By Jeffrey Hartinger
Originally published on Advocate.com July 21 2011 1:45 PM ET
Robear Chinosi, the colorful floor manager from the popular TLC show NY Ink, was born and raised in New York City. In the stereotypical world of the tattoo industry, Chinosi adds an element of surprise in being an out gay employee in a popular New York tattoo parlor. With the season finale set to air tonight, Chinosi reflects on his experience on the show, homophobia in the workplace, and his favorite LGBT tattoos.
The Advocate: Tattoo parlors are predominately masculine and heteronormative. How was it being openly gay in such an environment?
Robear Chinosi: I am so proud to be a gay man immersed in such a manly and straight world. This just reinforces how strong we are as men, and being gay doesn’t mean you are less than, weaker than, or can’t hold your own among other guys. First and foremost, I am at NY Ink to be a manager. There is a lot of masculinity, testosterone, and a lot of egos in the tattoo parlors that I have to deal with each and every day, but I have my fair share of masculine qualities. If I am facing adversity because I am gay, I simply let my aggressive, strong business sense kick in to get the job done.
Have you had any negative experiences in past work environments due to your sexual orientation?
Yes, I have been teased and made fun of since I was a child. I’ve heard every single negative gay name known to man. To be honest, I used to cry and get very upset when I would be verbally attacked for my sexual preference. But now I can truly laugh it off. I feel bad for people who are still not accepting. Closed-minded people haven’t made the full evolution into becoming adults and decent human beings.
How did the first season of NY Ink go?
I think the first season went pretty well. There were many ups and downs, like a roller coaster, because you are spending 10, 12, sometimes even 14 hours with your coworkers and cast members. They are bound to get on your nerves, get in your business and personal life, test you on how much you can handle, and directly disobey orders given by an authority figure. I attempted to deal with this in different ways: Sometimes I lost my temper, sometimes I simply walked out, and sometimes I ignored them until they were ready to work and get the job done. I do not mix business and pleasure. Working on NY Ink was a job I took very seriously. I do not hang out with anyone outside of work. I am there to be the manager. Did you feel comfortable about being open with your sexuality on national television?
I do feel comfortable being an openly gay man on TV because this is simply who I am. I will never act or do things that I don’t believe in. I will always stay true to my fellow gays and myself. We are a force to be reckoned with, and NY Ink is my platform to showcase this strength that is constantly still being questioned.
Which tattoos on LGBT celebrities are your favorites?
I do like Lady Gaga’s “little monsters.” My next tattoo is going to be “Born This Way.” I’ve been thinking about doing it for years, not necessarily because of Gaga. If someone asks me if I think being gay is a choice, I will simply show the person the tattoo.
Do you have any LGBT-themed tattoos?
Yes. I have “Silence Equals Death” tattooed on my stomach. It’s my belly rocker and I love it. I am proud to be out and not have to hide who I am. I grew up in the ’80s and early ’90s, and being gay and tattooed wasn’t as accepted as it is now. I am especially proud of the leaps and bounds we have made in the acceptance of being gay.
Growing up, is there a particular gay male that you looked up to?
I didn’t have any huge gay role models in life on TV, but I do remember watching Torch Song Trilogy with Harvey Fierstein and Matthew Broderick. Watching that movie was one of the first times that I saw a gay couple together, and it was a positive outlook for me on gay men and their relationships. As for family, I grew up with a father right off the boat from Italy. Let’s just say that back in the day, he didn’t like the idea that I was gay. He is an old-fashioned European man who wasn’t exposed to much of anything because he grew up on a farm in Italy in the 1940s. My mom has three brothers and three sons. Everyone in my family teased and poked fun at me at one time or another. It was sometimes a gay slur, only because they didn’t know better at the time; unconditional love can be challenged when you’re ignorant. Now everyone is so loving and we are closer than ever. I don’t think they can ever truly understand and comprehend what it is to be gay, but their love and acceptance is all that really matters to me. In what environment do you believe that homophobia is still pretty prevalent?
I’ve had many different jobs in my life — ranging from blue-collar to white-collar — and I have faced homophobia in every industry. That was part of the past, but I choose to live in the present. Homophobia continues to exist in sports because of the whole masculinity thing. In reality, being gay makes us stronger because of all the adversity and negativity we have gone through. Overall, I tend to ignore the hatred and disconnect from the people who are closed-minded and uneducated.
What would be your advice for those who want to help alleviate the tension in these places?
Be professional, get your job done, and focus on the tasks and goals at hand. It’s also not wise to get too personal with coworkers. People in our lives must earn and deserve to know who we are. If someone is facing hatred, go directly to human resources, lodge a complaint, remove yourself from the negative situation, and stand your ground. Allow your work to speak for yourself — it will show that being gay has nothing to do with your performance. Luckily, things are very different in this day and age. I feel like we all have gay friends and family members.
Which LGBT organizations or charities do you support?
I support Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, Gay Rights Media, and the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in New York City, an organization where I met my best friend, Natascha, 19 years ago. It was in a gay youth group called BIGLNY that I joined when I was 16. She named me Robear back then and it stuck. Natascha is not only solely responsible for my nickname, but she also played a huge role in my life and got me through some of the toughest times in my childhood. She faced some of the same things I did.
What’s next for you?
I plan on doing some freelance interior design work and some fashion styling — these have been my passions for many years now. Television was an amazing experience, so I’d love to do some entertainment reporting. Additionally, I’m always interested in charity work. My interests have no boundaries or limits. We’ll see where things take me.