[Editor's Note: XXL interviewed several people—including author Terrence Dean—to discuss homophobia in hip-hop in the 'Break It Down' article featured in the July/August 2011 issue. See below for Dean's reaction to the piece.]
Hip-Hop’s Open Closet Secret
BY TERRANCE DEAN
This year has truly turned out to be the year of gay revelations, scandals, and the universe’s attempt to balance an imbalanced scale in hip-hop. On April 4th, popular New York DJ personality Mister Cee was arrested for sexual lewd acts with a man, (his third arrest actually), and although he claimed it was the NYPD’s attempt for an elaborate cover-up and “take down” of hip-hop’s elite, Cee plead guilty to such lewd acts (Guess they weren’t singling him out). On April 17th, “straight” rapper Lil B sent the hip-hop world into a frenzy when he announced plans to title his upcoming album, I’m Gay. Critics and fans alike have already christened the album a classic despite their hesitations of B being able to deliver lyrical latent content with dope-ly head-banging produced beats to make even non-gay men stand up and recognize his true genius and talent (Snap for the kids!). Then on May 15th, CNN’s beloved news anchor, Don Lemon ‘came out’ and went public revealing he’s gay (A gay news expert in which hip-hop heads get their daily news).
Most recently, comedian Tracy Morgan went on a rant during a comedy routine in Nashville, Tenn., and stated that he would stab his son to death if he found out he was gay. That’s a pretty harsh and drastic measure to take, especially as a parent. I’m certain Morgan, who’s a high profile celebrity in Hollywood, and who works in an industry filled with gay men and women, would’ve been more mindful and sensitive to the very community of people who’ve helped to build, maintain, and sustain the very industry in which he makes his living.
Yes, we are the directors, producers, stylists, actors, singers, rappers, songwriters, managers, executives, crew people, publicists, and agents who shape this industry. Yet, like Morgan, I’m certain many hip-hop heads, or fans, don’t think of the very gay people who have given celebrities a platform so they can have a career. And, I’m certain they don’t think of the very people who’ve paved the way for them to get where they are. Yet, Morgan’s statement is not only a reflection of the state of mind of how many Black people feel and think, it’s also a reflection of how fear cripples us a society.
It’s a delicate dance when we speak about gay men and women in the entertainment industry. There are many who are closeted, or “out” to a select few friends and family members, but when their colleagues go on homophobic rants insulting, and even wishing death upon someone for their sexuality, it truly prevents us from moving forward as a society. Why? Because Black celebs feel they have no safe place to be their true authentic selves without someone criticizing, judging, or demeaning who they are.
Let’s take for example when Queen Latifah played a gay character on the VH1 hit show, Single Ladies, in which she serves as executive producer. On the July 11th episode, Latifah’s character, not Dana Owens herself, is outed because she admits in a magazine article to having a sexual encounter with Stacey Dash’s character on the show. And, instead of allowing the moment to define her character, not Dana Owens herself, she uses it to advance her career. But, Queen Latifah’s character, not Dana Owens herself, makes a publicized television announcement and surprise, surprise, she dances around her sexuality instead using it as a moment to take the conversation and issue to task. (Sidebar: Was this Queen Latifah’s attempt to actually come out herself, and use the guise of the character to do so?)
Look, the reality is that homosexuality is a taboo conversation in our communities. People are afraid to discuss the topic, and if they do some do it with so much venomous hatred that it leads to people being bullied, and in some instances, suicide. It’s time for us to have an intelligent discourse on homosexuality. It says a lot about our communities when we continually attack someone based on their sexuality. And, this is a great time for us to come together with Black and Brown leaders, churches (Definitely Bishop Eddie Long’s mega-church, New Birth), and the LGBT community to have a, Gay In America dialogue. It would be awesome if people did finally speak up and say something. That is how conversations begin. That is how a dialogue is created.
This controversial topic has plagued our communities, and world, for a long time. And, despite the many hush-hush conversations, or speculations of a certain celebrity’s sexuality, not one Black celebrity has come forward. Not one has publicly announced they are gay. Why? You mean to tell me that in this day and age of us having a Black president, and a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ that not one Black celebrity will come forward and be who they are, and love who they desire, without fear of judgment or ridicule?
We had a missed opportunity when popular New York radio DJ and music producer, Mister Cee, was arrested for having lewd sex acts with a man, and even plead guilty to the charge. He’s been mum on the entire situation, and, though it would’ve been a courageous and brave position for him to take a stand and speak out on homophobia in hip-hop, he did what so many men, and women, who feel threatened by the broader landscape of heterosexual, male machismo, and high testosterone tossing bravado—Mister Cee shied away from the topic. If we continue to hide, then we make it appear shameful. There is no shame in who you are. God designed and created all of us in his image, and if I am a creation of God, then respect me and show compassion and love just as I do for you.
But, can we blame Mister Cee? The hip-hop community was in an uproar, and the messages of hate spewed over the internet of how no gay person has a place in hip-hop. Really? No gay person can have a place in hip-hop? I think a lot of people will be disappointed to learn that much of the music, style, and culture is influenced and created by gay people. By the way all you fans of hip-hop, many celebs and people who work in the entertainment industry are aware that their colleagues are involved in same sex relationships. It’s just not common or public knowledge.
So, yes, the reality is that gay men and women are in hip-hop. We are very much ingrained in this culture, and have contributed to it in ways you’ll never imagine. You’ll even be surprised to know that hip-hop not only started in the Bronx, but there were gay people right there at the inception of the movement. And, many of those lyrics you chant and reminisce to from years ago to present day, uhm, yeah, we spit, rhyme, and wrote those, too. In the words of Beyoncé, “Who run the world? Gays.”
*Terrance Dean is the author of Hiding In Hip Hop, and the new novel, mogul. It’s available in bookstores everywhere and at Amazon.com.