Tag Archives: LBGTQ

How Young Gay Men Are Changing the Meaning of Swag

The term “swag” is generally used to describe someone of confidence and respect. A group of young guys from ASCNYC’s mPowerment program have revamped this meaning to make people recognize that taking care of your sexual health is fundamental to respect. This post is about S.W.A.G.

Members of S.W.A.G.

SWAG guys making safer sex sexy, handing out condoms and lube and talking to folks about knowing their HIV status.

Sitting in a New York bar or night club you may be lucky enough to chance upon the lively SWAG Mpowerment – a group of 19 – 29 year old gay and bisexual guys who are on a mission to normalize HIV prevention and safer sex. They jump bar to bar in a sort of flash-mob way, passing out condoms, lubes and information pamphlets about HIV testing. You might even get a free candy.

“It’s a really effective way to get condoms out there,” says Lance, one of the members of SWAG. “Sometimes people will be really curious and ask questions and that starts a dialogue which can lead to a person in another day or two getting tested at the agency.”

That agency is the ASCNYC which initiated SWAG Mpowerment five years ago as part of their outreach to reduce HIV transmission among YMSMs (Young Men who Have Sex with Men). Young gay and bisexual men between the ages of 13 – 24 are the hardest hit by new infections in the United States today.

What’s different about SWAG- which stands for “Sexy With A Goal”- is that, instead of focusing solely on individual risk behavior, the project addresses wider interpersonal and social issues identified by the group volunteers and coordinators themselves; issues like asserting safer sex, self-esteem, homelessness, racism, homophobia, education and employment pressures. All aspects which directly and indirectly impact young gay men’s abilities to consistently know their status and take care of their sexual health. As Guy Williams, Assistant Director of Prevention at ACSNYC explains, “SWAG is like family for a lot of the guys because they can’t really be themselves around other family and friends” due to deeply rooted stigma of being gay. SWAG is a safe sex-positive and fun space for these young men to forge meaningful friendships and take on community issues that impact them most.

Over our phone interview, Williams explained that their condom distribution strategy came about through a series of rejections by bar and club owners who didn’t like SWAG’s proposal to set up an information table in the bar and hand out condoms to patrons. “Many bar owners said ‘Nah, that will kill the mood because patrons come in to have a good time. They don’t want to talk about HIV,” Williams describes. “So what SWAG decided was, well, if we just run into clubs and bars quickly and just hand out condom packs and leave than we didn’t need the owner’s permission.”

This is just one of their many project activities. Along with weekly meet ups and educational outreach, SWAG members organize pro-gay events ranging from talent shows to more serious affairs like taking on New York State congress by speaking with policy makers about the dire need for funding to support young gay men. SWAG has also produced this “Why Safer Sex Is Sexy” video.

Throughout June, which is Gay Pride Month, SWAG is launching a weekly event series titled “The 50 Shade of Gay”. Gay porn stars will come in and talk with young men about HIV prevention in the porn industry, such as HIV testing practices, safer sex negotiation, and “sero-sorting” they face in the industry. They’re also launching a video in June that crushes one-dimensional gay stereotypes. Members will tell and represent their own stories of what it means to be gay and share their video across the internet.

As William explains, SWAG Mpowerment is about addressing HIV status, testing and prevention, but “doing it in non-traditional ways that are not always talking about HIV. That’s why we are always trying to do fun and inventive stuff to support each other.”

SWAG is always open to new members and volunteers. They are also searching for volunteer sex educators who have experience teaching and demonstrating condom usage. They meet Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays between 4:30 and 6:30 at 85 University Place, 5th floor, New york, NYC, 10003. For more information, contact Guy Williams gguy.williams@gmail.com.

#MySexPositivity with Takeallah Russell

Representation matters. This author shows that sex positivity and the adult market are no exception. Intersectional feminist, Takeallah Russell, is challenging the ethics of fantasy by speaking out against the fetishization of racial stereotypes. She takes the legacy of Zane to the next level, carving out sexy, explicit spaces to celebrate bodies of LGBTQIA folks and people of color in diverse and dignified ways. Her sex positivity is about building communities in which fetish no longer capitalizes on racial stereotypes.

1) Identify one or two trends, or influential people in the Sex Positive community that you identify with (or are inspired by) and those trends which you relate to not-so-much.

Follow Takeallah Russell @TheBurningBra

Follow Takeallah Russell @TheBurningBra

As a Woman of Color, I have always admired Zane and her novels! To be so bold and explicit and market specifically to the African American community, who can be quite conservative about sex, is beyond honorable. Zane’s work inspired me to launch my own sex-positive, inclusive site, “The Erotica Cafe.” From watching porn, to reading blogs and novels, all that is seen is white, cisgendered, heterosexual characters. White, cisgendered, heterosexual people are not the only people that fuck! The erasure of people of color and LGBTQIA people in the sex-positive movement has greatly contributed to ongoing negative stereotypes (i.e. bisexual people are greedy, asexual people do not exist, etc.) and fetishization. With “The Erotica Cafe”, I plan to debunk these negative stereotypes and contribute to making sex a normal, healthy aspects of many people’s lives; Not an instance where one turns red whenever “sex” is mentioned. It’s time we all stop shying away from human sexuality and embrace it.

As sex positive as I am, there is one aspect of sexuality that I despise– fetishization based upon one’s race or ethnicity (particularly women of color). Being fetishized based upon one’s skin color and false expectations is a dehumanizing, demoralizing act, which only leads to more negative stereotypes and more sex negativity. We are not monolithic, exotic, hypersexualized beings. We deserve to express our sexuality in a healthy manner while being given respect and maintaining our dignity.

2) How do you define “sex positivity” for yourself and your work? In other words, what is your primary passion and how do you distinguish your writings and interests from other branches of thought within the sex positive movement? My sex positivity is Afro-Latina and Native American, and holds Women of Color in the highest regards. My primary passion in sex positivity is normalizing Women of Color and debunking negative fetish-based stereotypes, which distinguishes my writings and interests from other sex positivists.

3) What directions do you think sex positivity will take within the next 5 – 10 years? Or what topics and with what platforms would you like to see sex positivity develop more thoroughly within the next 5 – 10 years? WomenOfColor-Quote

Within the next five to ten years, I would like for sex positivity to be more widely embraced and common. I hope to see more white, cisgendered sex positivists more knowledgeable about people of color and queer people’s struggles in the sex positivity movement and make their brands more inclusive. For example, people of color in porn would not just be a niche fetish, but rather normalized across all genres. The early 1990s work of Jean Carlomusto is a star example of alternative pornography, particularly of lesbians of color. Also, feminist, comprehensive sex education should be required in all schools, nationwide and male and female/internal condom should be readily available for students.

Opinions shared are the author’s own. Want to participate in this interview series? What is your sex positivity?