By LeRon Barton
As long as I’ve known him, TJ has been a good friend. He was understanding, pensive, and mature; qualities I found admirable. When TJ and I would hand out, we’d go from silly to serious; from stuffing our faces with cheeseburgers to deep discussion on race, politics, and science.
Our friendship started because we’re hip hop enthusiasts from the same neighborhood, with similar come ups. Both raised by single mothers, we didn’t fit the stereotype of what a Black man is “supposed” to be in the hood. We loved indie cinema and punk rock, and did not want to fall in the traps of drugs and excess.
It didn’t bother me that TJ never brought women around. I thought that he just wasn’t interested at the time. When the rumors started surfacing from our mutual friends, I would brush them off, instead positing why others were so worried about his sexuality. “Don’t y’all got other things to worry about?” Over time, I noticed my responses had sort of an edge to them…like I was trying to deny TJ’s sexuality for myself.
“Nah, he’s not gay. He’s just busy…”
“He’s one of my best friends…he can’t be gay…”
“Gay folks don’t listen to hip hop…”
At that time, I wouldn’t call myself a homophobe, but I wasn’t an ally. My friends and I would regularly use gay slurs and make rape jokes. Our violence was never physical—only in our speech. And TJ was right along with us, listening to music and saying the same ridiculous things we were saying. It didn’t hit me until later that he was just going with the flow.
Hip hop is for the alpha male. The man that was too tough and too hard to show weakness. Hip hop instilled a brotherhood amongst friends—never turn on them, always be there for them. And with the hyper-masculine traits that hip hop exhibits, there’s an undercurrent of homophobia. Through the dominant hip hop lens, homosexual men are soft and have no place within the culture. Hip hop comes from the streets, and that was one place you couldn’t be weak. And in this mindset, homosexuality was viewed as a weakness.
About two years I was on online when I stumbled upon some thing about TJ. I contacted a close mutual friend and asked him about what I found, and in that conversation, it was confirmed that TJ identified as homosexual.
When I found out, I had the nerve to be mad that he didn’t tell me. He was my best friend; I’d never judge him. But then my lady—as she often does—brought be back to reality. She reminded me how hard it is to come to terms with such a significant part of oneself. She further reminded me how hurtful I’d been in my past anti-gay language, and that TJ probably did not feel comfortable opening up to me.
When I got in touch 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
Me: Does anyone else know you out?
TJ: Not too sure. If kats 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 then he started berating me on my tastes in hip-hop.
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.
When I think about my younger self 15 to 20 years ago with all the anti-gay slurs 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 to 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.
LeRon Barton is Kansas City, Mo transplant living in San Francisco. He published his first book, “Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American Drug Culture” in 2013. LeRon loves to read, shoot photographs, travel, and of course write. When he is not trying to figure out the ills of society and Rubix Cube, LeRon can be found volunteering and dining out with his foodie significant other. You can reach him at www.mainlinepub.comand follow him on Twitter@MainlineLeRon. Follow us on Twitter @BlkMillennials.