by Ruby Comer
What a countenance! Those peepers, those dimples, those lips, those chiseled lines. He even has a beauty mark. Frank Gehry couldn’t have designed a better artifact, and Ryan Gosling has nothing on this man! The camera simply loves this handsome baby face—and so do I.
I feel like a high school girl with a heavy crush! Talk about eye candy. Well… the pretty mug belongs to Jonathan Miles. After watching him in his debut film, More Than Only, I know this actor has a fruitful career ahead. I soared with tears and with giggles throughout the delightful breath-of-fresh-air motion picture. Written and directed by Michelle Leigh, it’s about self-realization and finding love despite a bigoted family.
Jonathan plays the lead, Justin, a confused college student who covers up his hurt and anxious feelings with a whacky, please-love-me personality. Think Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Justin soon meets a compassionate nurse, whom he falls hard for, and so begins a circuitous fun journey.
My infatuation with Jonathan Miles leads me to Portland, Oregon, where More Than Only was filmed, and Jonathan resides. After the New Year, even though COVID-19 flying restrictions and requirements remain intact, changing nearly daily, I forge through it all as I want to find out more about a local ASO, Cascade AIDS Project (CAP).
Come to find out, Jonathan is involved with Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), an LGBTQ+
Equality organization, which has strong connections with CAP. According to BRO Development Director, Margo Martin, “Both organizations share missions of uplifting, empowering, and centering the lives of underrepresented populations in Oregon, including, but not limited to, those living with HIV/AIDS, LGBTQ, and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) folks. Our efforts are varied and our approaches are different, but we are united in our goals of making Oregon, and the country, a more equitable place for all. We work in tandem on shared state legislative goals, partner on community events, and serve on a statewide LGBTQSIA+ leadership roundtable.” Jonathan is proud of his affiliation with such powerful, vibrant, and compassionate groups.
Turning forty later this year, Jonathan was raised in and around Oregon, including costal regions and the storybook landscape of Mt. Hood. He has two sisters and two brothers. One sis took her life when Jonathan was ten; his other sis is more interested in drugs than being close to her brother, as Jonathan puts it. One brother is also not interested in family ties, and the other bro is an extreme right-winger. Jonathan leans totally in the opposite direction. Jonathan lost his parents in 2020, his dad to cancer and his mom to COVID-19. “Thank goodness for chosen family!” says Jonathan, referring to his partner and close friends.
When Jonathan was a preteen, he saw the film Philadelphia. It made an indelible impact on him watching Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington portray their characters, up on the big screen, and speak about AIDS. It was a first for Jonathan. Indeed, the film was one of the first mainstream films about the pandemic. It was a “first” for many people back then.
Mr. M. started off college by majoring in Civil Engineering then switched interests, and graduated from Portland State University with a bachelor’s in English, focusing on Journalism, with minors in Women’s Studies, Film Studies, and Middle East Studies. He’s also studied acting and clowning with various troupes and theaters.
Jonathan identifies as queer and describes himself as pansexual-bisexual. He lost his V-card to a girl while a freshman in high school and then a couple of years later to a boy. Through the years he’s dated many people, including guys living with HIV. He has been married to Jade (a cis female) for over ten years. They met fifteen years ago at a party through an ex-boyfriend of Jonathan’s. It was love at first sight! Jade is also pansexual-bisexual. Gee, yours truly wishes she were built this way—“attracted to folks on every part of the gender identity spectrum,” as Jonathan explains.
This husband and wife team also are kid-oriented. They tutor their nieces and nephews one day a week. Early in their relationship, Jonathan and Jade ran a preschool and daycare out of their home for a few years. For a brief time they were short-term foster parents for teens who had been adjudicated and were attending a rehab program as an alternative to juvenile detention. Humanitarianism is an integral piece of Jonathan’s spirit and comes natural to him as his upbringing was rooted in helping others.
Meeting Jonathan was even more than I anticipated. My hot girl pants were cooled off nearly immediately as I found Jonathan’s humbleness and humor surpassing his attractiveness. We meet at his cozy, rowhouse studio apartment, not far from Portland center. Perched on his comfy sofa, with one of his two cats, Chromeow and Cameow, curled up beside me, Jonathan offers me a cuppa joe. He’s admits to being a “coffee addict” and enjoys drinking green and chamomile tea as well.
