By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
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Datwon Thomas, the editorial director of urban lifestyle and music magazines King, Rides, and Hip-Hop Soul, says that hip-hop's resistance toward gay women can shift. "It's hard for them to be taken seriously because their sexuality is so dominant. However, when it comes to them being rappers, the line becomes blurred. The good thing about hip-hop is that you are judged by your skills first and foremost, and if a gay rapper comes out and she's dope, most people will look past her being gay."
Siya dreams of success in the music market, but she's already a steady presence at the Lab. And one thing she has in common with some of her musical idols: a rap sheet.
"It's hard for me to find a legit job because of my criminal record." At 16, she ran away from home with her then girlfriend. The two became engaged and moved to Albany, where money got tight and Siya, like many AGs, took to hustling.
It's a pressure many young AGs feel as the dominant figure in their relationship. If you have the sand to knock down another woman in order to grab the hottest femme in the club, you don't want to admit that you have little cash to keep your prize happy.
Siya served four months for grand larceny, first degree assault, and attempted assault, and was placed on three years' probation. "Hustling is the next best thing if you can't find a legit job. There are a lot of females that boost or sell drugs," she says. "I wouldn't say it's hard for all aggressives to find jobs because there are some that are sacrificing: putting on tight clothes, female suits, or business suits to go to work. Then there are a lot of us who wouldn't feel comfortable like that. I could apply for a whole bunch of jobs and if I don't come in looking like the girly girl or because of my tattoos or just by me being gay raises a red flag."
Ky has also been around hustling most of her life. Her older brother was a drug dealer and is serving time in prison. Siya's father is serving 125 years for the GHB raping of eight women. And one older woman they both look up to was delivering drugs for her uncles when she was only seven years old. But Don Vito, 35, is out of that now, and she has plans to keep the young women of her "house" out of more trouble.
During the day Don Vito (she's reluctant to give her up real name) works on Wall Street in the IT department of a prestigious law firm. Her co-workers don't know that she's gay, but some of her female co-workers wonder why she never talks about a boyfriend.
"I've never been with a man," she says. "That's gross. But I'll tell you what's funny: I did have to go to prom when I was high school, and what made it worse was that I was a debutante." She laughs at the thought of herself in a dress and heels. Sitting in the back corner of a café on Sixth Avenue in the West Village, Vito wears an oversized hoodie with skulls, a baseball cap, shoulder-length hair (which she pulls back in a ponytail for work or wears braided when she's in the club), and baggy jeans. She stands around five foot eight, and though an AG, doesn't deepen her voice or bind her breasts. She walks with a light bop and likes wearing a bandanna over her face when she's in the club. It gives her mystique.
Two years ago, Vito moved to New York with her then girlfriend to attend film school. After the program ended she got the job in IT but writes screenplays in her spare time.
She's the "father" and creator of House of Corleone, a tightly knit group of young black and Hispanic lesbians. Modeled on the extended-families structure used by previous generations of New York gays and lesbians, a number of hip- hop houses have sprouted up recently with names like the Da Vincis, House of Mecca, and the Bossalenos and Belladonnas. Vito's crew has attracted young AGs like Chick Murda, a/k/a Aisha Sampson.
"I joined House of Corleone four or five months ago," Sampson tells the Voice during a photo shoot held at the Lab. "I was on downelink.com and Vito hit me up. She told me to look into it. I didn't know gay women had houses. As time went by, I saw the house's progress. I like to meet new people, and met a lot of people in this house. It's a lot of exposure."
Vito says she was motivated to start her house as a result of the self-destruction she saw many young lesbians headed toward. "There are a lot of AGs that are going down the wrong path," she says. "A lot of them are selling drugs. I used to sell drugs and almost went to jail for a long time. A lot of these AGs do it because the girls think it's cute. They are so serious about keeping up appearances that they'll either hustle or take a fast-food job so they can wear their low haircut or gold teeth."