Harm reduction strategies are meant to reduce the harm associated with certain activities through education, illness prevention, and treatment. The adult industry’s system of regular STI testing and exposure tracking protocol is one such method of harm reduction. I would argue that the laws and rules associated with driving are also a kind of harm reduction. In the case of roads, two-ton vehicles are rocketing around at speeds faster than the most exceptional horse could ever hope to reach. Requiring drivers to follow speed limits, stick to established traffic patterns, and communicate with each other using turn signals and brake lights reduces the likelihood of one crashing into another. However, as long as human and mechanical error exist, the roads will never be completely safe.
In the case of adult films, people are engaging in exhibitionistic sex for public viewing pleasure. These sex acts are generally longer in duration and more theatrical in content than the average sex act. Recreational sex and professional sex in front of cameras both involve a certain level of risk, and those of us who engage in professional sex in front of cameras take precautions to lessen the potential for harm at work. Every time that a hole in our precautions is exposed, we look for ways to further lessen the risk. As with cars, as long as human and mechanical error exist, sex will never be completely safe.
Last year, when the AIDS Healthcare Federation (AHF) poked their heads into pornography and started the initial push for Measure B, a rarely enforced law that requires condoms to be used in pornography produced in Los Angeles County, high-minded reformers like AHF president Michael Weinstein seemed to have an obvious misunderstanding of how porn works. Like Marie Antoinette’s debunked “Let them eat cake” quip, Weinstein’s “Make them wear condoms” solution to the potential spread of STIs in the business was misguided at best. Weinstein—who I like to imagine wearing an intricate ball gown and a towering wig—doesn’t understand the comparative rigor that professionally produced sex scenes entail. The risk of sexually transmitted infections can’t be neatly solved by a few pieces of latex, in pornography or out of it.
Last week’s news that an adult performer named Cameron Bay tested positive for HIV has brought concern over porn practices back to mainstream attention, but you know what no one is talking about? The heterosexual end of the adult industry has not had a single case of performer-to-performer HIV transmission since 2004. In the few cases since 2004 where an adult performer has tested positive for HIV, porn performers’ self-imposed screening process overseen by the Free Speech Coalition, a nonprofit trade organization, has worked. While incredibly frequent testing has not prevented the rare occasion when a performer has acquired HIV offset, it has successfully prevented them from continuing to perform in sex scenes for long enough to pass HIV on to other performers.
Tom Bianchi Photographed His Gay Paradise Before It Disappeared Forever
Close your eyes for a second and imagine you are at the party of your dreams. Everyone you love and are infatuated with is around you, the music you loved in your teens is playing, and bad trips are not a concept. You dance and you love and you spin and you love some more, and then all of your friends die.
I know it’s harsh, but it’s also sort of what happened to Tom Bianchi in the early 1980s, with the onset of AIDS. It’s also the subject of his latest book, Fire Island Pines - Polaroids 1975-1983—a selection of photos taken in a small part of Long Island called the Pines, that functioned as a kind of IRL utopia for a large community of incredibly beautiful and charismatic gay men in the 1970s.
Tom’s name, by the way, is one of those you should know, because he’s been integral in making the world you live in a nicer place than how you found it. You see Bianchi—who, in the early 70s, also worked as a lawyer in New York and Washington, DC—has spent most of his life fighting AIDS and weird heterosexual attitudes toward gay culture. He is the co-founder of a biotech company researching AIDS medication and, if he feels like it, he can also boast a long catalogue of incredibly affectionate photography, poetry, and video work.
With the release of his new book as an excuse, I called Tom up to talk desire and grow up a little.
VICE: Hi Tom, how are you today? Tom Bianchi: I’m very good, I just had a lovely breakfast out by the swimming pool. I’m ready to go today.
