Matt Caprioli
Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

“The jockstrap. It’s comfortable. It’s stretchy. It’s generous on your waist. It will always make your butt look good. It’s makes me feel sexy…everyone at some point should wear a jockstrap”—Matt Caprioli on Netflix’s Worn Stories, episode four, “Growing Up.”

Photo courtesy M. Caprioli

When I heard these words uttered from this handsome, charismatic gent, I was captivated. (The series is compelling and innovative.) The subject, Matt Caprioli, thirty-one, was authentic, candid, and just beaming with pride. I sat there riveted to the screen watching his fascinating story about growing up gay in the conservative Alaskan prairie.

Come to find out, the jockstrap was his tool of the trade. You see, in Anchorage and New York City, Matt was a “hooker” (his word).

Hooking came about by accident. At nineteen,

Illustration by Davidd Batalon

while living in Anchorage, Matt was perusing through a gay dating app. A guy contacted him then offered to pay him. Matt obliged, drove downtown to a hotel (the man happened to be the district manager of the hotel chain), and at the end of sex the guy paid him fifty bucks. Matt was astonished. He thought, Hey, this was the quickest, and indeed a delightful method, to rack up capital. He could continue offering his services and it would help pay for college tuition. He did and it did.

In 2012, Matt nearly graduated from UAA (University of Alaska Anchorage) with a literature degree, and a minor in psychology, but still had a math requirement to fulfill. However, feeling overwhelmed because of nearsighted, bigoted right-wingers in Alaska, and because Matt was not completely accepted by his religious conservative mother (he came out to her at sixteen), he decided to move to a grander municipality—New York City! He was twenty-two.

Living in the metropolis, Matt met older guys who lived through the horror of the early days of AIDS. Matt first became aware of the disease at the tender age of seven when he watched Philadelphia, where Tom Hanks portrayed a character living with AIDS. The actor won an Academy Award for his performance.
Listening to his New York friends’ stories who witnessed the epidemic, Matt was intensely impacted. He believes it’s vital to keep these historical experiences alive for future generations. To honor those lives lost, Matt has read such memoirs as Paul Lisicky’s Later and Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time. “Shook. My. Core,” Matt so eloquently states. He continues to delve into that generation’s soul, feeling a strong need to “be with and hear from those who lived that terror.”

Spending less than a year in New York, Matt returned to Anchorage. He partly returned because he wanted to receive his full double major degree, and partly because of a scary episode while hooking. We’ll scoot into that later.

In 2014, after graduating, Matt moved back to the Big Apple. He worked in product marketing, was a financial consultant and researcher at Blue Heron Research Partners, and earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College. In fall of 2020 Matt was hired by Lehman College (CUNY) English Department located in the Bronx. He’s a CCE-track lecturer in writing.

At Lehman, he’s co-advisor to the cleverly named Crystal Queer, the LGBTQ+ Club, where he projects an active voice about HIV and AIDS. Even though New York is a liberal city, Matt believes there aren’t enough spaces around to sanely converse about the HIV epidemic. On December 1, World AIDS Day, the group holds memorials in tribute to those who died from the virus.

Just when you think Matt can rest on his laurels, he bursts into student mode again, pursing an MBA at Baruch College. My god, is there any stopping this go-getter, who’s brimming with pizzazz and chutzpah?! No! Just a few months ago his memoir, One Headlight, was published by Cirque Press.

The tome is a coming of age story that’s also a loving homage to his mother, Abby. Sadly, she died from colon cancer in 2017 at the age of fifty-four. Though son and mother had their differences, they were tied at the hip. And though thorny at first, Abby did evolve and eventually accept her son as gay, recognizing and even boasting to others about Matt’s then-partner, now fiancé, Adam.

Matt with his mom. Photo courtesy M. Caprioli

Today, the couple lives in Queens, New York. They met on Grindr and have been smooching for seven years. As Matt deliriously states, “It’s a modern fairy tale indeed!”

Matt and Adam (left) at ONE HEADLIGHT book signing. Photo courtesy M. Caprioli

Matt’s past intrigues me, especially knowing what it was like being a sex worker in the new millennium and how he navigated safer sex. I happen to be in New York doing work, so Matt and I arrange a meeting by the legendary Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, where hundreds of films have been shot. Matt gets there first and welcomes me with open arms.

Ruby Comer: May I say, my dear…you are more attractive in person ! [He blushes, and then I promptly insert with exhilaration] Tell me about hooking!
Matt Caprioli: Well, Ruby, you live in a fantasy world that is pleasurable, but not sustaining. [He cocks his cranium to one side, looks upward, and is briefly lost in a memory.] I was wined and dined, taken to Broadway shows, and one guy even flew me to Hawaii.

Marvelous. I understand, Matt. I dabbled in the biz early on in my career and found it was a positive guiding force in my life. [I pause, skimming my hand lightly upon the fountain water.] I always preferred being called a “whore,” so as to break the stigma. Just like some gays prefer “queer.” In my youth, “queer” was the worst thing one could be called.
I get it, yes. I struggled with the word “prostitution,” and the idea that I was devaluing myself. I once believed all that Pentecostal and Evangelical line of thinking.

