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+TALK: ALPHONSO KING, JR. AKA JADE ELEKTRA

Find out how Alphonso King Jr. (Jade Elektra) got his passion for activism!

Watch this all new episode of +Talk hosted by Karl Schmid right now!

Transcript below.

ALPHONSO
The woman who gave me my information gave me advice that, if I wasn’t religious, I should start.

KARL
Welcome to Plus Talk on Plus Life where we’re all about turning positive into a plus. And today, my guest has been doing that for some time now, creatively, and we’ll get to that in a second. But first I wanna say hello to Alphonso King Jr., otherwise known as Jade Elektra. Hey, Alphonso.

ALPHONSO
Hey, how are you?

KARL
I’m good, thanks for doing this. I really wanna start by asking you about your HIV story and journey.

ALPHONSO
I guess mine starts technically in ’89. That’s when I became positive. But I was too afraid to go get tested, so I didn’t do it until the summer of 1990. And I got diagnosed then. I was living in Tampa, Florida. Healthcare back then was really not great. The woman who gave me my information gave me advice that, if I wasn’t religious, I should start.

KARL
What happens when you hear that? When the person who’s kind of giving you this horrible news, but at the same time supposed to have some level of compassion, I guess, tells you something like that. What’s going through your mind?

ALPHONSO
It was a death sentence back then. So that just confirmed it, that like, “Oh, I’m gonna die.” I walked home, which was almost like a couple of miles, cried the whole time that I was getting back to my apartment. At the time, I was dating a girl. So I had to call her and I told her what was going on. And she drove, she lived in Clearwater, so she drove over and she spent the night consoling me.

KARL
That’s not an easy conversation to have with a partner.

ALPHONSO
No. Not at all. But it was still a very rough and scary conversation to have. And also just the idea that she was willing to come over. I thought that this was it, that I wasn’t going to see her again. I was worried that she was gonna tell everyone that she knew. ‘Cause back then you could lose your housing, you could lose your job, all kinds of stuff. It was great that she came over, but it was still a really rough conversation. And I still had to have that conversation with a couple of other people, partners, sexual partners at that point.

KARL
You’ve mentioned before that you were concerned about talking to your family, obviously, about the status.

ALPHONSO
Oh.

KARL
But tell us, I mean, we can have a chuckle about it now, but tell us-

ALPHONSO
Yeah.

KARL
About the hesitation in talking to your father in particular.

ALPHONSO
Well, I mean, my father was already like, he was hoping and praying that this relationship with this girl was going to convert me back. But he was not thrilled that I was gay. I’m a junior, so this was carrying on his name and he thought that this was terrible and horrible. But I didn’t dare. I didn’t dare tell him that I was HIV positive at that moment. And in ’92, the spring of ’92, I left and moved to New York City. So I moved to New York and immediately fell into the ballroom scene. Got inducted into the House of LaBeija.

KARL
How important was that for you in that moment to find that family?

ALPHONSO
For the first time, I felt like I belonged somewhere because when I was living in Tampa, the scene there was really small. Everyone knew each other. And that was the other reason that I couldn’t be out because of that, everyone knew who I was. So to go to New York, when I went there, I actually decided to kind of blend in with everything. So I stopped the wild dressing and all that stuff. But I was taken in by a drag queen named The Electrifying Grace. And Grace lived downstairs from Paris Dupree, who the movie is named after, her ball. At the bar that she worked for, which she got me a job was Dorian Corey. And Grace was the host for the Monday night show and the Wednesday night show. And they needed a DJ. And so, I became their DJ. I was working seven days a week. And Grace got very sick, she was HIV positive also. She got very sick and there was a benefit coming up and I mentioned to Dorian Corey that I used to do drag back in Florida. And she’s like, “Oh, well, darling, you need to do it again.” And so she made me my first costumes and I did that benefit. And at that benefit, Pepper LaBeija showed up and she saw me, and she was like, “You remind me of myself when I was young.” And she was like, “How would you like to be in the House of LaBeija? I’m just like, “Yeah!” So that’s how that happened.

