Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sex, Shirtless Pictures, Desire, HIV, and Leadership

Today, I changed my profile picture on Facebook. Like most of my pictures, it is one of me throwing a little bit of attitude at the camera, unlike several recent pictures, I happen to have my shirt on. Shortly after changing my profile picture, I received a very respectful email from someone that is not one of my FB friends but must follow me in some way, and he wrote:
Thank god your new profile photo finally has a shirt on. The ED of an amazing nonprofilt should not be shirtless.

I say this not because I am not sex positive (I am, and I am glad QEJ is too), but because shirtless photos look narcassistic. Which is fine for an individual, but not when that individual is suddenly the public face of the greatest queer organization around. ( I mean, there's lots of narcissism to be found on my profile, but i am not representing an organization ...)

Good luck in the newish position, sexy.
I wrote back to him this:
Thank you, [name deleted] for your note. I will take that into consideration in the context of my work.

Chances are though the pictures will continue to pop up. In the context of living loud and proud, reclaiming sex and sensuality for HIV positive bodies, challenging assumptions of leadership, redefining desire in the work and resexualizing the movement...with intention, integrity and joy, I will, without a doubt continue to do my work in the framework in which I presented my bid for leadership. Yes, narcissism exists but do not mistake me, my choices, especially when it comes to social networking sites are always and very intentional.

And ps I investigated your pictures, and I share back the sexy . Best to you.
That was the sum of the conversation, but, as many conversations do, it inspired me to write out my thoughts a little bit further, since if one person has had this thought, others must have as well. Let me begin by saying I am dedicated wholly to my job. From the time I get up until the time I go to bed, chances are I am spending at least part of every waking hour dealing with something related to QEJ, that's how you roll in a small radical nonprofit. Yes, I work on the weekends. Yes, I will be working this weekend. But, as much time as I spend working at QEJ, QEJ is my job it is not my work.

(In's 7pm, and I just got off a conference to me about office hours...shoot).

Let me explain. I do my work at my job but my job is not my work and not all of my work is done at my job. My work, in this world, is to be writer. It is to talk about the things that others sometimes can't. It is to bring desire and sex and joy back into movement building. It is to celebrate bodies in all their shapes and sizes and encourage folks to love themselves where they are and move themselves to where they want to be and be PROUD and share that work as they move along. It's why I stated my Sexy Positive Bodies photo project, to document the intentional change in my body

My work is also to hurt, love, fuck, cry, ask for help, give strength, accept strength given, sing, dance, and love some more. Because as a man I've been taught not to do those things, and if I do, not to do them I fuck up sexism by being an openly butch bodied femme boy that is afraid to be vulnerable and powerful and does it any damn way.

But most of all lately is that I have found my work falling in two places: desiring, sexualizing, and making folks hot as fuck for an HIV positive body, and bringing to light, space, and center other poz folks that are also fly as fuck (in all their shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities).  And opening space through my own process and being PUBLIC about being POSITIVE and through an clear, intentional sensualization and sometimes sexualization of my work and leadership (not lewdness but an intentional desiring of work and community and leadership). And the other space, that goes hand in hand with that, is intentionally putting sex BACK into sexual orientation and our movement for SEXUAL LIBERATION. Get in it folks.

I know how to play the game. I have been engaged in politics longer than folks twice my age from straight up electoral politics (and being recruited to be staff on campaigns) to at 28 being named a Young Wonk to Watch by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, I know my work. As my beloved Amber Hollibaugh, the woman who literally wrote the book on desire (My Dangerous Desires) once said, "Brandon has been groomed to be an executive director." And that shit is true. But groomed and guided as I have been, and loved and supported in this trajectory, I made my own decision that if I were going to do this work and do this work well, I was going to do it as me. Could I, if I put my shirt on and learned how to tie a tie position myself to be Executive Director of the Task Force and follow in the footsteps of friends and mentors Russell Roybal and Rea Carey...absolutely. But their work is different than mine. My work isn't at the Task Force. It's not at GLSEN. It's not at the helm of GLAAD. Where I go next after QEJ is anyone's guess, but I do know that when I move forward, it will be with a clear identity as a movement "leader," that expresses a particular politic that includes a sexual politic and ethic.

Don't get me wrong, I slap on a suit and tie and look really pretty when I need to do so. I am, mostly, clothed in the office (sometimes I do go barefooted), and my colleagues, interns, and community respect me....shirtless pictures and all. I am intentional in how I am building my leadership. I fully understand that there are those that may not agree with it. But I came to my position transparently and with plenty-o-shirtless pictures (along with a narrative of why they exist) to my interviews and right up to my hiring. Do I love this fabulous new body of mine, yes, but I love my work more, and I will do anything for my work and for QEJ...but the gift of leadership is that you get to define what that means and have a platform to uplift other ways of being, living, and loving that have just as much integrity as a corporate, suit and tie aesthetic...which I will not and have never desired to have.

