Pup Havok:I am Pup Havok and I am from Columbus, Ohio.
Gpup Alpha:Okay, we’re here recording at CLAW 2016. I notice that you’ve been particularly busy. What is your connection with the CLAW event?
Pup Havok:I am the vendor model manager. I work with a specialty group of guys who do a lot of the production shows, a lot of the Friday night bingo. We provide live models for the vendors to use, and play dress up, and help drives sales, all that.
Gpup Alpha:Your job is to get the sexy people to wear the sexy clothes and …
Pup Havok:And to get everyone else to spend some money and help the vendors out.
Gpup Alpha:Yeah, to support the people who supported CLAW. So, what’s your connection to the pup community?
Pup Havok:I am a … God, that’s … It was good. It was about three and a half, four years ago when I really dove in head first and met … I had a rugby friend who was also a puppy. I started asking him questions about it. He was always talking about it on social media and whatnot. I then came to CLAW and started meeting folks. I actually did my very first mosh ever at a small bar night here in Cleveland before my first CLAW, which was just three years ago, now. Claw 13, 14. Yeah. I got back to Columbus, Ohio, found a couple of other puppies. We start Cap City Pups. That’s our local pup group down there. I jumped in. I’ve kind of been a leader in doing different things. I competed at International Puppy in 2014, which Pup Figaro won. But, out of him winning and he and I becoming so close, we started Project Touchbase. It’s been a lot of … Different things have happened just by me diving in.
Gpup Alpha:Project Touchbase actually came up in my talk yesterday where we were talking about suicide prevention. Tell us a little bit about Project Touchbase.
Pup Havok:Project Touchbase is a social media initiative, which encourages folks to reach out, reconnect, and touch base. We have a very simple formula. Pick three people you haven’t talked to in a while, shoot them a message that says, “Hey. I’m thinking about you. How’s things going?” You can meet them for coffee. You can do something, but really continue the conversation. One have the things that we’ve learned, especially here in the US is that our community is so spread out. Not all of us come from a very welcoming place. Maybe our home communities aren’t as strong as we’d like them to be. We can feel isolated and alone. By continuing to reach out to the people we only see maybe once a year at CLAW, or maybe every couple months at larger events, it’s a way to keep those bonds and that communication going.
Gpup Alpha:Where did that come from? What led you to want to create this?
Pup Havok:It was actually the loss of [Nizzy 00:03:34]. He passed away. Figaro and I, it was right after we had just gotten done competing at IPC in July of that year. Nizzy passed away. Figaro and I had enough. We’ve got to do something. The northwest pack at that time had lost a lot of folks. They were actually coming into IPC after recent loss. It was very much a sequence of events. Hey, we have this opportunity to use our bond across the country. He’s from Vancouver, Canada. I’m down here in Columbus, Ohio. We have a really great opportunity to do something great for the community at large. So, Project Touchbase was born.
Gpup Alpha:Have you had some successes through this project?
Pup Havok:We have. We’ve had a lot of folks reach out to us through our page on Facebook. Hey, because of something you said today, it made my day better because I was having a really crappy day. We’ve had other folks message the page personally and kind of use it as a Dear Abby. Our inbox is full of stories and messages of folks that are like, hey, you know, today really sucked. You guys don’t have to respond, but I know you’re here, and I know someone’s listening. That helps.
Gpup Alpha:That’s pretty cool. Has it picked up? Have you noticed that more and more people have become interested in the project?
Pup Havok:Yeah. It’s something that we’ve always grown organically. We talk about it. We wear our pins. We move stuff along. But, it’s really up to everyone to continue to keep the conversation going. It’s been really awesome. It’s been a really great experience for myself and for Figaro. It’s been a way to even help us keep in touch. Our lives have gotten predominantly more busy since he stepped down as International Puppy. It’s been good for us to use that as our circle back point.
Gpup Alpha:I noticed that you’re wearing an International Puppy tag. What’s the significance of that?
Pup Havok:Every year, at International Puppy, you get a pack tag similar to how the competitors at IML get their IML medallion as a contestant. We get pack tags. It’s a really important tag to me. I always try to keep it close.
Gpup Alpha:But, it’s not just the Touchbase. You’ve worked in multiple areas within the community that I’ve noticed, certainly within, you’ve done HIV prevention. You’ve put out some information for people who are recovering from substance use. What’s led to the desire? It sounds like you’re keen to contribute back.
Pup Havok:When I got into the community, I was coming out of the roughest point of my life. I was maybe three months completely clean from crystal meth myself. I was still coming to terms with what it meant to be someone who’s HIV positive. It’s something that, yes, as a community, we’re very sex-positive. We’re all about love who you are, love every part of you, but there are still some parts that are hard to talk about. If I can be that person, whether through humour or whether through resources, then why not?
Gpup Alpha:It’s interesting. In Australia, the community’s changing. There was, and to a degree, there still is a lot of discrimination for people who are living with HIV. What I’ve noticed is that PrEP is changing that. Have you noticed a similar shift in the United States?
Pup Havok:I’ve noticed that it’s not going more to the rest of the community. PrEP, since its inception has always been really heavy within the leather and kink communities. It’s starting to filter out and spread out to the rest of the community, which has been great. My partner, he’s HIV negative, recently got on PrEP as of three weeks ago. It was a two year process for us to get him on PrEP.
Gpup Alpha:Two years to get on PrEP? That’s crazy.
Pup Havok:This is America. We don’t have a healthcare system. We have a disease management system. It’s expensive if you don’t have insurance. He finally was able to get insurance through work and everything else. He was able to get it, which has been amazing for us. It was a really good … Hey, we’re taking care of each other by doing this.
Gpup Alpha:Absolutely, within the dynamic of a relationship, I know that I’m yet to meet a single HIV positive person that would ever wish to transmit the virus to somebody, particularly somebody they care about, or anybody. PrEP must be a relief to people living with HIV. To think, well, they’re taking initiative with their own serostatus.
Pup Havok:It is, and for my partner Seth and I, it’s just one more layer of protection. My job as his partner is to keep him safe, keep him happy, keep him healthy. By him getting on PrEP, it’s just one more way for us to do that.
Gpup Alpha:Sure, absolutely. Do you think within the pup community, HIV’s not really talked about, certainly not within my circles of pups. People don’t really feel … I don’t know whether it’s a comfort thing, or some people don’t feel that it’s right to talk about …
Pup Havok:Most people talk about it as they’re walking up to someone’s hotel room. That’s the conversations that I hear. I feel like we need to keep having those conversations. It’s great that my friends and family and people I consider brothers and sisters, every December 1st, they’re on it for World Aids Day, but for me, every day is World Aids Day.
Gpup Alpha:Absolutely. It’s an opportunity to continue a discussion.
Pup Havok:Right, having folks understand that while yes, it’s not a death sentence anymore, we do have some great treatments out there, it’s still rough. Even within this community, it’s sometimes hard to talk about because you still constantly have that fear of is he going to reject me if I tell him. Even though we all … It’s Mr. Friendlies everywhere and everyone knows about PrEP, that mental stigma that we get socially outside of our community is still deep-seated.
Gpup Alpha:Absolutely. I was really thrilled that just through wearing a Mr. Friendly shirt while I was earlier in my travels, that I was able to open a conversation not only about pup play, but also about HIV and the person felt safe enough to be able to talk about their HIV status. If anybody is brave enough to have that conversation, it can’t be easy. I say, thank you. I really appreciate you telling me. I’m on PrEP, and your status is your status. It’s a private thing, and I appreciate the fact that you felt safe enough to share that. I just wish that everybody would be able to give those sort of responses. I don’t think everyone’s as cool as … Not saying I’m cool, but I’m saying that I’m friendly. I’m open to whatever. This is where I think Mr. Friendly is good.
Pup Havok:Mr. Friendly is amazing, just to even start conversations. When it comes to just wearing, I’ve worn my Mr. Friendly shirt to local punk shows. They’re like, that’s a really cool design. What’s it about? I’m able to talk to folks who are never going to set foot into events like CLAW or IML or MAL or Folsom, and have those conversations with them. Then, they now know the story. They know the message of Mr. Friendly.
Gpup Alpha:Absolutely. Is there much resources for gay men who have struggled with substance misuse or abuse?
Pup Havok:The only resources that are in the US that I’ve encountered are going to be your 12 step programmes.
