Trials of the Plague Generations

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Out in Time: The Public Lives of Gay Men from Stonewall to the Queer Generation
by Perry N. Halkitis
Oxford Univ. Press. 192 pages, $34.95

 

Out of the Shadows: Reimagining Gay Men’s Lives
by Walt Odets
Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
368 pages, $30.

 

 

THE LATE ACTIVIST Eric Rofes championed a radical new way of thinking about gay men’s health in his 1998 book Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures. Rofes wanted us to reclaim gay men’s sexuality and health from under the dark, consuming shadow of hiv/aids. He was realistic that HIV would continue to plague gay men into the foreseeable future, but he insisted that promoting our overall health and well-being was the only sensible way to prevent gay men from becoming infected with HIV, or from not adhering to their medical treatment if they were HIV-positive. Address the “upstream drivers” of risk behavior—depression, anxiety, and childhood sexual abuse among them—and we will make progress; don’t address them, and gay men will continue to bear the greatest burden of HIV in America. Rofes said that gay men’s health programs should include “strong components concerned with substance use, basic needs (food, housing, and clothing), and sexual health (broadly defined).” Rather than focusing exclusively on HIV, the programs would aim to improve the health and lives of gay men. “AIDS,” wrote Rofes, “should be seen as one of many challenges to gay men’s health and our work should no longer position HIV prevention as the overarching focus.”

      Two new books echo Rofes’ vision, digging deep into gay men’s hearts and psyches to reveal the wounds we carry and prescribe balms that can heal those wounds. Walt Odets, a San Francisco-based psychologist, and Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, both make it clear that a big part of our healing comes from learning to re-frame our personal stories. Rather than looking at our lives through the lens of victimhood, both authors encourage us to claim the resilience that has let many of us survive and carry on despite the many traumas that disproportionately affect gay men from the time we are boys.

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John-Manuel Andriote is the author of Stonewall Strong: Gay Men’s Heroic Fight for Resilience, Good Health, and a Strong Community(2017).

 

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