Friday, July 12, 2019

Sebastian Fortino Talks Serodiscordance

Photo by VladOrlov / Shutterstock

Sebastian recounts the joy of sharing breakfast with his fiancé, and how part of that morning ritual makes them part of a new generation of happy, healthy, loving gay couples.

The Couple that Eats Together…

My fiancé Jewell and I are very lucky that — at least since we became a serious couple — we have made a habit of having breakfast together. Even before we moved in (and before the Sunday I lost my iced coffee chasing our errant Black Lab mix for nearly two miles), we’ve enjoyed starting the day with this lovely hour. Sometimes, we comment on the latest gibberish coming from the White House. Others we just enjoy the quiet. At some point I always seem to comment on what a beautiful day it is or will be?

What Do You Want for Breakfast?

We generally go with eggs, toast, and a few slices of tomato dressed in olive oil with fresh basil and a touch of salt and pepper. Sometimes we throw a piece of ham into a mix. The ham we bought in abundance on sale after Easter, so these days it appears less and less often. Though there are still remnants in the freezer, dropped into black beans for added flavor and protein.
For a while the ham became sort of an homage to an episode of The Golden Girlsin which Sophia bought a crate of sardines at a wholesale club. “How about some ham? Why? BECAUSE WE HAVE SO MUCH OF IT!”
However, it’s the act of breakfast – regardless of what we eat – which makes our day special. We sit at the table. Jewell is Southern by birth, so he keeps cayenne pepper at the ready. Then, we lay out our medications for the day. According to Jewell, we have to take them at the exact same time; like shots of tequila at a bar. Next to his plate, he has his HIV medication, Biktarvy. Next to my plate, my Truvada – also known as PrEP.

Did You Take Yours Yet?

If the answer to this question is yes, the other’s reaction borders on petulant: “You didn’t wait for me!” Sometimes it’s our first laugh of the day.
We also take medication for anxiety. Jewell used to take a multivitamin, too. But his doctor told him this isn’t necessary unless you’re suffering from some nutrition deficiency. I guess it helps that he has a fiancé who tries to make sure he has balanced meals every day. But I digress…
Both of us are aware that this ritual signifies that we are part of a new generation of gay couples. In the recently-released Netflix sequel to Tales of the City, an older gay man reminds a gay millennial that they fought for us. (Though I am a few years older than a millennial, I too reap the rewards of the activism of men now in their fifties and older.) They fought for us so that medical science would treat HIV and AIDS as a medical condition, not a death sentence. They fought for our ability to love, both emotionally and physically, without fear of contracting or spreading the virus. In the new Tales, older, positive-but-undetectable Michael is nervous about his younger, negative boyfriend engage in certain kinds of sex, even though the latter is on PrEP.
Someone in Talesdescribes it as merely being able to have sex without condoms. But for me – and many others I hope, it’s about breaking down fear, erasing worry, combatting the still-abundant prejudice of HIV stigma, and loving each other fully.

Once Upon a Time
In my native Philly, a decade ago and before PrEP, I was seeing a positive, undetectable guy. Because we wanted different things, our relationship didn’t work out.
I soon after moved to Miami. Around the same time a close friend of mine found himself falling for a guy newly in our social circle who was positive. Ultimately, he couldn’t do it. But then again, he may not yet have understood what being undetectablereally meant.
What those older generations fought for is not lost on Jewell or me as we take our respective medications. It means we don’t have to choose who we can be with based on status or stigma. It helped us choose each other. Maybe that’s why we wait to pop our pills at the same time.

Originally published here:

Friday, May 18, 2018

Church of Gay Gets Press Review

PQ San Francisco Correspondent Launches New Church

So, I have this friend, Jeromy Carpenter, who is also a contributor for PQ. We have only met two times in person. However, we have collaborated on several occasions. Five years ago, I only accepted his lunch invitation because, at the time, I was living in South Florida and he had just moved there from Alaska. He contacted me about some writing work. I was partnered at the time, and only accepted his offer because I had always wanted to meet someone who had moved to Florida from Alaska. Jeromy continues to surprise, impress, and amuse me.

His latest venture admittedly bemuses me a little bit. In the most truly wonderful sense of the word. ProudQueer spoke with the (newly ordained) Rev. Carpenter and Supreme Leader of the Church of Gay to learn about his new...decidedly iconoclastic idea.

“I was originally inspired to form the Church of Gay in my Sexuality Law Class with Professor Julie Nice at the University of San Francisco School of Law in 2017,” Carpenter told me about his inspiration. Although, his recent trip to Rome may have inspired him. “We discussed a number of cases such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and the Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where the discriminating party used a religious freedom argument in their defense. It occurred to me that there was a growing trend in federal court of people seeking to use their personal religious beliefs as a defense to use their business to discriminate against LGBTQ people, or women who want their employer health insurance to cover contraceptives, as was the case in Hobby Lobby. The scary part is that these arguments were increasingly winning in the eyes of the court.”

