Never Forgetting Sean Sasser, 1968-2013

August 8, 2013

Sean Sasser, whom many of us were introduced to through our televisions in 1994 via The Real World, has passed to spirit at the age of 44. My heart goes out to his friends, family and partner, Michael Kaplan.

Sean was one of my heroes. When The Real World: San Francisco aired on MTV in 1994, I had a year’s worth of high school diploma under my belt but no real plan about what I wanted to do with my life, which made me not too much different from most 18-year olds. I was a fan of the reality show, The Real World, and loved the previous season set in Los Angeles. When episode one of San Francisco came on, I quickly realized that I was in for an entirely different experience…

Pedro Zamora, one of the housemates, was HIV positive. He began dating Sean Sasser, who was also HIV positive. Pedro was an activist and educator, and Sean had a quiet, calm demeanor. I fell in love with both of them. They offered a glimpse into a future I desperately wanted- the ability to talk to friends about HIV (something I had not yet done at age 18) and finding a partner that I could share my life with.

That season of the show was a game changer for me. But before I could even process how the show had impacted me, Pedro Zamora passed to spirit. I was devastated. Just as I’d learned about a life that could be possible with HIV, I was also reminded of something that I feared…

When Sean Sasser was introduced to us, there weren’t any truly effective combos. As people with HIV, there was a sense that we were ticking timebombs. Yet, there was Sean Sasser, a year later at a televised Real World Reunion, calmly discussing he dearly departed partner. Stupid producers cut short Sean’s speaking time- hey, he wasn’t a roommate!- but once again I was moved by him. Judd Winick, one of Pedro’s friends and roommates, called for people to do something about HIV…

I sat on my bed, but I wanted to jump out of my skin and do something about HIV- not as me, though, as someone else. A few months later, I finally opened up. The impact of Sean Sasser and his Real World alum has never been lost on me. Before any of us could crack a laptop or iPhone and search “living with HIV”, there was that group of young people dealing with HIV, conveniently bringing the topic into our living rooms.

I needed that. And so did a lot of other people.

So thank you, Sean, for giving me hope that “poz Seans” can find love and comfort in their own skin.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

In 2009, I shared a personal story on this blog about meeting Sean Sasser. You can read it here.

Paris Hilton Has AIDS (Problem)

September 23, 2012

 

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Can you tell which quote above was secretly recorded and which one was not?

Mostly everyone has heard Paris Hilton’s controversial comments by now.  If you haven’t, here’s the scoop.  She was riding in a cab with a gay friend (his orientation matters here) talking about the hook-up site, Grindr.  That’s when Paris went on a little rant about gay men and her thoughts on their sexual appetites.  Her opinion on the matter was capped with, “Dude, most of them probably have AIDS … I would be so scared if I was a gay guy. You’ll like, die of AIDS.”

You may remember a few years ago Paris stepped in a puddle of water and said she was worried she’d gotten AIDS from it.  She wasn’t being serious, it was a brain fart but it did provide some fodder for me and countless others.  In some ways, we should thank Paris for sparking conversations that reach people who may not otherwise know that you can’t get AIDS from a puddle, or that all gay men are not at risk of dying from AIDS.  In some ways, she’s kind of an accidental Ambassador for AIDS Discourse in America.

What Paris Hilton said was wrong-headed.  Make no mistake about it.  I hope her friend attempted to correct her thinking, even at the risk of being snubbed for a while and missing out on cool parties and shopping expenditures, or whatever it is that Paris occupies her time with.  I also wish the cab driver had challenged her, if he were offended by her remarks… did he start recording her for a reason?  Had she said ridiculous things before that?  Was he offended, or just trying to make money off of her fame?

Either way, her comments brings to light a very real problem because many people feel the same way she does.  Whether or not they think gay men are disgusting, lots of folks still think AIDS is problem that is only faced by the gay community.  Lots of young men in the gay community practice unsafe sex, because they think AIDS is a problem faced only by old men- men in their 40s.  It’s all about perspective, and Paris Hilton’s skewed perspective on this isn’t a rare or novel concept.

So when you hear this story don’t focus your anger on Paris Hilton unless you expected more from her.  Also, if this really caught you off guard then- please- find new people to look up to.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Mars Landing… Curiosity Did What? (Comic)

August 10, 2012

curiosity-killed-cat.jpgThat’s a funny drawing that my friend and Synthetic Division co-conspirator Josh D’Elia did in honor of the Mars rover landing. Hope everyone has a nice weekend. If you’re a cat and you’re on your ninth life, look both ways wherever you may be roaming.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Louganis Inspires Olympic Medalist to Disclose HIV Status

August 8, 2012

ji-wallace.jpgAn interview last week with Greg Louganis by Piers Morgan has inspired a fellow Olympian to come out of the AIDS closet. A trampolinist in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Ji Wallace of Australia penned a letter to the Star Observer disclosing his HIV status. 

