My Friend Michael
Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather 2001
"It couldn't happen to a nicer guy" is so clichéd and over-used (like the word "genius"). But this is one of those rare moments when that overly used statement is actually true.
As I sat (actually stood) anxiously awaiting the final decisions of the 2001 Mid-Atlantic Leather (MAL) contest last January 14th, I was sure of one thing: Michael would win the "Brotherhood" Award -- you know, the equivalent of Miss Congeniality. But when his name wasn't called for that, I remained calm. I rationalized that he would actually be Mr. MAL 2001, since he seemed like the best choice to me and I believed that the judges would feel it odd to give him both titles. I was right -- Michael won. My friend Michael became Mr. MAL, and I was thrilled. So was the rest of the crowd.
A perfect example of a poz man who looks great, Michael is a 30-year-old New Jersey native who has worked extensively in the HIV/AIDS arena, first as Development Officer of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) from 1994 to 1996 and then Associate Director of Development of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS (BC/EFA) from 1996 to 2000). Currently Michael is the Associate Director of the Center For HIV/AIDS Educational Studies and Training (CHEST). Michael also works with The Saint-at-Large, T21 events, and BC/EFA assisting with their community-based functions.
An excellent choice for the MAL title, Michael is the embodiment of the "leather man," (you know that hegemonic ideal of masculinity). But he's also a smart and generous man who selflessly gives to his friends and family. His smarts were obvious on January 14 when he answered the question posed to him by the judges. Asked if members of the leather community needed to "tone down" their image in order to be more accepted in the mainstream, Michael articulately rejected this notion based on conceptions of respect, history, and the right of every individual to express him or herself in the manner that best suits each individual.
Like all other poz men, Michael faces the daily struggles of medication adherence, safer sex, and the ultimate unknown reality of his health. He worries about his T-cells, his viral load, and the wasting many HIV-positive people experience. He has his blood drawn every three months, scrutinizes his counts, his body, and his health, exercises on daily basis to keep his body strong and fit, and does so while balancing a demanding career with his second career as Mr. MAL. (It's not easy being a star!)
I love my friend Michael, who I first met at GMHC in 1996, and who walked by my office on a daily basis, too timid to speak to me. Five years later, my friend is not too timid to speak his mind, stand up for his rights, and parade his ass across a stage to be judged a group of "experts." His approach to life allows him to be surrounded by many friends who care about him and support him.
Since winning the title, Michael has organized and executed a fundraiser named "Porn Again," where he recycled old porn tapes and raised $6,000 for the AIDS-service organizations God's Love We Deliver and Brother Help Thyself, and in the fall, Michael will work with Body Positive in another fundraising event. As this goes to press, Michael prepares for the International Male Leather (IML) contest to be held Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, and to which he has an immediate entry based on his MAL title. Should he win, the judges will have made another excellent choice. If not, Michael will continue to triumph as a man, a poz man, who lives his life with dignity and respect, taking each day as it comes, and making the most of a poz life that at times can be somewhat less glamorous than being Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather.
Perry Halkitis is a member of the board of Body Positive.
Back to the June 2001 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.