"Do you think Trey Songz is gay?"
I cannot tell you how many people have asked me that. Meanwhile back at the ranch, my gaydar is as about as accurate as Teresa Giudice's taxes. However, my response is: Wouldn't it be exciting that if he were gay, he would feel that being honest about it was a viable option?
Elton John, Adam Lambert, and Clay Aiken are super talented. They have managed to have successful careers despite the fact that they prefer to lock lips with other men. Actually, I could name quite a few more artists that are OUT while still managing to maintain a fan base. Do you know what they all have in common? None of them are black.
Yes, I know. What about Frank Ocean? Well, while I recognize that he bravely delivered a letter to the world saying that he was in love with another man, he has pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth. Can you name any other black male artist to achieve major success who identifies as same-gender-loving? Don't burst a blood vessel trying to figure that one out. It can actually be an official trick trivia question.
"In black music, we've got so many leaps and bounds to make with acceptance and tolerance in regard to that issue. It reflects something just ingrained, you know?" -- Frank Ocean
Fortunately, finally, we are being offered great music from real performers that happen to be gay like Sam Smith, but it's not enough. As a black man, I would love to celebrate artists that can offer a multitude of truthful creative stories about same-sex experiences through music on a larger scale. That is impossible without there being an accurate representation of the diverse landscape that is the gay community.
Are there more hurdles for black gay male artists? Considering the incomparable homophobia within the black community, self-inflicted limitations, the lack of appeal that lesbians seem to have, and the standard racist bullshit that we can't seem to shake, the obvious answer is "yes". I am rather confident that a chocolate-covered Steve Grand may have had a few more bullets to dodge. I am sure several of you will debate that in the comment section.
For the OUT artists that are diligently trying to have their music heard, whether chocolate, vanilla, or anything in-between, I applaud you. I will be joining the fold shortly!
For this piece, I got to catch up with two very talented OUT artists, Bry'nt and LastO:
For an 'underground' artist, I don't think my journey has been any different from most artists trying to be successful. It requires a consistent level of hard work to be seen and heard and respected. Being an OUT (openly gay) artist, actually, garnered more attention than I expected because some people simply followed my career waiting for a gay-infused spectacle to begin. I believe I gave them something that contradicted their expectations. Luckily, I've been able to create a solid group of supporters with just the music itself.
The fact that I am open about my sexuality seldom reared its ugly head over the years. I think this is due to the fact that I don't wear a 'gay costume.' Meaning, I'm not as close to the stereotypical image of a gay man (whatever that is) constantly displayed by the media.
Being out, however, has put me in awkward business relationships. The word shame is the first thing that comes to mind. Many DJs, producers, promoters, I've even heard record labels often times express how talented I am, but, they are fearful to work with me or be associated with a gay artist -- as if it will have a negative effect on them. At the end of the day, we are in a patriarchal society, anything that compromises that is not welcomed with open arms.
So, when I started doing rap music a lot of the fear I had was in my head. I was very careful about finding the right place to record. I had this thought in my head that there would be a serious issue if I went to any studio out of the phonebook and did the music I wanted to do.
I applied those same fears to everything: producers, venues, etc. That is not to say that my fears were unfounded; this was 2007, George W. Bush was still President, and the people who elected him based on moral values still existed. But I didn't try. I assumed rejection before experiencing it. And I placed myself in a gay bubble.
Now, we are in a different place. I didn't expect that kind of shift in such a short amount of time. The gay musicians are here and the roadblocks are not the same. Today you'll hear quotes from celebrity personalities stating, "If you want to make it today in rap, you probably should go gay." I think that the road is there for he/she who chooses to travel it. You're gonna have your Lord Jamars and YouTube comments sections decrying your every move, but they aren't the gatekeepers. You can actually disregard them and keep it pushing. That is the possibility today that I didn't see when I first started.
-- LastO Barcelon
The possibilities are endless for a brave soul. While it is nauseatingly obvious that being gay poses a challenge while chasing this dream, and that being black and gay may prove to be even more of a feat, it is possible! Music is universal... It belongs to us too. So, while we excel at making our favorite performers look and sound amazing, it's time that we do that for ourselves.
"There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it's now okay to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it's simply the way things are." -- Tammy Baldwin