(Editor's note: San Diego Gay & Lesbian News will be previewing the 14th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival, which runs May 30 through June 3 at the historical Birch North Park Theatre. Look for Q&A interviews with celebrities and directors as well as film reviews.)
Austin Head, aka the “Glamour Boy of Phoenix,” is one of four HIV-positive youth featured in the 44-minute documentary "Positive Youth."
The documentary, told in cinema vérité style, will be shown at 6 pm Thursday, May 31, at Birch North Park Theatre as part of the 14th annual FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival.
Austin spoke with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about how HIV has affected his life, how family and friends reacted when he got the news, how misconceptions about the disease are perpetrated, and why he offers sage advice to young gay men.
Meet Austin, a DJ in demand across North America, an actor, an entertainer and a musician. Meet a survivor, who chose homelessness in New York City over homelessness in Phoenix after a misguided investment went south, who couch-surfed and slept in parks and subway cars until he could land back on his feet. Austin has his act together now, and he tells you why.
SDGLN: Why did you want to appear in the documentary?
Austin: I was part of the original development team for the project. When it came time to find subjects for a documentary of this nature, it was difficult to find appropriate volunteers and, after some inner turmoil, I agreed to be interviewed.
SDGLN: The documentary offers insight on what it is like for a young person to be diagnosed as HIV-positive, and the reaction of those around them. How did you react when you first got the news?
Austin: I think I was in shock. I had little knowledge of HIV as a whole, so I felt it was like I was told I was going to die in a week – which is far from the case. Everything went foggy, and until I began to educate myself, I lived in fear of the affliction.
SDGLN: How did your family and friends react when you revealed your status? Did your family and friends know you were HIV-positive before you made the film?
Austin: Before we began the documentary; there were still several people that didn’t know my status. The documentary became the motivation to come out to the last few family members whom I had intentionally sheltered from this news.
It is a unique process that is different with each person in your life. Some people cry with you, some people are speechless, some are angry, others are defiant with you ... still others intentionally ignore what you’ve told them because they can’t absorb the totality of what you’ve shared with them.
SDGLN: What is the biggest misconception about HIV?
Austin: HIV – in this society – is more than a disease. It includes a bunch of baggage that we all need to dump. My elders have told me, there was a time you didn’t speak of cancer in polite society as it carried a similar stigma. We need to teach people that this is a disease, not a curse.
SDGLN: What is your advice to young gay men?
Austin: PRACTICE SAFE SEX! If you act as though everyone is positive, and engage in responsible sexual activity, you will dramatically reduce your risk of contracting any STD. I have heard stories of people as young as 15 being diagnosed. High school health classes need to include explicit discussions of safe sex between males, females and mixtures thereof.
SDGLN: What do you want audiences to remember about the film after they leave the theater?
Austin: As indicated, that this is a disease not a curse and that life is worth living! I have the same dreams, same hopes and same ambitions now that I had before the diagnosis. The great difference is that I now live life with a greater passion than before the change of status.
SDGLN: How does the documentary affect audiences who have viewed it?
Austin: I believe that it has – pardon the pun – a positive message. You might shed a tear or two, laugh a little and gasp a couple times ... but, ultimately you learn that we are all living successfully with this affliction.
SDGLN: Since the documentary has come out, how has it changed your life?
Austin: The documentary premiered at the Phoenix International Film Festival in front of friends and family. It is now screening at a dozen film festivals, broadcast on U.S. cable, and in seven countries ... I can’t imagine what is next!
SDGLN: At one point in the film, you are told that it would cost $1,500 a month for your HIV prescriptions if you can no longer participate in an experimental medical trial. Please update that scenario. And how is your health?
Austin: Still in good health, non-detectable viral load, and good T-cell count! The drugs are working well for me at the moment. The trial, which began as a 24-month experiment, has been extended for another 24 months. By the time the trial ends, Obamacare should afford me the chance to find sufficient insurance to fund the necessary drugs (fingers crossed)!
SDGLN: You’ve been called the “Glamour Boy of Phoenix.” How did you get this unofficial title?
Austin: I began singing as a very young man here in Phoenix (at a place called Mr. Lucky’s) ... as I matured, I evolved toward a “glitter” rocker. The nickname originated out of my early club days here in Phoenix, Ariz., when we recorded the song and music video for “Label Whore,” which can be found on iTunes/YouTube.
SDGLN: You mention in the documentary that you are shy in person, but become this bigger-than-life figure when you dress up in glitzy outfits. How did you develop your alter ego?
Austin: My first job was with a ‘50’s diner called Ed Debevic’s. We would dress as characters and have fun with the customers. It’s where I learned character development and started to come out of my shell. I then tried drag under the name Vera Las Vegas, and then evolved into more of this androgynous persona. The current iteration of “Austin Head” is a culmination of the experience of the New York party scene, the Phoenix music scene, the Chicago club scene and is still evolving.
SDGLN: How do you stay relevant in the DJ world?
Austin: The way I spin, is different from most DJs. Whereas some DJs focus on a certain music genre, my mixes span across decades. I also play to the energy of the crowd. People come to escape their everyday hassles, making it any DJ’s focus to make sure they have the best time possible. If people aren’t dancing and getting wild, you’re doing something wrong.
SDGLN: What’s next for you?
Austin: We are planning a follow-up to the documentary that focuses on participating in a drug trial ... the ups and downs. Further, I am hosting a new social network – PositivelyFrisky.com – a social space for guys with HIV. It is a safe place on the Internet to meet others who share the same experience of positive living. It is up in the English-speaking world and growing fast!
SDGLN: What is something that your fans don’t know about you?
Austin: The first CD I ever owned was the soundtrack to “Last Action Hero.” AC/DC and Aerosmith rocked my teenage years!
SDGLN: Single or Taken?
Austin: You’ll have to watch “Positive Youth” to find out!
SDGLN: If you were granted three wishes, what would you do with them?
Austin: Sex and drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll! Wait, no ... world peace or something?
SDGLN: Will you attend FilmOut San Diego LGBT Film Festival?
It is on the schedule ... is couch-surfing cool in Hillcrest? I lived on couches for a year in New York, but I promise to only stay the weekend in San Diego.
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at [email protected], @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.
FilmOut screening: 6 pm Thursday, May 31
Sponsored by: Gay San Diego
Co-presented by: Family Health Centers of San Diego
Shown with: "uB2" (2011), directed by Dan Goldes, a five-minute short film that explores the impact on HIV-positive men who see "clean" and "disease-free" demands on gay dating websites.
Where: Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego, CA 92104
Tickets: $5. Order online HERE.
Festival Pass: $125 – providing access to all movies and parties. Click HERE to purchase a pass.
Tickets are also being sold for Opening Night film, the Opening Night Party and the combo pass. Click HERE.