As many men in the community become condom weary, and some even consciously desire HIV infection, disturbing new trends of risky behavior have pushed the rate of new infections back into a rapid rise, all to the mantra of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Using Internet sites for promotion and connection, a community of barebackers (those who have sex without a condom) is flourishing. This includes bug chasers who host conversion parties where men actively seek the gift of HIV infection.
Doug, a central character of the film, is a bright, articulate young man who moved from the Midwest to San Francisco in search of a gay community. He became a bug chaser and actively sought the gift of HIV infection. When Doug became infected with the virus, he felt a sense of belonging to a community. He is now dealing with the unexpected severity of his illness.
Also featured in the documentary is noted psychoanalyst and community activist Walt Odets, MD, author of In the Shadow of the Epidemic. Dr.Odets examines the loss, grief and anxiety experienced by HIV negative
men living with the AIDS epidemic, and he speaks out about why prevention has failed and what needs to be done.
It is the filmmakers' hope that The Gift will create dialogue within the community and raise awareness of the issues of isolation and division in the gay community around HIV status, thereby leading to a renewed prevention effort.
Bugchasing is a slang term for the practice of pursuing sex with HIV infected individuals in order to contract HIV. Bugchasers may seek HIV infection for a variety of reasons.
Bugchasers seek sexual partners who are HIV positive for the purpose of having unprotected sex and becoming HIV positive; giftgivers are HIV positive individuals who comply with the bugchaser's efforts to become infected with HIV.
Bugchasers indicate various reasons for this activity. Some bugchasers engage in the activity for the excitement inherent in pursuing such a dangerous activity, but do not implicitly desire to contract HIV. Some researchers suggest that the behavior may stem from a "resistance to dominant heterosexual norms and mores" due to a defensive response by gay men to repudiate stigmatization and rejection by society
Some men consider bugchasing "intensely erotic" and the act of being infected as the "ultimate taboo, the most extreme sex act left". A number of men who are HIV negative and in a relationship with someone who is HIV positive seek infection as a way to remain in the relationship, particularly when the HIV positive partner may wish to break up to avoid infecting the HIV negative partner
Some workers in the US HIV community report that a number of younger men seek infection as a way to receive benefits, a "free ride," because they would qualify to receive Section 8, Social Security and other benefits from getting infected with HIV. Some contend that this behaviour stems from feelings of inevitability towards HIV among the gay community and the empowerment of choosing when to contract the virus. Others have suggested that some men who feel lonely desire the nurturing community that supports persons with AIDS