For Pride this year, I’m celebrating by having sex without a condom for the first time.
Pride calls on us to embrace the freedoms queer folks have fought for — especially the right to free sex. Generations of my gay brothers were silenced by fists, intimidation, prison, religion, and the law — all because of the joy they found in other men’s bodies.
The halcyon days of 1970s sexual liberation are not some abandoned paradise, a shadow disappearing into a boarded-up bathhouse. Gay men gave of their bodies to overcome HIV as another obstacle to our sexual freedom. They gave us both PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and TasP (treatment as prevention) to continue a lifestyle of free gay sexuality. Considering how many people fought and died for me to have condomless sex with other men, I’ll take that option as a way to honor their legacy.
As a 31-year-old gay man, I’ve inherited a world where my desires are not criminalized, but it’s still haunted by the ghosts of our past sexual liberation.
When I came out, my mother said, “You’re going to die of AIDS.” I took it quite seriously, as many gay men have. For the better part of my sexual history, condoms were mandatory. However, they represent a physical and emotional barrier, a tool of a sex-negative society trying to keep us from experiencing true intimacy. The condom, like police brutality, anti-homosexuality laws, and gay conversion camps, stands as another tyrannical force we’ve fought to overcome. Gay men fought for HIV treatment as a means to help us live our sexual truth, because the exchange of seed is central to our power. We’ve come to a place with HIV-prevention medicine where we can once again have the same sex we fought to enjoy generations ago. Thousands of HIV-positive gay men gave their bodies to clinical trial after clinical trial, all to bring us to a place where two men of different sero-status can have sex without fear. It’s not just that “Every time we fuck, we win,” but also that “Every time we fuck, we honor those who died for this freedom.”
Last week, I let a dear friend top me without a condom. Probably more than anybody I know, he’s got the magic inside of him, and I hope a bit of it will flow through my own body now. Allowing him inside me was an incredibly freeing experience. Finally, I knew that I was capable of loving and trusting another man enough to feel the deepest form of male intimacy. In that moment, I felt connected to more than just him. Natural sex gives gay men the chance to commune with the spirit of gay rebellion. It gives us the chance to connect with so many who came before us. We were but two men, each on PrEP, who shared our love without fear of reprisal. This is how we honor those who have fallen for our cause.
Every day, as I take my PrEP, I reflect on the countless gay bodies whose suffering brought us to the place where I can take a pill to prevent HIV. It’s more than a prevention pill; it’s a revolutionary tool. PrEP gives us the chance to share our magic, without the fearful barriers of condoms, while being protected on the cellular level. I want to honor them and their legacy for ringing in this revolution, and with each pill I thank my unnamed gay brethren for making the ultimate sacrifice so that I may experience freedom.
I view my fallen brothers not as victims of some plague, but as soldiers in a battle for our freedom. They represent the best of American idealism: valor, strength, resilience, and sacrifice.
HIV constantly evolves. The virus holds inside it the permanent imprint of each body it has passed through. Sometimes, I like to imagine my own possible seroconversion — the souls of positive men hardening into my veins, pulsing through me with every heartbeat, spreading to every cell.
But, for now, I take my PrEP daily, and consider myself part of a new phase in human evolution. One where mankind can live in symbiosis with a deadly disease. One where we can create community and identity around HIV as a means to erase its stigma. Gay people show the world how to overcome, through brotherly connection, what would otherwise eliminate us. I’m proud of that.
This Pride, I’m having sex without a condom as a means to return to my truth as a gay man.