The Criminal

The Criminal

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The grass was wet from the early morning dew when she stepped out on her perfect manicured lawn.  With a glass of bourbon in one hand and one of his cigarettes in the other, she figured she would watch possibly the last sunrise she would see again as a free woman. Claudia snapped one of the pockets closed on her leather jacket and made an effort to smooth out her previously coiffed hair. Her wild tendrils were a reflection of the seconds of chaos that would make all the difference.  She noticed one lock of hair that had a little dried blood at the tip, so she wet her fingers and rubbed the remnants of the dead husband out. She wanted to look at least half way decent for her mug shot that would be the talk of Highland Park society for weeks, maybe even months to come.

Claudia knew it was going to be a bad night when her husband, Michael, didn’t even take his jacket off before asking for three fingers of blue label. Her stepson was at his mother’s house. This removed the flimsy barrier between her husband being a regular drunk asshole and the stuff that the Lifetime Network wishes they could dream up. In an empty attempt to ease the impact of her husband’s rage, she hired his favorite chef to come and prepare his favorite dinner and conveniently hung around in the kitchen for most of the night.  This was her life now. Buying minutes here and an hour or two there. Always trying to minimize the bruises and mask the pain with Hermes scarves, Louis Vuitton sunglasses and private chefs that stay until her husband passes out.
Michael threw his jacket on the couch and his belt on the floor.  She waited in the study until he was safely out of sight, and then scurried into the living room to pick up his sheddings and put them where they belong.  It was only after the first six months of marriage that she learned not to ever let him see his surroundings out of place, even if it was from his doing.  He nearly dislocated her jaw over a necktie and her stepson’s baseball bag.
As he sucked down his first drink, they played their nightly dance of avoiding each other.  He remained in their bedroom wing where he would get sufficiently lubricated enough to face his mistake of a wife.  Five years ago, like in all of his business transactions, he had acquired her because she resembled a good investment.  She was 25 then, a recent MBA graduate and a pedigree suitable for his future societal ambitions. He wanted her to get pregnant immediately, and she was just young and in love enough to forego her dreams for his picture of happiness.
But after six months of trying and a reluctant fertility test, Claudia found out that she would never have her own children.  Just like that, Michael changed.  She was devastated and turned to the one man that she had thought held her heart. He looked at her with resentment and disgust; like she suckered him into giving up his coveted secondary spot to a woman who must have secretly known that she could never fulfill the role.  She went from his love of loves to a gold digger, an opportunist and a whore. Of course, he wouldn’t just give her a divorce.  His varnish in society as a gentleman and a good Christian would get scuffed, and he couldn’t allow that to happen.
So he turned his anger inward. Claudia bared the brunt.
She was idling in the kitchen, fidgeting with the fine china and faking small talk with the chef.  It was only a matter of time before Michael would emerge from his posh lair of booze and cigarettes.  No one knew he smoked outside of Claudia; one of many secrets that she kept to uphold their glossy image. The second he got home, Michael began to smoke cigarette after cigarette until he felt caught up for the day. It was then that the chef said something that made Claudia almost drop an heirloom china teacup that Michael surely would have made her pay for.
“Ok, Mrs. Dunbriar, everything is ready to be served,” the chef said. “Please call or text me if you need anything.”
“What do you mean?” She said. “I thought you were going to be preparing several courses throughout the night?”
“I thought I explained over the phone.  I have a cocktail party that I am catering at the Tremill’s residence this evening. The salmon has just finished and the risotto is in the heated serving dish. Everything else is room temperature.  I’m sorry, I thought you understood.”
She remembered the conversation.
“Fuck.”
Excuse me?” The chef said.
“Shit. I mean… I’m sorry, Paul. I remember.  I will call you next week for the Thanksgiving arrangements.”
The chef looked confused. He could sense the thinly veiled panic that registered across her face.  Normally she was rather vacant, but no more vacant than the other Highland Park wives he normally did business with.  He paused, but then continued to move towards the foyer.
“Have a good night, Mrs. Dunbriar.”
After throwing back a glass of Belvedere, she assessed the near perfect spread that was simmering in the kitchen she never used. Another failure, she always assumed.  But it was easier to hire a chef and withstand the snide remarks of her shortcomings than listen to just how bad her cooking was night in and night out.  She heard him walk in.  Her neck stiffened and she hoped for just violent sex instead of actual violence tonight.
“Wow. You hired Paul… again. You’ve outdone yourself, Claud,” Michael said.
Without looking at her, he took his seat at the table.  She could smell the whiskey even though he was in the dining room and she was in the room adjacent.
“I’ll bring your plate to you in a minute,” she said.
And she braced herself for another casual night of torture.
The first two courses passed with mostly silence.  Michael mentioned how they would be attending the country club’s annual Halloween party and how she needed to decide what they would be wearing.  In the house, they were enemies at war. At social functions, they played their roles as two perfect people with the perfect love for all it was worth.
“Just don’t dress like too much of a slut,” Michael said. “You embarrassed the hell out of me with that ridiculous Bonnie and Clyde get-up last year.”
“I was thinking about us going as Lucille Ball and you could be Ricky.  But maybe we should switch roles so my breasts are covered to your liking,” Claudia said. “I’m sure you would make a cute red head.”
That was her problem, she thought. She could be a shadow most of the time.  Tip toeing around her own house, avoiding Michael and placing as many buffers as she could between the two of them.  But she could never refrain from biting back when bitten.  She had given up all of herself.  But she was still Claudia. The headstrong girl from Dallas with as much backbone as any man in business and the one least likely to take abuse of any kind.
“But isn’t that the sweet irony of it all?” She would whisper when powdering her black eyes.
