Ethan Zohn: Cancer and World Cup Survivor

July 10, 2014

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. But in the United States it’s a polarizing topic of discussion, not unlike the issue of abortion, Michael Bay reboots and fanny packs at theme parks. (They’re practical, y’all.)  This summer, I’ve come down with Soccer Fever.  Not since the World Cup in 1994 have I been so into the sport.

I wanted to talk about the World Cup, so I went to the only former soccer pro I know: Ethan Zohn. A co-founder of Grassroot Soccer, canzer crusher and Survivor Africa winner shares his thoughts on HIV, this year’s World Cup tournament and what it means to truly survive life. (NOTE: Ethan’s answers submitted before the Semi-Final matches between Brazil/Germany and The Netherlands/Argentina. He knows his shit.)

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So, I gotta know, Ethan: do you have any favorites in the World Cup?

Of course I do, I live for World Cup. I have been to every World Cup since 1994. Before the cup, I felt Brazil would crush everyone. But now, I’m leaning towards an Argentina / Germany final with Argentina winning. Plus I love yelling out the name Schweinsteiger at random moments throughout the day.
What’s up with that dude who bit the other dude?

That dude is Suarez, probably one of the best players in the world. To be honest I think he in love with Giorgio Chiellini. That was a love bite, not a foul. Plus Uraguay, where Suarez is from is the first country to regulate legal production, sale and consumption of marijuana. What do you expect?

I’d expect a more chill Suarez, but I’ve known people who freak out on the pot… a friend of mine… someone I know quite personally. He becomes a panicky mess… anyway…

After winning Survivor, you used the prize money to found Grassroot Soccer and help utilize the world’s love of soccer in the fight against HIV.  Several years later, you were diagnosed with cancer. I know you didn’t found Grassroot to gain cosmic favor, but… you getting cancer after going to bat, er, going to kick ball for the HIV community, was one of the lamest fouls I’ve ever seen in the sport of life. How are you feeling these days?

Ha! True, I need to have a word with the referee of this game of my life…who is that? God? David Hasselhoff?

I’m feeling great and excited I’m alive and strong enough to drink beer and watch soccer all month. In the years leading up to my cancer diagnosis I have been working hard through Grassroot Soccer, to help prevent young kids in Africa from contracting this life threatening disease. I do not know what it is like to have HIV, nor do I have HIV.  But, I do know what it’s like to walk into an office and get handed a very scary life ending diagnosis. Getting cancer gave me some street cred. Now I just want to do everything in my power to make sure others do not have to go through the same crap we went through. Can I get a “hell yeah”….

Hell yeah!  Lastly, any big goals for Grassroot Soccer during this World Cup season, or any of your other charitable efforts?

Where do I begin!  We always have cool events and fundraising campaigns. Right now, WHEATIES (the iconic cereal that always has amazing athletes on their boxes) is running a contest #WheatiesNext – 5 up-and-coming athletes in a voting contest for who gets on the next box. Each picks a charity to benefit.

Our newest Pro Ambassador, Christen Press, is in the contest and we are her charity – this is a big contest and we are one of the 5 chosen charities – woo-hoo! Check it out here:

Thanks, Ethan!  Enjoy the rest of the World Cup. And the beer, you’ve earned it!

Interview w/ Merce’s Charles Sanchez

June 30, 2014

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A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Merce- a humorous web series that is centered around an HIV positive character living in NYC. I recently sat down with co-creator, Charles Sanchez… meaning, I sat at my laptop and fired him some questions and he sat at his and answered them. Enjoy!

Donate to the project here!
(anyone who donates $25 or more can get a signed copy of My Pet Virus… I have 5 available, so just leave a Comment on this blog entry to let me know you donated and I’ll make contact to get a mailing address! -SD)

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Hey Charles! Love the concept for Merce- how long have you had the idea and what inspired it?

Hey, Shawn! Let me just say how happy I am to have met you and how much I enjoyed your book. I’m totally a fan.

The idea for Merce came kind of as an accident. A few years ago, my photographer friend Dustin approached me about wanting to do some videography work, so he asked me to write something. Being a bit of an over-achiever, I wrote five things. Just silly monologues. We started filming them, and then Dustin went and fell in love, and backed out of the project.

 

I brought in my pal Tyne Firmin, who’s an amazing director and actor, but had zero filming or editing experience. We shot what ended up being a whole web series, called Manhattan Man-Travels, truly ghetto-style, mostly for the joy of creating. Absolutely no budget. Very Judy and Mickey “Let’s-put-the-show-on-right-here-in-the-barn!” kind of thing.

