John Grant: The gay interview

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In tomorrow’s print edition, we have a review of the sophomore CD from out 40something recording artist John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts. (Quick preview: We really liked it.) Before you check out the review, though, you might wanna read up on the Iceland-based Grant himself. Our Chris Azzopardi sat down with the musician for a tell-all interview in which he discusses his HIV status, his addiction and the new album.

“Who wants to hear about some diseased faggot and his disease that he got that he deserved because he’s living this horrible lifestyle?” Grant says outright when he explains his HIV catharsis piece “Ernest Borgnine,” a self-proclaimed “expression of anger and absurdity” that sorts out his behavior through the perspective of the track’s actor-namesake — a song he says isn’t a fit for radio audiences. No matter; it wasn’t for them anyway. It was written for Grant.

“I needed to explore why I allowed myself to get HIV after I spent so much time getting sober and turning my back on self-destructive behavior,” he says. “Why did I have to keep the self-destructive behavior in the realm of sex for myself?”

It was always some realm for Grant. The realm of drugs. Of alcohol. Of sex. “It didn’t matter what I could get my hands on to achieve that different state of mind,” he says. “I can do it with food, or with spending money.”

He could do it, unprotected, with an HIV-positive man. And he did, resulting in his seroconversion. “This shouldn’t have happened — and yet, here we are. And what does it say about you that you still allowed this to happen?” By turning the song’s perspective onto Borgnine (an actor Grant adored and once met at a New York restaurant), he found his answer: “That you weren’t completely willing to let go of your self-loathing. That I still had a long way to go … and still had many things that I needed to let go of.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Overcoming fear and finding passion

Landon Starnes had to step outside his comfort zone to compete as Lotta Pink in the Miss LifeWalk Pageant

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Landon Starnes as Lotta Pink

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

Talk to Landon Starnes about his involvement with LifeWalk, the annual walkathon benefiting AIDS Arms and its partner agencies, and you’ll hear

Starnes repeat the words “passion” and “fear” a lot.

Starnes said he let fear rule him for too long. But in the end, there’s no doubt that “passion” wins out.

Starnes, who works as a hairdresser, said that he was diagnosed with HIV in October 1998. But he wasn’t prepared to deal with reality, and so for years, he said, “I ignored my diagnosis emotionally.”

But then some friends began to encourage him to confront his HIV status by getting involved in LifeWalk, specifically by joining the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk team.

Starnes said it took him awhile to get up to speed, and he was involved with LifeWalk just “off and on” for several years. But three years ago, he decided to really take the plunge and has been an active member of the Guys and Dolls team ever since.

This year, even that got ratcheted up a notch when Starnes finally gave in to his teammates’ cajoling and entered the Miss LifeWalk Pageant.

“My team had been asking me for two years to enter the pageant, but I declined every time. I was just scared to death to do drag,” Starnes explained. “But this year, I decided to accept the challenge, even though it scared me.”

The first challenge was to come up with a character, so “I started brainstorming about a character, about who I would be,” Starnes said. “I started thinking about things I, as a person, am passionate about. And I am passionate about the singer Pink.

“Her music gets to me in a way that no one else’s does,” Starned continued. “Her lyrics inspire me. I think, if I had to pick just one, my favorite Pink song is ‘Glitter in the Air.’ It says, ‘Have you ever wished for an endless night?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a fistful of glitter in the air?’ It made me look into myself, literally. Last summer, while we were on a road trip, my friends and I stopped and actually threw a fistful of glitter in the air. It was silly and fun, and now it is a memory that will last forever.”

But there is one line in the song, Starnes said, that really touched him, one lyric that made him think and gave him the determination to set aside the fear that had held him back: “Have you ever looked fear in the face, and said, I just don’t care?”

It was, Starnes said, a spark that made his passion for LifeWalk and for doing something to help others blaze even brighter.

“I knew I wasn’t going to try to be Pink, but I love what she does. So I decided I would kind of pay tribute to her with my character,” Starnes said.

And so, Lotta Pink was born.

And lo and behold, Lotta Pink won the Miss LifeWalk title on her first try, helping Starnes bring in about $7,000 for LifeWalk this year, bringing his total over all his Guys and Dolls years to about $11,000.

Starnes said he and Lotta Pink obviously have a lot in common. “We share our passion for the cause, first of all, and second, we both want to step outside the box,” Starnes said. “I was afraid of doing drag. But my favorite quote is ‘Do it scared,’ so that’s what I did. I stepped outside the box and challenged myself, and in doing that, I learned that fears are just fears, nothing else.”

