A Life Lived in the Fast Lane
But Cory Frederick slows down to take in the view
by John Francis Leonard
Photos by Richard Gasparro
Cory Frederick is a man rich in experience. He’s done, seen, and overcome much in his life and seems to have arrived at a place, at forty, where he’s comfortable in his own skin. That’s no mean feat for a gay man of his generation, even one as blessed with looks and talent as Cory is. He’s a respected journalist and columnist, writing about issues that affect us all. Whether it be HIV, addiction, self-esteem or subjects more political like the misogyny of the new administration, he brings a fresh perspective and a new voice to many subjects. He talks about what needs to be talked about, and often isn’t. He’s done, and continues to take on, mainstream acting and modeling work with featured roles in major series and campaigns. And there’s another facet to Cory, one that he also brings a sex positive message to. Working under the name Rex Cameron, he stars in gay adult films for many major studios. For an openly HIV-positive man of forty years old, that’s an achievement.
Corey grew up in a small, Midwestern town. He attended Northwest Missouri State for undergraduate and MidAmerica Nazarene University for his master’s. He worked for years as a teacher and then decided he needed a change—wanted something new. Not happy with his life, he decided to move to L.A. to pursue a career in acting and modeling, which he did with much success with featured roles in shows such as Modern Family, Empire, and Chicago PD. He’s been featured in modeling campaigns for companies like Joe’s Jeans and Andrew Christian. Along the way, however, lay two major struggles—one with drug addiction, the second with his HIV diagnosis. He says of the time, “There was an intensity to Hollywood and I totally lost myself to that.” There’s a fast lane in Hollywood that many good looking young men go down and it’s powered by sex, drugs, money, and celebrity. He finally hit rock bottom after a days-long coke binge in Vegas holed up in a hotel suite with a major male star. He ended up getting help and getting sober and remains so today with the help of therapy and a new life in a new city.
Another thing happened along the way—he acquired HIV. Looking back on it now, Cory says, “I totally felt that it couldn’t happen to me, even though I was doing all of these reckless things….I look back on it now and can’t imagine what I was thinking.” He had been involved in a relationship, not boyfriends exactly, more of a sexual relationship. Together they were reckless, taking a lot of risks with unsafe sex while doing a lot of drugs. It was a perfect storm and a story familiar to many of us who are HIV-positive. Cory was diagnosed in 2013 at the age of thirty-six.
The tough times didn’t end with that initial diagnosis, however. At this point Cory was working a 9-to-5 corporate job with a conservative firm. His employee group plan didn’t cover the life-saving yet prohibitively expensive HIV medications that he would now need to take daily. He finally was forced to go directly to the pharmaceutical company for free medication.
It was during this period that he began writing about HIV for some national publications. In a piece about Ryan White for the Huffington Post, he outed himself as positive. Soon after, he was asked to step down by his firm. It didn’t silence Cory. He explains, “My voice, and my being open, gives people, especially youth, a better understanding of what reality is when it comes to HIV. But also, when it comes to drug use and [unsafe] sex and their connection to HIV.” It’s in this voice and in this need to inform and help others that he seems to draw the greatest strength.
When he wrote his first article, he was modeling for DNA magazine, among others. He decided to take a break when he received his diagnosis and approached DNA about writing a piece about HIV. He spent three long months writing, wanting to get that story just right. “I wanted every piece to be perfect,” he states emphatically. He wanted to provide a very real account of just what it was like to receive that news. He was blown away by the incredible response. “I never thought I’d be doing it [writing] as a full-time career years later,” he conveys with wonder. That piece set a pattern for a lot of his future work. He would talk about issues both personal to him and many others. Whether it be surviving childhood sexual abuse or adult sexual assault, Cory gave voice to the experiences of many.
Before we talk about his career in the adult industry, I ask Cory his thoughts on the way gay men objectify and sexualize each other and its links to HIV transmission. He is quick to point out that those experiences, while common in our community, are hardly unique to them. “Ask any woman about being objectified, “ he insists. Cory is an extremely attractive man working in gay porn—a business that glorifies those who are hyper-masculine, with great faces and perfectly muscled bodies, not unlike what most of mainstream gay culture has overwhelmingly become. But Cory is incredibly unaffected and almost guileless in his own way. He says he’s often felt like he’s nothing all that special. He takes advantage of his looks, but isn’t consumed by them.
The adult films are a fairly new development. Living in L.A., he’d had offers before but had never pursued them. Finding himself out of a full time job led him to give it a second look but on his own terms and as an actor living with HIV. He said to himself, “How do most gay young learn about sex?” The answer was gay porn and he saw it not only as work, but as another opportunity to educate. Despite barriers for positive actors in the industry, he has found featured work and much success with studios such as Hothouse and Lucas Kazan. Ultimately, he enjoys the work and enjoys conveying a sex-positive message to the audience. He’s in control of his sexuality in an industry that can, at times, be exploitive. Writing as Rex Cameron, his alter ego, he says of the experience, “Fulfilling fantasies on the down low is more detrimental than most are willing to give credence to. I wanted to be a small part of changing that. If I can fulfill my fantasies then you can talk about yours without being vilified…”
A year ago, Cory folded up his tent and moved to Chicago. He’s happy to be out of L.A. and in a city where he can pursue both his writing and mainstream acting roles when he can. He is also involved in his community. He’s currently in training with the organization The Center on Halstead to provide support to vulnerable LGBT individuals in Chicago like homeless youth and the elderly as well as lending his time and name to various fundraising efforts for the center and other organizations. It gives him a better feeling of home than L.A. did and is a place where he can see settling down in a relationship and starting a family. So far in life he’s made quick work of going for what he wants, so I don’t doubt for a second he’ll do the same this time.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.