remember that women face this everywhere. It really comes down to better education in schools about consent and respectful connections, and also the apps ensuring that they take reports of violence seriously.”

Sex and relationships expert Cyndi Darnell agrees that while mobile dating apps have revolutionised the sexual choices available and the ease with which users can access them, ultimately better education is needed to improve the human interaction side of things.

“We’re still operating on a very, very, very limited consent framework in terms of discussions around sex and pleasure … and yet our technology is far more advanced than that,” she says.

“There’s no app for getting over awkwardness. There’s no app for managing sexual anxiety. That’s the thing we need to remember: just because there is more access to sex, it doesn’t mean the quality of the sex has improved. We mustn’t confuse quantity with quality.”

Then again, there’s quality to be found – especially if you’re willing to put in the effort. “I’ve been on excellent dates and I have friends who’ve ended up in the most magical relationships,” says Iselin, who’s confident she’ll achieve her goal in one way or another by the end of her 30 dates.

“We are the generation now going to Tinder weddings. There are Tinder babies. I think that’s really exciting, and that gives me faith.”

Complete Article HERE!

Women with HIV, after years of isolation, coming out of shadows

Patti Radigan kisses daughter Angelica after a memorial in San Francisco’s Castro to remember those who died of AIDS.

By Erin Allday

Anita Schools wakes at dawn most days, though she usually lazes in bed, watching videos on her phone, until she has to get up to take the HIV meds that keep her alive. The morning solitude ends abruptly when her granddaughter bursts in and they curl up, bonding over graham crackers.

Schools, 59, lives in Emeryville near the foot of the Bay Bridge, walking distance from a Nordstrom Rack and other big chain stores she can’t afford. Off and on since April, her granddaughter has lived there too, sleeping on a blow-up mattress with Schools’ daughter and son-in-law and another grandchild.

Five is too many for the one-bedroom apartment. But they’re family. They kept her going during the worst times, and that she can help them now is a blessing.

Nearly 20 years ago, when Schools was diagnosed with HIV, it was her daughter Bonnie — then 12 and living in foster care — who gave her hope, saying, “Mama, you don’t have to worry. You’re not going to die, you’re going to be able to live a long, long time.”

“It was her that gave me the push and the courage to keep on,” Schools said.

She had contracted HIV from a man who’d been in jail, who beat her repeatedly until she fled. By then she’d already left another abusive relationship and lost all four of her daughters to child protective services. HIV was just one more burden.

At the time, the disease was a death sentence. That Schools is still here — helping her family, getting to know her grandchildren — is wonderful, she said. But for her, as with tens of thousands of others who have lived two decades or more with HIV, survival comes with its own hardships.

Gay men made up the bulk of the casualties of the early AIDS epidemic, and as the male survivors grow older, they’re dealing with profound complications, including physical and mental health problems. But the women have their own loads to bear.

Whereas gay men were at risk simply by being gay, women often were infected through intravenous drug use or sex work, or by male partners who lied about having unsafe sex with other men. The same issues that put them at risk for HIV made their very survival a challenge.

Today, many women like Schools who are long-term survivors cope with challenges caused or compounded by HIV: financial and housing insecurity, depression and anxiety, physical disability and emotional isolation.

“We’re talking about mostly women of color, living in poverty,” said Naina Khanna, executive director of Oakland’s Positive Women’s Network, a national advocacy group for women with HIV. “And there’s not really a social safety net for them. Gay men diagnosed with HIV already historically had a built-in community to lean on. Women tend to be more isolated around their diagnosis.”

There are far fewer women aging with HIV than men. In San Francisco, nearly 10,000 people age 50 or older are living with HIV; about 500 are women. Not all women survivors have histories of trauma and abuse, of course, and many have done well in spite of their diagnosis.

But studies have found that women with HIV are more than twice as likely as the average American woman to have suffered domestic violence. They have higher rates of mental illness and substance abuse.

What keeps them going now, decades after their diagnoses, varies widely. For some, connections with their families, especially their now-adult children, are critical. For others, HIV advocacy work keeps them motivated and hopeful.

Patti Radigan (righ) instructs daughter Angelica and Angelica’s boyfriend, Jayson Cabanas, on preparing green beans for Thanksgiving while Roman Tom Pierce, 8, watches.

Patti Radigan was living in a cardboard box on South Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco when she tested positive in 1992. By then, she’d lost her husband to a heart attack while a young mother, and not long after that she lost her daughter, too, when her drug use got out of control and her sister-in-law took in the child.

