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What the Monkeypox Outbreak Means for You

Updated: Jul 13, 2022 18:00
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Pox rash on a Caucasian person's back.

Monkeypox causes painful blister outbreaks that may occur in waves. Although the current monkeypox outbreak primarily affects gay and bi men, it is transmissible through non-sexual means (i.e. aerosols) to anyone at any age.

Monkeypox is here, and it’s making us forget the most shaping factor of our lives: we are all reflections of each other. Who we are and what we make represents our ideas of what is well and unwell. How we see ourselves and how we feel about our health creates a gap between us “normal” people and an other. We’re taught to think ourselves in control of our bodies, our fears, our personas. Others then must not control their bodies, and are subsequently blamed for their condition. The body is the reason for our mortal anxiety. Our response to that fear perpetuates terror, inventing reasons “why” it’s happening to “them,” and why it’ll never happen to “us.”

A YouTube user leaves a disparaging comment on a KPIX Bay Area video about the 2022 monkeypox outbreak.

The visibility of any disease is indicative of the social climate around it. Nowadays that climate is more cacophonous than ever. KPIX CBS SF Bay Area posted a video last Friday, titled “LGBT community frustrated by response to monkeypox outbreak.” Gay men are collectively “demanding more vaccines and better leadership by health officials.” It promptly received negative attention. Over twenty disparaging comments appeared on this clip alone within twenty-four hours of its posting. 

A YouTube user leaves a disparaging comment on a KPIX Bay Area video about the 2022 monkeypox outbreak.

This reactionary rhetoric is painfully familiar to queer people. In 1985, four years into the AIDS crisis and two years before Reagan deigned to address it, over fifty percent of America wished to expel its gay population.

“A Los Angeles Times Poll found that more than half of the adults in the nation support quarantining AIDS patients, nearly half would approve of ID cards for those who test positive for AIDS antibodies, more than a third would be willing to pay a one-penny national sales tax to finance greater research, and one in seven would favor such radical action as tattooing those with the disease.”

The poll also revealed “great public aversion to electing homosexuals, the largest AIDS risk group, to office, and…a reluctance to support candidates who espouse homosexual causes.” The bigots of today and yesteryear subscribe to a practice philosopher Michel Foucault called brand-and-exile. Foucault viewed the government responses to leprosy and plague as emblematic of two distinct yet related paradigms. First, the outright banning of an entire group of people from the community and branding them “lepers.”

A YouTube user leaves a disparaging comment on a KPIX Bay Area video about the 2022 monkeypox outbreak.

Next he outlined confinement, a popular solution for victims of the plague. Confinement, cousin of internment, enables a customized, militant control over space and people. These are means of stripping one’s humanity from them. Civility, empathy, and achievable solutions especially fall through the cracks between self and other, us and them. It will guarantee the failure of modern society if we refuse to see one another as human.

Dehumanization is a classic response to fear. We try to convince ourselves that we don’t live in the world of the Other. Unlike “them,” we shun living in constant fear, even if everyone’s at risk. Like I wrote in last week’s article, everybody is vulnerable to mortality. Susan Sontag says in Illness as Metaphor that it’s a “stereotype of national character to think oneself immune.” It’s enough to have a disease without the social burdens that come with it. Once we name it, it’s real, and we have to deal with it. The HIV/AIDS crisis went unaddressed by President Ronald Regan until 1987, six years after the first cases emerged. 

Science evolves hand-in-hand with social norms. Illness disrupts that relationship. Disease becomes a way of affirming and assigning value to complex psychological consciousness. Health becomes banal, even vulgar. Initially called a “gay cancer,” AIDS has banalized cancer itself. Soon it became the “gay plague.” Plague, from the Latin plaga, means “stroke” or “wound.” As a buzzword, it is the highest standard of calamity and chaos. The literal dis-ease underneath it all however is fear. We fear not just death, but the transformation of our bodies into something alien, repulsive, inhuman. The body is at once a source of shame and the reason for its punishment. 

A YouTube user leaves a disparaging comment on a KPIX Bay Area video about the 2022 monkeypox outbreak.

