A Month of Superheroes: John Oliver
August 17, 2015
The new issue of POZ is out, entitled “Suppression Superheroes”. You can check it out by clicking here.
Inspired by this issue, I want to spend the next month highlighting some folks who I deem to be superheroes among us. They’ll range from people I’ve met in flesh in blood, to people who I’ve merely observed in the stars from my lowly terrestrial perch.
First up is John Oliver. I’ve been a fan of his since his first appearances as a correspondent on The Daily Show. But my appreciation for John grew beyond his talents as a comedian when he donated his talents to an HIV/AIDS fundraiser (AIDS Walk NY) that my friends and I were participating in 2007 and 2008.
Here’s Gwenn fanning out as she introduces John in 2007:
On his HBO show, “Last Week with John Oliver”, John has incorporated the issue of clean needles into a children’s song, and also tackled the issue of sex education in America’s public schools. Check out his take on sex ed below:
What makes John Oliver a superhero to me is his common sense, the uncommon ability to use his comedic skills to open hearts to difficult topics and his empathy for man and womankind.
Merce- Original HIV Comedy Series!
July 28, 2015
Now that 40 has sunk in, and I have recovered from my birthday festivities, I wanted to post an entry about one of my favorite new things: Merce! It’s so over-the-top campy and kind-hearted, with a story that is centered around the middle-aged Merce, an HIV positive man living in New York City.
The episodes are short, funny and inspired. And I’m so happy to see a web series focused on a lead character living in today’s American world with HIV. Well done, Team Merce!
For those of you who haven’t checked it out yet, here’s the first two episodes below.
The first episode debuted two weeks ago, and in it the title character, Merce, who is living with HIV in New York City, goes on a date…
In episode two, Merce has a doctor’s appointment. Harboring a not-so-subtle crush on his own personal McDreamy, Merce is disappointed when his doctor suggests that he start working out.
Looking forward to seeing what adventures lie ahead for wide-eyed Merce!
Live Long and Prosper
February 27, 2015
Today lovers of sci-fi and beyond are mourning the loss of Leonard Nimoy, best known for his portrayal of Spock in Star Trek.
I’m not going to claim Trekkie status (is it “Trekkie” or “Trekie”?), far from it. I remember seeing Star Trek in syndication at my grandparents house, where I’d go after school during my early elementary school days. I really liked the show, and saw the first three movies in the theater… the ear worm thingies in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, still give me the willies. But as a kid, I leaned more towards Star Wars.
But, of all the characters in both of those fantastical realms, I think Spock would have been the guy to find a cure for HIV.
And it is Spock’s most famous sentiment that I pass along to you.
Live Long and Prosper,
Take the GLAAD Celibacy Challenge
February 19, 2015
Would you give up sex for one year to donate blood?
When the FDA lifted the the gay blood ban, that was their caveat. GLAAD, with the help of Alan Cumming, brilliantly lampooned the decision to include the celibacy clause and offer some advice to any gay man who wants to donate blood but is rattled at the thought of an extended dry spell…
Thanks to Nina Martinez, my positoid pal, for tweeting about this video. Like me, she was infected with HIV early in life via tainted blood products. And, like me, she feels that risk assessment for blood donations should be based on behaviors, not sexual orientation. If you agree with us and enjoyed the video, then please sign the Celibacy Challenge petition.
Cash for the Stache? Let’s Rock AIDS!!
December 4, 2014
You’ve seen the moustache… and more of me than you intended to this week… and, well, the time has come… so let’s harness the full power of Freddie Mercury together!
The fundraising drive for MTV Staying Alive is live- from now through Saturday you can make a minimum donation of $8 (MTV Staying Alive and the Big Give fund drive is based in London- so a £5.00 donation roughly equates to $8.) Your donation goes towards helping young people fight HIV in their communities around the world. But it also does much more.
For each dollar, Durex will supply 5 free condoms for young educators- meaning that your minimum donation of $8 (£ 5.00) would provide 40 condoms!
What will happen regardless of whether the donation gets doubled? You’ll help vital prevention programs get funded. HIV is a complex problem, but proven strategies combined with a creative approach work in minimizing risk for HIV transmission… and MTV Staying Alive has an incredible track record.
So let’s do this! Join me in making a donation today… or I’ll post more pictures of me in the shower with this moustache. And yes, the drapes do match the curtains. Don’t make me prove it.
We Are All Queen,
We Are Clean… AND the Champions (of the World)
November 28, 2014
Are you hanging on the edge of your seat?”
“Another One Bites the Dust” – Queen
It’s all about the word “clean” and how it’s used to imply that anyone with HIV- or any other STI, is somehow dirty by proxy.
So yes, I’d love for you to support me in my World AIDS Day campaign by donating money on December 4, 5 and 6, (starting at 5 am EST on December 4th!!!) when donation amounts are doubled. But it would also be great to get as many people as possible to join in on the #weareALLclean movement on World AIDS Day. Use the hashtag- you don’t have to post a shower selfie, either, if you aren’t quite as bold as, say, Freddie Mercury, then don’t worry: you can vocalize your support for the community and reinforce the idea that a positive test result doesn’t mean someone is no longer sexually or emotionally attractive.
