Monday, August 1, 2022

In Monkeypox, Gay Men Confront Echoes of the Past

Check Inez Stepman for the truth bomb of the century, on Twtter below:

At at the New York Times, "‘It’s Scary’: Gay Men Confront a Health Crisis With Echoes of the Past":

Monkeypox has sparked frustration and anxiety among gay and bisexual men in New York, who remember mistakes and discrimination during the early years of the AIDS crisis.

It was happy hour at a gay bar in Harlem, 4West Lounge, and the after-work crowd had come to drink rum punch and watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

But instead, perched on stools, the men talked about the rapidly spreading monkeypox virus: their efforts to snag a coveted vaccine appointment, in a city where demand for the shots far outstrips supply; the slow government rollout of vaccines and treatment; and their confusion about how the disease spreads and how to stay safe.

“It feels like survival of the fittest, with all the pandemic waves and now monkeypox and all these vaccine problems,” said James Ogden, 31, who secured a vaccine appointment after weeks spent navigating the city’s glitchy online sign-up process.

Kelvin Ehigie, 32, the bartender, agreed. When asked about the future, he said: “I do not feel confident.”

For gay and bisexual men in New York, the summer has been consumed with similar conversations as monkeypox cases spike among men who have sex with men.

There is widespread fear of the virus, which primarily spreads through close physical contact and causes excruciating lesions and other symptoms that can lead to hospitalization. There is fear of the isolation and potential stigma of an infection, since those who contract monkeypox must stay home for weeks. And some fear the vaccine itself, in an echo of the hesitancy and mistrust that hindered the coronavirus response.

Many are also furious at the lags and fumbles in the government’s effort to contain the disease, including delayed vaccines and mixed messaging about how the virus spreads and how people should protect themselves.

And some are anxious that monkeypox could be twisted into a political weapon to be used against gay and transgender people, whose rights have come under increasing fire from Republicans in recent months.

Last week, the World Health Organization declared monkeypox a global health emergency, after it spread from parts of Africa where it is endemic to dozens of countries and infected tens of thousands of people around the world over the course of three months. As of Thursday, there were more than 3,000 confirmed cases in the United States, and 1,148 in New York, but experts suggest cases are being undercounted.

Mr. Ehigie received the first shot of the two-dose vaccine regimen after a referral from his therapist, but worried the city might never give him a second.

And, while he said everyone understands how H.I.V. spreads, monkeypox still felt like a mystery to him and many others. “Especially being in New York,” he said, “where everyone is in close contact with everyone else all the time, it’s scary.”

Nearly all of the cases outside of Africa have been in men who have sex with men. In New York, only 1.4 percent of monkeypox patients self-identified as straight, with the rest describing themselves as gay, bisexual or declining to say, according to city data.

The disease is rarely fatal, and no deaths have been reported outside of Africa.

But the combination of government failure and a virus that has so far primarily affected gay and bisexual men has drawn frequent comparisons to the early years of the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic.

Those years were marked by acts of homophobia that remain seared in the minds of many gay Americans. The White House press secretary made jokes about AIDS at a 1982 press briefing. Churches refused to provide funerals for the dead. And President Ronald Reagan did not deliver a public speech on the epidemic until 1987, by which point roughly 23,000 Americans had died of the disease.

Disagreements within the New York City Department of Health about how to communicate the risks of the disease spilled into public view last week. Some epidemiologists have argued that officials should more explicitly advise men who have sex with men to reduce their number of partners, or even consider short-term abstinence. (The director general of the W.H.O. made a similar recommendation this week, including that men should reconsider having “sex with new partners,” according to STAT News.)

A department spokeswoman has said messages advising men to abstain from sex in particular could stigmatize gay and bisexual men and repeat the mistakes of the past.

That history was on many people’s minds (and many people’s banners) at a protest last week in Manhattan that was organized by activist groups including ACT UP, which formed in 1987 in response to government inaction on H.I.V./AIDS.

“I am sad that we have to be here,” said Erik Bottcher, a city councilman whose district includes Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the outbreak.

“We have been forced to do this for so long, we have been forced to fight for our own health care when we got let down by the government,” he said. “Shame on the government for letting us down again.”

Nearby, protesters carried signs comparing President Biden to Mr. Reagan.

Jon Catlin, 29, a graduate student, said he knew several people with monkeypox in New York and many more in Berlin, where he lives part time to do research. He said he studies the evolution of the idea of catastrophe in German thought, and “whose suffering counts as a crisis.”

“Because it is happening to queer people,” Mr. Catlin said, the government has been slow to treat monkeypox as a true crisis, waiting to deploy vaccine doses until cases had grown exponentially...