What to know about Monkeypox and its transmission
Homophobic responses to this epidemic are undeniable and unavoidable, and with the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes in the UK, the sensitivity to monkeypox framing is understandable. But there’s only so far health organizations can mitigate this, and they can’t be expected to meet the conditions set by fanatics – the end result of which would be denial of access. vaccines targeted at MSM, risking an explosion in the general population.
Will Nutland, co-founder of PrEPster, a program advocating access to pre-exposure prophylaxis in England and beyond, tells me that it is, in fact, this denial that is a repeat of mistakes made in recent years of the AIDS crisis. “A lot of people wanted to ignore that most HIV diagnoses were in gay and bisexual men, and black Africans, and there was a whole bunch of white heterosexuals going ‘what about me?'” he. This response is present in the current dialogue around monkeypox vaccine distributions, with some heterosexual people online demanding access to the vaccine, which is currently in limited supply, as if they were at equal risk. This is despite the fact that inoculating the most-at-risk population is the most effective way to prevent a virus from spreading to the general population.
Nutland continues, “When I worked for the Terrence Higgins Trust, every year when the data came out, there was this collusion that we weren’t going to say it was black people and gay people, and instead, people were talking about heterosexual acquisition abroad. This is what I call the “ibiza-ization” of HIV, focusing on young heterosexual white people coming on holiday with HIV because they have fucked. But that was absolutely not what was happening and it got the attention of the people who needed intervention, resources and information the most. And instead, we end up with a whole very bland and untargeted public health promotions and interventions.
Despite painstaking attempts to point out the harms of downplaying the disproportionate impact of monkeypox on gay, bisexual and MSM, resistance to the data remains and some gay and straight people remain convinced that the demographic profile is irrelevant with the contraction of monkeypox. It is worth evaluating why. First, a misunderstanding of the history of AIDS has taken hold that the targeting of vulnerable groups for the distribution of resources is seen as state homophobia, rather than the reality of the Reagan administration which refused to provide health interventions and support to affected gay communities. People’s ignorance of the AIDS crisis has led to suggestions that gay activists fought to disassociate themselves from HIV/AIDS, which is ahistorical, especially considering the creation of ‘Gay Men Fighting Aids’. in 1992, which happened because the organizers felt that HIV prevention work was not targeted enough at them.
Second, as Nutland tells me, there is a fundamental mistrust of science and evidence on social media, which is widely found. Despite the debunking of the “sampling bias” myth, many still believe that there is a high prevalence of monkeypox infection among non-MSM. But as Nutland says, “What we do know is that in London around 10% of gay and bisexual men who are diagnosed with monkeypox end up in hospital because they get secondary infections from the lesions. So if there was this great sense of undiagnosed monkeypox in the cis-heterosexual population, we would expect a good proportion of those people to end up at A&E with infected lesions, or at sexual health clinics with genital lesions.
Finally, there is a widespread failure to understand the social vulnerabilities of gay men that extend beyond this current monkeypox crisis. There seems to be skepticism that gay people can be at the heart of an emergency, even if it has so far not been deadly, as we remain increasingly absent from vulnerability scans social, or our closeness to evil is always seen as self-inflicted. As the writer Sean O’Neill said, “It is striking how little the specificities of the life of gay men are present for people. I felt that too last year, when someone was murdered while driving near my house and I discovered it by accident two weeks later.
What has been most disappointing in much of the heterosexual response is a lack of care and empathy for gay men who are most directly affected, with these people choosing instead to worry about their own hypothetical contraction despite their very low risk profile. When gay adult entertainer Silver Steele shared a photo of his monkeypox lesions and painful symptoms, many reacted with horror and revulsion at the gay porn scenes on his Twitter profile. But if you’re horrified by gay porn, the reality of monkeypox is probably much further away from you than the current hysteria warrants.
For more information on monkeypox, visit nhs.uk