A “Thirst Trap” is created when an individual uploads a scantily clad photo of themselves online with the purpose of drawing attention to their face or body parts — but at the same time appearing to be oblivious to the actual surface intent of the post. Often times, the bait is laid before a large group of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Snapchat and tumblr users. Usually, the subject is standing half naked in their bathroom mirror beneath a pointless caption that reads, “God I’m glad you allowed me to see myself for who I truly am”. Clearly, the focus of the selfie is to show off one’s thick thighs, abs or barely covered bulge. However, pairing God and his “glory” into the upload is a calculated attempt to convince the viewing audience that they themselves should feel guilty for now staring at the subject’s body instead of embracing the ridiculous, non-related message. Those unaware of the key elements involved in luring the attention of internet voyeurs, often fall prey to the scheme by then liking or commenting the pic, and later following the person highlighted in the photograph. Male celebrities including, The Game, August Alsina, Lil Fizz and John Legend have all recently used the power of social media to trap the thirst of their adoring fans.
However, if you are going to follow in the footsteps of these studs, stars and heartthrobs, there are 5 things to keep in mind as you set your own, online thirst trap…
FRAME YOURSELF ENGAGED IN A NATURAL ACTIVITY – One of the best ways to capture the attention of onlookers, is to position yourself involved in a daily routine. One of the easiest and most conventional methods of framing yourself in a very common scene is to stand in the kitchen pretending to cook first thing in the morning. Everyone subconsciously pairs the act of preparing breakfast, with the cook still wearing the very skimpy loungewear that they slept in the night before. If you are standing in front of the stove, wearing nothing but a pair of thermal bottoms and holding a spatula over the skillet, the scene appears to be very natural. It then makes sense to the viewer why you would be photographed while adorned in these clingy, paper-thin long johns — revealing your personal, side order of pancakes and sausage links.
CREATE A QUICK, ONE-LINE CAPTION – In setting the perfect “thirst trap” it becomes your job to convince your viewers and followers that the focus of your photo is totally different than the obvious intent. If you’re going to post a photo where you’re turned to the side and wearing a tight pair of jeans, shorts, compression pants or even underwear, it’s obvious that the viewer is supposed to focus on the plump, round shape of your squat heavy cakes. Right? However, in your attempt to appear oblivious to the display of your backside, your one-line caption should comment on a different object or thought associated with the photo. Your caption could say something trivial like, “so glad I’m still able to fit into my favorite pair of jeans”, or… “did not think Id be able to stand up straight today after the terrible fall I experienced yesterday”. Somehow, your caption has to allude to the fact that “you have no idea” that people would actually be looking at or commenting upon your real, intended focus of the “thirst trap” photo — that backside.
HIGHLIGHT SHAPE OVER SKIN – One of the best ways to garner the surface attention of your intended target is to be sexy, without crossing that line of appearing sloshy. You want to place the attention of the social media voyeurs on the feature that you’re most proud of or the body part you’ve been focused on the hardest during your workouts. Instead of simply posing in the mirror wearing no shirt or no pants, select a clothing item that will cling around the form of your pecs or massive thighs. Sometimes, the allure of someone’s body is when the viewer is able to imagine the skin beneath the outer layers. Remember, the purpose of a thirst trap is to present an image or photo that isn’t blatantly sexual. If you choose the perfect garment or accessory to bring attention to your favorable parts, you’re able to show off those curves without appearing desperate for public praise.
LOOK AWAY FROM THE CAMERA – Thirst Traps are best achieved when the subject appears to be completely naive to the fact that their photo is being taken. Sure, you’re intentionally wearing light gray sweatpants to show off your eggplant and a pair of NIKE or ADDIDAS flip flops to highlight your recently pedicured toes. Of course you’re aware of the fact that meat lovers and others with foot fetishes are going to be sent into frenzy once the pic is uploaded to instagram or tumblr or facebook. However, it becomes your job to divert your visible eye line towards another subject. Be sure that you’re staring down at your dog that is hopping up onto your left leg or stare straight into the open refrigerator as if you’re really looking for something good to eat. Never actually be captured staring at the body part or object that is being used to seal the voyeurs gaze.
BE SPORADIC & SPARING — It becomes very important that your intended audience not become use to seeing you half dressed, half naked, barely covered or exposing yourself on a regular basis. The visual trapping loses its power and shine once your followers become use to seeing the same lame photo posted every other day. You have to be willing to switch up the order, style and routine of your postings in order for your trick to actually work. The sitting on the side of the bed with white sheets ever-so-slightly covering your frontal area photo, only works when it’s posted first thing in the morning alongside your regular quotes, memes, dinner plate pics, close-up selfies and fully clothed, active shots. Uploading and sharing the same, “look at me naked” pic everyday or even once each week can become overdone and tired.
