Short Memories: AIDS Denialism and Vaccine Resistance

Aids_denial_bookA friend of ours was telling Ingrid about this new woman she’s been dating. Things were going along swimmingly… until it turned out that the new inamorata, a youngish thing in her early thirties, was an AIDS denialist. She was swallowing all that bullshit about how HIV doesn’t really cause AIDS, AIDS drugs are what causes AIDS, and the whole thing is a vast conspiracy by the drug companies to get rich selling people drugs they don’t need and that just make them sick.

Kaposis_sarcomaThis was absolutely the wrong thing to say to our friend, who had been an AIDS activist since the early days of the epidemic, had nursed several beloved friends through the illness, had seen way too many of those friends die… and had seen others come back from the brink of death when the protease inhibitors and combination therapies finally came out.

GalileoSo Ingrid and I were talking, not only about how ignorant AIDS denialism is and what a perfect example of the Galileo Fallacy it’s proving to be… but also about how profoundly insensitive and clueless it was for this woman to talk this way to someone who’d been through the worst days of the epidemic. Doesn’t she remember? we said. Doesn’t she know what AIDS was like before the drug cocktails came along?

And it occurred to both of us:

No. She doesn’t remember.

And that’s the problem.

Act_upThere are some AIDS denialists who were around in the ’80s. But an awful lot of them don’t remember. They weren’t around during the early days of the epidemic, when there was absolutely no treatment and your life expectancy when you got diagnosed was a few months, a year or two if you were lucky. They don’t remember the days when a diagnosis was pretty much a death sentence — a sentence to a slow, painful death. (Some people with AIDS lived through those days to tell the tale, but not many.) They don’t remember having half their gay male friends get sick and die. They don’t remember people lying in the streets screaming for the medical establishment to fucking pay attention and work on a treatment, some treatment, any treatment at all.

Drug_cocktailAnd they don’t remember what it was like when the cocktail came along, and suddenly people started getting better and living longer. They don’t remember the wonderful (although not entirely trivial) “problem” of people with AIDS who had quit their jobs and run up huge credit card debts, and now actually expected to live for a while. They don’t remember what it was like when AIDS turned, almost overnight, from a deadly illness to a chronic but often survivable one.

Aids_walkTo them, AIDS has always been what it is now. They look at HIV and AIDS, and they see a bad disease, one that still kills a lot of people and makes a lot of people pretty damn sick, but also one that people have a decent chance of surviving for a good long time. They see the cocktail making some people feel crappy. And they see the cocktail being really expensive, and making drug companies very rich indeed.

Africa_hivaidssvgWhat’s more, they have little or no awareness of what AIDS is still like in Africa, and other places where prevention and treatment still range from lousy to non-existent… and where the pandemic is as bad or worse as it ever was in its early days in the U.S.

Atazanavir_reyataz200mgSo it’s much easier for them to ignore or dismiss the effectiveness of the cocktail, and to treat it as a drug-company conspiracy. It’s easier for them to see themselves as brave Galileos for resisting the “lie” of HIV drugs… because they have no memory of the harsh, horrible truth of HIV before the drugs came along.

Smallpox_vaccineAnd I think the same thing is happening with the vaccine resisters: the people who insist that vaccines — measles, mumps, rubella, polio, tetanus, what have you — are useless poison, foisted on an unsuspecting public by a Big Pharma cabal of cackling men in expensive suits.

The problem, again, is that they don’t remember.

Polio_physical_therapyThey don’t remember what the world was like before the vaccines. They don’t remember the polio epidemic that killed thousands of children and disabled tens of thousands — in 1952 alone. They don’t remember the rubella pandemic of the 1960s, when tens of thousands of babies were born dead or with birth defects because their mothers were infected. (FYI, I could easily have been one of those babies — my mother got rubella shortly after I was born, and it could easily have been just a little earlier when she was pregnant with me.) They don’t remember the time when people routinely died of lockjaw… and they don’t live in non-industrial parts of the world where people still do.

