Chicken Soup for the Hip Hop Soul 3

Posted Mar 18 2006

The third of three stories I submitted to this popular book series. This piece relates to unexpected moments of self-reflection in regards to homophobia. Inspired by various experiences as a DJ.

“The out of classroom experience” was a term I had often heard thrown around as a college student. Essentially, it was emphasized that much of our learning would take place outside of the classroom through informal discussions and random experiences. This was definitely the case for me. Just before my junior year I had saved up enough money for turntables, bought some records, and started spinning at parties. I quickly realized that different groups had different listening tastes and I prided myself on being able to play for a wide range of crowds. Yet, I also learned an unexpected lesson about diversity that forced me to look deep inside at my own stereotypes and insecurities. Sometimes we don’t know about our prejudices until we’re confronted with them.

I’m hardly a fan of empty political correctness, but I do try to be sensitive to others. I have to admit though, coming into college, I was pretty homophobic. Nothing overly blatant and it wasn’t even something I thought about consciously. In retrospect, I know there were countless times when I just assumed that someone was straight, but later found out someone was gay. I guess I was thrown off since they weren’t dressed like one of the Village People, as I had stereotyped. On the flip side, the only gay guy I personally knew had unexpectedly come on to me and I freaked out. My philosophy was “they can do what they want, as long as they don’t do it around me.” My stomach turned as I watched two men kiss in the movie “The Wedding Banquet.” OK, so I wasn’t about to head up anybody’s gay pride celebration. But money talks…

One day I was approached about DJing a party for the university’s Gay Pride Week. I don’t even remember my exact feelings, but I quickly agreed since money was involved and I was eager to spin. The party attracted a decent-sized crowd and people were definitely looking to have a good time. I was focused on keeping the floor moving so any uncomfortable feelings were soon forgotten. Among other things, I continually scanned the room to see how people were responding to the music. My eyes kept being drawn to a lone Black male, who had been standing along the wall for most of the night. For all intents and purposes, he looked like any brotha you might see at the party down the street that was being sponsored by a Black student organization. Here, however, he stood out like a sore thumb as the crowd was nearly all White people.

After the party, my mind kept running back to that scene. I don’t remember anyone even approaching him. I wondered about race more than sexual orientation as the reason he was by himself that night. Then I thought about the other party, where his skin color would have only let him partially be accepted in an environment I assumed was homophobic. I wondered where he considered his community to be. Where was his safe space? I began to see gay men as more than a homogenous group of sex-obsessed freaks. I began to see individuals, often outcast from society. I was pretty vocal about students of color being excluded by the mainstream, but was I being hypocritical? Due to my own prejudice, I wondered how often had I shun people without even getting to know them. My whole outlook on the world was changing.

Throughout the years I DJed for other gay events, which gave me plenty of opportunity for more self-reflection. In one case, I vented to a friend how no one had hit on me. “Did you see someone you liked?” she asked. “No, but it’s the principle. Am I not attractive?” My pride was hurt, regardless of my sexual orientation. On another occasion, I was approached all night. I had guys come onto me and became self-conscious every time I reached for records as I was scrutinized like a piece of meat. I began to empathize with what my female friends told me they went through from straight guys at night clubs.

Since those days, I’ve had more experiences and more time to think about my views and feelings on issues ranging from gender roles to hate crimes. It hasn’t always been easy and I quickly found out that I’m not as enlightened as I once I thought. My mentors were right. I did learn from my experiences outside of the classroom, at times more than any book or lecture could’ve taught me. I just wasn’t expecting it to be behind some turntables. (November 2002)


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