Some people believe that bugchasers are a myth. We’re here to tell you they certainly are not.
Remember how fun your last herpes outbreak was? No?
Some might answer differently.
Over the past few decades a subculture has evolved, primarily in the gay community, of those that rabidly seek HIV, to go from ‘neg’ to ‘poz’. Inversed, the other side is known as ‘gift-giving’, where the giver seeks to infect or ‘breed’ those who are HIV free. I’d like to say I’ve heard stranger things, but I really haven’t.
Bugchasing has laid just below the surface of mainstream sex-chat for a while now. Rolling Stone came out with the shocker back in 2003 when Gregory Freeman interviewed “Carlos”, an avowed bugchaser, who treated “HIV infected semen like liquid gold”. The article was met with a massive rebuke from associated medical organizations and LGBT interest groups alike. They called it a myth, and a ploy to demonise gay people through a tiny community which few people were sure even existed.
Since then, it looks like the press at large has kept the subject at arm’s length. Understandably so, covering a subject as obscure as this really doesn’t make for reliable, or comfortable, researching. But, unpaid and desperate for validation as I am, I looked further.
Occasionally obtuse to the point of seeming autistic, my first stroke of investigative genius was to just ask people point blank. This did not work. Most homosexual people I approached had never heard of it, those who had lived through the horrors of the 80s epidemic found it too horrible to fathom, many were just insulted. Had I continued, I may well have alienated considerable portions of gay Londoners. As I should have realised earlier, it is insulting to equate one with the other. Gays, I apologize.
It would be easy to think, as I was so often told, that bugchasing is a homophobic myth. That it is a pointed, harmful rumour, something similar to communists hiding under your bed, or the yellow man coming to steal your job. But, as it happens, they do exist. So, if you’ll indulge me for a second: kiss my ass, legions of respected HIV researchers, activists, medical professionals and MTV.
Having said that, weeks of searching came up with little apart from an old Russian called HARRY (not Harry, HARRY) with a tenuous hold on the English language. He’s syphilitic, and so unashamed that he constantly publishes pictures of his syphilis ridden member. He asked if I was from Canada and then stopped responding. So much for that. He hopes to become HIV positive by the age of 73. Good luck HARRY, you strange, strange man.
I delved deeper into the sweaty corners of the internet and found that for those willing to look, there’s plenty to look at. In fact, bugchasing seems to be well accommodated on the internet. Breeding Zone is apparently the largest bugchasing site out there, run by a friendly former rentboy known online as rawTOP. Sites like STDpassions and Tribes boast plenty of boards for people to share anecdotes, fun pics, tips and dates. Viewed from afar, it might seem something similar to a World of Warcraft chatroom. I even found a group called seedswappers that, by accident or not, provides for the shared interest of heirloom tomato seed swapping and a directory for HIV infection. There are even dating websites like Bug-chaser personals, describing itself as “the number one place” for anyone looking for HIV, imploring you to “live life on the edge” by having “sex with a positive guy”. Their emails continue to ravage my inbox. Another website, Poz Singles, seems to have kicked me off for my ulterior motives. Bastards.
One chaser, a 16-year-old not satisfied with having group sex with seven positives, mainlined infected blood just to be sure
The desire for HIV is earnest for many, and it seems as though they’re pretty well accommodated. That is, if comments such as “I would gladly pump my poz seed into your boy kunt and/or push my blood filled Meth rig into your vein”, are to be believed. One chaser I happened upon, a 16-year-old not satisfied with having group sex with seven positives, mainlined infected blood just to be sure. A certain amount of, pardon my French, ‘hard fucking’ seems to be in demand among chasers, if only to ensure infection. Bugchasers supposedly hold sero-conversion parties (the reality of which is disputed) to accommodate those wishing to be ‘pozzed’. They look for high viral loads and don’t bother with the meds. Some stick a toothbrush up the ass, and why not? Half measures seem a little counter-intuitive at this point.
Gift giving is a lot less common (apparently HIV isn’t quite as fun as some were told), but still happens. rawTOP told me about a fairly dark trend. Stealthing is gift giving without telling the partner. It’s hard to say if this is common or not but should you choose to look, it’s not too hard to find some pretty horrific stories on the web, many from bikers, who seem to treat infecting young negatives as a sport.
It might be hard to call bugchasers a community as such. Their approach towards the half light probably went in time with the growth of the web. The internet has a way of handing out titles after the fact, what was once an obscure, private kink can seem as though it has transformed into an obscure militant organization.
Taking this into account, it’s pretty hard to tell when people actually started chasing the bug, but we can say it’s beginnings are tied to the practice of bare-backing, essentially bum sex without the condom, a subculture in its own right.
It would be wrong to think that bare-backing, and even more so in the case of bugchasing, is about “mindless fucking” as Tim Dean so articulately put it. It’s also about the intimacy beyond the mindless fucking, and a strangely earnest sense of community. rawTOP told me that the lines between HIV negative and positive are often clearly drawn. The documentary, The Gift, puts forward the idea that the need to be part of a club may well be a draw for many. But aside from the time-tested fact that sex is better without the rubber, there’s something of a political statement to it as well. Bare-backing, in many cases, is an attempt not only to cleave oneself from heteros, but orthodox gay culture as well.
It’s a culture that has been subject to a great deal of apparently infantilizing patronage from the mainstream when it comes to AIDS. A friend of a friend, Canny, put it like this: “Gay men aren’t equipped with AIDS-spreading kits from birth, they are equipped for being gay from birth.” Bugchasing may exist, in part, for all the reasons you, whiteboy, can’t politely complete the name of early 1990s hip hop group ‘____With Attitude’. HIV has unfairly evolved from a simple medical concern to an apparent characteristic in its own right, largely dictated by hetero-dom. So, much like those ‘black people with attitude’, bugchasing may well be an attempt to re-appropriate an imposed idea of gayness, reaffirming dignity with the means by which they were previously stripped of it.
We should understand that constantly living at high risk is a sexual tyranny. Which sounds worse than any Kim Jong -sung, -il or -un. In Pyongyang, I’m sure you can still find a quiet corner for shag. At such high risk, you can’t help but wonder if chasing the bug is a practical concern for those who enjoy regular unsafe sex, but there is a deeper point here. The wish to not be subject to your sexuality, but master of it is profoundly understandable. Tim Winslow, currently writing a doctoral paper on chasers, mentioned that this too has a political aspect. You could say the purposefully infected are no longer subject to the constant threat, but neither are they subject to the constant patronizing reminder of how safe they should be.
‘I was never as free as I was in the gulag’ may seem a little philosophical but when one has something taken away from them, in this case their health, it does remove the necessary prison bars that their previous status so lovingly provided. The internet is awash with stories of people who felt freed by the infection. Mike, one of the more forthcoming people I interviewed, recounted the day of his results. The doctor said, quite flatly, “Well, now you don’t have to worry about getting it.” Mike, by his own admission, had never heard truer words.
Tim Dean’s book, Unlimited Intimacy, takes up this subject in great detail. Sex is about power, maintaining it and the eventual, unstoppable relinquishing of it. Mike told me that the real thrill for a bugchaser, being on the bottom, is relinquishing control and being used, completely subjected to the desires of the top.* It makes an odd sense that the need to submit, once seroconversion has been achieved, is exchanged for control. One guy, calling himself RawPozLust, said that it freed him to actually look after himself, giving him an amount of control that he never had as a ‘neg’.
In fact, I’ve come across certain strangers who consider it to be a way of solidifying a personal legacy as a gay man, lacking as they do the requisite uterus. Many express their desire to know the person that ‘pozzes’ them and one of the real turn-ons for gift-givers was the personal significance to give someone that hallmark moment. For one particular person, it was quite literally the gay version of reproduction, casting itself as a deathly reflection of what ‘breeders’ consider to be something that has everything to do with life.
Mr Freud put it far more eloquently but, psychoanalytically speaking, sex and death make for a winning combination
Mr Freud put it far more eloquently but, psychoanalytically speaking, sex and death make for a winning combination. Not in the fulfilment of either, but in the moreish antagonism between the two. There are those, like Carlos, who enjoy the risk of infection, every partner potentially being The One, and there are those who actually seek the infection as a turn-on. It might be too sweeping a statement to say that the mental health of these people is questionable, but it is, at the very least masochistic. Posing the question to rawTOP, he replied that sometimes people crave their own destruction. Those who have lived with bigotry and abuse, as many still do, sometimes identify with it and in turn, crave it. There may, as Timothy Winslow seemed to very cautiously speculate, possibly be a level of internalised homophobia here. This appears to be the thrust of Sal Bardo’s new film, Chaser.
But even the death thing seems a bit of a simulation. Strange though it may seem, there are worse things than HIV. As Mike mentioned to me, he had more chance of dying from texting and driving than he did from AIDS. rawTOP went on to say that smoking was more lethal.
HIV is also very treatable these days but while some live well with it, others don’t. One of the problems of chasing is the misperception that HIV/AIDS is easy to live with. In reality, while it may not be the death sentence it was 25 years ago, it still involves common colds that can last for months as well as an uncomfortable lifetime of expensive meds.
Bugchasing is by no means exclusive to the gay community or to HIV/AIDS, although that is where it has come to prominence. The internet is filled with straight couples with a severe hankering for a case of herpes, grandmothers who want syphilis and even rumours of sub-Saharan women who long for a dose. Have a look if you don’t believe me.
If Wikipedia’s page on paraphillias is anything to go by, the variety of fetish is legion. If feet, enemas, animal costumes, giants or turning oneself into a piece of furniture gets people off, then you can be sure disease does too. There’s something a little more to bugchasing though, a political slant attempting to throw off straight patronage. No one likes to be constantly told who and what they are. Even more so no one likes to be told they are a victim.
Failing that, sex and death really do go well together, one heightening and reminding us of the other. Just ask David Carradine. You can’t help it any more than you can help that every one of your sexual partners has some aspect of mother about them. There are few things that make you feel quite as alive as either boning or mortal danger, so why not combine the two? In fact, if you are living the same shiftless existence as most people, in the flat where you live with your microwave and a collection of wristbands from festivals now long passed, you’re probably not getting much of either. Such is the price of being a prude.
*This was originally and erroneously attributed to rawTOP and has now been corrected. He was also originally quoted as saying that meth was more dangerous than HIV when he in fact said that smoking was. We apologise for both mistakes.