We are HIV positive. We are clean. And we are the champions of the world.
Former POZ Coverboy, Bob Bowers, Rocks On VH1
November 18, 2014
Last month I posted a critical observation of VH1′s reality TV show, Couples Therapy. The post was in regard to how castmember Evel Dick’s HIV disclosure (in episode 5, “The Truth is Out There”) was handled. Two weeks ago, however, the show really stepped up when they brought in long-time HIV advocate and AIDS asskicker Bob Bowers to give Dick some words of encouragement. (You can watch full episodes here- but the one referenced in this blog, “Meatball Problems”, won’t be available until Dec 4.)
Bob has been living with HIV for three decades and has a no-nonsense approach to HIV education. He wears his heart on his sleeve, which is an impressive sleeve of ink I must say. I really admire his work, and I applaud Couples Therapy for giving Dick the opportunity to connect with Bob, who casually told his own story, offered his ear to Dick’s concerns and also informed Dick about the facts about HIV transmission for those who take their HIV medications regularly and acquire an undetectable viral load.
I’m sure it was a revelation for Dick- and the issue of transmission, spoken in such detail in a relaxed manner, isn’t something you see on TV very often.
Kudos to Bob, Dick, Dr. Jenn and VH1 for giving people the opportunity to learn more about HIV and how it affects people and their relationships.
Pedro Zamora, Half A Lifetime Ago
November 11, 2014
Today marks 20 years since Pedro Zamora passed. That’s half my lifetime ago, but the loss still resonates with me because of Pedro’s influence on my life and my work as an educator. His relationship with Sean Sasser on MTV’s Real World showed me that a loving, healthy relationship with HIV was possible. Pedro’s roommates reactions to his status were mixed in the beginning, but the solid friendships that grew (particularly with Judd Winick) made me realize how cool my friends would probably be if I ever spoke about HIV.
See, half my lifetime ago, when I “met” Pedro through his appearance on my television, I was a year and a half away from talking about my HIV status. At that time, in 1994, I’d spent pretty close to half my lifetime living with HIV… yet I’d never openly discussed my status, only when backed into a corner by my parents or at a doctor’s appointment. Or when someone ratted me out to a girlfriend.
Pedro showed me that you can disclose on your terms. That HIV can just be an extension of who you are. If someone has a problem with your status, it’s not your fault it’s their ignorance that is the reason for the uneasiness.
His educational style was more straightforward and less laid back than the one that I would adopt after I spoke out; but in the pre-protease era, that’s how you needed to reach people. I loved watching him educate on The Real World, then simply live his private life in public as he fell in love with Sean Sasser and shared laughs with Judd and his other roommates over silly, mundane things.
As I was watching from my parent’s house where I was living at the time, my now-partner, Gwenn, was also tuning in. Her thoughts on Pedro:
“I remember watching the San Francisco season of the Real World between
my freshman and sophomore year of college at my friend’s house each
week. When I went back to school that fall I also remember the day that
Pedro Zamora passed. It was very soon after that I heard a young woman
speak at my school who was HIV positive and that is where my journey to
becoming an activist began. It’s been 20 years today since Pedro’s death
and although I didn’t know it at the time it was the precursor to my
When Pedro passed in the fall of 1994- the same day that the last episode of his season of the Real World aired, I was devastated. All of my fears of my own mortality, which I’d mistakenly thought I’d come to terms with, bubbled up. Throughout Pedro’s journey, I was making baby steps towards a future I didn’t think was for me: being open about my HIV status. But after he died I just wanted to go back to never thinking about HIV again, and I hated it for taking my new hero so abruptly.
Ironically, Pedro was a hero I couldn’t even say was my hero: half my lifetime ago I was still so quiet about my HIV status.
A year after his passing, there was a Real World Reunion. Judd, Puck, Pam, Sean and the rest of the cast were there. Everyone except Pedro. Judd teared up and asked viewers to “do something” about HIV, anything. It was a desperate plea not only for himself, still grief-stricken, but also a call to arms that his friend, Pedro, would have given had he been there. I was in a lingering depression, one that would last a couple more months- 1994 had been tough, I lost pop culture heroes in Pedro and Kurt Cobain and was also blindsided by a hepatitis C diagnosis.
At the beginning of 1996, I was ready to answer Judd’s call. I posted a website, outing my status once and for all. I began to hone my craft as a writer and develop an educational style that, like Pedro’s, was just an extension of who I was.
And now it’s a half a lifetime later. Pedro’s not here in the physical sense, but his influence has stayed with me over the years. I have the love and the life I dreamed of when I was watching him and learning about his life; a journey he unselfishly shared.
I’ll never forget the doors he helped to open up for me in my own journey.