PoliodropsAll they see is a world in which polio, rubella, tetanus, etc. almost never appear… and people are immunized against them for no apparent reason.

InvisibleSee, this is the problem with public health efforts that work. When they work, they quickly become invisible. It’s very hard to see prevention working: when it works, you don’t see it. So it’s easy for people to see things like immunization as pointless. They do happen for no apparent reason… “apparent” being the operative word. The reason is very good indeed, the reason is unassailably excellent — but unless you’ve lived in a world without immunization, the reason isn’t very apparent at all.

Uk_pounds_sterling(Interestingly, the conspiracy theorists linking vaccination with, for instance, autism don’t seem very interested in the actual, documented, verified conspiracy in which the researcher who originally published the now-discredited “vaccines cause autism” study was paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by trial lawyers trying to prove that vaccines were harmful. Links here and here, via Wikipedia.)

SickoLook. I’m no great friend of the drug companies. I get that the way health care is handled in this country is — how shall I put this? — evil. Its purpose is largely to make insurance and drug companies rich, not to help healthy people stay healthy or sick people get better. Ingrid works in health care in this country, and she could tell you stories that would curl your hair. See “Sicko” if you don’t believe me.

But that doesn’t mean that AIDS drugs don’t work. And it doesn’t mean that vaccines don’t work. The evidence is overwhelming that they do.

Polio_vaccine_posterYes, our country’s health care system sucks. But our educational system sucks as well. And one of the ways it sucks the most is in its failure to teach reasoning, cause-and-effect… and history. The history of AIDS drugs, and the history of vaccines, are a history of the prevention of pointless suffering and death — millions of times over.

P.S. I will warn you right now: I am not going to get into debates with AIDS denialists or vaccine resisters in this blog. I don’t have the patience, and other people make these arguments better than I can. AIDS denialists or vaccine resisters are hereby directed to Denialism and to Skeptico. My apologies in advance to the keepers of those blogs. I’m putting you both on my blogroll to make up for it.

Addendum: Or you could go to Aetiology, where they linked to this post and are having a lively discussion about it. And thanks to both Aetiology and Denialism for the links!

Sacrificing Your Legal Rights, or, Why Robin Tyler is an Asshole

A little backstory first.

Enda_site1_02There’s a big kerfuffle in the world of gay politics about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, now in front of Congress, that would ban job discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transpeople. Kerfuffle in a nutshell: Some politicos and gay-rights lobbyists are advocating for, or else not speaking very strongly against, stripping the bill of its protections for transpeople, and limiting it to the LGBs in the LGBT community. (To be more accurate, there are now two versions of ENDA, one with the language protecting transpeople and one without: the question is whether we should support both bills or just the stronger trans-inclusive one. To be even more accurate would require me to write a whole goddamn novel. Google “Employment Non-Discrimination Act,” or visit the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, if you want to know more.)

Which brings me to what Robin Tyler, longtime lesbian activist, had to say about it:

I agree with Barney Frank. I support full transgender rights. However, when I have been invited to the legal weddings of some of my transgender friends, not one of them has said “we will not get married until Diane and you and other same gender couples can get married”. They did not sacrifice their legal rights on the alter of political correctness, to give up the benefits of marriage. And yet the lesbian and gay community is expected to do so, leaving millions and millions of us in the majority of states, once again, unprotected.

There are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin. So I’m going to limit myself to three.

One: How exactly would this help?

WikiwedIn the absence of a well-publicized nationwide boycott on marriage, how would individual transgendered heterosexuals refusing to marry until same-sex couples can get married in any way help the cause of same-sex marriage?

Wedding_ringI’ve had hetero friends nobly say that they won’t get married until same-sex couples can get married. I think the sentiment is sweet, but I also think it’s completely pointless. Their refusal to get married does me — and the cause of same-sex marriage — no good at all. It’s a touching personal gesture, and if they feel that strongly about not wanting to participate in an injustice I won’t argue with them… but as an effective political act, it’s totally useless.

