Jack Mackenroth Talks Volttage: A New Poz Dating Site
9/26/2012 10:00:00 AM
By Alex Garner
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.
PositiveFrontiers: What has been your experience with HIV stigma, in particular with dating/hook-up sites?
Jack Mackenroth I am very confident regarding my status and if it’s a problem I don’t take it personally. But I think I am more the exception than the rule.
Well I am a fairly unique case because I am usually recognized as “the HIV guy,” so most people know my status ahead of time. However, in cases where my HIV status comes as a surprise I have had mixed reactions. When guys have been turned off I try to use that as a teachable moment where I can discuss undetectable viral load and risk. And I mention that just because someone says they are negative, it doesn't really guarantee anything and can lead to a false sense of security.
PositiveFrontiers: How can poz men become more empowered so they are better skilled at encountering insulting or annoying language online?
Jack Mackenroth Join Volttage and avoid it altogether!! I find the “block,” feature to be very useful in those instances. However it’s been my experience that with a little patience and willingness to educate, most guys are fairly receptive to information about HIV transmission. We have a zero tolerance policy for hate speech and offensive behavior is dealt with immediately.
I also believe that with self-confidence comes self-acceptance and vice versa and when we are confident and secure we aren’t as affected by judgment. I hope that Volttage can instill a sense of belonging.
PositiveFrontiers: Does Volttage promote harm reduction and general health and wellness?
Jack Mackenroth Yes!
We have “Health,” and “News,” sections to share details on the latest treatments and other information for our members. We encourage guest bloggers to offer their own insights on recent studies and articles. We are hoping to grow the “Community,” section of our site into a true resource for our members.
We want to provide a safe, non-judgmental online community where guys can interact openly and honestly. We’ve purposely left out certain categories, like “Safer sex,” and “No PNP,” simply because not checking them implies risky behavior. We want to encourage healthy, responsible behavior, but we're not the sex police.
I also want to stress that the protection and privacy of our members is a very high priority, and we take steps to preserve them. Still, the internet is a public place and there's always risk in sharing information.
PositiveFrontiers: How will Volttage help foster community and/or culture among poz men?
Jack Mackenroth I honestly think that the number of members that quickly become a part of the Volttage community will shock even us. There has never really been a hub where thousands (and hopefully hundreds of thousands) of HIV-positive men from all over the world can interact in many different ways. Our goal is to foster a sense of inclusion rather than exclusion. That’s remarkable. I’m really excited to see how it evolves.
I encourage guys to be as “out,” as possible in their profiles but I understand that it is a very brave step for many of them. So we’ve built the site where members can control all their profile content, and we don’t require face pictures. Members can lock any of their pictures and unlock them only for the men they choose.
PositiveFrontiers: Will there be a mobile app so you can find that poz guy on your block?
Jack Mackenroth Yes, very soon! We are currently perfecting the desktop site, which is viewable on mobile devices. We’ll be offering the mobile version of the site as soon as possible, and it will be specifically targeted to finding poz guys nearby.
PositiveFrontiers: Will you be designing accessories to go along with Volttage? T-shirt, caps, etc.?
Jack Mackenroth Absolutely! We have a really cool logo and we have already designed t-shirts that will be given out when we begin our launch parties. Caps, condoms, jocks, underwear are all in the works. I am hoping that Volttage becomes a recognizable status brand (pun intended) that people are proud to wear.
PositiveFrontiers: You say, “Sex sells.” How is Volttage a sexy site for poz men?
Jack Mackenroth You’ll have to check it out. Knowing your status and being comfortable in your own skin is the sexiest attribute. And our poz models aren’t too shabby either.
You can sign up for Volttage here.
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