Gpup Alpha:I’ve often found them quite cold because they’re generally religious-based.
Pup Havok:Yeah. When I first started to clean up myself, I went through. I was going to 12 step meetings. It was good for a while, but it’s so faith focused. A lot of gay men have issues with organised religion because of what they’ve done to our community with their beliefs. It’s this weird … How can I be safe and be open to talk about something that I’m dealing with when I don’t know if I can trust the person sitting next to me because they’re always talking about their higher power. It’s all about finding the right kind of folks. I know that locally we have a CMA group back home that meets at our local LGBT centre twice a week.
Gpup Alpha:What’s a CMA?
Pup Havok:Crystal Meth Anonymous.
Gpup Alpha:You don’t have to answer this question. I’m not asking people to bleed all over the floor, but what did it take for you to make a decision that things had to change?
Pup Havok:It was my younger brother. I come from a very large family. I have a lot of brothers and sisters. A lot of them married folks who already had kids, but my younger brother, the one who’s directly behind me, his son was the first one we got to anticipate. It was a really exciting time for my family. I was really jazzed, even though I was still strung out. I was really jazzed. He told me that if I wanted to see him, I needed to shape up. That was one of the things … There were a couple of other events that led up to that. I have a really good friend who’s in the community here who I was living with for a time when I was getting started down that road. He noticed it way before I did, and kicked me out. Definitely showed me some tough love. It’s only been within the past couple years we’ve been able to reconnect. I’ve been able to look at it … Thank you for seeing what I couldn’t. Thank you for showing me that there were going to be consequences.
Gpup Alpha:You’ve walked the road, but none of us are experts in everything, right? What would you recommend to a gay man who is struggling with substance use?
Pup Havok:Find a reason other than yourself to do it. There are still days, even now, where I have a couple years under my belt clean from crystal meth. There are still days where it’s hard, where I think about using, or I have a dream that really shakes me, or I want to. On those days, Seth, my partner, keeps me sober. My friends keep me sober. On those days, it’s hard to do it for myself because I don’t feel like I’m good enough.
Gpup Alpha:Events like this, I imagine these are a pinnacle point where a lot of people will use substances.
Pup Havok:Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve never seen crystal meth here at CLAW or know of its presence at any other events, but I’m not dumb enough to say I’m sure it’s not sneaking around in somebody’s room. These events are centred around alcohol. There’s a minibar in every corner. If alcohol is your vice, these events are going to be hard. The one thing I will say about CLAW is there’s been 12 step meetings every day, at least one or two sprinkled throughout the programme. That’s something that I really admire about being a part of CLAW, as someone who’s gone down that path of recovery. I know that, well yeah, we’re about the parties and we’re about the bars in every corner. We’re still offering space to folks that need it.
Gpup Alpha:Absolutely. The other breath is that CLAW is offering an education space as well. There are fun events. There was a pup mosh last night that was a heap of fun, and a pup pool party, pup pup pup pup. You couldn’t swing anything without hitting a pup. I think to have on the other side of that coin is you are creating an environment of sharing of information. I think that’s always going to be a really big plus to any event. You’re creating the community, right? That’s been certainly my experience. It’s been really good. I’ve learned so much from having the opportunity to hang out with people who really know their shit. Where do you see the human pup community in the next five to ten years?
Pup Havok:It’s going to continue to grow. Puppies bring a really unique energy to any event. I was talking to a couple other lead volunteers like myself. It’s funny that you look around at the volunteers, a lot of them are puppies. A good portion of our volunteer pool for CLAW, which is all volunteer-run, is puppies. We bring a solid energy to it, which is amazing. I’m hoping that energy is still there. I will probably be on the side of the mats.
Gpup Alpha:Did you get time to charge down and enjoy the experience?
Pup Havok:I get moments. My beta, this is his first big event. First mosh ever was last night. I took him out on the quiet mats and did some one on one time, got him used to it. Paired him with another puppy that I know and that I trust to have them some one on one time. Then he did a small group. It was a really good stepping into it to ease his anxiety about things.
Gpup Alpha:It could be quite intimidating. I must admit, I found it interesting that to walk into the mosh pit last night, I had to physically push three rows of observers out of the way. I find that interesting. Why do you think there were three rows of people watching the pups play?