She turned to prostitution in the late 1980s to support a heroin addiction. She’d heard of HIV by then and knew it was deadly. She’d seen people on the streets in the Mission where she worked, wasting away and then disappearing altogether. But she still thought of it as something that affected gay men, not women, even those living on the margins.

Women then, and now, were much more likely than men to contract HIV from intravenous drug use rather than sex — though in Radigan’s case, it could have been either. IV drug use is the cause of transmission for nearly half of all women, according to San Francisco public health reports. It’s the cause for less than 20 percent for men.

Still, when Radigan finally got tested, it wasn’t because she was worried she might be positive, but because the clinic was offering subjects $20. She needed the cash for drugs.

She was scared enough after the diagnosis — and then she got pregnant. It was the early 1990s, and HIV experts at UCSF were just starting to believe they could finesse women through pregnancy and help them deliver healthy babies. Today, it’s widely understood that women with HIV can safely have children; San Francisco hasn’t seen a baby born with HIV since 2004.

But in the 1990s, getting pregnant was considered selfish — even if the baby survived, its mother most certainly wouldn’t live long enough to raise her. For women infected at the time, having children was something else they had to give up.

And so Radigan had an abortion. But she got pregnant again in 1995, and she was desperate to have this child. She was living by then with 10 gay men in a boarding house for recovering addicts. Bracing herself for an onslaught of criticism, she told her housemates. First they were quiet, then someone yelled, “Oh my God, we’re having a baby!”

“It was like having 10 big brothers,” Radigan said, smiling at the memory. Buoyed by their support, she kept the pregnancy and had a healthy girl.

Radigan is 59 now; her daughter, Angelica Tom, is 20. They both live in San Francisco after moving to the East Coast for a while. It was because of her daughter that Radigan stayed sober, that she consistently took her meds, and that she went back to school to tend to her future.

For a long time she told people she just wanted to live long enough to see her daughter graduate high school. Now her daughter is in art school and Radigan is healthy enough to hold a part-time job, to lead yoga classes on weekends, to go out with friends for a Friday night concert.

“Because of HIV, I thought I was never going to do a lot of things,” Radigan said. “The universe is aligning for me. And now I feel like I deserve it. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I deserved anything.”

Anita Schools, who says she is most troubled by finances, listens to an HIV-positive woman speak about her experiences and fears at an Oakland support group that Schools organized.

Anita Schools got tested for HIV because her ex-boyfriend kept telling her she should. That should have been a warning sign, she knows now.

She was first diagnosed in 1998 at a neighborhood clinic in Oakland, but it took two more tests at San Francisco General Hospital for her to accept she was positive. People told her that HIV wasn’t necessarily fatal, but she had trouble believing she was going to live. All she could think was, “Why me? What did I do?”

It was only after her daughter Bonnie reassured her that Schools started to think beyond the immediate anxiety and anger. She joined a support group for HIV-positive women, finding comfort in their stories and shared experiences. Ten years later, she was leading her own group.

She’s never had problems with drugs or alcohol, and she has a network of friends and family for emotional support, she said. Even the HIV hasn’t hit her too hard, physically, though the drugs to treat it have attacked her kidneys, leaving her ill and fatigued.

Like so many of the women she advises in her support group, Schools is most troubled by her finances. She gets by on Social Security and has bounced among Section 8 housing all over the Bay Area for most of her adult life.

Schools’ current apartment is supposed to be permanent, but she worries she could lose it if her daughter’s family stays with her too long. So earlier this month they moved out and are now sleeping in homeless shelters or, some nights, in their car. She hates letting them leave but doesn’t feel she has any other choice.

Reports show that women with HIV are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Khanna, with the Positive Women’s Network, said surveys of her members found that 85 percent make less than $25,000 a year, and roughly half take home less than $10,000.

Schools can’t always afford the bus or BART tickets she needs to get to doctor appointments and support group meetings, relying instead on rides from friends — or sometimes skipping events altogether. She gets her food primarily from food banks. Her wardrobe is dominated by T-shirts she gets from the HIV organizations with which she volunteers.

“With Social Security, $889 a month, that ain’t enough,” Schools said. “You got to pay your rent, and then PG&E, and then you got to pay your cell phone, buy clothes — it’s all hard.”

At a time when other women her age might be thinking about retirement or at least slowing down, advocacy work has taken over Schools’ life. She speaks out for women with HIV and their needs, demanding financial and health resources for them. In her support group and at AIDS conferences, she offers her story of survival as a sort of jagged road map for other women struggling to navigate the complex warren of services they’ll need to get by.

