Actual Craigslist ad:
Plow Me — M4M (Host)
Stranded at home, need someone to plow my throat or my ass. Discreet, DDF and clean. You must be too!
This type of ad drives me nuts. Let me deconstruct it to explain why.
First, the term “clean” when applied to sexual activity. This is actually an archaic reference drawn from the early Progressive Era and the rise of modern public health. At the time, humans were stacked in housing in large cities like cord wood. And those environments were hardly safe. Dozens of people lived in each room. There was no running water. The privy pit was rarely, if ever, cleaned out. In front, or behind these dwellings, were shallow channels flowing with raw human waste sewage, mixed with household garbage, animal waste from pigs and horses and offal from slaughtered animals. All in all, the places where the majority of residents of big cities lived were stench-filled open sewers.
Disease was common for the residents of these districts, as was poverty. These were the homes of laborers and servants; immigrants and criminals. The people in this districts survived on near starvation diets.
All in all, these were not places any of us today would be comfortable visiting. And neither were the social reformers of the Progressive era. While they certainly saw the poor with sympathy, they also believed the poor were responsible for their lot in life. But they also believed they could save these people from themselves. Which is why alcohol abolition and disease control were big issues in the period. Alcohol made the poor lazy, it was reasoned, while the status of being poor made people become riddled with disease.
The reformers believed that if they could just get the poor to clean themselves and their homes up, disease and its threat to the upper class would go away. The created the conception of Cleanliness being next to Godliness. It was the Christian mission of the reformers to save the poor from themselves.
And hence, referring to a person as clean became a code for white, upper middle to upper class, straight, white males who were American born. To this day, the use of the term clean carries similar implications, although the depth of the meaning has been lost.
The second issue at play here is the concept of being drug and disease free. Since we know that many men who have sex with men do not know their HIV status, this advertisement relies on a construction of knowledge and disclosure which is misplaced. A study in 2010 found that 1 in 5 gay and bisexual men attending gay bars in 21 U.S. cities (including Detroit) was infected with HIV. Of those infected with HIV, 44 percent were unaware of their status until their participation in the study. We know that a person who does not know he or she is infected with HIV is 3.5 times more likely to transmit their infection to a sexual partner.
So ultimately, this advertisement relies on a false sense of security related to HIV exposure and transmission, while playing on stigma which supports the concept that being tested for HIV and other STIs is not worth the hassle. You can bet this person, if I were to email him, would reject me because I am HIV positive.
The problem with that construction, of course, is that he instead would likely engage instead with a guy who has not been tested recently. In my instance, I can show you my labs that show my CD4s are in good shape and my viral load is fully suppressed (and has been for years now thanks to Truvada and Intelence). Current public health thinking indicates that a suppressed viral load is equal to an inability to transmit the virus. In fact, as my friend Sean Strub — founder of Sero Project and POZ Magazine — points out often, there is not a single case of verified transmission from a person with a suppressed viral load to an HIV negative person. Not one case. Health authorities believe to be infectious a viral load needs to be over 50,000 copies per mL of blood, while the Canadian Supreme Court says a viral load below 5,000 copies per mL of blood is non-infectious.
Now, I could reach out to that guy and try to hook up or date him. But the rejection for my status — despite it posing little to not risk to him — is 100 percent likely. And reaching out to him could result in a whole lot more than him saying now. It can result in an avalanche of progressively nastier emails. It could result in a meeting set up that becomes, instead of a sexual or romantic connection; becomes a beat down. If I disclose on my adam4adam.com account or other such networks, I can expect a hello to result in threats of violence and slut shaming. Or simply being blocked.
Sometimes, the journey to engage, to date, to find romance, love, intimacy or just sex is so fraught with vile attacks on my person — both emotionally and physically — that the very act of resolving loneliness results in a deeper isolation.
I write about all this because the issue arose in a chat with a friend from Washington DC this week. He told me about a friend of his who was totally into a guy who he wanted to have condomless sex with. To accomplish this goal, the man bought at home HIV tests, and the other guy turned out to be positive. The man dumped him. So I pointed out that there are lots of logical reasons to reject a guy, his HIV status is not one of them. If you are into a guy, (or for my straight and bisexual readers, a woman) then their HIV status ought not be the issue. After all, with successful treatment, use of PrEP and barriers transmission risk in at or below zero.
Sure, an HIV-positive status might be a reason to pause the relationship — in order to better understand what HIV infection means, transmission risks and more — but it ought not be the reason to not date a person some one is into. Not exploring what that relationship could become is based on an irrational fear, driven by ignorance and stigma.
I pointed out to this friend of mine, placing people of differing sero-status on the “won’t date list” is no different than refusing to date men of color.