The modern day selfie, avatar or default pic is designed to highlight an individuals more attractive, physical features. Often times, social media networks exist as the platform where people set the bait – featuring themselves in their most edited and filtered forms. Posting a photo online where one is clearly drawing attention to their skin and other surgically enhanced body parts has become a normal part of marketing and pop culture. Some people abstain from engaging in the strip, snap and upload activities, while others continue to successfully draw the attention of new and returning followers by setting their very own, social media “Thirst Traps”.
Over the past few months, I have posted quite a few original thoughts, ideas, opinions and advice blurbs via my social media networks. This content has ranged from my praise of certain mainstream media entities like Jussie Smollett, to my personal joys of being able to spend 10 days on the beaches and sands of Los Angeles, California. I have tapped into the universal language of love — offering my point of view about how we engage with our romantic partners, as well as maintaining unhealthy attachments to our exes. I also began publicly sharing some of my favorite skin and body products; encouraging many of you to try samples of some of the cologne or face washes that I’ve recently sampled and purchased. Additionally, I recently dedicated #MCM (Male Crush Monday) to an idea, as opposed to a specific person. I outlined a fanciful day that we’d all ideally like to spend with the special man in our lives. And since many of you enjoy following me via Twitter, I’ve engaged in a series of live tweeting sessions while popular series such as FOX’s Empire and ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, were airing. Obviously, my recent social media posts have resonated with my core audience because many individuals who may not follow me directly via social media, have sent messages of support and agreement after seeing my posts shared on their personal timelines from those who have been loyal to my online platform over the past seven years.
Receiving hundreds and sometimes a combined total of thousands of Likes, Shares, Retweets, Favorites, Reblogs and Comments via both of my FACEBOOK pages, INSTAGRAM, TWITTER and TUMBLR timelines, I selected a few of the most popular posts to be featured here at XemSays.com
JANUARY 14, 2015
THIS is absolutely what I hope to come home to each day — a partner whose artistic talents & creative passions are enough to keep him occupied in my absence. Someone who truly knows & understands the value of free, human expression VS. social standards of “success”. To me, there is nothing more attractive than a man who can paint his feelings, sing his pains, play his struggles, dance his truth, …recite his sacrifices, sculpt his frustrations, film his untold story, cook the goodness of his heart into meal form, photograph images reflecting his trials & triumphs, or simply creating from a rigid or raw place.
Power Couple. A unique bond between two individuals whose strengths compliment & build one another to higher spectrums of the world. The results of their private labor have tremendous influence over public spectators.
Sweet Valentine of mine…
JANUARY 18, 2015
KINDA DOPE! One of my supporters tweeted me last night to let me know that #eonline posted one of my #WhitneyMovie posts to their website alongside Amber Riley, Kathy Griffin & Sherri Shepherd. -
I know it’s not really a big deal, but it’s the first time in 7 years now that a mainstream media outlet has ever shared or posted any of my words. I think…
JANUARY 27, 2015
Laptop. Oatmeal. Tea.–
This is LITERALLY what dating me would be like. LOL! Indoors. Dimly Lit. You curled up with an attitude in that dark space on the right side of the bed. I’m working on a project. You’re wishing I had the desire to leave the damn house other than to go to the gym or to grab lunch from Whole Foods.
BUT I told you that I’m a homebody in the very beginning & you said you were cool with it. Right?
FEBRUARY 8, 2015
MY VALENTINES GIFT FROM YOU TO ME.
You all actually paid for these AVEDA products by clicking the links on my website last month. THANK YOU!
I’ve been wanting to get back on the Aveda acne prone facial regime for a while now, but everything is so damn expensive! Two weeks ago however, I decided to use some of my Google check to buy the OUTER PEACE FOAMING CLEANSER, the BOTANICAL KINETICS EXFOLIANT, the OUTER PEACE ACNE RELIEF LOTION and the OUTER PEACE COOLING MASQUE.
I started using Aveda products on my face after I came off the Accutane in 2006/2007. However, once I moved to California in 2008, I could no longer afford to drop $117 every 3 months to repurchase everything when I would run out.
