The Savage debate continues — on drug support payments

Dear Readers: Needless to say, I’ve been buried by the mail coming in about my drug-support payments idea. Here’s a selection.


Q: If something like "drug-support payments" were ever implemented, when people discover they are HIV-positive they will be afraid to let their past and present sexual partners know for fear of being sued for support. The uninformed, then, would not be receiving treatment and would be passing the virus, unknowingly, on to others. Your idea, I believe, would lead to even more HIV infections. —Brian C.

A: I picture the drug-support payments going to the state health agencies that foot the bill for AIDS meds, Brian, not to infected individuals, so there would be no incentive for a newly infected person to go after his infector. A drug-support program could also be designed to reward responsible behavior, so any pro-active steps an HIV-positive person made to help curb the spread of HIV—such as cooperating with partner tracing programs—should be weighed when determining if he should have to make drug-support payments at all. And in cases where an infected person took all reasonable precautions (i.e., he disclosed his HIV status and used condoms), drug-support payments should be waived entirely.


Q: Drug-support payments from deadbeat infectors? A bloody fucking BRILLIANT idea. A financial penalty might just encourage personal accountability. But please broaden this to include straight men and women who knowingly infect their partners. —Christine M.

A: Consider it broadened, Christine.


Q: The idea that the person with HIV is going to have to pay even part of the drug costs for someone they are deemed to have infected is ridiculous. To suggest that if I willingly have unprotected sex with a stranger and am infected as a result that the other person is responsible for infecting me is a recipe for disaster. You seem to like metaphors, Dan. Try this one. The little old lady has a tumor that is growing and decides to jump in front of a train. Is it the conductor’s responsibility when he hits her? Okay, she doesn’t have a tumor. She is a little kid who is playing "chicken." Even if you did charge the conductor, it doesn’t solve the problem. HIV and AIDS are not going away as long as people continue to have sex. If a person doesn’t want kids or sexually transmitted disease, they need to stop having sex. If they don’t want to stop having sex, they need to decide what personal level of risk they are willing to take and take responsibility for themselves. —Sex Is Something Society Yearns

A: If the train conductor can see the little old lady and can stop the train before it hits her and hits the gas (or whatever they use on trains) and speeds up … yes, he’s responsible for her death. Someone with HIV and a hard dick is a not an unstoppable train, SISSY.


Q: As a side note to the column on HIV/AIDS, there is a law in Michigan called the HIV Exposure Law. Basically, it says that if you know that you are HIV-positive and you engage in sexual penetration without disclosing your status to your partner beforehand then you have committed a felony. Not sure if they have these laws in other states as well, but I would think they would. —Allene

A: I’m aware of the existence of these laws, Allene, but they’re rarely enforced — at least against gay men. Every time you hear about a person being prosecuted for exposing someone to HIV it’s invariably a heterosexual male, usually African-American, who exposed a group of women, usually white. I’ll leave it to others to tease out what that says about our culture. Meanwhile there are gay men out there advertising their willingness to infect other men with HIV, as well as gay men advertising their willingness to be infected, and nothing is done about it. Clearly we need a penalty for exposing other people to HIV, some sort consequence, that falls somewhere between doing nothing and throwing someone in prison.


Q: In light of your recent topic, I though you would find this news from Canada of interest. An HIV-positive man has been charged with murder after two of the people he infected died. —Shelly

A: And the man is from Africa, and both of the people who are dead are women. I’m all for charging him with murder, Shelly, I’m just mystified that these sorts of charges are never brought against gay men.


Q: Although your idea seems like a good one in the abstract, making people who negligently or willfully infect others with HIV pay some sort of support to their victims, I am afraid it is an impractical solution to the problem. First and foremost, how do we determine exactly who did the infecting? In other words, assuming the newly infected person has had multiple partners, how do we figure out which sexual partner passed the HIV virus along? And even if we establish that the newly infected person had only one partner, how do we determine whether or not the infector purposefully or negligently infected the other person? Unlike DNA testing, which can establish paternity, there are no tests that I know of which are able to trace the path of HIV infection.

I also do not support any plan that would eliminate or reduce access to drugs and medical care for people infected with HIV. —Hoping For A Solution

A: Nor do I, HFAS. I never said that drugs should be withheld from anyone. Indeed, I said the opposite. A drug-support payment program would merely help defray some of the costs of providing drugs to people with HIV while also encouraging HIV-positive gay men to be responsible and protect their partners—even their partners who are too stupid to protect themselves.

And I don’t think we would need to catch all, or even a large number, of infectors for drug-support payments to have a deterrent effect. Like I said in the column, a handful of men in every major city who can no longer afford recreational drugs or trips to circuit events because their wages are being docked for drug support payments … shit … could you imagine the impact that would have?


Q: I thought your idea of making some of these assholes pay for their meds was great. If you have HIV, it might not be "your fault," but it most certainly is "your problem." Therefore you have responsibilities.

The same is true for child support: A hetero man can be liable for child support even in spite of good intentions, maybe through a condom break or a botched vasectomy or whatever. Thus, even the ones who aren’t deadbeats can end up paying. In many cases, the payments are based in part on how much you make. Just because it was an accident doesn’t mean you’re not responsible.

