Sounds simple enough. But this show is definitely pushing the proverbial “reality envelope.” This group’s dance of choice is not ballet or even traditional hip-hop. They specialize in J-Setting, a form of dance that originated at historically black colleges and universities, which is characterized by cheerleading movements with a hip-hop influence and performed in a tightly choreographed routine in outfits traditionally characterized as feminine.
As one of the first African-Americans to be out on a reality program, MTV’s The Real World: Philadelphia, I understand the courage it takes to live your truth on a national platform, the importance it holds to LGBT communities of color, and the power it has to create a greater conversation within American culture.
But unfortunately, LGBT people, and especially LGBT people of color, are still fighting for visibility in the media. Since 1973 there have only been 562 out LGBT cast members on reality TV programing in the U.S. and U.K. combined. LGBT African-American cast members make up less than 10 percent of that figure. This number is small in proportion to the thousands that have been cast or participated on reality TV programs.
Unfortunately, I realized that I was one of a small minority in the black community cheering from the stands for this show and cast to succeed. I began seeing tweets from both straight and gay African-Americans that were downright disrespectful.
These social media posts include comments like “We need a strong black male presence in the media and y’all show this,”and “Real black man … these aren’t real black men,”and lastly, “Why don’t I see any white faggs … smh trying to bury a real black man.”
I was confused. Why were these young people receiving so much hate, when those same individuals tweeting these ugly tweets 10 years earlier, and even now, only greet me with love and support as I continue to share my truth on national TV?
The black community can be competitive and cautious when it comes to those we want put on display for the world to see and judge. We are a prideful people who believe that anything that will make us seem “less than” should be hidden. The current view is, it’s OK if Chris is gay, as long as he “acts like a man.” But if he exhibits any “female characteristics,” then there’s a problem.
The perpetuation of family and cultural pressures to conform to prescribed masculine behaviors is what creates social isolation and distress in many young gay and trans people of color. This can drive them to seek approval and acceptance through perilous sexual behavior.
What defines someone as a “man” should not be the clothes they wear or how deep their voice is. It should be the content of his character, his strength in the face of overwhelming adversity, and his ability to still love and
These four young men and one trans woman are the epitome of strength, courage, and the resilience birthed in us from our forefathers who never gave up. Instead of knocking them down or questioning their relevance in the media, we need to be thankful for their bravery and lift them up to success. Just as my image helped opened the door for them to have a show, their success will open another door for someone else to show a different side of our community that may currently be judged as irrelevant or shameful.
KARAMO BROWN is a former cast member of MTV's The Real World. Follow him on Twitter @KaramoBrown.