|Quite by coincidence, I was reading a book about medieval and Enlightenment eraJewish ghettos in Eastern Europe recently. The term 'gay ghetto' has fallen out of use now, but should we consider a more critical use when it comes to barebacking?
Until the Nazi Holocaust destroyed them forever, East European Jewish ghettos served as rich and vibrant social networks, sources of community media, areas of worship and commerce, culture and educational achievement. When the Enlightenment and Jewish emancipation came along in the nineteenth century, Jews were no longer automatically restricted to particular residential areas, and moved out of the areas in question as they acquired entry to professions and social mobility. When the term 'gay ghetto' came into use back in the seventies, I suspect that the earliest models were that sort of ghetto as a centre for political activism, social networks and community building.
However, the term 'ghetto' is a double-edged one, largely due to the tragedy that was the Holocaust, due to discriminatory Nazi residential and employment discrimination policies that herded Jews back into the ghettos that many of them had previously abandoned, and sealed them off. Granted, they could still become the site of heroic resistance to Nazi barbarism, as the Warsaw Ghetto uprising proved in 1944.
Thereafter, the term acquired other negative connotations. In the United States, European immigrants and Jews found themselves reasonably emancipated and took advantage of upward mobility to head off to the suburbs, leaving inner city areas to Latin and African-American communities. All was well as long as those areas benefited from the US postwar boom, which spluttered to an end in the seventies. Add that to the historical consequences of institutional racism, and backward US welfare state development, and the outcome was withdrawal or privatisation of employment opportunities and social services.
This led to the development of dilapidated and neglected housing, hard drug production and distribution networks, street gangs and declining educational opportunities and family and community stability. In these ghettos, the residents turned on themselves, with such developments as gangsta rap and its glorification of black-on-black violence, misogyny and homophobia. It was paralleled amongst displaced indigenous and immigrant communities the world over.
So, what might the negative sense of 'ghetto' mean for us? In New Zealand, it may not be so relevant to many metropolitan lesbians and gay men. We've had about fifteen years of national anti-discrimination laws, and school anti-bullying policies are starting to address issues of homophobic harrassment and educational retention for younger members of our communities. Added to which, it's hard to think of a particular geographically marked gay district in any New Zealand city, even in the case of Ponsonby.
Again, though, what about elsewhere? As with Jewish communities before us, we face the dilemma about which of our traditions to keep, and which to discard, as the product of oppression and marginalisation, which does not serve us well now. As a community, we tend to have a libertarian ethos about many things, which should be questioned on some fronts.
For example, is a laissez-faire drug policy any more preferable to a wholeseale social conservative prohibitionist regime? Wouldn't harm minimisation and risk reduction be a better pragmatic focus, grounded on evidence from pharmacology and toxicology? However, that would still place crystal meth and many polydrug mixtures beyond the pale- in their specific contexts, harm minimisation and risk reduction appear to be inoperative.
As for barebacking, let's explore that issue. I've noted that some nihilistic US gay men are trumpeting barebacking as 'transgressive' , 'raw' and somehow more 'natural' than protected anal sex.
I'm sorry, but this is antisocial ghettoised behaviour at its very worst. It is the equivalent of a gangsta rapper singing the glories of his particular youth gang killing other young Latin or African Americans for drugs. These drug gangs are preying on other members of their own communities, and let's face it, bareback porn producers do likewise. It achieves exactly the same effect.
Racist conservative society wants African-Americans to die young? Hell, then, get involved in a crystal meth running gang and do the Man's work for him. Homophobic America wants gay men to die? Hell, then, let's ignore the existence of HIV/AIDS, eroticise potentially fatal deliberate unsafe anal sex and let it go unchallenged.
Don't you believe it. Recommended:
Paul Kriwaczek: Yiddish Civilisation: London: Phoenix: 2006
Charly Teckucksingh (ed) Claming Space: Racialisation and Canadian Citiies: Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press: 2006. Craig Young - 4th August 2007