She knew her comment registered by the way he was slicing his steak in a slow, precise motion.  His movements reflected his thoughts.  He was almost smiling, savoring just how he was going to make her pay for that one.
She rose to take her plate into the kitchen.
“Aren’t you going to take mine, too? … I’m finished, Claud.”
With her back turned to him, she froze. It was only for a second, but he noticed. And he enjoyed it.
She turned and walked over to collect his plate. As she went to gather his silverware, he grabbed her wrist and twisted it until she was at her knees.  She uttered only a small scream of anguish, knowing that he relished in the louder she cried out.
“Nobody thinks you’re funny, bitch.” Michael said.
“I know, I’m…”
SMACK
He clocked her across the jaw – open palmed but with closed fingers.  She fell to the ground, sprawled out next to the feet of his chair. After slipping her high heel back around her foot, she rose, grabbed his plate and went into the kitchen.
“And don’t go cry while you’re in there,” Michael said.  “I don’t want the soundtrack to how fucking pathetic you are. Just bring me another whiskey.”
As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she murmured, “Like I even feel it anymore.”
Michael heard it, and he accepted the challenge. He threw back the last of his drink and crunched on the ice as he followed her.
“I’m sorry. What did you say, dear?”
Panicked, she hastily fumbled for the right words to minimize the fall out. She set down their plates and turned to find him merely five feet behind her. He was excited about tonight, she thought.
It had been five years of marriage, three trips to the hospital and countless excuses behind the bruises and scratches that marked her body.  When she met him, her life seemed limitless.  Now, she was a walking punching bag dressed in this season’s couture. Some girls can only take so much.
“I said, like I even feel it anymore, dear.”
For a moment, he stood, stunned by the air of defiance that dripped from her words. Then, he lunged at Claudia and took her by the front of her neck.  Michael threw her to the ground without loosening his grip. The fall broke the strand of diamonds she was wearing and scattering them beside her head that was now pounding from the crack against the kitchen tile.
“I guess I will have to give it to you a little harder, then,” he said.  “I should have known that bitches like you liked it rough.”
She just tried to breathe and refocus her eyesight.  She was seeing stars after Michael slammed her head on the floor.  Her Ralph Lauren pencil skirt was ripped from Michael taking her into the missionary position.  She had no response.
“I guess it runs in the family,” he said. “Your sister liked it rough, too. At least she was better at taking it than you are.”
Then, just before releasing her, Michael spit in her face.  He stumbled to his feet and went back into the dining room.
“I’m still waiting on that whiskey.”
She stayed where she was for a moment. As the whiskey tinged mucus ran down her face into her hair, a wave of calm came over her. She knew about the affair with her sister.  Quite frankly, she was relieved that it wasn’t her who had to sleep with him for a night or two. But the spit… The spit was like a dunk into cold water after a night of drinking.  Suddenly her life was a little clearer.  Not only was she stuck in an abusive relationship, but she had also accepted it. She knew she only had a moment of clarity before the smoke set in again and she went on with her Xanax-dependent existence.
She slowly brought herself to her feet, brushed off her skirt and blouse and walked into the entry hall.  Her high heels echoed throughout the empty house as she found her way to the utility closet and opened her stepson’s baseball bag.  She crouched down and found a wooden and a metal bat alongside his glove.  She gripped the wooden bat and began to rise to her feet before pausing and exchanging it for the metal one.
She walked through the house into the opposite entrance of the dining room.  His back was facing towards her.
“I had to get another bottle from the cellar,” she said.
He just laughed.
“It’s ok, Claud. I expected you to cry after that one.”
Her pain was a joke to him.
“I’m not crying, motherfucker.”
As he turned to face her she swung the bat so hard that the blood splattered across the ceiling in an aerial formation. He dropped lifelessly to the floor, taking his empty glass with him. He didn’t even let out a sound. She was then sure that the metal bat was the right choice.  As she stood over his limp body and his now dented, bloody face, she felt nothing. Logic and pain was the only thing coursing through her veins. So she raised the bat above her head and took to more violent whacks to his head.  Claudia never had a problem finishing what she started.
Two hours passed and she had yet two move from her seat at the dinner table.  She just stared out of her dining room window at the perfect upper class neighborhood that she was about to say goodbye to.  Claudia wasn’t sure if she was even going to miss it. She couldn’t help but think that she would have never ended up in such a stuffy and Republican bubble if she had pursued her career instead of Michael.  Now, both paths were one’s she would never walk again.
Four hours later, she was drinking Michael’s whiskey, listening to Stevie Nicks and looking through her wardrobe for the right mug shot outfit.  This is what happens to a woman who cracks.  She was letting herself settle into her new role.  In 10 seconds, she went from being Mrs. Dunbriar, wife of Michael Dunbriar, philanthropist, a society darling and battered cliché to Claudia, murderess housewife and criminal.  She threw on her old leather jacket over a camisole and picked up the phone.  She could almost hear her neighbors gasping over just how gruesome the scene was. The refined residents of Highland Park would be astonished and ashamed of her pedestrian weapon of choice for such a white-collar pedigree.  She dialed 911 and smiled.
“Yeah, a fucking bat,” she whispered before the operator picked up.
She was never going to be a lot of things after that night.  But at least she was no longer a victim.
The ‘Undetectable’ Paradox in Discussing HIV

The ‘Undetectable’ Paradox in Discussing HIV

It is impossible to have a modern conversation about HIV and HIV stigma without having the term “undetectable” used, misused, and abused. Those involved in HIV activism certainly have strong opinions on how the term that refers to an HIV-positive person’s undetectable viral load should be used (and who is using it incorrectly). Some herald the term as a badge of honor worn by those who are compliant in treatment and open with their HIV status, while others would scold the same group of people for using the term as an excuse to engage in unsafe sexual behavior.

