Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

The Media’s Post-Colonial Hangover

Donald Moffett, He Kills Me (installation detail), 1987

I was shocked by a health-news headline I read on Slate this morning.

“HIV Infection Rates Are up for Gays, Drug Users, and Prostitutes”

While this is factually accurate, why do I nonetheless find this representation of HIV/AIDS damaging?

For one, it reinforces perceptions that AIDS is a gay disease (or equally troubling, a disease that infects those who “deserve” it, such as drug users and prostitutes). In the 80’s, when President Reagan could not utter the word “AIDS”–even at the height of the AIDS crisis in the U.S., when 41,000 Americans had died of the disease and 71,000 Americans were infected with HIV–the characterization of the public health crisis to only certain minority groups was shameful.

Twenty years later, the media is still reporting on HIV/AIDSas a disease among “gays, drug users, and prostitutes”. According to a recent United Nations report on the global AIDS epidemic, “Globally, women account for half of all HIV infections—this percentage has remained stable for the past several years. ” Shouldn’t more attention be paid to the surprising fact that women account for more than half of all new infections?

Demystifying stereotypes that AIDS is a gay male disease or a drug addict’s disease or a sex worker’s disease is critical. Articles such as this one from the influential Associated Press reinforce stereotypes rather than look at the big picture of the global AIDS crisis.

Another reason that I find this article particularly damaging is its reification of the West’s superiority over developing nations (or, as we like to mistakenly characterize them, “third world” countries). Sonia Shah has written extensively about this notion in reasoned, articulate analyses of media misrepresentation of non-Western nations.

Shah is also an expert in finding the connections between this Orientalism and corporate interests. In a recent article for Ms. magazine, for example, Shah explains how Microsoft millionaire Nathan Myhrvoid characterizes malaria in African countries “to wrap his business in a cloak of moral urgency.”

“Every 43 seconds a child dies of malaria,” he told the crowd. And current anti-malaria interventions, many of which target the rural African women and children who are malaria’s main victims, don’t work that well, he said.

Important facts. But his reasons for sharing this fact? To buoy his new tech gadget. The corporate officers wonders, How might we solve and uplift these people? Try Myhrvoid’s bug zapper:

A mini-”Star Wars” weapons system that tracks mosquitoes in the air and shoots them down mid-flight–with lasers, of course. Like a Death Ray. All you need to make one is a Blu-ray player and a laser printer, plus a few months of processing time on a supercomputer, and voila!: you’re on your way to eradicating malaria in Africa for good.

Business and colonialism. Who’s got the cure for the post-colonial hangover?

Filed under: africa, colonialism, hiv/aids, , , , , , , , , ,

Kerry Speaks Out: Don’t Discriminate in Giving Blood

I can only shake my head when I see those white posters with the iconic red crosses at the campus where I work.

Give blood? Sure.

Except that my blood is not the right kind of blood. My donation, after completing the form in which I am asked point-blank about my sex life, will be summarily thrown away–despite the fact that this blood could save another life.

Senator John Kerry wrote an eloquent, reasoned editorial calling for an end to this discriminatory practice in Boston’s local gay newspaper, Bay Windows. The distinguished statesman from my home state debunks the reasons that gay men are legally banned from donating blood in the United States

Among the reasoned arguments:

  • AIDS is not a “gay disease” (as was commonly–and mistakenly–understood in the early 80’s)
  • High-risk behavior is not synonymous with gay men
  • “If you have had heterosexual sex with someone you know is infected with HIV, you are deferred from donating blood for just one year. But a man who has had protected sex with a monogamous male partner, even one time 33 years ago, is barred for life from donating blood.”

I was surprised to see that Senator Kerry had authored the editorial–and published it in a progressive newspaper like Bay Windows. Reminds me of the importance of straight allies, of standing up for what’s right in public forums, and of not accepting the status quo, as I have in the past regarding the Red Cross’ discriminatory practices.

Kerry reminds us that the work of overturning outdated and morally judgmental laws such as this one have found success before. “Look at what we did with the discriminatory ban on travel and immigration for those infected with HIV. We gained the support of every major public safety organization in the country and worked to pass legislation lifting that ban.”

It’s time to change the way we confuse personal beliefs with social needs, and then translate these beliefs into law. A small example among many: the dire yet discriminatory need for donations of blood.

Filed under: gay rights, government, health, , , , , , , ,

Lady G and Lauper: Lipstick for Women’s Sexual Health

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Cyndi Lauper and Lady Gaga: talented, empowering female musicians. This morning, they appeared together on Good Morning America and spoke in impassioned, articulate voices about the importance of women’s sexual health. Can the responsibility for safe sex only be with their partners? Lauper reminds us to think of the Boy Scouts’ motto: Be Prepared.

A touching, articulate and good-natured appearance. There’s also a clip of the phenomenal duet that Lady Gaga performed with Elton John at the Grammys a few weeks ago.

Filed under: health, music, , , , ,

Two Takes on Promiscuity

I’ve been reading the thoughtful, non-puritanical writing of Dan Savage for years now, both in his weekly sex-advice column “Savage Love” and in his nonfiction books like Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America (2002).

What I admire about Savage is his reasoned, articulate (albeit polemical) perspective on gay politics, sexuality, and morality. In the clip below, he responds to an audience member’s question, “How many partners is too many?”

Savage’s thoughts on promiscuity catches my interest because it aligns with some other thinking I’ve been doing on promiscuity in other cultures, namely in Africa. I’m just begun to advise a solidarity trip to Uganda with twelve B.C. undergraduates, and one of the books we will be reading is Helen Epstein’s The Invisible Cure. Though many have chimed in on public health policy in African countries, Epstein argues that most Westerners approach HIV/AIDS in Africa as a problem to be solved: through abstinence, or condom use, or better sexual health education.

However, in The Invisible Cure, Epstein argues for a paradigm shift: an empathetic approach to Afrocentric solutions to health crises, and a challenge to understand a way of life foreign to Westerners: a culture, in some African countries, in which a man may have several wives or sexual partners. Here is an interview with Epstein on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, as well as her understanding of promiscuity in this culture:

Promiscuity. In the U.S., we discuss sex and sexuality most often through a moral lens. Are we sex-positive? What should be allowed and forbidden? How do we achieve gay rights and breakdown a heteronormative society?

In African nations like Uganda, we discuss sex through a lens of public health. How do we reduce the HIV/AIDS crisis? What is the best method of prevention? Who is being infected, and how is the disease transmitted?

Hard to get out of a Western mindset, but always food for thought.

Filed under: africa, health, , , , , , , , ,

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BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
July 2020
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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