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If you lived during the latter half of the eighties, you were probably no stranger to the face of the most adorable little boy on television — Danny Pintauro, the child actor who played Jonathan Bowers on ABC’s hit sitcom “Who’s the Boss? (ad)” The shy son of the newly-single and clinically uptight Angela Bowers (played by Judith Light), Jonathan brought the cute factor hard and became what could only be described as “a thing of awww” to millions of American viewers for almost a decade.
Danny’s TV and film career came to a screeching halt when “Who’s the Boss” ended — the sad fate of many a child star. But after earning a degree in drama, Pintauro made a successful transition to stage acting and received acclaim there. Although his life took a swerve in 1997 when the National Enquirer outed him as homosexual — an outing he decided to proactively participate in, graciously granting them an interview — it appeared Pintauro had successfully dodged all the near-inevitable pitfalls of child stardom and found his happy place.
Yeah…not so much. Turned out he got addicted to meth and contracted HIV, which he revealed to the world in a 2015 interview with Oprah Winfrey. Thanks to the wonders of modern medicine (which is keeping a good chunk of the U.S. gay male population alive, seeing how 1 in 5 are HIV-positive), Danny is in good health (relatively speaking, when you’re carrying a lethal virus) and is now happily “married” (someday I’m sure I’ll drop the quotes) to entertainer and real estate agent Wil Tabares.
I’m never happy to hear that anyone is HIV-positive (or gay, for that matter), and Danny Pintauro is no exception. Sometimes you think, “Yeah, that figures,” such as in the case of Charlie Sheen, but even then, being HIV-positive (or gay) is not something you wish on any human being if you have a heart in your chest.
That being said, you generally don’t pick up HIV unless you do something to contract it, and your behavioral choices are overwhelmingly driven by your thoughts and beliefs. The act of doing starts in the mind, and in his interview with Oprah there were three things Danny Pintauro said that revealed some disturbing elements in his mindset:
- “I had just come out of a two-year relationship, and I discovered in that relationship that there was more I wanted to explore sexually.”
Okay, this might sound innocuous enough, but it actually strikes me as rather chilling. Set aside the ethics of having a sexual relationship outside of marriage for a second — I don’t think gay marriage was actually possible at the point in time Pintauro is describing, but that’s irrelevant because this isn’t a “gay thing” I’m talking about right now but a “relationships thing”. Here Pintauro is saying he wants to do more sexual exploration. Sexual exploration generally involves another person. But Pintauro isn’t saying he wants to delve more deeply into a relationship with that hypothetical other person. He doesn’t really come across as desiring a relationship at all. What he wants is a toy he can use to gratify himself and explore his sexual desires. And in this case, that toy is a person.
What we’ve got here, in other words, is a prime case of objectification — you know, that thing feminists hate and accuse guys of doing all the time? “Stop looking at us like that!” they say. “We’re people, not objects!” And they’re absolutely right. Except we live in a culture — and gay culture is apparently no different from straight culture in this — where we don’t require you to actually get to know someone before having sex with them. In other words, we have this culture where objectification is the norm, not the deviation. Used to be, the norm was that you find someone to marry, and then you have sex. But society has by and large rejected this norm. And we’ve got the STDs, illegitimacy, and Jerry Springer and his clones to show for it. If you actually wait to have sex until marriage, have all your kids inside of that marriage, and stay in that marriage until one or both of you die, you’re the deviant now. (I mean, seriously, what’s up with all that chastity and fidelity, you freak?)
And what I find chilling about this quote is that you don’t get any impression that the attitude of objectification that led Pintauro to contract HIV is something that he rejects now. He mentions it, but he’s not at all ashamed of it. He doesn’t appear to think viewing people purely as sexual objects — or using them as such if the desire arises — is wrong. And that’s a very unhealthy view for any culture to ingest.
That one stopped me dead in my tracks.
I’ve never had an HIV test in my entire life. Not once. Granted, I’m a straight guy, but still…every six months? On what grounds?
I was only sexually active for about a year of my life around age 35. (Stupid idea, I’ll spare you the gory details.) I knew the girl, I knew most (though not all, it turned out) of her previous partners, and I experienced no ill health effects from her and my few encounters, so I never got an HIV test. In any case, I was a regular blood donor, so I figured that if on some outside chance I had contracted HIV, the sirens would go off on my next donation. No, I’m not saying you should go donate blood if you actually think there’s a reasonable chance you’ve contracted HIV — no blood bank on the planet wants you to do that. But the idea that you should get tested every six months? What are you doing that you should require that kind of testing regimen — anything that moves?
