LATE NIGHT LAVENDER

LATE NIGHT LAVENDER

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

DVD REVIEW: "Go Go Crazy"






If the title alone isn‘t titillating enough, then the subject matter sure is: those guys in abbreviated clothing who shake their booties and gyrate their man-baskets on stage for dollar bills. “Go Go Crazy” just may be the movie that so many of us have been waiting for: a film that bravely goes “behind the scenes“ and into the minds of those men who so eagerly exploit themselves for a willing audience. Or, perhaps, it’s a probing expose of the carnal human desires which these guys, in turn, expertly know how to cash in on.

Don’t expect either of those with “Go Go Crazy”. This movie plays it strictly for laughs. It was written and directed by Fred Caruso, Producer of the popular 2009 “The Big Gay Musical”. That movie was (obviously!) a musical, but it was also a comedy with a few serious touches. “Go Go Crazy” is a big gay farce with a little bit of “mockumentary” thrown in. The movie takes place at the fictional Club Voyeur in Philadelphia. Five go-go boys are fluffing themselves and oiling up in hopes of winning the, ahem… “envied” title of “Mr. Go Go Boy of Philadelphia” as well as a $1000 prize… oh, and a free drink ticket too. The emcee of the contest is omnipresent New York City drag queen Hedda Lettuce (“Project Runway”, “The Tyra Banks Show”). More about Hedda later… (I don’t mean to get so familiar so fast, but “Ms. Lettuce” just doesn’t sound right.) Throw in three judges: the opportunistic club owner (Rick Crom); a go-go boy-turned-adult film star (Jake Steel); and Tina Perkins (Christina Bianco), a postulating starlet who calls herself a “Celine Dion embodier”. And, last but not least, there are our five Speedo-wearing go-go boys.


We meet Kiernon (Michael Cusumano), a ballet dancer from Georgia (the former Soviet republic, not the Peach State…) with an accent that sounds like a castrated Borat. There’s cocksure Chase (Paul Cereghino), wide-eyed theater queen Ken (Eric Spear), musclehead Vinnie (Nick Kenkel, clearly aping one of the “Jersey Shore” boys), and militantly straight Connor (Ryan Windish), who stuffs his pants with a giant dildo that somehow gets stolen. Ooh, how the plot thickens (Pun clearly intended)! What all of these boys have in common, aside from all having really hot bodies, is that they all take themselves WAY too seriously as they ply their trade. Luckily, however, the viewer won’t likely take anything in “Go Go Crazy” too seriously, which is just the point. It’s silly fun… and, in addition, it’s surely a nice sight to see these boys work that pole. Hedda Lettuce essentially plays her dirty self, teasing the go-go boys (“Those were our five contestants, each one stupider than the last!”) and insulting everyone else in the cast as well, in addition to spouting lines like, “I’m moist like a Little Debbie snack treat right now!” and “My left nut’s about to pop out, so we gotta get this over with quickly!“ The gymnastic abilities of go-go boy Kiernon notwithstanding, the biggest display of talent in “Go Go Crazy” arguably comes with a musical performance by Christina Bianco… who does a very impressive job in channeling Ms. Dion. Give her credit. It can’t be easy for a lady to steal the spotlight-- albeit temporarily -- from a bunch of well-built, narcissistic guys in their briefs…

“Go Go Crazy” is now available on DVD. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

“I’LL ALWAYS LOVE MY MAMA”: An Interview With Sandy "Mama" Reinhardt



Mother’s Day may come once a year, but every day should be “Mama’s Day”! The Leather community is jam-packed full of guys and gals who donate their time and energy for assorted worthy philanthropic causes, both on the local and national level. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find as iconic a leader and role model as Sandy Reinhardt, AKA “Mama“. She is a true mover and shaker in the Leather and BDSM communities, as well as the LGBT community at large. This inimitable and omnipresent matriarch has lived in Florida, The Bronx, and Greenwich Village. She now calls Dublin, California (a city in the "tri-valley area" across the Bay from San Francisco) her home, but Mama never seems to stay in one place for very long. Mama can be seen at any given Leather event, from The City by the Bay to The Bay State, throughout the year… inevitably with her tightknit family around her. (When they announce a group photo with “Mama’s Family” at an event, you’d better get out of the way or be stampeded…) Mama’s brood now boasts 1,000 members in over 42 states nationally and at least four countries internationally. Mama’s Family, many of whom are Titleholders, is indeed a diverse bunch-- but what all these guys and girls have in common is that every one of then has made his or her own unique contribution to the queer community. Because of her experience in the Leather Nation, Sandy Reinhardt is one of the most sought-after Judges in Leather contests around the country.

In addition to networking, fundraising is Mama’s specialty: Mama’s Family has helped over 300 different organizations, with proceeds benefiting various charities… but Mama’s biggest and most well-known fundraising events include her annual Breast Cancer Dinners, her LeatherWalk (a benefit for the AIDS Emergency Fund and the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund), and a Toy Drive for Camp Sunburst, a program for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that through the Family’s individual fundraising efforts and through volunteerism with Mama's Family, Mama’s organization has raised over 3 million dollars annually, both locally and internationally, since its beginning. Mama’s Family was Winner of The Pantheon of Leather Community Awards’ Large Club of the Year Award in 2004. Mama herself was named Woman of the Year by The Pantheon of Leather in 2006 and 2010. She also won the organization’s President Award in 2002 and The Northern California Regional Award in 2004. A documentary about Mama’s life debuted in August 2010 at Pantheon of Leather XX and International Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather 2010. The documentary contains a “fireside chat” with Mama in which our lady recalled memorable moments from her life. She became emotional when she recalled meeting a 6”4” drag queen named Ernestine, who is credited with giving Mama her name. She also became equally teary-eyed when discussing the loss of so many of her friends in the 80’s due to AIDS. On a lighter note, Mama revealed that she owns eight corsets (!), although two of them were stolen at one point, along with a pair of handcuffs. Luckily, she got the corsets back… but not the cuffs…! When asked during the chat if she considers herself an icon in the Leather community, Mama humbly replies “No, I don‘t… I‘m just little old me. I consider myself average like everyone else!”. Sorry, Mama… I disagree! The activist, mentor, mother of two kids and “Mama“ to over a thousand more, and grandmother (!) spoke with Jed Ryan (“Mama’s New York Naughty Boy”) about her affinity for the community as well as her plans for the year.

JR: Hello Mama! Thanks for speaking with me! Do you have any New Year's Resolutions for 2012?

Mama: Yes I do. I want to see more of the Leather, Drag, LGBTQ, Kink, BDSM, et cetera, communities come together & support each other. Its not fair that we are separated.