I rapidly discover that Jonathan is simply… well, snappy, sassy, spunky, and sultry. In a capsule, he’s just a hunky hoot!
Ruby Comer: [We both sip our coffee, Jonathan across from me in a small simple armchair.] I’ll be honest, Jonathan. [I timidly gulp.] I was smitten with you in More Than Only…[His face becomes a bit crimson as he shyly glances down, looking like a cuddly puppy dog]. I also enjoyed your stellar performance.[I take a quick breath.] Well, tell Ms. Ruby about your first HIV testing.
Jonathan Miles: It was your classic college health center experience, a general STI screening during a blood drive on campus. Nursing students jabbing everybody with needles, taking blood, giving cookies, and saying “Your results will be back in a few weeks.” And, then I’m like, “Results?” And they’re all, “Yeh, we’re also screening for STIs.” And, I’m like, “Oh! Bonus!” After that, I started getting regular screenings. [He pauses then reveals] I was honestly just too arrogant at the time to think I was going to test positive for any STIs. You know, young, dumb and full of myself.
I think we were all young, dumb, and full of ourselves. And my gosh, that’s quite an out-of-the-ordinary first time. Okay, glad you were healthy. How did you first hear about the epidemic?
Gosh, as terrible as it sounds, the first time I heard the word was probably through some crude schoolyard joke. Most of what I knew about AIDS was from inaccurate rumors until we started sex-ed in middle school.[He stirs his java and recalls] I was in grade school when Magic Johnson announced his diagnosis, and I remember there being a lot of negative reactions from people around me. But, thank goodness for sex ed in schools, because I certainly wasn’t going to learn anything useful at home, or from friends my age.
It sounds like you had a pretty decent education about HIV in school.…
And as a result, I was fairly diligent about safe sex by the time I was sexually active. There was an emphasis on countering some of the worst myths about AIDS, such as transmissibility and so on, but on the flip side, I think the stigma around being queer was amplified by a lack of education around the virus. Although I had teachers who were teaching us that you can’t catch it by sitting on a toilet seat, they were also presenting HIV as a problem that mostly affected the gay community without providing the relevant socio-cultural context for those statistics.
Ah, yes, that was unfortunate, but quite familiar in those dark times. You dated several men living with HIV. Were there any challenges?
I don’t think of it as being a challenge so much. I mean, if anything I was safer with them because they were so diligent about safe sex when we were dating. [Jonathan sweeps through his bronzed wavy locks.]
That makes sense.
There were a couple times getting tested after dating someone who was positive that I felt nervous. I don’t know if I would call it “AIDS anxiety” or not. I was pretty good about safe sex by the time I was sexually active with boys, but I was more aware of the possibility that I could get it.
Holy jumpin’ catfish, that’s terrific. Do you have friends who are living with HIV?
Yes I do.
How do you lend support? Have you learned anything through them about this disease?
Well, I just try to be a good friend and be there for them when they need me. [He judders to a stop, his chocolate-hued eyes swelling large.] One friend who is positive has definitely lectured me about safe sex. I think an ex of an ex once let it slip that I didn’t have a condom on hand and had to beg one off a roommate in the middle of, you know, stuff. My friend was like, “You’re so dumb. They literally give condoms away at the bars. No excuses.”
He was a smart boy!
Just last year, Ruby, a dear friend of mine told me that they were uninvited to a social distanced gathering because of their HIV status. The hosts were feeling “extra-cautious” because of the COVID pandemic. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Fuck them!” (The Oregonian is pissed yet maintains his composure.)
When you have sex with guys, Jonathan, when do you broach the topic of STIs?
Immediately. I mean, as soon as sex comes up anyway.
Goody-goody. You are a first-rate example. You need to come around to the schools with me when I do prevention outreach, Jonathan! [Just then, his Chiweenie dog, Nymeria, lumbers in the room and brushes up against Jonathan. He pets her.] Say, who’s your hero in the AIDS pandemic?
