“The terrible thing in this world is that everyone has his reasons.”
Octave, The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir, 1939
I just finished a short story that I’ll be submitting for a call at the end of May. I’ve still got some editing to do of the draft, but I’m in a place where I think, or hope rather, that I’ll be able to get it done in time.
The story was inspired by some research I did into fear and barebacking culture awhile ago. I don’t know if you could look at this story and from the outside see that that the inspiration came from researching risky sex within the gay community, and specifically the barebacking community. It’s definitely got elements of risky sex in it, but the choices made do not seem to have much to do with barebacking on the surface.
Still, the question of what drives people to make choices that seem to endanger them in some way is one that I found fascinating and which informed this story. With that in mind, I’m going to share a few of the readings I found had the most impact on this story and on my ideas about fear. I am not in any way claiming that I agree with any of the statements below. They only served to inspire aspects of the story and nothing more.
1. Another of the men interviewed by Carballo-Dieguez, illustrates the points that Crossley makes about the power of barebacking as a transgressive act. It is exhilarating, it is the forbidden thing, it is like a drug, it is what you are not supposed to do, it’s getting away with murder. — Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers.
2. One of the ways that internalized homophobia may play out is an unconscious sense that the individual is unimportant, undervalued, and not worth very much, thus increasing his sense that he is expendable, and so too are the men with whom he has sex and from whom he seeks love and validation.
“What we have learned from Roland Barthes as from Michel Foucault and Oscar Wilde (albeit differently in each case) is that oppression inheres in those subjected to it as their or our identity, and must eventually be experienced and contested there, and never more so than when this subjection involves desire. Identity for the homosexual is always conflicted: at once ascribed, proscribed, and internalized, it is in terms of identity that self-hatred, violence, mutilation, and death have been suffered” (Dollimore, 1998, pp. 325-326).
Los Angeles writer and therapist Douglas Sadownick notes that “sex often is a matter for the unconscious”
One of the basic tenets of psychoanalytic theory that Freud (1920) formulated concerns sexuality overlapping with a dimension of negativity. Freud originally called it “the death instinct,” but is now commonly referred to as “the death drive.”
In short, taking the risks associated with barebacking is actually the way some gay men are trying to take care of themselves and meet deep and urgent needs and desires.
3. Tim Dean (2000) writes: “Most people can’t comprehend why anyone would risk death for a good fuck. From a certain viewpoint, unsafe sex appears as inconceivably self-destructive behavior. Indeed, while such health-threatening practices as smoking, drinking, and drug abuse must be indulged in repeatedly over a substantial period before they are likely to cause harm, HIV infection can result from a single unprotected encounter. Casual, anonymous sex without a condom seems suicidal” (p. 139). But the long-term effects of HIV infection on health are easily denied when faced with the immediacy of sexual pleasure, particularly if one is using drugs that fog one’s judgment. — Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers.
4. Vincke and colleagues (2001) found that “the incorporation of semen is an important value for many in gay cultures, a means of showing devotion, belonging, and oneness. Unsafe sex can therefore be an expression of positive values and of good feelings” (p. 58). There is something deeply erotic, profoundly connecting and, some feel, even sacred about one person giving his most private and special fluid, semen, to the other as a gift of love and a symbolic joining of two souls. The many levels of meaning and special significance that giving and receiving of semen has for gay men cannot be underestimated as a contributing factor to the rise in barebacking — especially in romantic couples,
Some have described drinking semen as literally ingesting the vitality, strength, manliness, or very essence of the man whose semen they either drank or received anally. There are men who feel that sharing their own or receiving the semen of a lover is a visceral as well as symbolic gift of love or a spiritual communion. There are those who revel in experiencing the esthetic and sensual pleasures in giving or receiving semen. By no means is this a comprehensive list. The meaning of sharing semen between two men is as varied as the men who engage in this act. — Why Do Men Bareback? No Easy Answers.
5. Our minds are conditioned – that is an obvious fact – conditioned by the culture, the society, influenced by various impressions, strains, stresses, relationships, economic, social, climatic, educational, religious conformity, sanctions and so on. And our minds are trained to accept fear and escape, if we can, from that fear, never being able to resolve, totally and completely, the whole nature and structure of fear. So our first question is: whether the mind, so heavily burdened, can resolve completely, not only its conditioning, but also its fears? Because it is the fear that makes us accept conditioning.
So, can the mind actually ever be free of fear? That seems to me to be one of the most primary, essential, questions which must be asked and which must be resolved, for any person who is at all serious. There are physical fears and psychological fears. The physical fears of pain, having had pain and the repetition of that pain in the future; the fears of old age, death, the fears of physical insecurity, the fears of uncertainties of tomorrow, the fears of not being able to be a great success, achieve and so on, not being somebody in this rather ugly world; the fears of destruction, the fears of loneliness, not being able to love or be loved, and so on; the conscious fears as well as the unconscious fears. Can the mind be free, totally, of all this? And if it cannot, then such a mind is incapable, because it is distorted, it is incapable of perception, of understanding, of having a mind that is completely silent, quiet; it is like a blind man seeking light and never finding light, and therefore inventing a ‘light’ of words, concepts, theories.
So how is a mind which is so heavily burdened with fear, and with all its conditioning, ever to be free of it? Or must we accept it as an inevitable thing of life? – and most of us do accept it, put up with it.
So, now what shall we do? How shall I, as a human being, and you as a human being, be rid of this fear, the total fear, not a particular fear, but the whole nature and structure of fear? — To Be Human, J. Krishnamurti