JACK MACKENROTH IS NOT ONLY A CELEBRITY, HE IS ALSO A HERO FOR MANY. WHEN HE CAME OUT BEING HIV+ ON NATIONAL TV, HE TOOK THE DELIBERATE RISK OF EITHER BEING EMBRACED OR SHUNNED. BUT JACK RECEIVED RESPECT AND SYMPATHY AND HIS PUBLIC STATUS TRANSFORMED HIM IN A ROLE MODEL FOR MANY MEN AND WOMEN WHO ARE DIAGNOSED WITH HIV. FOR 23 YEARS JACK IS LIVING WITH HIS CONDITION AND DURING THIS TIME HE HAS SHOWN THE WORLD THAT, SERIOUS AS IT IS, IT IS NOT A REASON TO GIVE UP. JACK MACKENROTH IS A REMARKABLE MAN. A MAN OF ALL TRADES.
Jack, we have come to know you as a man of many trades. model, athlete, fashion designer, TV and radio celebrity, HIV activist… But who was Jack Mackenroth while growing up?
Jack: When I was growing up I was VERY small and androgynous. My first year in high school I was the shortest student in my class—including all the girls. It was torture. I always played with girls and liked “girly” things and I was teased a lot. It used to really bother me. But as an adult I’ve learned to embrace all my insecurities and uniqueness.
This photo shoot was inspired by the Ukrainian boy band Kazaky. They are amazing. They perform in mega high heels. For me it was all about embracing androgyny and my feminine side. I’m sure some people who are used to seeing me with a beard and more “butch” might be turned off but it’s more about artistic expression. Jeff Eason is an amazing photographer. I embrace the gay.
When did you come out and how did you experience it?
Jack: I came out during my first year of college when I was attending UC Berkeley. It is a huge school and it’s very liberal plus it’s about 30 minutes away from San Francisco—which is gay Mecca-- so it was pretty comfortable for me to come out in that atmosphere. I came out to my family the next summer. That was much more difficult. I thought it was pretty obvious that I was gay but my mom was still really surprised. You have to remember that it was 1988 and it was a very different time to come out. We had almost ZERO role models in the media. My brother and sister weren’t surprised. HAHAHA!! It took a few months but eventually everyone was very supportive. My family is super cool.
In the US you gained national fame thanks to your participation to Project Runway. How did this affect your life?
Jack: It was amazing. It was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done considering we filmed the whole season in five weeks and we didn’t have a single day off. I think the biggest impact came from disclosing my HIV+ status on the show. I was the first person to come out as positive on TV since Pedro Zamora who passed away in 1994 and it had a huge impact. It really didn’t seem like a big deal to me but I was very conscious that the HIV community could use a role model. The response was amazing. I still get about two or three Facebook messages a day from people around the world who have questions or concerns about HIV. I’m happy to be a face of the disease. Unfortunately there are really only a handful of well-known “celebrities” that are open about their status that are still alive. I can only think of Magic Johnson, Olympian Greg Louganis, Ongina from RuPaul’s Drag Race and that’s about it. A great guy named Jamar Rogers recently came out on a TV show called The Voice and I hope he makes a huge name for himself. I’m sure there are more activists and many people doing great work who are open about their status but there really aren’t a lot of people in the popular culture. It’s too bad because visibility saves lives and helps fight the stigma. Hopefully I continue to be an example for people living with HIV.
You were diagnosed in 1989, which honestly wasn’t the easiest time. Can you tell us about this period in your life?
Jack: It was really rough. The only medication that existed was AZT and it was very controversial. Everyone was dying. It was absolutely hideous. I was 20 at the time and I honestly thought I wouldn’t live past 25. Many people forget how awful the AIDS crisis was at that time because they are either too young to remember or they are dead or they don’t want to remember because it was so devastating. It’s important to remember our history so we don’t repeat it. AIDS is still a fatal disease without treatment so it’s crucial that everyone knows their status and has access to medical care.
Living with HIV for 23 years, you are a shining example for many men and women who have been diagnosed as well. How do you do it and how do you feel being in that position of being a lighting beacon?
Jack: Well I am very lucky—I know that. I responded very well to the early medications. I also take care of myself in a proactive way. I adhere to my medications and I also exercise a lot and try to eat right. I also do yoga and see a therapist, which helps with my overall wellness and mental health.
Jack, one of your big projects at the moment is your upcoming book, Making Lemonaids. What can you tell us about that?
Jack: Actually that is still in the works but it’s currently on hold because I am launching a dating website and mobile app for HIV+ men. I really can’t tell you too much more than that right now but we go into beta test phase on August 1st and hard launch on September 1st. (Pun intended)
The book is a sarcastic, snarky memoir about my life experiences, growing up gay, living with HIV and becoming a reality personality. It’s a hilarious hot mess. I hope to finish it this winter.
A little bird whispered in our ear you are currently single. What does a men need to do/be/have to get your attention?
Jack: Well that little bird is about 3 months behind on the gossip. I’ve actually been dating someone seriously for a while now.
Going back to the beginning: model, athlete, fashion designer, TV and radio celebrity, HIV activist and writer… what’s the next thing for Jack Mackenroth?
Jack: Well I assume that the website will be all consuming this fall. I will be promoting the hell out of it for a few months. Stay tuned to my Facebook page and Twitter (@jackmackenroth) for more information on that as it happens.
I’m also working on an amazing project with many of the HIV activists I mentioned earlier called POZ ARMY. It’s a grassroots movement to reignite the fight against HIV and push for a cure. I am one of the “generals” in the army along with every HIV celebrity you can think of and a ton of activists and other people infected or affected by HIV. We want EVERYONE to be a part of it. You don’t have to have HIV to make a difference.
Further more I will also be at the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. at the end of July. This is all in addition to my “regular” life of training for swimming, hosting the radio show, doing photo shoots and speaking around the country. Thanks so much for your support!! Love you guys. XOOXOX –BM-
Photography by Jeff Eason.
JACK MACKENROTH | BEAUTIFULMAG