Delany comments on gay life, AIDS

by Marina Agapakis | 11/1/05 6:00am

Award-winning science-fiction writer Samuel "Chip" Delany, who has been credited as one of the most influential figures in gay literature, discussed his own sexual gambles and the politics of AIDS studies during a provocative Monday afternoon speech.

Delany delivered the speech, titled "Queer Thoughts and the Politics of Sex," as the sixth annual Stonewall Lecture in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. A lively crowd of 100 students, faculty and locals filled Filene Auditorium for the event.

In a number of frank stories that often elicited laughter from the audience, Delany described his own diverse sexual encounters. Delany estimated that he has had anywhere between 5,800 and 7,000 encounters of unprotected receptive oral sex with different men, many of whom were complete strangers.

"I enjoy a certain kind of pleasure," Delany said. "I gamble in getting it."

Delany used his explicit stories to illustrate the need for further studies of how AIDS is transmitted.

Delany, whose identity as an African-American gay man has defined his life's work, criticized what he called an "appalling" lack of studies addressing AIDS transmission. He warned that because these studies tend to be based on speculative accounts of sexual behavior, more research must be done to improve accuracy.

Hearsay-based testimonies "introduce material that throws off the statistical balance of the portrait of behaviors that may lead to AIDS transmission," Delany said.

Delany recommended a monitored study in which participants would give full accounts of their sexual acts. This kind of research has only been done three times in the United States, Delany said, and those studies concluded that receptive anal intercourse was the only act responsible for AIDS transmission. The studies showed no evidence that the virus can be passed through oral sex.

Delany, however, insists that these studies are not enough to prove that oral sex is not related to the transmission of AIDS.

While Delany said that he may have just been lucky not to have contracted AIDS, he added that he would not recommend that anyone else base their behavior on inconclusive studies.

"Sex is an appetite, so people are going to gamble," said Delany. "The tests simply have to be done."

Delany, who also visited classes Monday, said he hopes his stories will motivate people to push for more studies to conclusively determine the methods of AIDS transmission.

"Not to do them is murderous. Ignorance does not protect anyone," Delany said.

Although the lecture focused on transmission between homosexual men, Delany complained that no studies have been done on AIDS transmission in heterosexual women either, so no statistical evidence shows that AIDS can be transferred through vaginal sex.

"For God's sake, they have to be done with women. It's murderously absurd," Delany said.

Delany, who currently teaches comparative literature at Temple University, is known for changing the face of science fiction in the 1960s. He has written over 20 novels and is credited as a true innovator whose works contemplate the intersection of race and sexuality. Some of his novels also focus on racial identity, slavery and the AIDS crisis.

The Stonewall Fund was established at Dartmouth in the late 1990s to sponsor GLBT-related courses and lecturers.

The name of the fund commemorates the Stonewall riots of June 17, 1969, which broke out after New York City police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. The riots marked a turning point in the fight for gay and lesbian civil rights.

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