Poz. men are getting an exciting new dating site in the form of Volttage. “Volttage is a site devoted to developing an online community where HIV-positive men can connect without concerns of judgment and stigma.” I had the opportunity to put some questions to Jack Mackenroth, a co-founder of the new site. Jack is a designer, athlete and advocate, known by many for his stint on Project Runway, not to mention his sexy photographs, such as the one to the right, courtesy of Stan Madden.
PositiveFrontiers: Volttage describes itself as an HIV social networking site. How is it different from the handful of sites that currently exist?
Jack Mackenroth: Well let’s not sugarcoat it too much. It’s a social networking site but it’s mainly a dating and hook-up site. It’s a hub to chat and meet with other HIV-positive men. It’s different from all of the other sites because we are specifically targeting HIV-positive men who have sex with men. However, we are unique because we don’t ask members to check a box declaring their HIV status. Our belief is that you should always assume that your partner is HIV-positive and proceed accordingly—this applies to life in general.
It’s also an alternative for HIV-positive guys that feel stigmatized on other sites. Guys won’t have to worry about disclosure and being rejected based on HIV status. To my knowledge there are no other sites with adult content that cater exclusively to HIV-positive guys.
We also provide health information from Dr. Frank Spinelli and current information on health and HIV related news. As we grow and evolve we will be adding bloggers and more content and features as our members request it.
PositiveFrontiers: Why did you feel like now was the right time to do something like this?
Jack Mackenroth: Every week I get about a dozen emails and Facebook messages from HIV-positive guys who want dating advice and often feel tainted and unlovable. They think their dating life is over. I never have an easy answer for them. In our culture it seems like the responsibility of disclosure is always on the person with HIV, when in reality everyone is responsible for protecting themselves. The world is becoming more and more intertwined with the internet, and dating is no exception. Meeting guys online is especially attractive to HIV-positive guys because it’s an easy way to be upfront about your status without having “the conversation.”
I also know a lot of HIV-positive guys who have had very unpleasant experiences on some of the other sites. I’ve had hate mail from uneducated people because I am open about my positive status. I always thought it would be great if we had our own site so I decided to create it!
PositiveFrontiers: How will Volttage combat HIV stigma?
Jack Mackenroth: Well I strongly believe that visibility is a powerful tool in gaining acceptance. All of our models are HIV-positive and one of my goals is to show that men can be HIV-positive and sexy. I’m not glorifying HIV but I’m highlighting the truth. As more men join and check out the site they will see that they are not alone and hopefully it will have a ripple effect. I know from other sites that there are already a lot of guys that are not ashamed of their status. We already have over 1000 guys signed up and we haven’t even launched yet. As our membership grows we will see that HIV-positive men come in all shapes, sizes and colors and hopefully we can break down stereotypes and lead by example.
I am also hopeful the Volttage brand will become a cultural phenomenon and actually change the way people think about HIV globally since we are accessible internationally.