Detroit Native Terrance Dean, Queer Author and Former MTV Exec, Dies at 53

Jason A. Michael

Detroit native and bestselling author and academic Terrance Dean died Friday, Aug. 11 in Columbus, Ohio. He was 53.

Dean grew up in Detroit and attended Central High School. In a 2008 interview with Pride Source, Dean shared that his mother was a heroin addict and that he lost her — as well as two brothers — to AIDS. After graduating high school in 1986, Dean moved to Nashville and earned a bachelor’s degree in communication from Fisk University.

He then moved to New York where he worked in the entertainment industry for over 15 years. Dean was an executive with MTV Networks for a time where he helped produce such live award shows and events as the MTV Video Awards, MTV Movie Awards, Hip Hop Honors and others.

In 2003 he released his first book, “Reclaim Your Power! A 30-Day Guide to Hope, Healing and Inspiration for Men of Color.” But it was his controversial 2008 memoir that brought him his first real exposure. The book, “Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry — from Music to Hollywood,” chronicled the secret gay hip-hop subculture and DL sex parties he both witnessed and was a part of while working in entertainment.

While early promotion of the book, released by Atria/Simon & Schuster, promised Dean was going to name names and out famous rappers, Dean, instead and disappointingly, used aliases in his book. Still, it went on to become an Essence magazine best seller. The year the book was released, Dean returned to Detroit to make an appearance at Motor City Pride.

Dean, who only came out upon the book’s release, told Pride Source of his time living the DL lifestyle that it was “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.” In the same interview, Dean said, “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.’”

Other books by Dean include “Straight From Your Gay Best Friend – The Straight Up Truth About Relationships, Love, and Having A Fabulous Life” (2010) and the novel “Mogul” (2011). He also had a short story in the book “Visible Lives: Three Stories in Tribute to E. Lynn Harris,” which came out in 2010 and contributed to the anthologies “Soul of My Brothers” and “Always Too Soon.” In addition to these works, Dean’s writings appeared in many publications, including VIBE, Essence, XXL and Advocate magazines.

Dean later returned to college, earning a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate degree in Religion and African American Diaspora Studies, both from Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He also received a second master’s from Vanderbilt’s Divinity School.

Since 2019, Dean had worked as an assistant professor of Black Studies at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. In recent years, Dean was a member of the Columbus Dispatch editorial board and also wrote columns for the paper and co-hosted a podcast, “In Black and White,” with Dispatch digital producer Scot Kirk.

According to the “Dispatch,” Dean was briefly hospitalized earlier this summer with an undisclosed illness. Columbus Police performed a wellness check Aug. 11 and found him dead in his downtown apartment. The exact date of his death and the cause were not immediately known. Flags were flown at half-staff at Denison for three days this week in Dean’s memory.

“Terrance was an impeccable scholar, loving mentor and extraordinary colleague,” said Kaila Adia Story, an associate professor and Audre Lorde Endowed Chair in Race, Gender, Class, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Louisville, in a Facebook post. “His contributions to the fields of Black Queer Studies and Black religion are irreplaceable.”


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