I casually mentioned in a post last April that I had been in touch with a former nemesis whom I will refer to here as JTD. Anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time will know that JTD and I go back a long way. I am certainly not the only person who got caught in JTD’s crosshairs, and I’m willing to bet 100 t-cells I don’t have right now that if there was a list of ten people most despised by AIDS dissidents, JTD would be on that list. JTD is considered so toxic, in fact, that none other that Clark Baker, founder of the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice (OMSJ) is suing him, even though Baker lost his arbitration case against JTD in May.
JTD used to offer up his personal observations about AIDS “denialism” on his blog called Dissidents4Dumbees (D4D). In his inimitable, caustic and campy style, he would attempt to discredit anyone who questions the mainstream HIV=AIDS Unless You Take the Drugs paradigm, meme, theory… whatever you want to call it. One of his mistakes was using a computer from work to comment on my blog, which allowed me to track the IP address to his employer.
I saw D4D’s vile and hateful rhetoric as not just arguing against questioning AIDS, but hurting people in my online community with unfounded personal attacks, and I wanted it to stop. I don’t mind so much that someone disagrees with AIDS dissidence, but the personal attacks were beyond the pale. I felt completely justified in reporting JTD for violating his company’s policy regarding the use of their computers and Internet service, but I admit that I also forwarded some of his writings to his employer that did not involve using their resources. I have no idea what actions Baker was taking, though I know he claims credit for forcing JTD to take his blog offline.
One of the sorest points of contention for JTD is that because of actions taken by me and Baker and perhaps even other people, he ended up spending a lot of time justifying his creative license to the HR Department of his employer.
Every time someone would call there with some bullshit complaint, they would have to take two or three days to research it, which would take IT people’s time, it would take Human Resources people’s time, it took a lot of people’s time. Finally, they just said, ‘look, this is getting to be too much.
All’s fair in love and war, as the old saw goes, and it proved to be true in virtual disputes as well, I learned. When threatening and hateful comments started appearing on my blog again nearly a year later, I published them too, along with an explanation of why I was convinced they were either from JTD or an accomplice working with him. As had become my wont, I also included the name of his employer in the post and in tags, hoping that would get him in hot water again, and apparently it did.
Even though a part of me realizes that revenge can be a toxic and dangerous game, I followed some of my baser instincts and struck back. The geek in me has developed a habit of archiving websites and blogs onto a local hard drive. Just in case one of them disappears, as D4D did.
When JTD removed D4D from public view, I purchased the domain dissidents4dumbees.com, and restored a copy of the original blog for the world to see. There’s no link now, and don’t look for it, because I’ve taken it back down, but only after I got something I had been wanting for a long time: a personal and real conversation with JTD, preferably face-to-face, although in the end I had to be satisfied with a telephone call.
You see, I wanted to understand why the anger and the hatred between us had to rise to the level that it did. I have more in common with JTD than I do differences. We’re both gay men. We’re both HIV-positive. We’re both opinionated, educated and articulate. I really wanted to know if we could find any common ground at all, and I knew that he did not want his blog in the public eye. It had become a liability and an embarrassment to him.
Emails from JTD started arriving in my inbox almost immediately. “The comments about your CD4 counts are not from me,” read the first one.
Subsequent messages became more urgent and even a bit hysterical. Something I had done had obviously succeeded in pushing JTD’s buttons, and I hate to admit that my darker side was getting some satisfaction from his apparent misery, in a perverse sort of way. Eventually, JTD sent me his phone number, along with the uber-macho challenge: “Are you man enough to call me and explain your actions?”
While having a conversation had long been something I wanted to do, I wasn’t going to make this easy for him, and I declined his offer.
Why would I want to invite a verbal assault from you on top of everything else you’ve done and threatened me and my friends with? You are hazardous to my health and I have nothing to say to you.
Eventually we exchanged nearly 20 emails, some of them quite hostile, even venomous, before I finally agreed to talk to JTD on the phone. What I have never admitted until now is that, even though I really did want to talk to JTD, I was also stalling for some time to figure out a way to record the conversation. I mean, I had serious trust issues with this guy, and if the phone visit went south, I wanted to document it. Not even he knew this until now, but since the conversation took place more than 18 months ago, I’m glad that I did record it, so I can be sure that I am accurately relating key points from it here.