Im_just_a_billOn the other hand, pushing for trans inclusion in ENDA — and refusing to accept or endorse ENDA if it’s not trans inclusive — does help. As many people in this debate have pointed out, ENDA isn’t going to become law while Bush is President anyway. It may not even pass the Senate, even in the watered-down version. It’s going to take several practice runs until it gets passed by both houses and signed by the Pres. And if we insist that gender identity be included in this practice run along with sexual orientation, it familiarizes Congress with the issues and the language of trans rights, and makes it that much easier to get the gender identity language included when we actually do get the thing passed.

JusticeTwo: For lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to ask transpeople to make “sacrifices” for us is laughable. T’s have been getting the short end of the LGBT stick for years. The fact that heterosexual T’s have one goddamn right that G’s and L’s and same-sex-oriented B’s and T’s don’t have… this hardly balances the scales. It’s hardly the injustice of the century. To present transpeople as a privileged class who should be willing to sacrifice some rights to be in solidarity with their oppressed gay/ lesbian/ bi siblings… it’d be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.

CorkscrewIs Ms. Tyler prepared to give up the rights she has in cities and states where GLB’s have legal protections but T’s don’t? Is she willing to not sue for discrimination, not file hate crime charges, etc., in cities and states that give these protections to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, but not to transpeople? If not, then she absolutely does not have a point. Or rather, she has a point, but it’s shaped like a corkscrew.

AltarThree: She spelled “altar” wrong.

I’m just sayin’, is all.

How Gay Marriage Is Destroying Normal Marriage — No, Really

AisleThere’s a trope that I hear a lot among people who support same-sex marriage. It goes like this:

“What are these people so afraid of? How does same-sex marriage destroy marriage? How on earth could my marriage in any way affect anybody else’s?”

Or, when spoken by heterosexual supporters of same-sex marriage: “How on earth could somebody else’s marriage in any way affect mine?”

Of course I see what they’re getting at. And I certainly appreciate the sentiment and support behind the statement. But I actually think it’s somewhat simplistic, maybe even a bit naive. I think same-sex marriage does, and will, have an effect on opposite-sex marriage.

RaygunsvgNot in an immediate cause-and-effect way, of course. When Adam and Stephen get married in Massachusetts, it doesn’t send out magical death-rays across the country to destroy the marriage of Alan and Evelyn in Kansas.

But I think it has an effect. Not a trivial one, either. And I think the movement to legalize same-sex marriage does itself a disservice by acting like it doesn’t.

Here’s why.

Family67In order for our society to accept or even tolerate same-sex marriage, a lot of fairly basic, deep-rooted ideas have to change. The way we define family. The way we think of what it means to be a man, and what it means to be a woman. The importance of sex and sexual fulfillment. What we consider natural and normal. Etc., etc., etc.

Wedding_ringAll of these things shape our practice of marriage, our understanding of what it is and what it’s for. And in order for us to accept or even tolerate same-sex marriage, all of them will need to change.

Thus changing the shape of marriage.

All marriage.

Including the opposite-sex ones.

Old_weddingIf for no other reason, the standard default answers to these questions will quit being standard and default. If these changes happen, people will still be free to define family, maleness, femaleness, etc., in the old traditional ways. But they’ll be forced to think about it, to see the traditional way as just one choice among many, to live that way because it works for them… instead of unthinkingly falling into it as the one right choice that works for everybody. What’s more, they’ll be forced to see all these different questions and choices as, well, different questions and choices, instead of a package deal.

And that’s a big-ass change.

Sex_and_the_single_girlOf course, while the fight for same-sex marriage is a catalyst for some of these changes, it’s hardly the only one. Lots of these changes were already happening, even before same-sex marriage got put on the table. In fact, same-sex marriage couldn’t have gotten on the table in the first place if these changes hadn’t already been happening. But it is a catalyst for change, and I don’t want to ignore that or pretend it isn’t true.