Starnes said that while his fears still remain to some degree, Lotta Pink “has no fear,” and she is helping him overcome his own.

“It’s easier when you can put on a wig and some makeup and kind of step outside yourself,” Starnes said. “Now, learning to step out without that disguise is what comes next!”

Knowing that what he does is all to help AIDS Arms and the clients the agency serves makes it even easier to put the fear aside, Starnes said.

“The Guys and Dolls team works all year, not just on the day of LifeWalk. And the people at AIDS Arms work all year trying to help other people. I love AIDS Arms, and I love what it stands for,” Starnes said. “The walk itself is symbolic, to me. It’s a short walk, yes, but just going through the movement of walking allows you to release your passion.

“Everybody who participates is there for their own reasons, but whatever the reason, they are passionate about it,” he continued. “That alone speaks volumes. The biggest thing that came out of all this for me was seeing how good people really are.”

Again, it all comes down to overcoming fear and fully realizing the passion.

“It’s so important for everyone to find their passion, whether it’s LifeWalk or something else,” Starnes said. “Finding my passion has lifted me to a whole new level of awareness, understanding and joy. It’s just such a positive energy when you are around all these people at LifeWalk who work so hard to make a difference in other people’s lives. It’s helped me find a happiness I have never known before.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, at Lee Park. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m., and the walk begins at 1 p.m. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Mason Wyler declares his porn career dead

Former Dallasite says HIV-positive status led to cancellation of contract

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

QUIETER LIFE | Wyler figures life out as he’s lost his healthy salary from making adult films and tending to his HIV poz status. (Courtesty WylerNation.com)

Mason Wyler can be a hard man to figure out. He could be smarter than people give him credit for. After causing a frenzy last year coming out as HIV-positive, he’s received both criticism for irresponsibility in the industry but also reassuring feedback from his fans.

As he sees his career options dwindle, Wyler now has to figure what his next role will be — not in film, but in life.

“I would say my career as a porn performer is dead. I’m calling it. Mason Wyler as a porn performer is dead,” he declares.

Porn stars work in an industry that doesn’t garner them a lot of sympathy from society, but Wyler likes to remind people that he’s a human with real-life issues. Stating his career is dead lends itself to the same worries other people losing their job would feel. Following disclosure of his HIV status, his studio, Next Door, fizzled out his contract; his last “job” was the end of May. All as a result of his status.

“Because of my work, I’ve been able to not give a thought about money or bills or savings,” he admits. “But it’s been unreal. I’m sad and it is worrisome.”

During his contract for the past four years, Wyler says he was earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, but since coming out, he has been relegated to just webcam shows, clocking time until his contract was met. And as he saw it, the other studios were done with him.

“I worked with every major studio under the sun,” the former Dallasite says. “Now it’s a different story. But also, the industry is struggling due to the Internet.”

So maybe ending his career, by choice or not, is a smart move. Wyler considered his options and finds himself approaching an entirely new career path. Part of that includes moving back to the Dallas area away from his Houston suburban home with his partner.

“I’m sort of an idiot,” he laughs. “I had one semester left at UNT to graduate so it looks like in the near future I’ll be trekking my ass back up to DFW area and finishing my degree at UNT. Thankfully I left in good standing and able to be readmitted. For some reason I thought I had two years left and it turns out I only have 15 hours.”

He was working his way toward a teaching certificate initially, but now plans to finish his schooling and receive a bachelor’s degree in history. His goal: To work in a museum.

As for his health, he says he’s fine.

“I had a massive infection after just getting my wisdom teeth out but that had nothing to do with the HIV,” he says. “I go to my doc once a month to get my blood screened. People ask me what meds I’m on but my doc says as long as I feel healthy, my immune system is working, my T-cells are high and my viral load is down, I don’t need to be on any right now.”

Although a public person of sorts, Wyler has yet to resolve his position as any kind of spokesman for HIV prevention. He’s aware of the likely societal impression a former porn star would make, but he’s also conflicted about the messages already out there.

“There are two message the community wants to put out there: Know your status, play safe, etcetera. And then, from the poz side, the message is to stay healthy, live your life, what not,” he says. “If I’m trying to get rid of any stigma, I think it cancels out the ‘safe sex message.’ Then it doesn’t show how devastating it can be. As a positive person, when I hear those reassuring messages about feeling fine, I think it lends to actually making people feel worse about the situation. It’s very difficult for me to resolve it all.”

