This piece originally appeared in Annals of Gay Sexuality, co-written with Marcus Greatheart and Pan.” See sidebar for titles of posts.
The premise of this first volume of Annals of Gay Sexuality (AGS) is this: we’ve entered a new era of gay men’s health as it relates to HIV in terms of identity and practice. This shift reflects gay generational differences in terms of how we relate to sex, risk and community, advancements in HIV treatment and AIDS care, and the obvious: decades have passed since AIDS overwhelmed the gay male psyche. This journal responds to the belief that we’re chronically overdue for our collective psychosomatic check-up. Our method has been to gather stories and images as practice-based evidence with the understanding that:
a) creative expression can be healing;
b) art has the potential to rekindle community efforts to organize around gay men’s contemporary health crises; and
c) understanding more about the lives of gay men and the sexual contexts within which we live, our efforts will lift us out of the decades-long statistical impasse of HIV prevalence by addressing gay men’s health as a whole.
To this end we adopted a unique community-based methodology wherein we sent out a Call for text/image contributions, and selected the work we believed best demonstrated how gay men are navigating their sex lives today. We are the curators of these submissions using a community centric lens. The text and images selected both express and discover the vigor and limitations of the editors’ community networks. By contributing to a larger conversation of gay men’s needs, this project seeks to expand into other culturally specific and global networks. At the end of this introduction we reflect on the work included among these pages.
We intend to stimulate conversations amongst gay men. We chose print as the medium because we understand the respect the printed page garners among the people and institutions we hope to inform and influence. May these ideas invade libraries and break down walls in academia and health authorities while challenging assimilationist norms within our own communities. AGS borrows from the milieu of health science journals that fill academic libraries. By appropriating this medium, we hope to challenge and entice traditional researchers and institutional(ized) practitioners. We invite those who judiciously map out what we do to embrace the expression of those who are doing it. In this journal, experience narratives create the knowledge that quantitative data and meta-analysis often overlook.
The title of this journal, Annals of Gay Sexuality, is our way of stating that we want to explore the visceral edge between what we know and the biocultural outcomes we still seek as gay male writers, visual artists and lovers. ‘Annals’ comes from the Latin ‘annus’ meaning a year, and represents our desire to capture emerging issues of gay men’s sexuality.
The Contemporary HIV Zeitgeist reflects our intention to encapsulate present-day tastes, textures, sights and smells of our sex in the context of current HIV treatments, but also the social contexts of the fourth decade of AIDS. The text and images are immediately raw and thoughtful, erotic and cogent. They include personal narratives, photos, ‘txt msg’ conversations, social media posts, and non-fiction poetry and prose. This explicitly subjective work is experiential and defiant, self-reflective and critical.
AGS includes visual source material about the body, desire, medication and fantasies that cue up responses to the multitudes of present-day gay male sexuality. The theme among these images is clear: how artists negotiate with—and manage their relationship between—the body and sex. For some it was the fractal patterns of the capsules and tablets that allow gay men to live; for others, it’s a fictional relationship with dead poets, reimagining one’s youthful body tumbling through a fantasy of desire and intimacy. Some of these artworks are more explicit, arousing and demonstrating the higher potential of the body: sex and its many beautiful and messy complications. Other works resist the explicit.
We find it ironic and a reflection of our time that some artists are still unable to be explicit in their expression of gay male desire, despite increased political liberation. Case in point: the AGS Art Director was not comfortable using his legal name in this publication because, as a licensed public employee and educator, he feared that a colleague or student’s parent might bring his propriety into question. Gay men who work with children are always subject to greater scrutiny than our heterosexual counterparts. While only two other contributors requested a pseudonym, the issue of privacy is one with which many of us grappled. We have public and professional jobs that provide us a lot of exposure. And while we were not convinced that our participation in this project would necessarily lead to overt discrimination or loss of employment, the potential risks still felt palpable.