Thursday, September 11, 2008

re-living high school

For the past twenty-five years I've been involved in a large study of sexually active gay men. Originally, and primarily, the study was organized to provide data for AIDS research. In 1983, when the study began the HIV virus had not been identified and the routes of transmission were still unclear. Now beyond tracking the direct medical consequences of the disease, the study group provides access to a stable group of test subjects with a long data history, so the study center often asks us to participate in other related research projects.

I had one of my twice yearly visits to the study this morning. And this time they were starting a study that looked at the possible connection between childhood and youth life experiences and drug use in later life. The main study has already been recording our drug use history because of the connection to AIDS (both as a direct transmission route and as an inhibitor of commitment to safe sex practices). So this round of questions asked about our feelings and experiences as children and youth.

Boy was that tough. I had a happy childhood. I grew up in a very stable, caring, well-educated, solidly middle class family. So the first section of questions were easy and I was mostly thinking about how blessed I was as a child. But when the questions switched to teen age years I was forced back into a time period that was really difficult for me. I was not a sissy so I avoided overt verbal and physical attacks from others. But inwardly I was filled with shame and self-loathing of my sexuality and I saw no hope for a happy adulthood. Those were awful years. My life now is so distant from the way I felt then. It felt horrible to have to confront those feelings again, and through the detail of the extensive questionnaire to have to really feel those feelings again.

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