A piece written by Doug Hitzel documenting his bug chasing journey and becoming HIV-positive at age 19 was published in POZ Magazine 20 years ago on February 1, 2002 under the title “A Boy’s Own Story”. This is a powerful piece of writing from a young man who is no longer with us, which provides insight from someone who successfully chased the bug from an early age. Doug was aged 20 when he wrote his article, so it’s very timely to be reflecting on his article exactly 20 years on. You might recall that Doug appeared in Louise Hogarth’s 2003 film “The Gift”, an award-winning documentary about bug chasing, with Doug being one of two bug chasers interviewed. It’s important to put his piece of writing into perspective, as advances in healthcare and the longevity of living a positive life was different back in 2002.
The article written by Doug is extremely important, because it identifies a “fork in the road” for those who enjoyed barebacking at the time. It’s easy for people in the current day to judge those who wanted to enjoy skin-on-skin sexual encounters with other men, as we can now choose to protect ourselves with PrEP if we want to, but PrEP was not available in 2002, which is why some guys made the decision to chase the bug, as they wanted to eliminate the anxiety associated with barebacking by intentionally becoming infected with the virus so they no longer had to worry about contracting it. There’s a multitude of reasons why we might want to chase the bug, but Doug shares his reasons in his article.
Doug was one of four children (he had one sister and two brothers) who was born on January 10, 1982 in Honolulu, Hawaii, with the family later moving to Nebraska just before his first birthday. During his senior year, Doug was a member of the State Championship Speech Team and he attended college at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, University of South Dakota, and Creighton University in Omaha. Doug lived in various parts of the country during his lifetime, including Denver CO, San Francisco CA, New York City NY, Vermillion SD, Buffalo NY, Harrisburg PA, Memphis TN and Omaha NE and he enjoyed working with people in various customer service roles. While living in Memphis, Doug started a bakery named “The Cupcake Guy” and he later changed the name to “The Baker Guy” when he moved to Nebraska, where he sold cakes, cookies, cupcakes and other baked treats to his customers.
You can tell from Doug’s obituary that he enjoyed reading and was a thinker who cherished the conversations he had with others, both on a personal and competitive level. Doug also joined the Harvest Community Church in Omaha later in life after his conversion, which is a church that has several recently amended its core values and bases its identity on ‘many stories united together as one body in Christ’. It was clear from Doug’s interview with Louise Hogarth, that at times he felt lost and needed some direction and guidance at times during his life and although it sounds like he made some good decisions over the years, he needed some reassurance from what appears to be regret based on his decision to become a bug chaser.
Those who did choose to chase the bug in the early days made a brave decision, because at the time, there was no medication available to treat the virus, but over time, advances in healthcare and treatments have changed this outlook, but even in the current day, it’s still a massive decision to make and one that requires a lot of thought. Reading other people’s stories is a great way to obtain insight about what bug chasing means to them, but it’s important to appreciate that we are all unique, because we come from different backgrounds and have varying mindsets and circumstances, so what someone experiences may be completely different to our own experiences, but it’s still interesting to gain insight from other people.
A Boy’s Own Story by Doug Hitzel
While slurping down a peach smoothie at the Big Cup, the other day, near my new home in New York City I read in a gay paper a little classified ad for Barebackers Anonymous — a support group for neg people who simply can’t quit having unsafe sex. This stopped me in my tracks and made my stomach and heart ache. How unfair, I thought, that I, still in my teens, feeling lost, alone and scared, didn’t have a group like that available in San Francisco. There I’d be standing on Market Street, waiting for the BART to take home from another wild, Friday-to-Sunday, drug-dazed, barebacking bacchanalia.
Before then, from the fourth grade on, my head was pummeled with safe sex education and I would only sleep with guys who said they were negative. Then one day, while sitting on my floor cruising the Net, I thought, “I could hook up with positive tops…if I really wanted.”
All of a sudden, my luck changed. There were men by the dozens available to me. Most at first were wary about my age and status, but I quickly dispelled their reservations by saying I was positive as well.
Then I stumbled on a few sites that piqued my curiosity. Bug-chasing. Gift-giving. Reading and researching this made my curiosity run wild. I began asking about bug-chasing, through my blurry tina haze, provoking excitement in some, utter disgust in others. On the phone line, some guys would yell, others would say something mean and others would simply express concern. “Why would you want to be positive?” they asked.
I never really had an answer. Maybe it’s because growing up in the Midwest, I was taught through fear. HAVE SAFE SEX OR DIE! Barebacking seemed the ultimate rebellion. Most men in sex clubs seemed confused when they’d walk by and see a guy my age lying in the sling, waiting and ready. Confused and excited. Legs open and ready for whatever. Or, maybe, to me, it just seemed easier.
The fact is, in the city by the Bay, there is no longer any pressure to have safe sex. But that didn’t stop one of my closest friends, Linus, from trying to dissuade me. He spotted the acronyms BB (bareback) and PnP (party-and-play) in my male-for-male profile. He wrote me an e-mail that to me seemed bossy and unfounded. “Take out the PnP, because as you’ve informed me before, you have quit, right? Also, take BB out, because if you bottom bareback, you will be infected. And we don’t want that. DO WE? Mother.”
After I discovered the party-and-play scene, Linus pleaded with me to quit, and to please, please not bareback. “It really hurts me that you would bareback and risk infection,” read one e-mail. I understood not a word. How could my barebacking and possible infection hurt HIM? It was my life. Linus eventually dropped all contact with me. My suicide mission must have been too hard to watch. Meanwhile, I continued.
It was mid-June when everything began to crumble for me. At six feet and 145 pounds, I was skinnier than I had ever been. I couldn’t hold or find a job to save my life. Any dreams I had before simply faded. By mid-July I was hit with a flu unlike anything I had ever experienced. While I sought medical help and tried to recuperate, I missed too much work and lost my last job. I called my mom and said, “I wanna move home.”
A week later, I found out I was clear of heps A, B and C. The HIV results would come from a test I was to do at home.
In some ways I knew I was on a suicide mission — it was my hope to, at some point, wear my body out and die. Some nights I’d wake in a panic, having realized I would spend the rest of my life deteriorating, because for five months at 19, I had decided I would invite a disease into my life. All because I wanted to fuck any person that walked in that door. Never thinking that one day I wouldn’t want just any person, I would want that one person. That less was more, and what I was doing would surely bring me less than I had before.
I’ll pay for that decision for the rest of my life. Every time a guy I really like doesn’t want to date me because of my status. Every time I have to watch a friend die and have to wonder about my own fate. And every time I think of what I haven’t accomplished yet. I’ll have to remember that decision I made, despite the disapproval of every single friend that ever really cared for me. – Doug Hitzel – February 1, 2002 via POZ Magazine.
RIP Doug Hitzel – January 10, 1982 – September 26, 2017 (aged 35)
- A Boy’s Own Story – https://www.poz.com/article/A-Boy-s-Own-Story-799-2441
- Obituary of Douglas Hitzel – https://www.anewspaper.net/obituaries/douglas-joe-hitzel
Featured Photo: Anthony Freda
Content Credit: POZ Magazine (Smart + Strong / CDM Publishing, LLC.)
Article ID: CC029
Version Control: 1.0 – March 8, 2022: Original article published.