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!

Why Religion Is Like Fanfic

Everything_you_know_about_god_is_wrI was reading some unusually wacky Christian theology in Disinformation’s new book, Everything You Know About God Is Wrong (more on the book when I’m done with it — the thing is great, but it’s huge). Specifically: In the Middle Ages, there was all this theology about the immaculate conception virgin birth and how exactly Mary got impregnated by God, with several theologians putting forth the theory that — get this — the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary in her ear.

No, really. In her ear.

EarWhat’s more, there’s other theology of the period seriously discussing the question of how, physically, Jesus was born. Did he just teleport out of Mary’s womb, or was he born out of her ear (since he was conceived there, after all), or what?

Because, after all, the pussy is a disgusting, putrid font of sin and evil, and God would never go there. Or be born out of there.

But I digress.

I was reading this, and I was suddenly struck with how familiar it all seemed.

Star_trek_1It reads exactly like fan-written blueprints for the Enterprise in “Star Trek.” Or fan-written explanations for discrepancies in star dates, or why the Enterprise has completely reliable lie detectors that they only use in three episodes.

[Read more…]

She Blogs Carnival #1

SheblogslogoThere’s a new blog carnival in town: She Blogs, Issue #1. Unlike most carnivals, it’s not devoted to one particular topic; instead, it’s devoted to blogging by women on all topics, making it more like a general-interest magazine a la the New Yorker, rather than a special interest magazine like The Nation or The Skeptical Inquirer. They were kind enough to include my piece The Catholic Church: Pedophilia as a First Amendment Right, so many thanks for that.

If you’re a female blogger and want to participate in the She Blogs Carnival, here’s their submission form. Happy blogging!

Good Thing They’re Not Atheists

Oral_roberts_handsAnd the hits just keep on coming. Via Pharyngula and about sixty billion other atheist blogs comes the story of Richard and Lindsay Roberts, son and daughter-in-law of Oral Roberts, who are being sued for treating the budget of Oral Roberts University as their personal bank account: spending it on fancy cars, on tens of thousands of dollars worth of clothes, on remodeling their home multiple times, and more. They allegedly used the university jet to send their daughter to the Bahamas; Richard is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign (a big, big no-no for religious non-profits); and according to the suit, university and ministry employees are regularly summoned to the Roberts’ home to do the daughters’ homework. (The original story is well worth looking at, if only for the photo of the giant Oral Roberts U praying hands with the police car parked in front of them.)

Sistine_godAnd that’s just the beginning of their wacky shenanigans. The punch line: Richard is now saying that God is speaking to him and giving him advice on how to handle this lawsuit. According to Roberts — excuse me, according to God — “We live in a litigious society. Anyone can get mad and file a lawsuit against another person whether they have a legitimate case or not. This lawsuit… is about intimidation, blackmail and extortion.”

I just want to say this:

It’s a good thing they’re not atheists.

Because if they were atheists, they’d have no morality or decency, no reason to follow a code of ethics, and would act as if they could just do whatever they wanted.

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.

Which Side Are You On? Pro-Porn and Anti-Porn Arguments

Jlp_front_coverI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog, a meditation on the pro-porn/ anti-porn debates suggesting that both sides might be being a tad simplistic. It’s called Which Side Are You On? Pro-Porn and Anti-Porn Arguments, and here’s the teaser:

You’d think this would be a no-brainer. I’ve performed in porn. I’ve produced porn. I’ve sold porn. I’ve written porn. I’ve reviewed porn. And I’ve read and looked at porn, many many times, purely for my own libidinous pleasure. And whenever I read someone reflexively attacking porn, railing about how horrible it is and how it’s degrading and ruinous to all that is good and wonderful about sex, I get very cranky and argumentative.

But here’s the kicker. When I read people reflexively defending porn, raving about how wonderful and uplifting it is and how all criticisms of it are absurd and unfair, I get cranky and argumentative as well.

