Chasing The Bug

(Originally published in GLBT Press, Minneapolis, August 15, 2002
as part of an ongoing column called Positive Thinking)

by Matt Butts

Barebacking was only the beginning.

A couple of years ago, I was cruising in an internet chat room when a young man summoned me into a private chat. We talked for a few minutes, exchanged physical statistics and photos, and even discussed the prospect of hooking up for a little play. He seemed pretty hot. Then he asked me a question I didn’t quite understand.

“You into conversion?”

This struck me as a little odd. Was this guy some member of a weird religious cult wanting to recruit me into his belief system? I didn’t understand, so I asked him, “Conversion to what?”

Came the answer: “Me to poz.”

I stared at my screen in disbelief. “You want me to give you HIV?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s insane,” I told him. “Why on earth would you—”

End of chat. He clicked off the window and disappeared back into the corner of cyberspace he’d sprung from when he realized that I wasn’t interested, and that worse yet, I was going to chastise him for his request.

I had just encountered my first “bug chaser.”

Bug chasers are usually young people, ranging in age from 18 to 40. These are HIV-negative men who seek out HIV-positive men for the purpose of intentionally getting infected with HIV. The yin to their yang is a subculture of HIV-positive men who are euphemistically known as “gift givers,” positive men who are more than willing to share their infection with anyone willing to receive it.

They huddle in well-hidden places on the internet, such as one Yahoo Group where “conversion” is a hot subject. At least, it was: the group hasn’t had a new posting in nine months, but in two years it amassed over a thousand messages.

Most of the messages are online personal ads from young, negative men looking to take a “charged load” and HIV positive men offering their “gift” to anyone who wants it. Others are the exuberant rejoicing of young lads who have just learned that they have “the gift” and the gleeful declarations of men who have just learned that their latest effort to give “the gift” was successful. Some even boast of giving “the gift” to an unknowing recipient, and how they “love spreading it.”

Bug chasers and gift givers use a rather quaint terminology, a twisted metaphor for the child-bearing process. Many bug-chasers are just plain sluts who will get fucked by anyone with a viral load, others shop around as one would for a husband, looking for just the right person to be the “father” of their infection. The giver “impregnates” the chaser with his “gift.” The virus passed between them is a “child” that they share.

Chasers see being HIV-positive as membership in a sort of brotherhood they want to join, and there are sick bastards out there who are more than willing to induct them. I don’t know, maybe it’s the only way they can get laid?

Don’t ask me to explain all this; I don’t understand it myself. Why would anyone want to consign themselves to a lifetime of pills with horrific side effects and so many blood draws their veins eventually collapse? Do they think people will still consider them cute when their faces explode with seborrheic dermatitis, or that their bodies will still be sexy when mottled with KS lesions? And who’s going to want to kiss someone with a mouthful of thrush?

Think I’m being too preachy here? Well, mark my words: ten years from now, when these happily “pozzed” young men are stumbling on neuropathic feet to get to the biffy before they soil their tighty-whities with explosive diarrhea, they’ll be singing the same song. They might as well start learning the lyrics now. Those who think having HIV is something “hip” or “cool” are sadly deluded. The “gift-givers” are deceiving these misguided young souls. Worse, they’re deceiving themselves. Someday they will curse this “gift” and the son of a bitch who gave it to them. But they will have no-one to blame but themselves. The old adage “be careful what you wish for…” was never more true.

Maybe I shouldn’t judge, but there’s more to this subject than sexual freedom and the rights of the individual. I’m thinking down the road here, about how an already overburdened health care system is going to deal with this influx of “voluntary” HIV infections, not to mention the strain this will place on state programs and social service organizations many people with HIV desperately depend on for their medical and economic needs.

As I said, the group I consulted hasn’t had a new posting in several months. But one of the last messages, from a new member of the group, was probably the most chilling of all:

“Hi. My name is David. You don’t know me, but some of you knew someone who did. He called himself Irish here, I guess. His name was Lee and he was my uncle. Well, my dad’s college roomie, but he was always Uncle Lee to me. He died on January 3 of this year, but only after giving me the bug.”

Maybe that’s why people stopped posting.

Think Positive.

© 2002 by Matt Butts. All rights reserved.

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