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The former is a bibliography of published and unpublished materials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
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
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
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