After seeing Louganis discuss his experiences as a gay man, Olympian, and someone living with HIV, Wallace was compelled to speak out: “It made me think and think and I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote.”  Kudos to Wallace for following his heart.  In an attempt to show that HIV is still out there, his willingness to speak up now is as perfectly timed as the athletic skills that propelled him to the silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Games.

Especially since there was speculation that, just as the athletes were arriving in London, the servers for the same-sex hook-up app, Grindr, grinded to a halt due to the influx of athletes from around the world.  Of course, that story seemed to be rubbish or a PR stunt from Grindr.  But the heart of the story, which is young people in the best shape of their lives looking to blow off a little steam with a post-Games hook-up, can’t be denied.  Single athletes of all orientations would be crazy not to troll the Olympic Village for a willing gymnast.

Hopefully, with Louganis and Wallace shining a spotlight on sexual health, some of these seemingly impervious physical specimens will realize that when it comes to HIV, they are just as vulnerable as the rest of us.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Passing You To Sean (National HIV Testing Day)

June 27, 2012

Today is National HIV Testing Day. I’m passing you off to Sean Strub today because he has written two great blog posts and I, well, I haven’t been writing much lately since I’ve been swamped with Synthetic Division stuff.

Hope all are well!


Positively Yours,
Shawn

Greg Louganis in a Hot Tub

March 4, 2012

greg-louganis-portlandia.jpg

On Friday night I was pleasantly surprised to see a cameo on one of my favorite new shows by world famous positoid and Olympic athlete Greg Louganis.  On Portlandia, he explains the Olympic games to the doubtful co-stars of the show whilst sitting in a hot tub.  When they meet by chance in the hotel, Greg proves he is indeed the Greg Louganis by showing them the scar on top of his head from the infamous diving board incident at the 1988 Games.

Remember what an uproar that caused when Louganis revealed his HIV status?  I’m not quite sure that if someone accidentally bled into a swimming pool today that the reaction from the general public would be any different.  People just don’t understand how the virus is transmitted. Just last week, I spoke to a high school English class.  I was trying to get across how hard it would be to transmit my virus if I suddenly bled on the podium.  I explained that the virus dies within a few seconds once it is exposed to the air.  I said that someone would have to rush up, throw me out of the way and snort up the blood as it dripped down the podium… and even then, they probably wouldn’t contract the virus.

Science has taught us a lot about this virus in the two-plus decades since Greg Louganis botched a dive and baptized an Olympic swimming pool with positoid blood.  As an educator, it would have nice to see Greg’s status revealed on Portlandia for laughs and educational value.  I can see Fred Armisen now, looking nervous. “You’re not going to get out of the hot tub and do any of those flippy dives into here, are you?”  “Oh- you’re worried about me cracking my head open and bleeding all over the hot tub? Well, no, I’m not going to do a triple back flip, double tuck swan dive into this hot tub, but if I did you wouldn’t have to worry. The only person I’d be hurting would be myself.”

I know I’m in the AIDS bubble. But it would have been funny to see something along those lines.  More people need the facts, and delivering them with a punchline is sometimes the best way.  That said, it was really nice to see Greg delivering some laughs on the show.  It’s so comforting to see long-term survivors on the boob tube.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

SHOCKER: Red Ribbon Worn At Golden Globe Awards

January 16, 2012

Yes, you read that right- an actor of prominence wore a red ribbon on his suit jacket at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night. Before I laud praise, I gotta say that it was wonderful to see one of those little suckers.  Really.  I paused the screen to inspect it, I was so excited.

Back in the 1990s, actors routinely wore red ribbons to award shows to express their solidarity with the plight of those living with HIV.  But once treatments became available to those in privileged areas of the world, the red ribbons started to disappear.  By the end of the 90s the red ribbons had gone the way of the parachute pants, deemed unworthy to enter the new millennium. So big ups to the one and only Steve Buscemi, who continued his tribute to the 90s by losing a Best Actor Award in the TV Series to Kelsey Grammer. 

If there’s ever a ribbon made for actors who lose acting awards to Grammer, I’m wearing one in your honor, Steve.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

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I Victory Crouch You by Synthetic Division (Halo Tribute)

October 12, 2011

Did you hear the story last month about how a group of gamers solved a problem with HIV that has been baffling scientists for over a decade? Click here to learn more about how a University of Washington program transforms scientific problems into computer games. 

I, on the other hand, use gaming for less noble purposes.  Inspired by the insane amount of time I’ve logged on Halo in the last year, I decided to pay tribute with a Synthetic Division song and music video.  The song was co-written with one of my good friends, Micah Consylman.  We got together, had a beer, and took turns pecking away at a synthesizer and laying down vocals. Though it’s not discovering the elusive structure of a retrovirus protein, I believe “I Victory Crouch You” is more than a song inspired by an act that is perpetrated on fallen opponents in the game.  I think this song will have a reverse effect, and eventually inspire scientists to find a cure for HIV so I can dedicate every waking moment of my life to playing video games.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

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