Merce spoke directly to the camera and we followed him through many crazy romantic situations, from dating and trolling the internet for sex to him being in an actual relationship. We feel like we have something really special in this character, and want to up the production values and see if we can reach a wider audience. We’ve added characters for him to interact with and focused the musical fantasy elements (every episode will have a short musical number). We decided to put Merce’s HIV status more to the forefront, since there’s no character in mainstream American media that’s HIV positive.

And an HIV comedy? Well, that’s crazy, right?  We didn’t set out to, but we lucked into doing something that no one else is doing.

 

Do you have a favorite HIV positive character from a movie?

Huh. That’s a hard question. There are a lot of movies, plays, musicals that feature HIV characters that have moved me, or that have resonated with me somehow. My first thought is not to a character, but to the song “Will I” from Rent. That song never fails to choke me up, because as strong and healthy as I am, the seriousness of HIV never leaves me. And also, I think it’s a common fear that everyone has about life, “will I lose my dignity? Will someone care?”

 

But I haven’t answered the question. Buzz from the play and movie of Love! Valour! Compassion! He deals with his status with humor, sometimes acidic humor, but he’s authentic and courageous and funny, and doesn’t let his HIV change who he is.

If you could give any character from a mainstream movie HIV (to make them more interesting) who would it be?

 

Oh, gosh! I don’t know! Maybe Bridget Jones. With all her pouty angst and weight issues, and yet those dreamy men still seem to fall for her. What would happen if she also had to worry about whether her panties were still white, because maybe her Kaletra was causing some poops-a-daisy problems?

That would make for some good comedy. Or someone ridiculous maybe, like Wolverine or Harry Potter. Of course, if Harry Potter had HIV, he could just zap it right out of himself. He’d just take his wand and say, “Heenis-a-penis-a, no HIV-ness-a!”
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 I like that idea!  How is fundraising for Merce going? Deadline? And what’s the plan if you make your goal, and what’s the plan if you don’t?

Oy, this fundraising is crazy. It’s stressful. We’ve raised about 74% of our budget right now… the deadline is midnight July 4th. We’re in good shape, and I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll reach our goal. I think that people are interested in seeing what a comedy about an HIV positive dude could look like, so I’m confident that folks will be willing to give us $10 or $20 or more to help make it happen. Our budget will make sure that the show is colorful and professional looking, will allow us to bring great, talented film artists to our team, from a cinematographer and editor to designers and fantastic actors.If for some reason we don’t make our entire budget, then Tyne and I will just have to get a little creative. Perhaps we can find some hookers who would donate some time for the cause. Or I may try stalking Yoko Ono. I totally think she’d help us out if she knew about Merce.

Tyne and I are determined. We’re going to make Merce happen no matter what. It’s inevitable.

Donate to the project here!

(Check the link for other incentives to donate… and don’t forget, anyone who donates $25 or more can get a signed copy of My Pet Virus… (while supplies last!) I have 5 available, so just leave a Comment on this blog entry to let me know you donated and I’ll make contact to get a mailing address! Let’s make Merce happen! -SD)

Let’s Put an HIV Positive Guy on the Cover of Men’s Health

May 30, 2014

super-vaughn-ripley.jpeg(CLICK HERE- Vote for Vaughn in “Healthiest Lifestyle” category… you can vote once a day! Thanks!)

Hey y’all!

A short while back, I wrote a blog post about Vaughn Ripley’s attempt to be the first person living with HIV and hemophilia to grace the cover of Men’s Health. He was leading the contest until very recently, and needs every vote coming down the home stretch to win.

Remember- you can vote once daily!  The voting period ends soon. Let’s get Vaughn through to the next phase so he can show just how strong our community is.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Happy Birthday, Sean Strub

May 16, 2014

seanbday.JPGMay is full of birthdays featuring beloved people in my life. Just this past Monday, I got to see my big brother and celebrate the day of his arrival.. it was 41 years ago that my parents welcomed him on Mother’s Day.  This Monday, my best friend and partner, Gwenn, will be enjoying a birthday- I’ve been most privileged to be with her for the fifteen of those celebrations, and look forward to many more together. 

Today’s birthday boy happens to be Sean Strub. I can’t effectively express what Sean has meant to me, both as a mentor and a friend. Had he not read my fan letter to Poz in 1996 and responded, who knows the path my positoid adventures would have taken?  I’m grateful for his friendship and the guidance he’s offered over the years.