The work gives her confidence and purpose. She feels she can directly influence women’s lives in a way that seemed beyond her when she was young, unemployed and directionless.

“As long as I’m getting help and support,” Schools said, “I want to help other women — help them get somewhere.”

Billie Cooper is tall and striking, loud and brash. Her makeup is polished, her nails flawless. She is, she says with a booming laugh that makes heads turn, “the ultimate senior woman.”

For Cooper, 58, HIV was transformative. Like Radigan, she had to find her way out from under addiction and prostitution to get healthy, and stay healthy. Like Schools, she came to understand the importance of role-modeling and advocacy.

Cooper arrived in San Francisco in the summer of 1980 — almost a year to the day before the first reports of HIV surfaced in the United States. She was fresh out of the Navy and eager to explore her gender identity and sexuality in San Francisco’s burgeoning gay and transgender communities.

Growing up in Philadelphia, she’d known she was different from the boys around her, though it was decades before she found the language to express it and identified as a transgender woman. But seeing the “divas on Post Street, the ladies in the Tenderloin, the transsexual women prostituting on Eddy” — Cooper was awestruck.

She slipped quickly into prostitution and drug use. When she tested positive in 1985, she wasn’t surprised and barely wasted a thought worrying about what it meant for her future — or whether she’d have any future at all.

“I felt as though I still had to keep it moving,” Cooper said. “I didn’t slow down and cry or nothing.”

Transgender women have always been at heightened risk of HIV. Some studies have found that more than 1 in 5 transgender women is infected, and today about 340 HIV-positive trans women live in San Francisco.

What makes them more vulnerable is complicated. Trans women often have less access to health care and less stable housing than others, and they face higher rates of drug addiction and sexual violence, all of which are associated with risk of HIV infection.

Cooper was homeless off and on through the 1980s and ’90s, trapped in a world of drugs and sex work that felt glamorous at the time but in hindsight was crippling. “I was doing things out of loneliness,” she said, “and I was doing things to feel love. That’s why I prostituted, why I did drugs.”

She began to clean up around 2000, though it would take five or six years to fully quit using. She found a permanent place to live. She collected Social Security. She started working in support services for other transgender women battling HIV. In 2013, she founded TransLife, a support group at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

“I was coming out as the activist, the warrior, the determined woman I was always meant to be,” she said.

Cooper never developed any of the common, often fatal complications of HIV — including opportunistic infections like pneumonia — that killed millions in the 1980s and 1990s. But she does have neuropathy, an HIV-related nerve condition that causes a constant pins-and-needles sensation in her feet and legs and sometimes makes it hard to walk.

Far more traumatic for her was her cancer diagnosis in 2006. The cancer, which may have been related to HIV, was isolated to her left eye, but after traditional therapies failed, the eye was surgically removed on Thanksgiving Day in 2009.

The cancer and the loss of her eye was a devastating setback for a woman who had always focused on her appearance, on looking as gorgeous as the transgender women she so admired in the Tenderloin, on being loved and wanted for her beauty.

Rising from that loss has been difficult, she said. And she’s continued to suffer new health problems, including blood clots in one of her legs. Recently, she’s fallen several times, in frightening episodes that may be related to the clots, the HIV or something else entirely.

Since Thanksgiving she’s been in and out of the hospital, and though she tries to stay upbeat, it’s clearly trying her patience.

But if HIV and cancer and everything else have tested Cooper’s survival in ways she never anticipated, these trials also have strengthened her resolve. She’s becoming the person she always wanted to be.

“A week before they took my eye, I got my breasts,” she said coyly one recent afternoon, thrusting out her chest. Behind the sunglasses she wears almost constantly now, she was smiling and crying, all at once.

Aging with HIV has been strangely calming, in some ways, giving her a confidence that in her wild youth was elusive.

Now she exults in being a respected elder in the HIV and transgender communities. She loves it when people open doors for her or help her cross the street, offer to carry her bags or give up a seat on a bus.

Simply, she said, “I love being Ms. Billie Cooper.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why Straight Rural Men Have Gay ‘Bud-Sex’ With Each Other

 

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A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.

Last year, NYU Press published the fascinating book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men by the University of California, Riverside, gender and sexuality professor Jane Ward. In it, Ward explored various subcultures in which what could be called “straight homosexual sex” abounds — not just in the ones you’d expect, like the military and fraternities, but also biker gangs and conservative suburban neighborhoods — to better understand how the participants in these encounters experienced and explained their attractions, identities, and rendezvous. But not all straight MSM have gotten the same level of research attention. One relatively neglected such group, argues the University of Oregon sociology doctoral student Tony Silva in a new paper in Gender & Society, is rural, white, straight men (well, neglected if you set aside Brokeback Mountain).

