by Ruby Comer
Matthew Olshefski & Paul Castle
As strippers Tessie Tura, Mazeppa, and Electra proclaim in the rollicking iconic musical, Gypsy, You Gotta Have A Gimmick; husbands Matthew Olshefski and Paul Castle seized the trio’s advice!
Several years ago, Matthew, thirty-six, a concert violinist, and Paul, twenty-nine, an artist and filmmaker, went trekking down the Pacific Coast from their Seattle home. One afternoon, Matthew started plucking his violin on the beach, while the sun was setting and the Pacific waves lapped up on shore. Paul was filming him. Then a glow pierced Paul’s brain! He urged, “Matthew, why don’t you take your shirt off?” Matthew resisted at first, but then embraced it. From then on, Matthew was branded “The Shirtless Violinist.”
A novel idea melding classy sex with classical music! Or as Matthew puts it, “Music and Muscles,” since he’s a self-described gym bunny and passionate about keeping fit. He’s also a trainer and teaches group fitness classes, instructing clients from all over the country.
Those who otherwise would have turned up their noses at classical music can now lift up their eyes in awe. I mean (gulp), what an upper torso this chap owns…my! And when Matthew plays that violin, wow, I explode with chills.
His music vids vary and consist of theme songs from popular TV shows and films, including Star Wars and The Greatest Showman. Since he and Paul are Disney fanatics, Matthew has compiled music vids capturing tunes from Beauty and the Beast, Frozen, and Mary Poppins. The end product is exhilarating and spine chilling. (There’s even Cinderella and The Little Mermaid—with a gay twist!)
Another passion of theirs is being tuned into the epidemic. Paul acted in a World AIDS Day PSA urging people to get tested; while Matthew held a charity challenge on one of his YouTube vids, encouraging viewers to post selfies, giving to a local charity of their choice for an opportunity to be in his upcoming music video.
Both are media savvy, and they’re plugged into all current apps, garnishing millions of views. (Their daily TikToks are imaginative and inspired.) In fact, from their first meeting in June 2016 (they met on Grindr) to their wedding on December 2019 (in Zihuatanejo, Mexico), you can follow their love story scrapbook, “Grindr to Grooms,” online.
Matthew began violin lessons at age three, while living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His family moved a lot, but he spent most of his youth in the Midwest, even forming a trio with his younger brother and sis. Matthew has accompanied such icons as Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban in concert, performed solo shows (he loves doing live shows!), and teaches master classes. His fave composer? Bach . . .of course! In his spare time, Matthew listens to classical music.
On the other hand, Paul favors Sam Smith, Adele, and The Decemberists. The artist is from Vancouver, Canada, but mostly reared in Washington State. He works as a painter (including commissioned work) and illustrator. But he faces a life challenge. Paul has retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a rare eye condition from which Paul will eventually lose his sight. Diagnosed at sixteen, currently, he has fifteen percent sight remaining and uses a white cane or Matthew for support. Ultimately Paul will obtain a guide dog. On his downtime, he teaches art classes, runs marathons, and drinks green smoothies! Paul is presently writing and illustrating a children’s book.
Matthew knew that Paul was legally blind before they met. After they met, love was evident, but Paul’s condition certainly presented a rational issue for Matthew. He sought advice from his supportive father.
Matthew’s dad explained that Paul could have been diabetic, in a wheelchair, or HIV-positive, but all of this is a part of love. “You could have met someone with no issues and then they get hit by a truck. You don’t know what will happen.” Matthew agreed that this was not a deal-breaker, and realized that, “Hey, one day I could be ill.”
After my visit to the hands-on all-encompassing grassroots AIDS organization, Lifelong, in Seattle (providing services for over thirty years), I drop by to see the duo in their lively home. Due to Paul’s condition, much of their home is white, but they have splashes of dazzling reds and blues, with many live plants strategically placed. Then of course the walls are filled with Paul’s whimsical paintings. Sitting on a Beekman eggshell colored armchair, I recognize the space as background for some of their vids. Paul offers coffee, since they are both self-admitted coffee addicts!
Ruby Comer: How lovely to meet you artistic boys! [They beam, sitting next to each other on a rust-colored sofa.] Oh guys, you are all over social media. I personally find it daunting and exhausting. How do you do it?
Paul: Matthew is more disciplined then me. I’ve learned a lot from him. He looks at everything in terms of Lego blocks—doing it one little piece at a time, not thinking about the end product. Learning from him to break it down has kept me sane.
Hmmmm, you complement—and support—one another….
Paul: I’m a dreamer and Matthew is based more in reality. He grounds me and I pull him up in the clouds a bit.
That’s a healthy balance. What comes up for you when I mention the epidemic?
Matthew: As a gay man, I often hear stories about the beginning of the epidemic in the early eighties. The feeeeear…[he draws the word out with a moan.] I am deeply affected by those stories.
Paul: Several years ago I lost a friend to the epidemic. His name was Richard and he was a very sweet man. He helped me get one of my first big art shows, and he was very active in the LGBTQ+ community. [Paul clears his throat.] Loved by many people, Richard was only fifty-five when he died.
Heartbreaking. Damnit all. How did you first hear about AIDS?
Paul: I have a memory of being a young boy and hearing about another boy who was rumored to have AIDS. I learned much later that this was completely fabricated, but being a curious child, it prompted me to ask my parents about AIDS. They told me it was a disease transmitted through blood, and that was the end of the conversation. I would continue to fill in more details, as I got older.
