fbpx
+TALK

+TALK: JACEN ZHU

Karl Schmid speaks with adult star turned activist, Jacen Zhu.

The following is a transcript of the conversation between Karl Schmid and Jacen Zhu.

KARL

Welcome to +TALK on +LIFE where we are all about turning positive into a plus. My guest today… he is otherwise known as Undetectable Man. It’s Jacen Zhu!

JACEN

Hello. Nice to see you too. I’m so excited to be here. How are you?

KARL

I’m good. I’m jealous that you’ve got a fancy embroidered U=U top but I’ll take that up with senior management later on.

JACEN

Absolutely.

KARL

Listen, you’ve got a really interesting life and you’re doing some fantastic stuff. We’re going to get to Takedown Tina in a bit, because that’s a really, really important thing to talk about, but let’s talk about you and your diagnosis. I mean, you were diagnosed at 16 years old, right?

JACEN

Yes, I was. I was 2000, I believe it was July of 2005 I found out. I was 16 years old. Yeah, it was, it was either that, or, you know, a cancer diagnosis from my primary carer who was also my pediatrician at the time. I had a few swollen lymph nodes. And so she ran a couple of tests and at that time people were really dying of cancer. So, you know, HIV was just not on my radar. And, you know, I’m kind of grateful that I am diagnosed with being a person with HIV because, at that time frame, people were just dying from cancer. So, I mean, I probably wouldn’t be here today if I had cancer.

KARL

So it was a total, it was a total shock to you when you were given the diagnosis.

JACEN

Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it was almost like a numbing feeling for sure. But you know, I’m a 16-year-old kid. I have so much boggled up in my mind. I’m not really processing what’s going on. It wasn’t until like later in life when I really like had the opportunity to really process what was going on and assess the real situation.

KARL

You know, we hear a lot, I say it all the time. I think anyone who’s living with HIV makes it a mission to say to people, HIV is not a death sentence. It’s really not, but you’re very vocal about this. When did this advocacy for you come about?

JACEN

You know, I feel it’s sorta like in my journey being a person with HIV I’ve always been advocating at some level. You know, even if it’s like kind of having these one-on-one discussions with my friends, getting them to understand a little bit better, you know, how it is being a person living with HIV versus like, you know, stigma-using words such as dirty and clean to really refer to people living with HIV. When I really became grounded in the work of advocacy was when I started with PrEP Squad DC, which was on their PrEP Campaign. And so it really gave me an opportunity to really own my story and my narrative, to be like, Hey, you know what? There are a lot of like, you know, Black and brown boys out there are queer, you know, non-binary humans out there who, you know, are living with HIV. And really it is, I felt that it was a call to action to really just stand up and be authentic about, you know, being a person with HIV. And being someone who had been in the adult industry too, because, you know, we feel as though that people who do, you know, sex work, can’t be, you know, people who are living with HIV, and that’s just not true at all. So I really wanted to break a lot of barriers and stigma moving forward.

KARL

Well, there’s a whole lot of stigma associated with being a sex worker or being in adult entertainment, but I want to go back to a second, you’re 16 years old and you get that news. How do you react to it? And how did you get from that moment to where we are today?

JACEN

To be honest, at 16, I really did not think about it. It was something that I never really processed at that moment. I honestly didn’t believe the diagnosis when I received it. You know, it was out of sight out of mind. It wasn’t until, you know, things happened in my life and my journey kind of changed, being at one point diagnosed with AIDS and then really understanding, you know, the severity of, you know–

KARL

Shit got real, didn’t it?

JACEN

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it was, it was an eye-opener for me, but it was also an opportunity for me to really become really preventative in my care and understand, you know, the inner workings of, you know, one, being someone living with HIV and the healthcare system.

KARL

Now you’ve not been shy in the past about talking about substance abuse, addiction to crystal meth. I think there are a lot of us, especially gay men, who end up with HIV, especially when they’re young, who turn to substances to kind of numb the pain, turn down the volume and escape. How did you kind of fall into that world? And tell me about #TakedownTina, which I think is such a great title.

