The mainstream media and public health officials are so careful not to label monkeypox a “gay disease” that they are doing a disservice to gay men who need important information about the outbreak the most. – while deceiving everyone.
In a July 28 New York Times article about the excruciating symptoms and lack of available care for people with monkeypox in this city, the profiled men’s sexuality is not referenced until 11 paragraphs into the story, and even so, he refers to them as “men who have sex with men”, which is technically correct but dubious. Moreover, the article, which supposedly discusses barriers to care, ignores the fact that gay men routinely experience apathy and even judgment from health care providers.
Other media reports and statements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have mentioned cases of monkeypox in the context of “the LGBT community”. Oh good? Should lesbians line up for a monkeypox vaccine, whenever it becomes widely available? This is what happens to homosexuals. Say it.
Journalist Benjamin Ryan, in his excellent Washington Post op-ed, draws a hard line between attempts not to unnecessarily stigmatize gay people and the importance of telling the truth about monkeypox, writing that “one cannot s expect public health officials to control public reactions to the facts.”
Ryan makes these facts clear:
Here’s what we can discern from the monkeypox data collected so far: This viral outbreak isn’t just happening in men who have sex with men. Confirmed cases, at least to date, have always occurred almost entirely among this demographic, which accounts for 96% or more of diagnoses for which data is available.
On a per capita basis, the few cases of monkeypox in women and children remain miniscule compared to the rate in gay and bisexual men. Of course, substantial transmission could still occur among these other groups. But researchers at the WHO and elsewhere have speculated that monkeypox’s reproductive rate is likely to remain significantly lower in these demographics, meaning the virus is more likely to reach transmission dead ends among them than among homosexual and bisexual men.
An uncomfortable truth, documented in peer-reviewed articles, is that the behaviors and sexual networks specific to gay and bisexual men have long made them more susceptible to contracting various sexually transmitted infections compared to heterosexual people. This includes not only HIV, but also syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted hepatitis C.
Global public health experts agree that skin-to-skin contact in the context of male-to-male sexual activity has been the main driver of the monkeypox epidemic, at least so far.
These experts also said that the risk of monkeypox for the general population without multiple sexual partners remains low, if not “very low”. This is hopeful news, and the general public deserves to be reassured accordingly. Allaying fears of contagion will help combat unnecessary hysteria and prevent gay and bisexual men from being subjected to even greater stigma if they are portrayed as guilty of needlessly spreading the virus to others.
Monkeypox didn’t start with homosexuals, it’s true. As Yale infectious disease expert Gregg Gonsalves explained to The New York Times, “It’s not a gay disease; it has been circulating in West and Central Africa for many years… What probably happened, in this case, is that someone who had monkey pox got a lesion and presented at a gay rave in Europe, and it spread to those in that social and sexual region. network.”
Whatever its origins, we are now dealing with an epidemic almost entirely confined to gay men in the United States and Europe. And it is worth saying this explicitly.
Why? Because identifying those at risk and providing them with information is a basic public health strategy for containing an outbreak. Homosexuals catch monkey pox and suffer greatly. When gay men understand the threat, we are more likely to take precautions, get vaccinated, or learn about treatments.
Will there be stigma, judgments and homophobia? Sure. And we will have to take care of it. But that doesn’t mean we bury crucial facts in vague, evasive messages.
Monkeypox is a gay thing. It’s the truth.
Mark S. King is an award-winning blogger, author, speaker and HIV/AIDS activist who has been involved in HIV causes since testing positive in 1985.