By Ernie Manouse
His hair may be brunette, or blond, or at other times it may be pink or purple. He may be clean-shaven, or sporting a beard that any mountain-man would be proud of. But there is always something in the eyes, in the tilt of the head, that tells you, unmistakably, that you are looking at international model Gabe LaDuke. “Sometimes I’ll be asked to grow my beard long, or shave it,” says LaDuke, “but usually I just change my look for fun.”
Or maybe it is just the tattoos—lots and lots of tattoos! “The tattoos started when I was 19. It was mostly because of skateboarding culture that I was hyped about them,” explains LaDuke. “I found they always looked so cool on the other dudes. Then a really good friend of mine started training as a tattoo artist, so I had very easy access. It’s still an ongoing project for me—I’m not sure when I will be finished. I’m currently working on my back piece.” A lot of people have deep, sentimental ties to the body art that they have, but for LaDuke, “my tattoos are mostly for decoration. They don’t have a deep meaning behind them, but they remind me of the time and place when I got them done.”
LaDuke’s time and place began in a very small town outside of Montreal. “I grew up in the woods, with my mom and her girlfriend, and my sister . . . and a lot of dogs. My mom bred bulldogs, so there were always dogs around.” As far as being raised by a lesbian couple in the mid ’80s, LaDuke says, “I knew it was different, but people never bugged me about it.” Gabe’s father also played a part in
his upbringing. “My father lived only 10 minutes away, so I got to see him every second weekend.”
LaDuke was a well-behaved kid “for the most part,” adds LaDuke. And like a lot of kids, he wasn’t very interested in school, but loved sports. Growing up in the Montreal area, where more than 50 percent of the population speaks French, the English-speaking LaDuke went to a French school for the first half of his education, but then finished up his studies at an English school.
Then at 16, skateboarding came into his life, and things began to change.
“At 16, I started skateboarding and got consumed by it. I moved to Montreal when I was 19 with some friends—finding work along the way, and skating!” At 24, LaDuke was ready to take the next step. “I went into business, opening an indoor skate park with a skate shop. I operated it for four years, closed it, took a year off, and then opened another, smaller one,” which he ran for an additional three years. But another change was coming.
“My boyfriend at that time had an art gallery that was hosting some of the works of photographer inkedKenny, who had just moved to Montreal. I was helping out, serving wine at the preview party, and got to hang with Kenny.” Kenny saw what the rest of the world would eventually notice—that special something about Gabe that allows him to command attention in any photograph. “After that evening,“ adds LaDuke, “he asked if he could shoot me, so he definitely was the one who got me into modeling.”
Together, Kenny and LaDuke would produce a number of amazing shots that would became part of the art book The Men of inkedKenny (Bruno Gmuender, 2014), with an extreme closeup of LaDuke gracing the cover. And with that, his new career was born.
“It kinda just took off from there. Different photographers started contacting me to model for them. I was getting to travel and meet and work with amazing people. The part I enjoy the most is working with new people and seeing new places. It also keeps me motivated at the gym to keep my body looking good. There is a lot of work involved.”
But it isn’t always easy. LaDuke also enjoys bartending at L’Aigle Noir (Black Eagle) in Montreal’s gay village. “Waking up at six in the morning after working all night is always tough. The toughest time was when I was scheduled to do an interview with Kenny. I had worked the whole night and also drank a lot. I got three hours of sleep and had to wake up to go do a live morning TV show at six. My head hurt so badly, but somehow it all turned out okay.”
