Gyms are closed, events are cancelled, restaurants are take-out only and most of us are staying home in order to reduce our physical contact with the community and other people. It’s been widely publicized that these changes have been implemented to help slow the transmission of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). And (trans and cis) gay, bi, queer, as well as other guys into guys, are taking it seriously. We are doing our part to the best of our ability.
However, some of the public health messaging has left us wondering: What about us? And, perhaps more importantly: what about sex?
Gay, bi and queer (GBQ) men are familiar with exclusion, violence and social marginalization based on our experiences of systemically (and legally) sanctioned oppression – oppression that was reinforced during the HIV epidemic that is still ongoing. If we examine these experiences as a framework for the ways in which GBQ men receive public health messaging, in many cases GBQ communities have learned to mistrust health messaging aimed at “everyone” – because we have been told in the past, that we are not “everyone”.
In response, we have rallied, resisted and come together in order to direct our own community-based research, create our own campaigns and innovate ways to retain our identities throughout epidemics and other oppressive social contexts. One of the ways that we have done this is by continuing to have sex with other guys.
Like many people on the planet, GBQ men are continuing to have sex during the COVID-19 pandemic, and finding creative ways to do so while maintaining distance. But unlike most, sex with other guys can mean something more. For many of us, sex with other guys has become central to our individual and group identities. And those identities may not be fully or meaningfully expressed without bending, or even breaking, the rules.
So, the question becomes: can we continue to retain our GBQ identities without being able to touch and physically engage with other gay men during a pandemic? It might be easy to say: of course we can! However, we are not all the same, simply because we love and have sex differently than the global majority. GBQ guys are diverse! We are single, coupled, throupled, sex workers, asexual, allosexual, supported, lonely, connected and disconnected – one set of rules is never going to apply to all of us!
During this time, it’s important that we remember that, more than anything, physical distancing is a powerful act of harm reduction.
Here at HIM (Health Initiative for Men), we value harm reduction. We value the roles of our communities. We value sex positivity. And we value our own ability to make informed decisions. We, along with our colleagues across the world, have worked together to be GBQ men who are building healthier lives together. When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, we recognized that our role was to remind gay guys that we are not alone, and that there are many ways to continue to be sexual, whether that is on your own, with your husband, or with a guy you met online.
The resource Having Sex & Staying Safe was designed to expose the different options available for GBQ guys and to remind us all that there are many ways to connect with our body and our sexuality during the pandemic. We approach this as community members and peers, rather than as healthcare providers. We do this in recognition of our own challenges during this time, and with deep trust that guys can read it and make their own decisions.
We hope this resource starts a conversation while celebrating the expression of our individual and group identities and values. Values that have, more than once, saved our lives.
Stay healthy, stay together!
Aaron Purdie is the associate director of programs and interventions at HIM (Health Initiative for Men), and a registered clinical counsellor. Aaron identifies as a white, queer, cisgender man who is an uninvited resident on Coast Salish Territories (Vancouver). He can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org