International Mr. Leather competition, and the activities over Memorial Day weekend, unite our community and allow us to hook up with old and new friends. Men will be coming from all over the world to play in Chicago, and celebrate the 25th anniversary of International Mr. Leather. Let's hope that they leave Chicago happy and healthy, and that our local community is left only with memories.
Gay men across the U.S. are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. With the gloom and doom of HIV and AIDS exerting less of a choke-hold on our daily consciousness, many of us just want to have fun again. Unprotected sex is on the rise, with barebacking groups and Web sites exploding. But, while we all relish the opportunity to spread our wings and have a good time, now is NOT the time to lessen our community's well-deserved reputation for vigilance.
Since 1998, Chicago has reported more new cases of syphilis than any other city in the nation. In 2000, gay men represented 15% of Chicago's syphilis cases, in 2002 we made up almost two-thirds of the cases. A big blip in syphilis cases was seen after the 2001 IML. We must do more than just hope this doesn't occur again.
Make no mistake, syphilis still kills. Untreated, syphilis can cause irreversible damage to your heart, nervous system, eyes and internal organs. Having syphilis can increase the risk of acquiring HIV by 3-5 times.
Don't be misled, syphilis is still a threat. A survey taken at IML 2000 showed that most of us don't even know the signs and symptoms of syphilis. Would you think a rash on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet was syphilis? How about a painless sore on your tongue or lips?
It's important to take a few moments in your planning for Memorial Day weekend to think about how you'll manage to make it through the four days unscathed. You probably know where you're going to go, have your clothes picked out, and know how you're getting to and from events. While you're at it, it wouldn't hurt to take a few seconds to think about how you're going to protect your health and the health of our community.
Of utmost importance, use a condom EVERY TIME. Check your partners for body rashes or for sores in the mouth, genitals or anus. In three or four weeks and periodically thereafter, go to Howard Brown, a public clinic or your healthcare provider and get tested, whether or not you have symptoms. Get a general physical, too. You can think of it as your 50,000-mile check-up.
More than a few of us will wake up on Tuesday with one type of hangover or another. While these will pass, a syphilis hangover can last a lifetime.
Wishing you health and happiness, Chuck Renslow, IML executive producer.