Gay Men & Other Peoples’ Plague

My new kitten is utterly adorable, and I bet she tastes delicious, too. Fixie’s bright enough to play fetch, sharp enough to catch onto the tricks I use to get her out of my bedroom, and has such a lively character that it would probably take minimal seasoning to turn her into a zesty snack or enchanting meal.

While I have no insatiable taste for cat, especially one I’ve already named, I’ve never felt most Americans’ nausea at the idea of eating what our culture has classified as pets. I’ve always assumed if I visited a country where a dog or cat was on a menu, I would order them if only to see if everything really tastes like chicken.

The coronavirus scare has heightened the sense of superiority Americans have inherited because the dead animal flesh we consume comes from pigs and cows rather than cats or hamsters. Social media and traditional outlets have looped videos of Asians dining on bat wings and ox penises, and a consensus has developed that a potential plague can be traced to Chinese taste buds.

There may indeed be immediate health risks to human beings eating certain animals, reptiles or insects, but that determination should not be made by the average citizen of a country where folks cook up squirrels, armadillos, and other roadkill; or where every menu in every restaurant is required to remind diners about the risks of eating raw or undercooked meat and eggs.

Our traditional perceptions of native Chinese cuisine make it hard to discern panic from prejudice, but much of the reaction I’ve seen about the coronavirus has been undoubtedly bigoted. There’s a desperation to make sure it remains exclusively a Chinese problem and a growing resentment that it appears to be too late for that.

Liberty-loving patriots have cheered the quarantining of a city with a population twenty-two times larger than Atlanta, and have indicated an openness to whatever is necessary to assure the illness is contained. Sadly, the mob rising in defense of American health includes many members of the demographic most recently threatened with indiscriminate quarantine in the United States.

As with the residents of Wuhan, China, it was gay men’s behavior and (sexual) appetites that were blamed for our own health crisis in the early ’80s. The handful of deaths traced to the coronavirus are unfortunate, but thus far are nowhere near as alarming as the expected 100 percent fatality rate AIDS maintained for a decade-and-a-half.

Both contemporaneously and as a tenet of LGBTQ history, we shame American society for the paranoia and heartlessness with which it confronted a new virus. We demand a retroactive empathy that apparently does not come naturally to many of us when facing another people’ plague.

It’s unclear whether this strain of coronavirus will follow the course of SARS and swine flu, establish a permanent worldwide presence similar to HIV/AIDS or unleash an epidemic of instantaneous transmission, suffering, and death. It’s understandable for folks to root against the last two possibilities, and for health officials to take steps to achieve the first.

However, gay men specifically – and queer folks and minorities, in general – must always be leery of adopting mindsets and endorsing tactics that were once used to dehumanize us simply because our lives and dignity aren’t on the menu this time.