February 28, 2013

Define This: Bugchasing and the Quest to Acquire HIV

by fizzygato

Bugchasing: the quest to acquire HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). That's right, it's a thing! Are you asking, "But why would someone ever want to get HIV?" Read on and find out...

Where Is Bugchasing Prevalent?

So who are these people trying to get HIV? Pretty much anyone.

However, there has been notable prevalence within the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) and BDSM (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism) communities. But why?

Many from the LGBT population, particularly those who have partners or know someone who is HIV positive, want to be able to better relate to loved ones affected by HIV/AIDS. Others believe it is "inevitable" they will get HIV, either from their partner or community, and want to feel "in control" of their life, and would rather choose to get HIV of their own accord. Others, still, may believe it is "the last taboo act to do" or "the most ultimate act of taboo," while others may simply enjoy the thrill of risk.

Although it is arguable that those who bugchase for the "risk" of it are not actually bugchasing, those types of people may not necessarily wish to acquire HIV, but think of it as a thrilling happenstance.

What It Is Not

Bugchasing is the act of pursuing HIV specifically, not AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) or any other STI.

What is the difference between the three?

HIV is best characterized by a CD4+ cell count of less than 200. It is a simple retrovirus.

Meanwhile, AIDS means that you have HIV and two or more opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections are things like staph infections and tuberculosis. In the past, doctors were able to tell which patients had HIV by tuberculosis infections alone. They could look at an X-ray of someone's lungs, see that tuberculosis was present, and question the person's HIV status from there.

Finally, STI is an umbrella term that encompasses HIV and AIDS, as well as a slew of other sexually transmitted infections. They may come in the form of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. Bacteria may be chlamydia or syphilis; fungi may be yeast infections; viruses may be HIV, HPV, and herpes; and parasites may be crabs, to name a few common ones.

It is possible to apply the term "bugchasing" to the act of chasing any STI. However, it is not commonly used in this manner. Primarily, it is the act of chasing HIV.

Political and Greater Significance

These days, the phrase is common, "You don't die of HIV. You die of AIDS" and "HIV is curable" or "HIV is virtually curable."

Politically, it is significant that people are now chasing HIV. It demonstrates the breakdown of medical condition related stigma, yet begs the question, "How taboo and dangerous is HIV-- how radical is it-- if cures/'cures' for it are a commodity?"

Further, bugchasing may be a demonstration of privilege: trusting that you will be able to take care of yourself once you get HIV. After all, bugchasing is not the desire to acquire AIDS. AIDS would occur if HIV were left untreated. Similarly, bugchasing is not suicide. Some who bugchase may be suicidal, but bugchasing is not the pursuit of death or death via sexual interaction. Bugchasing is the act of pursuing HIV, which requires very specific medical treatment, such as anti-retrovirals, to keep it in check and prevent AIDS and death from happening. (There are, however, a few exceptions to this. A very limited population of people may acquire HIV but never experience any of its symptoms, even when they are not on medication.)

Also, while it may be argued that bugchasing is a form of self injury, I disagree. The act in itself is not guaranteed to cause "injury". Also, to consider it "injury" or "potentially injury-inducing" at all is a notion stemming from stigma associated with medical conditions. I also think that if you are chasing HIV, again, that does not mean you are chasing AIDS or death; many bugchasers insist they are not chasing AIDS, but simply HIV. For that reason, if they specifically seek HIV, some help (such as medical treatment to keep HIV viral loads maintained) is necessary, and the individual must take care of oneself in this way, as opposed to being "self-injurious".

Finally, the question is raised: How will radical "species endangerment" activists react? Save HIV? Do not attempt to eliminate it? But at the rate HIV mutates, which is very quickly, the question also arises: Which strain(s) are you saving, and how can you insure that no further mutations occur, or will you let them occur?

In short, bugchasing can be a complicated issue, causing many questions to arise, such as "What greater global health concerns are implicated? How will bugchasing affect the rate of spread of HIV, and will it matter, if HIV is so "curable"?" and creating difficulty and division, in terms of defining the term for each person.