Lynne d Johnson

 

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05.20.08 02:46 PM

The Mainstream Media's Fascination with Gay Rappers (Again)

hiding-in-hip-hop.jpg Where to begin with this one? I guess at the ending instead of the beginning. So there's a new book, Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry--from Music to Hollywood, written by a former MTV staffer, Terrance Dean. (H/T to Hashim Warren for sharing the Newsweek piece on Google Reader.)

The release of the book was blogged on BET.com's Beneath the Underdog previously and though the reader lambasted the book for its potential of outing people, the writer of the post turns around and does just that by asking readers who they think will be mentioned in the book. OFFENSE #1

The Newsweek piece immediately starts off on the wrong step:

"In a hooded sweatshirt and baggy jeans, Terrance Dean doesn't give off "gay" on first sight—and he has worked hard to present himself that way." OFFENSE #2

I thought we were past that already in 2008 that "gay on first sight" business that is. But there's loads more to uncover here.

The memoir doesn't name names, so anyone who uses this book as an opportunity to capitalize off the gays in hip-hop meme isn't justified in their actions at all. The book sounds a lot like superheads book, minus the names. Overall the article is thorough, in terms that it covers much ground and the reporting is solid. The thing is, Dean's book nor the piece are covering much new ground. No offense to Dean, I'm not one for taking food out of anybody's mouth. It's his story, so in that regard, I suppose it's new.

The fact is, this seems to come up every couple of years -- the talk of gay rappers, DL black males, and homo hip hop. Somehow all become intertwined in this great ongoing debate about hip-hop's hypermasculinity and violence toward both women and gay men.

I suppose each generation needs its own peek inside the fabric of this deeply complex issue that's often not talked about in the right circles. The right circles would be the community that the issue overwhelmingly affects.

It's not that there hasn't been any discussion of course.

Keith Boykin's Beyond the Downlow explores the topic at length. For one:

"Quiet as it's kept, there is a dirty little secret about the down low that most of the media have not discussed. Here's the secret. The down low is not only about closeted gay men and bisexuals. Straight men and women are on the down low too. In fact, if gay men and bisexuals have now popularized the down low, then heterosexuals might have actually perfected it."

See more of Boykin's revelations here.

I also addressed this topic, somewhat in the same vein in which I write this post, in Young, Black, Gifted—and Gay.

"In "Homo Thugz Blow Up The Spot," Guy Trebay's 2000 article in the Village Voice, we see young, black, same-sex loving males who say they despise gay people. They posture a roughneck's character, looking and acting as macho as they possibly can - negating any behavior that is stereotypically homosexual. In "A Question Of Identity," by Malcolm Venable in the July 2001 issue of Vibe magazine, we meet similar men who seem to loathe their own existence. In Samiya A. Bashir's "Strictly For The Ladies," in the July 2001 issue of XXL, a portrait of empowered lesbians is painted, yet like their male counterparts, they only truly find comfort in their own hip hop environments."

In fact it was Terrence Dean who moderated a panel, Young, Black, Gifted, and Gay� Powerful Men In The Entertainment Industry, that I talk about in that piece.

As for earlier discussions on this topic, I mentioned:

"Farai Chideya addressed this issue in "Homophobia: Hip-Hop's Black Eye," which appeared in Spin in 1993 and was reprinted in Step into a World: A Global Anthology of the New Black Literature, edited by Kevin Powell. In the article she writes, "But the hip hop nation, as defined by some of its most prominent citizens, has absolutely no use for gay men and women.""

and:

"A few years back, rumors sparked a media witch-hunt to out the rapper who had reportedly been spotted in the local gay bars. "No doubt there are MCs who represent both Myrtle Avenue and Christopher Street," writes Toure in "Hip Hop's Closet: A Fanzine Article Touches A Nerve," which appears in The Greatest Taboo."

When I originally saw the Newsweek article shared on Google Reader with the comment, I also thought enough with this already. But the truth is, just as I started writing this post, I realized that this conversation hasn't evolved enough to the level where it can be dismissed and looked at simply as the media's fascination with this so-called aspect of black culture. There's a conversation here that needs to continue, much in the way that race in America needs continual discussions.

Whether it's the demonization of the DL or the fascination with the gay rapper, it all comes back to how black men are perceived by their community, and largely, by America.

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