It really feels GOOD to treat myself. I think we all should invest in taking better care of our skin, our teeth and our bodies as best we can. I just want to be healthier this year. I’ve been taking the ONE A DAY men’s health vitamin on a daily basis since November. My immune system is getting stronger. I haven’t been sick at all this winter. It’s crazy that I stopped taking essential vitamins in October 2012, but would pile my body with the creatine, protein supplements & muscle milk to aid my workout recovery. I am also now buying a new toothbrush every 3 months & using it EVERY morning + night. And I’ve also started using enamel protective toothpaste to combat all of the whitening products I’ve abused over the past few years.
It just makes me feel good to take better physical care of myself overall, as opposed to just going to the gym & convincing myself that’s enough. You know?…
FEBRUARY 19, 2015
Cicely Tyson is a screen siren! The epitome of dramatic performance. A matriarch of theatrical expression. #HTGAWM
and the Emmy goes to…
FEBRUARY 22, 2015
THIS IS THE SCENT YOU WANT FELLAS! and this is the cologne you want to buy for your special guy, ladies…
This Yves Saint Laurent was one of my birthday gifts from my darling sister. It smells like passion —
You know how you see a guy that is built like NATE LEAHY from “How To Get Away With Murder” & his dress clothes fit like a smooth, second skin? He walks by you in an open space & his sensual smell lingers until he & his size 12 wingtip shoes have turned the next corner…?
YEAH… that’s EXACTLY what this “Yves Saint Laurent” gives once it settles into the skin
I’m spraying it on now as I hustle out the door to head to DC for Ayana’s birthday brunch.
PURCHASE IT if you don’t already have it in your collection. I adore!
MARCH 11, 2015
For probably the first time in my entire life, I can honestly say there is a male character on mainstream television who looks like me, acts like me, speaks like me, carries himself the way I do, presents the same passion, and allows me to say that I SEE MYSELF IN HIM. I met Jussie briefly in April 2011 or April 2012 at the premiere of “The Skinny” in Washington, DC. Automatic good vibes & positive energy poured from his spirit. Seeing him each week portray Jamal Lyon on #EMPIRE reinforces to me that our stories, our trials & triumphs ARE significant within the scope of mainstream society. Jussie’s portrayal of an openly gay black man SEALS a lot of truth about our normal, everyday experiences. Nothing is watered down or overdone. It’s as if I’m watching my male friends & associates on screen; the REALITY that was hardly ever displayed publicly until now. I don’t know Jussie’s personal struggles, artistic journey or his full life story, but I know that his presence amongst the masses right now truly makes me PROUD…and excited about the promise of tomorrows possibilities. I am leaving for Los Angeles on March 21st & I fully intend to soak up every moment of opportunity that my trip presents. Every dream leads to a destination & we can’t be afraid to continue walking towards the space our good lord has carved out for each of us — individually.
LOVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TO KEEP TRYING. BELIEVE IN YOUR TALENTS ENOUGH TO CONTINUE PUTTING THEM ON DISPLAY.
MARCH 16, 2015
young, black male teachers in our public school classrooms — not simply coaching the athletic teams or operating gym, but instructing our mathematics, science & English courses. I LOVE!
MARCH 17, 2015
the day that Whitley met Kinu for the first time. LOOK AT HER FACE! — but nothing tops the scene when Whitley was working as Dwayne & Ron’s maid. Dwayne’s mother (Patti Labelle) makes a surprise visit. Whitley pretends to not know Kinu’s name, so she starts calling her everything & anything beginning with a “K”. BWAHAHAHAHA! –
“I’ll have to ask you to wipe those less than petite feet on the mat before entering the apartment Kukilee.” I DIED!
MARCH 18, 2015
This finale was almost written as if the writers & producers didn’t expect the series to be green lit for a second season. #EmpireFOX
I enjoyed the show, but I felt that some of the storylines were rushed and given premature closure. You know?…
MARCH 23, 2015
Malibu Beach California – I am so incredibly happy and blessed to be here right now. I NEEDED THIS. Feeling so at peace & slightly removed from some of the “stuff”. You know? It wasn’t exactly beach weather today (LOL), but I couldn’t wait for the 90 degree temperatures coming Wednesday before I soaked this up.
MARCH 24, 2015
Embrace those rare moments in life when you are removed from the hustle and bustle of your daily routine in order to refuel your physical, mental and emotional self. God absolutely knows when you have had enough or are in need of a healthy replenishing. He watches us give and give and give of ourselves to the point where we feel depleted of all energy or focus. Sometimes, you just don’t want to be the strong, nurturing mother or the protective big brother or the outspoken co-…worker who puts management in their place or the perfect, listening friend who offers the best advice. Sometimes, you really just want to pack your damn bags, get on a plane, sit by the ocean and listen to Lenny Kravitz all day. And that is okay! –
We all deserve a break, regardless of our tasks or responsibilities. You can’t possibly be of service to others when you aren’t taking proper care of yourself. Make time for YOU, even when the money or opportunity to do so doesn’t “seem” to be there. It’s necessary.