Silva sought to find out more about these men, so he recruited 19 from men-for-men casual-encounters boards on Craigslist and interviewed them, for about an hour and a half each, about their sexual habits, lives, and senses of identity. All were from rural areas of Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, places known for their “social conservatism and predominant white populations.” The sample skewed a bit on the older side, with 14 of the 19 men in their 50s or older, and most identified exclusively as exclusively or mostly straight, with a few responses along the lines of “Straight but bi, but more straight.”

Since this is a qualitative rather than a quantitative study, it’s important to recognize that the particular men recruited by Silva weren’t necessarily representative of, well, anything. These were just the guys who agreed to participate in an academic’s research project after they saw an ad for it on Craigslist. But the point of Silva’s project was less to draw any sweeping conclusions about either this subset of straight MSM, or the population as a whole, than to listen to their stories and compare them to the narratives uncovered by Ward and various other researchers.

Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”:

Ward (2015) examines dudesex, a type of male–male sex that white, masculine, straight men in urban or military contexts frame as a way to bond and build masculinity with other, similar “bros.” Carrillo and Hoffman (2016) refer to their primarily urban participants as heteroflexible, given that they were exclusively or primarily attracted to women. While the participants in this study share overlap with those groups, they also frame their same-sex sex in subtly different ways: not as an opportunity to bond with urban “bros,” and only sometimes—but not always—as a novel sexual pursuit, given that they had sexual attractions all across the spectrum. Instead, as Silva (forthcoming) explores, the participants reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions. “Bud-sex” captures these interpretations, as well as how the participants had sex and with whom they partnered. The specific type of sex the participants had with other men—bud-sex—cemented their rural masculinity and heterosexuality, and distinguishes them from other MSM.

This idea of homosexual sex cementing heterosexuality and traditional, rural masculinity certainly feels counterintuitive, but it clicks a little once you read some of the specific findings from Silva’s interviews. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that rural masculinity is “[c]entral to the men’s self-understanding.” Quoting another researcher, Silva notes that it guides their “thoughts, tastes, and practices. It provides them with their fundamental sense of self; it structures how they understand the world around them; and it influences how they codify sameness and difference.” As with just about all straight MSM, there’s a tension at work: How can these men do what they’re doing without it threatening parts of their identity that feel vital to who they are?

In some of the subcultures Ward studied, straight MSM were able to reinterpret homosexual identity as actually strengthening their heterosexual identities. So it was with Silva’s subjects as well — they found ways to cast their homosexual liaisons as reaffirming their rural masculinity. One way they did so was by seeking out partners who were similar to them. “This is a key element of bud-sex,” writes Silva. “Partnering with other men similarly privileged on several intersecting axes—gender, race, and sexual identity—allowed the participants to normalize and authenticate their sexual experiences as normatively masculine.” In other words: If you, a straight guy from the country, once in a while have sex with other straight guys from the country, it doesn’t threaten your straight, rural identity as much as it would if instead you, for example, traveled to the nearest major metro area and tried to pick up dudes at a gay bar. You’re not the sort of man who would go to a gay bar — you’re not gay!

It’s difficult here not to slip into the old middle-school joke of “It’s not gay if …” — “It’s not gay” if your eyes are closed, or the lights are off, or you’re best friends — but that’s actually what the men in Silva’s study did, in a sense:

As Cain [one of the interview subjects] said, “I’m really not drawn to what I would consider really effeminate faggot type[s],” but he does “like the masculine looking guy who maybe is more bi.” Similarly, Matt (60) explained, “If they’re too flamboyant they just turn me off,” and Jack noted, “Femininity in a man is a turn off.” Ryan (60) explained, “I’m not comfortable around femme” and “masculinity is what attracts me,” while David shared that “Femme guys don’t do anything for me at all, in fact actually I don’t care for ’em.” Jon shared, “I don’t really like flamin’ queers.” Mike (50) similarly said, “I don’t want the effeminate ones, I want the manly guys … If I wanted someone that acts girlish, I got a wife at home.” Jeff (38) prefers masculinity because “I guess I perceive men who are feminine want to hang out … have companionship, and make it last two or three hours.”