I’m certainly not against getting HIV-tested when the circumstances warrant. For example, I have a friend who landed a first date off an online dating site. The girl was all, “I don’t feel like going out, why don’t we watch a movie at your place?” so she came over to his apartment, and pretty soon no movie-watching was going on. The next week he had to call in sick to work, and my friend has the constitution of a horse — he never calls in sick. I told him he needed to get tested because that’s just a bad sign. I don’t know whether he took my advice or not, and he’s hale and hearty today, thank goodness, but I’m just saying all this to show that I don’t have any bias against HIV-testing at all when it seems there’s a need.
But the scary thing I’m hearing in Danny Pintauro’s statement about “responsible gay men” is that for gay men, there’s always a need. Do you recall that “1 in 5” statistic I mentioned earlier? 20% of gay men in this country are HIV-positive. That’s an insanely high rate. The overall rate for the whole country as of 2012 was about 1 in 260 (which, in my opinion, is still pretty scary). Researchers largely attribute the much greater prevalence of HIV in the gay male population to the fact that butts really aren’t made for sex — sorry, guys, they just aren’t — so HIV is more easily transmitted via anal sex than any other kind.
Given the enormous risk of contracting HIV, you would think that a “responsible gay man” would — oh, I don’t know — either abstain from sexual intercourse altogether or make damn sure he only had sex with partners who tested clean at the outset of their relationship and pledged to be monogamous throughout their relationship. But apparently that’s far above and beyond what rises to the level of “responsibility” in a community where 1 in 5 have to take a strict drug regimen just to stay alive.
And, as I mentioned above regarding the first quote, I don’t think a “relationship” was what Danny Pintauro was looking for when he contracted HIV, anyway. And that’s really the problem here: Thinking you can bang whoever you want strictly for self-gratification, and labeling yourself “responsible” simply because you’re getting checked every six months to see whether or not your behavior actually has ruined your health.
- “My husband, our first date….it was the first thing I told him. The first thing he said was, ‘I’m not scared of it at all.'”
W. T. F.
I can guarantee you right now, if a girl tells me on the first date, “I’m HIV-positive,” I’m not going to run away screaming — but only because that would be rude, not because I wouldn’t want to.
I grew up in the 80s and 90s when HIV was still largely a death sentence. Basically, you get your diagnosis, and you’ve got maybe 5 or 6 years tops before you ended up a flesh-colored skeleton. TV channels up and down the dial, from PBS to premium cable, were showing documentaries devoted to the scourge that AIDS had become. People even started sewing quilts, with each patch of a quilt representing someone lost to AIDS. And those were some pretty big quilts.
I’ve tried to find Tabares’ age online because the only explanation I can think of for nonchalance toward your date’s carrying a lethal virus is being too young to have viewed the same images that Danny Pintauro and I grew up with. (Danny’s only four years younger than me.)
And I realize that modern medicine has made some amazing advances in keeping people with HIV alive and healthy. Basketball legend Magic Johnson was probably the first to demonstrate that with proper care and drug cocktails out the wazoo, you could maintain an active — even athletic — lifestyle while HIV-positive. And the drugs have only gotten better. One of my high school classmates is a pharmaceutical salesman, and he was bragging up and down at our 25-year reunion about how his company is pushing a “one pill a day” solution to HIV treatment, as opposed to the multi-pill cocktails we’ve popularly come to associate with the disease. The medical community can even prescribe HIV prophylactics for people now and is suggesting that every gay man take them — think of it as “gay birth control”, if you will, and expect either Obamacare (if Hillary wins in November) or Bernie’s “Medicare for All” to cover it 100%.
But here’s the thing: No drugs are 100% effective in preventing you from catching HIV — or in preventing HIV from killing you if you already have it (PDF link). When it comes right down to it, the best way to avoid dying of AIDS is to not catch HIV in the first place, and the only way to ensure you do that is to control your behavior. Whatever lessons we might learn from Danny Pintauro’s interview, that crucial piece of advice is the one thing painfully absent.
- Post thumbnail at http://usat.ly/1pBcsqP
- “Young Danny” at http://bit.ly/1VLSCpi
- “Danny on Oprah” at http://bit.ly/1pL5HDn
- “HIV Test” at http://bit.ly/1RCBliz
- “Danny and Wil” at http://bit.ly/1pLda5o
- “AIDS patient” at http://bit.ly/1ZyX5M9