Either way, oversimplified accolades and mudslinging moral judgments have no place in a conversation about HIV stigma, prevention, and the term that is a result of compliance with medication. With many gay men still unclear about what being “undetectable” truly constitutes, how do we get to a place where we can discuss what it does and doesn’t mean without all of us looking dirty in the end?

For those who are still unsure: An HIV-positive person can achieve undetectable viral levels after undergoing antiretroviral therapy. The viral load affects the chance that they will transmit HIV. According to an article in Journal Watch HIV/AIDS Clinical Care, one study indicated that early antiretroviral therapy reduced the likelihood of transmission by 96%. Once antiretroviral meds help a person achieve an undetectable viral load, it is possible to remain at this level provided the person continues to take the medication as directed.

An education on the specifics of HIV as it is today, including the meaning of being undetectable, should be mandatory reading for gay men, regardless of status. It is critical to the entire community to understand where we are in terms of HIV research. No matter how far removed you are from the HIV pandemic, you are still susceptible to the virus (especially if you think you aren’t).

Now, unless we find a way to infuse subliminal HIV messaging into the speakers of every H&M in the country, casual conversation among our peers is the most effective method of education. But, as with many discussions concerning HIV, the discussion quickly turns into the blame game. So who loses? Everyone.

For the sake of conversation, let’s liken a person with an undetectable viral load to a person who is HIV-negative. With both classifications, you get tested regularly to make sure that you are still safely in your category. But unlike being HIV-negative, discussing the meaning of an undetectable status almost immediately gets bogged down by shame-mongering and moral accusations. Use of the term is often ridiculed, immediately placing judgment on the HIV-positive person who speaks about his undetectable status.

The following quote was taken from a post that asked people how they think we can make progress in eliminating HIV stigma:

“I’d like to hear more responsible discussion in our community about how dangerous and reckless it is to use the term ‘undetectable‘ given the implications of treating ’undetectable‘ status as if it were really something different from being positive.”

This claim wasn’t made with malicious intent, but does give a lucid demonstration of the difficulty of discussing HIV-related topics without subconsciously casting judgment.

In fact, people who are undetectable should never stop talking about their status. At the gym, on the subway, and even at Sunday services (if that’s your sort of thing).

“Did you catch the last inning of the Rangers game last night?”

“Hell no, I don’t watch sports. But my viral load is 57!”

A person discussing their undetectable status is a beautiful thing because it means they have been tested, are on treatment, and are open and honest about their HIV status. The idea that the term “undetectable” is used only to lure unsuspecting prey into performing high-risk sexual acts with someone who is positive is both stigmatizing and criminalizing. This notion removes all responsibility from the other party when they have just been given the information they need to protect their own health. And it is, in fact, their responsibility to protect their own health (and no one else’s).

Far too often, our community mistakes silence as an admission of innocence. If no one asks a person’s HIV status, no one tells. Worse, some will assert their HIV-negative status even if it’s been months or even years since their last test.

Yet these proverbial question marks walk around every day, unscathed by denunciations associated with their bedtime behavior. They aren’t reduced to sweeping stereotypes of being sexual pariahs even though their pseudo-negative HIV status could possibly place a person at much greater risk than that of someone who is undetectable.

In the realm of sex and dating, the responsibility lies with you to make the appropriate choices to protect your health. Unfortunately, people are slutty, nobody likes using condoms, and everybody is a liar. But that doesn’t mean we have to muddle the value of an undetectable viral load and debase a group of people who are at least willing to be up front with their status.

The sexual acts of gay men do not exist in two separate vacuums. If they did, it would certainly be much easier to end the transmission of the virus. Therefore the conversation about what it will take to decrease stigma and increase testing must also exist without uninformed generalizations that could silence many before they even speak.

In order for a conversation about HIV and HIV stigma to have substantive meaning, assumptions, accusations, and generalizations need to become “undetectable.”

HIV Victims and Villains: Who is Really at Fault?

HIV Victims and Villains: Who is Really at Fault?

There is a common assumption among the sexually active homo population that it is the responsibility of HIV-positive men to disclose their status before engaging in bedroom gymnastics. Based on this assumption, a person who doesn’t mention his status before he tries and fails to make a baby with another man silently asserts that he is HIV-negative by default. Even if a person living with HIV is undetectable and protection was used, he would be considered reprehensible, immoral and altogether villainous character if he failed to disclose his scarlet plus sign to his unknowing HIV-negative partner. But when it comes to the laws of responsibility in HIV disclosure, sometimes there is more than one suspect in a crime.

The Scene of the Crime

The following scenario is based on a true story

Parker is a young, successful and single gay man living with HIV. Nathan is of the same homo vein, but he is HIV-negative. The two met while Parker was at a business conference and Nathan was on vacation with several of his friends. A mojito at the hotel pool quickly led to martinis at the closest gay bar. Dinner was served, flirtation escalated and Nathan ended up back in Parker’s room for a little more than dessert. The fast and frenzied pace of this out-of-town romance caught Parker by surprise and he failed to find the right moment to disclose his HIV status (and Nathan never asked). His viral load was at an undetectable level and they used protection, but his conscience wasn’t satisfied with this threshold of safety.

