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How the AIDS Crisis Led to the Launch of Nasty Pig 25 Years Ago

Nasty Pig
Frederick Kearney and David Lauterstein (left)

CEO David Lauterstein recounts how stigma inspired him to co-found a clothing brand that signaled queer pride.

I was terrified of coming out of the closet in 1992 because being gay seemed pretty fucking scary thanks to AIDS. Despite all the safe-sex messaging, the idea that being intimate with another man could lead to my death was still a pretty pervasive reality with which I had to grapple.

Yet, remaining in the closet and not being myself was somehow even scarier. So I took a leap and hooked up with another man for the first time that December. Sure enough, the idea that I might have just contracted HIV was terrifying, but along with it came the thrill and excitement of finally getting laid the way I had wanted my entire life. It was beyond liberating. For the first time in 22 years, I truly felt alive. I know that sounds cliche and I'd prefer to express myself differently, but it is the only way to describe the transformation that occurred in my soul. Connecting sexually with another man woke me up.

I began reading everything I could get my hands on that would help me learn about my newfound community. From history to politics to culture to religion, both Eastern and Western, I consumed as much information as possible to connect with this passion I now had for being myself. The deeper I dove, the more I realized that I was tapping into something profound and ancient. However, despite being what I came to see as a necessary thread in the fabric of society, my kind had been systematically oppressed for the past two thousand years. I felt enlightened and enraged at the same time.

Then came a moment in my life that would galvanize its purpose. My new boyfriend Fred took me to my first Pride in 1993, and it blew me away with the same intensity as my first gay sexual experience, which had taken place just six months prior. Here were my people -- misunderstood, so often persecuted by society, battling a war with an incurable plague -- yet still celebrating with a beautiful sense of hope and joy. The pageantry of spectacle and strength that I witnessed that day proved something to my soul: that my people have purpose. It was a spiritual awakening, and at that moment I decided I would dedicate my life to waking up as many of my queer brothers and sisters as possible.

I started a one-man street activist organization called the Metropolitan Faggot Authority. Its mission was to inspire gay people to embrace their queer identity while enlightening heterosexual people not to define us by what we did in bed. For both peoples, for all people, I wanted to let everyone know that we are so much more than what we do under the sheets. But as I tried to artistically represent these two concepts simultaneously, I quickly came to find them at odds. Embracing my queer identity meant embracing my sexuality. It did in a sense define me. I'm not gay because I know how to decorate. I'm gay because I take it up the ass, so why bury the lead?

Now to be clear, I believe that there is a lot more that goes into being queer than just sex, but sanitizing that part of our identity felt like a betrayal. I came to believe that I should reveal my homosexuality for what it truly is. I needed to be exactly who I am for everyone to see, and this made perfect sense because it spoke to something deeply ingrained in me from childhood.

You see, when I was in junior high school, my grandmother sat me down and told me how important it was that I got good grades, work extra hard, and go out into the world being the kindest person possible because I am Jewish. She told me that while I had a very good life in New York City, many people in the world hated us just for being who we are. We settled in the states after our relatives fled the pogroms in Russia and Austria, which were precursors to the Holocaust. She told me I must never hide being Jewish -- because if people like you for who you pretend to be, then one day they will end up hating you for who you truly are.

David LautersteinDavid Lauterstein (right) with his grandmother.

The Metropolitan Faggot Authority morphed into a clothing company for whoever wanted to join me in literally wearing their queerness on their sleeve. That sleeve, along with the rest of the shirt, and literally thousands of other styles over the past 25 years, would be designed by a culture brand, and that brand would be called Nasty Pig.

David Lauterstein is the cofounder of Nasty Pig, an apparel brand that has outfitted the leather, kink, and LGBTQ communities for a quarter-century.

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