As long as I’ve known him, TJ has been a good friend. He was understanding, thoughtful, 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 cheeseburgers 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 hip-hop, but our bond was probably due to us two coming up the same. We were both raised by single moms, 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 ain’t 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 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 casually use the word fag, among plenty of other gay slurs. 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 flew thick and fast. It’s not like we were running around beating up gay people or tagging anti-gay messages on someone’s property, we were just kidding around without thinking about whether what we were saying might be hurtful. Ragging on someone that wasn’t getting any was a normal occurrence. “Aw man, you like boys now huh? You wanna start hitting 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. Hip-hop instilled a brotherhood amongst 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.” A lot of hyper-masculine stuff, with a bit of homoeroticism. And going right along with that, a strong undercurrent of homophobia. Throughout 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 it any surprise that gays in the hip-hop industry stay in the closet?
About two years I was on social media wasting time like everyone else and I stumbled upon something 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 it, talking about how I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t tell me, he was supposed to be one of my best friends and so on and so forth. 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.” 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 what’s up man, what’s 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, dude, if he makes you happy, then be with him
Me: Does anyone else know you out?
TJ: Not too sure. If cats know that’s cool, if not… whatevs.
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.
That was the whole dramatic part; from there it was just him giving me a hard time about still listening to Notorious B.I.G. and me giving him a hard time about still listening to The Roots. Same as we’d ever been.
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 slurs and jokes, I shake my head in sorrow, thinking of how many people I might have made 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. With the number 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. It might not make up for being a jerk when I was a kid, but at least I know that I’m less of a jerk now.
I keep in touch with TJ, and he’s 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 has been very accepting of who TJ is. We support TJ no matter who he decides to date or be with. And those that don’t aren’t part of our circle any more. 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. Starting with his sorry taste in hip-hop.