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+TALK: DAVID MICHAEL

Karl Schmid speaks with country music star David Michael.

KARL
HIV and making history. Up next. Whatever stereotype you’re gonna try to put on me isn’t gonna fit. That’s for sure. ‘Cause there’s no stopping me. Hello there, and welcome to “+TALK” on +Life, where we are all about turning positive into a plus. And my guest today is doing just that. He’s a rising star in the country music scene who is proudly living out as a gay man and with HIV. I’m talking about David Michael. Hey, David. Good to see you, sir.

DAVID
Hi, Karl. Thank you so much for having me on.

KARL
Now you’re the face of new country folk Americana. Explain that one to me.

DAVID
So, you know, I think country music is really at a precipice. We saw last year at the CMAs that Brothers Osborne won Country Music Entertainer of the Year. And that was the exact same year that he came out as openly gay. This is an act and an artist that has a huge fan base and is very established and really rocked the country news, or country music news, by his coming out. And I really do feel like we’ve got someone else, like Mycale Guyton, who’s one of the first black, female, chart-topping country music artists. And so there really is this new face, this new wave of country music artists. And although we’ve been here all along, in terms of LGBTQ+, or black, or brown, or kind of the antithesis to traditional. We’ve been here as fans and as artists for many years, but it’s been the industry that has, kind of, delineated who gets in and who doesn’t. And I really do feel like that’s changing and I’m certainly happy to be a part of it.

KARL
Yeah, and you also took it one step further by living quite proudly, openly, about your HIV status.

DAVID
That’s true. Yeah. So I was diagnosed with HIV about eight years ago. It took me close to five to really wrap my own head around it. Even in those five years, there were still questions I had about, you know, will I be able to have a child who’s gonna love me? Will I lose a job? Will I keep a job? All those things. And once I really, through support, not only from organizations, like Nashville CARES or AID Upstate, of which both I’m a client of, as well as friends and family, and then also just kind of time, therapy on my own, I really had a chance to come to terms with it and almost have a pride in it. You know, I’m as healthy and robust and as dynamic as I’ve ever been. I think that this label’s actually kind of emboldened me and in a really beautiful way. And as I move into a music career, I’ve been transparent about my status for many years. And so I knew that if I was gonna move into this and if there was going to be spotlight, if there were gonna be interviews, if people were gonna do their research on me, that this would be something that they would see almost at the very surface. And so I chose to, yet again, have kind of a second coming out in being transparent about my status. And frankly, to be, kind of, coined as the first openly gay, openly HIV positive, country music entertainer in the industry, is something that, it’s a badge of honor. It’s something I’m wearing with pride, Karl.

KARL
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. And you know, you said that at times you were worried that you weren’t really gonna be seen, or considered seriously as a music artist. How much do you think HIV stigma played into that concern for you?

DAVID
Absolutely, the stigma is something that really riddles so many. And for me, for those five years, it did the same. There were so many unanswered questions and frankly, massive fears about living my most authentic and my most truthful. But if we don’t have people, like myself, or if we don’t have people, I have a lot of friends who are also really transparent about it. If we don’t have those of us who can take the risk. You know, I don’t necessarily need to be the most famous, or need to be the most successful country music artist, but I do need to be myself and transparent. And I hope that that’s gonna open doors later on down the road so that there isn’t this fear. People can live their most authentic. ‘Cause frankly, to me, one of the best parts about country music is it’s storytelling. And it is very authentic in it’s doing so. And so you really can’t be your most authentic country music entertainer without embracing so much of what makes you different and what makes you special in this world.

KARL
And it’s incredibly freeing, isn’t it? You know, we talk about people who identify as gay men as, sort of, first coming out and suddenly feeling so free. Then you get this HIV diagnosis and you kind of feel like you’re back in the closet again. And you know, there is the stigma that comes along with it, but there’s also the internalized stigma and the shame and hiding. It’s like you really have to come out a second time when you talk about your HIV status, isn’t it?

DAVID
It is. Yeah. Yeah. It’s very much. And it’s even more, there’s more to lose at that point, right? Because you’re more established in your relationships. You’ve done it, you’ve done the big thing. You’ve revealed the, kinda, the rabbit out of the hat, but now you have to do it yet again. And you’re worried that you may even lose your friends who are also gay men.

KARL
Yeah.

DAVID
You know, the stigma in the community is sometimes even more rampant and more, you know, frankly, atrocious, than it is outside. And that’s something that I’m also, you know, really wanting to champion, as well as, you know, people, I ask everybody. There’s no dumb question when it comes to asking me about what my history’s been, or what my future is going to be surrounding this diagnosis. But I also wanna tell people that, you know, once you can get your head wrapped around the diagnosis, you really can become so much more of yourself. And that’s one thing that I will encourage people. It’s just like coming outta the closet. When you’re coming out as gay, lesbian, transgender, you really have to do it on your time. It has to be on your terms. But once you do it, there is just this break free moment where you feel invincible, in a certain sense. And so I really encourage people to reach out to me through DMs, or through email. If I can provide anybody support on that path towards their second coming out, I’ll know I’ve done my job.