Freddie Mercury! [He passionately yells.] I believe his death brought people together, which helped destigmatize the disease. [A big smile breaks across Jonathan’s fresh peaches-and-cream face.]
Agreed. Loved Freddie. I am a massive Queen fan! [I take a beat.] I also believe he-man pinup boy Rock Hudson opened people’s prejudiced eyes as well. [Jonathan crosses his legs in a lively manner, reminding me of his character Justin, as his foot bobs up and down.] How have you kept sane during lockdowns, Jonathan?
Have I? Maybe I have. [He offers with a quizzical look.] I started seeing a therapist through video chat. I wish I had found such a queer-positive, progressive, and empathetic therapist when I was younger but I feel incredibly fortunate to have found them now.
Hooray for you! Not easy finding a therapist that meets your needs, or any professional, really, when it comes to that.
Since COVID-19 hit, I’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in work as an actor so I make “to-do” lists just so I have something to cross off every day and feel productive.
[I interrupt quickly] …lists?! Oh my god, that’s my middle name, Jonathan. [He agrees by tilting his chin and extending arms upward!]
On the flip side, I’ve been fortunate to have a few very meaningful projects to work on during 2020. We filmed a fan-funded sequel series to More Than Only. So far we’ve filmed six new episodes, with the latest scheduled to be released on YouTube early this year.
Oh, glory hallelujah. I can’t wait to see them! Speaking of therapy, I have a very close relationship with depression and anxiety. How about you?
This is a daily thing for me, Ruby [states Jonathan softly]. I’ve experienced chronic depression since I was about ten years old. I can’t say that I always cope with it in the best, most healthy ways. But, one thing that I’m learning to do every time I feel it creep in is to try and remember that I love myself. I then remember to be kind and compassionate with myself.
That is healthy…and thanks for being upfront and honest.
Well, over the years I’ve developed a ton of coping mechanisms including regular exercise, meditation, smoking pot, binge watching TV, and on and on. [I eagerly nod in agreement.] The main thing that helps me is to remove the negative self-judgment associated with “unhealthy” coping mechanisms. At the end of the day, depression is going to be with me for the rest of my life. I can beat myself up about it or I can be nice to myself and just keep moving forward the best way I know how.
Wise choice. Sounds like you’ve evolved, and that’s a plus in my book. You indeed are a giving person. Where did that originate?
My folks raised me that way. We would volunteer at homeless shelters, neighborhood activities, and church functions. I never vibed with the religious part of church but I really loved the community service aspect of it. We had summer programs for kids, the preschool I attended was in a donated part of the church building, and we “rented” out space for free to AA and NA groups in the evening. I remember making pancakes for a church fundraiser with my dad and asking him why the church always needed to raise money. He told me, “If a church isn’t hurting for money, it isn’t doing its job.”
Ha, that’s one way to look at it, yep. Leave us with a lasting thought, Jonathan!
[He sits back, briefly pondering.] Just that people should remember the lessons of ignoring a virus because they think it might not affect them. A lot of young people seem to think that COVID-19 isn’t going to affect them. [Jonathan takes a strained breath.] It just seems to me, Ruby, though I am no authority on this topic, there’s a parallel between the way straight folks viewed HIV back in the day and the way young, otherwise healthy, folks are talking about COVID-19 now….
Who was your first teen celebrity crush?
Johnny Depp. Not a fan now, but little pre-teen me absolutely loved 21 Jump Street!
What’s your best asset?
It’s…myyyyyyyyyyy…sense of humor. Yeh, let’s go with that.
Name a film that you could watch over and over.
The Family Stone. I watch it every Christmas!
What have you recently binge-watched?
RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13, and The Bob Ross Channel (The Joy of Painting).
What’s the first thing you do in the morning after you rise?
I’ll have my coffee and read the news. Eventually, I hit a moment when the news is just all too much so I set my phone down, eat my Grape Nuts, and just gaze into that man’s [Bob Ross] beautiful, curly fro while he bottle feeds a baby squirrel and paints a gorgeous mountainside.
Give one word to depict Jonathan Miles.
[He fires off a few chuckles and then replies)]Silly.
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].