Monday, January 21, 2013
"BACKDOOR JOHNNIE'S DNA BIZ": Fiction
“Downton Abbey” with all its Edwardian glamour probably introduced more nice ladies to the idea of anal intercourse than “Oz” did, because nice ladies don’t watch “Oz.” Of course, some of those nice ladies had to have the exotic prince’s way of having sex without breaking a hymen explained to them. If they were smart, they asked their kids who undoubtedly knew. Hopefully not because they had tried it.
As with so many “forbidden” practices, the actual act is embedded in a context of other forces which are sometimes more damaging than the bad thing. Anal intercourse is a staple of cop shows where prison is made more threatening by promising that the perp will be subjected to regular rape. It features -- along with oral sex -- in shocking media stories about what teenagers are “up to” or “down to” these days. And then there are the drug related stories about cavity searches. Or maybe anal matters come up at public health seminars where the subject is handled with latex gloves and statistics gathered in dubious ways. I mean, who was asked and why did they answer?
Rarely are such matters handled frankly lest they be labeled pornography. Or for fear the usual jump to blaming the messenger will mean that someone just trying to address the subject will be labeled a practitioner. Which is even more problematic when something has been criminalized, meaning that it has been reduced to code and written down in a way that authorizes penalties. Not just natural consequences or health advisories, but things that will cause a person to be incarcerated and “you know what will happen there.” (The context is private prisons, underfunded, accountable to no one and overcrowded.) Or maybe linked to illegal immigration so that it means deportation.
Rarely do people think of something like this as an opportunity, but I thought I’d try to create a story that would point out a different possibility. One of the good things about being an eclectic reader is that ideas sometimes crossover. I call this story: “Backdoor Johnnie’s DNA Biz.”
In fact, Johnnie had that printed on a calling card for his business. The joke among he and his confidants was “just leave your calling card at the back door.” Having been a guy who considered the angles all his life, he thought up this business.
It all started when Johnnie read a story on the internet about independent biolabs, probably the same one I read. (Or did we hear about it on NPR?) He had not realized that this movement meant that these days most cities had spaces for rent that were equipped for biological laboratory bench work, stuff like figuring out a person’s DNA. The procedures had gotten simple enough by now for a smart computer whiz like Johnnie to pick up the basics pretty easily.
Johnnie didn’t make his living the standard conventional admirable way -- he was a male whore, sexy and careful enough to make money. That is, he took precautions so he wouldn’t be beaten up (ruins your pretty face) and he found a friendly doc. But the virus got him “in the end” so to speak. For a while he’d been worried because HIV was as bad as a heroin addiction in terms of needing pills and newer, more expensive treatments all the time. True enough, the pills got better in terms of side-effects and numbers, but they also required constant testing of ALL body fluids and tied him even tighter to that doc. So many lab tests meant more people could identify him. He could do some of them himself, but not all. When they invented a private HIV self-diagnosis test, like a pregnancy test, it was great, but he was past that. He knew he could make more money barebacking [no condom], but he also knew that doing it when he was infected -- even though his numbers were below what was proven contagious -- would expose him to really harsh penalties because it was criminalized. People still thought the virus was a death sentence when -- for someone with money -- it was more like an eternal debt. It was a money-making bonanza for pill-pushers. He wasn’t quite to the level where he could make antiretroviral drugs in his lab, though he had ways to import them from countries where they were produced cheaply.
But when he realized that he could actually learn to sequence DNA -- it’s just a code, after all -- he knew he had a product. That very night he began to “stock his shelves.” He went straight to the lab after his trick, cultured the “sample,” and the next day sequenced it, filed it, and identified it with a physical description of the guy, including the intimate details. He learned ways to pick up names and addresses, both email and physical.
When he had archived several hundred of these code sequences, he took a SVU detective out for a few drinks. It didn’t take the guy long to see the possibilities. Johnnie had to do a bit of dickering to get the price he wanted for access to his DNA info, but that wasn’t hard for a guy like him. Suddenly the cops were finding perps a lot sooner than before and they had DNA evidence to nail a lot of bad citizens. Stupid ones who never watched CSI shows. Both Johnnie and the cops were not exactly forthcoming about where they were getting their DNA samples.
Of course, Johnnie had some favorite clients and he let it be known that if they wanted their DNA code to be, you know, “protected,” it would only take a little investment in his business. At first he thought he might clean up the town so much that it would be bad for his collection enterprises, but there were always enough randy guys coming along to keep things going. In fact, in time he stopped doing tricks himself and paid whores for samples. He gave out free self-diagnosis kits for the virus, plus -- for cautious types -- reservoir-tipped condoms and baggies to put them in once they held the sample. He was trying to run a business, not create an epidemic, which was already underway anyhow.
It did surprise him a little bit to realize who some of these tricks were. Even the cops hadn’t quite realized how many of the Public Health suits were doing first hand research into the problems of HIV-AIDS. Not at a lab bench. Maybe they just thought about it too much on all those panels. Got obsessive. But most of them had no intention of ever having first-hand contact with the losers they talked and wrote about, since they were demonstrating what winners they themselves were, what privileged knowledge they had.