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"That isn't to say that emotions should be ignored. Instead, reason, intuition, research, advice, wisdom, faith, and hope ought to join with our emotions to present us with the wide range of possible human responses."

The Biggest Bug-A-Boo of All
by Jack Rinella

There are several impediments to living a fully human life: anger, fear, deception, low self-esteem, greed, and envy, to name just a few. As I list them, though, it comes to mind that not every emotion, not every thought, not every action that may be listed as negative is always that way. There may be, for example, times when anger is both justified and helpful.

I suppose that qualities such as greed or envy are hard to defend, but they may be necessary at times. Fear, surely, can be a healthy and helpful feeling. I don't walk across the "El" tracks because I'm afraid of getting electrocuted by the "third rail." There's nothing wrong with that feeling and I have no need to walk across high voltage rails anyway.

If, on the other hand, there were an emergency across the tracks I might overcome my fear and rise to the occasion, leaping in a single bound (ha, ha) to do my heroic deed.

You get the idea. We're not talking about a black and white clear-cut situation. On the other hand, I think that fear is the greatest bug-a-boo of all.

Fear muddles clear thinking. Fear paralyzes action. Fear robs us of energy that could be used for more productive endeavors. My dictionary defines fear as "an emotion of alarm and agitation caused by the expectation or realization of danger." In that context, I would say that fear in the face of real danger is healthy. The same response in the face of expected or imagined danger is futile.

That doesn't mean that such fears aren't real. Our emotions are real and have real effects on our actions and our thoughts. Emotions are a necessary part of being human. We need to accept them, own them, and recognize them as part of our very nature. What we need not do is make them the sole basis for our actions.

That isn't to say that emotions should be ignored. Instead, reason, intuition, research, advice, wisdom, faith, and hope ought to join with our emotions to present us with the wide range of possible human responses. There is nothing wrong with an emotional response. I'm only saying that an emotional response needs to be lived within the context of a fully human response.

Now that I've meandered about the necessity of recognizing fears as valid and part of the solution, let me assert that fear can also be part of the problem.

More than one reader has written or called in to talk about his or her wanting to get involved in leather but being afraid of doing so. At worse it is the "How do I avoid going home with Dahmer?" question. More often it is the fear of the unknown, the fear of rejection, or the fear of black leather and dark corners.

There are fears about injury, about disease, about failure and disappointment. We are human and those feelings are part of the human condition.

I recently had conversations with several different men who were afraid of contracting HIV. That is a rational and very acceptable fear. HIV is much more prevalent than we think and it seems to be a bit more easily acquired than we'd like. I've heard estimates that as many as 50% of the men in a gay bar are infected, most without knowing it.

In any case, HIV is hard, though not impossible, to avoid. It is hard to avoid because we are all affected by it. It is a plague that is devastating our planet. Even if we never succumb to the virus itself, we can't help but be touched by the lives that it does infect.

But HIV isn't the only thing we fear. I have found that fear of failure is rampant among many of us. Fear of rejection certainly paralyzes a great number of us. Fear of discovery, of recognition, of ridicule are prevalent as well.

There was a time, when I first began to frequent gay bars that I feared rejection. I would sit or stand in the bar for hours wanting to speak to this or that hot-looking man. Like many others, though, I hesitated, ham-strung by the fear that he would tell me no.

One day a man approached me in whom I had no interest. We had a polite conversation and I told him "No". I did it in terms as gentle and as friendly as possible.

As he walked away I reminded myself that this was my body and I had every right to share it or not share it as I pleased. It was OK for me to say "No".

It was then that I realized that it was just as permissible for someone else to tell me the same thing. The person I approached had the same rights that I had. His or her exercise of those rights were not meant to be a statement about me, but about their preferences and their pleasures.

Yes, I would be rejected, but it was no longer any big deal. It was nothing to take personally and it certainly didn't mean that I was bad person. Life would go on after I got the "no". The real truth, hidden by fear, was that the number of no's is very small.

But AIDS isn't a matter of simple rejection, you say? You're right about that. It is here that fear has to be overcome, not for the reason of running head-long into HIV, but rather that our actions be fully human.

Several months ago, a young and very attractive man came over to become my slave. We talked about it for a good while. Needless to say, I was hot to trot.

When push came to shove, though, he was paralyzed by his fear of AIDS. In discussing his very obvious feelings, he shared that he had broken up with a lover who had tested positive. As much as he had cared for this guy, his fear of HIV had gotten the better of the situation.

The real tragedy was that this young man hadn't gotten the right information about HIV, its transmission, and its prognosis. He saw HIV as an immediate death sentence and so cut himself off from the joy of a meaningful relationship.

I know that I fall squarely in the "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" camp. I do so because I have acquired a balanced (I hope) view of life and death. I am going to live now, for now, in such a way as to insure that there will be a tomorrow for me in this here and now.

I won't allow myself to become paralyzed by expectations and dreads that are groundless. Just as rejection in a bar isn't a matter of life and death, there are ways to relate to HIV without becoming infected.

My young friend's problem wasn't his fear of HIV. Instead it was his lack of information about HIV. He had never sought competent counsel about it from an AIDS activist or his doctor. His lack or information let his fear run rampant and robbed him of his ability to make a fully human decision.

Yes, fears are real but they can be really overcome. Be honest with yourself about your fears and find ways to develop a balanced, human view of life --- and death. Life is too valuable, and, even for those of us who live to be a hundred, too short to be wasted by fear.

Copyright 1995 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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