Michael Johnson - aka Tiger Mandingo - has been sentenced to thirty years in jail for not disclosing his HIV status. Once upon a time, I knew a "Tiger Mandingo". This is my story.
Just over ten years ago, I spent the night with a man I met online, maybe on Gaydar (in the age of the app, does anyone still use websites to hook-up?) He was a professional male model, and although he was nearly twenty years older than me, he had the body of Tyson Beckford in his prime. And so, with Maxwell's Embrya playing in the background (as if I needed mood music) we got down to business. This guy really pushed my buttons. Maybe it was the age gap, his jaw-dropping body (and jaw-breaking- ), his swanky City apartment, his job (A. Fucking. Male. Model), I don't know. But in the heat of the moment (yeah, that's my excuse. Sorry Ma), I went in bareback.
I won't lie. It was fucking incredible. Even though I was at the peak of my playa phase, and had several prime cuts of beef on the go, this was the one. And despite what happened next, my night with the Male Model remains one of my personal Greatest Hits, up there with the Jamaican baller whose girlfriend came knocking during play, and [redacted to protect individuals from incrimination]. He invited me back a week later, and this time, the stereo was silent. Maxwell wasn't around for the shit that was about to come. "There's something I need to tell you," the Male Model said. "I'm HIV-positive."
This wasn't the most welcome news, and yeah, I was taken aback, momentarily, but not for long. I wanted more of that juicy, supermodel ass. So we fucked again. Yes, it was bareback. I figured that the damage had already been, I might as well enjoy myself. I was very young, and very horny.
My irresponsible escapades weren't completely uninformed. I'm a top, and so the risk of contracting HIV through unprotected anal sex is much less than if I were a bottom. In fact, I still find it hard to understand how the virus can pass from a bottom to a top, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about it out there, aside from assurances of, "well, it can happen."
In the coming weeks and months, however, the blood slowly drained away from one head, to the other. Yes, my brain took over. What if? I wondered. What if he's given me the bug? Realisation gave way to cold terror, which eventually turned into a sort of grim acceptance of the reality: I had had unprotected sex with someone who was HIV-positive. Despite being a top, I was fucked.
It was two years before I finally dragged up the courage to get tested. The results were negative. I didn't have it. I'd gotten away with it! But two years of my life had passed by in a state of barely suppressed panic. Every cold, every ache, every pain... Was this it? Was it starting? So that relief at "getting away with it" turned to anger. Not at my dumb horny self, but at the Male Model. The more I thought about it, the more I blamed him. Why didn't he tell me? Why didn't he tell me? WHY DIDN'T HE TELL ME?
I wrote an article about the episode, in which I published his full name and pictures. I wanted everyone to know about this evil monster who had tried to infect me. That article remained on KAOS for several years, and I deeply regret it.
Years went by. Three of my closest friends - all of them young, black gay men - either became HIV-positive, or became infected by the virus. At some point I took down the article about the Male Model. And tonight, I read that Michael Johnson - aka Tiger Mandingo - had been sentenced to thirty years in prison for infecting one former partner with HIV, and exposing three others to the virus. I feel nothing but deep sorrow for Johnson, and a burning rage at the judiciary for handing him what can only be described as a cruel and unusual punishment.
So what's changed? Shouldn't I be on the side of his so-called victims? Or am I now biased because my own brothers are now living with this disease? No. What's changed is that I'm not a stupid fucking kid anymore. I grew up. I overcame my anger and realised that it wasn't the Male Model who was to blame for exposing me to infection: guess what, it takes two to tango. The Male Model didn't rape me, just like Michael Johnson didn't rape the men who willingly allowed him to do them bareback.
We were all of us grown men who knew what we were doing, and we all knew that there was risk attached to our sexual escapades. I could have put on a condom when I fucked the male model. I didn't, because it made the sex more pleasureable. My bad. For the pleasure of bareback sex with a college wrestler, Johnson's partners - who bottomed for him - took even bigger risks than I did. But Michael Johnson will pay the highest price. His "victims" will live normal lives - yes, even the one guy he infected with HIV will live a relatively normal life - but this young kid's life has been completely destroyed. He was remiss in not informing his partners that he was HIV-positive, but the real crime is the criminal lack of accountability shown by his "victims". They should all be deeply ashamed of what they have done to him.