From the very start of the phone visit on April 28, 2012, JTD reiterated something he had told me several times before: that the first email he ever sent me, regarding a picture I had posted of my leprous-like left leg was never intended to set me off. He claimed (and I’m inclined now to believe him) that he was genuinely concerned that I might be ignoring symptoms of Kaposi Sarcoma. Fair enough, but the reality is that it was not, and is not KS. That does not mean I won’t develop a case of KS next week, but his observation angered me because it was unsolicited advice from someone “on the other side” of an issue I was deeply involved in and committed to. I definitely did get defensive when he contacted me out of the blue, and from his place of employment, no less.
In JTD’s mind, though, that was “the beginning” of our tumultuous relationship. I begged to differ, as I had been reading some of the most gawd-awful tripe on his blog about people I knew and cared about in my own little AIDS dissident community. We went back and forth for some time, discussing his blog, always in a civil and respectful tone. At no time did either of us have to raise our voice, or get angry with each other.
The first real bombshell dropped about six minutes into our chat, while talking about ARV drugs. Almost too casually, JTD said “I haven’t been on meds for going on 14 months now.” I had not yet publicized my own decision to start taking ARV drugs again, though I had dropped some pretty serious hints in our email exchange about “going over to the dark side”, and I was sure he knew I was planning to restart them. The irony of JTD’s comment hit me like a slap in the face. “I can’t believe that,” I told JTD, “you quit the drugs, and I’m getting ready to take them.”
This was probably the pivotal point in our conversation where my doubts and apprehensions about JTD started to soften. He was under no obligation to share this information with me, and I could not help but sense a shift in my own perception about him. After two and a half years of hostilities, I could not help but feel some sympatico with this guy, and that made me nervous.
JTD insisted that he quit the drugs only for financial reasons, not due to any adverse effects from them. Even with insurance, it was going to cost him nearly $3,000 out-of-pocket, and he could not afford that. He resumed taking ARVs once he was able to get better insurance coverage.
Regardless of his motivation, I was amazed that JTD was admitting to me that he had quit them at all. He was always so critical of AIDS dissidents for not taking their drugs.
We continued to talk about a number of things—and people—on both sides of the AIDS debate, though I’m not going to share all of the details of our private conversation. I don’t mind admitting here that I did tell JTD that, like him, I take issue with some of the most visible and outspoken representatives of the AIDS dissident movement and that I intend to write about my disillusionment with much of the AIDS dissidence community. I also apologized for targeting his employer, as a means of getting to him:
I do not want to fuck with your job, OK? I resorted to it, as kind of a last ditch… you were untouchable otherwise. Nothing else seemed to bother you.
He defended himself:
Like I said, I don’t really think I was saying anything any more egregious than a lot of other people were saying.
We can just agree to disagree on that, because I think you were pretty over the top.
At another point I told him:
I did not want to have this conversation. I don’t want to like you. OK? I do not. I don’t want to trust you and I don’t want to believe you. That’s all for reasons and things about me that I don’t like about you.
For his part, JTD confessed some things, too.
I agree with what you’re saying in most instances, I just never wanted to admit it before. (laughing) I definitely agree with you on one thing, when you say that you have some condition and then a doctor finds out you have HIV, then all of a sudden that condition is HIV related.
After we had ended our telephone visit, I remembered a conversation I had, quite some time ago, with a fellow questioner whom I admire greatly and who has been held in high regard in the AIDS dissidence community. This friend told me that AIDS dissidents needed to work harder at building bridges with our opponents, rather than thinking the struggle was all about “winning” some kind of war for public approval of our ideas.
I agreed with my friend then and I think it is even more imperative today. Neither side in this dispute has figured out all the answers, and I’m more convinced than ever that we are failing people with serious chronic health issues by our refusal to look for some middle ground.
I’d like to thank JTD for granting my request to share my side of this story as one example of how that effort might begin.