Dr. Tony Mills, International Mr. Leather 1998, on HIV, sex in the leather community and winning the IML competition.
BY PAULO MURILLO
TONY MILLS MD has had a medical practice devoted to holistic healthcare, focusing on nutrition, exercise and the wellness of gay men, since 1999.
With over 5,000 men under his care—half of whom are HIV positive—Dr. Mills has developed one of the largest clinical research centers in Southern California for HIV and hepatitis. He has also developed a line of natural products—beneficial to overall wellbeing.
However, despite his many accomplishments in the medical field, to many in the gay leather community, Dr. Mills will always be International Mr. Leather (IML) 1998.
In an interview with THE FIGHT Dr. Mills discussed what it means to be a leather man, HIV, safe sex in the leather community and winning the IML competition.
“Leather men and leather women are very creative. For us, it’s always been about more than just the sexual act itself… In some ways the leather community was really on the forefront of safe sex.”
DID YOU THINK YOU WERE OF A CERTAIN PEDIGREE TO COMPETE AT IML?
That’s funny. I guess in retrospect I had a pedigree. I didn’t realize it at the time. In our community it’s really about your influences. Who are the people you know and who do you have a relationship with and who’s helped you to learn and to become the person that you are.
IS IT LIKE A BEAUTY PAGEANT?
It’s a contest. Looking over the roster of winners, certainly beauty wasn’t always the number one criteria. It’s really more about being comfortable in your own skin.
WERE YOU OPEN ABOUT YOUR HIV POSITIVE STATUS WHEN YOU COMPETED FOR IML?
Yes, I was. I was diagnosed back in ‘87. I was in good health until about 1996 when I woke up in the middle of the night and the bed was soaked. I had a high fever and I thought, oh yeah, HIV, I forgot. I was very fortunate that it happened at a time we had just figured out triple combination therapy.
HOW DID THE LEATHER COMMUNITY RESPOND TO YOUR BEING HIV POSITIVE?
People were overall very positive about it. I think it was at a particular moment where… after having gone through this incredibly dark period really for almost two decades when HIV was uniformly fatal and to suddenly be at the crest of an era where there was hope. I think that’s why I really wanted to be so open about it.
IS THERE A DIVIDE BETWEEN HIV POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE GUYS IN THE LEATHER COMMUNITY?
I think maybe less in the leather community than in the general gay community because the leather community is always based on acceptance. There may still be some preferences as far as serosorting and wanting to have sexual contact with people who are of the same serostatus. I think people have learned to not judge and to accept.
IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, HOW DO LEATHER GUYS APPROACH SAFE SEX?
Leather men and leather women are very creative. For us, it’s always been about more than just the sexual act itself. I think for people who are positive–even during that time when there was still a fair amount of fear, there were a lot of things that you could do in the leather community that were erotic and exciting and fun and new and bonding with your partner that didn’t put you at risk of HIV transmission, so I think in some ways the leather community was really on the forefront of safe sex.
WHAT SHOULD SOMEONE EXPECT AT AN IML COMPETITION?
The thing that I love about leather events is the camaraderie. A lot of it has to do with their own inner personal acceptance with who they are and their commitment to the leather community. How do you show your commitment? How do you reach out to help other young gay men who are struggling with their sexuality? I think that’s what really makes a leather man.
For more about Dr. Tony Mills and his medical practice visit: www.tonymillsmd.com.