September 18, 2016

“Merce” Creator Charles Sanchez on the Wisdom of Charo, Internet Fame & Being an Accidental Advocate for HIV

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Charles Sanchez took a few minutes out of his busy week as a Social Media Fellow at the U.S. Conference on AIDS for some #RealTalk with Jessica Mariona of FHI 360.

Jessica: Who are you?

Charles: “I’m an openly gay, openly HIV-positive writer/performer living in NYC. I’m the writer, co-producer and star of the HIV-positive musical comedy web series Merce, that goes to show that life with HIV doesn’t have to be sad or depressing, or a death sentence – that life can be positive when you’re positive – which is our tagline.”

J: When somebody asks you where you come from, what do you say?

C: “I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, and I moved to New York City when I was 19, and then 11 years later I moved to Los Angeles, and got into a whole lot of trouble there, and then I moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, which was kinda crazy, and that’s where I got diagnosed with HIV. And then about 8 years later I decided I needed to move back to New York – and now I’m living in New York, so that’s where I’m from.”

J: What do you love about what you do?

C: “I think… there’s some unexpected stuff. I love creating, I love writing, I love the fact that my show is sort of subversive, because I didn’t set out for it to be that way. But the thing I like the most is when I change someone’s mind – their preconception about what HIV is, or what a person with HIV is – who that person is changed by either them seeing my show, or them meeting me- because (I say this often) our collective consciousness – we have such post-traumatic stress disorder from the 80s and 90s and from what the HIV/AIDS crisis did to our world. And even through science has made such advances, our emotions have not made those advances as a society – we still have those images of Rock Hudson at the end, and all those kinds of men and women who are dying – so for me to be someone who is like, not that, and showing a modern view, and to see that light bulb go off in someone’s head, that realization is really powerful.”

J: On your worst days, what do you do? Who do you turn to?

C: “That’s a hard one, because I tend to be an isolator on bad days, which is not good – you really should do the opposite. But I tend to want to just be at home, and you know, watching Law and Order reruns. But I’m so lucky to have a great network, and when I need people, I have a lot of people I can call – from my amazing, supportive family – my mother is incredible – and I have amazing friends. And then I have people who are sort of new friends in the HIV community, like Mark S. King, celebrity [he giggles], he’s very famous on the Internet, if you don’t know who he is – he’s been someone who’s a real supporter of my work and the we’ve become really good friends, and that’s really valuable.

J: Why are you here at USCA?

C: “I think I’m discovering more and more why I’m here – I wanted to be more a part of the community, and, I feel like I’m an accidental advocate – like it wasn’t something I set out to do, but here I am, being invited to be a part of the movement in many different ways – from blogging and on TheBody.com and having my web series featured all over the place, and being asked to write and be a part of other artistic endeavors regarding HIV. So I think that being here as a Social Media Fellow is all part of my development as an activist, as an advocate, and it’s teaching me what I don’t know, what I want to know more about. I’m amazed by the trans community, and they inspire me because they’ve been through such hell, and every single trans man and woman that I’ve met has been like funny, and smart and charming, and really cool, and they have such love for one another. I want to learn from them, and know more about them, and I guess that’s what I’m most excited about today, about being here.”

J: What do you love most about yourself?

C: “That’s hard. My first thing to say is that I’m funny, because that’s the thing that I fall back on first, what I’m most confident about. I think that’s what opens a lot of doors for me. I always joke that I hate learning, but I’m learning a lot, so maybe that’s just a joke. I think that I’m very open-minded, and I don’t mind being uncomfortable, and I think that’s the key to learning – is being able to go through uncomfortable things, and hear someone else’s side, and then decide for yourself.”

J: Do you have any words or idea that you live by?

C: “I do, besides the series motto – which is life can be positive when you’re positive – I also like ‘more is more.’ Often when you’re an artist they say that ‘less is more’ and like, subtlety, and I don’t believe in that. I believe that if there’s a piece of cake, I’d like three. And also this quote that love, here it is, it’s a quote from Charo: ‘If you believe in what you do, you’re immortal. The day you don’t believe it, the day you’re taking other people’s opinion, you better go to Tijuana.’ I love that, because it took me a long time to realize that when I’m creating my own work, when I’m writing something, I don’t really need someone else’s opinion. I need to just be true to myself. I’m the one who knows the story. I’m the one who knows the truth about it, and it’s my job is to tell that truth, and to be confident in that story. And if I need other people’s opinions, like ‘Is that it? Is that it? Is that it?’ it’s gonna dilute my message. But it took me a long time to get there. In general, I don’t ask a lot of other people’s opinions, and I don’t really want it [he laughs], because I’m a good storyteller, and I do have a lot to say, and I am funny, and I do have pathos. So I think that’s what it is: trusting myself and my own opinion. It’s the biggest challenge for me, but it’s the thing that I believe in the most.”

On September 17th, 2016, Charles awarded “Best Actor in a Webisode” by the Official Latino Film Festival, held in New York City.

Below are some of the highlights from his time at the USCA.