What I don’t understand is why that’s a bad thing.

Queen_victoria_and_prince_albert_wiOpponents of same-sex marriage talk about marriage as if it’s been an unchanging institution for thousands of years, one that can’t be altered even a little without risking its destruction. But this is clearly absurd. Marriage has been many different things in human history — radically different things. A property transfer from father to husband. A political and military alliance between nations. A means of producing and caring for children. A means of preserving a religion or race (think of the intense resistance throughout history to both interracial and interfaith marriage). A practical arrangement for keeping a family farm or business. A romantic love match that’s meant to last until death. A spiritual bond that’s meant to last for eternity. And more. And any combination of any of these.

Liaisons_dangereusesAnd marriage has taken many forms in its checkered history. From the hundreds of wives of Solomon and others, to the passing down of a wife from brother to brother (also described in the Bible), to a permanent inescapable contract with mistresses and lovers on the side, to the serial monogamy-in-theory that seems to be the contemporary model… the literal, practical shape of marriage has taken wildly different forms over the centuries, and will no doubt continue to take more.

Cake_topperSo the fact that the institution of marriage is changing
 that’s hardly devastating news. People resisted the legalization of interracial marriage with every bit as much fervor as they resist same-sex marriage now, and for many of the same reasons… and yet the institution of marriage has absorbed that change quite handily, and has soldiered on. The institution is changing, it has always been changing, and it will almost certainly continue to change.

And again I ask: Why is this a bad thing?

And why are these particular changes, the ones that same-sex marriage is both the cause and result of… why are they so much to be feared?

Kosmicdebris07miguelayalatrumpetsfrOur definition of family should be broadened. The way we think of maleness and femaleness should be more flexible. Sex should be acknowledged as a central part of human life, and as a basic human right. What we consider to be natural should be more in keeping with the actual reality of nature. And we should be questioning, not only what is and isn’t normal, but whether normality is even a quality we should be prizing.

VowsNot just so we can get to a place where we can accept same-sex marriage… but so we can help make opposite-sex marriage, and all relationships, and life in general for everybody, happier and more fulfilling.

View from the Fourteenth Floor

I’m working on several different blog pieces now, none of which is finished yet. So tonight you get a dirty story from the archives. Note: This is a very nasty story, and family members and others who don’t want to read my porn or know too much about my fantasies may want to stop now. FYI, while I usually illustrate my blog posts with lots of pictures, I’m not going to do that here, since I want you to be able to picture the characters and the scenario on your own. Enjoy!

[Read more…]

“A magnetism that will not let go”: The Drooling Homophobe Series, Part 764

Do these people listen to what they say?

Don’t they know how obvious this “lady doth protest too much” thing is starting to get?

Pass_the_saltPandagon has the story of right-wing Christian extremist Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries, who, with his flock, has been on a crusade to disrupt the church services of gay-friendly churches. But that’s not even the best part of the story. As is so often the case, the best part of the story is in an almost offhand remark.

In a Bible-spewing homophobic rant earlier this year about a visit to the Gay Pride Parade, Daubenmire had this to say:

“The ‘meat’ on display will forever change the way you view homosexuality. Sin has no boundaries, no clutch, and no emergency brake. Once you dip your toe into the pool of sin, especially sexual sin, there is a magnetism that will not let go.” (emphasis mine)


Gaypridesaopaulodrags_fullLet me put it this way. The straight guys I know who visit the Gay Pride Parade do not describe the event as having “a magnetism that will not let go.” Their reaction is more along the lines of, “Nice dress, dude.” They describe it as interesting, entertaining, touching, hilarious, kind of tedious when the “polo-shirted employees of boring corporations” contingents go by, etc. But they do not describe it as a pool of sin with a magnetism that will not let go. The straight guys I know are not forever changed by the sight of gay male “meat on display,” and they are quite capable of resisting the magnetism of homosexuality. They find the magnetic pull of homosexuality pretty gosh-darned unmagnetic. That’s kind of what makes them, you know — straight.