MARCH 30, 2015
#MCM — not the individual. the idea. its the idea of you and your dude both calling out on a Monday morning to spend the day together. weekend was so hectic between running errands, attending your best friends baby shower, cleaning the house, taking your grandmother to church and doing dinner with your parents on Sunday evening that the start of the week has come too soon. it’s the sweet serenity of watching your dude sit peacefully on the couch — holding the puppy that …he purchased at the top of the new year. he and yall’s little pup pup are just getting in from their morning walk. you have filled the doggy bowl with dry food, filled the water dish with ice cubes and are just about done preparing breakfast on the stove. nothing fancy, but something you and your man will both enjoy. neither of you has made any plans to fill the unexpected day off but resting and relaxing is of the priority.
laying beside him even though he still smells like outside actually turns you on. he keeps playfully saying he’s going to get in the shower… “in five minutes”, but five minutes tips toes past the afternoon hours. by the time the two of you have awakened from a deep, day long sleep the sun has set. curtains & blinds still open. that annoying audio from the home screen of the Netflix movie you closed your eyes on is playing repeatedly. puppy nestled at the bottom of the bed waiting to be walked. you force yourself to sit up in the bed though you’ve lost all awareness of where you are or even what day it is. you look over at your man who is half passed out but pulling on you to now help him release. his left hand yanking your upper arm. right wrist hidden beneath his drawstring. his deep, groggy, muffled slur, “baby…real quick.” you somewhat wanting to, but totally distracted by everything that now has to be turned off, powered on and prepared before tomorrow morning. he turns over to face the wall and pulls the covers over his head. you nudge him in the back & tell him to walk the dog. in his deep, groggy, muffled slur, he replies… “in five minutes”.
he’s so use to you doing everything to keep his days and nights in order. this is how you’ve conditioned the relationship. its frustrating at times that he doesn’t offer to pitch in more often. however, you can say that he’s always active and engaged when you specifically ask or call upon him. sure, this has been the toughest two years of your life, but the challenge has been worth his presence. this is the man you love. this is the only man you think about calling out to simply lay with on a Monday morning. he is your #MCE — your male crush everyday.
APRIL 1, 2015
Seriously…. this “MURAD: Acne Spot Fast Fix” cream WORKS! — my face broke out terribly the week I was set to leave for California. I went to Sephora in hopes of finding the “Henriksen: Roll On Blemish Attack” cream I used during desperate situations like these in previous years. Well, come to find out, Sephora has STOPPED selling the product.
The lady assisting me suggested the MURAD treatment. She said many of her female clients loved the results. I felt I had no other choice but to trust her & try it. She suggested I start slow by using a thin layer of the cream on the problem areas once a day… and then gradually work up to 3 times over a 24 hour period. I didn’t have time to “work up to” anything. So, I started using the MURAD Acne Spot Fast Fix cream in the morning, during midday and night– immediately. LOVED the results. Very pleased. Skin had cleared up enough within 3 days that I could still take pictures while in LA & not edit them before posting. The MURAD is only $16.00 for the tube. So, if you’re experiencing breakouts right now with this change in season, DEFINITELY try the MURAD. Sometimes, even with our face washes, exfoliants & moisturizers, our skin will breakout for no good goddamn reason. It’s so ANNOYING — especially because it happens right before an important event or situation. You know? UGH!
Just thought I’d share.
APRIL 12, 2015
we all need to collectively unlearn and reject the idea that certain accomplishments only count if they’re achieved by a certain age or within a “normal” time frame.going through life at your own pace does NOT equate to laziness or failure.
there is no expiration date on graduating from college, securing a “good paying” job, existing in a romantic relationship or purchasing your first home — (if those are even your goals in the first place). it’s society that misleads us to believe that if we don’t have ‘it’ by THIS TIME, then OUR TIME has passed. it simply isn’t true.
APRIL 14, 2015
I want to fall in love again — with someone who will greet me before saying “good morning” to strangers on social media, with someone who likes me more than the “likes” they receive beneath pictures, with someone who doesn’t mind answering all of my questions in detail or choosing to stay in the house with me on weekends instead of running the damn streets. I want to fall in love again — with someone who misses me when I’m gone, but not so much that they attempt to fill my physical void with the presence of someone else’s flesh.
