Bugchasers – myth
was logged on to a gay website recently – it may have been
gay.com, I can’t remember – and was chatting in the HIV positive
room. A guy whose nick was something like breedmenow was going
on about how he wanted to get ‘pozzed up’, i.e. infected with
The reaction was instant. A guy who we’ll call ffskin – a pretty
hardcore character who had been exchanging steamy anecdotes with
me about orgies – he was no choirboy – fired back:
> fuck off, bugchaser
He was backed up. Other guys joined in.
> these guys are crazy
> it’s a fuckin insult
> I’ve been poz for 15 yrs and if he knew what he was letting
himself in for he’d shut up.
Breedmenow didn’t say another word and soon logged off. What
this incident shows is:
a) yes, it’s true, some gay men out there fantasise about
b) HIV positive guys are not necessarily interested in helping
I’m writing this because yet another story has come out claiming
that some gay men
"are actively seeking out HIV status".
Researcher Melissa Parker – who, judging by her comments that
her 'findings' were based on "casual conversations with gay men
over many years", has been trawling the same chat rooms in the
name of research – told the British Association science festival
that "being diagnosed with HIV is a badge of being truly gay."
You can see why the mainstream media love this sort of thing.
Gay sex = HIV positive = death. Gay men are a bunch of
death-obsessed sickos, fighting to board the fast train to hell.
Where have we heard that before? Oh, only about a million times
in the last 100 years.
It’s important not to be defensive about such claims. The
reaction of certain HIV prevention agencies when confronted with
this kind of claim is to close ranks and deny that any gay man,
anywhere, at any time, has wanted to be HIV positive and maybe
even tried to catch it.
I am a counsellor as well as a journalist and first met a young
gay man who admitted he’d thought it might be better to have HIV
in 1992. “I just feel like I’ve got no direction in life,” he
said, “and I see my HIV positive friends and it, like, gives
them a kick up the ass. They feel they’ve got some meaning back,
something to live for.” He didn’t really want HIV. What he did
want was to stop feeling aimless and empty.
This isn’t a bizarre or pathological reaction. What about the
grieving lover whose boyfriend has died, and wants to join him?
What about the HIV negative guy who can’t face 40 years of
rubber-insulated sex with his positive life partner? If these
people were heterosexuals, we would be nodding sagely and taking
about ‘the difficult choices facing couples’. But if they’re gay
men they get called ‘bugchasers’.
Parker has failed to cotton on to, however, is the difference
between fantasy and reality. The one thing chat rooms breed is
imagination – great gobbets of steaming, lurid fantasy, mined
fresh from the redhot seams of the unconscious and detailing
every possible and impossible anatomical feat it’s possible to
A clue that poor, innocent Melissa has taken fantasy for reality
comes when she claims that some guys who visit backrooms "can
have 30 or 40 partners in one visit".
To that we can only reply, “In our dreams, girlfriend!” If you
really got rogered 40 times a) you’d be still at it when the
cleaning lady came round and b) you would get a teeny bit sore.
What Melissa has done is read or listened to home-made
pornography and taken it for Real Sex.
People eroticise what they are afraid of. It’s a defence
mechanism, and the driving force behind S&M sex. The powerful
man who gets spanked in his French maid’s uniform and called
Susan is a stereotypical example. Fantasising about going to ‘
breeding parties’ and getting ‘pozzed up’ is a way of imagining
you have control over something you feel powerless over –
avoiding HIV. That’s not to say it never, ever happens. It is to
say that 99% of the talk of it happening is fantasy.
That some gay men do feel powerless is borne out by the most
succinct comment I ever got from a guy who claimed to be
bugchasing. “You don’t want HIV, believe me,” I said. “Why are
“I’m just tired of dodging the bullet,” he said.
This is the crucial distinction to be made at the heart of the
‘bugchasing’ debate. There’s no doubt that more gay men - more
people - regardless of HIV status are having more unprotected
sex. And it is translating into more infections, with 1,700 gay
ones a year reported in the last two years as opposed to 1,400
or so throughout the 90s.
But this does not mean gay men want to get HIV. On the whole
they’re pretty aware of the concussive effect a positive
diagnosis can have on the health, the life, and the psyche.
Nor does it mean HIV-positive gay men want to give it to them.
For a start, I don’t want to be sued. Less flippantly, my ride
with HIV has not been an easy one and if I meet some
wet-behind-the-ears twink who thinks it’ll be a breeze I put him
right about it. And thirdly, as were the chatters in the poz
room, I am insulted when someone wants to use me, or rather my
virus, as an S&M accoutrement.
Gay men are catching HIV by omission, not commission. They’re
catching it because – notwithstanding the blithe ‘condom, condom
every time’ messages of the 90s –maintaining safer sex is
difficult. Sometimes it’s easier to take the risk and think,
maybe I’ll dodge the bullet this time. Sometimes it’s easier to
let things happen than ask that passion-deadening question: “are
you poz?” Or, if you have HIV, disclose it.
But it doesn’t mean that we’re all acquiring it like the latest
lifestyle accessory. We’re catching it because we’re human. Not
because we’re already sick.