So why not just garnish a percentage of the HIV-positive person’s income to offset for the meds? Make it progressive, just like child support: If you’re extremely poor maybe you get off the hook, but as you make more money, you pay more. If you have no job but you have assets, they can extract a percentage of them up to a certain percentage of your net worth. If it can be established that someone displayed rampant disregard for their own health and the health of others, make the percentage higher.

As for the uninfected, I have one word: condoms. I don’t give a rat’s ass if you have "condom fatigue" or if unprotected ass sex feels better. So does unprotected pussy sex to me, and we hetero guys sure don’t love rubbers. But we use them, because we don’t want to pay child support and/or get a disease. So use the damn rubber, or you’ll be paying for your meds when you catch HIV. —Reader In Helsinki

A: Making the payments progressive, and not demanding them of people who are poor, is a wonderful idea, RIH. Thanks for sharing. Okay, I’m going to stop interrupting …


Q: I love the drug-support-payment idea. To answer the concern Ana Oliveira had about determining who infected whom: By sequencing the genomes of HIV viruses from the two individuals, it is possible to determine to a high degree of accuracy whether or not one person infected another. It’s like a paternity test; because this virus mutates so rapidly, each carrier will accumulate quite a few new mutations. If those new mutations in person A’s strain are also in person B, then odds are person B’s virus is a descendant of the virus in person A. The actual test is a bit more complicated (like a paternity test, there are some fairly advanced statistics to arrive at those one-in-a-billion odds), but the technology to do this sort of test is getting much cheaper and more automated all the time.

I bet you’re going to get letters from people complaining that your plan punishes people who infect others before they knew that they were HIV-positive. If you do, let me be the first to tell them to go fuck themselves. Giving an exemption for people who don’t know if they’re HIV-positive or not will just encourage people to not get tested. Besides, we don’t give paternity exemptions for guys who aren’t sure if they’re shooting blanks or not, do we? —Biologist In Kansas City

Q: I am a 36-year-old gay man living in San Francisco. I am astounded at the people who make no excuses for having unsafe sex, proudly proclaiming "It’s my body, and I can do what I want with it, and it’s none of your business!" These radical individualists are the same people who, once they become HIV-positive, run to publicly funded health clinics to bail themselves out. My feeling is, if you expect the taxpayer to foot your health-care bill, then we have the right to be judgmental about your personal sex life and the choices you have made.

Not until I see messages condemning risky sex and stigmatizing sexual risk-takers who contribute to the spread of a deadly disease will AIDS organizations get another dime out of me. —Stephen B.

Q: People who infect others without their consent are fucked-up assholes, but in a heteronormative society the real blame lies with the systematic devaluation of homosex, of the body, and of the planet—and for that, we queers should be blaming the straight people, not each other. Trying to punish the fucked-up assholes is like sending mean, violent people to prisons (mean, violent places last time I checked) to turn them into nice, loving people. It’s just going to make the problem worse. Instead, why aren’t you asking why the medications are so expensive? Why aren’t you attacking corporate-pharmaceutical executives?

I’m sick and tired of homos eating themselves up inside wondering how to be good according to the norms of a society that has already decided we’re bad. If you start to do your research or pay any attention to the scientific consensus on global warming, it’s impossible to avoid the conclusion that heterosexual violence and overpopulation are not only threatening us as queers but indeed all life on earth. —Queer Liberation Now

Q: I am gay, and frequently on the outs with local gay activists who are adamant that the poor guy who knows he is HIV positive has enough problems without being expected to inform his possible partners of his status. I agree with you that such people are irresponsible, criminally so, and should be punished for it. The payment idea sounds very good.

But let’s not stop with just the criminally irresponsible gay fools who spread HIV. Let’s include the druggies who get HIV from sharing needles, but refuse to ever wear a condom when with a girlfriend because "I ain’t no fag, so I ain’t got no AIDS, and I ain’t wearing no rubber!" —Old Fart

Q: Bravo to you, Dan, for saying what needs to be said about the current state of HIV prevention and the infuriating refusal of too many "HIV educators" and "activists" to unequivocally say that it is unethical to spread HIV via unprotected sex. Just this morning I attended a meeting at an AIDS service organization where a representative of another agency objected to the notion that we need to promote an anti-barebacking community norm. His organization, as he told us, is "nonjudgmental," and prefers to tell barebackers how to "do it safely." If we were to explicitly tell the barebackers that their behavior endangers their lives and those of others, why, we might hurt their feelings! It didn’t seem to dawn on this well-meaning but clueless young man that there is no way to bareback "safely" unless you and your partner know for certain you are not infected. This failure to confront gay men with the consequences of their behavior (to themselves and to others), this deeply entrenched refusal to challenge people engaging in or contemplating self-destructive and antisocial behavior, is endemic to AIDS service organizations and activist groups. I’m all for sexual freedom, for pleasure, for sexual self-determination, and I believe we must fight for those good things now more than ever. But we also need to promote an ethic that values social responsibility, mutual concern, and community health, not the kind of rampant selfish individualism too many AIDS educators condone under the guise of being "nonjudgmental" or "sex-positive."

I, too, like "Wake Up People," work for a public health agency and my comments here would no doubt make my job and life more difficult. So, please sign me … —Fed-up Faggot Send letters to [email protected]