Pup Havok:Because while puppy play in the US has exploded, it’s not often that spaces like moshes happen. A lot of the local groups will try and make it happen, and large events will try and have a space for that to happen, but not every pup group can do that. Not every large event or small event has time for a puppy mosh. It’s been really awesome. We have a really great group of title holders within the puppy community who’ve been really great about getting out there and getting down with everybody, which has been nice. It’s always, for me, as one of the old dogs of CLAW, it was nice to look out and see [Incus 00:20:52] and [Kona 00:20:53] down there with everybody else, which I think sets a really good tone for puppies as a whole. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, what you do, if you have a title, what your title is, I’m still going to get down and romp with you. I like that message, and I hope that continues.
Gpup Alpha:Why do you think pup play is so popular?
Pup Havok:Pup play has given a lot of young men and women a safe and easy way to explore kink and figure out who they are sexually. There are no hard and fast rules with puppy play. If I was trying to come into this community as a boy, there would be a list of things that … This is what a boy does. It I was trying to come in as a sir, this is what a sir does. These understood rules, which even within those roles, all that’s subjective. But, with puppy play, oh, you’re a puppy? Cool, come on, let’s go. That’s pretty much it. It gives folks a way to jump in and explore in a safe way and really figure out who they are.
I came into the larger leather kink community as a leatherman, found puppy as a place to grow and make mistakes where it was okay. I’m not going to do it right the first time. I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to break protocol, whatever that means. I’m going to do things wrong. I’m going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person, but puppy gave me a way to make mistakes and have it be okay, and learn from it, instead of coming in a different way, and not having that opportunity.
Gpup Alpha:I think there’s the oft-spoken about issues. There were some rowdy pups last year, right? This year, from my side of the room, everything seemed to be running very, very smoothly, very, very efficiently. But, even in the talk that I presented, we know that pups are going to be pups, right? They’re there to be trained, but we have a lack of handlers. It’s almost like we need … It’s the Tupperware drawer, right? There’s all of the bottoms, but not enough tops.
Pup Havok:Also sounds like Cleveland, but it’s okay.
Gpup Alpha:Nothing wrong with being the one top in the drawer sometimes. Do you think that maybe as part of the community engagement is that we actually need to cultivate handlers as much as we need to cultivate pup.
Pup Havok:I think we need to cultivate handlers, we need to cultivate pups, but we also need to start identifying our own. Find the pups who’ve been around for a while who don’t need to mosh every time there’s one around. I was talking to a local pup here in Cleveland. We both jumped into this community the same time. We were making the joke last night that the older we get, the more time on the sidelines we have. We’re okay with that, because that becomes our role. You’ve got to teach everyone and share what you know. If there’s a lack of handlers, an older, wiser, more experienced pup can fill that role for an evening. It doesn’t mean that he’s a handler all the time, but I’m helping this new pup get acclimated. I’m showing him some best practises.
Gpup Alpha:If you had a new pup, somebody who was young, wanting to explore and learn more about human pup play, what would you recommend for them?
Pup Havok:I always recommend a myriad of things. We live in the world of the internet. There’s lots of amazing resources out there. We now have Woof, which has been almost the standard text, the go-to, but we also now recently have Bark, which is now more updated. This is where we are now. I encourage folks to get out there however they feel comfortable. Go to a bar night. Find someone on FetLife or Facebook or somewhere in between. Ask questions. You don’t know what you don’t know.
Gpup Alpha:Exactly, exactly. Sometimes you’ve got to get out there to get your feet wet before you get your paws in the mat. Cool. If somebody was wanting to contact you to talk about whether it’s Project Touchbase or being a pup or a variety of other topics clearly that you’re keen to engage people with, what’s the best way for people to be able to contact you?
Pup Havok:They can find me through Facebook. I’m on there. You can type in Pup Havok. End it with a K, not a C. I’ll pop right up.
Gpup Alpha:H A V O K?
Pup Havok:H A V O K.
Gpup Alpha:Cool, okay. Well, thank you very much for your time. It’s very appreciated. Yeah, appreciate what you’ve done this weekend for the CLAW community.
Pup Havok:Thank you. It was a pleasure.