A Man Who ‘Tried to Get Infected’ with HIV Explains ‘Bug Chasing’ and Why He May Have Had a Change of Heart

My Fabulous Disease‘s Mark S. King interviewed Twitter’s Bug Chaser. Bug Chaser, describes himself as an “#AIDS worshipper, Death-Dick glorifier, #HIV lover. I know I’m sick and twisted, don’t waste your energy reminding me unless you want to turn me on. #PrEPfree,.” 

But after King reached out him, what he found was a deeply conflicted man, who’s grief over the death of a close friend from HIV has challenge his raison d’etre and who indicates he may be changing his ways.

King writes: “I have typically dismissed the entire notion of bug chasing, or at least relegated it to the dark corners of the internet, where anything is possible. Surely, these folks were either a) already HIV positive and simply prolonging their fantasy scenario, or b) fantasizing with no real intent on following through. And besides, anyone with the intention of becoming HIV positive would surely have been infected by now, right? How many new, HIV negative bug chasers can there actually be?”

I was about to have my beliefs challenged and my mind blown.

 

I sent Bug Chaser a direct message. He responded and agreed to answer my questions. What I discovered was a human being with an admittedly perilous fetish who has pulled himself from the brink.

 

His uses the name “Jack” and wrote that he is a 33 year old gay man. Before answering my questions, he had some news of his own.

 

“I haven’t posted about it yet,” Jack wrote, “but my friend passed away a couple of hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve. Yes, that made me re-think some things.”

 

“Sero-discordant fucking still turns me on,” Jack continued. “However, I’ve decided I’m not actively chasing anymore and am back on PrEP full time. I will still enjoy sex with positive men but I’m going to take better care of my own status. I’ve just come to the decision that actively chasing a poz diagnosis is no longer for me.”

READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW AT MY FABULOUS DISEASE.

Reading the interview made me think about the 2004 short Bug Chaser

SF Weekly said of the groundbreaking film, “Coming to understand how gift-giving and bug-chasing culture functions was relatively easy. Coming to an understanding of why it exists has been another matter. For what reason would anyone seek to be infected by a potentially fatal disease? There have been very few peer-reviewed studies into what motivates men to spread HIV. In an earlier era, when infections were much more common and much deadlier, researchers like the psychologist Damien Riggs theorized that it boiled down to loneliness, that these men might be seeking out HIV infection in order to “overcome difference” and feel part of the larger gay community. But in 2016, with infections way down, that motivation seems unlikely. Is it instead a kind of slow suicide? Is it mental illness? Is it ignorance? Perhaps not surprisingly, the answers were not clearly reducible to any pat formulas. Rather than seeming depressed or suicidal, many of the newly positive men I spoke with indicated that they were enjoying their lives more than ever before.”

“It’s hard for me to watch Bug Chaser without cringing a little now,” star Brenden Shucart says. “It was the first film I ever did, and it’s hard for me to see it without being hyper focused on all the mistakes that I made. Despite that, it’s the thing from my brief acting career that I’m most proud of. What I think Bug Chaser does beautifully is capture the sense of isolation that was semi-ubiquitous In the pre-pPrEP, pre-Obamacare era when many gay men had fewer options for protecting themselves from the virus. I imagine it’s that sense of isolation and lack of options which made proactively embracing HIV—rather than living with the guillotine of AIDS perpetually hanging over one’s head—such an attractive fantasy to the bug chasing subculture.”

Above: Bug Chasers’ star Brenden Shucart.

You can watch Bug Chaser here.

It was even the subject of a 2008 segment on CNN by Anderson Cooper who stressed that this was a fringe of the gay community. Bug Chasers and Gift Givers were worthy of coverage after the release of  the amazing documentary entitled The Gift.

 

Psychology Today ran the commentary  below by researchers who suggest the fetishization of seroconversion by some gay men or “gifting” comes from an intersectionality of myriad psychological traumas, both micro and macro, but chronic, and  that gay men, as a class of people, suffer from vastly disproportionately to our heterosexual peers.

Research has been carried out suggesting various reasons for why men would want to deliberately contract HIV.

 

In a 2004 paper in the British Journal of Social Psychology, Dr. Michele Crossley some men indicate that the practice is highly exciting because it is such a highly risky behaviour (in that they could ultimately die from contracting the virus). However, such a reason suggests that such individuals don’t actually want to contract HIV (and seems psychologically akin to playing Russian roulette). The same paper also noted that some bug chasers appear to be very lonely people who want to contract AIDS so that they will receive the attention, nurturance and care that they feel they need (and therefore share similarities with those who have Munchausen’s Syndrome). Similarly, others see the contracting of HIV as way becoming part of a community that elicits public sympathy and caretaking.

 

Writing in the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, a paper by Dr. Mark Blechner in 2002 examined the the psychodynamics of barebacking and safer sex. Dr. Blechner argued that the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, gay men had personal experience of multiple deaths and were “terrified by a new, mysterious, and untreatable disease”.

This was contrasted with today’s gay men who were much less afraid of contracting HIV and considered condom use as more restrictive, less intimate and less pleasurable than older gay men. There also appears to be a small minority of gay men who are so anxious and overwhelmed about the thought of contracting HIV that actually contracting it would help overcome the negative psychological states they experience.

But the advent of PrEP didn’t end the existence of bug chasing.

2018’s The Gift Giver gave us a protagonist feeling just as isolated today. He attends an HIV support group with the intention of purposely contracting the virus. The Gift Giver presents a darkly nihilistic polemic on the “end of AIDS” sloganeering of the last few years suggesting  that it will take far more than a prophylactic or a cure for HIV to erase and heal the damage of our collective psyches, it will take the emergence of a modern day Band of Thebes, a genuine brotherhood of love that can exist among us when we’re freed from having our sex and sexuality be so fraught.

Watch The Gift Giver below.

 

 

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