JR: I would love to see that in 2012 as well! So, in all your years as an activist and mentor, what moment made you most proud?

Mama: My proudest moment is when I was Honored by being Grand Marshall for San Francisco Pride in 2000.

JR: Let's go back in history a little. Where did your affinity for the gay boys-- especially gay boys in Leather-- originally come from?


Mama: Well, my girlfriend and I used to do Girl's night on Wednesdays, and we'd go to a straight bar. Men would think we were looking to be picked up, et cetera, and they’d buy us a drink, and then we couldn’t get rid of them. After the third week, I said, “Let's go to Castro.” I had lived in Greenwich Village and I had loved the diversity… So, we did. We walked into The Phoenix (no longer there) and when I walked in I was tapped on my shoulder by this tall drag queen -- almost seven feet tall-- and he asked me “Who are you?” I replied “Sandy” and he said, “Oh no you’re not, you’re my Mama!” He was impersonating Jackee Harry (the hot-to-trot “Sandra” from the sitcom “227”). I said, “OK.”, and the whole night he introduced me as "My Mama”! The next week we went back, and as I walked in, I heard “Hi Mama”!


JR: Wow! So, one of the philanthropic endeavors of Mama's Family is to raise money for and increase awareness of HIV/AIDS. After over 30 since the virus made its presence known, what have we learned?
Mama: Can you feel my Cuban temperature rising?

JR: Yes, I can!
Mama: So many I knew have died. Imagine knowing 400 to 500 gay men in the late 80's and early 90's: spending the night at their houses, having keys to their houses, partying, dancing, laughing, et cetera… and all of a sudden the AIDS epidemic comes along, and all of these BFF’s start passing away. We were devastated. The AIDS Emergency Fund started, and Mama's Family & Friends started doing fundraising to help with their meds, electricity, rent, phone, et cetera… Sometimes I think some have NOT learned because they were NOT there to see and feel death. Today it’s less. Meds to take, et cetera, is not the cure. Nowadays I still get emails saying "Mama, I just found out I’m HIV positive… Please direct me where to go.” These boys are 28 through 35 years of age. I direct them but at the same time I want to say, “Didn’t you know better?"

JR: I understand! Now, some people have opined that it is difficult to get the younger guys and girls into the Leather community-- and that our scene may be suffering from lack of "new blood", so to speak. What would you say about that?

Mama: Oh Lord, I feel my Cuban temperature rising again!
JR: Again?!

Mama: I keep asking myself, What the heck happened? The Leather bars are closing down and there's more even more going on for the BDSM/Kink communities. The Leather community is displaced. That's how I feel. But we will come back!

JR: In your opinion, who is a true role model for the Leather community-- besides yourself, of course?!


Mama: My Daddy Alan Selby and Mr. Marcus were my heroes and my mentors, may they rest in peace. If they were here with us today, the Leather community would still be going strong. So much has changed since they passed away.

JR: I’m sorry to hear that. Along those lines, what can every member of the Leather community do, on a day to day basis, to keep our community thriving?


Mama: Get together once a week. Pick a bar and go gather to see each other. We did that once after The Eagle Tavern closed, and we were so happy to see each other. We were hugging & crying. But it was not the same gathering in a mixed bar.

JR: When a Leatherman or Leatherwoman comes to visit your neck of the woods, what stops should she include on his or her visit?

Mama: I don’t know, as I used to say to meet at The Eagle Tavern, but that's gone, and Daddy’s in the Castro is now called “440”.

JR: Leathermen are often seen as the epitome of old-school masculinity and sexiness, and Leatherwomen are often breaking the barriers on society's ancient ideas of female sexuality. In your mind, what makes a man and a woman sexy?


Mama: I love a man in leather, with chaps or a kilt and a cigar! As for a woman, speaking for myself, I LOVE my corset, and my high boots: the ones that get harder to walk in as I get older!

JR: (Laughs) Let’s hope those boots were made for walkin’, because you are on the road a lot. Is it difficult to always be traveling?


Mama: No, not at all! Oh my God, I am so blessed. I go where my Family needs and wants me to go. They take good care of me. I love traveling & getting to see them and meeting new folks.

JR: Where can people meet you this coming year?


Mama: January 27th: Mr. Texas Leather in Dallas;
February 16th: Mr. SECC Leather in Augusta;
March 29th: International Ms. Leather in San Francisco;
April 12th: Northeast LeatherSIR/leatherboy/LeatherWoman/Bootblack Contest in Rhode Island;
April 27th: Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend;
May 24th: International Mr. Leather in Chicago… AND I‘ll be celebrating my 70th birthday, and 25 years of going strong!…

Jed: Nice!!!

Mama: …July 13th: Thunder in the Mountains in Denver; and October
26: Mr. Bluegrass Leather in Lexington.  And of course, Folsom, Dore Alley, and a few other events not set in stone yet!


JR: Wow! That’s quite a schedule. Now, lastly... As an animal lover, I have to ask: Do you have any pets?
Mama: Oh yes, I have Roxy. He’s a lil' bunny and, yes, he's spoiled…

JR: I would love him to meet MY menagerie. And yes, mine are all spoiled too! Thanks, Mama!


I leave you with one of Sandy “Mama“ Reinhardt‘s quotes: “No one can do everything. Still everyone can do something. Together, we can do anything”. Let’s start now! Visit www.MamasFamily.org for more info!

 

 

 

 

BEYOND SAFER SEX: THE LOWDOWN ON PEP, PREP, AND THE ISSUES "UNDER THE SKIN"...


(Photo: Michael Ramos of The Men's Sexual Health project)

 The foundation of HIV prevention has always been education: getting the proper information to the population who needs it the most. The next step is incorporating that knowledge into our daily lives. While HIV prevention does indeed include abstinence, smarter sex, and/or risk reduction, there is more that sexually active adults should know about. One of them is PEP, which has recently come into greater awareness among more enlightened health care practitioners who work with sexually active gay men. What is PEP? It stands for “post-exposure prophylaxis“, and it means taking antiretroviral drugs AFTER possible exposure to the HIV virus, to reduce risk of seroconversion. PEP is not a new phenomenon. It has been available for well over ten years to health care workers who, for example, get accidentally stuck with a needle when drawing blood or giving injections. PEP first became available to the public about 2003. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there is compelling data to suggest that PEP, used for about a month after exposure, is effective. A three month and a six month follow-up HIV test is recommended.
 
