Social Distancing and Safe Sex

As a queer person, I find the rules logical and easy to follow.

Where I live, we’ve been in lockdown/quarantine/stay at home order/whatever you want to call it for about three weeks. My non-romance job has had us working from home for more than a month now. Some people are getting restless, some are chafing under the rules of social distancing, but I’m over here wondering why this is so hard to do. And I think it’s because I’m a queer person who grew up during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s. Let me explain.

When I was old enough to learn about sex, we were taught that every sexual encounter is an encounter with the partner and everyone the partner has ever been with. That was the key. Everyone the partner has ever been with. (And everyone those people has been with.) As a kid during the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, I learned all the ways HIV is transmitted and prevented (once we knew this information). It was drilled into us. It didn’t matter that I was about to become a self-identified lesbian. The lessons stuck: condoms every time, no exceptions. Be careful who you kiss and have oral sex with. Be smart if you’re not going to use dental dams.

The parallels with social distancing are obvious to me. If someone breathes on me, I get their germs. These germs may come from anyone else that person has been around. Because I do not know the disease histories of all those people (and don’t even know who those people might be), the safest option is to stay away from people. Period.

In theory, the parallel between mouth germs/social distancing and STIs/safe sex should be clear to everyone. But then, if we were exceptionally good at doing what is healthiest for us, the CDC wouldn’t have to urge us to take action against the rise of STIs.

I attribute my understanding to being a queer person. Although in my childhood, gay men were considered the most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection, HIV/AIDS plays a giant part in the LGBTQ community. AIDS activist organizations and support groups are at every Pride event – and I’ve volunteered and marched and raised money and participated in 5ks. When I teach LGBTQ history classes, we must discuss the AIDS crisis, which I have learned many young people do not fully understand. I pass out condoms in class and talk about how sex positivity and safe sex can coexist. So much of my identity as a queer person, even a cis lesbian, is bound up in the reality that a generation of our elders is dead from AIDS. It’s inescapable.

Covid-19 social distancing rules feel the same to me. Keep away and keep safe. Don’t expose yourself to risk with strangers. Those facial masks some people are wearing? Face condoms. Cover it up and keep it protected.

As queer people, we have a responsibility to understand social distancing rules because of the parallels with our community. We owe it to the number of immuno-compromised people who make up our community to follow the rules. We owe it the medically vulnerable, those with preexisting conditions and those we know don’t get fair treatment in medical establishments (trans people especially), to follow the rules. We owe it to our whole community to make sure we’re still around when this thing ends. So even if everyone else around us denies the gravity of covid-19 and breaks quarantine, as queer people we should do better.

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