Professor Nice then suggested to the class jokingly, that one of her students ought to form a gay church to combat the use of religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people. “Churches” or religious communities made up of gay people are not necessarily a new thing. The St. Priapus Church, for instance, is a sex-positive church based in Montreal with its largest congregation in San Francisco. The fundamental difference between the Priapus Church and the Church of Gay is that the Priapus Church was born in the height of the AIDS epidemic, when the disease was killing gay men in the thousands throughout Canada and the United States. They sought to help each other, when others would not help them. That's practically a "beattitude."

“While HIV and AIDS are very important issues to the Church of Gay, we now live in a time when AIDS is not the biggest concern of most gay men,” he explained, based on medical advances. “The mission of the Church of Gay is to help bridge the divide between religion and the queer community. "Religion" does not need to be a dirty word and neither does "gay.” That’s why we're putting them together, in one place, to celebrate the cornucopia of diversity that is the world in which we live.”

Similarly to the St. Priapus Church, the Church of Gay believes we are created in the image of their Goddesses and that we are exactly as They intended us to be. In that way, Carpenter’s group is similar to the Priapus Church.

“We worship many pagan Gods, but hold none as almighty,” he explained.

Carpenter, and his would-be curia, are currently in the 501(c)(3) application process. They are trying to raise the funds via a Gofundme campaign to pay the filing fees. Once incorporated and obtain nonprofit status, the Church can begin applying for grants to fund the public interest work they want to accomplish. Some of their immediate intentions--their Holy Works, if you will--are the feeding, clothing and housing homeless queer youth.

Those are short-term goals, especially funding for the filing of their paperwork. In terms of long-term goals Carpenter says he dreams of growing the congregation to reach a global audience. The way “mainstream churches” have done for centuries.

“We’d like to use the Church to bridge the divide between all religions and the LGBTQ+ community and that means expanding to non-Christian majority countries as well as Christian and Catholic countries. Some parts of the planet are already quite gay friendly,” he reminds those of us who worry about our own country’s eradication of Obama-era gay-friendly policies. “So we would probably begin by focusing on those countries and working our way into the more conservative ones as we build our following. But, of course these are really into futire goals. We are just begining to preach!”

We live in times when the gay spectrum has evolved. First to GLB, then LGB, then LGBT, then LGBTQ, and LGBTQQA?, and other initials. I had to ask him, “Why the term gay? Do you feel it’s a blanket term?”

“I chose the name Church of Gay because globally, the word "gay" is much more well-known and understood than more politically correct or inclusive terms like "queer" or LGBTQ+. I feel that people are more likely to find us if it's simple and easy to say our name. Also, the word "gay" is equally applicable to lesbians, queer people and even trans people. It may not be as specific as some would like, but we're thinking big picture and we're trying to unify people, not divide them.”

The Church of Gay, Carpenter points out, differs from other gay friendly sects or congregations in that the celebration of queer diversity is a core tenet of the religion. It is the very heart of what the Church of Gay is founded on. Namely, gayness and the celebration of it is what makes his group the Church of Gay.

Carpenter has been pitching the church by telling people he’s "turning religion on its head.” They seek to erase the stigma of being both gay and religious. Their spirituality is based on the belief that we were all created equal in the eyes of the Goddesses. In fact, like some Native American tribes, they believe that gender-nonconforming people are prophets sent by the Goddesses to lead us toward a more beautiful world.

Carpenter says the Church of Gay does not intend to charge membership fees or make people go through any kind of authentication process; no “sacraments” as do some religious groups. However, they will pass around a basket for donations at gatherings to pay for the food venues for gatherings.
“If the Church grows too quickly, this may change, but for now, it is a rather informal payment structure,” Carpenter said. He then went into describe what beliefs they will incorporate into their belief system.

“We identify closely with the pagans who worship the Nordic Gods and Goddesses among other pagan beliefs. Our holiest day is the full moon nearest to the spring equinox. This is the holiday that celebrates the Germanic Goddess, Ēostre, after whom the Romans named Easter. On this night, usually around March 21, we go out into our gardens under the full moon, naked, and spill our seeds in the soil so that we may grow our fruits and vegetables tall and strong for the Fall Harvest Festival in October.”

Nudity as part of religion? Something tells me Rooster Rock may become a place of pilgrimage for Church of Gay congregants in Portland. Perhaps as early as this summer. However, at the core of any religion or dogma is how their beliefs are reflected in their actions, and how those actions contribute to the betterment of the world. Think of it as those golden rules you learn as a boy or girl scout. (Granted we live in times when our children are more and more becoming “just scouts,” but this is so recent I am sure most of readers were once stuck into gendered scouting groups.) Carpenter had a beautiful response to the sort of “morality question.”

