Positively Sexy: Volttage Provides an Online Space for Dating and Expression
May 28, 2013
For HIV-positive gay men, the dating world can be a difficult forest to navigate. In a community that can be heavy on the positive stigma, having to divulge your status and wait for the other guy to "be OK" with it can get old really fast. Enter Jack Mackenroth -- fashion designer, swimmer, model, HIV advocate, 23-year HIV survivor, past Project Runway contestant, and mastermind behind Volttage, a dating site for HIV-positive gay men.
Now, Jack is looking to expand Volttage's scope past being a mere dating site, and to create an artistic and cultural hub for positive gay men to be themselves -- a true social network. Joining him in the effort is writer David Duran, who curates for Volttage's new blog, Volttage Buzz. David writes on a host of topics, from sexuality to global travel, and is well known for his popular and thought-provoking articles on HIV-related topics. Jack and David sat down with TheBody.com's Mathew Rodriguez to discuss Volttage, Volttage Buzz, the stigma of dating as positive gay men, and how they hope to create a community for positive men to thrive and express their opinions.
Mathew Rodriguez: Jack, tell us about the origins of Volttage. What made you want to start the site, and what was the process of its founding?
Jack Mackenroth: After disclosing my HIV status on Project Runway, I became somewhat of a role model and resource for a lot of people in the HIV community. Because of the massive stigma associated with HIV, unfortunately there are very few public figures who will openly disclose their status. The onslaught of emails and Facebook messages was immediate. People were sending me a ton of supportive messages, but there were also a lot of questions about living with HIV, coping with a new diagnosis, and endless questions about dating and disclosure.
-- Jack Mackenroth
HIV-positive guys are often discriminated against on other sites where phrases like "clean only" and "HIV neg UB2" are common. Online dating is particularly attractive to poz guys, because it's easier to disclose status online rather than risk rejection face to face. So I decided to start a site (and soon to be app) that is marketed specifically to HIV-positive guys.
The Volttage tag line is "positively sexy guys," but we don't actually ask HIV status. We believe that everyone should always assume that their partner is positive and proceed accordingly. As a result, it's created this amazing, stigma-free community where everyone feels welcome.
The process of founding the site took a lot of work. I have two partners who built the site and it will always be a work in progress. We are currently working on the mobile app and we are also developing a blog in tandem with Volttage called Volttage Buzz. Eventually, we will also have a huge resource list of HIV organizations and groups, as well.
Mathew Rodriguez: David, can you tell us when you came on board to Volttage?
David Duran: I've been contributing to what was the original blog since inception, and I came on board several months ago to create the new Volttage Buzz blog. I'm going to be curating the site, and taking on submissions, and editing and doing my own contributions, as well.
Jack Mackenroth: I knew I wanted Volttage to be more than just a dating/hookup app. So the blog and news feed are very important. Since we already have a membership of more than 7,000 guys without any promotion as of this interview, I think it is a great way to dispense information and educate this portion of the HIV community. We are growing daily and Volttage has the potential to be a game changer.
I knew David Duran from his great articles and he had mentioned Volttage in a couple of articles he wrote about HIV and dating. I reached out to him last month about "curating" Volttage Buzz. He's got the talent and the connections to take it to the next level.
Eventually, I want Volttage to be a community hub for lots of HIV-related issues. And we are always looking for people who would like to contribute.
Mathew Rodriguez: When did it go from being a dating site to being a hub for positive men, with a blog involved? How did that evolve?
David Duran: It always had a small blog on it. It had a blog feed. There were always articles and submissions on the dating site. What we're doing now is taking it to a different level. We're going to have it be its own standalone site with a lot more resources on there. We're going to have lots of contributions from activists, from members, from doctors, from experts, Jack, myself, different opinions; and we're going to have some fun stuff on there, too, so it's not just a dry site. It's going to be a combination of everything.
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