Image: Lonnell Williams
Our latest article appearing in Miami's mPower Magazine.
As the winter months disappear and summer approaches, the change in weather provides the perfect opportunity to strip off all the layers and wear as little as possible as you revel in the compliments of both male and female admirers as they fawn over your chiseled physique. There’s a list of beach parties, cookouts, and annual events on your calendar and none of it will start until you arrive. Your biggest dilemma is making sure your chosen wardrobe for the weekend will turn heads the minute you step out of your hotel room-pardon me-your suite. You’re black, gay, single, sexy, and free and you have a plethora of choices, from the breathtaking beaches of Miami and the sexy men of Sizzle, to the sinful allure of Tempted 2 Touch in Las Vegas, to the exotic island of the Dominican Republic, home of Inferno DR. Everything you could possibly want in a vacation experience and more is at your fingertips; men, sex, drugs, alcohol and HIV, an undesirable party favor but available nonetheless.
Black gay circuit parties have long held a reputation for offering more than is appropriate to be placed on advertisements. The organized and costly events taking place during the day may be a draw for some, but the prospect of experiencing multiple sexual encounters over the course of the weekend is at the top of the “to do list” for many attendees. It should be understood that with any large gathering of people the opportunity to engage in sexual intercourse is always present, besides we are sexual beings with a desire to connect on an intimate level. But with every unprotected sexual encounter there’s a risk of being infected with a sexually transmitted disease, and in the case of black gay men who are heavily impacted by HIV, circuit parties catering to this population can easily become a hotbed for transmission. Well, at least that’s one theory.
“Information about safe sex is ubiquitous now…having fun does not equal risking your life,” says Atlanta resident Jon Rico.
Access to accurate information about HIV transmission may be easier to find thirty years into the epidemic, but when you add condom fatigue, complacency, and an environment conducive to a more relaxed approach towards safe sex the results can be detrimental.
“People need to take responsibility for their own actions and protect themselves,” says long-time Sizzle attendee Daniel Hudson. “Circuit organizers should not be held responsible for the promiscuity of their patrons.” But there is also a point of view held by an increasingly growing number of people who believe promoters should take as much of an interest in prevention as they do their bottom line.
Dwight Powell, CEO of Sizzle Miami, the largest circuit party catering to black gay and bisexual men annually over Memorial Day Weekend, rejects the idea that promoters should play dual roles as party planners and prevention specialists.
“I realized a long time ago that it’s difficult to not only take on the much needed task of HIV prevention at Sizzle, but also to do it well. I have resolved to the fact that this important task should be taken on by agencies that do this type of work all day every day,” says Powell.
“Sizzle Miami has always partnered with Empower U, a non-profit agency here in Miami steadily at work in the fight against the disease,” Powell adds.
While efforts to curb new infections across the board are imperative and should continue until a cure is found, a flaw of human beings to blame external forces for what plagues us is perhaps more of a distraction than the solution we so desperately need.
Michael Slaughter, CEO of Inclusivity Inc., a Georgia based company that provides outdoor retreats for gay men of color shares a similar mindset. “Circuit parties just concentrate the existing issues in one place making it appear to be a source when in fact it’s not. Individual fear of rejection and starvation for affection are more likely to cause individuals to make unsafe choices than circuit parties themselves.”
This is a theory that is worth exploring. It’s been said that a barrier towards reducing new HIV infections in black gay men revolves around the issue of self-worth. If one isn’t strong enough to reject the negative messages spewed from the heterosexual black community of gays as hell-bound abominations, chances are that individual will be less likely to use a condom consistently, if at all, since he believes his life had little or no value to begin with. Therein lies the root of the problem that is often overlooked when discussing the effects of circuit parties on HIV. The latter appears to only be a symptom of the more widespread diseases of homophobia and low self- esteem, which drives black gay men to engage in self-destructive behavior in spite of the risks.
As cliché’ as it sounds we are our brother’s keeper. And while it shouldn’t be expected to make personal decisions for adults regarding their individual sexual health, we must begin to love each other and ourselves past fleeting orgasms and meaningless sexual encounters. The euphoria of circuit parties is only temporary, but the decisions we make in the heat of the moment are permanent. Will you be able to live with your decision once the party ends?