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The Men Who Want AIDS?

| 24 Comments
"The Men Who Want AIDS--and How It Improved Their Lives" is the attention-grabbing headline of a controversial yet in-depth feature by Out magazine.

At first glance, the article written by Maral Noshad Sharifi with extra reporting by editor Aaron Hicklin may seem purely sensationalistic. However, it does raise important issues.

The premise is that some young homeless men--desperate for shelter and food--intentionally get HIV to develop AIDS so they can qualify for government assistance:

And while it might seem counterintuitive, contracting the virus has made life easier for other young homeless men in New York City, who in return for developing full-blown AIDS gain a roof over their heads and basic services.

This cruel paradox -- having to get really sick in order to enjoy a better, more comfortable life -- has not gone unnoticed. "I have experienced people [who are] grateful that they have HIV," says Sage Rivera, a research associate at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has worked with hundreds of LGBT youth. "It's sort of like a sigh of relief or an extra boost," he says. "There are a whole bunch of different names for HIV within the [LGBT] community: 'the monster,' 'the kitty,' 'the scratch,' 'the gift that keeps on giving.' So people say, 'I have the kitty -- so now I can get my place. Now I can get hooked up; I can get my food stamps, I can get this, I can get that.'

"Other people say, 'I do not know what I would have done without the monster.' I can think of five boys, automatically, who've told me this."

And it's not just those who already have AIDS who view it as a lifeline; some young men who test negative aspire to contract the disease as a way out of trouble. Rivera knows at least one man who planned to have unprotected sex on purpose, an attitude he sums up thus: "My life is not getting better. I need a helping hand, and it seems like the only way I can get a helping hand is by getting sick."

The article does discuss the challenges facing homeless youth. For example, in New York City, there's about 3,800 homeless youth, of which 45 percent are black and 28 percent identify as LGBT--many of whom fled to the city to escape antigay persecution.

Even if some young homeless men are deliberately getting the virus, does the article come across as too sensationalistic? And what about the concerns it raises about our health care system? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

To read the article, click here.

P.S. The term "full-blown AIDS" is used twice in the article. Although the intention when that phrase is used (even by people in the HIV/AIDS community) is to emphasize that a person is really sick, you either have AIDS or you don't.

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Comments on The POZ Staff's blog entry "The Men Who Want AIDS?"

Outside of the issue of gaining benefits, there have always been gay men who have intentional sought out to become HIV positive for a myriad of reasons. They are called Bug-Chasers. In fact there are Bug-Chaser parties where HIV negative men invite several HIV positive men to bareback them with the hopes of contracting HIV. Many do this merely because they are tired to constantly testing to see if they are still negative (not realizing how much testing will then await them for the rest of their lives). Many do it because they believe that the HIV drugs keeps them healthier than they are/were beforehand. Many do it because they thing that HIV men are cooler and hotter and they want to be part of that club. Many do it simply because they are tired of using protection and feel that if they just become positive it is then one big party and the drugs will keep them alive and healthy and so they will no long have anything to worry about as far as being careful. Obviously no one told them about the prejudice their would be subjected to being positive and the side effects of medications, the paperwork, the long term effects HIV has upon the body, etc. Its very sad that this exists at all in our World with so much mass communication. Somehow the message is not getting out correctly. People are still afraid to discuss these issues openly amongst the combined HIV Positive and HIV Negative communities. Discussing it on here or in OUT, is great, but young men who are hiding most of their sexuality from the World at large or gay men who just want to fit in without making or taking a big stand, they aren't reading these articles. We are not sitting on the Ellen Show or with Oprah and being filmed discussing these issues. I'm not sure the rest of the World is really ready to hear that there are gay men (who we are all asking for equal rights regarding all issues, from employment, to living harassment free, to the right to marry) who actually are going around intentionally spreading the disease: That would be both the HIV Positive men who assist in knowingly infect HIV negative Bug-Chasers, or the HIV Negative Bug-Chaser going around being promiscuous so to contract HIV. I think that would be asking the straight world for quite a big step for them to see this as any other issue like the illegal distribution and use of drugs. Its really the same argument, but the straight world would throw us 10 years backwards. Just my opinion. I still think it is crucial that this information get out there to the gay community so this type of behavior which is really a mental health issue, can be stopped or assistance offered for therapy or at least the misinformed Bug-Chaser being given the cold hard facts and truth about living with HIV and/or AIDS.

In my opinion, this is an obvious symptom of a perverted society, where "welfare" and "entitlements" are swearwords. In a healthy society where the strong people support the weak instead of considering them weed in a rose garden, there is no need to get sick in first place to qualify for charity.

Yes-sensational.

The concept of "bug chasers," first suggested by the documentary, The Gift,is about as close to myth as one can get. Just because Rivera can think of five people who may or may not truly fall into this category, the whole idea stirs false blame and a handful of people crying "Wolf."

Instead of making such a huge deal about the fictional "gift-giving parties" and such, we need to look at the profound lack of services that are accessible to lgbtq youth - especially homeless youth.

Please, don't blame. Instead, take action! We need to offer lgbtq youth and adults (and everyone for that matter) universal access to mental health services, medical care, housing, nutritional support, and more.

I shiver when I read comments about "those people" who try to take advantage of public services. Don't we want all people in our country, including lgbtq youth, to become healthy, independent, and happy citizens of their communities? Like it or not, we have to face the fact that many people do not have the personal, social, or financial resources to do this. And when the choice is between giving up or surviving, most people will choose survival - whatever that entails.

I truly believe that labeling these survival technigues as "the men who want AIDS" is a sensationalist cop-out. Life is just not that simple. Our lgbtq youth deserve more than that.

The only real story here is that an allegedly pro-gay magazine would write about something as sensationalist and repeatedly discredited as bugchasing. I'd be shocked to see Ms. Magazine writing about pregnancy pacts, but then, most members of Ms. see themselves as people who are at risk for unintended pregnancy, and recognize that story story as a ridiculous urban legend. Amongst the (atrractive, free spending) gay community that Out targets, I suspect people with HIV are always perceived as "those other people".

I hate to say it but I do know several guys who from time to time will ask me to POZ them or "gift" them. I honestly don't get it, but I do take the extra mile and tell them what I have been through over the last 20+years and why they really do not want to go about infecting themselves.

Bug chasing is not a myth, after I first went POZ in the late 80's my lover blew up with me 6 mo into the relationship. " Lose the rubbers or lose me!" He did not want to outlive me. Sane,,, no, his choice to make? yes. When I first tested POZ I was ready for rejection, he told me he had sex with his gay uncle as the uncle was in the hospital dying of AIDS. The 6 mo blow up, he reiterated the story... Raw? I asked Yes!! he answered. The joke was on him, he is in U of Wash MAC study today.. He is that tiny percent that is Immune.
The real problem here is situational, people do not need entitlements, especially our youth, but a leg up would prevent the desperation that drives the youth as seeing it as an only way out.
Min wage oh it is to laugh 40 hrs will not cover anyone's living expenses, big city or small town.
I am a 25+ year survivor, on disability due to HIV induced epilepsy, Ryan White care grant, ADAP but because the non black box HIV med interaction Epilepsy med is not covered, by ADAP on the 31st I seized breaking my shoulder in 3 places, waiting for the manufacturer compassionate need program to get me my next supply. Ambulance ER 2 nights in hospital and no coverage, in 4 weeks I need surgery. I paid into programs my entire working life, now that it is time to redeem the benefits I paid for they are not there. AZ has a medicaid income cap of 710 a mo. I get 987 SSD and 16 a mo in food stamps. Medicaid is currently only available if you have a minor dependent child no matter what illnesses you may have.

