snakeoiled: (waffles)
AIDS/SIA: The "Four-H" Disease

Naming the Disease, pages 32-33:

Unfortunately, the name AIDS was not phonetically adapted outside of the English language and was not linguistically malleable in languages with declension, thus posing problems for those outside the anglophone scientific community. Thus another term seemed preferable for use in Slavic as well as in French or Spanish. In France an analogous acronym, SIDA, an anagram of AIDS, was created, signifying Syndrome d'Immuno-Déficience Acquise (or Syndrome d'Immuno-Dépression Acquise). The Russians adopted the acronym SPID. In China, it appears, the English name gave way by a curious convergence to the ideographic transliteration "ai zi", these two words meaning literally "[disease] spread by love".

A Group at "Racial Risk": The Haitians, page 35:

Some Americans thus accused the Haitins, especially its illegal immigrants into the United States, of importing the new plague from a native setting with disastrous hygienic conditions into a clean and well-policed country. An attitude consonant with traditional epidemiologic teaching, it became in the event a vehicle for scientific and moral bias. Speculations abounded on the germ-bred misery, on the filthy water, on the intestinal and skin parasites, on the alcoholism of the Haitians, on their use of marijuana and all sorts of other privations and deprivations. Two authors went almost so far as to say that the origin of AIDS, or at least its transmission, could be explained by the bloody practices of voodoo.


Until the beginning of the 1908s Port-au-Prince was a high point for "sexual tourism", a center for bordellos, some of them welcoming pedophiles. American and European gays came in droves. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that among them there were carriers of the AIDS virus. Until 1984 practically all the AIDS patients tallied in Haiti were inhabitants of the tourist areas. If the disease was endemic on the island, why were there no patients in the Dominican Republic?
snakeoiled: (waffles)
Papyrus, Serpents, and Loincloths: The Ancients and the Condom

Pages 22-23:

[The] commitment to small families was not a minor footnote in the history of the Roman Empire. It was a contributing factor to its fall. Because the small-family philosophy was so widespread, by the first century CE the population of free Roman citizens had plummeted, making it difficult to fill the ranks of the huge army and to provide the infrastructure necessary to maintain history's largest empire. In fact, Augustus was so worried about the common practice of "family limitation" that he demanded the Senate pass legislation making any kind of contraception illegal. Roman literature, however, makes it clear that in spite of the heavy penalty for breaking this law, Romans remained dedicated to small-family size.

Page 27:

One of the many odd Roman condoms was also purported to have had magcal qualities that protected the users from pregnancy and evil spirits. Magic or not, it was definitely unique not only for being a joint effort but also because of the material it was fashioned from. To make the magic condom, the woman was directed to collect a large handful of fur from a she-mule's mane. As a sort of foreplay, the man and the woman hand-wove a furry condom and then she helped him put it on.

The origins of this she-mule-hair condom have been lost to time, but it leaves the modern reader wondering which would be the greatest obstacle to enjoyment and safety: the possible leakage or the incredible itch. Maybe that was the magic ... managing to have sex wearing the strange contraption.
snakeoiled: (waffles)
Epidemiologic Research in America

The First Etiologic Hypothoses, page 16:

Given the difficulty conceding how the immune system could be exhausted by infectious agents, G. Shearer, Steve Witkin, and other physicians thought of sperm, which, instilled into the rectum, might act as a "natural" immuno-suppressant. Experiments were conducted to pursue the idea, but here, too, a historical objection immediately comes to mind. If true, why was this effect not noticed earlier?

In Search of "Patient Zero", pages 18-19:

David Auerbach, William Darrow, and other investigators at the Centers for Disease Control discovered that nine out of thirteen homosexual patients they questioned in Los Angeles and Orange counties, out of a total of ninetten tallied, formed a sort of sexual network. Over the last five years each of these nine patients had had sex with at least one other member of the group. In most cases their sexual relations went back to the period before the partner's symptoms had appeared. Hence apparently healthy individuals could transmit the disease. A history of relations was established between members of the California network and a similar group in New York. At the center of this diagram of homosexual contacts was a young man, Gaetan Dugas. He was nicknamed "Patient Zero".