The Men's Sexual Health Project (M*SHP) promotes sexual health among gay and bisexual men in NYC. Their core goal is to make sexual health testing and counseling easily accessible, convenient, and sensitive to the needs of our community. M*SHP does this by offering free HIV/SDI (sexually transmitted infections) testing and education at various locations, including Bellevue Hospital and various after-hours NYC men’s only clubs throughout the year. They also offer these services at such events such as the annual Black Party. In March of 2011, M*SHP launched their own program to offer PEP, named Project 36:00. The project gets its name from gets the number “36”, which is how many hours M*SHP believes you have after the exposure for PEP to be effective-- although it goes without saying that treatment should start as quickly as possible. It is worth noting, incidentally, that The CDC believes that initiation of PEP up to 72 hours may also be effective as well. Again, however, “the sooner, the better”.

Michael Ramos, MSW, is a Research Coordinator at NYU Langone Medical Center and Program Supervisor of M*SHP since 2007. The social worker, activist, and father of a young son has been seeing clients for four years. He has counseled and tested a seemingly countless number of men, and has no doubt heard their equally countless number of real-life stories. A bona fide expert in the field, Michael spoke to me about PEP:

Although your local emergency room may offer PEP, Ramos tells me that the ER might not be the most ideal pathway for care. For starters, the ER staff may not be trained on either PEP and/or the individual‘s need. Some men might even walk away without getting PEP, because the ER staff may not know how to dispense it, or may even minimize the perceived risk from the exposure. In addition, as anyone who has been to the ER knows, it can be crowded there, with a hierarchy of needs as to who gets seen fastest. Lastly, the client may not have insurance. Project 36:00 is a more streamlined process which bypasses the ER and even saves money. In addition, the client gets the medication at a much faster rate-- sometimes within the hour. How does it work? The client calls the number ([646]501-5200) and goes through a series of automated questions and prompts. A MD will do a phone assessment to determine the risk. If he decides that the client is a candidate for PEP, he will call in a couple of days’ worth of medication to Walgreen‘s, the cost of which is covered by a grant to M*SHP. Shortly afterward, the client will go for the “M*SHP package”, which includes HIV and SDI testing, liver function testing, and sexual risk assessment. At that time, the client will then receive a prescription for medication for the rest of the month… and be scheduled for a follow up visit with M*SHP six weeks later. By Michael’s estimates, over 90 percent of the guys come back for follow-up tests.

What about PrEP? PrEP is short for “Pre Exposure Prophylaxis”. The goal is HIV prevention by which HIV negative people who are at high risk take antiretroviral medication daily to try to lower their chances of becoming infected with the virus if they are exposed to it. According to The CDC, PrEP-- like PEP-- has been shown to be effective in men who have sex with men. Through the course of our conversation, Michael noted one of his past clients who definitely was a candidate for PrEP, based on his sexual behavior and life situation. However, he states, “In my personal opinion, I am not a fan of it!” Why? While he agrees that PEP, PrEP, and smarter sex practices are indeed effective for HIV prevention, Michael believes that these are only part of the solution…

Ramos tells me, “HIV is a psycho-social disease, with underlying issues of homophobia, stigma, poverty, access to health care, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression. If we don’t address these issues head on, then prevention is never going to work, because it won‘t be long-lasting. If we can‘t talk about sex openly, and we can‘t discuss our relationships because longstanding institutions are rejecting our relationships from the get go, then that causes stress, and it’s like a domino effect: I’m not comfortable with my sexuality, and I am lonely and depressed, and then I am meeting someone, and I feel connected with this individual in some way for that moment, and he or she is saying all the right things… and the next thing I know, I am having unprotected sex. Does that make me a PrEP candidate? I don’t think so.” Another issue worth exploring is, WHY do we have unprotected sex?

 
Ramos offers, “What does ‘unprotected sex’ mean for that individual? Is it an isolated incident, or does it happen regularly? We stigmatize sex to begin with, and that adds another layer to the problem. People are not going to be honest about their sexual practices if we are stigmatizing unprotected sex. If the unprotected sex is an isolated incident, then chances are it was individual circumstances that led to it: depression, a bad day-- psychosocial issues that trigger a vulnerability, which then triggers the event that took place. PrEP is not going to solve that. PrEP is, ‘Take a pill every day.’…just like, ‘If your positive, take a pill every day because we need to have your viral load suppressed, so that you won’t infect other people.’ And yes, if you positive, your viral load should be suppressed. That‘s the goal of treatment. But on the other side, we are saying, with PrEP, “OK, you are negative and you are risky, so be on medication.” There‘s something morally wrong with that.” He adds, “We need to have serious dialogue, and change how we see sex and sexuality, and discuss it openly… but not just with gay guys. It should be global. We let religion and politics influence what is medical.”

Part of the problem may be lack of funding for HIV negative men who may be at risk. Michael tells me, “This is my issue with funding, and we really need to look at it. When you look at AIDS services organizations in general: In taking care of the positives, we really neglect the negatives, like those at risk for becoming positive. There is a surplus of services for HIV-positive people… but if I am an HIV negative gay man, and I am in danger of losing my house, and I may have substance abuse issues, or I may be depressed and I may need to start doing therapy, then I cannot turn to AIDS service organizations. The first question they will ask me is ‘What’s your status?’, because they are servicing positive people. If you are positive, they will immediately dispatch a case manager for you, you will immediately have a social worker, and you will immediately have a therapist and psychiatry if you need it. It immediately triggers all these services. But If you are negative, all they can do is test you for HIV and refer you out. Refer you WHERE? To private practice? To a low-cost mental health service, which may not be as adequate or may not be as gay-identified? This is a big problem! If we can have organizations that mirror the current organizations that we have for those who are HIV positive, and have the same services for those who are HIV negative, I think we might see a reduction of HIV infection rates… and then we won’t need PrEP or a lot of other medical interventions. Again, we need to address the psychosocial issues that comes with the disease, and we are not doing it. We are just putting a Band-Aid on the problem, and creating these interventions that are not sustainable and are short-lived. My dream is to establish mental health services for those who need it… even just on a short-term basis!”

Michael Ramos and I share the same opinion about HIV/AIDS awareness: It’s equal parts “body and soul”!

Do you think you have been exposed to HIV? Call the Project 36:00 number at (646)501-5200

Learn more about The Men’s Sexual Health Project at:
www.hivinfosource.org/hivis/clinicaltrials/testingproject.html

See also:
An interview with M*SHP’s Dr. Demetre Daskalakis:
http://jedcentral.blogspot.com/2010/02/doctor-is-in-demetre-daskalakis-speaks_03.html?zx=ae4fc7b9abe2a726

A personal plea to get tested by Jed:
http://jedcentral.blogspot.com/2012/01/mr-rawhide-wants-you-to-get-tested.html

Saturday, January 7, 2012

MEET THE OLD LINE STATE'S NEW "It boy"! An Interview With Joseph Chmielowski-Liu, Mr. Maryland Leather 2012.





