Heroes and Villains
CEO & Co-founder
October 28, 2020
Since I was a kid, I have been obsessed with superheroes and supervillains. The idea of their being the most perfect of good people and the most awful of evil people out there makes the world seem a lot easier to understand for a kid. I grew up a gay nerd in a rural town in southern Georgia. In the face of being an outsider in my own community, it gave me comfort to know that a hero would always protect me as long as I was a good person.
Like all childhood fantasies, the more the years went on, the more obvious it was that that fantasy would not come true. I was bullied, made fun of, beat up, and generally ostracized from a very young age. As that part of my life carried on, I became obsessed with a new fantastical dichotomy. The misunderstood hero, who everyone thinks is a villain. Think Magneto from X-Men. Magneto believes he's the hero of the story. He believes that he is the savior of the mutants, who must destroy humanity to protect all of mutant-kind, fearing his people's mass genocide. It was through that lens that I fantasized about getting revenge on my bullies. I imagined having the ability to overpower and humiliate them so that they would feel the pain they had caused me. A once optimistic view of a righteous hero rising above adversity and doing what's right was twisted and warped into a morbid fantasy of punishing those who had wronged me. My story fits the arc perfectly. I was an effeminate little boy, obsessed with science, who sucked at sports and didn't have any friends I could relate to. If that's not the making for a supervillain, I don't know what is.
In my adult years, this way of thinking only got more intense. I literally had a nemesis list, and I am using the word literally correctly there. I would look for every opportunity to get back at people who wronged me. I did everything from spreading rumors about someone who insulted me to posting embarrassing photos of a person I heard through the grapevine said they didn't like me. I went out of my way to punish anyone who came against me, not realizing my actions were a feedback loop that only created more enemies to conquer. Like all people with villainy in their hearts, I eventually became isolated and bitter.
In the summer of 2012, when I was 25, I was diagnosed with HIV. I had always been good about practicing safe sex, so to this day, I have no idea how it happened. Within minutes of finding out, I had this unfamiliar reaction. I wasn't mad. I wasn't sad. I wasn't angry. I just was. There was a sense of absolute peace in my mind about it. I thought to myself, I have no idea how this happened, and even if I found out, it wouldn't change anything, so why bother? Overnight my entire way of looking at the world changed. I entered the "tragic beginnings" hero phase of my life. You see, stories of heroes who have always been a beacond goodliness are a sign of lazy writing if you ask me. Real people grapple in their minds with their life experiences constantly, and those experiences influence how they see the world and interact with the people in it. A hero whose motivation is to prevent others from experiencing the pain and tragedy that they went through is far more compelling than one who was just naturally endowed with a sense of justice and righteousness. Think Batman. If Bruce Wayne's parents hadn't been gunned down in front of him when he was a kid, he would have almost certainly grown up to be a rich spoiled douchebag, which you could argue would have lead him down a rather villainous path. Instead, his parent's homicide motivated him to ensure others never experienced the same tragedy he went through.
For several years after, I dove headfirst into HIV/AIDS activism, awareness, and fundraising. I helped produce educational material and discussion panels about PrEP when it was still in its infancy. I took part in protests of organizations that discriminated against people living with HIV. I founded a fundraising group to raise money for the Los Angeles LGBT+ Center, which is where I first received treatment after being diagnosed. It was an opportunity to use all of those skills I had accumulated in the days where my heart was filled with villainy to fight for good.
In the eight years that have passed since the beginning of that fight, I have tapered down my efforts. Now I focus solely on the part of the cause that I was most passionate about, raising money for the Los Angeles LGBT Center. To date, the team I founded has raised approximately $2M for the Los Angeles LGBT+ center, as well as other charitable organizations. The Los Angeles LGBT+ Center quite literally saved my life. They are my heroes.
That catches us up to today. I started HEART ON with a few friends because the fact is, 2020 has taught us what I learned all too cruelly as a child. No superheroes are waiting out there to protect us. Conversely, the other thing 2020 has taught us is that there are plenty of villains out there waiting to hurt us. Maybe not supervillains, but villains nonetheless. The villains among us in the world have seized on the opportunity brought on by the terrible happenings of 2020 to advance their own wealth, power, and agenda.
So how do we fight the villains that have laid siege to the world? By choosing not to let this year warp us into rageful villains ourselves, and instead becoming heroes. Maybe not superheroes, but heroes nonetheless. The choice is always there for us. Like Magneto or Batman, there is a fine line between what makes a hero and what makes a villain. We can allow pain and loss to make us focus on ourselves and our goals and destroy anyone who stands in the way. We can also choose to use that pain and loss as a motivator to fight the fights necessary to prevent anyone else from experiencing the pain we've endured. We are always in control, and we can always decide to be a hero or a villain.
HEART ON is a representation of that choice. We get it. There are hundreds if not thousands of clothing brands out there. We know people have options that might be more fashionable or cheaper than us. That said, we hope that people see beyond the clothing that they are buying from HEART ON. We hope they see that by making a purchase that dedicates part of its proceeds to causes that make the world a better place, people see the opportunity to be the beacon of good the world needs right now. When we all take small steps to help our communities tackle the great challenges facing us, we see a world that can be saved without the need for superheroes. We see a world where we can save ourselves. HEART ON doesn’t sell capes (yet), but we think that that dedication to doing their part is what makes all of our customers heroes.