JACEN

Yeah. So what, what happened for me and my journey was that, you know, a typical let’s go hang out, you know, at the local club. I have, you know, a few libations and then, you know, you typically go home with, you know, your pick of gentleman. Typically I’m a creature of habit, so I found a safe place with this couple. They would indulge with crystal meth but I would never, you know, I was more of pot or, you know, drinking type of person. And eventually one day curiosity killed the cat and I was just like, well, let’s experience this. And so I did. And you know, it was, it was great in the moment, but then what happened later in life was just an understanding is that I had to really become comfortable with myself, and understanding that, you know, drugs aren’t to solve a problem, and you know, they aren’t to avoid a problem. And so really understanding who I am as a person and being comfortable. And still even today, I still have to become comfortable with myself, because now I’m understanding more about who I am as I’m evolving as a human being. So what I felt is, you know, what was important for me when I initially started Takedown Tina, was to really just start spreading awareness about crystal meth use within queer and trans communities of color. Because I felt as though that we had campaigns such as like Kill Meth, and that primarily catered to, you know, white gay men or white queer men. And no one was really talking about it within our community because historically it’s just not a drug that we use. But now, you know, the times have changed and we’re really using this drug and a lot of us are declining rapidly. And so it’s like, you know, someone has to be the front person, you know. to be like, Hey, it’s okay to not do this. You know, and if you do do this, let’s talk about harm reduction and mitigating your risks so that you can live a happy, healthy life. Like, you know, people when they engage in crystal meth use forget to take their medication, forget to show for their appointments, forget to even take showers or bath and–

KARL

They forget to eat.

JACEN

Yeah. Eat, you know, stay hydrated. And really what I’m offering is the opportunity for people to really become understanding of, you know, harm reduction. For myself on my journey, I used to have a thermometer, a o2 monitor, a blood pressure monitor, just all of these things to just make sure that, hey, if something’s not right, if I feel like it’s uncomfortable, then I need to check on that instead of just immersing myself into this feeling and then eventually possibly overdosing.

KARL

Wow, I really, that’s a really mature and smart approach. And you make a really good point there about a lot of those campaigns were targeted predominantly at white gay men. And the same can be said with how we look at HIV. And, you know, as an ambassador for the Prevention Access Campaign, who are friends of ours, and Bruce at U=U, you know, there is in this country a great struggle to get the U=U message out into Black and brown communities. So what are you specifically doing as Jacen to get that message out that you find is working and is resonating versus what white dude here with, you know, the big mouth has to say.

JACEN

Yeah, well, for myself, what it is, is that I’m honestly, just… I’m no longer trying to be perfect. You know, I’m just authentically showing up as myself and really understanding who I am. You know, what it is, is that I’m understanding that being a Black queer person, like I’m not going to fit every narrative, but I know somewhere on my journey my story is going to resonate with someone who looks like me, who comes from, you know, where I come from, and they’re going to get little nuggets from that. So through that, I am using my platform through sex work to be a vehicle of change for Undetectable Man, which is to spread, you know, the message of U=U within the community. I chose something that was going to be, you know, fun and upbeat and white, while still something that people could be like oh, wow, that’s kinda cool, you know, exciting. And a lot of us, what people don’t understand is that for Black queer men, we love like nerdy stuff. And so I am like one of those people, I love nerdy stuff. I love anime. I love Dr. Who. So I really want to speak to that audience and then speak to the audience who just loves like some type of animation, period, or just the narrative of Undetectable Man, or just, you know, being a person living with HIV. So, yeah, so I am grateful to have that. And moving forward, Undetectable Man will be coming back out even stronger, more authentic. We got some great things coming ahead because I’m really excited to take it to the next level because I really feel as though, as we’re pushing for, you know, PrEP within our communities, we really need to drive home the same messages of U=U, because a lot of us are living within a lot of stigma and a lot of shame. It’s time for us to really break through those barriers and overcome that and really be the front-runners of this message.

KARL

So for those who don’t know, who is Undetectable Man and how does one see Undetectable Man?

JACEN

Yes. So currently I am creating a new website and it’s going to be undetectableman.org. And it is going to be sponsored by PAC. I have a, we’re working on, you know, rebranding and really doing this the right way, but if you really go on my social media page, especially Twitter, it’s going to be Jacen, J-A-C-E-N underscore Z-H-U. You can go ahead and look at a link. I have some wonderful work that I have, ’cause I never want to forget where I started and where I come from. And, you know, the platform that was afforded for me through PrEP Squad DC, I love them so much, because it was a great opportunity for me to really drive home the message. And so if you go there and really see some of that information there of the previous stuff, and to prepare you for what’s coming next. You’ll be all caught up and everything. So yeah. So that’s where you can find me. That’s where you can look for the information. And yeah, it would be amazing. I’m super excited.

KARL

No, I’ve been super excited talking to you and from all of us at +LIFE we think you, sir, are pretty amazing, you and Undetectable Man. Jacen Zhu, thank you so much for your time.

JACEN

Yay!

KARL

Now you can check out Undetectable Man by checking out our website, pluslifemedia.com. And remember, follow us across all social media platforms. We are @PLUSLIFEMEDIA. Thank you so much for your time today. I’ll see you next time.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: