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Ian Young Talks About
The Psychic Origins Of AIDS

By Tony Leuzzi.

Gerbil Fall 1995

The existence of AIDS and its link to gay culture is a poorly understood phenomenon. How and why this plague initially ravaged the gay community (and eventually other minority and oppressed factions of the world's population) in the last fifteen years remains somewhat inexplicable for most. Insofar as AIDS and its origins have been narrowly researched by the medical establishment and sensationally publicized in mainstream media, public perception fails to realize the crucial role gay history plays in the understanding of the disease.

It takes more than knowledge of historical fact, however, to comprehend the subtle ways in which gay men have to some degree participated in their own destruction. With his poet's eye, Ian Young recently embarked on an adventurous undertaking, exploring the psychic life of gay men from the Whitman era to the AIDS crisis, as well as delving into anti-establishment AIDS research. As a result, the poet examined the self-images, motivations, behaviors, and belief systems that have shaped the evolution of gays in this century. The fruits of these efforts have taken form in tow outstanding books: "The AIDS Dissidents" and "The Stonewall Experiment." The former is a bibliography of published and unpublished materials that represent an anti-established medical view of AIDS and the wide range of unfairly discouraged alternative treatments for PWAs.

Out of Young's research for this book grew "The Stonewall experiment," a groundbreaking psychohistory which examines the results of gay men's liberation at Stonewall in light of certain historical, emotional and psychological patterns that have pervaded this particular population. According to Cassell publications, "The Stonewall Experiment," among other things, "reconsiders the works of Wilde,Carpenter, Heard, Burroughs, Rechy, Kramer, Whitmore and others in a new light as prophetic texts."

Such innovative research efforts are not new for Young. As editor of "The Male Muse" (1973), the first published anthology of gay-male poets, Young made accessible an underappreciated form of gay artistic expression.

He covered uncharted territory again in 1982 with "The Male Homosexual in Literature: a bibliography." Nonetheless, it is with the publication of his two recent books on AIDS that Young has synthesized his skills as a poet, ethnographer, historian and critic. If "The AIDS Dissidents" avoids listing AIDS materials that reflect prevailing medical and political orthodoxies,"The Stonewall Experiment" exposes the oppressive manipulations of the medical establishment. In a recent interview, Young patiently explained his views about AIDS and the implications involved in his vision.

What compelled you to write "The AIDS Dissidents" and "The Stonewall Experiment?"

I was really dissatisfied with the "official" line on AIDS, so I started looking around for alternative voices on the subject. I also saw what was happening to my friends. The HIV theory available seemed incredibly simplistic; the more research I did the more I just could not believe the paradigm for understanding AIDS, which the gay community has bought into. It's not scientific at all. It's been very bad science from the first. The medical establishment has failed to produce an adequate theory on AIDS, let alone a feasible treatment option. Could you outline this "incredibly simplistic paradigm" that gays have bought into?

The official line is that AIDS is caused by one retrovirus and that this retrovirus just came out of nowhere. And if it came from anywhere, it came from the African Jungle in the form of the African Green Monkey.

Ridiculous! That HIV was supposed to have come from nowhere, that it supposedly bore absolutely no relationship to what was going on in the gay community before it surfaced clearly ignores the historical processes that led up to it. Scientifically, the theory of the one retrovirus has been totally disproven, even by those who were originally espousing it. Now the theory is experiencing a shift or is abandoned altogether. However, politically it's still very much alive in the media and with physicians and service providers dealing with the gay community. The reason I think this highly unsatisfactory theory is till being supported by the medical establishment is that there is a tremendous amount of money invested in keeping it alive in institutions-not to mention the reputations of researchers and physicians who publicly supported the theory.

Gays have bought into the theory because it lets everyone off the hook: we don't have to look at what was done to us; anyone can believe a sort of freak accident. We readily believe in the AIDS virus because it's convenient. But I insist that the AIDS crisis is a result of over a century of oppression and repression. If we go back into our gay history and look at what was happening, our writers and thinkers were telling us and warning us that the archetypal message regarding gays was a sense of doom leading to the inevitable death wish.

You talk about historical factors. Could you elaborate?

One of the factors I discuss in my book is the stress response theory, in which gay men's emotions are especially conducive to addictive patterns. Not only are these addictive patterns sexual; there are other addictive patterns ravishing gays, such as drug abuse. This is the result of guilt, shame, low self-esteem, isolation, loneliness, confusion-basically all of these things coming from the lack of any kind of context for gay relationships. The society did not want to support the gay movement when it surfaced at Stonewall. The community at large saw gay liberation as too threatening. So gays were in turn isolated. And all of the old patterns which fed into addictions became marketable commodities. Rather than reforming society in the way gay liberation intended, the society's response was to contain it and make it a commodity. As a result, gays were ghettoized and franchised by the medical establishment and organized crime. Capitalism begins by selling a product to a consumer; it ends up selling the consumer to the product. If you have stocks of a product nobody wants anymore, then you have to find a consumer market sector, which you can package and sell to the owners of the useless product. And that's how gay men were sold to the makers of AZT and Amil [sic., i.e. amyl nitrite], which were incidentally the same company. The bars, which were central meeting places for gays, were largely mob-owned. The Stonewall Inn was a mob-owned bar which should have burned down, but the gay liberation headquarters at the Old Firehouse was burned down instead.

