Another Profile in HIV Advocacy
Greg'ry Revenj joins the fight against stigma
By David Estlund, 4:00PM, Thu. Sep. 4
As we were working on this week's cover story on local out activist Sym Coronado, a fellow traveler came out on the global scene in HIV Plus Magazine. Greg’ry Revenj has a lot of experience and perspective on where we are and where we can go.
AC: You're a relatively new Austinite. Tell us how you got here.
GR: I came of age in Seattle, so that city really shaped who I am, from the tattoos and alternative look to my outlook on life. I’m a fashion designer; I went to the International Academy of Design in Seattle. Two years into the program, I realized that it was really preparing me to work for someone else. I decided to go independent and form my own clothing label, so I dropped out of college in 2010 and got to work. Staying in college would have actually saved me a lot of money and mistakes, but I think learning the hard way has done me good.
In 2011 I got my website and brand set up, and then in December of 2012 I set out for Austin. A promotions company contacted me to follow my move with a YouTube video series, which might have been a mistake, considering the blowback. I learned a lot from that experience, including how low YouTube comments can go, but I think I’ve grown, and Austin has come to accept me. I’d done a few fashion shows in Seattle, but I definitely had the biggest so far here in November, 2013.
AC: That’s a lot of change, and it happened so fast. So, suddenly this year you’re out publicly? How long did you live with the virus before you came out?
GR: I was just diagnosed in March. After I went through the grieving phase, when I isolated myself, I managed to turn it around and make it about how I could help other people dealing with similar situations. I went to San Francisco and sat with some people at Gilead; I figured I might as well go straight to the source. They make some of the most effective treatments, as well as Truvada for prevention. I got some advice from them, and then went to LA to meet with the founder of an anti-stigma advocacy organization.
I started reaching out to publications to find a venue where I could have an impact with what I had learned. HIV Plus put me in touch with the editor in chief who wanted to do an article. It went to print August 18th, and I had no idea I was getting the cover. They’re going to feature each of these 20 guys over the next month; my feature will come out on social media and the web September 9. After it went to print, the first message I got was from Amsterdam, from a man thanking me for what I’m doing to fight stigma. I’ve heard from people around the world; I’ve even heard from a guy who saw the issue the day he was diagnosed. The feedback has been nothing but positive.
AC: How has your experience been in Austin?
GR: You can separate Austin from the rest of Texas, but it’s still a Texas town. It’s the fastest growing city, with people coming in from all over, but it still has a sort of neighborly feel. I’d say the gay scene here is one of the most cohesive around. For example, there are more drag scenes than ever, but queens in different drag scenes all seem to work together happily to make unique shows happen. I’ve experienced nothing but support after coming out as positive.
AC: What do you see on the horizon?
GR: First I think that, like in the article on Sym, we’ve got lots of testing and prevention available, but we aren’t talking about HIV much, and when we are, we’re still using HIV and AIDS as synonyms. My first plan is to talk about it publicly, but not just publicly but correctly. Nobody wants to hear or say that they’re going to die, and anyway it’s just not the case anymore. We should be in a place where we can talk frankly about prevention without worrying about scaring people or upsetting people living with HIV. For those of us who contract HIV, we can live a full, normal life, and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about prevention, testing, and treatment options. The CDC is giving out good information, but they aren’t the voice people are going to necessarily listen to. That’s what I’m here for.
Greg’ry Revenj has offered a listening ear and friendly advice to anyone in need. He can be reached via email here. His article in HIV Plus Magazine is available here, and his clothing label, Revenj Jean Federation, is but a click away.