It’s almost a half century since gender has been taken out of the closet in all three aspects: desire, identity, and social role. It’s been almost as long since a virus came out of the African jungles to devastate the demographic category of “gay men” and then slowly ooze out over the rest of the world until now most AIDS victims are heterosexual, including children.
It’s about six centuries since Europeans found the American continents and started the traffic back and forth across the Atlantic -- loot, slaves and disease. Early cases of smallpox among the indigenes were recorded almost immediately. Smallpox, and many other zoonoses, are thought to have originated ten thousand years ago in Africa near the Mediterranean, the consequence of domesticating animals so that they were kept in enclosures near enough to transmit viruses and bacterias to their owners. North Americans had no defenses and were decimated.
Not long ago smallpox was eradicated (sort of, since hidden samples are suspected) and now they claim that an effective vaccine for malaria exists. The cause of malaria is a plasmodium (one-celled parasite) that uses mosquitoes as a vector syringe. It is also an African organism, thought to have originated in primates.
Human beings are the most effective vectoring entity from Africa. The cross-over diseases not only were stored in the bodies of the African people but were also carried worldwide by them. These human-transported parasites have endangered other living beings, but the humans themselves are parasites on the whole balance of the planet. Some believe the only “cure” is to fly to another planet where there are no living beings -- a sort of clean slate. But a spaceship is a vector of the problem -- us, we are the mosquitoes -- or are we the plasmodia in the mosquito?
Syphilis, which no one knows the original cause of, is bacterial. Sheep have been mentioned, but the main origin is humans indigenous to America, going back across the Atlantic. Recent research seems to clarify (and it's only fair) that Columbus took syphilis back to Europe with his crew. And we finally acknowledge that every member of the Lewis and Clark party was infected except Clark. A few died of it right away, some later, and pretty certainly Lewis was one of those victims, dying in agony and psychosis before he had a chance to edit his journals.
“Genocide” by Tim Barrus is an anthology of short stories considering these demographic disease issues and society's reaction, mixing male same-gender bonding with indigenous American peoples, with World War concentration camps disguised as carnivals, and space travel in a spaceship so anthropomorphic that it wants to know about sex. The concentration camps are to hold HIV-infected persons -- the model is leprosy. In reality it was actually suggested in regard to HIV and currently practiced to confine Ebola.
There’s one more element: the needled syringe, the proboscis of the human insect which made it possible to penetrate directly into blood, as a mosquito does, by-passing the acid bath and molecular-parting-out protective metabolism of the digestive system. The visionary sci-fi epic of “Dune” took on drugs in terms of early versions of LSD, as something to put in the mouth (watching in cowboy country, the movie version of "spice" looks a little like “snoose”) rather than the injectables of today.
Our times have addressed consciousness in the most brutal and invasive of ways, from electroshock to solitary confinement to surgery on intimate parts. We have neglected the aesthetic power and lyric savagery of life itself. Somehow it has been reduced to chemically triggered fucking, plastic credit cards and 3D video. Now ebola comes, requiring a brutal response -- shrouded attendants drenched in bleach who only bury the dead because once more we must struggle to find a cure. But we haven’t yet cured HIV and now realize there is a whole family of filoviruses out there, each waiting its turn.
The universal element of this story is, of course, humans. It’s not just the medical dimension of confronting disease, but also defining our response as “fighting a war”, thus leaving refugees and creating stigma. Truth be told, someone is “getting off” on the control, the blaming, the playing at heroics, the secret conviction that it’s related to virtue and that the people with the money are the virtuous ones and therefore justified in not spending it on the infected, because surely it must be their fault somehow. They should pay.
This means that the fruits of war include sexual ownership of the vulnerable, esp. children, and for some tastes, esp. boys, who don’t get pregnant (though they can be infected). Boys can be partly controlled by the hope of someday themselves growing into warriors, as though being a victim were preparation for being anything but a bully.
The motor of this social system is ignorance that there is any other way of organizing a culture, which is why the indigenous and historical contexts are so valuable.
I don’t read much gay literature and haven’t really been very deep into sci-fi since I was a kid -- so long ago that Heinlein was new. But I did read H.G. Wells and understood that he was doing cultural criticism, trying to suggest alternatives or at least thinking about many worlds rising into consciousness as they did in the 19th century. It’s the root of “Star Trek” and all the time travel tales.
“Desire, identity and social role” are characteristics of individuals, but the culture as a whole must be responsible for supporting the survival of individuals, who exist in reciprocity with all other humans plus the other beings and circumstances of the planet. Otherwise, it all collapses. The idea of taking on the predicaments of suffering people everywhere across the planet is pretty daunting, and yet we come up with shelters and food for them. Why can’t we do that for our own boys right here in America?
“Genocide,” the Barrus anthology, is poetic riffs on “desire, identity, and social role”. Metaphor, narrative, and theatrical climax. He could defend it as experience, but that’s dancing too close to bull-fighting with the well-dressed Puritans who live in airport bathroom stalls, passing judgment and gas.
My sci-fi (if you choose to call it that -- some say there’s not enough sci) is feminist, I guess: that of Ursula LeGuin (more than Atwood) because the Pacific archipelago of Puget Sound is a place I know. Her portrait of the cultures is almost stronger than the desire and identity, but Ged wears the monk robe, confronts the wind, and is infected with a small black scuttling thing that could be taken as a disease. He’s a boy, the essence of boy, and finds a niche rather than aspiring to a throne. He relates to both the small clinging companion in his hood and to the dragons that climb the skies as though they were rockets.
“Genocide” was copyrighted in 1988. It is defiantly and erotically obscene and not a chronological narrative, but vividly the product of one haunted mind in a devastating time. The latest work, “Just Before the Cure” probably cannot be copyrighted, though it is composed, written, and filmed mostly in 2015 by a group of boys. It is a pastiche, a jumble, remembered nightmares colliding, the product of argument among boys about things they know, a harangue, a tantrum, and a love story (inevitably). Photos, videos and music smash into bitter surrealism. A lot has happened in the 27 years since Genocide, but not enough. One thing that has happened is that Barrus has been pushed by activism from a “solitary genius” sort of mode into this group performance that is both much older and much newer.