VIRAL ILLUMINATION is a new event concept created by romantic and artistic partners Elijah Mckinnon and Vasilos Papapitsios to celebrate HIV+ artists and allies. The event will highlight the intersection of art, culture and activism in order to build a world that works towards abolishing HIV stigma and builds opportunities for people to learn, empower one another and cultivate joy.
So for one night only in Los Angeles, join us for this evening of performances, installations, music and more from artists, advocates and disrupters working to destigmatize HIV, uplift pleasure and champion underrepresented narratives.
But before the main event, we sat down with the creators of the event to get all the tea on the night—and also hear how the two creators balance love and art.
INTO: Tells us about yourselves as a couple? How’d you meet?
Vasilios: We met on an interdimensional spaceship fighting interstellar crime.
Elijah: Okay! That’s actually not far from the truth, though.
Vasilios: [Laughs] Okay, so we met in Chicago in the beginning of December 2016. I was performing in a show called Queer, ILL + Okay. This was my first time engaging with people about being HIV-positive. Elijah was wearing all black and I saw them from across the room on opening night of the show.
They were kiking with all of the girls—a very typical Elijah thing—and my performance partner told me that “Elijah was the girl to know” so I sashayed over to this vixen in black. I introduced myself and the rest was history.
INTO: So, as a serodiscordant couple, what’s the biggest hurdles you face?
Elijah: From my perspective, all relationships have a revolving door of challenges or obstacles to overcome but my negative status and Vasilios’ positive status is not one of those. Since the beginning we’ve been incredibly open and transparent. I mean, I met him doing a ritual that involved him bathing in faux blood.
As a couple that is not only serodiscordant, but interracial, non-monogamous, and long-distance I think that one of the core components that has strengthened our relationship is our commitment to communication and approach towards topics like our status.
I’d been working in the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy space for a few years on projects like Open TV and PrEP4Love before I met Vas so his status never really was something that needed to be navigated, especially because of tools like PrEP and Treatment as Prevention (TasP). I advise anyone experiencing hurdles in a serodiscordant relationship to take a closer look at the hurdle because often times it’s something more internalized like systemic stigma, fear and trauma.
Personally, my hurdles are not because of our respective statuses, they are from my past trauma from ignorant people and me steal healing from self-stigmatizing behaviors that come along with HIV: not feeling worthy of love, intimacy and pleasure because of the stigma that is systemically ingrained in an HIV-positive persons psyche.
The hurdle is me getting free enough to allow someone like Elijah to love on me, enjoy fucking with and empower me to live my best life.
INTO: How is is collaborating as artists, producers and lovers?
Vasilios: We collectively decided that it would be best to solidify the roots of partnership before opening up a collaborative portal. I’m happy that we took our time to really understand how we compliment one other’s process.
Over this past year, we’ve been able to better understand what we both have to offer. For instance, I’ve taught Elijah how to relax and live in the moment while they have taught me how to apply practical form and function to my wildest dreams. We are balanced. We don’t take energy from one another.
I teach Elijah how to let go and he reminds me how to grab hold. Our collaborative journey is just beginning through Viral Illumination but just like every aspect of our relationship, we are learning through love.
Elijah: What Vasilios said x’s 10. I’m really excited to see where our journey as collaborators, artists and lovers take us because we have totally different approaches to just about everything, so their is always a healthy discourse. When we hit a rock or something challenging we just step back and start dreaming.
Oh my god, I totally sound like one of those queers that is in love.
Elijah: Simply put, we are EMPOWERING one another at VIRAL ILLUMINATION and we hope it trends. We both often joke: “Everyone wants to go viral but no one wants to be viral.”
Through this event we want POZ artists and allies working at the intersection of culture, art and activism to be seen and heard. We want POZ folks to be prioritized and ideally feel comfortable and lighter in their own skin. As a curator and cultural producer for queers, femmes and people of color, I want folks to leave events feeling inspired, more fulfilled and armed with resources to thrive.
Vasilios: It took me years to find community and I want to create a gang of POZ people and allies. VIRAL ILLUMINATION is where is all starts. I want our allies to see us and come sit at our table for once.
Poz people were humans before we became positive. I want the conversation about being poz to be accessible to everyone, including poz people. Through this event I want us to advocate for one another to unite us in this viral thread.
INTO: So, what does the name of the event ‘viral illumination’ mean?
Vasilios: VIRAL ILLUMINATION is a play on viral culture and how the internet for millennials is integrated into our lives much like a virus integrates into a human body. Thinking about how the positivity we are conveying with this event can spread virally across culture. Thinking about how to illuminate the stigma around HIV so that we can move beyond stigma and shed light into the virus so that it isn’t as heavy.
Thinking about shifting the perspective on HIV, on virality, on stigma, how we interact IRL/URL and the positive impact that can create for a global network of poz people and allies.
Elijah: Wow! That’s so real. At the end of the day, we inherited fear and stigma. It has been conditioned and programmed into us. It has gone viral and now we have to reexamine this intergenerational pain and trauma through a fresh outlook.
For the first time in decades the paradigm is shifting and we have a profound reunion with intimacy, pleasure, and joy.
Keep up with Elijah (@elijaa_) and Vasilios (@yungmouse) on Instagram for more updates about their event + RSVP here for FREE entry to VIRAL ILLUMINATION on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 from 8-12am at Navel in Los Angeles.