There is a certain earnest and conflict in his voice with an added confusion. This is why he hasn’t attempted to be any sort of activist. Additionally, his decision not to be on medication may be controversial for others. He’s still figuring it out.

“In terms of any kind of platform, I still write on my site, but I don’t think I’m the person to turn to for any sort of legitimate advice,” he acknowledges. “Hopefully I can just tell people that everybody should know the risks and act accordingly. I think it’s a personal responsibility.”

So what does the future hold for “Mason Wyler” now that he’s been publicly announced as dead by his creator.

“Maybe one of the Caven clubs can host a funeral for him,” he laughs. “I’d attend that for sure. That could be fun as I return to Dallas!”

For more on Wyler, visit his blog WylerNation.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Motion Picture Academy adds (gay) members

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released its list of new members this weekend, and the gays seem to be making inroads.

Membership in the Academy is by invitation only, and it’s sometimes surprised me to learn who is not already a member — especially when you know who is. (Would it surprise you to know Dakota Fanning has been a member for several years, but David Duchovny was just invited?) It normally helps if you get a nomination, which accounts for invitations this year to actors John Hawkes and Jennifer Lawrence (both nominated last year for Winter’s Bone), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom). But what I notice in this year’s list isn’t so much the actors, but the directors. (Members are invited as parts of “branches,” meaning they get to select the nominees in that category for the Oscars each year.)

Of the eight invited directors this season, three are openly gay … and not only gay, but out-and-proud in their filmmaking.

• Lisa Cholodenko was nominated for an Oscar last year for her screenplay to The Kids Are All Right, about a lesbian couple (including Oscar nominee Annette Bening, pictured) raising their children. She was invited by writers and directors branches. Her films virtually always address gay themes, including High Art and her work on the TV series The L Word.

• Gregg Araki, the Asian-American gay filmmakers whose indie production confront serious issues of gay life, such as HIV status in The Living End. His other films include Totally Fucked Up and Mysterious Skin, his most acclaimed mainstream effort.

• John Cameron Mitchell has made only three films; his latest, Rabbit Hole, had a Hollywood star (Nicole Kidman, pictured with Mitchell) and mainstream cred. But his first two films — the transsexual rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the near-pornographic sexually frank indie Shortbus — pushed the limits of what you’d think the Academy would endorse.

Other nominees of interest include actors Gerard Butler (300) and Russell Brown, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis and Beyonce Knowles; director Tom Hooper (who just won an Oscar for The King’s Speech); documentarians Ami Bar-Lev (My Kid Could Paint That) and Sebastian Junger; and writer Aaron Sorkin (Oscar winner for The Social Network).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Local Briefs

AOC plans Black HIV/AIDS Awareness event in Fort Worth

AIDS Outreach Center, in collaboration with the city of Fort Worth, will commemorate National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Monday, Feb. 7, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Fort Worth City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.

The theme for the event is “It Takes a Village” and AIDS Outreach Center’s Prevention and Outreach staff will provide testing at the event.

In addition, on Sunday, Feb. 6, the center’s Prevention and Outreach staff will offer testing at the Christ Center Missionary Baptist Church, 2126 Amanda Ave. in Fort Worth, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Contact AIDS Outreach Center’s Outreach Specialist John Reed or Cynthia Vargas at Johnr@aoc.org or Cynthiav@aoc.org for more information.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day  raises HIV awareness and reduces the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS within the African-American community, and encourages at risk individuals to get tested and know their HIV status to help stop the spread of HIV within one of the fastest growing segments of the population.

In 2011, AOC will celebrate 25 years as the leading organization in Tarrant and seven surrounding rural counties serving people with HIV/AIDS and their families, educating about HIV prevention and advocating for sound HIV public policy. For information, go online to aoc.org.

Dallas Pride auctioning dates, raffling dinners for AIDS Arms

Dallas Pride Cheer presents a Valentine’s Dinner and Date Auction Thursday, Feb. 10, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. at JR.’s Bar & Grill, 3923 Cedar Springs Road, to benefit AIDS Arms.

Auction items include dinner and a date with a Dallas Pride cheerleader, and raffles will be held for gift certificates for dinners for two at upscale and fine dining restaurants.

OLOUC  presents program by 3 men exonerated after years in prison

The Oak Lawn Community Outreach Center of Oak Lawn Methodist Church will host “A Community Conversation: How Can Something Like This Happen?” on Sunday, Feb. 6, at 12:30 p.m. in the church’s fellowship hall, located at Oak Lawn Avenue and Cedar Springs Road.

