He evolved from being encumbered by a back brace to being draped in a hairnet. Okay, granted, this may sound funny but it took my friend, Spencer Trinwith, courage and strength to achieve this awesome transformation. I will explain.
When Spencer was twenty-one, he was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. For four years he was unable to sit, stand, or walk for long periods. He couldn’t work and he had no social life.
What got him through these trying times was his brick-solid focus on his acting career. Eventually, after fusion surgery and a challenging rehab, Spencer received a clean bill of health. Whew!
Losing friends and colleagues to AIDS, Spencer decided to share his wellness energies with
the HIV community. He volunteered at Los Angeles’ Project Angel Food (PAF), where he donned, yes you guessed it, a hairnet. Established in 1989 by Marianne Williamson [A&U, August 2016], as an outreach to the AIDS community, today PAF serves 600,000 meals a year to those who are living with any serious illness. Marianne, David Kessler, and Louise Hay [A&U, April 2010) held the first PAF fundraiser, collecting $11,000—nearly $25,000 in today’s dollars.
Spencer, thirty-three, was raised bicoastal, part time in San Jose, California, and Washington ,D.C. The only boy in the family, he has six sisters. Okay! Currently single and living in West Hollywood, in summer 2020, he will appear alongside Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman:1984. He landed this role one week after his medical team gave him a green light!
You can also catch Spencer in Veep, King of K Street, and Law & Order: SVU. He’s toured with Hedwig and the Angry Inch playing guitar and has played bass for several indie rock bands in New York and Los Angeles. Spencer also performs standup at L.A. comedy clubs.
He’s involved with other charities, as well, championing programs to help those who don’t have the ability to pay for their medical bills. (What’s wrong with this country that we don’t have paid healthcare for our people? Don’t get Ms. Ruby started!)
I saddle up with Spencer at my fave Asian fusion eatery, Kung Pao, in West Hollywood.
I order my usual chicken and broccoli with white sauce; Spencer, the pan-fried noodles with chicken and veggies. I indulge and get the hot garlic eggplant, too!
Ruby Comer: Honey, I have to tell you, with your name I’ve always want to put “Lord” in front of it: Lord… Spencer… Trinwith. It’s just so regal!
Spencer Trinwith: I know! [We chuckle.] I have always wanted to have a Roman numeral at the end of it.
Who were you named after?
My father was a huge fan of Spencer Tracy. I look at his movies with a lot of nostalgia because I would always watch them with my parents.
Oh those movies Spencer made with Katharine Hepburn! [I reminisce, looking out on congested Santa Monica Boulevard.] When did you first hear about the epidemic?
I remember hearing about it when I was young when my father talked about his co-worker and friend, the school principal, contracting HIV. Even at that age, my parents were very candid with me.
I like your parents! How did this affect you?
Well, the principal called an assembly. It was chilling and heartbreaking. He announced that due to his illness he’d be stepping down. He had an amazing rapport with all of the students. It was an incredibly somber day.
I knew the full story, of course, and I was taking note of how the adults at the assembly were reacting. It gave me an understanding of how serious this really was, that maybe some of the other students didn’t get. He passed away shortly after he retired.
That was a grueling time.
When people who have an already bigoted sentiment towards the LGBTQ community, the HIV label allows them to double-down on their bigotry.
True. [The waitress pops by, brimming off our water glasses.] Spencer, how do we blast stigma out of today’s world?
Stigma, in my eyes, means fear. It’s impossible to take an informed stance on something when you’re driven by fear. Once you take the fear out of the equation, you have the capacity to be empathetic, which, I think, is the key ingredient in abolishing the stigma of the epidemic.
Hear, hear. How were you educated about HIV prevention?
From the time of elementary school to high school I was taught sex-ed. I feel that’s incredibly important not to tiptoe around those conversations.
[Spencer takes a sip of green tea.] When you meet a person for a date, how do you broach the topic of STIs?
I feel it’s important not to be precious with that conversation. I think that’s the respectful thing to do for yourself, and the other person. It’s your health—honor it!
I used to work with PAF in the early nineties. If I pop by the facility where will I find you?
You’ll find me in the kitchen prepping and packaging meals! I enjoy the instant gratification of knowing the meals that I’m preparing are going from kitchen to people on the very same day.
You are active not only in HIV causes but others as well, such as a fundraiser for the Las Vegas shooting victims not long ago. What motivates you to give?
I care because it wasn’t too long ago that I was someone who seriously needed help. For years, I was living with a physical disability that was looking like a life sentence for me; it prevented me from acting, having a social life, or being spontaneous. I was lucky enough to have a second chance and that compelled me to want to help people reach their highest potential.
Fair enough. What did you do for those six years you were in pain?! That’s a long time….
It’s amazing what you can get used to. I got embarrassingly good at several video games. I was trying to make the most of my situation. I had a very specific routine that I had to follow, deviating from it would mean I would be in excruciating pain.
Did you experience depression?
Through this I learned how intertwined physical and mental health really are. They are one and the same. I know that writing music was a huge remedy for me mainly because I was creating art even with my limitations.
Creativity—a vital outlet, my lad. What do you see as parallels to your former condition to others who live with life-threatening illnesses?
Sticking to a treatment plan is mandatory, as well as being monitored by a medical team.
In one sentence, tell me what…you…learned about this challenging period of your life.
Be your own champion! (He tightens his arms and zooms his fist to the sky in joy.)
Name one word to describe yourself.
I hear the word “Ridiculous” often. [I grimace and throw-up my semi-weight-lifted arms, questioning.] Let’s go with that, Ruby.
Okay, “Mr. Ridiculous…” [I toast him with my sparkling water.] You’re dressing for a date, where do you carry your condom?
All I’ll say is: Gents! [He takes a profound inhale and then let’s out a Greta Garbo sigh.] Don’t leave your protection in your car or in your wallet. The prolonged exposure to heat can destroy it.
Follow Spencer on Twitter @SpencerTrinwith.
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected].