AIDS and the 'uninformed white heterosexual'

Mike Royko

January 07, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I've led an imperfect life, made mistakes and done things of which I'm not proud. But I hadn't realized what a monster I am until I read the stern words of Annie Philbin.

Ms. Philbin is a member of something called the Art Against AIDS Project. As such, she admires the controversial posters that have been placed on public transportation platforms in Chicago and other cities.

This is the public-service poster that shows a man kissing a man, a woman kissing a woman and a man kissing a woman, with the vague message: "Kissing Doesn't Kill; Greed and Indifference Do."

Before the posters went up, I expressed doubt as to their anti-AIDS value and said they appeared to be little more than an endorsement of gay relationships.

I suggested that if the artists wanted to put up AIDS warnings, they might show some pregnant dope addicts sharing contaminated needles or gay men engaging in unsafe sex practices.

And I asked whose greed and indifference the artists were blaming for AIDS deaths?

This infuriated some gay individuals and organizations, including Philbin of the Art Against AIDS Project, which is in New York.

A Chicago media critic spoke to her and read her portions of my column.

She angrily said: "This guy clearly doesn't know the first thing beyond being a white privileged male heterosexual in this

country.

"He is exactly, exactly the problem why AIDS is devastating this country. He's just so uninformed it's pathetic."

I have to concede that she is right on a few points. I am white. But am I to blame? I was born that way, although old pictures indicate I was blotchy pink at the time. Actually, I'm still sort of faded pink, but why quibble?

And I am a male heterosexual, for which I don't apologize, although some gays derogatorily refer to those of the male heterosexual persuasion as "breeders." Apparently they don't appreciate the fact that without "breeders," we would all vanish and the planet would eventually be dominated by bugs and would be a very itchy, unsightly place.

But I have to differ on a couple of her allegations.

She says that I am "privileged." I'm not sure what she means. The dictionary says: "A right, advantage, favor or immunity granted to one; especially a right held by a certain individual, group or class, and withheld from certain others or all others."

I honestly can't think of any special rights, advantages, favors or immunities granted to me. My education came by way of the city's public schools, available to any mope. I got into my line of work by grabbing whatever low-paying jobs were available, hustling and not watching the clock.

I don't recall ever taking a nickel from any government program, although I've kicked in at least my fair share for others. Anything I own, I've paid for. So I don't think I have anything that isn't currently available to anyone willing to break a sweat.

But that, of course, isn't the major crime of which I stand accused by Ms. Philbin. As she said: "He is exactly, exactly the problem why AIDS is devastating the country. He is just so uninformed that it's pathetic."

For one thing, AIDS is not "devastating this country." Far more people have died, are dying and will die of cancer and heart disease. They just do so more quietly and don't blame society.

Nor can I think of any reason why I am "exactly, exactly the problem" for the spread of AIDS. I don't engage in any behavior that spreads AIDS, and I don't encourage others to do so. But I do encourage others to be careful, as I did in the column that so upsets Ms. Philbin.

As for being so "uninformed that it's pathetic," well, yes, I'm not an expert on AIDS. But the more I've read about it, the more I've realized that the alleged experts aren't experts on it, either. From year to year, month to month, study to study, they can't seem to agree on who is going to get it and how far it will spread. Some reputable scientists aren't even sure that the HIV virus that has been assumed to bring on AIDS is actually the sole cause. So while my ignorance might be greater, it isn't unique.

However, I do know that certain behavior does increase the chances of getting AIDS. I was specific in writing about that behavior. It isn't pleasant to read. Some find it jarring. And that seems to be what has upset Ms. Philbin and others.

They respond with shouts of "homophobic," which, frankly, is getting predictable and boring. They're starting to sound like a -- crowd of heterophobics or breederphobics or even celibaphobics.

So, Ms. Philbin, I don't think I'm "exactly, exactly the problem." Nor do I think the poster you admire is "exactly, exactly" going to do much to prevent AIDS.

But there is behavior that is known to "exactly, exactly" increase the risk of AIDS. So why not create posters saying "exactly, exactly" what this behavior is?

In other words, cut the bunk. Dancing the polka doesn't kill either. But are we going to get a poster saying that, too?

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