Don’t contemplate breaking up with me simply because I’ve been in a mood for the past few weeks & I can’t explain specifically why I’m so sad or annoyed. It’s not you. I’ve said that. Embrace me tighter in moments when I’m at my worst, as opposed to getting frustrated and publicly embarrassing us by getting caught out there being thotty.
I want to fall in love again — with someone special who believes that we possess the collective power to reach our potential & live our purpose together. Is it even possible? I simply want to fall in love again — with someone who believes that what we’re building is totally worth the try… a constant, repetitive, unyielding TRY. Never leave me. And hold my hand even when you can’t stand being around me. Please. Because I’m going to do all of the same for you.
APRIL 16, 2015
#TBT MOTHERS DAY 2014 —
Zaxembi & Zakiya
as my mother has gotten older, this lady has become reeeeal comfortable asking for very specific holiday & birthday gifts. mmmhmm. she use to just say, “I don’t want yall spending your money on me” — and we would OF COURSE get her something nice with cards as well. she’d be “surprised”, overjoyed & cry opening whatever we presented. HOWEVER… ever since we bought her that tablet or new luggage it was a few years ago, NOW she p…resents a gift REQUEST before every event. HA! she done already laid out EXACTLY the beach bag, surrong, matching hat and glasses she wants us to ORDER for Mother’s Day so she’ll have it for her boat trip in September. Zakiya is something else. I tell you. LOL!
– but this is also the same lady who would often set aside her own wants and needs to make sure we had every item placed on our Christmas, birthday and back-to-school lists. I was 16 years old before I discovered that she was dipping from bill money here or skipping hair appointments there to guarantee we had a few of the extras. I was blessed to be raised in a two parent household, but my father didn’t support or believe in the excess of westernized materialism. now, I fully understand why. however, as mothers have done since the beginning of time, Zakiya made our naive, youthful wishes a reality. as children, we rarely understand the SILENT SACRIFICES our moms make in order to frame our childhood as “comfortable” as possible. OUR MIRACLE WORKERS
– so yeah… Mothers Day is in only 3 weeks from this SUNDAY. start thinking about your plans NOW.
APRIL 17, 2015
If you don’t want your close friends or family members judging you for “trying to make things work” with a romantic partner, STOP discussing only the negative situations that frame your relationship. When you are telling your little stories, be sure to also talk about ALL of the shit you said and did over time to contribute to the messy circumstances. People only know what you share with them — and when you’re always painting your partner to be the villain, that’s exactly how your loved ones are going to perceive them. Blame yourself for others looking at you with the side eye for choosing to stay.
APRIL 22, 2015
HERE’S MY THING:
when you say, “ME AND MY EX ARE JUST FRIENDS”, that means to me — that your ex should be fully aware, accepting and respectful of your present, romantic relationships.
if you and your ex are “JUST FRIENDS” who communicate 3-4 times each week, there’s no reason why I can’t be in the room when the two of you are texting or talking. if you can hold conversations with your mother, cousins, your homeboys — Black, Big Mike & Lil Kevin while I’m sitting right be…side you, then don’t step out of the room or wait until I’m not around to converse with your ex.
if you and your ex are “JUST FRIENDS”, there should be nothing awkward or uncomfortable about you having the both of us in the same room, at the same damn time. why? because as adults, most of us look forward to introducing those we see as “just friends” to the individual we are seriously dating. most often, we want our loved ones to know and get along with the special, romantic partner in our lives. RIGHT?
if you feel so incredibly odd or weird bringing me around your ex who is “just a friend”, then it lets me know there are still feelings involved on your part and/or theirs as well. my ex and I can double date in public or behind closed doors because we ARE really “just friends” — genuinely happy to see the other involved in a new, healthy relationship.
when you can’t openly discuss your love life with an ex without hurting their feelings, the entire “JUST FRIENDS” bullshit is simply in place to sum up the fact that you two have broken up on the surface, possibly stopped sleeping with one another, but haven’t emotionally detached.
cause see… friendship isn’t censored or selective. any ex in my life who I call just a friend, is someone who can sit across a table from me and my present date and not “feel some type of way” regarding my newfound happiness. period.
you and YOUR EX are NOT “JUST FRIENDS”.