“The ideal Church of Gay member would demonstrate the kind of kindness towards all living creatures that St. Francis of Assisi, after whom our Mecca San Francisco, is named. The Archdiocese of the Church of Gay is located in San Francisco, so the church embodies the values of St. Francis. We celebrate diversity and we treat each other, and all life with dignity, kindness and compassion. These are the values that a typical member would embody."
These are values we should all embody. In the spirit of full-disclosure, Carpenter asked me to be part of his curia, the court of prelates who surrounds the pontiff or pope. He named me Prince-Archbishop, something I've always wanted to be called.

This article has ended; go in peace. 

Make sure to learn more about the mission and progres of the Church of Gay. Visit Help Form the Church of Gay! to donate to the fund for non-profit & federal paperwork.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Interview with an Artist

            Talon Geer is an artist unlike any other. His work is colorful and ornate but also thought provoking. His work is currently on display at F8, a nightclub located in the SoMa neighborhood in San Francisco. Talon lives and works in San Francisco, but his work has been seen all over the world. I had the opportunity to interview him at the opening of his exhibit at F8 and now I share that interview with you.

J: So your name is Talon Geer, correct?

T: Yes

J: OK, and you are an artist.

T: I am.

J: And I think I recall hearing that a studio in Milan asked you to put your stuff on display there.

T: Yeah, it was an exhibition in Picasso's hometown and they were looking for artists from around the world to be a part of it and stay in Picasso's villa but I ended up not doing that because I couldn't afford to go there. Maybe another time.

J: OK, well that's still an honor. Have you been asked to display your work anywhere else before?

T: I've done a lot of shows all over New York, Manhattan, Brooklyn, a lot in San Francisco. I had my first solo show in Mendocino last year, and some in L.A.

J: How long have you been doing this?

T: I started making it my career when I moved to New York, so when I was 22.

J: And when was that?

T: 2013

J: So, 5 years?

T: Yeah, I really got into it. I've been doing it forever. I was more musically inclined before I started art but I just went full force into it.

J: Well, it looks like you've got some cool pieces, and you wrote them down for me. I'm going to ask you to pronounce them and tell me a little bit about each one for me.

T: Alright, so The Boy and the Fish, that's one that I did as a self-portrait and I was feeling pretty under water. I don't know. My head was in a pretty under water space. So I put a little fish in there, and some bright colors. That one's not as exciting.

T: The Girl with the Secret, that was a painting I did of this model from a magazine, but my friend was going through a hard time so I drew a picture for her.

T: Self-Portrait is pretty self-explanatory.

T: The Breakup, that's a picture of this guy having his heart pierced all the way through and I was going through a pretty bad breakup in that one. I won't go into the juicy details on that but I was definitely feeling very heartbroken so that's kind of a representation of my emotions.

T: The Boys Kissing, that was for a show I did in L.A. I did it in two days. It's 6 feet by 6 feet. I locked myself in my room and just went to town on it.

J: Your friend was telling me that some gay men were critiquing it for being too forward.

T: I did a series of homo-erotic art with cum mandalas and I did it for a chocolate-in-art show down at the SoMa Art Center and so many people loved it, but this queer couple came up and they just said it was really inappropriate and I like to stand in the back and listen to what people have to say to get a real feeling for it. I walked up to them and I was like, "Hey, so, you don't like this one?" And they were like, "Oh no, it's great! I love it!" I said, "It's OK, art is supposed to be provocative and make you feel something." So many people loved it but the gay couple didn't really love it.

J: Isn't that weird that we are our own worst critics? And, Juniper, is that what that one is?

T: Uh, that's Jumper. This is a boy that my friend, Georgie, she was dating him and I had the biggest crush on him so I decided to draw a picture of him and he's just gorgeous. And that's what came about. So, it turns out he's not all the way straight.

J: Oooooh!

T: Not while they were together!

J: They never are.

T: Yeah, but I showed him that picture and that's what happened.

J: Ahh.

T: It was very flattering.

J: It is flattering to have someone draw you.

T: For sure! He was beautiful. He had two different colored eyes.

J: Oh, like a husky!

T: Yeah, like a little husky dog.

J: Aww!

T: So cute.

J: That's sweet.

T: I started doing this more expressive, controlled art. I've been splattering paint and using a straw to blow them in different directions.

J:  A regular Pollock, huh?

T: Yeah, and doing some controlled swirly line art. I'm not sure where I'm going with it yet, but it's there.

J: Well it's always a learning experience.

T: Yeah, yeah and Christina, Xtina, that's Christina Aguilera.

J: Oh, is it really?

T: Yeah, yeah. She came out with a new album and I really wanted to do something of her. I do a lot of pop art, lots of pop icons.

J: So like a mix between Pollock and... the Campbell's soup guy.

T: Warhol.

J: Yeah, Warhol.

T: Kinda, yeah. My big influence is M.C. Escher.

J: Oh, yeah, Escher's great.

T: Huge influence and I do love Andy Warhol, just for his pop art.

J: Yup, he was gender bending too.

T: Yeah.

J: Right on! Well, thank you for taking the time for the description.