August 11, 2022

HOW NOT TO TALK TO THE PUBLIC ABOUT MONKEYPOX:

I would like to share a piece of a recent interview I heard on OPB (Our NPR affiliate). The guest is a senior adviser with the Oregon Health Authority, the state agency that was also in charge of most policy decisions for Covid-19. Here is the exchange between Jenn Chávez (OPB host) and Dr. Tim Menza (OHA adviser) that left me a bit puzzled.

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Menza did eventually get around to talking about gay men, sort of, when prompted by his interviewer (who, of course, went directly to the issue of “stigma” before anyone devoted any time to the question of whether gay men need any particular information about risk reduction):

Chávez: Right now my understanding is that many of the cases in Oregon have been found in cisgender men who have sex with men. And I’m wondering how you are approaching public health messaging around this — resisting stigmatization and shame and blame while also still targeting those most at risk right now with resources.

Menza: It’s quite the challenge. What we’ve been trying to do as best as we can is stick with what we know. In the United States, we know that people assigned male at birth who have sex with men and people assigned female at birth, including at least one pregnant person, have been affected by hMPXV in Oregon. We know that cisgender men and nonbinary people are affected by hMPXV. While most identify as gay or queer and report close contact with people assigned male at birth, we have cases that also identify as straight and bisexual and report close contact with people assigned female at birth. (emphasis added)

It is simple enough to say that monkeypox is spreading especially among men who have sex with men. If you also say that there is elevated risk for trans and nonbinary people who have sex with men, you’ve covered the whole universe of elevated sexual risk for monkeypox in a clear and understandable way. Instead, Menza starts by talking about, for some reason, “people assigned male at birth who have sex with men and people assigned female at birth” — that is, to a first approximation, gay men plus women, which is not anywhere close to an accurate description of the high-risk group.

It is unacceptable, if you have Dr. Menza’s job, to speak in woke word salads like this. Menza is speaking on a broadcast news program. It is his job to communicate in clear terms to the broad public. And few members of the public describe themselves as “assigned male at birth” or even think of their sex as something that was “assigned.” This is woke jargon, and it’s unsuitable for a news interview.

The Newspeak Dictionary has nothing on Dr. Menza!

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