The Confession

Parker and Nathan parted ways the next morning with plans to meet up for a drink later in the day.  By six o’clock, the weight of the guilt over not disclosing had Parker in need of more than just a strong pour on his vodka gimlet. He needed to clear the air.

Parker told Nathan that he was HIV positive. He explained that he was on medication and had an undetectable viral load. He said that since they used a condom, his health was not at risk, but that it was important for Parker to be honest about his status.

Nathan was visibly shaken and admitted that Parker should have disclosed his status before they had sex. He was concerned because there was a lot of kissing and oral play that took place.  Parker explained the reality of transmission and that Nathan had nothing to worry about, but the damage was done. Nathan felt victimized and he was sitting across from the smoking gun.  Needless to say, the two men didn’t order a second round.

For the jury of public opinion, the judgment of who committed the crime and who was the victim receives a unanimous vote. But before the sentence of shame is handed down to Parker for not disclosing his status, let’s look at who had the motive to commit the crime.

Parker did want to tell Nathan about his HIV status. As a man who was actively managing his disease with treatment, it was important for him to be up front about being positive, even if there was no health risk involved. However, many people fail to understand that when you become positive, you aren’t handed an operator’s guide on how to handle your new status. The variables of sexual psychology are limitless when concerning dating and HIV. Although he failed to disclose that he was a positive man, he had taken the steps to protect Nathan and himself—both by using a condom and being steadfast in his treatment regime.

Nathan is a sexually active gay man who, by default, is part of the HIV community. With one out of every five gay males being HIV positive, it is his responsibility to protect his own sexual health.  It’s true—Parker did not disclose that he is HIV positive. But Nathan didn’t disclose that he was HIV negative, nor did he ask to know Parker’s status before the clothes started to come off. In this scenario, Nathan has a motive to stay negative. Therefore, he is also guilty of committing a crime of not disclosing his status and not inquiring about the status of his sexual partner.

This is only one out of many criminal scenarios that many of us find ourselves in when it comes to dating, dirty talk and disclosure. When it comes to sex, there are always two (or more) suspects whose motives should be investigated. And when it comes to protecting each other’s health, the burden is mutually shared and the responsibility is equally divisible, regardless of status.

I always disclose my HIV-positive status because it is in the best interests of my health, not yours.

HIV Positive, Unapologetic and Fabulous

HIV Positive, Unapologetic and Fabulous

The decision to come out of the closet as HIV-positive was one that required many long and somewhat uncomfortable conversations with my bathroom mirror. I would study my reflection, trying to see if I could tell the difference between the person staring back and the guy who now only exists in pictures. I still wore his face, his clothes still fit me and I could still manage to emulate his same outward demeanor, but it was a farce. Something felt different. For the first time since coming out as a gay man, I felt like I was hiding.

Still, I managed to escape the reflection and lose myself in the comforts of old habits. I spent time with my friends laughing, dancing, drinking too much vodka and sneaking cigarettes when no one was looking. We talked about sex and dating, and I managed a good front for a couple of months.

Although my secret identity was acceptable, and maybe even preferable to some, I had never been very good at keeping up a poker face. While eating lunch with my sister or sipping wine with my friends, my truth was beginning to thrash about like a pissed-off fish out of water, getting more and more desperate to breathe. I realized that the longer I kept my mask on, the deeper it cut into my skin. So I dug in my heels, fixed my hair, threw on a smile and braced myself for the turbulence.

I came out of the closet as HIV-positive. Not only did I come out but I used enough explosives to blow up my little door so that only a few ashes remained.

Telling my story gave me freedom. I had dithered on whether to publish my status right up until the moment it went viral, but the doubts I was wrestling with were eviscerated within mere seconds. Almost instantaneously, I was inundated with people who only had empathy and a willingness to begin a new conversation. The judgment of strangers that I had fretted over before seemed stale.

Furthermore, I received messages from men across the country who were going through experiences similar to my own. They told me about their fears, the dread that lived in the pit of their hearts and their battles with depression. Weaved within these messages, however, was a sense of hope that maybe they, too, would begin to open up about their HIV-positive status.

I also received a fair share of criticism. Some thought I was flippant, maybe even cavalier in my approach to HIV awareness. Nevertheless, it seemed that these responses stemmed from a similar vein of fear — fear of forgetting the past. I do not want to forget, by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, I want to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives by embracing the fact that HIV is not something to hide from under the covers anymore, and that we should modernize our approach to prevention.

The truth is that I am just not that scared of HIV (but saying that can really piss off some of the old-guard activists). My doctor said I might lose, at most, two years off my life because I am now HIV-positive. Honestly, I don’t even accept that answer. At 29, I think I’ll have quite a few years to wait around for a better one.

I was told by a friend to not read the feedback to the piece, but I couldn’t resist. Although there were some pretty scathing remarks, I was able to remain fairly unshaken. Sure, the baseless health threats and character digs stung a little, but it only took a minute to snap out of it. However, it was a comment meant to defend my story against the negative remarks that eventually sent me reeling. A reader had made a comment in response to several remarks that suggested I was negligent and moronic with my approach to the topic of HIV: “Don’t worry… those people are just jealous of your former fabulous life…” Former?! I guess I didn’t realize I was supposed to bow my head and slowly abscond to the local HIV support group in silence while the violins played.

