Elevate Difference

Hiding in Hip Hop: On The Down Low in the Entertainment Industry—From Music to Hollywood

Terrance Dean opens his book, Hiding in Hip Hop, with two quotes, one from Ellen Degeneres, in which she states, “If it weren’t for blacks, Jews, and gays, there would be no Oscars.” The other was from The Bhagavad Gita: “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.” With so many ways to approach this book, the latter quote is the way in which I chose to do so.

Dean gives a personal account of the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of growing up as a gay Black man, inside a world that adamantly refuses to accept his existence. Things would be tragic enough if, on the quest for a healthy identity, one had to sift out the sickness of a drug-abusing mother who, along with two brothers, dies of AIDS. A forced and self-imposed separation from family, and the discovery of a sexuality not approved of by the proverbial church that houses wolves in sheep’s clothing, add to experiences that have forced others to become a statistic.

As the title of the book suggests, Dean’s passion for hip-hop propelled him to pursue a career in an environment where his sexuality is like an oxymoron. Dean still adheres to the code of maintaining a “tell and be killed” secrecy in addressing those who are queer, respected, and revered in the hip hop world. In a world where even a hint of being gay can relegate one to lifelong ostracism, Dean is careful to play by the rules and still tell his story with brute and poignant honesty.

The Degeneres’ quote that opens the book is important because she acknowledges not only the contributions made by a group she belongs to, but also those made by two groups to which she does not. It is important because there needs to be the realization that the greatest contributions to society are not defined by sexuality. If there’s a cure for cancer, how many of you will refuse it because you don’t approve of the curer’s sexuality?

The second quote Dean used discussed living one’s own life, not that of someone else. He revealed how difficult it was to hide his sexuality, his desire to openly express his love for another man, and be fully embraced by a culture to which he so profoundly contributed. He perfected the imitation of a straight man at the cost of his spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. By the book ended, although still healing from these issues, Dean is now unapologetically choosing to work on the perfection of his own life.

Written by: Olupero R. Aiyenimelo, October 28th 2009

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