By S.T. Patrick
It may be a typical sign of the times, or it may be the end of civility among people, but American politicians today lack the ability to deal with a potential global health crisis without making it a political rope, yanked on at both ends by the two parties. A week after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared monkeypox a global health emergency, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced its preparations to make monkeypox a “nationally notifiable condition.”
As a nationally notifiable condition, states would be required to share case numbers and other monitorable statistics with the federal government. This also inevitably means wall-to-wall, fear-laden coverage from the news networks who dispense more fear than facts. As author J.K. Rowling once wrote, “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” The mass media’s narrative for Americans coming to terms with Covid and the next potential pandemic will continue being, “The killer is coming. What are you prepared to do to combat it?”
Things that aren’t seen with the naked eye, however, can be understood and there are things we know about monkeypox, even in these early stages. According to the CDC, nearly 3,600 cases have been reported in the U.S., 1,148 of them in New York. But who is monkeypox affecting? Is everyone at risk? The U.S. government would like to answer in the affirmative as it would cement the idea that every irritant affects every person equally. But that is not the case.
According to a July 28 New York Times article by Liam Stack, “For gay and bisexual men in New York, the summer has been consumed with similar conversations as monkeypox cases spike among men who have sex with men.”
According to New York City’s own data, only 1.4% of monkeypox patients in the city have self-identified as straight. The remainder of respondents were gay, bisexual, or refused to answer the question.
The answer seems somewhat simple, but New York City is anything but simple politically, and the WHO’s recommendation to advise gay men to reconsider highly promiscuous sexual relations with multiple men has a NYC Department of Health spokesperson claiming that any message advising gay men to abstain from sex could stigmatize them and cause an outbreak of discrimination. Only in New York City and California would potential death be preferable to potentially offending one person.
The Biden administration is still considering declaring monkeypox a national health emergency. Upon doing so, they would also have to set guidelines for combating the disease and stopping the spread. Though a large majority of Americans followed federal recommendations in the early stages of the Covid outbreak, many tired of the same recommendations when they discovered that many of the guidelines seemed unnecessarily senseless, and when high-level politicians were not following their own guidelines unless cameras were rolling.
The most obvious parallel is to the Covid crisis, which some states still have active guidelines in place for today. The questions then ignite the “fighting words” of the Covid era: masking, vaccinations, isolation, and “flatten the curve,” for example. Those are legitimate concerns, but a better parallel may be the AIDS crisis of the late 1980s.
By 1987, the first time President Ronald Reagan spoke of AIDS, over 23,000 had died. The vast majority of fatalities were in the gay community, a community which fought the labeling of AIDS as “the gay cancer,” or even “a gay disease,” even though numbers showed that it overwhelmingly impacted gay men. Instead, public health officials spent a grotesque amount of money educating young, heterosexual Americans that they, too, were at equal risk.
In a sex education video from the late 1980s called “Sex Before Marriage?” a lecturer warns against things such as “deep French kissing.” She says that chairs at the kids’ graduation will sit empty because some number of their classmates will have died from AIDS, and that, when you go to bed, “you’re packing a loaded revolver when you go.”
She then drops the big lie of the 1980s and 1990s AIDS education: “When you go to bed with that person, you are going to bed with every person they have ever gone to bed with in their life.” At the climax of the video, a teenager asks, “What if I want to have sex before I’m married?” a question that causes the instructor to lean into the student, answering, “Well, then I guess you have to be prepared to die! And you’ll probably take with you your spouse and one or more of your children.”
It’s this sort of extreme fear mongering that attempted to equate sexual activity with death. Meanwhile, the disease was overwhelmingly killing gay men. To use the same tactics on classrooms full of gay men, however, would have been “discriminatory.”
The numbers of confirmed fatalities are still very low. But for the proper fear tactics to be effective and for the floodgates of federal funding to hospitals and educational institutions to open, the fatalities will need to register higher on the scale of immediate risk. And that they will most assuredly do. We should also remember that Dr. Fauci’s first set of colossal failures and his first encouragement of federal grift came at the peak of the AIDS crisis.
Being an election year, the coverage of monkeypox will remain a tricky one. More masking, more lockdowns, and more vaccinations can only help disaffected centrists and Republicans who are tired of seeing their freedoms stripped. Ignoring the gay angle to the story so that we can act like monkeypox spreads equally to all also favors Republicans as it exacerbates “wokeism” and denies facts.
Monkeypox is real, but how deadly is it? To date, it seems “not very” is a strong, educated guess. But fear is the greatest mover of people and the fuel of slavery.