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The World's Top Leatherman is Living With HIV

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Jack Thompson, who just won the 2019 International Mr. Leather competition, is utterly transparent about all that he is, to a disarming degree. He’s biracial. He’s queer. He’s transgender. He’s extremely kinky — depending on what scale you use to measure such things — and he’s living with HIV. His speech at the competition (“You are enough”) laid bare all of his identities and became an instant viral meme.

Leather clubs are typically known as inclusive, safe spaces for trans people. But no out trans man of color had taken the International Mr. Leather title before. (In 2010, Tyler McCormick became the first transgender Mr. Leather as well as the first to use a wheelchair.)

Just hours after Thompson’s historic IML win, the leader of a regional leather association known as Craig MrCode posted on Facebook, “I am happy for the winner, BUT it is International MR. Leather. He identifies as a man. But not born a man. I feel that the decision is politically motivated. Now this is just my opinion.” The post was later defended by MrCode, making things worse, followed by calls for his ouster as leader of the leather association. He was removed within a couple of days.

Over breakfast in Baltimore with HIV activist and creator of the award-winning blog My Fabulous Disease, Mark S. King, the new king of kink discussed coming out, sex, drugs, HIV — and the reaction to the transphobic social media post that nearly eclipsed the drama of his IML win.

I went to IML once, because I wanted to strut around in a harness.
That’s 90 percent of the people who go to IML.

Your husband, Geoff Millard, was first runner-up for Mr. Bootblack this year.
His was first runner-up for Mr. IML in 2017, too. He’s the first person to place in both events.

I think of International Mr. Leather as being for big dominant guys and Mr. Bootblack for submissive ones.
Unless you are running for a “Boy” title or a “Master” title, you can identify as anything you want. I identify as a submissive. My husband identifies as a daddy. But a lot of people have that idea, that you compete for IML and put on that leather cap, and you are the domest dom in all of Dom Town.

After a long, hard road, there’s been an explosion of trans awareness over the last few years.
I came out as trans when I was 15 [living in the San Francisco Bay Area]. That was 18 years ago. And it was exploding because there were a lot of hate crimes going on.

I know some trans men who thought they were lesbians, before they realized they were trans. It’s a perfect example of the difference between gender and sexuality.
I didn’t even start dating men until I met my husband. I still am attracted to women. It gets very deep very fast between us, with women. I just got out of a long relationship with a woman about a year ago. And I don’t have the capacity to get into something that deep with someone else. I have my husband. He’s my port in the storm right now, with all this craziness.

Speaking of crazy, what was your reaction to Craig MrCode’s transphobic response to your win?
I understand that the world doesn’t deal with trans issues. If you are someone who doesn’t have many trans friends, it is easy to not understand. I am all about educating.… I was expecting, actually, way worse of a response. It wasn’t that bad, and the response of the community was 150 percent better than I thought.

Do you think someone like that is teachable?
I’m all about teachable moments. People tried to educate him and he just doubled down. At that point I’m like, “OK, it’s your own funeral then.” I hope there’s a lesson learned for the general community. I would be so happy if he did some learning and came back and did something about it.

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Your speech at IML, available on YouTube, was so universal with its message of “You are enough.” What queer kid hasn’t felt like they were not enough? You struck to the heart of that.
I’ve had that feeling for so many reasons. Every single part of who I am is so mixed up. My gender, my sexuality, my size. Everyone in this community has felt like a deviant, which is why the trans controversy hurt so much.

How long have you been living with HIV?
Three or four years.

We tend to stigmatize people who test positive. How was it for you?
I had just started working as an HIV tester and counselor at an organization. I got sick, like with a bad flu. I got my diagnosis at a clinic when I went in for that. I did testing and counseling after that, but it was triggering, so I took some time off.

Do you have regrets about not having been on PrEP?
PrEP hadn’t really taken off. I think if it had been a year later, I probably would have been on it.

Are you undetectable?
Yes, I have been since the beginning. When I hop on Grindr, there are a lot of people who still don’t know what these things are, like U=U and PrEP. HIV is in my profile. I’m used to guys hitting on me and then rejecting me.

You provide so many reasons to reject you!
[Laughs] Yes. What on the menu of reasons do you not want to sleep with me [for]?

I’ve found that if I have to become an HIV educator with someone, then we are not going to fuck.
I don’t mind doing a little bit of that. But if I’m just hooking up with you, you’re probably not even giving me your real name, so why am I giving you a lecture? This is no longer sexy. But I will do some initial steps to educate.

Do people fetishize you as a trans man?
Oh, yeah. People fetishize everything. I mean, you’re fetishizing that guy over there because he goes to the gym every day. So why is it bad for them to fetishize you for whatever reason? Of course, people from marginalized communities have been fetishized for things over the years and there’s a lot of history and shame — Black men as sexual objects — Yes. I have a thing for big, bearded daddies. That’s my type. Our fetishes play into our hookups. It depends on how you do it. If someone comes at me and they’re all like, “Oh, you’re a man with a pussy,” and there’s this big thing about it, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about a part of me. I don’t have patience for that. It’s about people having no tact.

What’s your message during your reign as International Mr. Leather?
I’m proud of a community that is now officially proud of me. This year is going to be amazing, but it’s not about me. It’s about people seeing a message that we will not stand for transphobia in our spaces.

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