Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How I actually feel about gearfetish.com's site maintenance, at last

As of this writing, the following is the page visible on gearfetish.com, as the site is currently down. [Update: As of 20:45 UTC, the site is back up, and the notice below is no longer visible. However, the commentary here still applies. / 02:00 UTC, the donation link is now visible on the main page; like I say at the bottom of this post, you should feel free to help out if you can.]

Why is GearFetish.com not online?

First of all, you are probably wondering if this is legit. Yes, this is Chris...owner and operator of GearFetish.com since April 2002 for over a 11 years now.

A simple question that has quite an in depth response. The simple answer is due to financial constraints.

Financial constraints have plagued myself and GearFetish.com (GF Multimedia) for the past four years. These financial constraints are a direct result of over a year of ownership rights disagreement of GF with my former partner of 10 years. As a result of the disagreement, a lawsuit was filed in 2009 which then proceeded to take nearly two years to reach closure. The reasoning behind my ex-partner dragging the lawsuit out was a failed attempt at trying to financially and emotionally drain myself my making numerous false claims. Such false claims required response during the discovery process. Unfortunately, any claims, true or false, are not admissible in court during the discovery process. If they were, he would have lost by a land slide due to the outrageous nature of the falsified claims. As much as most would like to know the details surrounding the situation, I requested that the settlement agreement submitted as a consent order to court be kept confidential. Therefore, I, myself can not breach that agreement.

As you might can imagine, the costs to protect GearFetish.com have come at a very high price. Looking back....perhaps it all has come at too high of a price. The other option to fighting to preserve GF would have been simply to just have given it away to my ex-partner. If that had been the case, GF would had been sold to the highest bidder. That highest bidder would have had to offer in the high six figure range or greater. It's highly unlikely that would have ever happened. At some point, GF would have been taken offline once word was out that I, myself, were no longer operating GF.

That brings GearFetish.com to where it is today. The settlement agreement was of a monetary nature to be paid out over the course of 24 months. There are now only 9 months remaining. I can't give an exact figure, but the total sum nearly equals the average amount that an American would make in almost one year. Needless to say, I have suffered tremendously through this whole experience that has lasted well over five years. If the remaining amount is not paid as agreed, the consequences are to be executed by the court. You can use your imagination on the rest of that.


What is to become of GearFetish.com now?

This question can only be answered by you; the members of GF. When I checked this morning (June 12th), there were over 23,000 active members that had visited in the past 30 days. If each and every one of these active members were to just donate $1.50USD, the remaining balance of the settlement agreement would be met and be a thing of the past. It would be a burden that GearFetish.com and myself would no longer have to face after all these years of trying to preserve this online community. Let's be honest, at best, I would be surprised if 20% would actually step forward to make a donation to help save GF's future. If that were to be the case, the more likely figure of 20% would have to donate $6.50 each to bring this dark chapter to closure.


Chris, you've made promises about improving GF and have consistently failed. Why should we, as members of GF, care to help you?

You're right. I have. Guilty. I have carried the flag for GF for over 11 years. From the first day I put GF online back in 2002, it has since financially cost me. I never intended GF to be treated as a business. It was a past-time to bring the website back and reunite all those that once rallied around GF in the mid-1990s. It has never, truly, been a business that produced any measurable profit. Has GF provided me with a salary? Yes, and I make half of what I made 11 years ago which was a modest salary at that time. Doesn't your job provide you with a salary? Sure it does. However, does your job require you to endure thousands and thousands of dollars of legal expenses, trolling through years of documents/records to defend your arguments and positions, loss of personal assets and the emotional upset of not knowing your future for years on end? Most likely not. I don't know of anyone in their right might that would work to endure what I have for the so little amount of a salary.


Moving on....

I need your help! GearFetish.com needs your help right now!!! Without it, this is most likely the end of 11 years of GF running constantly, non-stop. The only way GF will survive this period in its history is with your financial contribution. Will you please donate what you can afford. When you donate, please keep in mind that others may choose to not donate. For that, some will have to carry the weight of others. When you reach the donation page, PLEASE enter your GF Member Name so I know who donated what to save GearFetish.com.

It's your decission on what is to become of GearFetish.com. Please make a donation this very moment. PayPal is our best option in receiving a donation. You do not have to have a PayPal account. Simply click on "continue" under the section "Do not have a PayPal Account?". From there, you can checkout using a major credit card.

