David Sedaris Confesses That He’s Sex-Phobic, Doesn’t Understand HIV Or AIDS


David SedarisI used to love David Sedaris. I mean that as literally as anyone who’s never met the man can mean it.

A decade ago, I even wrote an erotic short story about an orgy in which Sedaris played a central role. (Edmund White, Tony Kushner, and Langston Hughes were there, too. It was like the answer to a college admission essay question no college would ever ask: “If you could nail four gay authors from any time and place…?”)

Sadly, it’s now clear that Sedaris wasn’t suited for such fan fiction, because he recently told the world that he’s a bitter, jealous, sex-phobic prude.

In an article published by The Guardian, Sedaris recounts a recent conversation with his partner of 23 years, Hugh. He asks how many people Hugh had sex with before they were together.

Sedaris tops out around 28 or 30. Which I find a little surprising because even in Mississippi, I’d fooled around with that many people by the time I graduated college (if not before). Maybe Sedaris isn’t a very sexual person, but I’d think that he might’ve been a little more adventurous before he hit his mid-30s, met Hugh, and took himself off the market.

After Sedaris tallies the notches in his bedpost, he watches Hugh count higher and higher. As though that’s surprising. As though having sex is a bad thing. As though it’s a moral failing.

I know what you’re thinking: “Sedaris is a comic writer. It’s clearly meant to be humorous.” I agree, except the way it’s written, we’re meant to be on Sedaris’ side, not Hugh’s.

That’s driven home when he gets to the really offensive part, the part about HIV and AIDS.

Sedaris starts by implying that you can tell a person’s HIV status just by looking at them or knowing their habits. It’s true that some early HIV drugs left their marks on patients, but that’s not what he’s talking about when he says, “some of Hugh’s earlier choices seemed poorly thought out to me, especially once Aids came along.”

Worst of all, Sedaris makes it very, very clear that he doesn’t understand the basics of HIV transmission, much less the difference between HIV and AIDS. That would be appalling for any literate human being in 2014, but for a 57-year-old gay man to be so ignorant? It’s irresponsible, absurd, and reprehensible:

By what miracle had neither of us contacted [sic] Aids? How had we gotten away? I don’t just mean later, when people knew to be safe, but back in the days when it didn’t have a name and no one understood how it spread. One of the men Hugh had lived with – a professor he had in his first year of college – had died of it in the late 80s, and surely there were others, on both my side and his. Yet for some reason we’d escaped, had prospered, even.

If you were feeling generous, you could read that as a kind of ode to luck. As in, “Boy, we sure fooled around a lot back then! How did we manage to avoid It?”

That’s not what I see. Instead:

  • I see a man who doesn’t know that you can’t “contact” AIDS (though I guess you could contact an AIDS hotline, if you’re the sort of person who still makes phone calls). You can’t even contract AIDS. You contract HIV.
  • I see a man in his mid-50s who claims to know only one person who’s died of AIDS-related complications. I’m over a decade younger, and I’ve known plenty more.
  • I see a man who thinks that all kinds of sex is unsafe, even when it involves condoms.
  • I see a man who is thoroughly freaked out that he and/or Hugh might’ve had sex with someone who was HIV-positive.
  • I see a man who thinks that he’s out of the woods.

I would say “Screw that guy”, but he’s so uptight, he’d compress any dick up his ass into a bratwurst-sized diamond. How’s about we just forget him?

6 thoughts on “David Sedaris Confesses That He’s Sex-Phobic, Doesn’t Understand HIV Or AIDS

  1. frederick_a_woodruff


    Could there have been any other word more offensive amidst the strange out of touch-ness of his philosophy?

    Oy. Sad and childlike.

  2. Toby S

    I’m a homo. A decade younger than you. I don’t know a single person who’s died of AIDS-related complications. What are you implying?

  3. sturtle

    Toby: My point is, the gay men who were most directly affected by HIV/AIDS during the early years of the epidemic are now around 50 and older. For someone like Sedaris — who is in *precisely* the demographic to have been affected most directly by HIV/AIDS, and who has lived in, worked in, and traveled to cities with substantial gay populations since the early 1980s — for him to know of only one past sexual partner (his or Hugh’s) to have died of AIDS-related causes in all those years seems at best weird, at worst, disingenuous.

  4. BaronneBoy

    When Judy Garland’s fourth husband, Mark Herron, was asked if it was true that Garland had tried to commit suicide more than 20 times, as previous husband Sid Luft alleged, Herron said, “Who counts?”
    Garland screamed with laughter.
    “Numbers,” to me, is just a hot book by John Rechy.

  5. Chris

    First, I’ll concede that I’m a little perplexed as to the point of this article. I’ll give Sedaris the benefit of the doubt that he’s aiming for his standard self-deprecating schtick, making fun of himself for his admitted prudery in this regard. His one point is valid, though–he’s not necessarily seeing Hugh’s higher sexual partner count as a moral failing, so much as a higher number of people for him to be compared to sexually, even if unintentionally or unconsciously. That being said, it is unfortunate that he had to bring in the prospect of AIDS at all; it muddies the waters and does at least raise the prospect of HIV panic where it need not exist. And yes, “prospered” is a particularly cruel word to throw into the mix.

    However, I too have only known one person to die of complications related to AIDS (and that was only because I volunteered for a time in the 90s with a charitable organization who assisted such individuals with needs they had). Of course it makes a difference that I’m only 40 and have not lived around the world as Sedaris has, but the point stands that even with urbane gay men in their 50s, there are a wide range of experiences. The same can be said of the number of sexual partners. I’m a 40-year-old gay man who has had fewer than 20 sexual partners in my lifetime, and that counts everything from mutual masturbation on up. I’m not surprised when I’m with men who have had many more partners than I have, but it’s somewhat irksome to have someone assume that I’m being less than forthright when I give that figure. We don’t all have the same sex drive, or chosen opportunities to engage in sexual activity with others. Diversity of experience is OK.

    (And just for the record, the Guardian web site now reads “contract” instead of “contact.”)

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