Condoms, Lube & Carols: Lessons Learned at Gay Bingo

This afternoon I volunteered to set up for Gay Bingo in Philly.  I had no idea what to expect, but upon arrival i was given a bag of condoms at least half my size and was told to spread them over the 30 or so tables set up in the room.  Then they told me to add mini-size packets of lube.  And then came the carols.  I had no idea there were gay Christmas carols, but there are.  They’re cheeky and fun and hilariously inappropriate for most situations.

After the initial shock of the in-your-face atmosphere that Gay Bingo aims to create, I got to settle in and observe my fellow volunteers… an eclectic mix, to say the least, but predominantly made up of gay men of all shapes and sizes.  And that is when I realized that despite the AIDS-centered service and advocacy I spent so much time on in college, I still had biased views about homosexuality and AIDS.  In fact, I think that bias may have come about because of the volunteerism I did as an undergrad, which was almost always centered around those infected with AIDS who were also materially impoverished.

What am I getting at? I think I forgot, at least momentarily, that AIDS is not a disease of the poor.  On the deeper levels, I always knew that; I am, after all, a huge fan of the movie Philadelphia (which tells the story of a lawyer diagnosed with AIDS), and I used to stress to the volunteers I led in college that AIDS is a blind disease that can affect anyone, anywhere.  But somewhere along the line of visiting a government-subsidized nursing home for patients with AIDS and cooking for residents of a shelter for people with AIDS, I replaced the universal image of the AIDS patient with one of someone distinctly economically disadvantaged.

Unfortunately, I think my first semester of graduate may have contributed to this narrowing of my vision.  In my history of public health class, we discussed over and over again the links between poverty, racism, segregation, and poor health.  The recurring pattern often showed how epidemics spread among the poor, leaving the wealthy considerably better off.  And in my community health class, our HIV-positive guest speaker was a woman who was formerly homeless.  Subconsciously, these lessons reinforced the wrongful notion that AIDS infects the poor.

So I’m grateful for Gay Bingo, for the comparatively wealthy gay men I met this afternoon (they each spent $25 just for admission to the event), some of them HIV-positive, who reminded me that AIDS is blind.  And who, of course,  introduced me to the specialized genre of gay Christmas music… I’ll have to try some of those out at my next holiday party.


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