Matthew: [swirling cream into his java]: I have to tell you, Ruby. We were recently in New York City and saw a new play called The Inheritance. It’s set in present day, but discusses the epidemic of the eighties quite extensively. [Matthew takes a sip of coffee.] There’s a beautiful monologue performed by one of the older characters, played by Paul Hilton, and it reduced me to puddles of tears. I’m so grateful this play is on Broadway right now. It’s telling an important story and helping us as gay men connect to our history.
Paul: It was a powerful experience, Ruby, and I left with tears in my eyes. [He takes a moment, as his striking aquamarine neon-blue eyes dampen.]
I’m glad you mentioned that, Matthew. I’m dying to see it. Yes, a theatrical event like this is dire not only for all of us, but for the younger gen to learn of this painful era. Speaking of the younger gen, when you came of age, having sex could mean death. How did that play out for you?
Matthew: I wasn’t scared, but was always cautious. I grew up understanding the importance of safe sex, and it never crossed my mind to do otherwise.
Paul: When I was a teenager I went to live with my aunt and uncle in a rural part of Canada. They were Evangelical Christians, and they had me baptized when I was fifteen.
Oh, Lordy me…[I smirk and raise my bold blue peepers skyward.]
Paul: At this time, I was fully aware of being gay but decided to keep it hidden until I was emancipated at eighteen. Celibacy during my teen years was a simple choice in a small town without other gays. When I turned eighteen and moved to San Francisco, I was extremely cautious and only had sex with my boyfriends. We always got tested first.
Smart boy. Tell me more about getting tested, like how old, what prompted you, and so on.
Paul: Well, I was nineteen. My first boyfriend took me to a clinic to get tested with him. I remember opting for the blood draw instead of the saliva test because I wanted my boyfriend to think I was tough! [He makes a childlike face, reminiscent of the vids I’ve seen where he plays this little boy, Nathan.] Even though I had never had sex before, I was still nervous waiting for the results! They came back clean and I was very relieved.
Matthew: I just felt like it was the right thing to do, like practicing safe sex. It’s all part of the same equation. I felt nervous going in to be tested for the first time, but those nerves were quickly assuaged when I got my results. Still, I think it’s normal to have some concern around it because practicing safe sex is not a guarantee.
You’re so right Matthew. I’ll repeat what you said: Practicing safe sex is not a guarantee you will not acquire HIV. [We all take a beat.] When you two met, how did you broach the subject of STIs? Did you test together?
Matthew: We were very open about it, Ruby! As for testing, Paul was living in Canada at the time and I was in Washington State. Even though we were forty minutes from each other, we got tested at the same time—but not in the same country! [My painted-on eyebrows arch and my lips smack.] Paul’s results actually came back faster than mine. We had a bit of contest to see whose would come back faster. I guess the Canadian medical system works quicker than ours!
Endearing story. Take heed readers. Boys, what do you do when depression crops up?
Paul: Erm, that’s tough! When I was younger, I reached for something to dull the feeling—alcohol. Sober for five years, I’ve learned to accept the highs and lows as part of life. I ride the wave and simply do the next right thing. I’m also a big talker, so talking about my feelings with a therapist is extremely helpful and healing. [I nod enthusiastically.]
Matthew: Like an animated blue fish once told me, “Just keep swimming.” While I’ve never suffered from depression, when I’m feeling down I take time to process my emotions, but I don’t let it slow me down. I allow myself to feel the feelings, but like Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book Big Magic, I don’t let the emotions take the steering wheel. I acknowledge them, but they sit in the backseat of the car. They’re not even allowed to touch the radio.
I… love…it! What a grand metaphor, Matthew. Name your favorite diva.
Matthew: Adele! [He calls out gently.] Her voice is beautiful and powerful.
Paul: [He shakes his head in accord.] I really admire Bette Midler. I love how she started out playing in bathhouses with Barry Manilow in the seventies. In college, a friend showed me Divine Madness, her live concert movie from 1980. It floored me! She’s a force!
[I breathlessly yell out] Paul, I saw that concert! It was performed in Pasadena! [There’s silence. I look around.] I know, I know, I don’t look that old. [Paul and Matthew grin.] Okay, pick a film you could watch over and over again.
Paul: Any Billy Wilder film…. [He instantly exclaims] Some Like It Hot!
Matthew: I have three: The Music Man, Casablanca, and Bringing Up Baby.
Marvelous. I wholeheartedly agree with each choice! Altruism seems to be in your DNA. Share about your participation with the HIV and AIDS community.
Matthew: When Paul was an artist in British Columbia, he donated paintings to several annual AIDS fundraisers in Vancouver. He also acted in a short PSA, which was broadcast on World AIDS Day several years ago.
Paul: Yes, it was about getting tested. It was a fun experience and I was honored to be part of it. [He pauses.] It’s important for both of us to raise awareness.
I like that M-O. [I briefly reflect.] What motivates you to give back?
Paul: In my boyhood, my mother always talked about the importance of helping people. Whether volunteering my time, money, or talents——it’s just in my bones. It makes me feel good about doing something for others. I’ll always do what I can.
Matthew: We both share the idea of doing your part to be of service to society. It doesn’t have to be big or grand, you can do it in small and unique ways. Imagine how our communities would flourish [Matthew halts then releases a lingering passionate exhale] …if everyone made a small effort.
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].