Baltimore may be known for its picturesque harbors, its crab cakes, Historic Pigtown (Oink!), and for my favorite filmmaker, John Waters! But as any many of our hot-to-trot brothers and fun-loving sisters have learned when they visit that town, there is also a very active LGBT scene… and that includes a vibrant Leather community. Last November, on the first weekend of the month, the Corps Of Men Making a Noticeable Difference (C.O.M.M.A.N.D.) MC of Baltimore held their 23rd Anniversary Weekend. The weekend cumulated with Mr. Maryland Leather 2012 Contest, held that Saturday afternoon at the popular club The Hippo. Joseph Chmielowski-Liu, a native of Baltimore, was selected as the new Mr. Maryland Leather. The articulate and intelligent leatherboy, who tells me that he “jumped feet first into the deep end of the Leather pool in 2010”, became involved largely thanks to his partner Sir Andy Chmielowski-Liu, Mid-Atlantic LeatherSIR 2008. The two were married in New York City in August 2010... and made history as one of the first gay couples to get married in that state. As the Old Line State’s Ambassador to the Leather Nation, boy joe spoke to me about his plans for the upcoming year, which include, in his own words, “being the best boy he can be!!”
 

JR: Congratulations again on your Title of Mr. Maryland Leather 2011. How has your Title year been treating you so far?

bj: My Title year so far has been an amazing ride! I am very fortunate to have C.O.M.M.A.N.D., M.C. (
www.commandmc.org) as my Producers. The response from the Community has been overwhelming. The camaraderie and support from my fellow Leather Folk has truly taken my breath away (boy loves breath control.).

JR: That’s great to hear! So, joe, since winning, do you find that you get hit on more?! Or, are guys intimidated by the Sash?

bj: It is hard for me to judge, as this boy loves to flirt (with permission of course)! I tend to believe every Titleholder gets hit on more as they are taking a more prominent role in the Community. As far as guys being intimidated - what is it that they say about the quiet ones (Laughs)?

JR: (Laughs) It’s all true! What philanthropic causes and/or issues are you dedicated to?

bj: the charity of my choosing for my Title year is AIDS Action Baltimore (www.aidsactionbaltimore.org). They actively work with institutes like the National Institute of Health to make more effective drugs, as well as with the pharmaceutical companies to make them more cost effective. In addition, AIDS Action Baltimore is able to provide relief to afflicted people when unexpected life issues arise.

Maryland ranks nineteenth in terms of population of the 50 States but is ranked ninth in terms of the estimated AIDS diagnosis rate according to cases reported in 2009. AIDS Action Baltimore is literally a life saver, providing essential services for people with HIV/AIDS.

JR: That’s very cool. HIV/AIDS is an issue that persistently affects all of us. Now, in your opinion, who is a true role model for the Leather community?

bj: Wow, there are so many to choose from! With respect to charity and fundraising, it would have to be Mama Sandy Reinhardt. With respect to history and essential reading, I would say Guy Baldwin and Larry Townsend. In terms of Community outreach and being a good Titleholder, I would say Jeffrey Payne - International Mr. Leather 2009 and Lamalani - International Ms. Leather 2009. With respect to having the patience of a Saint, hands down that is my Sir (grinning ear to ear).

JR: It looks like we share many of the same role models! Speaking of role models: As a role model yourself, what can every guy and girl in the Leather community do, on a day to day basis, to keep our community thriving?

bj: Simply speaking, just be true to oneself and respectful to others. Live authentically. Pass our traditions forward. Face every day with Honor, Integrity, and Respect for yourself and one another.

JR: When a Leather brother or sister comes to visit Baltimore, what stops should he include on his or her visit?

bj: Definitely check out the Leather bars within Baltimore City. We have the Eagle (www.thebaltimoreeagle.com) and Leon's Leather Lounge (www.leonsleatherlounge.com). For gear and accessories we have Chained Desires (www.chaineddesires.com). If you are up for dancing, karaoke, or the occasional drag show then make sure to stop in the Hippo (www.clubhippo.com). Maryland, especially Baltimore, is filled with history and has loads of absolutely fabulous entertainment and eating possibilities! I would have to direct him to http://visitmaryland.org and http://baltimore.org so that he can get his fill of our great state!!

JR: Wow! I’m already planning my next road trip… and I hope I meet John Waters again when I visit! Now: Leathermen are often seen as the epitome of masculinity and sexiness. But to you, what makes a man sexy?

bj: Self-confidence. Definitely self-confidence.

JR: I agree. Boots and harnesses and jockstraps help too, I might add! So, boy joe, where can people meet you this coming year?

bj: Please visit my Facebook page “Mr. Maryland Leather 2012” to see a list of my current travel plans as well as pictures of my past adventures. Be sure to “Like” my page when you visit! Major events I will be attending this year include Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend (www.leatherweekend.com), Mr. SECC Leather 2012 (www.seccclubs.org), C.L.A.P. (www.hookerandboys.org), Baltimore Pride (www.baltimorepride.org), New Orleans Pride (www.gayprideneworleans.com), and of course I will be competing at IML (www.imrl.org).

JR: You‘re gonna be a busy boy this year! So, finally, here‘s a fun question I ask all the cool guys: According to my research, there are a few states with no Leather clubs or organizations, including North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, or… Hawaii! Now, granted, it might be tough-going to be sweating in your best Leatherwear where it’s always 80 degrees… but I was thinking of eventually settling in Hawaii, and bringing a bunch of dedicated Leathermen and leatherboys with me to start the first Leather club in The Aloha State. Are you and Sir Andy up for joining me?!

bj: ALOHA! That's why they make Leather kilts! Talk about Leather and Lei's. i am definitely on board! Jed, thank you so much for chatting with me. This has been totally woofy (just like you)!

JR: Awww, thanks joe!!! See you at MAL!

Friday, January 6, 2012

MEN OF THE SASH: "I Love, I Love My Calendar Boys!" by Jed Central's Special Guest Lady Clover Honey


by Special Guest Lady Clover Honey

What could be better than spending the upcoming new year with 12 Leathermen and Bears? Spending the upcoming new year with 12 Leathermen and Bears AND raising money for charity, of course. A New York City Leather Titleholder has just released a new fundraising calendar for 2012 called "Men of the Sash". All proceeds raised by sales of the calendar will go to two worthy organizations: the Leather Archives & Museum of Chicago (www.LeatherArchives.org)
and the HIV/AIDS Services of the New York City Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Center (www.GayCenter.org/health/hivaids).






