The Power of a Freddie Mercury Moustache

November 20, 2014

 shawnbiggiveFBprofilepic.jpg I’m in the process of doing something I’ve never done before… I’m growing a Freddie Mercury moustache.

I’m revealing the moustache on World AIDS Day, December 1. Then, with your help we will, WE WILL rock AIDS together for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. Because on December 4, 5 and 6 donations to this organization are doubled! So a generous donation of $5 will count as $10. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to insult you by giving any more examples.)

I’m proud to be a board member for MTV Staying Alive- they support incredible work around the world and make a true difference in peoples’ lives by funding community members to address the specific HIV needs where they live. And a little money goes a long way.

shawnfreddiegrowth.jpg
I’ll have details on how you can help very soon, and will be posting growth progress. Right now it’s a bit patchy, dawg. But with your good vibes I’m sure I’ll be able to grow a stache that Freddie would endorse. And with your help, we will grow a moustache that harnesses the same kind of power that Freddie used to rock audiences.

We Are the Champions,
Shawn

Former POZ Coverboy, Bob Bowers, Rocks On VH1

November 18, 2014

bobbowerscouplestherapy.jpgLast 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.)

bobbowersPOZcover.jpgBob 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.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

 

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
work.”

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.

Positively Yours,
Shawn

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.)

ethanzohnnohate.jpg

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

merce.jpeg

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)

————————————–

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!”
harry-pozzer.jpg

 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

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