KARL
Yeah, going back to something you said there about the stigma and how sometimes it can be excessively vicious and shocking from within our own community. Why do you think that is? Especially when you hear things like, are you clean, or I don’t do POS.

DAVID
Yeah, I think, frankly, I know it sounds kind of like I’m simplifying the issue, but I think it’s just fear. When I was diagnosed, I was terrified that I would not find someone to love me. That I would not find someone to share a family with, or get married, or have a child with. And those fears, you know, we’ve done so- We’ve knocked down so many barriers as an LGBTQ population. And once you have come out, it’s like, you’re stable. You’re there. You’ve got your tribe. You’ve got your sisterhood. Adding one more element to take you right back to square one. And, you know, we all remember what it feels like to be an adolescent and to know that you’re not straight, on whatever spectrum that is. And to be terrified. I think it’s the fear to have to go through it yet again, but as adults, you even have more to lose. Or when you’re further on in your coming out process, you have even more to lose. You’ve created your tribe. You’ve created your sisterhood. You’ve created your job, your career. You’ve also already crossed those mountains with your family, potentially. And to have to go back to square one and start all the way over with the idea that I’m gonna risk losing everything I’ve worked so hard to get. I really understand it. It’s a healthy fear. But one of the biggest things that I am championing is that coined, you know, are you clean? It’s one of the things I always say, well, I’m very clean. I’m also HIV positive. That’s usually how I answer that question. And people kind of give me the weird look like, well, what? And I say, well, what’s the opposite of clean? And then I kinda let them, you know, absorb on that. And I say, well, you’re basically saying that that’s what I am if I’m also HIV positive. And I think having the ability to create those awkward, weird conversations, where someone may feel like they’ve misstepped, or maybe they’ve done wrong, or they could do better. But that’s really how we get better is by having those really funky, awkward conversations. And I’m happy I’m, I guess, quirky enough to be able to walk my way through so many of them.

KARL
Yeah. I’m happy you are, too. Okay, so now let’s talk about the single. It’s a Patsy Cline cover. Now again, a lot of people our age and younger might not know who Patsy Cline is. But this is a really strong and personal song for you in more ways than one, isn’t it?

DAVID
Absolutely. So I’ll first start with the proceeds. So a portion of the sales go to Nashville CARES and AID Upstate, which again, both of those organizations give people that are living with HIV access to medication, housing, therapies, both drug, as well as emotional. They provide them with transportation to their doctors appointments. Even something as simple as making sure that you have food in your cupboard, or that your rent is being paid. Because a lot of times people’s diagnoses can flare up with stress. And so a lot of times what we’re trying to accomplish is not just surviving, but thriving with HIV because the less stress in your body, the better your medications will take hold, and kind of, the better your life is going to be. And so it’s really important for me to start out. If I’m gonna be the first ever openly gay, openly HIV positive country music entertainer, then I gotta do it all the way. And I think that to create this opportunity for fundraising through my first single was just a natural fit. But yeah, I’m super excited also to be a very non-traditional country music entertainer, but also sharing very traditional country music. These songs that I have on the Patsy EP are 62 years old. And so I’m bringing a lot of new ears, a lot of new attention to the basis, the foundation, the bedrock of what we know country music to be today. Patsy was a total badass trailblazer. One of the only reasons that you never see her on a television interview is she had the worst potty mouth of any female country music artist, maybe ever. Which I totally spearhead. I, myself, as a fellow potty-mouther. But she also was a first in a lot of ways. She was one of the first country music artists ever to cross over to pop. Not just a female artist, but any country artist. And that was in 1962, I believe, with “I Fall To Pieces”, which is also on the EP, which is gonna be released later this month, or I’m sorry, later this year in June. As well as, she was the first, and I loved this, she was the first and only ever country music entertainer ever, and I’m talking ever, to write herself as an invite into the Grand Ole Opry. She wrote in and said, it’s about damn time that you let me into this boys’ club. And if you want me to be a part of it, you know, I’m writing myself in and they allowed it. So I just love how much of a trailblazer she was. And to be able to work with incredible musicians. To work with the family of Patsy Cline, you know, a lot of these, to be licensed with these songs, we had to work with them and they had to, kind of, sign off on it. So we kind of had to be endorsed by the family. So it’s truly a pleasure. It’s a dream come true.

KARL
David Michael, thank you so much. That is gonna do it for this episode of “+TALK”. If you wanna check out David Michael’s music, or learn more about him, head over to our website, pluslifemedia.com And remember, you can follow us across all social media platforms. We are @PlusLifeMedia. Until next time, take care of each other. Be nice to each other. We’ll see you soon.

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