Acknowledging the “real possibility of dying just by going to work,” Dr. Carlton Thomas’ arms slowed and clasped each other, in studied calm. I instantly understand why his reassuring voice paired with his facial expressiveness lend themselves to gaymous and TikTok success as a Queer sexual health educator.
Talking via Zoom, Thomas arrived punctually, but casually. He wore a black tank top promoting the newly released Bros movie by Billy Eichner. More aware of our limited time, Thomas shared how time during the pandemic inspired him to go from a regular Gay dad to amassing over 3.5 million likes and more than a quarter million followers on TikTok and feeling like “Daddy to the Gay community.”
Dr. Carlton, as he’s known on socials, speaks with his whole body. His arms, eyes, eyebrows, mustache, and lower lip all move as separate but complimentary syntax. His hands seem to move randomly, but guide information as if you’re part of his thought process. He furrows his brows when questioning or presenting novel information. Both his eyebrows shoot up in emphasis.
With a neat, full beard and broad shoulders, Thomas is framed by a grey wall and window with closed white blinds and minimalist trim. Punctuating Thomas’ wall, and matching his juxtaposed clean cut libertine energy, a single framed piece hangs to the right of the screen. In the frame, either a snapshot or a good sketch of the back of a shirtless man, flexing his bicep.
Thomas grew up in “the deep south in a conservative home.” He knew he was Gay but he “had a girlfriend at another college.” They talked, but “didn’t need to have a big physical relationship”, Thomas laughed, before sharing how she called him out on it. He would eventually come out at 22 after studying abroad in the United Kingdom.
There, his flat mate came out as Gay to all his friends in one evening. That night, his flat mate come out to nine different people. Nine different times, Thomas saw real-time reactions to someone’s coming out. “Seven of the nine experiences were positive,” Thomas beamed with a smile composed entirely of his arched eyebrows.
Back home, his father developed cardiomyopathy, a heart disease which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood. “I remember I was in that doctor’s office waiting for my dad to be seen”, Thomas shares his fears and pain before talking about the doctor as the “guy who helped my dad.”
“Man, I didn’t even like taking biology when I was growing up”, Thomas admitted with a furrowed brow. Despite that, he was ready to be a guy who helped others himself and he earned his M.D. in South Carolina before completing his residency and fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. Thomas settled on gastroenterology because “it touches a lot of lives across the age spectrum, 18 to 100”. Thomas emphasized, “Crohn’s, colitis, polyps, cancer prevention, ulcers, reflux.”
“My first job was in Palm Springs. I served a large Gay population,” Thomas said. Now based in San Diego for 13 years with his husband, Alexander, Thomas sees mostly low income and immigrant patients, many of whom know English as a second language. His bearded smile turned somber with gratitude for the “wonderful people on this Earth who don’t have a lot”, and trust and rely on him to have a healthy life.
Thomas swallowed as he declared, “I have needs, too.” He nodded his head, “I missed serving my Gay community like in Palm Springs.” This is when he put it together. We’ve come a long way from Stonewall, but health inequities persist. Thomas understood that through the lens of a GI doctor, or as he puts it, “butt doctor.”
On social media, Thomas promotes sex positivity by “maximizing our sexual well-being with harm reduction and guidance on how to protect ourselves and our community.” His content covers anything from anal fissures, bottoming, PrEP/PEP, DoxyPEP, and immunizations. He shares clear information to advocate for full STI screenings, specifically that “you have to get a mouth and anal swab for chlamydia if that’s where you play because the urine test won’t catch that.”
He’s done countless interviews and partnerships to promote Queerer sex education, including with Men’s Health Magazine, discussing “lateral pressure”; with the Jacked and Scruff apps filming sexual health and wellness content; and in the Daily Beast’ Sextemper exposé, to name a few.
On May 20, Thomas warned about three cases in Belgium at an event called Darklands. Shortly after, International Mr. Leather Chicago, a fellow doctor began “reporting symptoms and lesions.” Once reports of rectal lesions were coming in, Thomas knew, “this was important to speak on because there was so much confusion and misinformation, especially early on.” He posted awareness videos and people began to message him with symptoms and severe pain reports.
“The number of people needing my help kept growing,” Thomas almost shouted with his hands raised. “July fourth weekend was Daddyland in Dallas,” he continued, “A week after that my inbox had five or six dozen guys who had been there having severe rectal pain.”
Since then, Thomas has been on an indefatigable campaign to outreach to our community, educate providers, share his expertise with policymakers, and pushback on misinformation.
He’s done that through Lives, including with the White House; by sharing information on literally thousands of vaccine sites and locations around the world; and personal peer navigation to vaccine, testing, or care site, through his social media messages. He’s helped multiple local jurisdictions and appeared on various media outlets, including appearances on the Savage Love Cast, and various news stations.
Notably, he also consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the roll out of a pain regiment he developed through his community outreach.
Thomas laughed before inserting a self-deprecating joke at hearing his accomplishments listed. When asked to comment on his induction as an Out 100 honoree, it was about the work. “Monkeypox infections are down. People are getting vaccines,” he celebrated. “This first really reminded me of the AIDS epidemic, but with less mortality from it. I knew I had to do my part and I hope that shows others the power that social media and one person can have,” Thomas concluded, inhaling deeply.