KARL
And is that really when sort of your voice as an activist really was discovered for you or did you realize in that moment that all these years later Jade Elektra would be performing and known internationally as somebody who is promoting UequalsU and the positive message?

ALPHONSO
No, no, no. All of that came a lot later. My activism days actually didn’t come until much later, like around 2000 is when I started volunteering for doing stuff at GMHC in New York City and also The Hetrick-Martin Institute. So I would DJ for functions and stuff like that. And that got me thinking that like, “Oh I should do more for the community.” But I still wasn’t out out. And it really wasn’t until I met my husband in 2005 in Montreal, we met. And I always joke that it was a one-night stand that turned into a marriage. In 2009, he proposed, but we were having this kind of long-distance relationship. Once I moved to Toronto, he was so out about his status here. I was like, “Okay, well, I guess I have to be too.” So we immediately did an interview with one of the rags here that doesn’t exist anymore called Fab. And we disclosed.

KARL
Fast forward to today and Jade Elektra, I first became aware of you really went when you did the Undetectable version of Unforgettable, which is just so phenomenal and so clever and so important, ’cause it just communicates the message so beautifully.

ALPHONSO
The way that the song happened was my husband and I were in a grocery store and Unforgettable came on. And I don’t know why, but I just started singing Undetectable. And he was like, “Oh, you need to do that on stage.” And that was in 2018. And I did it for one of our functions because we produced a monthly event called Mingle here for the HIV positive community in Toronto. And I did it there, but it got an okay response. It wasn’t like it was like everyone was like, “Oh wow,” whatever. So I was like, “Okay, well, I did it. I don’t have to worry about doing that again.” But the following year, I became one of two of the very first drag queens to perform at the AIDS memorial here. And so I sent them some links to songs, like video, YouTube links of songs. And I was like, “Pick something that you want me to do.” And I’m thinking that they’re gonna pick one of my more upbeat songs or whatever. And they’re like, “No, you have to do this.” And I was like, “Okay.” And I was nervous about doing it ’cause I thought that someone was going to be offended. And they were like, “No, you really have to, this is very important for our message.” And it didn’t dawn on me when I was singing it at the time. I just was like, “Okay, well, I need to get through this.” And I remember getting to the memorial ’cause it was outdoors and walking out on the stage. And I was like, “Man, I hope that this isn’t going to be a disaster.” But from the very first second that I said the first undetectable, the word, I could feel the crowd, the love, the warmth, everything. And it just kind of flowed from there. As soon as I finished the number, I remember getting off stage and people were cheering or whatever. And there was an older gentleman, very frail, who walked up to me and touched my arm and said, “Thank you for making me feel sexy again.” And that was the first, I was like, “What just happened?” Because I’m thinking of what I was thinking during holding the pad and doing the number, it didn’t occur to me until that moment that this meant something else.

KARL
Yeah.

ALPHONSO
So-

KARL
And that’s such an, sorry, that’s such an important message to hear that and to amplify that and say that. Because I think so many people who are newly diagnosed HIV positive or not newly diagnosed who are living with HIV, think we’re not sexy anymore because of those three letters and a symbol.

ALPHONSO
Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

KARL
I love that you have this voice and this platform through not just yourself, but as Jade Elektra as well, and that you’re communicating the importance of the UequalsU message because everybody out there needs to hear it and who doesn’t love a drag queen and certainly who doesn’t love Jade Elektra? Alfonso king Jr., I wish we had more time. That’s all we’ve got for this episode of Plus Talk, but thank you so much for joining me.

ALPHONSO
Oh, thank you for having me.

KARL
Absolutely. If you want to check out, not only Jade Elektra’s version of Unforgettable, but a whole lot of other things, you’ve gotta check out the YouTube page and we’ll make sure we put that up on the website as well. That’s gonna do it for this episode of Plus Talk. Remember, you can follow Plus Life across social media platforms. We are @pluslifemedia. Until next time.

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