According to the more recent statistics from New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the number of new HIV infections in men under 30 who have sex with men continues to increase sharply, confirming the trend of the past five years. AIDS experts cited by the New York Times say that "the significant factors feeding the trend appear to be higher rates of drug use among younger men, which can fuel dangerous sex practices, optimism among them that AIDS can be readily treated, and a growing stigma about HIV among gays that keeps some men from revealing that they are infected."
Which brings me to What Do Gay Men Want? An Essay on Sex, Risk and Subjectivity (The University of Michigan Press, 2007) published last year by David Halperin, one of the leading figures of queer studies in the US. The book is mainly structured as a detailed commentary of an article published in January 1995 in The Village Voice by Michael Warner, a prominent queer theorist: "Unsafe: Why Gay Men Are Having Risky Sex?" Recent epidemiologic studies had revealed a breakdown in safer-sex practice among younger gay men in New York City.
Halperin's stated objective in his essay is to find a new approach to address the topic of gay sexual subjectivity ("what gay men want") without recourse to psychology, or "to depersonalize risky sex by depsychologizing it", in order to "look beyond such pop-psychological clichés as 'survivor guilt' or 'internalized homophobia' in order to locate in gay men's social world, rather than in our psyches, the springs for what might appear to be incomprehensible or self-destructive behavior." Some of the 'springs' identified by Warner are: "deep identification with positive men, ambivalence about survival and the rejection of normal life." Which leads to what is, according to Halperin, the central thesis of Warner's article: "The real problem with standard HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, it turns out, is that they do not confront the mysterious depths in the gay male subject where the impulse to have risky sex originates. Attempts to build HIV/AID prevention on appeals to self-esteem miss their target because they are directed at the decent, law-abiding, healthy gay individual who has no need to be persuaded, and would never dream of having risky sex anyway, while they have no ability to restrain the antisocial monster inside him, the force that can drive this otherwise well-behaved person to violate his consciously espoused beliefs and values. Only a model of gay male subjectivity that allows for sources of motivation in the subject other than the ego can accommodate the unpalatable truth. And what is that truth, according to Michael Warner? 'Abjection continues to be our dirty secret' (...) Abjection, then, is what we need to talk about, when we talk about what it means to have someone's dick up our butts or to have someone come in our mouths. We need to admit our pleasure in being the lowest of the low, in being bad, in being outlaws, in betraying both our own values and those of the people around us. And we need to do so non-judgementally, without having to berate ourselves for a weak ego, for a lack of self-esteem, or for some other king of distinctively psychological failure."
From there Halperin takes us onto a journey among French authors in order to support his queer interpretation of abjection: Jouhandeau (De l'abjection), Genet (Miracle de la rose, Journal d'un voleur), Sartre (Saint Genet), Guibert (A l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie).
All this is intellectually amusing but not very rational, and does not really help us answer the question of what we want. How is it possible to address gay subjectivity outside of psychology?
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