Gay liberation was a frail flower that lasted only a few years. The original Stonewall experiment was co-opted and then turned around. Early gay marches in New York City proceeded out of the ghetto around Christopher St., usually ending in Central Park with a party and picnic. Later, the march was turned around by the established political types who were taking over the movement at that time. The march was then directed from without into the ghetto. The early 70s gay liberation was a time of tremendous feeling and excitement; it was combative time, when we faced enormous possibilities. By the mid-seventies that atmosphere of optimism, camaraderie and spontaneous anarchism had been taken over by established political types and commercial enterprises. By the end of the 70s, gay liberation fell by the way side of an entirely toxic, oppressive lifestyle that people were being funneled into.

Some of the political figureheads from that period were actually acting in cahoots with the commercial establishments...You mean like Bruce Voeller? Yes, some of my friends, the more radical anarchistic ones, saw what he was doing at the time. He was an example. There were many more like him that felt they were doing the right thing by attempting to mainstream gays, make us "more respectable" by heterosexual standards. The outcome was not very good. On of Voeller's more consistent endeavors was to publicize poppers as a "blueprint for health."

How would you define HIV Fundamentalism?

HIV Fundamentalism is the medical establishment's unwillingness to look beyond the dogma that all these illnesses, all these viruses are caused by one retrovirus and one retrovirus only. All the money, time, effort, research and support focuses on that one retrovirus, trying to get it to conform to our expectations of it-to the exclusion of any other kinds of possibilities. The retrovirus theory is a bad theory and now there are several Nobel prize winners and the father of retrovirology, Harry Rubin, [N.B., What about Peter Duesberg?] who have written extensively about the inadequacy of this theory. Still, it takes a while for such orthodoxies to crumble. Meanwhile, we're still reading the obituaries of gay men in newspapers. I don't want to wait any longer.

Do gay men's self images result from messages within or outside of the community?

I should say they come from the beliefs of the culture, of the group mind which we all share. What we believe about ourselves tends to become true for us. The media, Marshall McLuhan showed us, is an extension of our nervous systems. Media and media imagery are obviously especially important in shaping our perceptions outside the context of pornography. There were no other media forms showing men being intimate with one another. Films and glossy magazines largely funded by poppers ads promoted images of a commercial ghettoized lifestyle: the baths, backroom bars, lots of drugs, rather cynical impersonal relationships, venereal diseases...Many of these commercial enterprises were controlled by organized crime. Medicine also franchised gays by handing out antibiotics for sexually transmitted diseases. The lines for VD at health clinics were enormous.

Gay men didn't think in terms of behavior. If they got VD, they didn't question the practices that led to the illness. Rather than examining the cause, they treated the symptoms.

It would be a mistake to blame gays for this logic since that rationale has been espoused by modern medicine since day one. We were told going to the VD clinics that there was nothing to worry about. Just get a shot. In Europe there is a great deal of monitoring and follow-up, despite the fact that these shots are immunosuppressive.

In "The Stonewall Experiment" you talk about the death wish gays have internalized for centuries...

The immune system is intimately connected with the mind, the emotions and the spirit. Research tells us that stress will bring the immune system down. If at work you have an argument with the boss, your immune system will temporarily go down. So if you have a pattern of negative feelings, as a result of loneliness and isolation that gays have experienced for centuries, the immune system will stay down. All these feelings of isolation and despair were being reinforced by centuries of homophobia. The imagery and messages, subliminal and otherwise, that were available to gay men before and after Stonewall reinforced a death wish. In "The Stonewall Experiment" I analyze a number of poppers ads to illustrate this. One of the things I tried to do in the book was to show how negative feelings can be inculcated and enforced by stimuli messages from the outside.

Any new projects that you're working on?

Lately, I've been doing research on HIV negative men and the pressures they receive from the media, the medical establishment and other gays to sero-convert. This whole idea of dividing people into positive and negative is a pernicious business that everyone is buying into.

HIV "Positive" people are certainly gaining a recognition and acceptance from mainstream sources in ways HIV "Negative" gays do not benefit from.

Yes. And many are buying into-to continue the capitalist metaphor-the idea that HIV is a demon without fear.

HIV's become mythic, and we tend to forget that primitive cultures worship what they fear and cannot understand...

Certainly. If you believe the authority figure, whether it be a witch doctor or an MD, and this authority figure informs you that you only have a few months to live, your life clock is likely to adjust itself to that and that can very much be a self-fulfilling prophecy. *

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