By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"I don't like people that, when I'm walking the streets, say I'm gay," says Charles Jackson, an out homosexual and one of the producers of Warehouse's hip-hop night. "There's still a lot of gay bashing out there. If you dress thug style, nobody's gonna bother you, because thugness and realness is an ultimate man." After years of promoting parties at such largely white gay venues as the Sound Factory Bar, Jackson struck upon the idea of throwing parties that catered to what he saw as a burgeoning group of men who "follow the B-boy image," are "attracted to guns and guys who are into the life," and who are also "on the down low and yet wanting to party in an atmosphere that takes club music to a more hip-hop level."
At those venues enjoyed by "privileged" white gays, house music remains a dominant form, and styles of personal affirmation and masculine presentation are largely alien or inhospitable to young black gay men. For those on the d.l.both young and oldoutlets for community, sex, and music have required nontraditional spaces. You can find them jamming chat rooms called GayThugz4GayThugz, or BlkThug4Blkmn or BlkDLM4M, or convening at private sex parties such as this past weekend's "Dicklennium" in Flatbush, where "homies, thugs, roughnecks, and shorties" were invited to partake of all the "dick and ass you can handle"a telephone recording made it clear that no femmes or sissies need apply. You can, of course, meet them at the Warehouse's weekly hip-hop lounge and its once-monthly main space party, dancing to music that in certain cases may advocate their demise.
"I'm not necessarily pro the lyrics," explains Mark Tuggle, an outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Gay Men of African Descent, one night at the Warehouse. Wearing a muscle T, fatigues, tattoos, and with a knit cap pulled low across one eye, Tuggle's thug presentation would not be out of place in a video for, say, Jay-Z's "Lucky Me," which features the lyric "I hate a nigga like that, faggot."
"One oppressive joke is more than enough," concedes Tuggle. Still, "hip-hop overall supersedes the lyrics. You have to remember where people are coming from. How can we expect hip-hop artists to embrace a sexuality they haven't been taught? We've all been miseducated as a society about sexuality. At least hip-hop is founded on male-to-male lovethe crew, the posseand that appeals to our sense of art, poetry, and masculinity."
If that masculinity occasionally takes forms that resemble inverted dragas Kendall Thomas, Columbia law professor and black gay intellectual activist, once noted in these pageswell, so be it. According to Thomas, "the very elaborate sartorial style" of thugz and gangstas, their "stylization of the body . . . deployment of sexuality as an instrument for the assertion of subjectivity," and "very self-conscious representations of the male body" create uncanny correspondences with that apotheosized symbol of the feminine, the diva. Don't, however, mention this to the clubgoer with cornrows and a set of monogrammed teeth caps who berates a reporter one night by saying, "I ain't no homo. I'm a straight-up bisexual nigga. Write that down."
"None of this is new," novelist James Earl Hardy insists about the emergence of homo thugz. "What's new is that people outside those circles are realizing this world exists." Hardywhose "B-Boy Blues" trilogy elates a love story between a journalist and homeboy/bike messenger, a "same-gender loving man who doesn't look, act, talk, or dress in a way that says gay"rejects out of hand an identity that "as it has been constructed does not comprehend or respect me as a black man."
At issue, he insists, is more than semantics. "Many in hip-hop are simply carefully navigating the waters of their sexuality. These guys I refer to as homie-sexual are, clinically speaking, homosexual. But they very much take on a machismo that separates them from associations with words like gay, queer, and most especially fag. I would guess that this has a lot to do with safety, and with a culture that hates you because you're a fag and most definitely hates you because you're black." Hardy cites both Kinseyan statistics and the well-rehearsed rumors about prominent rappers locked in the closet. In reality, many prominent rappers have visited and even performed at Warehouse parties, according to the club's Lester Richards. "Wu-Tang was here. I heard DMX came by. Jay-Z supposedly passed through. Money is money, but, in a lot of those rap groups, one guy is usually bisexual, and they come by here because it's a chance to be themselves."
They also come, according to the club's DJ Unknown, because "it's more safe to party within a gay system. Gay or straight, they have a better time, because, if a guy and a girl don't mind partying with a gay crowd, they can be safe. People get tired of the fights and the guns and shooting and all that rah-rah. Too many hip-hop parties are thugged-out for real."
Shirtless in the DJ booth, his muscular torso tattooed with images of Spiderman, a phonograph, and his pet Akita, Unknown surveys a crowd that is over 1300 strong by 5 a.m. Slicked with sweat, he whips a Juvenile record off the turntable and seamlessly replaces it with Sisquó's "Thong Song." "Before," he says, "people were trying to listen to hip-hop, but the clubs hadn't brought it to life. They were playing MC Lyte and whatever. They hadn't taken the music to a more hardcore place. Gay people love hip-hop, too, and we have needed the music brought in an original way."