Don’t let that story fool you. LaDuke is dedicated to doing what he has to do to produce great art. “I go to the gym almost every day, and I’m also very disciplined with my diet. I wake up and make my morning shake—fruit, coconut milk, and some protein powder—then I’ll eat two eggs. I get coffee on the way to the gym, and then I am ready for my workout. After the gym I usually go to eat right away—vegetables and chicken or fish. I don’t usually eat supper after that; I’ll just snack on some sliced meat, endless amount of veggies, and pickles—I’m addicted to pickles.” And what about carbs? “I’ll have carbs like once a week.” Discipline! “To look good on camera,” adds LaDuke, “there is a lot of prep. I usually will not eat much for two to three days before a shoot, so my stomach looks flatter—which is tricky because you still need food to have energy, especially when you’re working out. Rest is important, but rather tricky when you are flying somewhere to shoot. Also, drinking water is important so your skin is not dehydrated. But at the end of the day, it’s all about angles, good lighting, and a photographer with a good eye.”
As his body of work grew, so did the attention, “I guess people do recognize me.
Usually they will say something nice, or sometimes they say which look they prefer on me.”
Being recognizable can also create difficulties with living life in the public eye and choosing how much to share. “I’m very open about my lifestyle.
I’m very out there, which has been problematic for the commercial side of modeling for me. Big brands will look on your Facebook page and do some research on you before they will hire you for a shoot,” comments LaDuke. “You represent their brand, so any kind of negative feedback looks bad for them.”
What lessons has Gabe learned that he can share? “I suggest to anybody looking to get into modeling to be careful with what they post and what they get tagged in, on all forms of social media. I do find it a little frustrating when people have a negative opinion of you before even meeting you. But, as soon as you put yourself out there, you are inviting that kind of attention.” Personally, says LaDuke, “I choose to embrace it. I say bring it on. I know who I am, so think what you want.
“Growing up,” says the openly gay LaDuke, “I was very sheltered from HIV. I am very lucky. I came out to my family and close friends when I was 25, and I didn’t start going out to [Montreal’s gay neighborhood] until I was 30. By that time, most people that were HIV-positive were on medication, so it was much safer.”
As with his diet and workout regimen, LaDuke believes in being as healthy as he can be in all aspects of his life—including PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, the once-a-day regimen that is 92 percent effective at preventing HIV. “Yes, I am on PrEP. I made the decision to choose to take a pill, rather than run the risk of contracting HIV and then having to take a pill every day to stay alive. However, PrEP only protects you from HIV, not the rest of the stuff that’s out there. So you still need to make educated decisions. For me, it works.”
Today, Gabe LaDuke is using his fame and celebrity to reach out and educate people around the concept of “Knowledge Is Power,” encouraging people to get tested so they will know their HIV status. “Today, we can all live a full, rich, long life, but to ensure that for all of us, we have to know our status. Getting tested is not just a good idea, it is the way we will eventually eradicate this disease.”
In support of this mission, LaDuke will visit Houston for the first time to participate in the in AIDS Foundation Houston World AIDS Day celebration on December 1. “I’m super-excited to come to Houston and be part of this. I love to see new places and meet new people.” LaDuke will appear at AFH’s World AIDS Day Luncheon at the Hilton Houston Post Oak, and in the evening at Guava Lamp, where AFH will be offering free HIV testing. LaDuke will be signing autographs and taking pictures with those who attend. “I’m super honored,” says LaDuke, “to be part of this fundraising lunch and the evening’s educational outreach event.”
To find out more about free HIV testing, AIDS Foundation Houston’s World AIDS Day Luncheon, or the Guava Lamp evening event, visit aidshelp.org. Follow Gabe LaDuke on Instagram at @nodigity666.
What: Celebrate World AIDS Day with AIDS Foundation Houston and international model Gabe LaDuke, along with a vendor fair and fundraising raffles. All proceeds will go to AIDS Foundation Houston.
When: December 1, 7–10 p.m. Free HIV testing starts at 7 p.m.
Where: Guava Lamp, 570 Waugh Drive
Details: No cover, 21+, free on-site parking
Ernie Manouse is an eight-time Emmy Award-winning TV presenter, producer, and host of the PBS series InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse. Manouse can also be seen touring the country with Al Pacino in their stage interview program Pacino: One Night Only.