OK, let’s do it. Shall we start by telling the story of how this book came to be? Growing up and coming out in Middle America, you had to imagine a world very different to the one you were living in. The world we were living in disregarded us and called us perverts. So the brilliance of Fire Island was that it was built by those people who imagined a different world and set out to create it. We carved out the tiniest little place just for ourselves, where we could be safe and laugh and play with one another on the beach, and not have any negative judgement surrounding us. What that did was attract the best and the brightest gays from all over America—particularly because of its proximity to New York, which was the centre of so much culture, fashion, style, and even film. It was a very glamorous time.
Was the creation of this neighborhood planned or circumstantial? The island is a 36 mile-long barrier a few miles off the Long Island coast, separated into small communities by extended open sand dunes. The Pines, which is one of these little villages, is a mile-long grid of boardwalks connecting about 600 houses built on telephone pole stilts sunk into the sand. Back then, some real-estate guys got to building on this virgin terrace, and it just so happened that the place began to attract bohemian New Yorkers; writers and artists would come out and live in little shacks. It wasn’t intended for the gay community, but it made sense when it formed to be a home for it.
And you happened to be there with a fancy, new Polaroid camera, too. I was a lawyer at Columbia Pictures at the time. At an executive conference in Miami, we were given an SX-70 Polaroid camera. It was this little plastic thing, which I took to Fire Island a little while later and started taking pictures of my friends. At the time, a lot of people were still in the closet so, as you can understand, they were extremely wary of having their picture taken. So, the important thing about this camera was that it allowed me to take the picture and a few minutes later put it out on the table for people to take a look. It made everyone immediately more comfortable and I very quickly formed the intention to show the world what a cool, amazing place the capital of Queerdom was. Or the provincial part of it [laughs].
The truck driver holds a mythic stature in American music, from the hayseed hagiographies of Slim Jacobs and Bobby Sykes to the liner notes of Big Black’s Songs About Fucking. There aren’t as many country songs about African truckers, but they are no less the virile champions of industry and gluteal fortitude than their US counterparts. On their backs rest the burden of an entire continent’s economic development and through their bloodstreams runs a hell of a lot of the continent’s HIV.
Trade in West Africa is perennially fucked, partially because the colonial powers of the 19th and early-20th centuries chopped the place up into a pizza pie of nonsensical borders, but also because most postcolonial governments in the region were so unabashedly corrupt we had to coin the term kleptocracy to describe them. Driving a semi full of margarine a US state’s length to its delivery point often involves passing through three or four separate countries and navigating the byzantine customs and immigration processes at each port of entry. Then there are the internal checkpoints manned by local police and customs agents on the lookout for smugglers, or nonsmugglers who can be intimidated into coughing up a bribe. Then there’s just fuckers who’ll pull you over and straight-up rob you. Infrastructure ain’t always so hot here, either.
All of which turns shipments that would take a few hours in Europe or America into grueling, day-cum-week-cum-month-long affairs punctuated by long and unpredictable periods of complete standstill. Which, in addition to wasting fuel and driving up the cost of goods with every unplanned stop, also fuels the sort of boredom that can only be fought by dumping money into the less savory sectors of the economy. Namely booze sales and roadside prostitution. Which is where the AIDS comes in.
Intrigued by the African long-haul trucker’s dual reputation as the foundational building block of West Africa’s would-be robust economy and lotharious Johnny AIDS-leseed, we hitched a ride with a trailer full of soap to see just how hard it is to get from point A to point basically A and a half.
Beauty and the Plague: The AIDS Tragedy Behind Your Favorite Disney Love Songs
Above: Howard Ashman in 1977. Archival photos courtesy of Kyle Rennick.
The first week of November 1989, filmmakers and executives from the Walt Disney Company gathered in a crowded room in Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to promote their latest cartoon to a group of pessimistic reporters. The press had reason to be skeptical: after two decades of critical and commercial flops following the death of its founder, Disney was bordering on bankruptcy, and the company’s new CEO, Michael Eisner, had threatened to shut down the animation unit unless The Little Mermaid, its fall 1989 release, turned a profit.
