This month marks the end of both a single year and an entire century, and it seems like a good point in time to look forward to what the coming year and the coming century may offer us and what possibilities we may find in our collective futures. The past two decades have been an era of great change in terms of sociocultural, political, and legal views towards queers, towards anyone who does not conform to the outdated and never really accurate model of heterosexuality being the only standard of how we may live our lives. We have seen many changes come about that are certainly, beyond any shade of doubt, positive, but we have also suffered through new trials and challenges to our rights, our ability to achieve our goals in society, and even to our lives. No challenge has been greater than that posed by HIV and AIDS, but ironically, much of the positive and beneficial changes realized by queers have come about due to the impetus of AIDS and the social effects of the disease. After the early years of AIDS in America, the greater population realized that homosexuality was not something they could shove under the proverbial rug again and that discussion of issues important to queers would have to enter the greater social discourse at every level.
Since we've been living with AIDS for about twenty years now, many of us have come of age with the disease as a known fact of life. Despite this, and despite having better education and prevention efforts targeted towards young gay men, bisexuals, and lesbians, many queer youth do not seem to realize the reality of AIDS as a deadly pathogenic disease that could, indeed, be fatal to them as it has been to millions of others world wide. As young gay people, we must never forget that we live in a period of profound awareness of this disease and that many who came before us have died because they did not have access to the information that we now take for granted, because they did not know how to or even why to protect themselves from becoming infected with HIV. We owe it to ourselves, to each other, to every partner we have sex with, to be as careful and prudent in our actions as possible. We still have no cure for this disease and prevention is still the best means of decreasing the damage done by the worst pathogenic illness of the latter part of this century.
With that much said for now about AIDS, I should note that come next month, I will have a lot more to say on the matter. In the Fall of 1997, Kate Fordham and I wrote a comprehensive document on AIDS, HIV, and related concerns that was published in Oasis as a practical guide for the readers of this publication. Since then, some notable things have changed in our knowledge of AIDS and our ability to prevent it and combat it through clinical interventions. Also, I have become aware of audiences and needs for information that we were not then aware of, and these topics need to be addressed. So it's high time for a new, even more comprehensive, article on AIDS. To paraphrase LL Cool J, don't call it an update. Look for this mega-article to be published in the January 2000 issue of Oasis.
Interestingly, I received several questions this month that dealt more with romantic and emotional aspects of relationships than sexual ones. I always welcome such questions and would like to point out that they remind all of us that a relationship of any length of duration and any manifestation has emotional dynamics that are often just as important as the physical ones. Our first reader question sets such a tone:
I recently started having sex with my boyfriend of two months and he and I both are safe and like it while we're doing it but he is always depressed for the next couple of days and won't often even talk to me for a day or two. What's going on? Also, do you edit the letters and correct spelling and stuff? Just wondering.
Andy, age 16
Andy, the situation you describe may entail several factors. For one thing, while many sixteen year-olds do have sex, not all people around this age are mature enough to deal with a sexual relationship. When the aspect of a gay relationship is mixed into that equation, a lot of other concerns and fears and emotions can come to play. For instance, your boyfriend may love you and enjoy sex but he may also be unsure whether or not it is the right thing for him to be doing in terms of his religious or cultural views and beliefs. Or he may wonder if he is old enough to be in this serious of a relationship. A lot of things could very well be going on here, and while I cannot tell from what information you've included in your e-mail, I feel that chances are that something about the sexual aspect of the relationship is indeed bothering him. And I think you should speak to him about, ask him what is wrong, and be understanding in listening to him and his perspective on having sex. If he does not want to talk about it or is unsure what is wrong, I would suggest that he speaks to a school counselor, physician, or other trusted adult who can listen to his concerns and who will not be judgmental.
Also, I am assuming from the tone of your letter that your boyfriend is around your own age, perhaps a year older or younger, but not far from sixteen in either direction. I think it's important for you to also consider how you feel about the sexual dynamic in the relationship and how sex factors into the rest of what the two of you consider to be your relationship. There are probably a lot of issues that both of you need to think over seriously, but that is not to say that this story has to have an unhappy ending. Rather, I am saying that this relationship needs a greater amount of communication and that there is the possibility that your boyfriend needs to consider in detail his feelings about having a sexual relationship. I wish you both the best of luck; please feel free to write back and let me know how things are working out for you. And yes, I do edit for spelling, but I never change the content of reader e-mail questions.
I am really in love with a kid on my basketball team but I don't think he's gay or if he is, he's closeted and I am too. We live in a small town where you'd be crazy to say that you're queer when in high school and I can't do that but I wonder how I can find out if there's even a chance he's gay because I really love him and would like to be able to see him somehow. Also, it's really hard to concentrate on the game when he's out there with me. Being on this team with him has been a lot of trouble for me this year. Any ideas?
Todd, age 15
Todd, I feel for your situation and I understand how frustrating it must be for you. However, I encourage you to realize that even if you have a crush on your team-mate, that's not love, but simply a crush. We all have crushes and we often feel like they overwhelm us and take over our worlds. I can still remember guys in high school that I had huge crushes on and how it seemed like I couldn't let a moment pass without thinking about my crush. But very few people -- whether gay or straight -- end up having a long-term relationship with someone who was a crush and many crushes don't even lead to a relationship. So use the term "love" with caution and realize that this is not full-blown love that you're in, and that such is a good thing, because you can't let this crush become the center of your life. You have basketball and other things in your life that you must care about a great deal and you can't let those aspects of your life be ruined or diminished by how you feel for a guy on your team.
As far as figuring out if he's gay or not, that can be pretty tough. Sure, we can guess, you can look for subtle clues in how he moves, how he talks, and so forth, but when all is said and done, you still won't know. At the age of fifteen, he may not even know yet. When I was fifteen, I had already had several sexual experiences with other boys, but I still believed that I was straight. (And I had not had any form of sexual experience with girls, interestingly.) It sounds like you are not ready to come out at this point in your life and it sounds as if that's the best attitude for you to take right now. If your community is repressed in its view of homosexuality, I offer you my deepest sympathy, but I also advise you to approach things realistically and if you believe that not revealing your sexuality now is wise, I must agree. I would not approach your team-mate with questions about his sexuality either, because this could easily cause more problems that it may solve. Perhaps, though, you can try to become friends with him if you think it's possible to do so without being overcome by your feelings of attraction to him. I would urge you in any case to approach this situation with care and take things slowly. Also, try to remember -- and I know it's hard -- that when you're out on the court, he's your team-mate and not your crush. Try to concentrate on the game and not the boy at that point.
Those are our two questions for this month. Again, look for the AIDS article next month and in the mean time, please keep the questions coming and keep being both safe and satisfied in living your lives. A happy New Year to you all!
To send in questions for this column, please write to Mike at: MCWalker@hotmail.com
MICHAEL WALKER is the Science and Medical Editor of Oasis. He has been writing this column (at times with Kate Fordham) for Oasis since 1996 and has also authored numerous other articles, reviews, fiction, and poetry for Oasis. In addition, he has written extensively about social, legal, and medical issues facing gay youth for a variety of other publications.