People used to think of illness as a sentencing from God. Many still do. Plagues are no longer heaven-sent, for the question of agency has blurred. Now we ascribe racist undertones to the geographical location(s) of said diseases, like labeling COVID-19 “Kung-flu.” Depictions of Africa as the cradle of AIDS and now monkeypox feed into poisonous Euro-American prejudices. Trivializing the plague, AIDS, COVID or monkeypox only makes it a vehicle for the most pessimistic outcomes. These attitudes pose real-life consequences we are seeing play out time and time again. When will policymakers and the public they’re supposed to represent finally learn from history?

Queer Intervention

The predictable relative silence of the US government comes as no surprise to queer people. A Mission District resident I spoke with said, “I’ve more so felt like it’s a national, homophobic embarrassment that we don’t have adequate supplies, especially considering we had a stockpile of vaccines for this very virus.”

In the absence of a full-fledged public health response, queer people are once again taking charge. A friend of mine here in San Francisco linked me to a Google spreadsheet he and other Castro residents compiled. It’s a working list of monkeypox testing and treatment centers in San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C., as well as sites where precious few vaccines are available. They update it daily to keep up with the shortages happening across San Francisco. Dozens were turned away from SF General’s vaccination clinic Monday afternoon and told to return the next day. 

The grassroots approach is a tried-and-true method. Activist Rodger McFarlane, disturbed by the government’s inertia, started Gay Men’s Health Crisis in January 1981. He received approximately one hundred calls the first night. The U.S. Public Health Service eventually opened the National AIDS Hotline in 1983. By July, the hotline had expanded from three phone lines to eight, because 8,000-10,000 callers were phoning daily. The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) began its AIDS Service Demonstration Grants program in October 1986—the agency’s first AIDS-specific health initiative. In the program’s first year, HRSA made $15.3 million available to New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami, four of America’s hardest-hit cities.

Final Thoughts

With every public health crisis our political climate sends the same message, that ultimately, it’s everyone for themselves. Not just queer people, but every community existing on the margins. Where do we go from here? Until they effect change, reflect each instance of xenophobic blame at the politicians charged with public safety. Team up. Hold them accountable.

In the meantime, we will continue to care for one another, the way we have for decades.

They say history doesn’t repeat itself. It rhymes.

Resources for San Franciscans

Testing Centers

UCSF Acute / Urgent Care
400 Parnassus | (415) 353-2602
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 10AM–7PM
Wednesday: 10AM–7PM
Thursday: 10AM–7PM
Friday: 10AM–7PM
Saturday: 10AM–7PM
Sunday: Closed

I recommend calling Acute Care around 8AM to see if the doctor is in and will be available for exams.

Strut/Magnet
470 Castro Street | (415)-581-1600
Monday: Closed
Tuesday: 10AM–7PM
Wednesday: 10AM–7PM
Thursday: 10AM–7PM
Friday: 10AM–7PM
Saturday: 10AM–7PM
Sunday: Closed

SF City Clinic
356 7th Street | (628)-217-6600
Monday: 8AM–4PM
Tuesday: 1PM-6PM
Wednesday: 8AM-4PM
Thursday: 1PM-4PM
Friday: 8AM-4PM
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: Closed

SF Zuckerberg Urgent Care
1001 Potrero Avenue | (628)-206-8000
Building 5, 1st Floor, Unit 1E
Enter from 23rd Street.

Monday through Friday: 8AM–8PM
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays: 8AM–4PM

Vaccination Sites

Adult Immunization and Travel Clinic (AITC)
101 Grove St | (415)-554-2625

Monday through Friday: 9AM–12:30PM, 1:30PM–4PM

SF City Clinic
356 7th Street | (628)-217-6600
Monday: 8AM–4PM
Tuesday: 1PM-6PM
Wednesday: 8AM-4PM
Thursday: 1PM-4PM
Friday: 8AM-4PM
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: Closed

Physicians at San Francisco City Clinic can conduct exams if you are experiencing monkeypox symptoms.

For after-hours and weekend appointment needs, contact SFGH Urgent Care Clinic
1001 Potrero Avenue | (628) 206-8000
Building 5, 1st Floor, Unit 1E
Enter from 23rd Street.

Monday through Friday: 8AM–8PM
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays: 8AM–4PM

SFDPH Communicable Disease Investigation/Hotline: (415)-554-2830

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Jake Warren

Jake Warren

A Potawatomi nonfiction writer and Tenderloin resident possessing an Indigenous perspective on sexuality and a fascination with etymological nuance. Queer decolonial leftist, cannabis industry affiliate, seasoned raver, and unofficial earthquake authority.

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