Thursday, 25 April 2013

Meningitis is not an STD

I’m far from a doctor or any kind of health expert, but there’s something I think we can all do with having confirmed now – meningitis is not an STD. This seems to be confusing some people.

Yes, several gay men have caught meningitis in New York. That doesn’t make it an STD. Bacteria that cause Meningitis can be spread through coughing, sneezing etc – amazingly enough, gay men can actually catch diseases doing things other than fucking. Amazingly enough, gay men do actually meet other gay men for reasons other than having sex. We have social spots, networks, sports teams, even games nights – yes the gaymers are out there.

Of course any community that meets together has a chance of spreading an illness that spreads through close proximity. This is one of the reasons why meningitis scares – in the UK at least – tend to arise in sixth forms and colleges and schools. But no-one instantly breaks out the safe sex messages then.

For that matter, no-one decides that a meningitis outbreak in a school in New York is connected to one in Los Angeles either. But through gay men in the mix and it must be connected. What, do all gay men in the US gather for a grand convention or something?

Let’s be clear – whether you are sexually active or not has NOTHING to do with whether you are going to catch the bacteria that cause meningitis. Whether you use Grindr or other hookup sites is irrelevant. You can potentially catch the bacteria that could lead to meningitis by being close to someone else with those bacteria. All those headlines about being careful if you’re “sexually active” or that anonymous sex is causing the disease are outright lying.

And it’s funny how none of the many many cases of straight folks with this disease were labelled as being caused by STDs

But a gay plague makes headlines doesn’t it? It grabs attention! After all, that meme is already really solid and the right wingers can jump on their usual judgemental horses and everyone can have a fun round of pointing and judging the dirty dirty dirty gay men. Another STD that is burning through gay men is a far better story!

And you don’t want to cause hysteria? Of course you do! Hysteria gets attention and sales and notice! And you must know it’s going to happen – you’re creating the spectre of a deadly disease spreading among gay men. How do you think we’re going to react?! We’re a community that has been massively, overwhelmingly traumatised by AIDS.

When I first heard about this I was nervous. Hell I was scared. Because I didn’t know – didn’t know how meningitis was spread, how many caught the disease, how fast it was spreading, whether it could be cured (it can if caught early). I wasn’t even able to find out because I just had a vision of a plague ravaging the community, running rampant among gay men, decimating us. Again. Because I am a gay man and we have been there. Because we’re still there. Because the images of a plague killing us en mass has been indelibly burned into our cultural context.

And how dare you use that? How dare you exploit that fear, that community wide trauma?