Archive for January, 2015

James Baldwin

James Baldwin, one of the baddest cats to ever walk the earth.

As long as I’ve known him, TJ has been a good friend. He was understanding, pensive, and had a maturity about him that I admired. When TJ and I would hang out, the conversations and activities would range from the silly – getting our faces stuffed with cheap cheese burgers and rummaging through X-Men back issues at Clint Comics, to the serious – having deep discussions on race, politics, and science.  Our friendship started over being from around the same neighborhood and loving hiphop, but our bond was probably due to us two coming up the same. He and I raised by a single Mom and we both liked to buck the stereotype of what a Black man is supposed to be in the hood –We loved indie cinema, punk rock, and not wanting to fall into the traps of drugs and excess.

It didn’t bother me that TJ never brought women around. I had just thought that he wasn’t interested at the time. Dude was always creating and reading, and that inspired me to do so. When the rumors started to surface from our mutual friends, I would brush them off or tell someone to go F off. “Why does he gotta be gay? Because he aint trying to sleep with the whole neighborhood? Come on, y’all cats are corny as hell.” That’s how the usual conversation would go with my friends. I would get so upset like, “Don’t y’all got other things to worry about?” I noticed that as time went by, my responses had a sort of an edge to them, like I was trying to deny it for myself. TJ, nah he is just busy. He is one of my best friends, he can’t be gay. I would know about it. He would tell me. And besides, gay folks don’t listen to hip-hop.

At that time I wouldn’t call myself a homophobe, but I darn sure wasn’t an ally. My friends and I would regularly use the word fag and any kind of gay slur possible. We would make male rape jokes and talk about somebody being “soft.” When the crew would all get together and have sloppy drunken ciphers, or back and forth rap contests, homophobic slurs would be spouted out. It’s not like we were running around beating up Gay people or tagging anti Gay messages on someone’s property, it was all in fun to us.  Ragging on someone that wasn’t getting any was a normal occurrence. “Awh man, you like boys now huh? You wanna start hittin’ dudes huh?” It was normal for us, not even an after thought, and TJ was right along with us, listening to music and saying the same ridiculous stuff. It didn’t hit me until later that he was just going along with the flow.

In hip-hop, it has always been about the alpha male. The man that was tough, hard, and no kind of weakness shown. A guy that took no shorts and was about his dogs. We learned to value nothing but God over our friends. Hip-hop instilled a brotherhood among friends, never turn on them, always be there for them. Songs that sung, “I love my homeboy, I got you my G, and homies above hoes.” Listening to that now, it hits me that hip-hop is hyper male with a bit of homoeroticism. But with the masculine traits that hip-hop exhibits, there is also a undercurrent of homophobia. Through out hip-hop music there has always been an anti gay slant. Gays were considered soft and could not be accepted in the culture. Hip-hop comes from the streets, and that was one place that you could not be weak. So is there any surprise that there are closeted gays in the hip-hop industry?

About two years ago I was on social media wasting time like everyone else and I stumbled upon something’s about TJ. I then contacted a close mutual friend and asked him about what I found. He said, “Well I kinda knew, he has been keeping it to himself, but he knows I don’t care so…” That conversation confirmed it. When I found out, I had the nerve to be mad that he didn’t tell me. I spoke to my lady about and said, “I cannot believe he didn’t tell me! I wasn’t gonna judge him, that’s my man, one of my best friends.” She then brought me back down to reality (like she usually does) and said, “Come on LeRon, really? Do you know how hard that is? To come to terms with who you are? And he probably didn’t tell you because y’all probably said fag this fag that when you were younger.” Damn, I paused. All those times when we were coming up and all the gay jokes we made, he may have laughed along, but was probably hurting inside.

When I got in contact with him the conversation went something like this:

Me: Hey whats up man, whats going on?

TJ: Nothing, just hanging out

Me: Listen bro, you know I got love for you. We’ve been friends for a long time so don’t feel like you have to keep something from me.

TJ: I know man.

Me: So why didn’t you tell me about your guy?

TJ: Because I’m a private person, I like to keep things to myself and I didn’t know how to come out and say it.

Me: Look my dude, if he makes you happy, then be with him.

TJ: Word.

Me: Does anyone else know you out?

TJ: Not too sure. If cats know thats cool, if not….what ev’s

Me: Well if cats know and don’t support you, then f them. I’m not dealing with them anymore.

TJ: Word, thanks fam.

Me: No doubt, I got you.

And that’s how it went. He then started berating me on my tastes in hip-hop and all was normal. I write this piece because I can imagine how hard it is to come out and face who you are. If you have a friend that is just coming to terms with themselves, the best things you can do is to be as loving and understanding as you can. It’s a brave thing what they are doing. When I think about my younger self 15 to 20 years ago with all the gay slams and jokes, I shake my head in sorrow, because there were probably so many people around my friends and I that knew they were gay, but were afraid to come out. For that I am sorry. And the way that I am paying it back is by not only erasing certain words and ideologies from my world, but to also teach the youth acceptance.

Nearly two years ago I wrote an essay about overcoming my blatant and passive homophobia called, “Why I stopped using the F word and other homophobic bull sh.”A couple people reached out to me and said they appreciated it and were inspired. The main reason for writing the piece was tell people, “Hey, we have to change the way we interact with gay people.”  I look back on the period in the essay and how I and my friends have grown. We don’t use gay slurs anymore, make gay jokes, or say anything that may make any one feel uncomfortable. With the amount of kids committing suicide from bullying and coming out, I felt it was necessary to share my story and possibly change someone’s perspective.  Last year I participated in a charity drag show where I escorted the models to the runway. I received cheers and was told that my presence was appreciated.

Recently I spoke with TJ and he is doing pretty well. His relationship is flourishing and he is a lot happier. He seems to be embracing more of his orientation and is not ashamed of it. Our circle of friends have been very accepting of who TJ is. We support TJ no matter who he decides to date or be with. And those that do not, they are not around. That’s what friends do, that’s what friends are. I can’t wait to meet TJ’s new boyfriend, get to know who he is and tell some embarrassing stories about TJ. Now his choice of hip-hop, well that is another story.

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Today I spoke with Scotty Reid of the very informative and powerful Black Talk Radio Network. We discussed my first book “Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American Drug Culture,” along with the drug laws, legalization of Marijuana, and the prison industrial complex. Then later in the interview Scotty and I got into a friendly debate about free speech and hiphop. I had a great time and look forward to being on his show again. My interview starts at the 13:00 mark.

Black Talk Radio Interview with LeRon Barton