October 16, 2012
Back in late April-ish, my Facebook wall was bombarded by several of my loved ones who posted a call for HIV-positive models to participate in a new project that Jack Mackenroth, the HIV positive gay man of Project Runway fame and with a boogina that makes me think of sin and putting on a bib. FIRE IN THE HOLE!
Oops sorry ... that was my outside voice.
Anywho, several of my friends encouraged me to send Jack some of my pictures for this project. He was looking for HIV positive models, and my first response to my friends was ... ummm, 1) I am not a model; 2) You are asking me to send half naked pictures, sober, not on a sex site, with the possibility that I could end up half naked on a website for the entire world to see; and 3) Do you EVEN know me?
I love rejection just about as much as I love failure. Rejection, which is a main component of the impact of stigma on people living with HIV, becomes more than just a "shitty" moment for those of us living with the red rider. Rejection becomes the default for many of our interactions with folks in the community in whom we may have interest. Show me a poz man who hasn't experienced at at least half a dozen instances of shocking and hurtful ignorance when disclosing his status, and I will show you the magical leprechaun that I keep chained in my pantry making Lucky Charms whenever I have a hankering.
So imagine, then, submitting your pictures to a famous stud with no body fat and asking him to MAKE a judgment on your attractiveness.
Yeah ... ummm ... while I have a healthy and sometimes overly healthy ego, the one place that breaks down is around my body, but ... BUT ... I thought, "what the hell," and I sent the pictures along. Nothing special, just some shots I took with Photo Booth on my Mac.
I don't think it even took five minutes for Jack to respond booking me for the shoot.
Besides my ego there was a very specific reason that I made the choice to submit my photos. The project Jack was working on was a well developed, sexy, fun dating and hook up site and app for HIV-positive queer men. In the light of my personal and political work over the last year or so, and recalling the times when I failed to disclose and the shame, guilt and holy hell that created, I decided to put my own body image shit aside to be a part of this project.
A hook up site with financial backing that is aimed at eliminating stigma and supporting the HIV-positive community ... AND ... here is the critical piece ... holding up and recognizing that HIV-positive people GET to be sexual beings, GET to be human, GET to be loved, GET to objects of desire and GET to look in the mirror and feel wanted.
You see, it's a rare HIV-positive person who doesn't get their diagnosis and spend a little time or the rest of their lives reduced to their disease. And ... AND ... unlike any other communicable and potential life threatening disease (HPV, Hepatitis C and so many others) HIV is the ONLY one that is criminalized, and it is the only one where all of the public health strategies are aimed at one thing: stopping HIV-positive people from having sex or putting so much fear and shame into positive folks that they have sex rarely and furtively. Well, we all know just how much that has worked out. All the scientific data has shown that FEAR is never an effective tool for prevention. And criminalizing a virus, a.k.a. a basic identity of a person living with the virus, is exactly the same as criminalizing religion, race, creed, etc. And before anyone out there opens their mouth to say, "HEY ... but you can't infect someone with 'blackness.'" Well, guess what ... until 30-odd years ago, miscegenation laws existed EXACTLY because white folks viewed the mixing of the races as "infecting" white folks with blackness.
Yes, there is an obligation to disclose your HIV status. But an obligation to disclose does NOT absolve YOU from making a sexual choice that you later regret. Except the cases of rape or incest or maybe an intentional needle stick, the transmission of HIV should play absolutely no factor in the criminal legal system. In fact, it is has been shown to keep people from getting tested.
Smooth move straight folks. Bigotry wins again.
But, again, I digress.
So, about a month later, I showed up to an apartment in Brooklyn where Jack asked me to strip down to my underwear (I wasn't wearing any), and then he said, "No problem," and pulled out a stack of maybe 60 pairs.
Fashion gays are out of control.
In the end, the photos turned out ABSOLUTELY amazing. And two days ago the site went live. On the first day 500 people signed up for it. This really will be a game changer. The first step to building power in any community is first claiming your own empowered space. Thank you to Jack for helping the community take it first steps at reclaiming our pozitively sexiness!
Much love. Check it out: www.volttage.com.