JAVIER SAEZ INTERVIEW
AUT MAGAZINE – ITALY – AUGUST 2008
How do you define a bear?
For me a bear is defined by his context, by a culture. Is not a personal nor individual identity, but a social identity. But to say it quickly, I think that a bear is a gay person with facial or body hair, usually stocky or with overweight, that have a feeling of belonging to the Bear community.
How does your interest in strategies of harm reduction for the Stds (sexually transmitted diseases) is born and why did you focus it on the bear movement?
My interest on STDs started, obviously, with the pandemic of aids, in the 80’s. I was in contac with some queer groups, Radical Gai, LSD, etc. Some of its members were VIH+, and they had links to ACT UP Paris. They started to do campaigns in the 90’s. In the 2000 I were more involved on bear culture, so I decided to do something for my community (the bears and admirers). So I launched the first campaign in 2005-2006 Bareback no, bearback yes. The bear community is transversal, complex, it encompasses many kinds of people, young, old, rural, urban, poor, rich, on internet, in meetings… so I wanted to use this clusters and links to reach more people with the message of prevention, people who normally does not go to the gay bars and is not really aware about vih and STDS.
The western gay narratives of prevention face a contradiction. From one part they say to the positive community that hiv+ people are not going to die because of treatments and research but in the same time the say to the negative community to stay safe otherwise they are going to die. This create a semiotic black out carrying people to have very different behaviours passing from total unsafe sex as a form of social integration arriving to total phobias and asexuality. How would you resolve that contradiction?
Well, actually I don’t think that the current narratives of prevention are talking about death. I think that the messages focus mainly in the interest and importance to be healthy, being vih+ or vih-. I am still trying to understand the unsafe behaviour –bareback- , I think that is a new and complex phenomenon, and that we must tackle it carefully, not only saying NO, or insulting people who do it.
You always mix up public granting with sponsorship and participation of private structures like the Spanish and European bear bars, clubs and groups. What is your methodology, who is involved besides you and what are the answers from the structures and from the public?
My methodology is a little bit strange. Instead of meet the people first, I start working alone with a photographer, with a project and after I ask companies and bear groups to joint it. The first campaign involved bears bars, bears groups and gay bookshops. I get some money selling the posters, and I gave it to the aids prevention section of the FELGTB, the national federation of gay lesbian trans group – 40 associations- As the campaign was very successful, the FELGTB decided last year to launch a new campaign for bears financed by the ministry of health, and they asked me to organize and manage the campaign. The answer in both campaigns was very positive, from bears, gay public in general, companies-bars, mass media and even straight public. The new campaign has been disseminated in many mass media –not only gay- , press, tv, internet… and the main interest for me is to give visibility to vih-aids new challenges, to do the hiv-test… to remember that many people don’t know that they are vih+. now people is more aware and take decisions and rethinking their sexual practices.
The first campaign i know is entitled « Pelo si, a pelo no». What is your point of view about bareback .
I think that is a practice that started among hiv+ people, thinking that they had no risk, given that they were already positive. But I think there are more situations and reasons…. there are also gay people tired of condoms after 25 years of aids, and people don’t see friends dying, as we saw in the 90’s. it is true that with the new treatments, hiv/aids is not a mortal disease in western countries (well, not really, my best friend died this year; he did not know he was vih+… when he knew, it was too late). and there are not enough campaigns now, so many gay people think that hiv not exists any longer, specially young people. Some films also use bareback as an asset, something attractive and exciting, and we should accept that it is exciting. I think bareback is a very complex phenomenon and we should create new ideas and approaches to understand it.
the last one is entitled « Espece Protegida», How important is for you the element of irony in social communication.
"Protected species" plays with humour about protection of bears (ecology, WWF, Greenpeace etc.) and protection against hiv… and it also stresses the sense of “community” of bears (especie - species). I want to send the message that hiv is not a personal or individual problem, but a social issue, so the community is a key of prevention.
For me humour and irony is very important to people to get the message, to smile and to receive and accept the message without panic. Aids – hiv is a scary issue for many people. A message too aggressive, or focused on death, produces a reaction of reject, or blocking. You don’t get the information. The web www.ososcontraelsida.com is also very funny and positive.
what would you say to somebody who is worried because he think he ‘s positive and is worried to do the Hiv test.
I will say him/her that ignorance is not good for anything in life. To do the hiv test is very easy, and to know if you are positive or not allows you to negotiate better your sexual practices. In case you are positive, to know it allows you to get the treatment soon and to live better. Not to know it makes you to live without treatment.