Time to Smile
Things are finally starting to turn around for Mark Morris. He never had a perfect life, but after decades of domestic violence, prostitution, homelessness, and becoming HIV-positive, Morris is now, at 46, at a point where he can approach the obstacles that come into his life with courage, strength, support, and finally, a smile.
As a result of an abusive 20-year relationship, Morris needed cosmetic and dental surgery; scars covered his face, his nose was crooked and jagged after having his face kicked in, and his teeth seemed to be beyond repair. After searching the Internet for resources for domestic violence survivors in Southern California, he did not find many leads or inspiration until he came across the nonprofit group Give Back a Smile, which helps connect those in need with philanthropically minded dentists.
Michael Fulbright, DDS, a Redondo Beach, Calif.–based dentist, has many pro bono cases under his belt. He learned about Morris through this organization and decided to donate his time and resources to help reconstruct his smile. He will be working with his team to give Morris back his lost teeth and replace broken-down fillings in hopes of raising his confidence and self-esteem.
“It was my hope that I could take my skills at being a cosmetic dentist and apply those to people in need while giving back to the community,” said Fulbright, “and by volunteering for this program, I am healing the effects of domestic violence by providing free consultation and dental treatment to restore the smiles of survivors of domestic violence.”
For Morris, however, there was a long and painful journey before he crossed paths with the dentist who would change his life. Morris fled his conservative home in Minnesota at age 15 and settled in Key West, Fla. Shortly thereafter, he contracted HIV. With no income or place to stay, he resorted to prostitution. During this time, he formed a relationship with a man named Pierre, a drag queen and fellow prostitute whom he dated for almost a year. While the relationship was not abusive, Morris began to experience abuse on the streets as a sex worker.
Morris has recently finished an autobiographical book, Looking For Love Under Landmines, which is over 300 pages and documents the trials and tribulations of growing up gay in a conservative environment, childhood prostitution, and finally gaining some closure on domestic abuse that lasted over two decades.
In addition, Morris spends at least five days a week performing music on Hollywood Boulevard — channeling gay icons such as Lady Gaga and Madonna. Of his love for music, he stated, “I love to perform; I love to embrace who I am and many artists, Lady Gaga specifically, has improved things for those in the LGBT community. She is making it a priority to make acceptance inclusive to all people. With my new smile, I can finally sing with complete confidence.”
As domestic violence is often portrayed as a male aggressor/female victim type of crime, both Morris and Fulbright want make people aware that everyone — male and female, gay and straight — can be vulnerable to abuse.
“Once I received Mark’s case, I was initially confused; I saw that the name was male, but realized it was correct once we called the patient for his initial exam. I have to admit that stereotypically, I think of victims of domestic violence being female,” said Fulbright. “Once I met Mark and he told me his story, I realized what a great opportunity I had to treat such a nice man and help him restore his life, while hopefully bringing gay domestic violence to the mainstream so that these people can get the care that they so deserve.”
Mark Morris and his husband, Larry, currently live in Los Angeles. His book, Looking for Love Under Landmines, is available by contacting [email protected].