Shortly after writing my 18,000th word on the subject of rising gay HIV rates, I found myself cruising a cute guy at Neighbours. We started talking, first names were exchanged. Then he found out I write for The Stranger. "Oh," he said, flirty smile now gone. "You're that AIDS writer guy."

I was not who he had imagined. Reading my pieces, he had envisioned me as an angry, aging bear who probably doesn't go out much, someone who prefers instead to sit at home with his computer and fulminate against the decline of personal responsibility. And there I was, tipsy, young, wearing black glasses and standing rather close to him in a hot dance club full of sweaty guys. He didn't know how to react.

Back in June, when I began writing about gay men's health, I didn't give much thought to how people would picture me as a person. I was too angry about what was going on, shocked at how little our gay health leaders were saying about the problem of rising STD rates in the gay community. I never imagined that the articles that followed would lead so many people to assume I am a joyless, sex-negative, puritanical prude who probably suffers from internalized homophobia--or, as the cute boy at Neighbours thought, that I am an angry, hairy old man.

But that is exactly what happened. Perhaps I should have said this earlier: I'm 26 years old. I'm only hairy in certain, appropriate spots. And I love gay sex.

I didn't think I had to say this stuff. It was obvious to anyone who knew me, and as for everyone else, I thought: Fuck 'em. Still, it grated. I considered saying something in print, but it seemed a losing proposition--too easy to fall into the "thou dost protest too much" trap. Plus, I didn't want to validate the assumption, obviously far too common in our community, that any gay man who talks about responsibility and gay sex in the same sentence must be no fun to sleep with.

Sure, I wrote things such as this, about the recent gay community manifesto: "Three decades after Stonewall and two decades after AIDS began killing gay men, it's a sad comment that an injunction to follow basic notions of self-respect, human decency, and healthy behavior constitutes a radical document in the gay community."

That doesn't mean I don't like to fuck.

Yes, I described a recent gay-health ad campaign put out by Lifelong AIDS Alliance as "inane." Yes, a phone call I made to King County Executive Ron Sims resulted in the cancellation of Gay City Health Project's ill-advised sex-club promotion event "Murder in the Dark." Yes, I suggested Gay City Executive Director Fred Swanson try "giving up on the condescending idea that gay men can't handle health messages that aren't soft-edged or sexualized."

That doesn't mean I don't like to sexualize the soft edges of certain gay men.

There's a big difference between promoting safe sexual behavior and being an undersexed right-wing prude. The problem is that too many gay men, and way too many gay men's health workers, don't seem to get this.

The guy I met that night at Neighbours didn't go home with me, although before he found out who I was it had seemed like we might end up at my place. Instead, he proposed something nonsexual, something you would do on a first date with a puritan: coffee.

For me, good dates don't begin with coffee. Still, I sucked it up and met him the next week at a coffee shop, where, thankfully, we both immediately confessed we'd rather be in a bar. We walked to a place that served whiskey and vodka, talked about AIDS writing, architecture, and our families, and then went back to my apartment. It was safe, it was sweet, and we're still seeing each other.