Among the hardest parts of deciding to pursue Sally Field, and all its frank and honest subjects, was a nagging fear that if I put out a book like this, especially as my first novel, I would forever be that guy. We all know that guy, that macho dude who’s just seductive enough to get away with lines like, “Just the tip” or “I’ll pull out, I promise”. The one who puts his sexual desires above the well-being of his partner(s). But that’s not who I am.
I am afraid of being perceived as anti-condom. I could easily be misidentified as having the worldview of David, the novel’s protagonist who decides to give up the pressure of wearing condoms and gives himself over to a life of barebacking. While David’s reasons for doing this are numerous and emotionally motivated, and I go into those issues deeply, the worry still stands: That people will think I am David or that I am promoting condomless sex.
I know that I am not that guy. However, like my lead character David, I did not learn, until a surprisingly late point in life, what my penis felt like inside my partner. Moreover, I never knew what my partner felt like inside. When I did finally fall victim to a bottom version of that guy, I was nearly 30. And a whole world opened up for me. Sex with a condom was never the same again.
No matter what the world has said, condoms have summarily failed at stopping the spread of HIV. This is why I like Antonio David Garcia’s recent Advocate Op-Ed. But I break from Garcia on one point: While I believe that condoms are fully capable of stopping HIV, I believe the expectation of 100% condom adherence is simply unrealistic. Recently, I told a straight female friend that I had grown up in a world where condoms were expected. She laughed. “Men don’t wear condoms,” she said. “All women know that.”
I knew that she was right. Many men, especially straight men, do everything possible to get away from the responsibility of using prophylactics. But somehow, because I am gay, I am not allowed the same desires, the same drives. If I were into women, going condomless would make me studly. But because I am gay, going condomless makes me reckless. Coming to this understanding made me realize that this mentality was another way in which the world diminished my masculinity because I am gay.
This double standard lies at the core of my book and is why I created David in this way. Gay men are virile and sex-driven and have much more sex than straights, even when they are monogamous. The NIH and CDC have documented this time and again. While straights and gays have the same issues with condoms, the societal attitude is that gays should be more careful because we are more deeply associated with HIV. So the unreasonable expectation is that we gay men with HIV should wear condoms each and every time. Straight men get a pass. They get to be that guy, and no one bats an eye.
In most areas of life we accept that drive will overcome logic when pushed. We know a hungry man will steal for food, a man afraid of an intruder might shoot first. But we are expected to be masters of the most basic (and passionate) drive of them all: to spread our seed. We may try to be self-controlling, but no man I have ever met is truly a master of that sexual drive. As they say, a stiff one has no conscience. It has even less of one when intoxicated. This is what makes and defines each man: the drives and the flaws.
And until we all accept this flaw, HIV will continue. People will get sick, people will go broke paying for medications to stay alive, and people will die. And now, none of that has to be a given. Condoms are one solution. Certain HIV meds, taken properly, are another. It is clear that more attention needs to be paid to research and education of the best and proper use of medication in prevention. This book is my way of soap-boxing on that issue. If that means I will mistakenly be identified as that guy who crusades against condoms, then I will happily be that guy. As long as you talk about it.