In other words: It’s not gay if the guy you’re having sex with doesn’t seem gay at all. Or consider the preferences of Marcus, another one of Silva’s interview subjects:

A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me … they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while [chuckles]. So, that’s why I kinda prefer those types of guys … It [also] seems that … more masculine guys wouldn’t harass me, I guess, hound me all the time, send me 1000 emails, “Hey, you want to get together today … hey, what about now.” And there’s a thought in my head that a more feminine or gay guy would want me to come around more. […] Straight guys, I think I identify with them more because that’s kinda, like [how] I feel myself. And bi guys, the same way. We can talk about women, there [have] been times where we’ve watched hetero porn, before we got started or whatever, so I kinda prefer that. [And] because I’m not attracted, it’s very off-putting when somebody acts gay, and I feel like a lot of gay guys, just kinda put off that gay vibe, I’ll call it, I guess, and that’s very off-putting to me.

This, of course, is similar to the way many straight men talk about women — it’s nice to have them around and it’s (of course) great to have sex with them, but they’re so clingy. Overall, it’s just more fun to hang out around masculine guys who share your straight-guy preferences and vocabulary, and who are less emotionally demanding.

One way to interpret this is as defensiveness, of course — these men aren’t actually straight, but identify that way for a number of reasons, including “internalized heterosexism, participation in other-sex marriage and childrearing [which could be complicated if they came out as bi or gay], and enjoyment of straight privilege and culture,” writes Silva. After Jane Ward’s book came out last year, Rich Juzwiak laid out a critique in Gawker that I also saw in many of the responses to my Q&A with her: While Ward sidestepped the question of her subjects’ “actual” sexual orientations — “I am not concerned with whether the men I describe in this book are ‘really’ straight or gay,” she wrote — it should matter. As Juzwiak put it: “Given the cultural incentives that remain for a straight-seeming gay, given the long-road to self-acceptance that makes many feel incapable or fearful of honestly answering questions about identity—which would undoubtedly alter the often vague data that provide the basis for Ward’s arguments—it seems that one should care about the wide canyon between what men claim they are and what they actually are.” In other words, Ward sidestepped an important political and rights minefield by taking her subjects’ claims about their sexuality more or less at face value.

There are certainly some good reasons for sociologists and others to not examine individuals’ claims about their identities too critically. But still: Juzwiak’s critique is important, and it looms large in the background of one particular segment of Silva’s paper. Actually, it turned out, some of Silva’s subjects really weren’t all that opposed to a certain level of deeper engagement with their bud-sex buds, at least when it came to their “regulars,” or the men they hooked up with habitually:

While relationships with regulars were free of romance and deep emotional ties, they were not necessarily devoid of feeling; participants enjoyed regulars for multiple reasons: convenience, comfort, sexual compatibility, or even friendship. Pat described a typical meetup with his regular: “We talk for an hour or so, over coffee … then we’ll go get a blowjob and then, part our ways.” Similarly, Richard noted, “Sex is a very small part of our relationship. It’s more friends, we discuss politics … all sorts of shit.” Likewise, with several of his regulars Billy noted, “I go on road trips, drink beer, go down to the city [to] look at chicks, go out and eat, shoot pool, I got one friend I hike with. It normally leads to sex, but we go out and do activities other than we meet and suck.” While Kevin noted that his regular relationship “has no emotional connection at all,” it also has a friendship-like quality, as evidenced by occasional visits and sleepovers despite almost 100 miles of distance. Similarly, David noted, “If my wife’s gone for a weekend … I’ll go to his place and spend a night or two with him … we obviously do things other than sex, so yeah we go to dinner, go out and go shopping, stuff like that.” Jack explained that with his regular “we connected on Craigslist … [and] became good friends, in addition to havin’ sex … we just made a connection … But there was no love at all.” Thus, bud-sex is predicated on rejecting romantic attachment and deep emotional ties, but not all emotion.

Whatever else is going on here, clearly these men are getting some companionship out of these relationships. It isn’t just about sex if you make a point of getting coffee, and especially if you spend nights together, go shopping or out to dinner, and so on. But there are sturdy incentives in place for them to not take that step of identifying, or identifying fully, as gay or bi. Instead, they frame their bud-sex, even when it’s accompanied by other forms of intimacy, in a way that reinforces their rural, straight masculinity.

It’s important to note that this isn’t some rational decision where the men sit down, list the pros and cons, and say, “Well, I guess coming out just won’t maximize my happiness and well-being.” It’s more subtle than that, given the osmosis-like way we all absorb social norms and mores. In all likelihood, when Silva’s subjects say they’re straight, they mean it: That’s how they feel. But it’s hard not to get the sense that maybe some of them would be happier, or would have made different life decisions, if they had had access to a different, less constricted vocabulary to describe what they want — and who they are.

Complete Article HERE!