No, absolutely not. I had found a way back to myself. I could, again, claim the face in the mirror as my own. The bratty nuances and cocky tendencies that I had admittedly occupied became authentic again. Quite simply, I found a way to like myself once more. If, indeed, my life was “fabulous” before (and I am not quite sure if it was), I stand firm in the assertion that it is just as “fabulous” now. So if you found my first account to be rife with gay stereotypes of stylish nods and trendy clichés, I plead guilty. It was an honest glimpse into my world as I see it.

Being diagnosed as HIV-positive and deciding to publicly own my status has given me lucidity, understanding and drive. I embrace the lot I have been given and plan on capitalizing on this platform for all my fellow homos out there. But don’t get me wrong: As I begin to drag this conversation out of the closet and take it with me to hang out with the boys, I plan on doing so with a healthy amount of self-tanner, copious doses of sarcasm and a shot of tequila every now and then (but, for the sake of growth, maybe I would let go of the secret cigs, because there is nothing fabulous about that).

We can all recognize that at one point or another, we all could have made the one mistake that might have made all the difference. I fervently hope that you never do, but if just maybe you did, you should not be afraid to get tested. If you take care of yourself, you no longer have to lose the parts of you that you love. Who knows? Maybe you can even shed some of the parts that you don’t.

And yes, you can still be “fabulous.”

Tight Buns, Wrinkle Creams and the Pressure to be Perfect

Tight Buns, Wrinkle Creams and the Pressure to be Perfect

Women have long been subjected to a wildly unrealistic expectation of beauty. The advertising and marketing industry has capitalized on the obsessions and insecurities of women for decades. Multi-million dollar campaigns pushing the newest age-defying moisturizer or flaunting the latest breakthrough in weight loss have flooded the pages of magazines and our TV screens.

Even mainstream marketing towards heterosexual men most often uses the insatiable sex appeal of perfect women that can act like an indirect reminder to the mother at home that her wrinkles are showing and her thighs shouldn’t touch. But now, as the almighty gay dollar is becoming more and more recognized, the unrealistic idea of male beauty has emerged. You might want to hold on to your wallets, boys, because it is your finances that are now in the crosshairs.

It isn’t breaking news that a healthy portion of the Dallas gay male population has always strived to look more like a comic book character and less like a real man. Most gay men at least have a gym membership card attached to their key ring as a reminder that they aren’t there and can name at least three luxury skin care brands. Although we may not be cornering the cosmetic market anytime soon, the advertising practices of numerous products and services have increasingly taken on a homo-slant. Why? Because the advertising industry has discovered that gay men are just as susceptible to the youth delusion as women.

So what does the perfectly impossibly A-list gay man resemble? Well, it’s a sort of amalgamation of Anderson Cooper’s face with the body of someone from Magic Mike. We are supposed to be impossibly wealthy and ripped to pieces yet somehow frozen at the age of 25. The money can be a little more than difficult to come by. But the appearance of having it all — let’s just say some Dallas boys have mastered the art of illusion.

But now, mainstream marketing has smelled our desire to look like an action star and it has taken note. Just across the street from Equinox, a new business has opened up that is geared toward the male client and promises that you will look better, feel better and, indeed, live better. I walked into this new business, with the cleverly ambiguous name of Thrive, thinking that it would be just another “wellness” center offering Botox, Restylane and the like. Although it is injections that they are touting, they are not the kind that you put in your face.

Thrive brings to Dallas the latest trend in youth preservation with an emphasis on the male client. Their product is simple — custom tailored hormone injections that will make you feel stronger, increase your sexual appetite and be the trick up your sleeve come pool season. Once I realized that this place was the injection fountain of youth, I figured I was probably not the ideal client. But was I ever wrong! Even at the age of 30, I was a prime candidate for a host of treatments that they would be happy to stick me with. As tempting as a boost to my muscles and manhood sounded, it was just one step too far.

Although I escaped the allure of designer hormones (at least for the day), the pressure to appear perfect never felt so tangible. The experience forced me to step back and assess the behaviors of my peers and myself and wonder how well we balance quality of life, the content of our character and the quest for perfect abs.

Of course, there are many homosexuals that do not subscribe to the Men’s Fitness version of what a man should look like. Even those who could very well be on the cover of the next issue may often demonstrate some of the richest character of all. But I challenge anyone to deny the pressure that the Dallas Gay Culture places on its subjects. I will be the first to admit, I contribute to the problem.

I constantly worry about my diet and beat myself up every time I accidentally inhale a batch of brownies.

The value of my fancy gym membership takes way too much precedence when considering my not so fancy budget. I maintain a four-season bronzed glow (thank you, Tom Ford). And even though fashion has never been much of a priority, I catch myself coveting the labels that so many of my friends adore. As Dallas is one of the premiere markets for fashion, fitness, plastic surgery and cosmetics, it appears I am in good company.

Of course, none of these traits do a monster make. But the failure to recognize that these vain indulgences are just that, vain, can lead to some pretty gruesome characters. The boy who won’t eat a single carb and looks at you with disgust when you do, even at his own birthday. The guy you dated that could never meet you for dinner during the week because it interrupted his two-hour gym session. The group of friends that only will hang out with people who look and act like them. These people are real, and whether you like it or not, they have the ability to impact your life.