This really saddens my heart,to know that some one would intentially want to be in this situation.I found out 3yrs ago my status,I still cry every day,this is not something that you want to deal with every day,I feel for you because some of us are really suffering mentally and physically,and you have to take medication for the rest of your life,please pray to God that your never in a situation like this,ask God for Help and forgiveness,I'll keep u in my prayers!!!

the article brings up facts that are often over looked. Been POZ 20 yrs and the number of men looking for gifters(poz tops that BB) is very large. The sad truth is pointed out in the article.

While I have not read the Out article, if it only pursues this line of though as it relates to our healthcare and indigent support systems, I think it misses a large point: we call them bug chasers. Not homeless, not in need of a helping hand but still with a deep desire for contracting the virus. You read their postings on BarebackRT and related sites. You, honestly, meet them everywhere. The common term is 'breed me.' Cum inside me without a condom.

I've been living with HIV since the mid 80's. Why would someone want this disease? I think this is a conversation worth having.

John Ira

I for one am sickened by this, not just because these young men are playing Russian roulette with their lives, but also because they cause a strain on the system with their selfishness and recklessness, while the funds used to support them in their lives could be used to support more needy patients who did not *purposefully* contract the virus, or at least for the reasons these young men did. I have been living with HIV for 23 years, and while I am super healthy, having been on meds for 17 years, hardly ever getting sick, I use this success to my advantage by doing what I can to contribute to society and by living a good life despite the illness by staying as healthy as possible, not the reverse. I work full time, do not use food stamps or any government assistance, because I CHOOSE to be as self-sufficient as possible; sometimes, the feeling I get from that mindset keeps me optimistic, as I still face some stigma from the general population for simply being Poz. I am 44 years old, and thankfully, I've used these last 23 years to learn how to cope with HIV and thrive, not juice the system, and tempt fat even more than I have already, simply because I am struggling to get by(there was a time when I was practically homeless, but I still did not choose to take advantage, I chose to take the high road). I feel badly for these young men for so many reasons, and I hope that someday soon the culture and mentality will change, for their sake.

What does this say about the American social safety net? That it's a. non-existent; or b. that it's very very very disturbingly wrong. Puritanism is alive and well in the U.S.A. and it is distilled into your social policies.

In my mind it is understood this is a have/have not enivron. We ballyhoo how if you work hard you can have anything.
In part this is true. Provided you are given the skills to go out into the world and make your mark. I imagine the men who are deciding on this path may have had this opportunity. Maybe not.
There are studies upon studies of and for the homeless. Yet they still remain so. There seems to be a disconnect on the efficacy of these "studies." So now I ask myself "do they want to be saved?" It's an unusual question. It does bear asking. As life gets harder economically new ways to survive come to the surface. This is another opportunity to do just that, survive.
At what cost? I am POZ, I know what the cost bears. I have seen brothers before me and after me continue the struggle and win in some cases. I do have it better off in terms of direct medical/pharmaceutical availability. There still remains a stigma around HIV. In some ways I have evolved mentally and physically because of HIV. In large part because it's all in how you chose to LIVE with it. I wish these men well as they make their decisions based on their survival. There are no guarantees.


In this unforgiving economy I am not surprised,I struggle with HIV,and I would rather work and be healthy,,I retired from a good union job with benefits,so I had health care,it's not just gay men,look at the women having 4 or 5 kids they can't support,here in Oklahoma that's big time food stamps and section 8 housing at tax payers expense,don't get me wrong I am a devout democrat,and not trying to judge anyone
,but I worked hard for forty years,we need require our politicians to start taking care of the down trodden working man,gay and straight,I feel sorry for the younger generation,it costs so much to live these days,but the rich get richer,to young gay men,move to cities with lower costs of living ,don't jeopardize your health,Oklahoma has it problems,but you can make it,if you can tolerate the politics,look online at apartment rent,you only got one life,thank you.