I termed myself “hooker” early on but then when I was twenty-two someone suggested, “escort.” With my religious background, for some reason it made the future interactions easier or more “respectable.” [Matt pauses.] It’s so interesting how heteronormativity and shame factor enter into those titles. [With a pleasant smile, he concludes] For the most part, it was a remarkable opportunity and I value that more audacious whorish side of my personality.

Hooray for you! Talk about your first time being paid while in Anchorage.
Oh. Well, I had no idea how much to ask for. He gave me fifty bucks, which at the time blew my mind. I made that much in an eight-hour shift as a cashier at a baseball park, working in the concession stand. He told me to buy my mother a nice dinner. Without thinking, I blurted out, “You want me to use money I made through prostitution to buy a dinner for my mother?” He smirked and changed the topic. He asked to see me again but I declined.

Matt Caprioli in WORN STORIES. Photo courtesy Netflix

…very endearing yarn. Say, how did you stay safe during this period of escorting?
I was pretty good at screening clients. I didn’t hang out with clients who wanted to party and play or “snow” as one chap called it. I mostly catered to professors, C-List celebrities, academic administrators, bored psychologists, disgruntled mattress or computer hardware salesmen, finance brokers, younger straight men looking to experiment, and so. I’d say seventy percent of clients wanted to use a condom.

Screening that way can be limiting.
[Matt continues] I’m generally very trusting, which is both good and bad. I trusted most of them, cut off those who seemed sketchy, and I didn’t contract anything serious. In fact, what I did contract, Ruby, was from some hot guy I met at a bar—not a client. [He pauses.] I was definitely tested more, about once a month at a city clinic in Chelsea.

Before we get into testing, tell about the bad experience that led to hanging up your jockstrap.
It was May 2013. I was starting to lower my guard and didn’t really screen or ask questions of clients as I once did. A younger client visited me at home. He didn’t want to use a condom. I asked him to, he refused, I said we should stop, and he forcibly chose not to. That violation really shook me and was another factor in choosing to leave N.Y.C. the first time.

Whoa, I’m sorry you had to deal with that. Back to testing…What was the motivation to test at sixteen, and where was it performed?
It was at 4As [Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association] in Anchorage. After a while [using protection] I had unprotected sex with my first boyfriend, plus I wanted the experience of being tested, too.

Tell about your encounter.
Super-nerve-wracking! The nurse asked some standard questions about the number of sexual partners I had, and I recall asking why that was relevant. I was out [of the closet] but uncomfortable answering info about my sex life. He was super curt and said the state needed the information and if I didn’t answer the questions then I couldn’t get the test.…What a jackass. [He scoffs, rolling his eyes.]

Oh, gee, tiresome.
In my teens, I was part of a sex education group, RARE-T (Reducing AIDS Risks Effectively in Teens). [I perk up hearing about this group.] Our members gave presentations to de-stigmatize the illness. I’m still amazed at how many people had questions about toilet seats.

I wanna hear more about RARE-T. Did your high school sponsor it?
I believe the school sponsored it, but I actually don’t recall who funded it. It was school approved, but funding I guess was from a federal source, as my high school was fairly conservative.

Kids in RARE-T were known as loud people who were, counterintuitively, popular because they didn’t care about popularity. They stood up for what was right and always asked, “Why?” when someone cringed. I was surprised at how many students left one of our presentations who later said to me, “That presentation was completely eye-opening!”

I see.
Kids in RARE-T were known as loud people who were, counterintuitively, popular because they didn’t care about popularity. They stood up for what was right and always asked, “Why?” when someone cringed. I was surprised at how many students left one of our presentations who later said to me, “That presentation was completely eye-opening!”

[Gleefully I say] Adam! [Matt beams brightly when I mention his fiancé.] When you and Adam met, did you broach the topic of STIs?
We talked about STIs before we stopped using protection. He had claimed that he never had anal sex on the first date, and I’m pleased to say that I broke his record.

You are too cute. Now when and where can I expect to be invited to your wedding?!
Probably Queens Museum sometime this year.

Splendid. Out of all the narratives you’ve heard from others about living during the trauma of AIDS, what one story sticks out the most?
It was a man who told me that when he was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, that during the summer he attended twenty-five funerals. [Matt gasps and then he swallows hard.]

Damn! [Chills scurry up my spine. There’s a moment of silence between us.] Okay, Matt…lightning round time! One, name your favorite HIV-themed film; two, the daily website you visit; three, your first celebrity crush; and four, your hero in the epidemic.
[He ticks off with his fingers] Before Night Falls; LitHub; Enrique Iglesias [he says joyfully]!; and I have many heroes in the epidemic, but at the moment it’s Sarah Schulman [A&U, August 2021].

How do you keep yourself balanced and sane during this chaotic angst-driven COVID world?
[He promptly declares] Masturbation…and reading.

I’ve enjoyed this time together, Matt. Tell me, what motto do you live by?
Follow your heart… but keep your head. [With that, we walk about five minutes to Strawberry Fields, and are now hovering over the mosaic memorial of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which illuminates off the sun. Fitting.]

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]