Ted_haggard_3So I just have to ask: Do Dave Daubenmire, and Ted Haggard, and all the rest of the right-wing Christian leering brigade, really not know what they sound like? Do they really not see that frothing at the mouth closely resembles drooling?

“What are we afraid of?” NJ State Senator Raymond Lesniak on Same-Sex Marriage

SenlesniakI cried when I read this.

I’m crying again now as I re-read it.

This is a person who gets it. He didn’t always get it — he didn’t always support same-sex marriage — but he gets it now. Not just as a matter of fairness or justice, not just as a matter of rational public policy. He gets it about why it matters.

It’s New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak, in a blog post on the blog titled Why not gay marriage? And I’m just going to quote the whole damn thing.

What are we afraid of? That we’ll tear the fabric of society apart?

Seems like the fabric of society is already torn apart. Fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce. Less than 40 percent of eligible voters go to the polls. There’s rampant corruption in government. There are random acts of violence in Virginia and Newark, random acts of violence committed every day in our cities and our suburbs. Religious figures commit sexual assaults. Anti-gay political and religious figures are caught in the same sexual trysts they condemn in their public pronouncements.

I love my church, being raised a Roman Catholic. The Catholic Church does wonderful charitable works for the poor throughout the world, yet when I attended Mass recently, the priest gave a homily condemning those who do not follow the rules of the Church. Not a word about the gospel of the day, a beautiful reading from the gospel by Matthew on loving thy neighbor as thyself.

I left after the lecture and waited for my friends in my car, crying and feeling abandoned and not loved. But I digress.

Civil unions in New Jersey give committed gay couples the same rights as heterosexual married couples. Except the right to get “married”. The very law that gives these loving couples the rights of marriage deprives them of the loving feeling of being married. Outcasts only because of their love for each other.

Allowing gay couples to marry is not going to repair the fabric of society, but it’s not going to tear it apart either.

To paraphrase John Lennon, let’s give love a chance. We might just find out that it works.

BTW, to the folks in this blog who have been arguing that civil unions should be the legal contract and marriage should be the religious ceremony — for everyone, not just same-sex couples — I’d just like to repeat what Lesniak said:

“The very law that gives these loving couples the rights of marriage deprives them of the loving feeling of being married.”

That’s the part that keeps making me cry.

VowsI don’t just want a legal contract that mimics marriage. I want the experience of marriage. Marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture, in a way that civil unions simply don’t. Separate but equal is not equal. It never has been, and it never will be.

And I am touched beyond words that this Catholic state senator from New Jersey gets it.

Right Wing Hypocrisy: The Blowfish Blog

David_vitter_official_portraitI have a somewhat unusual take on the recent slew of right-wing politico sex scandals — David Vitter, Bob Allen, Mark Foley, Ted Haggard, etc. etc. etc. — over at the Blowfish Blog. The piece is called Right Wing Hypocrisy, or Why Sex Guilt Fucks Things Up For Everyone, and instead of just ranting about these folks’ hypocrisy (although I do a certain amount of that as well), I ask the question:

Why are the the specific taboo sex acts they engage in so often the exact same ones they publicly campaign against?

Here’s a teaser:

Admittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I’m sure there’s some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!” makes great headlines. “Married Congressman caught with hookers — and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!” isn’t going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.

But even given that, there’s a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.

Ted_haggardTo find out what I think is behind this “preach in public against the exact things you’re doing in private” pattern — and why I find myself having a smidgen of compassion for these assholes — check out the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Carnivals: Of Feminists #42 and Of the Liberals #44

CarnivalIt’s blog carnival time again! Carnival of the Liberals #44 is up at The Richmond Democrat, with its usual excellent collection of fine lefty pinko blogging. This is actually a selective carnival — unlike many blog carnivals, they only select the ten best blog postings from the previous fortnight — so I’m pleased and honored to have been selected again, with my piece on why civil unions aren’t equal to marriage either theoretically or practically: One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough.

