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Getting Inked and Coming Out

Black, Gay and Inked

Tattoo artist Kevin Laroy shares his coming-out story on VH1's Black Ink Crew: New York.

The idea of what it means to a black man has come into question in recent years. For instance, Jaden Smith, the son of megastar Will Smith, has challenged gender norms in high-profile fashion campaigns. Now the VH1 reality series Black Ink Crew: New York will broaden the conversation in tonight's episode. The show follows the lives of tattoo artists at a shop in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. This season a new member, Kevin Laroy (known from Ink Master on Spike TV), was introduced to the crew. Here's where you should likely stop reading if you haven't watched the episode, because spoilers are forthcoming.

Kevin has caught the eye of a female tattoo artist, Young Bae. In the episode, the two of them go out on what Bae considers to be a date. Before the night is over, their date is interrupted and Kevin leaves with another person -- a man. The situation catches many of the other cast members by surprise, and Kevin later ends up explaining that he is attracted to both women and men. But he has a hard time identifying as bisexual or gay.

Kevin was born and raised in Dallas, a progressive city but still part of the Deep South, where there is stigmas associated with being LGBT. Before the episode aired, he spoke with The Advocate about about his decision to come out on television.

The Advocate: Let me start by talking about your background and being born and raised in the South. It's a different environment there, especially for people of color, and then when you throw in LGBT, it's almost a different beast. How are the people in your life responding to your truth?
Kevin Laroy: People have been supportive. What's crazy is on my way to shoot that scene at that club with Bae and L.A., and it was one person in my life that I hadn't talked to about it and never got any response from. That was my older brother, and you know in my life I'm OK with me, but I always want the close people in my life to be OK with it too. So on the way to shoot that scene I called my brother to let him know that I was on this show and it was going to follow the details of my personal life, and when I said that he stopped me to say that he already knew and it was not a problem for him. He was the last person I needed to tell, and after that everyone has been super supportive.

When you were introduced to the Black Ink audience a number of people took to Twitter saying they recognized you from Ink Master. Since you aren't new to reality TV, why was Black Ink the right place to live in your truth?
Producers wanted me to come out on Ink Master, but that was a competition show, and it was my belief that my personal life had nothing to do with the competition, so I didn't want to do it. On the other hand, Black Ink is a show about the lives of the tattoo artists. The platform was right, and I felt like we live in a time where there is no face to being gay, and just because someone doesn't walk around saying they are doesn't mean that he's on the down low. My main focus with telling this story is to show there are levels to being black and masculine and that I shouldn't have to identify myself to fit into anyone else's normal.

Staying on that subject for a moment, as black men we often times have to defend our masculinity if we identify as gay or bisexual. Are you in your personality on this show trying to get people away from doing that?
Oh, definitely, in the black community, for sure, it feels like it's if someone can't tell you're gay or bisexual or if you're more masculine than, say, a more flamboyant gay then you're DL, and I think that's totally disrespectful. Saying I'm DL is just like saying that I am afraid to speak and live in my truth, and that is not the case. I want to show people that there are many faces to LGBT.

In the episode you spoke about your hesitance to using the word "gay." I want to know if you could elaborate on that a little bit more.
Well, my hesitation is still there because this is a little complicated to me. Yes, I am attracted to men, but the sentence doesn't end there because I am also attracted to women. It bothers me that people are referred to by their sexual preferences; I mean, to title someone by their preferences sexually is a little demeaning. So in terms of an identity, I am Kevin but I will never be Kevin, the gay tattoo artist. Society likes to place people in categories, into boxes or identities so people can label and attach you to something, and it shouldn't be that way.

The interview was edited and condensed for the purpose of this article.

Black Ink Crew airs on VH1 Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern. Watch Kevin open up about his life in a clip from tonight's episode below.

Kelsey Minor is a 2-time Emmy Award-winning New York City based freelance journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter @TheKelseyMinor.

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