I first met Brenden Shucart at a show at The Comedy Store in Los Angeles where comedian Kenny Neal Shults was performing as part of line up benefiting The Impulse Group, a spin off organization of the AIDS Health Foundation. Shucart was there to interview Shults and was fairly shocked that the gay comedian — a vocal proponent of PrEP was associated with the group. Schucart found his association with the group incongruous with AHF founder Michael Weinstein’s notorious anti-PrEP stance. Shucart got his answer when Shults, in his closing gambit, pulled out a bottle of Truvada, stared directly at Weinstein, and “read” the bottle.
“Side effects include nausea—and taking that fucking load,” Shults joked, at which point Weinstein walked out, seemingly in a huff. That happened to be the exact moment Shucart was introduced by a mutual friend. You never forget a moment like that.
Shucart told me he’d never seen anything so daring or funny. In the age of social media, it’s rare to meet someone new organically who, in various and often unexpected ways, pops up at just the right moment. Over the last few years Shucart and I have entered in a elliptical and certainly irregular social orbit, but he’s managed to win me over by his broad passion not just about HIV and AIDS but as a social justice crusader. Shucart is a writer, actor, and advocate for people living with HIV. But language is limited in expressing the magnetic energy and influence he has in all these roles. His essays have been featured in The Advocate, Plus, The Fight, and Out There, among others. His writing about HIV, men’s health, and stigma have been described by other media outlets as "humanizing and heartbreaking" as well as "beautiful, honest, and important." He’s the kind of wunderkind talent that gives you hope for the future.
In his acting career, Shucart has consistently pursued roles that explore the boundaries of gay male, intimacy, sexuality, and sexual anxiety; including the short film Bug Chaser, James Franco and Travis Mathews' much-buzzed about Interior. Leather Bar, Mathews' 2010 short film I Want Your Love, and most recently Eli Rarey’s interactive film, Hard Decisions.
Since 2009, Shucart has served on the board of Project Inform, a leading voice on PrEP, and one of the oldest continuously active AIDS advocacy organizations in the U.S. In 2015 Shucart launched The Novus Homo, a podcast devoted to celebrating the “artist, activist, thinkers, and leaders who are helping to shape what it means to be queer in the post-equality era."
Today, does Shucart have any advice he’d share with his pre-poz self? In his disarming boyishly charming way, he says, “Honestly? I’d tell myself: Take a chance on that beautiful ginger boy who is going to take you on one of the best dates you’ll ever experience. When he musters up the courage to tell you he’s HIV-positive, do not politely excuse yourself to freak out in the bathroom. When he calls you the next day to tell you he really likes you, pick up the phone. If you don’t you’ll regret for a long, long time… and not just because you are going to see him in porn later—and damn, you will kick yourself—[and] about four years you are going to experience almost the exact same scenario in reverse and it will be brutal, but because you will always wonder what might have been if you were brave enough to look past his virus and your fear.”
A native of San Diego, Calif., Shucart’s became HIV-positive while living in Los Angeles for the first time, and he dealt with the news in really self destructive ways at first.
“I was depressed and angry and riddled with self-loathing—and then I moved to San Francisco,” he recalls. For Shucart, San Francisco in the mid-2000s was a great place to find himself and heal.
“I not only found myself, I found a great group of friends who, over the last decade, have become a sprawling and tight-knit family.”
Before moving to the Bay Area, Shucart admits he always frowned up on gay culture, which felt somehow like a consolation prize for not getting let into the main event. That changed in San Francisco because "the history-minded faggots” he was surrounded by helped push him to learn about queer history and culture. Shucart didn’t really become an HIV advocate until the economy collapsed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed eliminating the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).
“I made calls and helped to organize some protests," he recalls. "That’s how I became involved with Project Inform."
Eventually he began writing about HIV professionally, and moved back to L.A. where he became the editor of Positive Frontiers.
“I had the great privilege to act in some very interesting films which deal with HIV and queer identity. And I launched the Novus Homo podcast where I have had the opportunity to have conversations with some artists and activists I really respect about things that I think are important to queer folk and people living with HIV," he says, mentioning guests like famed HIV activist Peter Staley, Dana van Gorder of Project Inform, comedian Shults, dancer and Gravy Train!!! bandmate Brontez Purnell.
For this and a myriad of other reasons, Shucart is an amazing person who happens to have HIV . There's no end to what he can do. Our first gay, HIV positive president, anyone?
Brenden Shucart (above) in a photograph by Bradley Roberge and (below) in Bug Chaser
Hard Decisions, Shucart's interactive video series from Eli Rarey (below)