So how do you protect yourself from your inner narcissist? The answer is easy. Learn to recognize when you feed into your vanity and focus instead on what makes your presence beautiful to be around — not just something pretty to look at. We all strive to be the best versions of ourselves, but the impact you have on the lives around you will linger much longer than how great you looked at last weekend’s pool party. No matter how perfect you mold your image to be, someone will always look better, dress better and appear more “perfect” than you. So take time to enjoy the things that matter and, for heaven’s sake, eat a piece of cake on your birthday.

After all, designer hormones may be able to stimulate muscle growth and boost your libido, but there is no injection for a bad sense of humor.

The Six Gay Men You Never Want To Meet

The Six Gay Men You Never Want To Meet

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For today’s gay guy, the social scene can more closely resemble a modern house of horrors. No matter who you are, every gay man has a few traits that are truly cringe-worthy. But there are some mutations among us that belong under the glare of a microscope instead of sitting across from the dinner table.

These bizarre distortions of gay men walk among us in plain sight, masking their deformities behind their coiffed hair and moisturized faces. But don’t be fooled, these dastardly characters should be kept far from your phonebook contacts and even further from your cocktail parties.

So step right up and marvel at the six gay men that you never want to meet, but make sure you stay behind the glass partition.

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Dr. Sober, Mr. Sloppy
This villain is practically impossible to spot during business hours. By day, Dr. Sober is the perfect example of what the modern gay man should be. He has a great dog, an incredible apartment and is quite possibly the best lunch date you could ever ask for. But when he starts to round the corner of that third double cocktail during happy hour, Dr. Sober checks out for the night. Instead, you are left trying to wrangle the erratic, obnoxious and nonsensical behavior of Mr. Sloppy. Without even knowing it, you have found yourself in the eye of a vodka tornado complete with tears, come-ons and racial slurs. The check can never come fast enough.

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The Man with Two Heads
This couple might fool you into believing that they are of two beings, but in fact, they operate solely as one body. They think alike, dress alike and finish each other’s sentences. None of these factors are gag-worthy on their own… but just give it time. Their relentless intent to rub their relationship in your face with every status update, profile picture and birthday card signed with both names will soon chap your thighs worse than tight jeans at the amusement park in the summertime.

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The Serial Dater
These desperate creatures may seem harmless at first. You might even feel a tinge of pity as you incorporate this love addict into your circle. But beware. To this member of the monster squad, every eligible bachelor is a potential leading man in the next sequel of his romantic comedy/horror flick. To a serial dater, his life is a movie and you are only playing a part. At any point, the guy you just dumped could take on the leading role and your footage may be slashed with a butcher knife and left on the cutting room floor.

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The “Mombie” (Model Zombies)
This type of man is commonplace in any gay hub. He has the build of an Adonis, a movie star smile and a hairstyle that looks more like a cartoon than actual hair. Unfortunately, these are only side effects from whatever toxic sludge that turned his brain into mush. The only cognitive functions these “mombies” are still capable of are self-pics, weight lifting and making you feel like an inferior physical specimen. They may not eat your brains, but you may just unlearn a thing or two after talking to him. Oh, and they tend to run in packs.

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The Man with A Million Lives
You barely finished telling your friends about your recent trip to Hawaii before this loud mouth character piped in with his tale of how he parachuted into the mouth of an active volcano in Maui. This boastful breed of gay is worse than his hetero counterpart because not only has he done everything you have twice over in a speedo, he has the Photoshopped pictures on his Facebook to prove it. It doesn’t take long before you start calculating this deviant’s age with his seemingly unending list of accomplishments when it hits you. He must have a deal with the devil, because your calculator says he would have to be about 87 years old to have done all of the things he claims. No plastic surgeon is that good.

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The Mimic
This guy is a tricky one to pin down. But once you do, abort all relations immediately. A natural thespian, this sinister villain has mastered the art of mirroring human emotions to draw in his prey. He’s charming, funny, sensitive and too perfect to be true… and for good reason. This puppet of a man is a certified sociopath. And once he has grown tired of you, he moves on to entertain the next victim without so much as a trace of emotion. All you are left with is a little bit of whiplash and the resounding question of, “Did I imagine it all?”

For those of you who are only screwed up in the traditional sense, take heed. These freakshows are real, they are available and they might even try to put a ring on it.

The Strength in being a Queen

The Strength in being a Queen

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As the mainstream image of what a gay man continues to morph into more of a hero and less of a victim, we continue to cast our most handsome, athletic, and masculine men in the leading roles of the gay movement. Society now understands that gay men can be just like the rest of mainstream society as our rainbow fades to more pastel. Our community has a new cast of gay heroes, putting our most chiseled, scruffy-jawline face forward for everyone to see. With gays represented by movie stars like Wentworth Miller and athletes like Jason Collins, the world now knows that we can be strong and manly, and fit right in with the rest of the boys. But there is a different kind of strength that has always existed within the gay culture, although it might not come in the form of bulging muscles and bass voices.

Unlike their masculine counterparts, effeminate gay men don’t have the luxury of hiding behind a butch facade until they are comfortable with coming out of the closet. You know the type. They can learn the choreography to the latest pop song faster than you can learn the lyrics. In high school, they had to make a beeline to their car the minute the bell rang to avoid the worn-out name-calling, bullying, or even violence. The Bedazzler was, is, and always will be their best childhood friend. Yes, these queeny gays maybe were born with a serious masculinity deficiency, but that is exactly what makes them the epitome of strength.