You might conclude from this behavior that I am a cranky, argumentative person.

You might be right.

But there’s more to it than that.

To find out what more there is to it than that, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

The First Good One

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Please note: This piece talks a lot, in some detail, about my personal sex life and sexual history. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

Say_anythingWe talk a lot about The First Time. As a society we’re a little bit fixated on it. Losing your virginity, and the person you lost it with — it’s a rite of passage that we’ve made important to the point of making it a fetish.

But as rites of passage go, the loss of virginity can be dicey. It was for me, anyway. Sure it was important; but it was also awkward, depressing, and anticlimactic. Emphasis on the “anticlimactic.”

And I think that experience is not uncommon.

So I want to talk about something else. I don’t want to talk about the first person I had sex with

I want to talk about the first person I had good sex with.

And on the wild off-chance that he’s reading this, I want to say Thank you.

His name was Adrian. I honestly don’t remember his last name, although I do remember that he was Number Four (at least according to how I was defining “sex” at the time). He wasn’t a boyfriend, or even a friend; he was just someone I smiled at on the street who stopped to talk, someone I had ice cream with that afternoon and went home with that evening.

It could have been disastrous. I look back on it sometimes and think, “What the hell was I thinking, having sex with a guy I picked up off the street?” He could have been an axe murderer.

But he wasn’t. He was amazing.

He was the first person I had sex with who liked to experiment and try lots of different things, just for the fun of trying them.

He was the first person I had sex with who was playful about it; who didn’t think being passionate meant being deadly serious at all times, and who was willing and even eager to find humor and laughter in what we were doing.

He was the first person I had sex with who was sexually knowledgeable without being arrogant, pushy, or assuming that his greater knowledge meant that we should do things his way. He knew a lot about sex and sexual variations, but if I didn’t want to try something or if something wasn’t working, he accepted it with good grace and moved on. And he was the first person I had sex with who was just as happy about trying the things I wanted to try as he was about the things he wanted to try.

He was the first person I had sex with who made sure that I was having a good time. Not just that I was coming — I’d had at least one sex partner before who tried to make sure that I came — but that I was feeling happy and relaxed, excited and curious, safe and taken care of.

He was the first person I had sex with who didn’t make me feel like the fact that I was having sex with him meant either (a) that I was a skank, or (b) that we were in love. He was the first casual sex partner I had who made me feel respected, and who acted like my horniness and eagerness were appreciated.

He was the first person I had sex with who wanted to keep having sex — and having it and having it and having it — even after he’d come.

And when I look back on it now, I think he had a much greater impact on my sexuality than the guy I lost my virginity to.

Because after Adrian, I knew. I knew what was possible. I had my sexual ups and downs after this, of course; but after Adrian, I knew what the ups could be like… and I knew that the downs didn’t have to be that way. I’m sure that door would have opened for me eventually — I’m a very sexually motivated person, I wasn’t going to put up with bad sex for long — but it opened early for me, and that made a difference.

And I’ve always wanted to say “thank you.”

University_of_chicago_sealAdrian, if you’re reading this: You were a grad student at the University of Chicago, and in the summer of 1979 you met a girl on the street, a girl who had just graduated high school and was about to start college. She smiled at you and you stopped to chat; you bought her ice cream and invited her home; and you fucked her brains out in sixteen different ways over the course of about three days.

You asked if I’d pose like a Penthouse photo that you liked, next to the photo so you could see us both, and I said yes. You asked if I wanted to try being spanked, and I said no (a decision I’ve always regretted, by the way). We played out a rape fantasy that I’d asked to try, and I got freaked out, and you immediately picked up on that and backed off. And we just did it, with me on top and you on top and from behind, in the bed and on your desk and in the bathroom, with our mouths and our hands and your cock and my cunt, until the skin of your dick was rubbed raw and I could barely walk.

You were great. It was almost thirty years ago, and I still remember you, better than I remember most of the people I’ve had sex with.


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.