Please reconsider if you think a life with aids is a gift. I am 60 and found out in the hospital in 2011 that I had what your calling full blown aids. When someone tells you you have 48 hours to live is not a blessing. Weeks in a hospital bed, PCP pneumonia, a T cell count of 9, everyone that came to visit and those were the few brave true friends. Do you think a tube shoved into your dick, diarrhea, night sweats, passing out, having your lungs flushed out, thrush so bad you can't eat a thing. Oh did I mention losing 45 lbs in a year? So let's talk about that free ride. Do you think it's easy to start getting checks? Try it you fool, its no f*&king picnic!
I happened to live in the conservative republican held state of Tennessee. Within two years of contracting aids, I had to sell my home and move over 2000 miles to a state that would give me health care. In tn when you finally make it to Medicare your told the state will only cover three months of meds per year. Try paying a thousand dollars a month for your meds out of pocket, and that's only if the drug companies show mercy on you, if not its closer to 2500.00 a month for my meds. Now after spending days and countless hours I live in a 45 year old trailer with moldy carpet, a refrigerator that keeps going out a stopped up sink, and AC that I only use on the hottest days and when it's working. What a glamorous life! Alone, waiting for the new month to come around to get your meds, pay have the bills and get my whopping 16.00 a month in food stamps. Yep it's great to have this gift. My family won't speak to me, you sit at home for days with a the food you shouldn't eat because the fresh healthy stuff is too expensive. Glamorous my ASS. So for the negative folks that want my life of the rich and famous, take mine. Ill trade you any day and get my job, family, friends and healthy life back. You're an idiot, to think this is a blessing. Please don't ever do anything so foolish, it really sucks.

I still haven't received my HIV bonus check in the mail, actually quite the opposite! What a load of crap that article is.

I thought at one time the bug chasers were a small group of men and women. I can remember standing in a room where John Carry was giving a speech for his run to be President in Florida some years ago. And without warning a young man came up to me in a crowded room to announce he was HIV and that he transform with the gift this year and it was beautiful. At the time I was working with The AIDS Institute and it stun my soul and look him in the eyes to see this deep fear of concern and ask him, "are you sure you are using the right terms?". I think if you look more closely at the issue it is about survival for these folks, yes and a need to be a part of a community. This young man was on the fridge of being notice each day and sadly the Gay Community he was no one, but with HIV he connected to be someone in his journey. It is truly sad for we the AIDS Inc’s folks may have done too good of a job in branding and promoting a strong community and missed the mark, by again not noticing our suffering communities and spending too much time advocating for money and resource and not enough time shaking hands and getting to know one another, for many in DC and New York use the excuses to say, “I just do not have time.” I do not think it is sensation for this was almost 10 years ago and it is still a way out for many it seems or a way in. Where are the elders of the Gay Community, Latin Community, and Black Community? When is the last time a ASO executive director of upper staff came out of their office to see the faces to know the person to touch them or suffer with them. Where is the Chaplin Programs in the Communities? When the last time you have heard a Gay Community Pastor or Elder even speak of HIV for I know here in Palm Springs it is only spoke of to give money or to have an event and you would never see a upper executive mixing with the clients in real time or even a volunteers,for it is like a Broadway show.They sit behind a desk and give direction to the food bank, labs and such. Truly it is a deep rooted issue of what I call Acquired Love Deficiency Syndrome where a Standard Operating Procedure replaces humanness, hope and real kindness. I ask myself right now being isolated in the desert who is my neighbor, where is my community and want nothing more from HIV than to be set free and cured. Meditating daily in silent when the stigma raises it voice to stand tall and say to myself What God has called Clean let know man call unclean. Battling getting a job because I have a resume That has AIDS in one of the Job titles for it is not the life of rally and some where we as a civil society has missed the mark.