"Men of the Sash" is the long-gestating project of Jed Ryan, Mr. Rawhide NYC 2011. "I know that calendars can be very hit-or-miss in terms of raising money. But I am confident that this one will be a success, given the collective popularity of the 12 men in it. You have guys like Russ Donaldson (Mr. Tri-State Leather 2010), whose jockstrap was auctioned off for $160 at a charity event last spring. You have CB Kirby (Mr. Eagle NYC 2011), one of the most wanted men in New York City. And you have Drummer Bear (Mr. Stonewall Bear 2011), one of the most popular nude Bear models on the Internet. Plus, you have the combined talents of some great photographers: Rob Ordonez, Chris Skelley, and Scott Brooks." A big challenge for Ryan in the beginning was deciding how much, shall we say, "exposure" the models should have. "In the beginning, I wasn’t sure just how much skin to show. I know that ‘Sex sells!’, so I started to wonder, ‘How naked should the guys be?’ But then, I thought about how there’s nothing more dignified and impressive to look at than a guy in full formal leather. At least, I think so! So, most of the guys are fully dressed, with some hairy chest or bare ass showing here and there. The guys here are a wide variety-- from age 24 to 52, ranging from just a little hairy to…VERY hairy!"
 



But "Men of the Sash" is more than just a collection of glossy photos. "I wanted to include some level of education about the Leather and Bear communities. That’s why I’ve included fun facts about Leathermen and Bears with each month." What’s another thing that makes "Men of the Sash" unique? Ryan tells me, "In addition to all the guys’ birthdays and all the major American holidays, I’ve included all 12 Wiccan holidays-- not just Halloween! For 40 years, I had to deal with only the Christian and Jewish holidays on my calendars. A lot of my Leather brothers and sisters identify themselves as Wiccans or pagans, so I wanted this to be all-inclusive." The calendar was by graphic designer Sean Campbell of the Twilight Guard, himself a Leatherman.

2012 is looking pretty hot already! "Men of the Sash" is available for $15 plus shipping. To get yours, contact Jed Ryan at JedstarNY@aol.com.

Here's to the New Year!

MR. RAWHIDE WANTS YOU... TO GET TESTED!

This year I had the sad distinction of watching two friends die way too early, and both of them had the equally sad distinction of not getting tested for HIV until it was way too late. Both were on the periphery of the Leather community… and while I was deeply saddened by their crossing over before their time, the fact that both of them were extraordinarily close with my BF Joe made it much harder for me to bear. It was difficult to watch Joe suffer not once but twice, spending countless hours in hospital rooms and comforting their loved ones. I am therefore making a plea to anyone out there who thinks they may have HIV: Get tested. I am not TELLING you to do it, but strongly encouraging you to do so.

As a health care professional, some would say I have a “responsibility” to educate people about nutrition, exercise, bad health habits, etc. But as a sexual libertine and someone who has always believed in personal freedoms first, this has always been a tremendous source of conflict for me. For example, we all know that smoking is bad for you… but I am a bit annoyed at the fact that the government tries to get us to stop by passing laws, rather than simply presenting the facts and encouraging us to make the right choice… or (gasp!) actually coming up with some kind of creative solutions. We all know that fast food is delicious-tasting poison (We all know that, don‘t we?!) …. But I would never deny anyone the occasional cheap thrill of enjoying it, with so few cheap thrills out there nowadays. The bottom line is: Shouldn‘t adults have the right to make up their own minds when it comes to choices about health? For that reason, I would never berate or judge anyone for the decisions they make. Added to that is the fact that I am really turned off by the explosion of “pop culture medicine” shows (Pop culture and medicine DO NOT belong together!) like the product-plugging “The Doctors”, that patronizing “Dr. Phil”, and that creepy-looking “Dr. Oz” who seem to be hellbent on getting people to FIND some kind of symptom or some new exotic disease to call their own. Their audience are usually soccer moms in criminal fashion sets and bad hairdos (accessorized with a martyr complex), who eat this stuff up like opossums in a garbage can. As a practicing Wiccan, I believe in “back to basics”: that everyone knows their own body well enough to know when something is wrong, if we trust our instincts. Our human instincts, combined with common sense and intelligent resources (health care professionals, books, and medical journals; NOT the TV or 99% of what’s on the internet), should lead us to the answer-- and it’s not always running to a bottle of pills or listening to a bunch of self-aggrandizing narcissists talk about the “disease of the day” on TV.

You may be asking, “Where is he going with this?” Well, Joe and I had slightly different opinions on the matter of HIV testing. While we both agreed that anyone who has been at risk should get tested (and that, no doubt, early testing and treatment just may have saved these guys‘ lives), I also think that people have to do it at a time when they are ready to do so, mentally… and people have to be strong enough to handle the results, whatever they may be. I also understood what both these guys I mentioned earlier-- and countless others-- might have gone through. The fear of a potentially positive result can be a powerful force. And yes, Virginia, denial can be an amazing coping mechanism-- for a while. What we don’t see can’t hurt us, right? If I say its name out loud, that will give it power, won‘t it? Well, that may work with ex-boyfriends, but not in the case of this virus. There are even those who claim that the virus does not even exist… and that if HIV exists, it may not the cause of AIDS. Yes, West Virginia, it’s true that some people believe that. There’s even an awful movie called “House of Numbers” (http://jedcentral.blogspot.com/2010/09/house-of-numbers-aids-denialism-killing.html?zx=bfe55ac811cdf3af) that does a great job in trying to convince us that HIV may not be the cause of AIDS. It almost convinced ME… However, HIV apparently did not see the movie and continues to make us aware of its presence. My good friend Michael Ramos of The Men’s Sexual Health Project (M*SHP) has always said that smarter sex is only part of HIV prevention. He firmly believes that if we can treat the underlying depression and self-esteem issues that many gay men face, then guys would not have as much high risk sex. In the case of both my friends I spoke of, the underlying emotional issues they faced made that as obvious as can be.

So… here is the bottom line. While I am against “preaching” about health or any other personal matter, I strongly encourage all of you out there with any risk factors to get tested for HIV. I promise you, you will be exactly the same person you were just before you got tested. Do it when you are ready, but just do it eventually. Don‘t do it because I or anyone else is asking you to. Do it because it may save your life or prevent a whole litany of unpleasant problems. Get tested anonymously if you feel more comfortable doing so . And please, please, please, find a doctor you trust… I cannot stress this more. If you are positive and don’t want to take Western medicine, there are herbal alternatives that are worth discussing with a qualified herbalist. A friend of mine who is an RN as well as an herbalist told me (using the book “The Secret Life of Germs” by Philip M. Tierno as a source) that some researchers speculate that HIV, like other viruses and all other living things, is always evolving… and that one day, the virus may “learn” that it can get more benefit by keeping its host (the human) alive rather than slowly killing him. Granted, this is still very “pie in the sky”, but it s gives me optimism, even if only for a future generation.

But the worse thing you can do is nothing. Doing nothing is the only surefire way to get back what you give.

Now, back to the hot Leathermen and Bears!

In pride,
Jed Ryan
Mr. Rawhide NYC 2011

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

LEATHER PRIDE IN THE MIDWEST: An Interview With Jeremy Morris, Mr. Iowa Leather 2012




LEATHER PRIDE IN THE MIDWEST:
An Interview With Jeremy Morris, Mr. Iowa Leather 2012

Last October, at ”Iowa’s favorite gay bar” The Blazing Saddle, Des Moines Leatherman Jeremy Morris won the Title of Mr.Iowa Leather 2012. Since then, the youngster has kept himself pretty busy, with one of his goals being to reach out to the GLBT community at large. On his Facebook page you’ll find Morris partying (always for a cause, natch!) not just with his fellow hot-to-trot Leather brothers but also with some very colorful drag queens and other celebs. (I particularly dig the picture of Morris with lovely Jessica Pray, Miss Iowa 2011, at an AIDS benefit…) It’s enough to make this bona fide New Yorker bemoan, “Damn, I wish I was there too!” It’s not just fun and games for this energetic Titleholder, however… Raising money for HIV/AIDS is on his agenda, and he tells me, “My goal is to have one hundred thousand raised before the end of my year. This is one of my biggest focus points beyond IML and I’m thankful for such a wide support base that over sixty thousand has already been raised. Yes, it keeps me running pretty much every weekend, but seeing the end result has made it all worth it.” In between social and philanthropic events, the Hawkeye State’s most visible Leatherman took the time to speak to me about his year ahead:


JR: Congratulations again on your Title of Mr. Iowa Leather 2012. How has the Title year been treating you so far?


JM: Thank you! This year has been busy from step one. But it has been truly humbling how many people in the state have rallied behind me this year.

JR: Since winning, do you find that you get hit on more when you go out? Or, are guys intimidated by the Sash?


JM: I had just moved to the Des Moines area a few months prior, so I was still “fresh meat” in the area… but it has brought a larger awareness to me around the country. No longer are there days of sneaking into the bar in jeans, a sweatshirt and a hat to just enjoy a quiet drink. But it has been for the good. It’s helped open up many doors to expanding the Leather community in Iowa!

JR: That’s the price of being a public figure! Now, speaking of Iowa: A lot of people who live on the coasts or in big cities have ideas about life in America in the Midwest… especially when it comes to the Leather community and the GLBT community in general. As a Midwest Leatherman, how do you feel about this? What stereotypes or myths would you like to debunk?


JM: The Midwest is an interesting place to live. No, the population is not confined in such tight spaces as the bigger city, but the options are endless and many are more willing to explore different fetishes. When I moved into Iowa as an adult I noticed that this state is nothing like its stereotype… not that the value of the family farm has been lost. Iowa is a leader for LGBT rights within this state. Here we enjoy protected housing & employment. I still remember being in shock when the state Supreme Court voted that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional. Yes, our state fair prides itself on having an entire street full of vendors frying anything they can on a stick, even butter. Overall, Iowa provides more of a large span of cultural diversity than one would expect. And yes – We root, root, root for Iowa… until the game is won!!!


JR: What philanthropic causes and/or issues are you dedicated to?

JM: Even before winning this title, charity work and event organization was a big part of my life in the state. Iowa has a heart to help those in need, and has shown so many different facets to be involved in the communities within this state. Several dear friends in my life have been struggling with the economic downturn to pay for their medications. Our local HIV/AIDS organizations lost roughly a third of their federal funding because our known positive population in the state is one of the lowest.

JR: It’s a shame it has to be that way. Now, in your opinion, what makes someone a role model for the Leather community?


JM: Personally, it is those who are willing to reach out to the younger generation. So many times the older members within our community seem to be above reaching out to the younger men & women wanting to explore the leather & fetish communities. Sadly we are seeing clubs with member’s average age being well into the 50’s or higher, even seeing a few dying out because they didn’t take the time to reach out to the next generation. The people I look up to personally are these very people. I was fortunate to have several key people in my life take me step by step into the leather community and continue to guide my along my journey. I know very well that my own personal journey is just begging but I work constantly to always bring someone new in the community with me anywhere I go.

JR: I totally agree with you. A lot of guys don’t “discover” the Leather scene until relatively later in life… and that may be because our community has not been reaching out to them as pro-actively as we should be. Along those lines, I ask you, What can every member of the Leather community do, on a day to day basis, to keep our community thriving?


JM: Don’t count out the younger generation. Reach out. Meet them on their level, at their hangouts, and you will find so many ready to explore/learn/grow in the community.

JR: When a Leatherman comes to visit your neck of the woods, what stops should he include on his visit?


JM: You can’t make a trip into Iowa and not stop at The Blazing Saddle. It is one of the pillars within the local community, not only for the LGBT community but for Des Moines in general. The owner and staff at the Saddle have helped build a vibrant community in the East Village section of town and are always keeping their doors open for everyone. And remember – At the Saddle it’s ALWAYS a double and NEVER a cover. This is also the center of the Leather community. Here you will find the home bar for two clubs, The Corn Haulers and Titans of the Midwest.

Iowa is rather spread out and there are several other places to check out along your way. In Cedar Rapids, It’s time for Basix. This staff is always welcoming and friendly… Be ready for the SoCo because the staff loves to keep pouring it! In Davenport, check out Connections Night Club for great drink specials, awesome music, and always a good time. (Some great bears always end up in the cages!!)

JR: Woof! While we’re on the subject: Leathermen are often seen as the epitome of masculinity and sexiness. What do you find personally sexy in a guy?

JM: Confidence, not arrogance.. Everyone loves a freaking hot man, even more with some good leather on. A man that can show confidence without being arrogant is an amazing turn on for me.



JR: What color hankies would I find hanging from your pocket/pockets?


JM: Besides having my bone and chew toy with me, you’ll always find at a minimum a blue, yellow & grey hankie on me. Black, green (several different), and khaki make their rounds and red is a work in progress. Sometimes there just isn’t enough pocket space.

JR: (Laughs) How true. So, Jeremy, do you have any resolutions for 2012?

JM: Back to the Basics here… The stupidity of my late teens is still plaguing my wallet and I’m focused on being debt free by 2014. I will admit though, I never really set goals for the New Year. I prefer to set short term goals that feed into a larger plan. There is one key goal: One hundred thousand raised for HIV/AIDS awareness in the state of Iowa. One always wants world peace and to bring home the IML title too…

JR: Finally, just for fun: According to popular reports, for better or for worse, mainstream America still identifies the late Glenn Hughes of the Village People as the most widely recognized Leatherman in American pop culture. How do you feel about that?


JM: So I’ve become even more of an open book to the people around me as Mr. Iowa Leather. One of the guys I work with asked me this exact thing. “So are you like the guy from the village people or like the guys from Police Academy?” Hughes took steps out into the world before the larger community was ready to make those steps for themselves. Its great to look at the past, but I’m ready to show the world the rest of the Leather community. I look to those before us for inspiration and show such respect for them because they stood out at a time when it wasn’t P.C. to do so. They laid the groundwork for the openness I get to enjoy daily!

JR: Thanks Jeremy! See you when you visit New York!

Monday, January 2, 2012

BLUEGRASS AND BLACK LEATHER! An Interview With Sam Clemons, Mr. Bluegrass Leather 2011





BLUEGRASS AND BLACK LEATHER!
An Interview With Sam Clemons, Mr. Bluegrass Leather 2011  



A lot of New York City boys no doubt have their own ideas about life in America below the Mason Dixon Line… especially when it comes to attitudes about the Leather scene and the GLBT community in general. As a Southern Leatherman, what does Sam Clemons, the newly sashed Mr. Bluegrass Leather 2011, have to say about it? The 46-year old Kentucky native tells me, “Leathermen and Leatherwomen in the Midwest and South seem to be more accepting. It‘s more about Southern hospitality, fundraising, and being inclusive of all groups with the community.” What stereotypes or myths would he like to debunk? “The main stereotype I personally don’t see as a Leatherman is that we are all horndog fuck machines out for one thing as a Titleholder.” (Hmmm… as if that were a bad thing!) Clemons adds, “ I am proud to be a community and state Titleholder. With this title, I pledged to serve my community and to educate those who I can reach. Sex is great obviously, but being a Titleholder isn’t about that for me.” Indeed, Sam takes his job as a role model quite seriously. He recently spoke to me about his philanthropic endeavors, his goals for the new year, and why he won’t be going with me to start a Leather club in Hawaii anytime soon!


JR: Congratulations again on your Title of Mr. Bluegrass Leather 2011. How has the Title year been treating you so far? SC: Thank you Jed. So far, things are going pretty well. Not long after I won the title, I moved to Lexington – so its been a very hectic few months. Title wise, things are starting to kick into gear.

JR: Since winning, do you find that you get hit on more? Or, are guys intimidated by the Sash?


SC: Since winning, I do find I get hit on online more and get called “SIR” quite a lot. Are men intimidated by the sash? I don’t believe so, because I am still the same man they knew and for those I meet new, I attempt to come across as approachable and kind.

JR: Cool! What philanthropic causes and/or issues are you dedicated to?

SC: Having children, I am a strong advocate to the Trevor Project. Also, being a survivor of HIV over 25 years, I hold this dear to my heart closely as well. I thank God each day for my health, and I feel that as a healthy person living with HIV, I must do what I can for my brothers and sisters who are in greater need that I.

JR: I understand! Now, in your opinion, who is a true role model for the Leather community?


SC: In my opinion, we are all role models for the Leather community. Each of us as individuals bring ourselves wholly to the table as ourselves. We may all excel in different avenues and arenas, but we all inspire in different ways.

JR: That said, what can every member of the Leather community do, on a day-to-day basis, to keep our community thriving?

SC: Interesting question. My first thought is to just be ourselves, and living truly and honestly. No one wants to see a Titleholder who is just a sash queen and lives for when he can wear it, et cetera… Every day, we have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life – by our words or by our actions. By living an inspiring, open life, we can change it for the good and help the community as a whole. See, we are more than a group of men who wear leather, et cetera. We are members of our communities who are THERE for those communities and for the persons within.

JR: When a Leatherman comes to visit Lexington, Kentucky, what stops should he include on his visit?


SC: Most definitely, stop at Crossings Lexington on Limestone Rd, Downtown Lexington. What an amazing bar and staff. Of course, no visit to Lexington would be complete without the Kentucky Horse Park and Bourbon Trail Tours!

JR: I’ll keep that in mind! The only Lexington I’ve been to is Lexington Avenue in Manhattan! Now, Leathermen are often seen as the epitome of masculinity and sexiness. As a role model and ambassador for the Leather community, what makes a man sexy?

SC: What I find most sexy in a man is confidence, not cockiness. For myself, I tend to be a modest, humble guy who sometimes gets lost in the crowd. But, as a Leatherman, I am a different person – because I am a confident, humble man who enjoys how he looks in leather and enjoys the attitude I have when dressed.

JR: I couldn’t agree more. So, where can people meet you this coming year?

SC: I am going to attempt to attend Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend (MAL) in January, I will most definitely be at Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend (CLAW) in April and, of course, International Mr. Leather (IML) in May. But, you will most likely always find me attending some sort of fundraising event any given weekend here and around Lexington.


JR: Finally: According to my research, there are a few states with no Leather clubs or organizations, including North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, or… Hawaii! Now, granted, it might be tough-going to be in your best leatherwear where it’s always 80 degrees… but I was thinking of eventually settling in Hawaii, and bringing a bunch of dedicated Leathermen with me to start the first Leather club in The Aloha State. Are you up for joining me?!

SC: Up for joining you by moving to Hawaii? Sadly, no, because I won’t be that far away from my kids. But helping to get a leather club in Hawaii started, that would be an awesome legacy!


You can follow Sam at his blog, www.mrbluegrassleather2011.wordpress.com.
 


(Photos of Sam courtesy of Crossings Lexington and The Bluegrass Leather Association.)

MR. FRIENDLY: Our New "Status Symbol"!





MR. FRIENDLY:
 Our New "Status Symbol"!

      Meet Mr. Friendly. Chances are, you may already have met him-- or at least seen him winking at you-- at various Leather, GLBT, and/or HIV awareness events around the country. At first glance, Mr. Friendly may seem like just another smiley face. But there's more to this ambitious character than meets the eye. His plus sign for a nose and minus sign for a left eye represent positive and negative HIV statuses equally, to remind us to show support and respect for ALL regardless of whether they are poz or neg... or unaware of their status, for that matter.  More importantly, Mr. Friendly has a mission-- and it's a grand one indeed. Mr. Friendly’s goals are to assist organizations and individuals worldwide to (1) help them fight stigma of HIV; (2) fulfill their missions to minimize the further transmission of HIV; (3) help them raise funds; and (4) maximize the quality of life for those living with HIV. Judging by the buzz he has already gotten since he made his first public appearance in 2008, it seems like Mr. Friendly is already off to a strong start!