And Carnival of Feminists #42 is also up at Uncool (wicked cool blog name, btw), with tons of nifty feminist blogging. They also included my One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough piece, so I’m excited. Enjoy the blogging!

The Lefty Pinko Wire Service

Alternet_logoI just found out about this recently, and I’m having the “Where have you been all my life?” reaction, so I want to tell everyone else about it.

It’s AlterNet. It’s sort of a lefty magazine/ wire service: a compendium of progressive news, opinion, and blogging from all over the Internets, with both original pieces and reprints from other sources. (What do you call a reprint when it’s online instead of in print?) They’ve got some serious heavy hitters: on today’s home page, I’m seeing writing from Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Julian Bond…

Gretatricorn…and me.

Me, me, me.

I just had my first piece go up on AlterNet this weekend — “Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough”, reprinted from this very blog — and I’m thrilled beyond measure. (Of course they don’t include all the pretty illustrations that I use on my blog; but being on the same Web magazine as Julian Bond and Michael Moore kind of makes up for that.)

This could be a big break for me. It could get me some real exposure in new and exciting places. So keep your fingers crossed — I’m going to continue to send them my best lefty blogging, and hope to appear there more. Check out the site — it’s a great source of good, smart, thoughtful lefty writing, and with any luck, it’s going to make me a star.

One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough

AisleThere are plenty of reasons why civil unions really aren’t equal to marriage — even if the rights and responsibilities spelled out in a state’s civil union law are identical to marriage in every way.

There are legal reasons why they’re not equal — marriage is recognized in every state and indeed every country, while civil unions aren’t; so the rights and responsibilities don’t necessarily travel with you when you leave the state that granted them. There are emotional reasons — marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture in a way that civil unions simply don’t. And there are moral reasons — as history has born out, separate but equal is pretty much by definition not equal.

But if none of those convince you, here’s a really good practical one.

JusticeAs of right now, five months after New Jersey’s Civil Union Law took effect, at least 1 out of every 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are not getting their civil unions recognized by their employers.

1 out of 7. 14 percent.

If 14 percent of married couples in New Jersey were being denied full, legally-guaranteed marriage benefits by their employers, there’d be outraged stories on every news source in the region, and quite possibly rioting in the streets.

Gsehead2And actually, it’s probably more than 1 out of 7. The 1 out of 7 figure comes from 191 complaints reported to Garden State Equality (out of 1,359 civil-union couples) — and chances are excellent that not everyone who’s having problems is reporting it. And before you ask — no it’s not just one big bad company that’s skewing the results. According to Garden State Equality, the 191 cases involve close to 191 companies.

So civil unions aren’t just legally unequal to marriage; they’re not just emotionally unequal; they’re not even just morally unequal. They’re unequal in the most literal, practical sense of the word. Even in the state where the civil union is the law, people in civil unions are not being treated the same by their employers as people who are married.

HendricksleboeufI get that civil unions are a big step forward. There are times when I’m astonished by the fact that “well, same-sex marriage is out, but civil unions would be okay” has become the moderate position on the issue, maybe even the moderate- to- conservative position. I get that they’re better than nothing — heck, 6 out of 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are getting their benefits, and that’s not trivial. And I get that, the Supreme Court being what it is right now, it may not be the best strategy to put same-sex marriage to a test on the national level until we get some new faces on the bench.

VowsI’m just saying: It’s not the same. It’s not enough. And I am disinclined to pretend that it is. This fight will not be over in this country until same-sex marriage is legal and fully- recognized in all 50 states. You can put nice cushions in the back of the bus — but it’s still the back of the bus.

(Thanks to Good As You for putting the press release on their site.)