Not sensational at all. In my mid twenties, I cofounded an organization called Positive Youth Outreach. A peer support group that provided mentoring and support. We were young.... and, as we were told, naive. Our membership was more diverse than most established AGO/ASO. We did a survey of our membership.... fairly equally male/female, gay/straight. At the time, our members reported being offered cash to infect people. A used, potentially infected needle went for $20, which, when you are panhandling is a chunk of change. Other members reported being offered money to have unsafe sex. The list went on. Some of our members had themselves sero converted for the support. Not just housing, gov't assistance and the like, but also for the emotional support and community as they felt alone.
We wanted to present our study at an OAN Conference and at the next CAS conference. We approached a couple of people within ASO and government who cautioned us to keep our study quiet. We were told the information would be more damaging then helpful. Being less exlerienced, we, unfortunately listened to the advice and shelved the study.
That was in the early 90s. This story is nothing new. Sensational maybe in the sense that the situation is rare, but it has been going on for over 20 years. Even back then, those who were looking to get infected, or had already purposefully done so believed that a "cure" was coming and they stood a better chance of survival being infected with supports then being negative without supports.

How is this any different from selling your blood, or your body, or your kids? People will do anything to survive. That's the American way. You might have a lifetime to pay for the mistakes you make, and the people you hurt. In the meantime; you survive until you can do better. I'm not mad at him.

Warning: One day you look back and see everybody you could've infected, intentionally or not. And it kills you.

I've been poz since the early 1980's and AIDS since 1999. I was one of the lucky ones to have survived as I did and have only progressed slowly. I have known many men who claimed that AIDS changed their lives in positive ways - usually for the better. Meaning they have woken up to life and are enjoying the time they have as they perhaps would not have before. It could be that these men are looking for a quick fix to thier problems. They also sound like they are not the type to maintain the medical regimin. They will learn pretty quick that what they thought was a gift is something else entirely. Also, living on $600 a month can be a bitch even with housing. So good luck to them 'cause they will need it.

Sadly, it's true. First, I can truly understand how some homeless would want to contract this as a way to get government assistance, however, actually getting that assistance is by NO MEANS and easy task. Take it from me, I have been fighting for my disability for two years since finding out I had AIDS (not HIV, AIDS....CD4 on diagnosis of 11!!!!!) Now, I also have Lymphoma, and STILL FIGHTING for the disability. But, putting all that aside, there are sights that are strictly created for the conduct / meeting up for poz and neg men, that poz men can search for and neg men can search for poz men as well. How many are already poz, who knows, but I am sure there are many who aren't. The term "chaser" is not unfamiliar to any gay man these days. I myself have had negative men/boys on this very site (POZ.com) with statuses of "neg" or "unknown" proposition me wanting "what I have". The fact that these sites exist is both an accreditation and a deterrent to the 1st Amendment. I am no one to judge, but why such beautiful men, some with SO much home and futures ahead of them, would seek this out is beyond me.

this article is sensationalistic, but so is the subject matter. i'm very sorry that denial about bugchasing, giftgiving and stealthing remains pervasive in the activist community. the "discrediting of bugchasing" is itself discredited many times a day on many websites, including biggies like manhunt and grindr. it was on the former that i had some men even ask me to send them semen so they could stealth "a friend"...contacting law enforcement and health authorities proved fruitless.

these issues only partly overlap the main thrust of the article, which is getting infected for the financial help of social entitlements. it is a stain on society that anyone would seek (or be/feel forced to seek) a deadly illness FOR survival.

however, getting people the help and support they need for food and shelter will not itself address the issue of those seeking to be infected, or to infect others.

unlike many commentators and activists, i actually agree that law enforcement DOES have an important part to play here...the problem is that the role of the Law has been distorted into an overall witch-hunt of HIV-positive people that continues to intensify worldwide. the law has long trailed far behind science and medicine when it comes to HIV, but many activists trying to address that disconnect are themselves highly disconnected from the sociology of those seeking to infect or be infected.

there IS such a thing as the "AIDS Monster"...but HE (overwhelmingly male) is NOT the type who usually gets prosecuted. far more common is the simple, hapless victim getting railroaded by an angry ex-partner, and an overwhelmingly bigoted and outdated legal regime.

denial remains a universal human trait, unfortunately.

