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January 30, 2015

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Down Low in Hip-Hop

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By Felicia Pride

"It was important for me to continue my double life. One for my career and the other for myself--the real me. Only I didn't know who the real me was. I was so accustomed to living in multiple worlds I often confused myself. As a down low man, I had to make sure people saw me as a heterosexual man; they had to see me with women...Nothing about me could be associated with the gay lifestyle."

So writes Terrance Dean in his new "tell-some" memoir Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry--from Music to Hollywood (Atria, May 2008). Dean worked in the entertainment industry for more than ten years and spent most of that time struggling with his sexuality. He was a "down low" brother who felt like he couldn't be himself: a gay man.

In Hiding in Hip Hop, Dean writes of tight-knit communities of down low men in both Hollywood and the music industry. He writes of thugged out rappers with girlfriends and wives who sneak around to sleep with other men. He writes of down low ministers and in-the-closet R&B singers. He writes of down-low "jump off" parties. He paints a world where sex, lying, and cheating are the norm. He writes of a world where fear, pain, shame, and a lack of self-love are the dominant emotions. He paints a world where masculinity is narrowly-defined, heterosexuality is the only option, and down low men spew hatred toward homosexuals because they hate themselves.
Dean doesn't name names. Regarding his decision to semi-protect the identities of those he writes about, he says, "I have no desire to ruin anyone's dreams or careers. That's not why I'm writing this book. What I'm truly hoping for is the start of a real conversation about why, in this very contemporary day and age, we as black people are still made to feel that we cannot be comfortable in our skin? This is a particularly valid question because there is a sizable community of gay and lesbian White business leaders in Hollywood and they are not ostracized from the industry. In fact, they are considered major dealmakers and power players. Also why is bisexuality and homosexuality still a 'dirty little secret' in the black community?"

Dean raises an important question regarding acceptance of homosexuality in the black community. And in Hiding in Hip Hop, he provides some context for his life by discussing his tumultuous upbringing. His mother was a drug-addicted prostitute who died from AIDS. Two of his brothers contracted the virus and eventually died from AIDS. As a teenager, he was molested by a older male friend of the family. By his senior year in high school, Dean was attracted to men, but felt guilty for his feelings. He would carry that guilt and shame through a large part of his adulthood.

Hiding in Hip Hop could have been a poignant memoir, but when Dean starts to explore some of the deeper aspects of his life, he cuts the discussion short to return to another sexual escapade. For example, when he contemplates that he may have a sexual addiction (which could possibly explain why sex makes up like 85 percent of the book), that thought is quickly dropped to usher in more sex. Then more sex. Did I say more sex?

Sex sells right? If that's the case, Hiding in Hip Hop will be a bestseller.

But let's hope that Dean, who founded Men's Empowerment Inc, an organization dedicated to empowering men of color, is able to spark real dialogue about acceptance and sexuality and that his story isn't overshadowed by booty call discussions and down low guessing games.

Oh that reminds me, for those who really just want to know which celebrities are living double lives, Hiding in Hip Hop provides tons of blind items. Have fun:

Jazz
, "a nice looking brother, had women swooning when his character as a hard-working, married man graced the television screen. His hit show marked a milestone because of its accurate portrayal of African-American family life. The world doesn't want to know that their favorite actor likes sleeping with other men."

Lucas
, "a megastar. No matter what film project he was attached to it was bound to be a box office smash," and Kareem, "a leading sitcom actor, is married to an actress." The film crew took bets on "how often Lucas's 'boyfriend' Kareem would show up and how long he would stay. It was like clockwork; Kareem arrived each day at the same time and went straight to the trailer for hours on end. Our circle was talking about the down low circle Lucas and Kareem were in. But it was a hard nut to crack; they were superstars."

Gus, a singer, attractive with "clear skin, dark eyes, bushy eyebrows, and short, wavy hair did not give way for a thug image. He was just too pretty." "One morning, I turned on my television and I wasn't prepared for what I saw on BET- my boy, Gus, parade in his video with a host of celebrity cameos mean mugging for the camera- I just wondered how he would keep his secret of sleeping with men a secret."

Lola, an R&B singer and songwriter, who was "a staple on the New York scene,partying with big name celebrities" and whose style was "hard-edged rap with a little rock and R&B." "She would often say to us, 'I'm going to be the first lesbian R&B singer...As much as Lola wanted to be a trailblazer and open doors for other gay artists, she was still part of the machine. Lola had to do what the label told her to do."


Photo credit: Michael Scott Jones


Felicia Pride
is an author, speaker and welcomed voice of her generation. She's the founder of The BackList (www.thebacklist.net), an organization dedicated to using the power of words to uplift individuals and their communities. Felicia facilitates writing, publishing, and other creative workshops, curates events, and develops community initiatives. Shes a featured speaker at schools, universities, and events around the country, and has written for an array of publications. Her most recent book is The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop's Greatest Songs. Visit her online at www.feliciapride.com.

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