NYMag cover story by Tim Murphy. Photos by ryanpfluger
For the past several years, the conversation about gay life has been, to a large degree, a conversation about gay marriage. This summer—on social media, on Fire Island, at the Christopher Street pier, and in certain cohorts around the country—what many gay men are talking about among themselves is Truvada. And what’s surprising them is how fraught the conversation can be. For some, like Jacobs, the advent of this drug is nothing short of miraculous, freeing bodies and minds. For doctors, public-health officials, and politicians, it is a highly promising tool for stopping the spread of HIV.
But for others, a drug that can alleviate so much anxiety around sex is itself a source of concern. They worry that Truvada will invite men to have as much condomless sex as they want, which could lead to a rise in diseases like syphilis. Or they fret that not everyone will take it as religiously as they ought to, reducing its effectiveness and maybe even creating resistance to the drug if those users later become HIV-positive and need it for treatment. And just as the birth-control pill caused single women in the sixties to wonder whether they’d be seen as “sluts” and to internalize that real and imagined shame, some gay men wonder how Truvada will play in the straight world; it sends a strikingly different message from the one in the “Sunday Styles” wedding announcements. Other gay men worry that the very existence of such a drug is a kind of betrayal: of those who’ve died in the epidemic; of fealty to the condom, an object alternately evoking fear and resilience, hot sex and safe-sex fatigue; and of a mind-set of sexual prudence that has governed gay-male life since the early ’80s. Even after treatments for HIV made it a manageable disease for many, gay men have absorbed the message that a latex sheath is all that stands between them and the abyss. Meaning not only HIV infection but everything it implies: loss of self-control and personal dignity, abdication of civic responsibility.