Fire Island Pines, the gay getaway approximately 90-minutes from New York City, made headlines several weeks ago when several videos spread across social media of gay men partying with nary a mask in sight and little to no social distancing. Since that round of incredibly bad publicity, a group has worked to ensure that rules are obeyed by hiring drag queens and go-go boys to hand out masks and sanitizer.
Ty Mitchell, an adult performer who has worked for the studios Men.com and Cockyboys, among others, published a lengthy essay at Buzzfeed titled “To Survive A Pandemic, We Need To Make Room For Pleasure,” explaining his participation in those COVID-defying parties. Most Buzzfeed’s commenters aren’t buying his justifications.
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Wrote Mitchell of arriving at the party: “It sounded like trouble, but we were already halfway there and decided to at least check it out. As the crowd came into view, I felt the strange dissonance between warm familiarity and abject horror, between the thrill of nightlife as I remember it and the recognition that nightlife is now bound up with potentially deadly repercussions. I dragged myself through a sardine tin of sweaty, ecstatic bodies, people who had taken off their masks to kiss a boy and never put them back on. I hoped that a more dispersed scene might be on the other side. There wasn’t, rather just a membrane to the crowd where zombified partiers stumbled outward to vomit into bushes and try not to lose consciousness.”
Wrote Mitchell later: “In Fire Island, where events and parties are otherwise organized very clearly, norms around ethically socializing hadn’t been firmly established until very recently, given that it was once hardly permissible to socialize at all. For some, it’s still not. Navigating Fire Island on its first high-volume holiday weekend of the summer involved navigating unfamiliar circumstances of risk and desire that can escalate quickly and confusingly, necessitating boundaries that we only learn to assert through practice and compassionate advice.”
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Commenters on Mitchell’s essay aren’t buying his explanations.
Wrote one commenter by the name of Tricksiecat: “No we all f**kin knew by the 4th not to gather like that, don’t rewrite this like y’all had no idea. And if that were true, if you believed it wasn’t that big of a deal, then what was with the bit about calculated risk? You don’t get to make calculated risks that could kill others because you need some leisure time. This is sh*t journalism.”
Mitchell argued in the piece that people are failing to see the nuances of risk-negotiation among different groups: “This absence of a local case surge was somewhat irrelevant to the criticism leveled against the partygoers, which is that they presumably did not care about the effects in the first place. Photos and videos circulating around social media depicted Fire Island as a mess of drug-addled disregard for social distancing, in spite of successful efforts to normalize mask-wearing along the boardwalk and restructure food and grocery establishments outdoors. This footage so thoroughly echoed images of pandemic denialists in conservative communities that onlookers seemed to view them as one and the same. But here’s the thing: They’re not.”
“Distinctions between various spectacles of seemingly sporadic irresponsibility are worth making,” Mitchell added, “because the ways all of us negotiate risk, trust, and desire are varying more and more widely each day. This includes essential workers, who are not just heroic props in our culture war over contagion, but real people who seek their own share of leisure and social life when they’re not working. In spite of these lived complexities, pandemic ethics tend to reduce everyone into a binary of good, vigilant quarantiners versus selfish, stupid bioterrorists. Though the line between these positions has shifted within short spans of time, yet the parameters of good behavior are always considered self-evident.”
Added henry31: “Do NOT make this about gay people when u were too irresponsible to use your brain.”
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Commenters were also angered when Mitchell brought Fire Island’s history and the history of the AIDS epidemic into his explanation: ““In Fire Island I have learned how once you locate the parts of the past to which you belong, history is a rich and pleasant feeling, not just an assemblage of facts. Navigating the Pines in a pandemic only sharpened that feeling, given its role as a vital refuge for gay people at the height of the ongoing AIDS epidemic. It was there that many queer people possessed the space and openness to cultivate networks for education, care, and grief among ourselves to survive HIV/AIDS (or live out our final days of it.) And in this way, it provided a kind of laboratory for crafting modes of pleasure and intimacy within new parameters of risk. Even though COVID-19 differs greatly from HIV, the task of defying disease rings out with a particular, historical vibration in Fire Island.””
Added buzzcat99: “Please don’t think you’re brave for being honest and facing (justified) anger. … We knew damn well not to socialize by 4th of July you liar. -The lack of a surge was because responsible people kept to quarantine while a**holes like you flouted it, hence the plateau. -The lack of government response in NO WAY the justification you think it is for partying. -The context and history of Fire Island, while interesting, has nothing to do with your immaturity and irresponsibly. -You act like it was responsible that you got tested and monitored your friends for symptoms, but it was pure dumb luck you didn’t get it, nothing else. On behalf of everyone who’s been affected, lost someone, and who took this seriously in March, who still took it seriously in July, and who still take it seriously now.”
Wrote chrismakis: “I have tried not to be angry while reading this. IN ANY OTHER circumstance, we live and let live in NY. But this was the year to cancel. Justifying these actions, because we all are dealing with the pandemic differently is bogus. I do not usually comment on articles on Buzzfeed. Do not marry the need for safe spaces and the need to party in the summer during the year PEOPLE ARE DYING going to the grocery store. TAKE THIS ARTICLE DOWN. THERE IS NO REASON TO PARTY THIS YEAR. Stop making excuses for shitty behavior.”
Wrote cataloger 2198: “You wrote this article, exposing yourself as someone who participated in irresponsible activities, and posted it in the hopes that you’d receive sympathy. Instead of using your mistake as an opportunity to educate others on why acts like these are extremely dangerous and should not be advised, you justified your actions, along with those of thousands of other people, that could have and may well have killed someone. You don’t deserve anything other than comments explaining how crappy this was.”
Mitchell does have some defenders.
Wrote stockwocket: “Thanks for writing this. The self-righteousness on display in these comments needs to be challenged. Yes, we need to be careful. Yes, gay people need to balance that safety with their need for gay spaces and experiences. It’s possible to make a mistake (like go to a too-crowded party) and still have a point. Let’s stop dividing the world into black and white, good and bad, 100% right and 100% wrong. The world is full of nuance.”
Added twistoff: “To all those spewing vitriol, I don’t believe this will reach your ears, let alone your hearts but the cruelty and hatred in your comments are quite disgusting. No one in his house contracted covid, no one spread the disease. Y’all’s confirmation bias is evident as you cherry pick this article. Mental health is as important as physical health. Maybe treat y’all’s self to some much needed kindness and grace.”
Read the full article here.