We must fix the social safety net so that no one is ever convinced that becoming HIV+ is the only way they can "save" themselves. we must also fix so-called "Safe Sex" messaging, which has long morphed into utterly tone-deaf, sanctimonious finger wagging that has had the hideously predictable side-effect of actually eroticizing the HIV virus for many.

THAT is the point i wish Trenton Straube had not edited out of my comments in the "Can Barebacking Be Safer Sex?" article in POZ months ago.

Bareback sex is and will remain inexorable and eternal...scoffing at that has proven dangerously counterproductive. just this month we find Simon Watney telling Mark Adnum on Huffington Post that MORE condom-harangues are what's needed to arrest the infection rates. He even attacks the use of PrEP for ANYONE, at least "in its current form"...willfully stating patent falsehoods about the efficacy of it, and attacking EVEN THE CONCEPT of "harm reduction" when it comes to sex...along with anyone who actually advocates such harm reduction.

meanwhile, Mark Adnum himself concedes that PrEP "is appropriate for some", but only in the midst of argument deep within a Facebook thread...never in his own articles.

when THIS is the quality of condom-eroticization being offered, bareback sex looks all the hotter...and it certainly is.

the danger must be reiterated tho: HIV is an awful virus to have, and i would jump on a cure tomorrow if it becomes available. As soon as it became possible to have the primordial and utterly preferable experience of Natural Sex withOUT getting infected with HIV, the tactic and strategy of attacking Natural Sex as an inevitable path to HIV became utterly irresponsible.

it's clear that it will take a few more years for many self-styled Safe(r) Sex activists to get it through their heads: Stop linking Natural Sex and HIV as some sort of inevitable connection...it's a dangerous lie, sometimes even a murderous one.

this applies even to many "heroes" (real and imagined) of the HIV community. Past Good cannot obscure or neutralize present Evil.

Unbelievable, that anyone would want aillness I have been living with since 1980, having operations for lympnode removal, Pneumonia, Shingles, take meds you have no idea what they will do to you, and that a gay magazine would want to spread such propaganda, even if there are some doing this you kind find crazies in all parts of society. Yes I have had to have some assistance during it all but onl5 after my saving and insurance ran out and was cancelled, but to get AIDS for an income I don't understand, When I first found out they gave me a year to live, but thanks to a higher being I'm still here, you can always find someone standing on a soap box screaming something like the ex gays who say the are discriminated against. We need to educate people instead of giving out bad advice in our pressand making our own people lokk bad.

I'm one of those persons who wanted to get infected not because of what I can get from anyone but because all my beautiful friends and lovers were getting infected and I wanted to be with them even if it meant I had to die. My comfort from getting the disease is being together with them and sharing in their plight. I didn't want to be left alone and I preferred to die with my friends than live alone in a world that hated me.

Anyone that thinks "bug chasing" is a myth that's been debunked is not living in the real world. I know that I have had 2 people in my circle of acquaintances that infected themselves on purpose. One was in a relationship with someone who was dying of AIDS in the late 80's or early 90's. He intentionally used a syringe to inject himself with his lover's blood because he was so upset that his lover might die. His lover did pass, but last I knew, he was still living with his decision, seeing the same doctor my partner was seeing. This was about 20 years ago.

In another instance, it was a person that I went to school with. In fact, my sister dated him at one time. He was an "starving artist" who slept with poz guys to get the benefits. So while the reasons varied, there are two stories from real life. If you search for bareback porn, it's available all over the internet, and even former bareback performers like Brent Corrigan are asking that you not watch it or support it. Bug chasing is real. Deal with it.

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