As you probably know, they didn’t need to worry. The film was a huge hit, at least partly on the strength of its soundtrack. The New YorkTimes praised the film’s music, and the movie won Oscars and Golden Globes for Best Song (“Under the Sea”) and Best Score. Two decades after the its release, Disney World remodeled Fantasyland to create an entire section devoted to Mermaid. But back then in the crowded conference room, nobody knew this. The room was grim, and for good reason—if the filmed flopped, their careers might follow.
The panel that sat in front of the press that day included Ron Clements and John Musker, the geeky animation-directing team whose last film, The Great Mouse Detective, had performed reasonably well but not well enough for Eisner’s taste; Jodi Benson, the Broadway veteran who voiced Ariel; and Alan Menken, a composer from Westchester, New York. In this crowd, the last member of the panel, Alan’s collaborator lyricist Howard Ashman, stood out like a sore, sickly thumb.
Skeletally thin and speaking in a soft but firm voice, Howard looked worn-out and effeminate, more like one of the gay men you’d see drifting around New York’s Lower East Side than someone who made family movies. He spoke with passion about Disney’s rich musical history, but after the panel, it was clear something was wrong. After the press conference, when the attendees adjourned to try out some of the park’s attractions, Howardlimped up the Dumbo ride’s ramp and had to call for his boyfriend, Bill Klaus, to assist him. Once Howard reached his Disney associates, he rode Dumbo, smiling like he was just another Hollywood native touring Disney World. As usual, he was doing the best he could to ignore that he was dying of AIDS.
“He was completely focused and energy driven,” Jodi recalled to me 23 years later. She didn’t realize the extent of his illness until 1991: “I got the call to fly to New York City from Los Angeles. When I arrived, I was able to visit him in his room as he was listening to auditions for the voice of Aladdin. Then it really hit me: This was very serious.”
The new issue of The New Yorker contains a big piece on something called “super gonorrhea.” Super Gonorrhea differs from lame, outdated regular gonorrhea in that it’s untreatable. From the article:
"After a second visit, doctors at the clinic gave her an injection of ceftriaxone, an antibiotic considered by infectious-disease experts to be the definitive treatment for gonorrhea. It didn’t work; two weeks later, when she returned to the clinic, a throat culture again tested positive. She was given another dose, but it, too, failed, and, at first, doctors assumed that she had been newly infected. Now, however, public-health experts view the Kyoto case as something far more alarming: the emergence of a strain of gonorrhea that is resistant to the last drug available against it, and the harbinger of a sexually transmitted global epidemic."
Eugh. Seriously The Almighty/nature/gods/Gaia/chaos/nothing/whoever is running shit? A new “sexually transmitted global epidemic”? Are you fucking kidding me? I guess God really does hate fags.
To paraphrase Paris Hilton, an estimated one in seven gay men in urban areas is HIV positive. As a result of this, I haven’t had sex with anyone at any point in my life where a good portion of that experience hasn’t been spent panicking about HIV. Every time I even look at another person’s penis, I convince myself I’ve caught it. I get regular tests, but even then there’s the three-month incubation period where it’s undetectable. I basically spend my entire life freaking out about AIDS.
Blowjobs were the only thing I had left, and now I have to make people wear condoms to do that!? Yes, I know you could always get HIV from oral sex. But the mouth-to-peen infection rate for HIV+ oral is like, one in 20,000 or something. I can live with that stat. Sure, there’s rimming, but that gives you all the usual STDs, and then a bunch of weird poop-parasites, too. No thanks.
And yes, I know super-gonorrhea attacks straight people too. And while it’s nice that straights have something non-abortable to worry about during sex (equal rights, yay!) the article handily points this out:
"Saliva contains enzymes that destroy gonorrhea, so kissing and cunnilingus don’t spread it."
Get the fuck outta here. A disease that you fight by eating pussy? Congratulations, straight people. You fucking assholes.
I guess I’ll just have to wait for these things to come out so I never have to ever touch another human being ever again.
I’d had close to no sex when I got to college. My penis had been inside a couple of girls, but I didn’t really know what to do with it and I could have been charitably described as “very awful” at making and/or doing sex. So at NYU, I made a concerted effort to get my dinky stinky as often as possible. I was drunk every time I even kissed a girl my freshman year, and none of my sexual experiences stand out in my mind as anything other than clumsy and desperate. That said; I definitely got some fuckin’ done. Early in my first semester I wound up having drunken and somewhat athletic unprotected sex with a girl I had about 40 classes with. (I wanted to make sure we could relive the horror 11 or 12 times a day when we made eye contact despite our best efforts.) A couple of days later I noticed some little red bumps peeking out from among my pubic hair. I was 18 and had begun puberty in the 1980s, so I’d been taught that having unprotected sex even once meant you’d die of AIDS within six months and your mom would have to light a picture of your face on fire in front of the White House and disown your memory in a special ceremony. I was sincerely terrified and figured the fatigue I felt wasn’t from a terrible hangover or staying up late studying, but from my rapidly diminishing T cell count.
I decided to go to NYU’s health services to find out how fast-acting my particular strand of AIDS was. The doctor who saw me said that it didn’t look like any STD he knew of. He thought it was probably just a heat rash or a skin irritation of some kind, but just to be safe, I should go to a dermatologist. I walked a half a block to the dermatologist’s office and sat in the waiting room, figuring I had some type of advanced AIDS that was masquerading as a rash and would perhaps take many forms before it finally manifested as Death bearing a scythe and a wheelbarrow to take me to the hell reserved for naughty 18-year-old boys who drink alcohol and do marijuana and then put their penises in stranger women. I was sent to an examination room and then a ravishingly beautiful young woman, not possibly over 27 years old, walked in.
“Hello. How can we help you today?”
“What’s the matter?”
“Well, um, I really wish that you were an old man and not a young woman.”
“Don’t be silly. I have all sorts of patients. Young and old, male and female. No reason to be embarrassed about anything.”
“So you have a rash?”
“Can I see it?”
I unzipped my pants and pulled down my boxers so that only the top of my pubic hair was visible.
“Take them all the way down.”
I pulled my pants and underwear down, fully exposing my 18-year-old penis and testicles to an extraordinarily beautiful young doctor with long brown hair and green eyes who smelled very good. She stuck her face right on in there and checked everything thoroughly.
Then she said this to me: “Is their any irritation around your anus?”
“NO. NO THERE IS NOT. MY ANUS IS FINE.”
“How do you know? You can’t see it. Let me take a quick look.”
“I am certain there is no rash there.”
I turned around.
“Spread your buttocks open.”
I peeled apart my fear-clamped butt cheeks and showed her my shameful little butthole. She leaned over in her chair and gazed into it. I prayed fervently that God would bless me with a fatal stroke.
“Looks OK to me. Nothing out of the ordinary back there. You can pull your pants up.”
I pulled my pants up and she gave me a prescription for a topical cream she said should clear the rash right up. I ran from her office on Washington Square Park.
Why WHY did she need to look at my butthole? Couldn’t she have given me the cream based on what she saw up front? Was she some type of butthole enthusiast? Should a doctor be allowed to be so beautiful? Was she really a doctor at all or had I been tricked and filmed by Candid Camera: Special Butthole Unit? I was on fire with embarrassment and shame. I had spread open my most secret of areas and a beautiful woman I had just met CAREFULLY STUDIED IT. She could draw my butthole from memory! Later that night, as she lay in bed replaying her day, she might think about my butthole. Over lunch, with another beautiful young doctor, she may say “I saw the weirdest butthole today.” Maybe the girl I’d had sex with had been unsatisfied and hired an actress to dress up as a doctor and shame me. THESE WERE ALL POSSIBILITIES.
The third place I visited that day was a clinic where they drew a vial of my blood. They sent me a letter a week later that said “Congratulations! You do not have AIDS.”