Dugas, an Air Canada flight attendant, was both an active and receptive homosexual. Directly or indirectly through intermediate contacts, he had infected at least forty of the 248 American patients diagnosed before April 1982. He was found to have been a sexual partner of nine of the nineteen first Los Angeles cases, twenty-two of the New York patients, and nine cases in eight other cities (Miami, Chicago, etc.). As an airline steward, Dugas, on vacation, could fly free. A great traveler, handsome and generous with his charms, he had sown the disease and death all along his route, at the rate of about 250 partners per year. The investigators confirmed to their own horror that he had been contagious before experiencing the slightest symptom. According to their analysis, the incubation period for this new disease exceeded ten months.


Afflicted in June 1980 with Kaposi's sarcoma, identified in November 1982 as a carrier and warned of the risk he could pose for his partners, Dugas refused to change his lifestyle. Until his death on March 30, 1984, at the age of thirty-two, he carried on his sex life with no protective measures. Sometimes he informed his partners, but only after the act. He had thus adopted the habit of saying to them, "I've got gay cancer; I'm going to die, and so are you." A kind of deaf rage against fate had seized him, a desire for vengeance. In a medical interview, he had shamelessly declared, "I've got it; they can get it too." Every historian of disease knows that such an attitude of vengeance, or at least of recklessness, had contributed in other times to the spread of tuberculosis and syphilis.


[A]lmost all politically and socially responsible parties had reacted at first with incredulity. They simply hoped the disease was not contagious. Reluctantly, in finally admitting its contagiousness they found it inconceivable that such a strange disorder was not also foreign, an invader from beyond. Who had introduced it to the United States, at what point in time, and from what quarter? Answers could be found which at first seemed satisfactory enough, but which later came to seem insufficient and arbitrary.

Gaetan Dugas, a French-Canadian, was not an American citizen, which made him a convenient scapegoat. But there was no plausible reason to say that the disease had come from Canada. If, at the beginning of the epidemic, Dugas was an outstanding "promoter" of the contagion, that still did not prove that he should have functione effectively as "Patient Zero" in the strong sense of the term. He had certainly imparted the fatal agent to a goodly number of his American partners, but in no way did that exclude the possibility that he had received it from an American himself. It is worth nothing that some of his partners manifested the symptoms of AIDS before he did.
snakeoiled: (masculinity/femininity)
The Birds and the Bees - Within Genders, Without Genders, Across Genders

Pages 36-37:

The traditional view of the animal kingdom -- what one might call the Noah's ark view -- is that biology revolves around two sexes, male and female, with one of each to a pair. The range of genders and sexualities actually found in the animal world, however, is considerably richer than this. Animals with females that become males, animals with no males at all, animals that are both male and female simultaneously, animals where males resemble females, animals where females court other females and males court other males -- Noah's ark was never quite like this! Homosexuality represents but one of a wide variety of alternative sexualities and genders. Many people are familiar with transvestism or transsexuality only in humans, yet similar phenomena are also found in the animal kingdom.


Many animals lives without two distinct genders, or with multiple genders. In hermaphrodite species, for instance, all individuals are both male and female simultaneously, and hence there are not really two separate sexes; in parthenogenetic species, all individuals are female and they reproduce by virgin birth. A number of other phenomena in the animal kingdom -- for which we will use the cover term transgender -- involve the crossing or traversing of exisiting gender categories: for example, transvestism (imitating the opposite sex, either behaviorally, visually, or chemically), transsexuality (physically becoming the opposite sex), and intersexuality (combining physical characteristics of both sexes).

Page 39:

A good example of the difference between behavioral transvestism and homosexuality is in the Bighorn Sheep. In this species, males and females lead almost entirely separate lives: they live in sex-segregated herds for most of the year and come together for only a few short months during the breeding season. Among males, homosexual mounting is common, while females do not generally permit themselves to be mounted by males except when they are in heat (estrus). A small percentage of males, however, are behavioral transvestites: they remain in the female herds year-round and also mimic female behavioral patterns. Significantly, such males also generally refuse to allow other males to mount them, just the way females do. Thus, among Bighorn Sheep, being mounted by a male is typically "masculine" activity, while refusal of such mounting is a typically "feminine" behavior. Males who mimic females specifically avoid homosexuality. This is the exact opposite of the stereotypical view of male homosexuality, which is often considered to be a case of males "imitating" females. It is also a striking reminder of how important it is not to be misled by our preconceptions about human homosexuality when looking at animals.
snakeoiled: (waffles)
Many of the reviews on Goodreads claim this is one of the poorer Donald Strachey mysteries, and it's easy to see why. Aside from the first chapter -- which is par for the course for Stevenson, and probably one of the funniest things I've read in a long, long time -- it's slow to get interesting, and a little less witty than the others that I've read, probably because the reader spends less time inside Strachey's head listening to his inner dialogue than s/he does listening to him actually converse with other people, during which conversations he has to censor his sarcastic inner cynic.