Happy Birthday, Sean. I love ya.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

——Click on the festive picture of Sean to order his incredible book, Body Counts.——

National Nurses Week

May 7, 2014

Every day is Day, every week is a Week, and every month is a Month of one type of recognition or another. It’s not a bad thing- there are lots of causes that need more attention than they can get. Especially in this great age of great distractions.

I miss a lot of it.  But when I noticed that we were halfway through National Nurses Week, I felt the call to pull out the ol’ laptop and punch out a blog post of love and gratitude for my lifelong friend and ally: the nurse.

As a kid with a bleeding disorder, I found myself visiting the hospital a lot more than the rest of my friends. It could be a scary place.  Initially, I hated having my blood drawn.  That was until I noticed a pattern: Nurse Gail never missed a vein.  And I enjoyed talking to her.  Having a needle in my arm went from, well, having a needle in my arm to having a friend by my side.  I’d always request Gail, and since she worked a lot, she was usually there for a quick catch-up session over vials of plasma.

In the bigger picture with regards to the HIV epidemic, it was often nurses who cared for the first generation of people who succumbed to the onslaught of HIV.  When friends and family were too scared to show up, it was the nurse who provided comfort, which surely meant a lot when doctors were providing no answers or solutions to what was happening back then.  The strength of the nurse was and will always be a simple, if elusive and rare, trait: tireless compassion.

It’s not an easy job to turn a hospital into a home away from home, but somehow nurses pull it off.  I know I’m forever grateful for all of the nurses who have shown me kindness and care when I needed it most.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Body Counts by Sean Strub

January 14, 2014

POZ-sean.jpgSean Strub’s memoir, Body Counts, hit stores yesterday, and Gwenn and I were fortunate enough to get to our local bookstore just in time to nab the last three copies: one for us, one for my mom (who is a huge fan) and one for a future Labtest Contest prize.

But, don’t wait around for me to get labwork done in March for a chance to win this book, if you have any interest in the history of the gay community, the politics of sex and the realities of living with HIV- you’ve gotta get this book. Click on Sean’s face to read an excerpt of Body Counts in the latest issue of Poz.

Sean has been one of the most influential people in my life as a positoid. Without him, I really have no idea what I’d be doing right now. In 1996, after nearly a decade of living with HIV, I decided to speak out about being positive for the first time; I was 20, still living with my parents in Waynesboro, Virginia, and had just put up a website chronicling my thoughts on living with HIV. My doctor fed me a few issues of Poz Magazine and I was stunned that a magazine solely about HIV existed. I poured through its pages and loved what I read. I sent a fan letter to the editor-in-chief, Sean, and shared where I was at in my own journey with HIV.

A month or so later, I was watching wrestling and the phone rang. “Shawn, telephone!”  My dad/secretary called out through my bedroom door. My beloved Ric Flair had just lost his World Title; I was bummed but took the call anyway. It was Sean. He invited me to NYC to be interviewed for the magazine and shortly thereafter I started writing my Positoid column.

body-counts-sean-strub.jpgWhen I learned that my original godparents had broken ties with my family in the 1980s after my diagnosis because their church said AIDS was God’s punishment against gay people, I asked Sean and Steve Schalchlin (another beloved mentor) to be my surrogate Godparents. They both readily accepted.

All of that personal history and admiration aside, it was hard to tear myself from Body Counts to post this blog- it really is an incredible book and an honest, forthcoming account from someone who has a truly unique set of experiences to draw from.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

Operation AIDS Elves

December 19, 2013

So I’m somewhat remiss in not posting a blog entry on World AIDS Day. Which got me to thinkin’- how can we extend the magic that is World AIDS Day deeper into the holiday season?

And that’s how Operation AIDS Elves was born.
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It’s a simple, fun way to spread some HIV/AIDS awareness during the craziness that is the holiday season… so, if you have a few extra red ribbons lying around, put them to good use! Here’s my friend and all-around good positoid, Rob Quinn, working his AIDS elf magic during a visit to NYC. And that’s me sneaking a ribbon onto a tree at the coffee shop and one onto the tree on the downtown mall.

Regardless of how you are or aren’t celebrating the holiday season, I hope this message finds you happy, healthy and at peace with yourself. There is no greater gift in this world than self love and acceptance- and that’s a gift that we are all truly worthy of.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

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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.

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