And it's all about desire.


  1. Brandon, I love this writing. In amongst other stuff I do work on leadership and a book that influences me is called A Failure of Nerve. The writer talks about 'self differentiated leaders', peope who know what they stand for and who are prepared to hold the line. He recognises that some people may be hurt by this clarity and he sees hurt as an inevitable consequence of living our lives. He is clear about not intentionally damaging others but that hurt happens.
    He also says that a leader who holds to their truth and stands for it has huge impact and creates change - and some of this impact will be negative reaction - which goes with the territory.
    I want to appreciate and enjoy you for your clarity around your expression of your identity.

  2. I am sorry, but there is a difference between being sex-positive and being an immature narcissist. I think that the person who emailed you was trying to gently point out that you were coming across as the later, not the former. You might want to actually consider/contemplate/reflect on his points, rather than immediately broadcasting to everyone your simplistic, knee-jerk response.

    1. I clearly reflected on his points....I did so in the blog above.

  3. LOL! I find it highly interesting, 1) that you posted your note anonymously, and 2) that you think that you have some standing to define who I am, my intention, and what I am doing for me. That, actually, is the height of narcissism...the love of self that goes into pathology and enough of such that you feel that how you view yourself and the world is the only truth. Rings true about your statement. Best to you.

  4. There were a couple of times that I started to comment on this post but I did not. I read your post today about the negative comments you received and decided to add my own comments.

    This post challenged me. What I pulled from this post….know your life’s work, be clear about it and be intentional about it.

    I also know that my work is not your work. Your work is not my work. And my work definitely isn’t to criticize, judge or critique your work.

    Thank you for the reminder and the challenge to do MY WORK….


  5. I am going to anonymously agree with the anonymous poster. There is a difference between being sex-positive and being an immature narcissist.

    I consider myself not merely sex positive, but a sex radical. I think that sexual liberation is an important thing.

    But when an organization like QEJ, which is a vital organization, is struggling financially, it is very unhelpful to have the executive director posting shirtless photos of yourself. It comes across not merely as unprofessional (a word I hate) but also as un-strategic. I have heard funders and colleagues comment about how immature your profile appears. Regardless of how much I may hate their comments and disagree, the fact is that QEJ needs the support of these people. You should be able to see that.

    You want the E.D. job? Well then there are certain sacrifices you should expect to make for it. Losing a little bit of the freedom to parade shirtless photos of yourself all over the internet is one of those things you trade off when you accept the job.

    I don't like those rules, i did not make those rules, and i hope you and others will change those rules. But don't do it at the expense of QEJ. QEJ needs the support of people who are invested in those rules.

    And right now it just appears to many that your need to feel attractive trumps the needs of QEJ and the low-income people they serve.

    1. Once again today, I was informed that though an anonymous person was a sex radical, my shirtless pictures were nothing more than narcissism. I disagree. They were part of a revolution, a rejection of survival behavior, a loving of myself as a rape survivor and a child severe physical and emotional abuse survivor, an HIV survivor, and a survivor in brown skin. My project, Sexy Positive Bodies has been intentional. Hundreds of poz and hundreds more non poz folks that struggle with body image, body dysmorphia and other issues related to their bodies have filled my email and FB inbox with appreciation, love, and a shared struggle. And anyone that critiques from the shadows, particularly in an intentional process and project based in liberation for people living with HIV and survivors needs to seriously rethink their role in the movement and what he or she means by self defining as a sex radical. I reject his or her or their self-identity. Subjugating liberation to a dominant and conservative gay paradigm aka playing the game to appear "appropriate" for funders and colleagues is inauthentic, unstrategic and exactly why this movement continues to be flawed, unsuccessful, and regressive. My project ended yesterday, my liberation work continues today, and anyone that suggests that in order to be an Executive Director, I must give up efforts at authentic liberation, needs to re-evaluate their idea of strategic. I live out loud, how about you join me. I would have loved to send this personally, but, then again, one most shout to the world when another sends something anonymously.

      I am fucking stunning. I don't need anyone or anything external to confirm that for myself. But what I do need to do is struggle openly, authentically, and strategically. That's what QEJ has always done. And, an anonymous, probably white, probably not poz, probably privileged individual suggesting otherwise need to seriously check their privilege. You just used a whole lot of it.

      And if you, anonymous, would like me to truly articulate to you what I have made possible for the low income people, from whom I come, since joining the staff a year ago, I would be so happy to do so. My life has been committed to QEJ, my livelihood, and I have tied my liberation work to it. What have you done?


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!