HIV/AIDS Skepticism

Pointing to evidence that HIV is not the necessary and sufficient cause of AIDS

Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Altman’

Altman on AIDS (and homosexuality)

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/02/05

“AIDS and homosexuality”  described how two of Dennis Altman’s books helped me get a better feel for the intensity of emotional release that “gay liberation” beginning with Stonewall had brought to some number of gay men; which made it even more plausible for me that the small proportion of gay men who contracted AIDS did so as a result of a decade or so of exuberant but unwise “fast-lane” living.

A few years after AIDS appeared, Altman published AIDS in the Mind of America, (Anchor/Doubleday, 1986). Neither there nor later has he expressed doubts about  HIV = AIDS; yet his writings continue to provide evidence for the lifestyle hypothesis. For example, Altman views sex and sexuality as central to his and others’ sense of identity:
He cites (p. 7) Richard Goldstein: “For gay men, sex, that most powerful implement of attachment and arousal, is also an agent of communion, replacing an often hostile family and even shaping politics. It represents an ecstatic break with years of glances and guises, the furtive past we left behind”. Another man put it like this: “Whenever I threw my legs in the air, I thought I was doing my bit for gay liberation” (p. 143).
Altman acknowledges, directly but also indirectly, that there was a great deal of unwise behavior: “Far too many of us assumed that modern medicine could cure any of the illnesses that seemed to accompany ‘fast-lane’ living” (p. 93). Some gay men were more interested in having fun than in the political activism of gay liberation: “We’d be out partying on Fire Island during the Gay Pride marches” (p. 104) — and for a sense of what partying on Fire Island in the 1970s meant, see the 2003 TV documentary, When Ocean Meets Sky. There were T-shirts saying, “So many men, so little time” (p. 142). For most heterosexual people, promiscuity might mean several extramarital partners during the life of a marriage, to some gay mean it meant more partners than several in a single night (p. 144). Being responsible was commonly interpreted as having frequent checks for syphilis and gonorrhea, and such “doubtful practices as taking a couple of tetracycline capsules before going to the baths” (p. 143) — practices that can wreak havoc on the intestinal immune system.

Altman also knew that the average age of the early AIDS patients was mid-30s (p. 20), surely a pointer to the result of years of burning the candle at all ends, rather than a sexually transmitted disease since the latter tends to strike at younger ages already. Altman knew that hepatitis and enteric parasites, not easily treatable, had become well known among gay men in the 1970s (p. 143), and Altman himself had experienced an opportunistic infection, toxoplasmosis, in the mid-1970s (p. 96).

I would guess that for those gay men for whom sexual freedom was a central feature of gay liberation, cognitive dissonance would be hard at work to avoid a lifestyle explanation for AIDS and to accept the virus hypothesis. Yet if Altman had followed the statistics, he would have learned that AIDS remained largely a phenomenon of gay men and drug abusers, with the addition — following on the re-definition of AIDS as “HIV-positive” — of TB patients and people of African ancestry. Surely such restriction to a few social sectors makes no sense for a sexually transmitted condition. Admittedly, the mainstream emphasis on AIDS in Africa muddies the waters by providing apparent support for the prevalence of heterosexually associated AIDS.

At any rate, Altman has been far from alone among gay men in failing to recognize the significance of the evidence for the lifestyle explanation; exceptions have been few indeed. A powerful incentive will have been the degree to which AIDS had been associated since the beginning with gay men, and a desire that the stigma of AIDS should not fall only on gay men. Official agencies had included representatives from gay groups in discussion from the earliest years (pp. 12-3). It was a shibboleth (p. 22) that the most characteristic gay activity of the 1980s was to examine the skin for signs of Kaposi’s sarcoma. Chapter 5, “The Gay Community’s Response”, recounts how prominent a role gay men played in everything to do with AIDS research and treatment, and they were the chief pressure groups for public funding (Chapter 6).

So AIDS in the Mind of America makes the lifestyle explanation for AIDS yet more plausible, and also illustrates how difficult it must nevertheless be for even highly intelligent, well-read, cultured gay men to take it seriously. The book is also of historical interest, not least for reminding how hysterical the popular reaction was to the notion of a fatal sexually transmitted disease (pp. 60-5, 184-5): medical personnel refusing to treat AIDS patients, airlines suggesting they might not load passengers suffering from AIDS, schools excluding “HIV-positive” students. In hindsight this makes remarkable reading: suggested measures to be taken included the possible quarantining of gay men, suggested by no less than James Chin, then epidemiologist for California and recently author of The AIDS Pandemic which makes the extraordinary suggestion that 20-40% of sub-Saharan adults are in concurrent sexual relations with about a dozen people at any given time and change those partners about annually.

We are reminded that the “HIV” tests encountered difficulties before finally being licensed, that it took nearly a year after Gallo’s claim to have identified HIV.

As in his earlier books, Altman mentions some of the uneasiness in the relations between lesbian groups and organizations of gay men. Cited is a complaint that “women’s health issues” were being ignored in favor of funding AIDS ventures (p. 94); one outcome of which was that the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention looked intensely for some way to include women among at-risk groups and coming up with cervical cancer as an AIDS disease.

Given my interest in science, and how it has become increasingly unreliable and corrupt in recent decades (scimedskeptic.wordpress.com), I was struck by a citation (p. 180) from historian June Goodfield who recognized already around 1980 that “grantsmanship as much as discovery, has become the art form of American science” (An Imagined World, Penguin, 1982, p.105).

Once again I recommend Altman’s book as well worth reading. My interest in his work led me to get his autobiography and to learn of several similarities to my own history: son of German-speaking refugees, growing up in Australia, experiencing the University of Sydney at roughly the same time, continuing education in the United States.

Posted in HIV does not cause AIDS, HIV risk groups, HIV skepticism, HIV tests, prejudice, sexual transmission | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

AIDS and homosexuality

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/01/10

AIDS Rethinking can hardly ignore questions about homosexuality, because the alternative explanation to a viral cause of AIDS is lifestyle. The AIDS era began among gay men, and correspondingly the “new” disease was initially called Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID). Inevitably one asks whether the causative lifestyle had something to do with being gay.

However, the GRID designation and diagnosis rested on an invalid statistical categorization. As John Lauritsen (1)  pointed out at the very beginning of the AIDS era, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) had incorrectly identified the first AIDS sufferers as homosexuals (some of whom happened to abuse drugs) instead of as drug abusers, many of whom happened to be homosexual.
That drug abuse can bring on the symptoms of early-1980s AIDS was pointed out by, for example, Gordon Stewart (2). That the early years of gay liberation saw a proportion of gay men overindulging in unhealthy drug-abusing lifestyles has been remarked by, among others, Larry Kramer (3), Michael Callen (4), and Josef Sonnabend (5). Altman (1982, below, p. 80) remarked  on the ubiquitous smell of amyl [nitrite, poppers] in gay venues.

I found it easy to accept that exuberant feelings of new-found freedom after lifelong oppression could lead some people to such health-damaging actions, but without any real feel for just what the oppression of homosexuality entailed and entails. I tried to imagine it as essentially analogous to racist or anti-Semitic oppression. But two recently read books make that analogy less appropriate. They have been eye-openers for me on several levels, and I recommend them unreservedly. Both are by Dennis Altman:
HOMOSEXUAL: Oppression and Liberation,
Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1971 (ISBN 0-87690-039-2); and
The Homosexualization of America, the Americanization of the Homosexual,
St. Martin’s Press, 1982 (ISBN 0-312-38888-8)

One point of high interest is the changes in society — and in the author’s experience —  in the decade between the writing of those books. In the 1982 book he doubted that he would live to see change in established churches, so he’s been pleasantly surprised, and no doubt about gay people in military service as well. Altman deplored the German government’s refusal to compensate homosexual men who had been in concentration camps (1982: 112); but that changed after 1985 (6).

Further of general interest  is that the second book was written just before AIDS appeared (there is no mention of GRID, AIDS, HIV). Thereby the discussion is not biased by interpretations based on later events.

Perhaps above all, Altman offers a comprehensive, uninhibited discussion of what it has meant to be homosexual, primarily in Western society and with the United States as exemplar; what it meant to live through so-called gay liberation; and what actual and perhaps final liberation might look like.

Though I had not questioned that nominal liberation could lead to irrational exuberance, I did have qualms or reservations about the enormity of the apparently AIDS-inducing behavior. Altman’s insights have helped me to bury those qualms by gaining some feel for the nature and intensity of the oppression that needed to be lifted (and in some ways still needs to be).
It should be recognized, too, that the lifestyle being blamed would not have typically produced seriously debilitating manifest illness rapidly. Contrary to the oft-cited shibboleth that AIDS was first seen in young, previously healthy gay men, in point of fact their average age was mid-to-late thirties and they had histories of  health issues (7).

Growing up homosexual in a society that forces homosexuals to closet themselves has a number of damaging consequences:
→   One mis-learns that the world is nothing but heterosexual
   Thereby one is hindered from acknowledging or accepting one’s own identity
  Thus society’s influence works like a self-fulfilling prophecy,
tending to mold homosexuals into society’s stereotypes of them,
even into accepting that there’s something wrong with being homosexual (1982: 112-3)
  Homosexuals tend to be conflicted and to feel guilty about their own feelings
which conduces to counterproductive behavior including drug abuse;
some are likely to harbor self-hatred, usually unconscious,
and may over-react to behave in violently homophobic ways

The strength of societal oppression of homosexuals was manifested not only by perpetual brutal police harassment but by such signs as “the Tiffany’s notice — ‘We do not, nor will we in future, carry earrings for men’” (1971: 69).
  Altman does not address the long history of homosexual oppression or acceptance over the millennia in various societies. One source for that is David F. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (8).
  Western 19th-century designation of homosexuality as illness, maladjustment, perversion reflects and is owing to the development of medicine as both science & ideology.
  Sociological designation of homosexuality as “deviance” was just as stigmatizing as the medical designation. It was pejorative not descriptive; it doesn’t just mean different: nuns aren’t called deviant.

