Monkeypox brings fear, prejudice and already makes gays and bisexuals change habits

30-year-old communicologist Lucas Raniel shows the marks left over from monkeypox;  he received prejudiced messages on social media

30-year-old communicologist Lucas Raniel shows the marks left over from monkeypox; he received prejudiced messages on social media

Photo: Taba Benedicto/Estadão

The high incidence of monkeypox (monkeypox) among “men who have sex with men” (MSM) and the call by the World Health Organization (WHO) for gays and bisexuals to reduce sexual contacts and partners have created a problem that science and the authorities tried to avoid. Patients with the disease point to a wave of prejudiced and homophobic comments, misinformation, paranoia and fear, while another part of the LGBT+ community refuses to face the risk factors and believes they are the target of the same persecution motivated by the HIV epidemic. /Aids in the 1980s.

At the age of 30 and living with HIV, influencer and communicologist Lucas Raniel discovered that he had smallpox in the second week of July, when he started to have a fever and then the characteristic wounds of the disease. After the diagnosis, he began to tell his routine and share details of the treatment on social media, where he has more than 70,000 followers.

“Since I started talking about it, the amount of messages has been insane,” says Raniel. He says that he is sought after both by people who are afraid of being infected and sending pictures of possible injuries, “as well as by gays dying of fear and thinking they will get infected and die tomorrow”. Prejudice also shows up, with phrases like “you see, who told you to be gay and go out having sex with everyone”.

The first cases reported in Europe were at parties and saunas aimed at the gay public, in early May. The LGBTI+ Pride celebrations the following month and the fact that this community has an “interconnected network” of contacts caused the virus to spread rapidly among “men who have sex with men”.

“The LGBT+ community ends up neglecting these issues because we are already inflamed about many things. When we understand ourselves as gay, we already think about whether HIV comes in this combo or not”, says Raniel, who sees part of the community trying to dodge the warnings and risks.

DJ and 22-year-old model, Doug Mello says that when he talked about his diagnosis on social media, he also received messages of affection, support and wishes for improvement, but not only. “I was astonished by the ignorance of many, who do not seek to know what it is or to inform themselves. There was a part that came to attack me, saying that it would be ‘the new disease of gays’. I am apprehensive, because they may think that it only gets sex,” he says.

Communication difficulties

Science has not yet deciphered whether monkeypox is transmitted by penetration or by semen, but the behavior similar to that of an STI has made it related to a possible promiscuity of patients. Prejudice worsened after Tedros Adhanom, director-general of the World Health Organization, urged “men who have sex with men” to reduce sexual contacts and partners.

The speech was criticized by the LGBT+ community, although he clarified that the focus on MSM was for prevention and priority in vaccination, in an attempt to stop the disease. “Stigma and discrimination can be as dangerous as any virus and fuel the outbreak,” Adhanom said.

“We are concerned with this approach (in the MSM community), due to what we have experienced with AIDS, which has left a very negative impact. One of the attributes of stigma is this labeling, which keeps the population away from seeking treatment”, points out Anderson Reis, PhD in Nursing and professor at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA), with a focus on men’s health.

“It has the right point of making it visible that gay men are being disproportionately affected, and that’s good for the community to be alert; but the bad point is that it comes back to the same issue of HIV,” says the researcher from the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Holy House of São Paulo Daniel Barros. “It’s the big mistake: the massive association that gays are solely responsible for transmitting the disease.”

“If we had taken action fast enough and thought that the lives and health of gay and bisexual men are important enough to take vaccines out of the freezer and put them in our bodies, we wouldn’t even be in this conversation,” said Keletso Makofane, member of the International AIDS Society.

risk reduction

In São Paulo, there are already sex parties that have suspended the next dates until there is a vaccine available (the government expects to receive the 1st batch of approximately 20 thousand doses in September). Brutus, which takes place monthly at Casa da Luz, downtown, announced that the next edition on the 13th will be with “risk reduction” and “political stance”. The dark room, a dark environment where regulars have sex, will be closed. Nudity will also not be encouraged and the walls will be covered with information about smallpox. On social media, the organization asked that anyone who feels unwell, has a fever or has injuries not attend.

“We need to work, it’s part of our livelihood. No one in the LGBT+ community should give up their lives because of this. We need to take care of ourselves, preserve ourselves, avoid contact, but that doesn’t just happen at our parties either”, points out the producer of Brutus Alexandre. Bishop, 48 years old. “We cannot assume that we are the problem with this contagion because soon it will be among everyone.” He almost takes for granted the drop in the number of regulars.

The giving, another party of this kind that takes place in downtown São Paulo every month, also decided to indefinitely suspend the edition scheduled for Saturday, the 6th. “It was a duty because, among my friends, many people were contaminated. And we are a democratic party. where people who have money go and those who don’t. It was becoming dangerous, because in a way it would reach a more marginal layer that doesn’t have access [à saúde e ao isolamento]”, comments producer Thiago Ribeiro. “I was very shaken, but it was the most coherent decision to be made. I took it myself and it was very, very, very horrible the symptoms and the aftermath.”

In Largo do Arouche, also in the central region, the Hotel Chilli, which works as a short stay for single men and offers a sauna, cinema, bar and dance floor, with free sex in all these areas, will remain the same. “As a personal opinion, I think (smallpox) It’s still not a scary thing, only one person died. It’s not like AIDS, as many people compare it to. There is no medication, it’s not easy, but it’s not that great desperation either,” says the owner, Douglas Drummond, 51.

He recalls that, unlike the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, sanitary protocols have not yet been established by the public authorities for spaces such as the Chilli Hotel, saunas or parties. “You can’t guess what I need to do. From the moment this is indicated, there’s nothing to think about. Public health is public health”, he says.

Even though dating apps, saunas and parties are boiling, many gay and bisexual men have already adapted to the routine. “I’ve changed a lot, even the number of casual encounters I have. I’m afraid to go anywhere because I’m quite unaware of the disease and I don’t see any mobilization regarding the vaccine”, says Nathan (not his real name), a 27-year-old engineer and single.

He says that a close friend had the disease and, by closely following the evolution of symptoms, wounds and pain, he decided that the disease may not be lethal, but it is still dangerous. “I’m afraid of the wounds, because I don’t know only him who had it, and the things I’ve seen are not pleasant at all.”

On Thursday morning, the 4th, the State of São Paulo announced a plan to fight the disease, with the creation of a network of hospitals, and the expansion of testing and sequencing of samples collected during notifications. “It can happen to everyone,” said the state secretary of Science, Research and Development in Health, David Uip, during the announcement of the measures. Uip pondered that, until now, there is a prevalence of the disease in certain groups, such as men who have sex with other men, but this situation is “transitory”. “In a little while, all people will be susceptible to contamination.”

Also yesterday, the STI/AIDS Coordination of the Municipal Health Department of the capital met with more than 40 party producers and owners of saunas or establishments of the type to draw up a joint communication plan, “without generating panic”.

For some who have gone through the disease, scars remain. Raniel now has scars from the wounds he had on his fingers and chest, and says he has been stared at at gay parties. “They say ‘the smallpox boy over there’. I don’t care, because I wanted to talk and warn people, but I end up listening.”

For Nathan, “the disease may not be so deadly, but it leaves a scar, including on the face, that may never go away.” “It damages our mental health and leaves sequelae.”

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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