Arts & Entertainment
Former Detroiter's memoir reveals life as a gay, black man in showbiz - and offers hope to those like him
By Thomas Matich
Originally printed 7/24/2008 (Issue 1630 - Between The Lines News)
It's Terrance Dean's first time at a gay festival, and he's a bit nervous. But for Motor City Pride, he's made a triumphant return home.
Now a New Yorker, the former entertainment executive says he had to leave Detroit, a city that he feels is especially behind - as is the rest of the black community, he says, who aren't keeping up with "progressive" white America. So when it comes to openly discussing homosexuality, there's a stronger resistance. It's a trap that trickles into hip-hop, as gangster-rappers like 50 Cent continue to work the same formula that guarantees record sales.
But tastes are changing, as evidenced by 50 Cent losing out the opening-week record-sales battle to Kanye West last September. With more positive and eclectic artists like Lupe Fiasco, M.I.A. and N.E.R.D, could hipster rap present the opportunity for gay people to be openly-accepted in the culture?
"I think within a year a rapper will come out," Dean says at an upscale restaurant at the Hotel St. Regis.
But do fans want their favorite rappers to be gay?
"That's the double-edged sword," he replies. "I don't think the general public is ready for that, but they do want them to be true to themselves. Look at 'The Wire' (the HBO drama that featured Omar Little, an openly-gay main character). People were so impressed, like, 'Look at this gangster guy robbing and killing,' and they respected him because at least he was out with it.
"We would respect a person that came forward and said, 'This is who I am,' and if they kept the music still original and the same, I think they'll keep the same type of fans."
Dean's memoir, "Hiding in Hip-Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry - From Music to Hollywood," explains his experiences as a gay black man in showbiz. When the news of the book, released in May, first came, it was met with a flurry of bloggers, newspapers and magazines chiming in on the issue and speculating on the rumored closeted entertainers that Dean might out.
Instead of opting for scandal, Dean uses pseudonyms in the book to build a fun guessing game that threads throughout the entire book. What is particularly interesting about the usage of aliases is that after a while, all the down-low men become the same as Dean's romantic escapes, and secret social engagements mirror the orgy scene in "Eyes Wide Shut," where Tom Cruise's character is at a party full of darkly-masked figures.
"Yes, very much so," Dean agrees. "I liken my book to a modern-day 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.' In that circle, for me, it was normal. I think for other people outside of that secret society, it's very abnormal. That's one of the reasons why I wrote the book: To let people know there is a world that does exist of down-low men in the entertainment industry.
"But also after a while, everybody becomes the same; there's nothing different, everybody's looking for the same thing, they all have the same gangster mentality," he continues. "They wanna be a thug and portraying this image to the public. But then, behind close doors and amongst ourselves, we could be free and be whoever we wanted to be."
Growing up in Detroit, Dean was against the odds. His mother was a heroin addict and prostitute who died of AIDS (along with his two brothers and numerous friends). Dean was molested as an adolescent, and that is when he first began to question his sexuality.
His intelligence and test scores gave him the chance to attend college, which he did - and tried to play it straight, dating girls and joining a fraternity. Eventually, he gained entrance in the down-low society that he continued to associate with as his career in the entertainment industry took him to New York and Los Angeles.
As Dean finds heartbreak and difficulties in dysfunctional relationships with closeted brothers and fights the urge to come out - often retreating to church to suppress his sexuality - I began to utter one phrase repeatedly as this vicious cycle repeated itself throughout the book: "Come out, already."
"That's why I came out," Dean says of being trapped in the down-low lifestyle. "It's very deceptive; you're constantly covering up a lie, you're manipulating the women that you're in a relationship with, you're deceiving your friends and your family. I think it's very unfortunate that we can't come out - (but) I think we can.
"In a blog entry I wrote, 'It's an imagined pain and fear that we can't come out, and it is imagined; no one really cares.' Once you do ... all my friends are like 'OK, no big deal, whatever.'"
But the culture seems to still dwell on old issues. Regarded by many hip-hop fans as one of the greatest rappers of all time, it's interesting to note that Nas' latest is currently the most intriguing and anticipated rap album, with songs like "Black President," about our possible next future leader, Barack Obama.
"White gays and white people are progressively moving forward, but black people are stuck in civil rights and trying to be accepted into America instead of assuming that we already are American," Dean says. "We live in this bubble where people don't realize and recognize what's going on in our community."
Dean left the entertainment industry before records sales (especially rap) began to plummet. He became a motivational speaker; the day we spoke, he was gathering with some kids later that evening to offer them inspiration and insight. Perhaps hip-hop can follow his lead, and take two steps ahead. And couldn't Detroit use more of his forward-thinking, as well?
"I'm looking forward to connecting with the black community here and providing the same inspirational messages, and showing them what a product of Detroit can look like - that you can do it, you can make it."Thomas Matich is a freelance writer in Royal Oak. To comment on this story, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.