Last week I told you all about how Jack Mackenroth was turning up the heat with his sexy new shoot for Justin Monroe and how the pics had caused their fair share of controversy. Well, this week Jack is back in an EXCLUSIVE interview for the Gaydemon blog talking about his latest venture, the gay dating site for HIV positive men called VOLTTAGE.
I admire Jack and the way he has been so public about his HIV status. His fearlessness and bravery is inspiring not only 'cos it's quite a rare thing in this day and age, but because he is not afraid to put himself out there for others to judge and of course make all sorts of assumptions about him that may or may not be true.
Jack has created a dating site catering to HIV positive men and it's the very first of it's kind - and he is here to give us an exclusive interview telling us what it's all about.
Aamyko: What brought about the idea of Volttage? Was it something that you had wanted to do for a long time?
Jack M: Actually it just occurred to me one morning as I was waking up. It's not a business I ever thought about getting into. Because I am so open about my HIV status I get a ton of emails and Facebook messages from poz guys asking about dating and disclosure. They worry about being rejected when they disclose or feel guilty if they don't. The stigma around HIV status is really powerful and often prohibitive. After hearing many stories from poz friends about unpleasant experiences on other sites I decided to create one that caters to HIV positive men so the stigma is eliminated completely.
The thing that really separates Volttage from other sites is that we don't ask HIV status. We believe that you should always assume that any potential partner is HIV+ and proceed accordingly, though we are clearly marketing to the HIV+ gay community. Our tag line is "meet positively sexy guys."
I want to show HIV+ men and others that we are sexy and sexual. I'm not glorifying HIV, I'm just highlighting the truth. I strongly believe that visibility is a powerful tool in gaining acceptance, which is why all of our models are HIV+. My hope is that it will grow into a recognizable brand that is known for fighting the stigma associated with HIV.
Aamyko: How has the gay community reacted to the site? Have you felt supported by advertisers, people signing up, members, etc..?
Jack M: It's been amazing!! We just launched October 1st and we've already had over 4000 guys sign up. I expect that to accelerate. I've had a ton of messages saying it's been long overdue. We are currently adding guest bloggers and we are in talks with different organizations that want to partner with us to fight the stigma and get relevant information out there. It's a unique opportunity because in a very short time we will have a membership of tens of thousands of HIV+ men in one place that can be addressed. I can't think of any other singular space, online or otherwise, where that exists. The potential opportunities are endless.
Right now the site is totally free. Our entire team is just three very overworked guys. It's a total labor of love. We are creating Volttage on top of our other jobs. Hopefully we will have a mobile app in the spring. Until then we are perfecting the desktop site and adding new features.
Aamyko: What can members expect from Voltage? What sets this dating site apart from the other gay dating sites out there at the moment?
Jack M: We want to create a non-judgmental, stigma-free environment where HIV+ men can connect with like-minded men for friendship, dating, sex and the latest health and HIV related information.
Aamyko: What has been your experience with HIV stigma, in particular with dating/hook-up sites?
Jack M: Well, I am a fairly unique case because I am usually recognized as "the HIV guy", so most people know my status ahead of time. However, in cases where my HIV status comes as a surprise I have had mixed reactions. When guys have been turned off I try to use that as a teachable moment where I can discuss undetectable viral load and risk. I point out that just because someone says they are negative, it doesn't really guarantee anything and can lead to a false sense of security.
I am also very confident regarding my status and if it's a problem for someone, I don't take it personally. However I think I am more the exception than the rule. I've received unsolicited messages that claim I'm trying to spread AIDS and that I am disgusting. I just ignore them. The truth is that having safer sex with an HIV+ person with an undetectable viral load is considered low risk.
Aamyko: Are you traveling anywhere in US to launch the site and will you be doing launches in UK and other parts of the world?
Jack M: Though Volttage is currently global, right now we are really focusing on making it "the" site for poz guys in New York. As with any social networking site, it is only useful if there are a lot of members. Once we've established Volttage in New York we will have launch events in Los Angeles and San Francisco and then other major US cities. In the next year you can expect Volttage events in London, Sydney and Brazil, just to name a few.
Aamyko: What are you personally expecting from the site? Do you want it to be as big as dating sites like Manhunt or Grindr?
Jack M: Since we are targeting a smaller market than those sites, I have different goals. I'm more focused on creating a "community" that empowers guys with HIV. I'm hoping that as the visibility of the brand grows, more and more HIV+ men will not feel so isolated and shameful. I do hope that we are as recognizable as those other brands one day.
Aamyko: Do you use the site yourself and if so have you met any guys so far? You'll never be date-less again!
Jack M: Yes--I'm active on the site. You can find me online every day!! I have met several members but only because we had a big launch event here in New York. I'm still single. I will use the site to meet guys but right now I'm too busy to be in a relationship. Join now if you want to chat with me and see my naughty bits. ☺
Aamyko: Besides creating Volttage, what else have you been up to?
Jack M: I just shot a calendar with photographer Justin Monroe. You may remember the last shoot I did with Justin that caused quite a stir online. For his calendar I'm September. It's available HERE.
I also shot one with photographer Sidney Alvarez for Fuertemen. I'm August. It's available HERE.
I'm constantly speaking at events around the world. I'll be in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on December 1st for World AIDS day and in Charlotte North Carlolina on December 8th for the RAIN (Regional AIDS Interfaith Network) Twenty Twelve celebration.
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Thank you so much Jack for taking the time to talk to me and letting all the Gaydemon readers know about Volttage and what you have been up to. You are very welcoming and friendly, and I think that is one of the most important reasons why you are so popular and have fans that love and support you all over the world! Thank you.
Join Volttage for FREE HERE.
Follow Volttage on twitter.
Follow Jack Mackenroth on twitter.