Any amount you can donate is not only greatly appreciated, but will help me keep GearFetish.com running.

I am presently working to restore GearFetish.com and should hopefully have services restored within the next 12 hours. Presently, this page is running on an Amazon hosted server. I will continue to post updates on the progress of restoring the original GearFetish.com web services.

Thanks,

Chris

I've been very careful to couch my opinions about gearfetish.com in forward-looking optimism, just as I did last August after the introduction of the lower-cost "Sponsor" membership. I'm a well known critic of both Recon and FetLife for representing only the gross extremes of social interaction — in the former case, a cruisy, dank environment rife with safety risks and naïve folks; in the latter, intentionally crippled search capabilities, making it difficult to make new, nearby friends having similar interests, and funneling users into difficult-to-navigate discussion groups that go off on tangents all the time.

So, for a long time, I still favored gearfetish.com because it was a truly friendly place, with most people not afraid to talk about their interests openly and honestly. Flawed as it was, it was a place where I could get in touch with people I understood, and who understood me.

Apparently, not anymore... so I'll let my long-stifled opinions go public.

I'm angry, and not because the site is offline. I'm angry because these same financial issues mentioned above (often cited in conjunction with the operational cost of running the site) could have been fixed, years ago. Several times since the mid-2000s, I offered tips and plans describing how the site's operational costs could be reduced by a factor of 10 or more — to the point that today, it wouldn't cost many hundreds of dollars for dedicated co-location, plus dollar and time costs of hardware maintenance. In today's money, it could cost as little as $50 or less per month to maintain the site's operations, thanks to the proliferation of virtual machine services.

My offers of assistance went much farther than simple cost reduction; I offered technical (and personal!) help to degrees I've never offered to anyone else, and without ever wanting a cent in return. I certainly wasn't the only one offering, either. Every time, these offers to assist with the site went into a black hole, rarely even acknowledged with a reply.

Money only goes so far, and I fear that simply "throwing money at the problem" here will suffer the same fate of the site simply treading water with decade-old concepts and technology. If GF is to survive, it's going to take willingness to accept that the whole site needs an overhaul, the concepts need updating, and the necessary work requires the help of technically proficient, optimistic users who are openly willing to work for free.

Pretending that the only issue all along has been money is how the site got into this state in the first place. Continuing that façade won't help anything at all, and it will just get the site's devoted community further frustrated and lost in the mess. 

(Postscript: Full disclosure, I did donate money to Chris to help with the current situation, and you should absolutely feel free to do so too. However, I'd really like to see a change, not just in attitude, but in action, to show that there's a real desire to keep it going rather than just limping along.)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The underworld of non-consensual, unsafe sex... and the actual people who support it

I seem to post to this blog primarily when I'm highly emotional, particularly when I'm frustrated with current events. This time around, I want to channel my frustration to better ends. Three thousand, two hundred seventy-five ends, to be specific.

[Edit 4-Dec-2012: I would like to make clear that while the acts described here are much more visible in the gay male community, they are certainly not confined to the gay male community. I've used nonspecific pronouns in a lot of the original post because of this aspect, even though I'm specifically calling out an informal organization of gay men. Further, this behavior can lead to transmission of more than just HIV, even though that was the original focus of this post.]

[Edit 5-Dec-2012: There is a discussion of this post with good, related insight on FetLife right now.]

December 1 is World AIDS Day, a time to raise awareness of the continuing risk of HIV infection, and awareness of the lifelong problems experienced by those who live with HIV/AIDS. This year, I wish to introduce you to one of today's most powerful threats to the successes of HIV prevention and research over more than three decades. Right now, as I type this, there is an interconnected, growing network of thousands of people who glorify unsafe sex, and on top of that, support tricking unsuspecting partners into barebacking.

Now, I must include a critical caveat: I am not judgmental of people who privately choose to engage in mutually consensual, less safe sexual practices, regardless of the reason. (My partner and I do this some of the time with each other, but never with anyone else.) I fully support personal free will, that one's body is his/her own to use as desired. I have quite a few friends who are HIV-positive, some who contracted it in the early years of AIDS itself, but it is not my place to judge them — rather, it is my duty as their friend to support them, in their lifelong battles to cope with the disease. It's continuing to live and fight for another day.

Like most of my posts, an emotional event triggered this outpouring. Last month, a good friend of mine, whom I'll call "Paul" to protect his identity (as this is a very personal story), seroconverted. He tested positive for HIV for the first time. Like most of us who have had multiple sexual partners over shorter time spans, Paul got tested regularly. He always used condoms for penetrative sex over the last ten years, and never engaged in oral sex with untrustworthy partners, or when blatant risk factors (e.g., open sores on mucosal membranes) were present. He was, for all purposes, a truly intentioned safer-sex practitioner. Being infected was one of those things that really should not have happened... but it did, and here's how:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gearfetish.com's change of heart: upshifting or going in reverse?

This is going to be a longish post, so be prepared. Let me start with this:

Please stop asking for my opinion on the membership changes implemented on gearfetish.com. I may be the site's "grand-daddy", but it has not been my website for over a decade now, and it's not my choice what to do with it. I'll put my opinions here and let this be the final say for what I think of the situation. But first, let me give you...

...A Little History

Those of you who have known me a long time may remember that I created a tiny community website back in the late 1990s, starting in my personal account at the University of Florida, then later getting its own domain name, gearfetish.com. It didn't look anything like the incarnation of the site today. Its "personals" section was a hand-maintained plaintext database, that used the old Unix tool "m4" to perform searches, and images were grossly JPEG-overcompressed to save on transfer time. Bandwidth and computing power were expensive at that time. A few very generous people donated money towards keeping the site going, which started out running off of an ISDN(!) line in my house. Later, it moved to connect directly to the ISP where I worked at the time, and the compression factor on images was made less dramatic.

But in 2000, thanks to what I now understand to be a common identity crisis in kink circles, I shuttered the site completely in a fit of self-denial. In 2001, I was approached by an enthusiastic young guy, right about my own age, who wanted to reinvent and revitalize the site, as there really were no social meeting places for guys into gear fetishism at the time. This was the seed for a new generation.

I handed over the domain name to the man you now know mostly as just "Chris", and he reopened the site with a new, expanded (and for the time, incredibly spiffy) interface in 2002. I wasn't paid for the domain; I simply wanted the community to be able to grow again. My only real request was that a free access level, even if trimmed of features, remain open to make it possible for those still curious or exploring their interests to get in touch with similar people.

For many years my personal identity crises continued, to the point that I got in arguing matches with Chris over, frankly, stupid and petty things — I was in my 20s and sexually frustrated; what do you expect? A few times, I even pulled down my alter ego's identity from every kink website for six-to-eight month periods. That wasn't a good time in my life; it took several more years for me, and my partner, to accept my self-identity and be comfortable with it.

...Treading Water

But back to GF. Since about 2005-2006, the site has been in a period of stagnation. Not many new changes happened; "event calendars" went months out of date; site elements became incompatible with newer Web browsers; and announcements of planned developments slid further and further out until they vanished altogether. The easy accusation would be that Chris and his partner at the time were simply milking the site for subscription cash and letting gearfetish.com run on life support.

That's not the reality of the situation, though. From that period through today, a lot of personal things happened behind the scenes that made life very difficult for Chris, and put a lot of burden on the friends he brought in to help maintain the site (most notably the man you know as "Middleagechaser", who can be credited with keeping Chris's sanity together during these recent years). I know only too well how stressful maintaining an online community is. Even after abandoning GF, I had the, um, pleasure of being administrator of two unrelated communities as personal favors to friends. It's a tough thing to do on a mostly-volunteer basis.

(Yes, I know non-public details about many of the personal events which I mentioned above, but please stop asking me to gossip. I refuse to discuss these details with anyone; they are personal and private. No matter our past bickering, I still consider Chris to be a good friend, and I refuse to put his life under more strain. If anything, what I do know has made my heart go out to him even more.)

...And Along Came Recon (and others)

Surely sensing an opportunity, Recon appeared on the scene during the early 2000s, the years of the new GF's uncertainty. I'm certainly not silent when it comes to my dislike of that site's very blatant money-grab and extraordinary restrictiveness when it comes to user functionality. There's a hard limit per day of profile views which seems to fluctuate with the seasons, and repetitive nagging to subscribe for what amounts to a very limited set of added features. It feels, for lack of a better word, sleazy; every time the site's owners show up at public events, I feel like it exists solely to further its own image, not its community.

Others have popped up in the meantime, as well, many with a different perspective or focus: RubberZone (an evolution of the much older "Rubber Lovers' Contact List") for what its name obviously implies; and more recently FetLife which is ostensibly extremely focused on community building, to the exclusion of being able to find similar people by any attribute. There are many others, of course.

I've even been asked why I don't personally start up a competing website again now that bandwidth and hosting are so cheap. I'll admit that I have been tempted, a couple times. While I have the technical expertise to do so, I don't feel that I have the necessary personal conviction to see it through. Like I said above, it takes a lot of effort and stress to keep an online community going, and I would need a whole lot of external help to make it happen. I don't see the potential of enough collaborative effort coming together to sustain such a venture, and all in all, the last thing I want to do is fracture an existing community further.

...But the Times, They Are A-Changin'

This past Sunday, Chris finally posted an announcement to the site members, which is reproduced here (parts abridged for brevity):
For nearly 11 years since its resurrection in 2002, GearFetish.com has operated continuously providing a free service to this truly unique community that encompasses the globe. While this website started out as a hobby, it quickly grew into something much larger. Over time as it has grown, various concerns have arose which created situations of liability and prevented its proper development. [...]
I know there are members that have left the website out of frustration. I know there are some very displeased members still here. My hands were tied and not in any pleasurable manor [sic]. I can't convey to you in simple terms what has been endured. I dare not presume my situation was worse than anyone else's, but for myself, it has been several life-times of consequences that one person should not have to encounter. For what it's worth and even though the situation was undeserved, I offer my sincere apologies and want to work towards correcting and rebuilding this once great online community.
This is a very pivotal moment for GF. It's a moment that will be shaped by its community.
A website such as GF, as simple as it may seem, just can't simply operate and function on what is to be expected for nothing. As the adage goes: Anything worth having is going to cost something. If it was easy to do, then everyone would be doing it.
GF can no longer operate under the spirit of goodwill as it has for the past decade. To protect GF's future and to provide for its own needs and establishment, it can no longer be operated as a part-time hobby, but operated as a business. By operating as a business, the GF Community can come to expect that a satisfactory level of service and features are maintained. [...]
With your support and with the past legality issues resolved, I can now begin devoting all my time on GF once again. Your financial support of GF is my encouragement to see this website to be the greatest once again.
I've carried this website on multiple levels....financially, legal liability and perhaps a fault of my own, on an emotional and passionate level for over a decade; and now I need to see your support. Help me make GF great once again, so it can continue for another decade!
Thank you for your consideration,
Chris@GF
I fully understand the need to re-envision GF as a business in order for it to survive. In fact, I'd go a step further and say that the community's viability hinges on whether the site can compensate the few people behind the scenes, to put in the needed effort to expand and modernize. Once the initial negative reaction shakes out — it's natural for people to dislike changes of any kind — we'll all know whether this will work out in the longer term.

In short, this change is a very good thing, and has the potential to move the site dramatically forwards.

...What Comes Next?

Who knows yet? I'm reserving comment on the specific features allocated to the access levels as they are defined today (Basic, Sponsor, Supporter), as I suspect that over time, the feature lists will be tweaked a bit to accommodate observed usage patterns. As long as Basic exists as the first stepping stone into the community, the spirit of my original request, so many years ago, remains fulfilled.

In the past, several community members have offered to volunteer their technical knowledge to help relieve some of the personal burden of running the site — through IT services, or help with specific subsystems (yeah, we all know the chat system needs a rework...). Perhaps, now that GF is preparing to move into its next phase of existence, and it is not locked in limbo, some of those offers of help will bear fruit in the form of improved features and more responsiveness to site problems.

Chris's policy change seems like the most appropriate way to revitalize GF overall, and I'm looking forward to what the next generation of the site brings us. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DON'T PLAY ALONE!

It's been almost a year since I last wrote on this blog, probably almost as long since I've kept up with others' blog posts. But someone called to my attention that Matt aka "Mad Scientist" of Kink Engineering, an up-and-coming business that makes amazing fetishwear, died in late May of solo play gone wrong: using a vacbed alone.

My reaction: "Fuck! Not again."

It was only two years and just under two months after another great artisan of latex and gear, James H. aka "Bodisama", passed away from self breath play. The total count of my own friends and acquaintances who have died from solo play accidents in the last 15 years is more than twenty. Other friends have enumerated their own lists of known casualties from this practice and posted about it before. It isn't like this is an unknown menace.

I come from a place of trying it myself a couple times, years ago. The second time, I came within seconds of passing out, which would have meant certain death. So it wasn't worth it. Sure, I was depressed too, and could have let go right then. I escaped from the situation, pulled myself together, and vowed never to do that again.

Please, simply don't play alone. If restraint, breath control, or inhalants float your boat, get yourself out there and find trustworthy friends, get to know people in the community. If you want to try doing things that could kill you on the spot (and that includes plenty of types of bondage that don't directly involve controlling air), get someone else to help and monitor the situation. There's no easy way to say this: if you play like this alone, someday, you will lose the battle with fate too.

And I really don't want to lose yet another friend that way.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why the Google Profiles (or any) "Real Name" Policy is Important to Me


I'm going to mention some mature and highly personal topics in this post, along with a splash of adult language (though nowhere near the colorful levels of Stilgherrian). If that offends you, the close button is at the top of your browser window; use it now.

Are you sitting down? Good. It's nice to meet you.
  • My name is Todd Vierling. I'm 35 and I live in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. I grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and I was adopted as a child. My house is an utter mess, to the point of being unhealthy in parts, and I have a very difficult time keeping it together; my car is sometimes worse.
  • My e-mail address is tv@duh.org. I've owned the duh.org domain name spottily since 1994, and continuously since 1995. My phone number (well, one of them, anyway) is +1-404-939-4327.
  • I'm unusually nerdy, and really dislike talking about it, because I started programming computers when I was just six years old. I progressed to advanced languages such as C by the time I was 11. I hacked my way into telephone networks and circuit-switched data networks in the 1980s, and was followed around by three-letter US government agencies for a while as a result. (It turned out that I'm mostly harmless.) I was involved in the NetBSD project for a little over ten years.
  • I'm gay, and have been out of the closet to varying degrees since I was 17. I have been involved in LGBT political activism on and off for some time, including running the PR blitz that brought international attention to the illegal police raid on the Atlanta Eagle bar, eventually resulting in significant concessions of power by the department. (Yet I still believe that most police officers have a damned tough job and work hard at it.) I have been with my partner for 15 years, even though we cannot get married where we live.
  • In 2001, I was clinically diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism that is related to AD/HD, which likely played a key role in me being unable to complete college successfully. I dropped out of college after a freshman year of almost entirely F-grades, even though I was actually on a possible career path to something much bigger than myself.
  • I was hit so hard financially during the dot-com bust that my debt spiraled out of control, leading me to start the process of filing for bankruptcy today. (A shout-out to the predatory creditors who milked me for 39%+ interest for eight-plus years and are now suing me on top of it: you'll be served with official filings soon enough.)
  • I have unusual sexual interests involving protective outerwear as a fetish. Like some people find skimpy bathing suits and lingerie sexy, I believe a man in sport motorcycling regalia is hot. (Ewww, icky!) I founded a community [NSFW] to help others with similar interests cope with, and even celebrate, their unique differences, which led to several people — myself included — coming back from the brink of suicide. That same site today has as members some very famous people under protective pseudonyms, some of whom I actually know, but I'm never going to tell who they are; that's not my choice to make.
  • I'm a textbook Jungian introvert, and normally quite modest of my own intellect and achievements. It took a hell of a lot of emotional effort to splay open my identity here, and I'm getting chills just proofreading this section. Not even the most extreme extrovert would voluntarily reveal this much to just anyone.
  • I've cross-posted this to both of my blogs: the one that always bore my real name, and the one traditionally associated with my adult-content pseudonym, "guyn2gear" [NSFW]. Thus I've voluntarily connected all the dots necessary to find out everything interesting, scandalous, or just plain dull about me, with very little effort.
  • Even after reading all this, you still don't know the "real" me. Everyone has complex facets to personality that go far beyond bland data bullet-points, and everyone holds a little something back from certain audiences for perfectly valid reasons.
That's a lot of information to take in. Would anyone else go to the same lengths as this to describe oneself to a single person, a single corporation, or the world? Would anyone willingly paint their full, real name onto aspects of life that are as personal as some of the points described here? Regardless, this is me, il buono, il brutto, il cattivo.

In spite of revealing all this information, I'm still vehemently in favor of allowing people to socialize under any name. I will never forget the times in my life when pseudonymity shielded me from real-world hate and violence, allowing me to express myself freely. As the real world is not yet a completely open and accepting vision of utopia, I would be a closed-minded hypocrite to deny that same shield from others, just as advocates of disallowing pseudonyms are closed-minded.

In spite of revealing all this information, I still believe that those of you who think that using real names will make people more open and social are horrifyingly deluded. Your idealistic vision of "real" interaction through real names isn't just nonsense; it's making online socialization more dangerous for everyone by putting them at risk of real-world prejudicial action.

I virtually vivisected my own life to demonstrate just how deeply real life could be associated with a real name. I am fortunate and privileged enough to be able to do this, and unlike some even-more-privileged corporate executives, I fully recognize this fact: I am smart enough to hold a decent job without my bedroom interests holding me back, and I'm tech- and law-savvy enough to protect my financial and other personal information online. However, most people are not so lucky.

Humans are social creatures. We seek out others who are similar to us, and tend to talk about those similar interests. Where the interests are not part of the mainstream, we tend to talk more quietly and to a more focused group of people, sometimes behind a mask of tweaked, or even false, identity. Everyone "hides" a little part of self-expression when using a real name, and reveals more personal details when afforded protection from identification.

As Oscar Wilde put it more than a hundred years ago: Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.¹

Search engines that aggregate data to be available at fingertips didn't exist then... but today anyone can be a quiet stalker without ever being seen under any name. Government-mandated, much less corporate-mandated, identification didn't exist then... but today anyone can be subjected to threats (both verbal and physical) just through a few keystrokes and mouse-clicks. Social mores were far more conservative then... but hate-filled prejudice is alive and well, arguably as violent as ever before, in the real world.

By this point, it should be crystal clear why forcing everybody to use their real names online, whether under the banner of so-called social networking, or in any other service, is nothing at all like reality: it is demanding provable identification in spheres of interaction where it would not be required in the real world. I hate the term "slippery slope", but a mudslide is about to start, and pissing on the ground isn't going to dry it out.

I know — no joke — hundreds of people solely under pseudonyms or first names, who I trust to be good and caring individuals. I've been the sympathetic shoulder for dozens of them in their times of crisis, when fundamental parts of their identities threatened to harm their livelihoods or even their physical safety. I know through example after example that everyone has a part of self-identity that could put them at risk if that part were publicly revealed.

It isn't "social" if people are afraid to socialize freely. I'd much rather be at a fun party where people express their true selves (even if I'm the odd looking, sorta sulky one alone in the corner) than be at a dinner party where pretentious dicks and prissy bitches make endless small talk about nothing at all. At that point it becomes professional networking, at best, and LinkedIn has cornered the market on that... Actually, come to think of it, seeing post after post of animated GIFs, pictures of cats and infants in weird poses, and incessant giddy talk about the latest bit of random technology sure feels like that sterile dinner party to me. Screw that — turn on the music and make me a Long Island iced tea.

"Social" without socializing is not just exclusionary; it's boring as shit. And to those who are promoting the proven-false notion that "real names" improve conversation, such as the people behind Facebook and Google+ ... it's your fault.

Viva le nym!²

¹ Thank you to Joost for reminding me of this apropos quote, and for kicking off the "Why the Real Name Policy is Important to Me" chain of posts.

² Please pardon the horribly corrupted French.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

AIDS denialism kills, period.

[Update, May 3: Apparently someone decided to send used bathroom tissue in the mail to my house, just sitting folded up in a plain envelope. In case you didn't know, mailing biological samples without proper containment is a felony violation of the Mailable Dangerous Goods regulations. We burned the letter in effigy, but I figured that the person in Florida who sent it might like to know this little detail.]



It's been two weeks since my post about my cousin, Karri Stokely. This is probably a good point to take a step back and reconcile some issues. As Seth Kalichman wrote, [at least some of] my anger should have been directed at those who drew Karri into the trap, rather than at Karri herself.

Let's start with a couple corrections. As was pointed out to me, Karri's stated reason for becoming HIV-positive was contact with tainted blood as an EMT, not as a nurse. As to whether this explanation is true, I refuse to speculate, as I don't believe anyone deserves to be infected with HIV.*

Also, though Karri was suspected to be HIV+ while pregnant with one of her children, fortunately that child didn't test HIV+ after the maternal antibodies broke down. (I was previously under the impression that AZT was administered to at least one of the children as a preventative, though I still don't have a clear yes-or-no to that question.) Karri's kids are very lucky, in any case, and I couldn't be happier about that.



After I wrote the original post, I encountered a whole world of denialists — and people who work to expose their misinformation — that I never expected to find. Seth Kalichman, a professor who blogs about the denialism movement, ran across my previous post and reblogged it.

It wasn't until I started receiving blog comments and e-mails that I realized how deep the denialist roots go. Since I have long since accepted the library-filling amounts of data correlating HIV, AIDS, and ARC, I didn't realize people were still holding on to beliefs that were debunked as much as twenty-five years ago. What's more, some of these folks seem to have a sketchy grip on logic, as evidenced by some of the statements in my previous post's comments (most of which Karri has said too). A few highlights:

"For every 1 "AIDS Denialist" that dies, 100,000 AIDS Patients die receiving medications."
(I don't even know where to begin with this line of thinking, but I did a thorough dissection and rebuttal of it in my post's comment section. I'm pretty sure that I know who posted this, but I'm not going to call out more names here.)

"HIV infection is extremely hard to prove."
(The cheap screening tests for HIV antibodies alone are accurate to a degree greater than 99% on sensitivity and greater than 98% on specificity. Coupled with a Western blot, both measures increase to better than 99.8%; and with a HIV RNA test, greater than 99.9996%. By the strictest definition of the word, that's not "proof", but this accuracy is higher than the accuracy of tests for almost any other health condition.)

"A flu shot, a common cold, ANYHTING [sic] CAN TRIGGER A POSITIVE RESPONSE."
(Wrong; this is the measure of specificity noted in the above statement.)

"Even the FDA hasn't approved Viral Load tests for detecting the presence of HIV."
(Wrong.)

"30 years later people are still "understanding" this virus."
(Of course we are! We know more about HIV today than we know about the common cold. Every pathogen that is a threat to health continues to be studied today; that's the whole point of disease research.)

"If that was the case and you could see it with a microscope in EVERY HIV patient then we wouldn't be having this discussion. The proof would be over whelming! [sic]"
(HIV has in fact been seen on microscopes.)

These completely wrong arguments venture into the absurd, such as questioning the scientific method itself. You know, those little processes developed over the last 500 years or so to provide objective observations... without which, modern technology would not exist. The same processes which are based on logical observations stretching back more than 2500 years. Somehow, these folks think that it's all suddenly invalid, but only for their specific case.



In all the above, I didn't address the core of the denialists' argument, which most (if not all) of them share, namely:

"The antiretroviral (HIV) drug manufacturers are selling poison that kills patients."

This is just plain stupid. And before I can explain why, I have to point out that I fully agree that antiretroviral (ARV) drugs are very hard on the human body, not surprising considering the work they have to do at the cellular level.

I also believe, just like the denialists, that the drug companies are making obscenely high profits, more than they should. This profit motive is exactly why drug companies do not sell consumer drugs designed to kill people. Patients are the drug companies' customers. The profit motive pushes companies to deliver more and more money over time (growth), which is a bit of a problem if customers die. Dead customers can't buy drugs.

Anyone who didn't fail microeconomics in high school should understand this simple concept. If this elementary logic still escapes you, I can only feel sorry for you to a point.



So let's make one thing very clear right now: Karri Stokely's crusade to "educate" the public about the HIV "myth" was not courageous, or strong, or helpful, or any such positive thing. It was cowardly, because like most of the denialists, she wanted desperately to believe that her diagnosis was wrong in some way, and started to believe outright lies rather than reality. Whether intentional or not, it was maliciously deadly, as she worked to lure more people into the same trap. I'm right to be angry at her taking on the role of the pretty face of denial, but so too should I be angry at those who lured her in.

I've been very careful to give those in denial a voice when they have posted comments here. As of this writing, I've only refrained from approving one comment (which was just a bunch of expletives). There's nothing I want more than to see HIV+ people live long, healthy lives, and for that reason, I have been open to anyone commenting or e-mailing me about HIV/AIDS. It is only through well-documented information, and continued research, that we will beat this disease and its lethal effects. 



* Regarding whether someone "deserves" HIV: I have been asked whether I think that, for instance, Dr. Peter Duesberg deserves it for leading so many people to death. No, not even in his case. While his academically posed questions have long since been refuted, and his arguments form the foundation of the denialism movement, even he does not deserve the hell that is HIV/AIDS.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Goodbye and good riddance, Karri Stokely, you AIDS denialist bitch.

[Update, April 26: I have posted a follow-up to this, which reconciles some of the anger vented here.]

Before you think I'm being insensitive, please let me tell you a story about my cousin. Karri Grenley Stokely is HIV-positive, allegedly contracted by contact with tainted blood as a hospital nurse. She was diagnosed in 1996.

After living on the generations of various HIV treatment medications, a few years ago, she found her way into the AIDS denialism movement. She gave up her meds, and then went on a speaking tour to claim that the medications, not the virus, were to blame for her symptoms. You can read her story yourself, or even see her Myspace page titled "Rethink AIDS".

For a while, she was pelting my mother and several aunts and uncles (unbeknownst to me) with self-promoting e-mails championing her views, including a documentary she helped to promote called House of Numbers. While the creator of that documentary has a partial point — that the pharmaceutical industry effectively has everybody on a leash — its view that HIV and AIDS are unrelated makes me furious. Haven't we seen enough of this bullshit already?

I have several close friends who are HIV+, and they work hard to take care of their health (far beyond what I do, that's for sure). It still breaks my heart that they have to bear that burden, and the stigma associated with it. But none of them deny their status if asked; none of them go into a sexual encounter without (at least some) protection; and absolutely none of them claim that HIV is unrelated to their health problems.

Of course, HIV medications are not simple drugs. They do put a hell of a strain on the human body, there's no doubt about that. They are fighting one of the most resilient microorganisms the modern world has ever seen, and in the process, the medications cause a laundry list of side effects (enough to make someone just reading that list nauseous). There is not yet a cure or a definitive vaccine, but research continues.

So when I received a link to a YouTube video from my mother, where Karri is interviewed outside a screening of House of Numbers, I was furious. I looked into the situation further, and found that she had been giving lectures (just search YouTube for her name)... spreading disinformation and disproven claims with a cute face and a smile, just as a new generation of high school students are growing up in a world that has always known AIDS from their point of view. Spreading this disinformation could kill them.

I received news this morning that Karri is in hospice care with a bad pneumonia infection. As any rational person would deduce from the above, it is an opportunistic infection, known as part of ARC (AIDS-related complex). Most people can fight off most forms of pneumonia with antibiotic and antiviral drugs — and we can thank AIDS research for invention of the antivirals. Karri is not able to fight this one off, not because it's a strange or particularly strong infection, but because her immune system is too compromised to do anything about it anymore.

The person who told me asked me not to say anything about it, to keep it quiet. I'm sorry, Karri, but your shameful actions drove me to shout this to the world:

Karri Stokely, you are getting what you deserve.

Yes, that's a horrific thing to say. I've never before said that about any dying person. Karri, however, has done something much more horrific herself: She has played the pied piper to audiences who are confused and looking for answers, and her unscientific, already debunked answers will get some of those people killed, likely in slow, tortuous ways. Her public denial of the HIV/AIDS connection is itself a virus of the mind, and she has been spreading that virus to the world, consequences be damned.

I'm sorry to Karri's husband, and to her children, who will soon be without a mother, though I'm happy that Karri was able to have time with them without the drug side effects. I'm sorry to Karri's mother, who will now outlive her own child. No one, Karri included, deserves HIV. On the flip side, no one deserves to be harangued by deadly false hope.

To my friends who are HIV+ and taking care of yourselves, I applaud you for keeping it together. I can't begin to imagine how it has reshaped your life.

To those who are HIV-, do what I do. Get tested regularly. Be vigilant about your health. Learn about HIV and other STIs, and talk to your doctor about them.

Regardless of your status, keep yourself protected. The most caring thing you can do for your sexual partner is to cover it up. (Most of the people I know enjoy rubber, right? ...Oh, here's the lyrics for that as well.)

This posting may mean that family members, who didn't know much about my personal life, will discover that I have a very "alternative" view of sexuality. As my inaugural post on this too-infrequent blog said, I'm not hiding myself anymore, so I had no qualms about calling out people, myself included, by name. The topic of AIDS disinformation makes it ever more important for me to stand out and be seen... consequences be damned. 

[After the break, if you wish to read them, my e-mail communications with my family about this topic, from when Karri was promoting House of Numbers in 2009, are included in their entirety. Considering the current situation, some of the things I wrote were awfully prophetic — or would be, if it weren't for the scientific fact that HIV and AIDS are known to be directly linked.]