The Banality of Anal: Safer Sexual Erotics in the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ Safer Sex Comix and Ex Aequo’s Alex et la vie d’après

Journal of Medical Humanities 40 (1):33-51 (2019)
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Abstract

Analyzing two harm reduction comics campaigns—one early in the AIDS crisis and one more recent, I explore tensions between queer safer sexual erotics and national discourses of sexual norms/deviation raised by Cindy Patton and William Haver at the height of AIDS discourse theory in 1996, approximately halfway between the comics. Using these theorists’ reflections on the history of AIDS activism/representation as a hinge, I explore the manifestation/transformation a decade later of the ethical, educational, and erotic issues they raise. Both foreground the ways that HIV, safer sex, and/or eroticism pose difficulties for systems of linguistic and visual representation. Combining text and image, comics—a common harm reduction medium—epitomize this representational issue. While the GMHC addresses an immediate need for information about safer sex, Alex attempts to tackle the unrepresentability/unthinkability of safer and/or seropositive sex. Safer Sex Comix, while largely prioritizing directness above formal experimentation, employ strategies of transgressing the borders of the comics panel to emphasize a plethora of lower-risk sexual acts. The most visually inventive moments in Alex represent Alex’s feelings of unintelligbility post-diagnosis, but the comic restricts its representation of sex only to anal intercourse, and it proves unable to visualize alternative formulations of the erotic, turning to more normative narratives and images as earlier, visually explicit unsafe sexual encounters are replaced with more a/illusive representations post-conversion, literalizing the unrepresentability of seropositive erotic life.

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