When Ryan Dixon was 13, his Baptist dad went through a backpack and found a picture of his son and a boyfriend. He met Ryan after school with the preacher. “My father said I would die of AIDS and go to hell.”
Eight years later, Dixon of Wilton Manors contracted HIV having unprotected sex in gay porn films. “I often thought about the words my dad said to me,” he said. “It felt like, ‘What have I done in life? Is it karma?’”
Dixon — once known as porn star Kameron Scott — is documenting his life with a weekly column, My HIV Diary, in South Florida Gay News. Saturday night, he will record a World AIDS Day 2012 vigil in Wilton Manors for his website, QueerChannel Network.
“He symbolizes to me what gay men should be: open, out and unashamed about how he is and what he has done,” said Dixon’s boss, SFGN publisher and Fort Lauderdale attorney Norm Kent. “Willing to put himself at risk to make a difference for others.”
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Dixon tells why:
“I saw there was nothing out there. There were support groups online, chat forums, but there was no one telling their story. There wasn’t anyone saying, ‘This is what I go through. Here’s what I’m feeling. I can’t go to work because I can’t leave the bathroom.’ There was no one saying that, especially someone my age. I’m 25. God I feel old. In Wilton Manors years, I’m ancient.”
Dixon left home in Norfolk, Va., at age 18, moved to Baton Rouge and enrolled at Louisiana State University. He worked part-time, played college baseball and had academic scholarships. He sought a degree in sports management.
In early 2008, Dixon got a job offer from the Florida Marlins to work in the clubhouse. He quit school and moved to South Florida. In Fort Lauderdale he met a porn-film agent who offered him work.
“He said, ‘Here’s what I can do for you. It worked for my schedule. When the team was out of town, I could film. I made them all over, Florida and Los Angeles, mostly,” said Dixon, who described Fort Lauderdale as a porn “hub.”
“The very first films I had ever filmed were bareback,” said Dixon, who never knew for sure who infected him.
Required for work to be tested once a month, Dixon got his diagnosis from a Nashville clinic.
“I called in to get my results. I was on the phone. [The clinic nurse] was all chipper when I called. ‘Let me get your papers.’ When she got back on the phone, all I heard was big exhale. She was like, ‘Ryan, I’m sorry to have to tell you but the test came back positive.’ I said, ‘Maybe there’s a mistake, I’ll come back and do it again.’ She said ‘No, we’ve already double checked it.’
“I didn’t really cry. It didn’t really sink in until the next day. I honestly thought my life was over. Fortunately, I’m a little bit better educated now.”
Dixon quit making porn. He supported himself as a barista at Starbucks.
In 2008, Dixon met Fort Lauderdale photographer/videographer Bob Kecskemety, who befriended and gave him a place to live. Kecskemety, who died of bone and bladder cancer in May at age 61, bequeathed his QueerChannel company and camera equipment to Dixon, who’s working to turn his life around.
Dixon takes the anti-AIDS drug Truvada and a study medication that still doesn’t have a name. He has a steady boyfriend — also named Ryan and also HIV positive — and a steady job writing for South Florida Gay News.
“One day while I was sitting in a session with a therapist, I kept worrying about what other people would think. She said, ‘You only have to worry for yourself.’ I realized this was nobody else’s fight except mine. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. I put on my big-boy pants and said if I expect anyone to help me, I have to start with myself. I educated myself. I sought out health professionals. And answers to my questions.
“I never set out to become anybody. If I can become the face of what living with HIV is, then good,” said Dixon, who often talks to gay youths in trouble. In 2009, young men who had sex with men accounted for 61% of all new HIV infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“I’ve taken those phone calls, those texts from young people,” he said. The youngest: a 14-year-old boy who contracted HIV from a boyfriend in his 20s.
“When you’re 14 you should be worried about acne and the prom. Not about ...,” Dixon said, his voice trailing off. “All he did was sit there and cry. I cried when he hung up.”