The event features three men who were wrongfully imprisoned and spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit.

The three, who co-authored the book “Tested,” will talk about how they held onto hope and reconstructed their lives.
Jeff Crilley, formerly of Fox 4 News and now president of Real News Public Relations, will moderate.

This event is free and open to the public.  For more information, call 214-521-5197 ext. 203.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright

Out Youth gets $25K from Sir Elton’s foundation

Out Youth Austin today announced that the organization for LGBT youth has received a $25,000 grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation for Out Youth’s K.Y.S.S. (Knowing Your Status is Smart) program for HIV prevention, testing and counseling for young people, ages 12-19, in Central Texas.

The group received a $25,000 grant for the same program in March from the London-based Red Hot Organization. The Elton John AIDS Foundation is based in New York.

Out Youth Austin Executive Director Candice Towe called the latest grant “a tremendous Christmas present” for the organization.

Monrovia Van Hoose, Out Youth’s clinical director who oversees K.Y.S.S., said, “It’s critical that GLBTQ youth have regular access to confidential HIV testing and counseling. Staff, clinical interns and volunteers have received intensive training to provide testing and counseling for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.”

According to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control, 48 percent of Americans ages 13-24 who are infected with HIV are unaware of their HIV status. In 2008, CDC noted that American youth are at “persistent risk” of HIV infection, and that many are “not concerned” about the risks of infection.

—  admin

Let the Gay Games begin! Dallas sends 40 athletes

Dallas will field more than 40 athletes at the Gay Games in Cologne later this month. Here are some of those hoping to bring home gold

Athlete: Mark LeDoux (right)
Age: 31
Day job: Anesthesiologist and interventional pain management specialist
Sport: Track and Field
Events: 4×100 meter relay, 4×200 meter relay, 200 meters, 110 meter hurdles, 200 meters, 400 meter hurdles and 800 meters.
Gay Games experience: First Gay Games
Interesting fact: Father of twin 9-year-old girls
In his own words: “Ever since I came out, I’ve wanted to do this. Things ache a lot differently than they did 10 to 11 years ago, but I draw inspiration from previous attendees and other participants.”

Athlete: Sean Faulkner (right)
Age: 40
Day job: Emergency nurse
Sport: Soccer (plays center midfield)
Gay Games experience: Faulkner will be competing in his fourth Gay Games, following Amsterdam in 1998, Sydney in 2002 and Chicago in 2006.
Interesting fact: His diving header won a match during Team Dallas’ silver medal run at the 1998 Games in Amsterdam.
In his own words: “When we meet people on the street in Europe, they’re so accepting of us that they don’t understand why we have a separate games just for gay people. They don’t view being gay as anything wrong or different; being who you are is just way more accepted in Europe.”

……………………………………..

Looking for an excuse to take advantage of a weak Euro this summer? There’s always a trip to Amsterdam’s Red Light District or jumping aboard one of those floating bathhouses known as gay cruises.

And then there’s the quadrennial Gay Games.

Starting July 31, Cologne, Germany, will host the largest LGBT sports and cultural gathering in the world. Conceived by 1968 U.S. Olympic decathlete Tom Waddell, the Gay Games were first held in San Francisco in 1982 with 1,350 participants. Organizers this year had hoped to surpass the 11,500 registrations total from the 2006 Games in Chicago, but the lingering global economic recession has tempered their expectations. But with late registration still coming in, organizers are predicting 10,000 participants.

Unlike the Olympics, athletes in the Gay Games represent their cities rather than their countries. Jere Becker, organizer of Team Dallas, says 43 local athletes will march into the historic Rhein Energie Stadion for the opening ceremonies, joining others competing in 33 team and individual sports (among them basketball, cycling, diving, figure skating, track and field and volleyball). Some non-athletic competitions (better described as disciplines than sporting events, like chess and bridge) are also included.

Most events and disciplines are classified by age or ability, so both beginners and veterans will compete against their athletic equals. Holding true to the principle of inclusion, anyone can participate, regardless of ability, age, sexual orientation, race, gender, nationality or ethnicity, religion or HIV status.

But even those who just like to watch can enjoy the cultural events that are open to the public, including a cheerleading contest, band and choral festivals, visual and performing arts performances and social events for everyone from women to bears to the leather community.

Let the games begin!

— Ricky Bradley

Gay Games VIII, from Cologne, Germany. July 31-Aug. 7. GayGamesCologne.com.


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas