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Saturday 08 April 2017

HIV/AIDS and Neoliberalism

Posted in: HIV
By Craig Young - 4th December 2016

HIV/AIDS and Neoliberalism

Something is going wrong with gay men's ability to self-manage HIV/AIDS in New Zealand. Is it our neoliberal government orthodoxy?

Unlike the United Kingdom, and to the best of our knowledge, New Zealand doesn't have the sort of large-scale 'chemsex' parties that exist there, although P/crystal methamphetamine and bareback DVDs may be related to the recent increase in HIV exposure in New Zealand- the largest to date.

But apart from the more immediate causes, there's the question why this is occurring. Neoliberalism has been New Zealand's political orthodoxy for the last thirty two years. Inaugurated by Roger Douglas during the Lange/Palmer/Moore Labour governments of the eighties, it involved asset sales, deregulation of financial markets, reduced central government expenditure, budgetary constraint for remaining government service providers, anti-union legislation, reduced funding for community welfare organisations, and retrenchment or closure of service scope or scale.

Apart from comprehensive anti-bullying legislation, pakeha gay men now experience more or less full formal equality in our daily lives. Unfortunately, this has been accompanied by the intensification of our working lives, which means that single pakeha gay men don't experience as full a sense of community in the rest of our lives outside pubs, saunas and overseas travels. We don't have as much leisure time and as a result, New Zealand gay male communities are 'thinner' than those overseas.

As Matthew Todd also noted in his recent book Straight Jacket, albeit describing the British situation, one problem that gay men face is residual discrimination from our pasts, which still affects our daily lives. It's not so bad if we had or have supportive families, educational environments, employment circumstances or peer support groups.

However, if one is older than their mid-twenties or early thirties, that context didn't exist for us, and so we end up dealing with the psychological impact of our antigay pasts, which may work itself out in substance abuse, associated sexual risktaking and other dysfunctional interpersonal behaviour. We didn't have normal adolescences in which we came out to our parents, found a boyfriend and could be open about our relationships, which meant that we were unable to develop interpersonal skills amidst an atmosphere of concealment and secrecy.

To be sure, from what I've heard from Inside Out, things are not that good for LGBT youth today- not all of them come out into supportive domestic environments and some experience homelessness and educational disruption as a result, and some self-harm, undertake substance abuse, or kill themselves. It is truly a miracle that New Zealand's LGBT youth groups operate so effectively, given the limited extent of their resources.

As well as that, we do need to pass comprehensive anti-bullying legislation akin to that under draft in Canada at the moment, which may also assist diminished risktaking behaviour amongst young pakeha gay men. As well as that, we need to do far more about the other end of the lifespan. Where are the dedicated support networks for older gay men? Where is the specific research focus on their lives and relationships? Older gay and bisexual men do have unsafe sex and become HIV+. Why aren't we talking about this as well? Where's the senior equivalent of Rainbow Youth and Inside Out?

I have limited the above discussion to pakeha gay men because the lives of takatapui and whakawahine are tougher. It can be protective if someone grows up within a supportive whanau, with kaumatua and kuia around to provide additional support and nurturance.

Unfortunately, institutional racism has attacked positive and prosocial Maori institutions and disrupted this intergenerational network, with destructive consequences on Maori health, life expectancy and welfare. There is an assertive Maori public sphere and bipartisan commitment to iwi settlements under the Treaty of Waitangi, but not all Maori benefit from this equally. Urban Maori are particularly isolated from their kinship networks of origin. Resultantly, we face tragedies like the murders of Stan Waipouri and Ihaia Sanders-Gilman. Institutional racism and neoliberal economics have withdrawn health and social services from small towns, leading to unemployment, risktaking masculinities and emulation of criminal underclass black US subcultures.

Neoliberalism atomises community identification, adherence and participation, not only amongst LGBT communities, but also low-income Maori and Pasifika youth. And, also unfortunately, it means that most violence becomes horizontal and directed against perceived 'threats' to dysfunctional masculinities, from assertive women and takatapui. We need to ask ourselves why these high profile antigay murder cases were commited against takatapui tane and not pakeha gay men. In the context of their daily lives, the destructive effects of institutional racism, poverty, homophobia, unemployment and social and medical service withdrawal are particularly devastating.

As for pakeha gay men, we are also experiencing some degree of adverse environmental conditions in our daily lives. We work harder, are encouraged to form monogamous relationships, but there is no compensatory focus on how residual homophobia affects our occupational lives in the context of recruitment, hiring, performance appraisal, promotion, disciplinary sanctions, and redundancy. And what about class divergences? Do working class gay men experience this differently if they are unskilled, have manual skills or work in the rural sector?

Don't ask the New Zealand Ministry of Health. It is not willing to adequately fund research into the lived environment and interpersonal relationships of gay men which could help to track this complexity within our everyday lives and assist HIV and STI prevention. Or adequately fund the New Zealand AIDS Foundation to develop services based on this unfunded absence of evidence-based research to enable us to meet this need, which means that our national HIV/AIDS prevention, research and service enablement organisation is now in debt to the sum of $NZ 500,000 for precisely that reason. Combine this to the increased costs of housing, casualised employment and anti-union legislation, and intensified commitment to paid work, and unpaid work or volunteering suffers.

This isn't limited to LGBT organisations, either- other voluntary groups are experiencing similar stressors and New Zealand's ethos of active and responsible citizenship is being whittled down to a reductive obsession with consumerism.

To be sure, this isn't unambiguous. The same stresses and strains have engulfed the New Zealand Christian Right as conservative and liberal churches alike empty out, and as a consequence, it is visibly dying on its feet. The Conservative Party has already self-destructed and its other surviving lobby groups are more focused on anti-euthanasia politics than opposing LGBT rights these days, as the abject failure of Family First's derivative attack on transgender children's health, safety and privacy demonstrates. However, while neoliberalism is dissolving conservative Christian pressure groups, it is doing the same to our community welfare organisations at the same time.

And then, unfortunately, there are also fundamentalist marxists. Apparently, they are unable to deal with anything other than class in the context of neoliberalism, and argue that any focus on indigeous ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, or women, is 'identity politics,' which is allegedly a politics of neoliberalised 'recognition' pitted 'against' the 'core' premise of class struggle.

Sorry, but I do not believe that LGBT politics can or should be equated with 'identity politics' in this context. Neoliberalism is a hegemonic political strategy and that means that it has a corrosive effect on all communities of interest. In this article, I've focused primarily on New Zealand LGBT communities, but similar criticisms could be voiced in the context of feminism, Maori nationalist and disability politics. Neoliberalism operates against a range of constituencies of interest, not solely the New Zealand working class, even if that is an integral part of any resistance and solution.

As 2017 is an election year, I will close with this. New Zealand cannot afford another three years of destructive, hardline neoliberal politics presided over by an almost unaccountable Key administration. It's time for a change.


Matthew Todd: Straight Talking: How to be Happy and Gay: Bantam: London: 2016

Lisa Duggan: The Twilight of Equality: Neoliberalism, Cultural Politics and the Attack on Democracy: Boston: Beacon Press: 2003.

Alexandra Chasin: Selling Out: The Lesbian and Gay Community Goes to Market: London: Palgrave: 2001.

New Zealand AIDS Foundation:

Craig Young - 4th December 2016

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