Still, the first chapter is gold, and I want to lock Dale and Timothy in a room together and watch them snipe at each other until the end of time, or at least until one of them dies. It would provide hours and hours of priceless entertainment. But since I can't lock them up like lab rats and observe them for hours at a time, quotes from the first chapter will have to do.

You could cut my heart out, the way you did the last time, and plead temporarily asinine. )
snakeoiled: (morning)
I'm trying to come up with a review for Richard Stevenson's Death Trick that isn't just "good book; rife with sarcastic, satirical humour". In the meantime, I'd like to share five of my favourite humorous moments from the book.

Are we still allowed to make Bette Davis jokes, or have they become politically incorrect? )
snakeoiled: (masculinity/femininity)
This review was initially posted on Goodreads. There, I have the book tagged "queer"; I was seriously tempted to create another tag just for this book: "queer but not that queer", because to me, labelling something as queer indicates that it's fully queer-friendly -- to the entire queer community, not just some small subset of that community. This book is not remotely queer-friendly, despite its place in the M/M genre. Here's why.

Catch Me If You Can (Romano and Albright #1) by L.B. Gregg
Rating: 1/5

(This review is 1) long, and 2) may contain spoilers, although I have done my best to avoid them.)

I initially liked this book. I did. I liked it a lot; it's tremendously funny, and the characters are extremely well drawn. But it also gnawed at me, and I spent most of the book trying to justify what struck me as borderline transphobic content -- until I reached the climax of the mystery, and it went from borderline to blatantly transphobic.

I have no problem with portraying anyone, transgender (henceforth "trans*") or not, as an asshole. I have no problem with flawed characters. I have a big problem with making fun of a person's trans* status, and I have a problem when not just one, or two, but all the cisgendered (henceforth "cis") characters regard the trans* person's identity as a "lie", as some sort of trickery or deceit. I have a big problem with the cis characters thinking they have the right to freely discuss the shape of the trans* person's genitals just because they happen to know about that person's trans* status. I have a big problem with using the shape of a person's genitals as a form of mockery. I have a big problem with passages like this:

"Pretending to [redacted to prevent spoilers] was pretty smart."

"Pretending to be a girl was even smarter," Poppy added.

"She fooled me. Shit she fooled everyone." I never questioned Rachel, even when I knew the truth about her... condition. Dr. Bronner had certainly earned his five thousand dollars.


I had to know. I'm sure everyone was wondering the same thing, so I came right out and asked. "Did you... uhm... see her... parts?"

This book isn't just disrespectful to trans* identity. It's extremely hurtful. It reinforces negative stereotypes, reinforces the idea that cis people somehow have the right to know what's between another person's legs or whether their birth certificate matches their current legal identification -- as though cis people somehow have the right to other people's deeply personal information, the right poke and prod and jab at whatever doesn't match up to society's idea of "normal". And it's depressing, because it's yet another example of LGBT and allied discrimination against members of the LGBT community. It's not historical fiction; it's contemporary fiction, set sometime in the past three years (as dated by the reference to Adam Lambert), and it's long past time that such vitriolic mockery of the trans* community should be deemed acceptable by any part of our culture -- not by the mainstream community, and definitely not by the LGBT/allied community.

I don't believe the author is consciously transphobic, or intended to condone transphobic behaviour. I think the author is probably uneducated when it comes to trans* issues, as evidenced by the use of the word "hermaphrodite" (an outdated term for intersex people that is no longer used due to its negative connotation) -- and by the fact that the trans* person actually used this word to describe herself, which struck me as highly unrealistic and raised the first warning flags in my head.

I really, really wanted to like this book. The writing is good, the story is good, the characters are entertaining -- but the portrayal of the trans* character's transition as nothing more than a disgusting sham made me sick. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend a book that I believe belittles the lives of so many people. All its merits aside -- and its merits are many -- I feel compelled to give it the lowest rating possible.
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