As someone who has always straddled the line of the masculine/feminine divide, I desperately sought to play up my butch qualities and minimize my fairy wings as much as humanly possible. Thankfully, I excelled at sports; I had a muscular build and a sort of all-American, generic white boy appeal. That was, of course, until I opened my mouth. I sounded more like a chipmunk with a lisp than the boy who just made the game-winning play on the soccer field. Eventually, it was the only thing people noticed.

Even after I accepted my sexuality, I struggled with my femininity. I spent hours in the gym, building my body and trying to emulate the idea of what men should look like. I stopped applying my coveted bronzer and shaved my head like a G.I. Joe. I even opted for a more understated wardrobe over the tight, bright T-shirts that I secretly loved. But the nasal voice and extra bounce in my step were inescapable. No matter what I tried, I always received degrading comments and snickers about my disposition, but not from the straight community. This came from gay men.

A girl can only take so much. I have learned to embrace and enjoy my feminine qualities just as much as my masculine ones. If masculinity is the paramount strength for all men to strive for, then gay men by definition will always be lesser than their hetero counterparts. As gay men, we know that there isn’t one definition of what man is defined by. Hell, we are living proof. So to discount or stifle any feminine characteristics that we have is a slap in the face to our own culture and an admission to others that there is something to suppress. The gay men who can’t help but radiate glitter from every orifice are the ones who propelled gay rights into the mainstream. As we get closer to becoming more integrated with heterosexual people, it is important that we do not allow any segment of our own pool to suffer in the process.

The measure of a gay man’s femininity in a heteronormative society is much like the measure of an African-American’s skin color in a society of white privilege. The most feminine of men are equal to the darkest of skin color, while the men who can most closely assimilate to mainstream culture share the same privileges equal to the fairest of black skin. This is a construct that is placed on both groups by a segment of society that demands we be most like “them.” Those who exist furthest from their litmus test of worth garner the least of the ruling party’s love. As proud gay men, we should demand within our own community that the measure of femininity not be an indicator of worth and that we respect each other regardless of our differences.

To the queens who have been beaten up, marginalized, and mangled for refusing to cave into the norm, you are the true heroes of the gay movement. It is to these men that we owe the freedom to be the exact type of gay men that we were made to be, and nothing else.

So, even with my nasal voice and knack for choreography, I realize that I am as much boy as I need to be and as much girl as I want. That is strength.

Snap.

Duck Dynasty, DOMA and the Battle of Conviction

Duck Dynasty, DOMA and the Battle of Conviction

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Recently, Phillip Robertson released a slew of comments likening homosexuality to bestiality, prostitution, adultery and alcoholism.  In his interview, he also called homosexuals illogical sinners. His grounding for his beliefs? His convictions based on the words of the bible. Those who support him, including Sarah Palin and several other prominent tea party members, have rallied behind the man who stood up for his convictions in the face of popular opinion.

The word stuck with me all this morning. What is conviction? It is simply a firmly held belief or opinion. For decades, homosexual men and women have weathered insults, abuse, even death for their firmly held conviction. These firm beliefs show more muscle than those who quote the bible because dusty books and worldwide support don’t share the weight of judgment when a homosexual’s feet are too tired. These convictions aren’t recognized by organized religions nor have they historically rallied support from others with similar beliefs.  These convictions are so firm and so resilient that they have compelled those who hold them to stand up to ignorance, hate and misunderstanding just because they know in their heart that what they are is good. They showed strength in their convictions because they knew that their love was just love and no one could tell them otherwise.

Those who believe that homosexuality represents anything other than different combinations of two people in love have always belittled the strength of their opposition.  They have continuously underestimated the backbones of gay men and women while resting their convictions on loosely interpreted scripture. It only takes a moment to reflect on the past decade to grasp just how strong our backbones can be.

So when people oppose homosexuality based on their religious beliefs, I just wonder… Whose conviction would you put your money on?

Those who need to reference someone else’s writing to tell you what they believe, or someone who is their own testament to what is true.

Threesomes: Are You The Odd Man Out?

Threesomes: Are You The Odd Man Out?

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The introduction of a third party into the bedroom hardly raises an eyebrow in the gay community. The inevitable flirtation with the idea has fluttered through the minds (and computer screens) of every gay man at one point in time. And how could it not?

A threesome used to be something confined to the late hours of a Saturday night or a winter getaway to Fort Lauderdale. But ever more often, we see the guest star stay over and even show up at the brunch table the next morning for what is typically reserved for gossip about the night before. Yes, threesome relationships are practically a trend in gay culture. However, it seems only a matter of time after the third person hops into the bed that someone inevitably falls out.

Over the past decade, I have observed several of these “thruples” in action. Although the beginning might bring back a spark that had all but fizzled out in an existing relationship, the spark typically leads to a flame that turns into a fire. Eventually, one of the three lovebirds is burned altogether and we’re back to two.

In every gay man’s circle of friends, there is always that couple known for owning a “California King” for a good reason. I know that in my gaggle, I can think of more than a few.

Usually, one person in a relationship has more of a wandering eye than the other. The other may enjoy the act but is more concerned with keeping his boyfriend content (come hell or high sex drive). To this man I give caution. Far too often I have seen this poor guy eventually annexed only to have the new fixation take his place on the Christmas card.

If you must allow your boyfriend to bring home strays, keep an eye on them and kindly prepare their belongings once you all have caught your breath. If you notice that your boyfriend is interested in cuddling afterward, you have a problem on your hands. Nobody wants to cuddle after sex unless there are feelings involved. Nobody.

Now, if you are reading this on the doorstep of what used to be the house you two shared, don’t fret. The type of man who requires an extra in the bedroom and wants to keep him around for breakfast is never satisfied. He’s the kind of guy who typically holds the power in the relationship (whether that be money, good looks, or both) and is used to getting what he wants. Eventually, the bedroom will start taking applications again, and the new boyfriend will start to sweat. So if you are still sore after the fall from the bedside, don’t worry. They go out the same way they came in.

Sometimes two men of the same insatiable disposition will meet. This couple can create a bond that withstands a repeat guest. They might even develop feelings for their newfound plaything, but don’t be fooled. If two men can build a life together where their “happily ever after” includes a few guest stars here and there who are welcome to take an extended stay in domestic bliss, it is the third party who should take heed. If you meet this couple, don’t be fooled by their sweet talk, beautiful home decor and stellar cooking skills. You are a pawn in their game, and the pawn always gets played. In this case, it is you who needs to make a swift exit before the sun rises.

Of course, discerning between the desires that straddle the line of love and sex is about as easy as trying to talk some sense into a Tea Party member. No matter how logical your reasoning may be, it can be lost once tight T-shirts, cute smiles, and vodka come into play. But in the cold light of day, there is still a method to how the heart works once our libido has waned.

Dating is tricky, to say the least. More and more so in the gay community, the barrier lines that define a couple become blurred. For the romantic at heart, this can lead to unrealistic expectations — especially if there is one of the two in particular that strikes your fancy. That handsome face may light up for you at night, but most likely it will still hold allegiance to the boyfriend who is now making you coffee. And if you do, in fact, succeed in stealing one of them, you better have a strategy in place to ensure the 2.0 version of you doesn’t come along and do the same.

Ultimately, it’s your choice to flirt with a threesome every now and then. But if it’s love you are looking for, just remember you deserve more than playing the understudy when you should be the leading man. Whether you are a couple or the new edition, make sure to never compromise what you want for someone else’s benefit. Sex can be just that, but if your heart is in play, then it will surely get hurt when you share the spotlight.

And no matter what, “thruples” will never be the new couple.

That Awkward Moment: When to Disclose your HIV Status

That Awkward Moment: When to Disclose your HIV Status

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As I prepare to say goodbye to my 20s, I’ve noticed that getting older has its perks. Department store salesmen no longer roll their eyes when I ask to be fitted for a new suit, I no longer feel the need to sleep until just before the sun starts to set, and my car insurance company no longer hates me. It would seem that this so-called “midlife” isn’t so bad after all — that is, unless you are single, about to go on the dreaded first date and have to find a way to casually disclose that you are HIV-positive.

Now, I still don’t believe getting older is all that bad, but it is definitely a hell of a lot more complicated. Over the past several months I have been grappling with the question of just when is the right time to disclose my HIV status. This has led to many hypotheticals posed over bottles of wine with friends, both positive and negative. Several of my friends say that the cliché third date is most appropriate.

Assuming that sex is still off the table, this is the point at which both parties have had enough time to get to know one another for who they are, not what disease they are carrying. The danger of the “third-date rule” is that it allows for feelings to develop, albeit little baby ones. Disclosing your status once a semblance of trust has formed is like placing a loaded gun in front of a person and asking them not to shoot you with it. I don’t know about you, but I am still reeling from the shotgun that tried to take me down when I found out about my status.

Now, I prefer to hedge my bets and avoid the firing range as much as possible. A person who is opposed to dating you because of your HIV-positive status will not be swayed by your charm, your smile or your fancy words. It is not that they think a person who is HIV-positive has a fundamental character flaw that makes them pull the trigger. As tough as this may sound, two dates and some heavy petting are not the panacea for the cloud of fear and do not allow him to see you for all you have to offer.

Frankly, it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. A person who rejects a possible love interest because of his HIV status is terrified of many things. He is terrified of being subjected to the stigma that he himself is perpetuating. He is afraid of contracting the disease through something as harmless as kissing, because his fear outweighs his logic. Mostly, he just wants to avoid the reality of the virus, because it means facing the question marks that he so easily assumes are negative signs.

Now, this is not to say that a gay man doesn’t have every right to choose whether he will or will not engage in a relationship with someone who is HIV-positive. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I believe in divulging my status before I even agree to the first date. I am not invested before the first date. I haven’t begun to scribble his name on my desk pad, incessantly lurk on his Facebook wall and wonder if the feelings are mutual.In fact, revealing my status before a first date spares both parties feelings and satisfies both of our choices. I choose not to have to sit across the dinner table from some scaredy-cat ignoramus who would potentially miss out on a good thing because I am HIV-positive.

Being diagnosed with HIV can be a critical blow to a person’s sense of self-worth. We lie awake at night and ruminate over whether or not our next potential boyfriend might be a “never-was” because of an outdated perception of what it means to be HIV-positive. In the light of day, we pop our little pill, and we are still left to lead the rest of our long lives dodging bullets. It is my firm belief that immediate disclosure is the best way to avoid a shot in the back.

It has been my experience that disclosing my status in the beginning has typically been met with an appreciation of my honesty and a first order of drinks. Dating is still a crapshoot, and being HIV-positive adds a new level of doubt, no matter how you approach the situation. But being up front is the best way, for me at least, to preserve my dignity while I battle it out in the trenches of singledom. Truthfully, it is your choice to decide when to disclose, as long as you do in fact disclose. What is important is that you recognize your value regardless of your potential partner’s hangups and insecurities.

Those of us living with HIV face plenty of challenges already. There is no need for us to go around painting targets on our chests.