Gay Liberation is widely associated with the Stonewall riot of 1969, but while that was certainly a landmark of progress, genuine liberation remains to be fully attained:
   The considerable gains in tolerance experienced in the last several decades are not the same as the acceptance that true liberation would represent.
  Oppressed minorities do not necessarily appreciate one another’s situation and form common cause. There are black homophobes and gay white racists, for example.
  Just as there is homophobia among heterosexual people, there is heterophobia among homosexual people.

The 1982 title, The Homosexualization of America, refers to the manner in which widespread behavior has come to resemble what was long charged against homosexuals: young, educated, urban Americans frequent singles’ bars, wife-swapping was common at least for a time; casual & recreational sex is increasingly accepted [e.g. nowadays in college students’ “hooking up” and “booty calls” (9)]. The 1971 book cited Tiffany’s ban on selling earrings to men; for years now, quite a number of heterosexual men have been wearing earrings.

Genuine gay liberation has the huge task of creating ab initio guidelines and role models for all aspects of human interaction:
  Homosexual behavior and homosexual identity are two distinct matters. In Moslem countries, for example, homosexual behavior is quite common but homosexual identity is strictly taboo. Homosexual identity is largely a Western urban 19th-century development, and with it the concept of a gay community or sub-culture.
   “Gay community” is not a natural kind, it exists solely because of societal oppression, it’s a pseudo-community.
  Altman and many others believe that polymorphous sexuality, most simply bisexuality, is universal. If so, creation of an homosexual identity requires also acknowledging possibly repressed heterosexual attractions.

Altman’s discussion is meaningful far beyond homosexuality, with insights pertinent to everyone:
  As with all individuals and groups, there is an inevitable tension between expressing uniqueness and acknowledging human universality.
   The liberation of gay men and lesbians is at the same time a liberation of humankind.
  Sex is burdened with excessive and unrealistic expectations of self-fulfillment and personal actualization; and this is exploited commercially via massage parlors, sex shops, porno movie houses. [Add in recent years the salacious TV ads for Viagra, Cialis, and their ilk.]

Chapter 6 (1982) focuses on societal disapproval of sex for its own sake. It is dispassionate and logical and courageous in its discussion of matters rarely spoken of in public: the sexuality of children, including adult/child sex; sadomasochism; interplays of promiscuity and long-term commitments. I doubt that anyone could read this without learning something new or being reminded of something often forgotten, for example, that most child abuse is heterosexual; or that “most studies suggest that men involved in s-and-m are likely to be personally gentle, liberal, and of above-average education”; or  that “rape by self-acknowledged homosexuals is very rare — though male rape by those who deny their homosexuality is, of course, widespread” (pp. 196-7).

These are among the chief points that I’ve gained from these books, but such a brief survey cannot do justice to Altman’s comprehensive and nuanced discussions. My hope is to stimulate others to read the books themselves. Little of consequence in them has been superseded after 40 and 30 years respectively, and the last sentence of the 1982 book needs no modification at all:

“In the long run
it would be nice to hope
that we can escape the limitations
on individual identity and diversity
that all categories impose”

In the meantime, Altman’s insights have fleshed out for me how long oppression and the iconic  Stonewall presaged AIDS. The sense of freedom brought by Stonewall did not bring with it a viable conception of what normal, i.e. non-oppressed, homosexual life might be like. It is only since the fits and starts of gay marriages that everyone, gay people as much as others, have discovered that there have always been quietly closeted long-term gay partnerships and families. That’s the context in which many gay men mis-interpreted “liberation” to call for excessive indulgence in what had previously been forbidden. Ironically they foreshadowed “HIV’s” latent period: the 10-15 years between Stonewall and AIDS represent the average incubation period for the “side” effects of promiscuous drug abuse and irresponsible sex to result in destruction of the immune system.

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(1) John Lauritsen, The AIDS war: propaganda, profiteering and genocide from the medical-industrial complex, ASKLEPIOS, 1993; ISBN 0–943742–08–0.
(2) Cited in Neville Hodgkinson, AIDS: The failure of contemporary science, Fourth Estate, 1996, p. 103.
(3) Larry Kramer, Faggots, Random House, 1978.
(4) Michael Callen, Surviving AIDS, HarperCollins, 1990.
(5) Henry H. Bauer, The Origin, Persistence and Failings of HIV/AIDS Theory, McFarland, 2007, pp. 119-20
(6) Homocaust: The gay victims of the Holocaust.
(7) Michelle Cochrane, When AIDS began: San Francisco and the making of an epidemic, Routledge, 2004.
(8) David F. Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality, University of Chicago Press, 1988.
(9) http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=booty%20call

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