      Now meet David Watt, the man behind Mr. Friendly. Once you get past the bluest eyes in Kalamazoo or that killer smile, Dave is always happy to talk about HIV and AIDS awareness. Watt encourages people to display Mr. Friendly, often by giving away free pins to wear on their vests and then giving an impromptu “Mr. Friendly 101” session at events like Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend (CLAW). He points out that Mr. Friendly was designed specifically to NOT indicate a person’s status, but rather to show support and respect for all regardless of their HIV status… as well as to encourage open, honest, and educated discussion about HIV. Extremely visible and active in the Leather community (He owns the Titles of Mr. Fetish Detroit 2007 and Mr. Michigan Leather 2009), David works as a Prevention Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator for Community AIDS Resource and Education Services (CARES) in his native Kalamazoo, Michigan. CARES adopted Mr. Friendly as a program, offering 501c3 non-profit status in September 2009.

      Both Mr. Friendly and David Watt have the same vision: A world without the stigma of HIV. I had the chance to speak to David about the Mr. Friendly movement:

JR: Thanks for meeting up with me, David and Mr. Friendly.  So, David, since you’re the more vocal of the two, tell me how Mr. Friendly was conceived.

DW: For years I had worked on creating a symbol to fight stigma. I wanted to show that I was poz-friendly and to let others know that they could openly discuss HIV with me, no matter their status. Yet I didn't want a button that exactly said “poz-friendly” since to some that encouraged the question about my own status. Not the point, eh? I've seen many friends living with HIV being treated rudely. I wanted to do SOMEthing... Mr. Friendly was carefully designed with equal weight for both a positive and a negative symbol. It is important to me that the symbol is for EVERYone without indicating the person’s status. Poz or Neg, we are all in this together!

JR: Yes, we are! What is the biggest barrier to communication about HIV and between men who have sex with men?


DW: I think there is soooo much stigma surrounding HIV that even just bringing up the topic is perceived to be a turnoff. Poz guys often are rejected just because of their status. One friend told me that he's turned down for sex 90% of the time once he discloses his status. Many guys just don't want to know and make assumptions.

JR: If there’s one single thing that you could encourage our community to do when it comes to HIV/AIDS awareness, what would it be?


DW: Let's all do a better job of initiating conversations about HIV: Promote testing for HIV.  Let others know that poz or neg, you will be there for them. And, be supportive of our friends living with HIV!

JR: Sounds good! So, when it comes to safer sex, it seems like all of us-- make that, most of us-- know the facts, but we don’t necessarily put them into action. In your opinion, what’s the biggest barrier to safer sex?


DW: We need to find ways to eroticize the conversations that lead to safer sex. When we all figure out what we consider safe, and feel comfortable communicating that, then we protect the health of our community! Mr. Friendly is a great way to initiate that conversation.

JR: There are a few people out there who are known as “AIDS denialists”, who deny that HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and believe, among other things, that the medications are poison, etc. What’s your opinion on that?


DW: I suggest that people find health care workers that they trust to explain how the virus works. I'm part of an HIV vaccine study called Project Wish from UIC. They do a GREAT job of explaining to me any/all scientific information about HIV.

JR: There seems to be a big boom in barebacking lately, as evidenced by the proliferation of bareback hookup sites, parties, and porn. In your opinion, what may that indicative of?


DW: Let's face it, many people have unprotected sex cuz it just feels better. Maybe our community is facing condom burnout? And, I think there is a growing complacency about testing positive for HIV. One recently diagnosed young man told me that he knew he was eventually going to contract HIV, was tired of feeling the pressure of testing for HIV frequently, and so he relaxed his standards on condom use. While HIV is now considered a chronic disease, it is still a very serious virus--- and a life-changing medical diagnosis. Science is also suggesting that undetectable viral loads greatly reduce risk of contracting HIV.
(www.thebody.com/Forums/AIDS/SafeSex/Q201901.html ) But many people who are living with HIV don't know their status or viral load, due to stigma.

JR: A few guys have shared with me that we get older, some of us may lose sensitivity “down there”-- meaning, we lose sensitivity in the penis and it’s harder to “keep it up” while wearing a condom. That may be something of an unspoken reason why so many men may stop using condoms after a while. Any thoughts on that? DW: I am a big promoter of female/Reality condoms for those that choose to wear condoms--- I call them the next best thing to barebacking! Mr. Friendly is an anti-stigma message, not a condom campaign though. I recognize that some people may choose to have unprotected sex. Just be sure to do your best to reduce risk and continue to test for and treat (if needed) HIV and other STDs.

JR: That’s a very realistic viewpoint. Now, you are the Holder of several Titles, including Mr. Michigan Leather 2009. What’s the best, or maybe I should say, the most rewarding aspect about being a Leather Titleholder-- and therefore, a role model in the community?


DW: Being a Titleholder changed my life. I used to be the shy geek in the corner, now I'm like "Hey, hand me that microphone!" (Does that make me the big geek on stage? YES!) Having a Title opened so many doors for me and Mr. Friendly. And I met so many inspiring people at IML and in my travels! I'm not saying that everyone NEEDS a title to accomplish their goals, but having a title can provide wonderful opportunities for your voice to be heard.

JR: On the contrast, what’s the worst, or hardest thing, about it?


DW: When you put yourself out there with a message, it makes you vulnerable to criticism. I've certainly made missteps along the way, but try to do my best. And it can be a challenge to stay neutral so that Mr. Friendly's message can be heard!

JR: In the media, it’s usually activists who live in New York City, San Francisco, or Los Angeles that get most of the attention. Did anyone ever imply that you should move your work to one of those cities, under the notion that your work would be more “appreciated”?


DW: I live in Kalamazoo, MI - a nice central and CHEAP location! I'm often in Chicago and Detroit (just a couple of hours drive) and do my best to travel frequently. I make it a point to travel all over, not just one region of the US. Europe next? Anyone want to sponsor me? ;+)

JR: Hmmm… We’ll talk about that later! Now, most Americans will never make it to Kalamazoo, Michigan. Why should people go there to visit?


DW: Kalamazoo is a fun, open-minded college town with a vibrant downtown and frequent festivals in the summer months. And my husband's Barbie/Ken collection is worth checking out!

JR: Looks like a road trip to Kalamazoo is in order! Thanks Dave… and thanks, Mr. Friendly!


DW: Thank YOU Jed for the opportunity… and for promoting Mr Friendly's message to be stigma-free of HIV!

 

Dave Watt concludes with, "An HIV status should not get in the way of loving ourselves, our friends and family, our communtiy..." Visit www.MrFriendly.info for much more information, Photos, Mr. Friendly merchandise, and-- most importantly-- how you can help!