I hope you have had an opportunity to catch up with some of the more popular posts you have possibly missed from me since January, 2015. Be sure that you are FOLLOWING all of the Xem VanAdams social media. You never know when an idea is going to pop into my head, I’m inspired to share a tidbit of love and relationship advice or I get the urge to share a new product that is working on my body + skin.
I received a phone call earlier today that prompted me to not only tell a personal story on camera, but to also share a tidbit of truth regarding the difference between friendship vs. association. I also delve into this present day obsession people seem to have with “throwing shade” or being shady. Sometimes, as adults, I don’t feel that many of us truly understand how to effectively communicate with one another without feeling slighted. I have learned to always be direct in the beginning, as to AVOID situations where I can be labeled or mistaken as a shady, dishonest or “funny acting” individual.
WATCHBELOW as I sit before you to detail yet another recent tale in my life. You decide whether or not I was being SHADY or SOCIALLY SELECTIVE.
Many of you are now aware that the 1st Xem VanAdams video of 2015 has been recorded. Announcements began towards the end of last week via all of my social media networks to inform each of you that a new video was on its way. I elected to discuss a topic that plagues contemporary pop culture and society at large. I not only wanted to address the “poisons” of social media, but I chose to tap a little into the reasoning behind its growth and influence amongst our youth, teenagers and adults as well. The video runs a total of 25 minutes. I begin by discussing the dynamics of social media and how it contributed to our lives when I began blogging in September, 2007. Then, I segue into the growth and affects of social media’s imagery, personalities and power over the decisions we make in our everyday lives.
I’ve chosen to release a preview just because I know that my core audience hasn’t seen me on camera in almost 6 months. The first few minutes of the actual video release is dedicated to my immediate supporters; as I share a tidbit of personal information that is sure to bring us closer in some regards. As this year progresses, many of you will begin to understand why I have chosen to reveal these facts at this moment in time.
Meanwhile, enjoy the preview clips. Please be sure to watch, comment and rate the NEW VIDEO within the first 24-48 hours of its release. An announcement regarding the upload date will be made via TWITTER, BOTH FACEBOOKPAGES, INSTAGRAM and TUMBLR. If you are not following me on all social media, please click the above embedded links TODAY. Each link will lead you directly to my personal page for that particular network.
The official LOVE & PIT STOPS: THE POISONS OF SOCIAL MEDIA video will be released IN FULL via Youtube.com/XemVanAdams soon enough. I encourage you all to post the actual video on your Twitter timelines, tumblr pages, Facebook walls and even screen cap images or upload a quick clip to your Instagram’s. I want the video to reach beyond my core audience because the message and content is universal at this point.
THANK YOU for continuing to love, support and embrace my journey. I look forward to recording additional videos and sharing them publicly as we move progressively through this new year.
dedicated to our untold stories and shared experiences.
It was November. The fabric of the fall season had sewn itself against the backdrop of Northeast, DC. Sharp winds streaked across my windowpane, blowing dead, crinkled leaves against the early morning air. I was stitched between the tattered comforts of my worn mattress and the dingy, white, twin size comforter that had held me for the past fifteen years. The walls shook between an echoing of metal, clapped against cup-shaped, cast metal. It was one hard, resounding hit after another. The church bell hung inside of the tower directly across the street from my second floor bedroom. It wakes me at 6am everyday. As the striker hits back and forth on the flared, thickened rim, the wind recites, ‘ding-dong-ding-dong’. A heavy banging swings into the softening horizon. Rays of purple and yellowish sun rise beneath the arch of the clouds. Orange squiggles of light begin to dart between the two beige sheets that my stepfather has draped along the plastic rods on my window. It’s another, dreadful Monday. I knew that everyone in school would be talking about homecoming weekend. My best friends would verbally lash me for skipping all of the festivities and events. The day would somehow feel like my burial. I’d need a miracle to simply get through it.
While lying flat on my back, I saw shadows of tree branches quilting patterns along the ceiling. My mother would say it was the lord’s way of blessing our home at the beginning of each day. When we were children, she told us that the shadows were God’s arms and every room would be protected. Growing up, my mother instructed me to say my prayers whenever the shadows began to tap the listening walls. Without moving, I silently recited the same prayer I had been sending since the seventh grade. “God, its me…Elijah. Please, make me like all of the other boys.”
I’m counting down six weeks, three days and eighteen hours before Christmas vacation. The date is marked on my calendar of famous writers; highlighted in the same month that features my hero, James Baldwin.
I peeked across the room to make sure that my older brother was still buried in his bed. There was a half hour left before the force of Jelani’s clock alarm would yank him from beneath the sheets. Thirty peaceful minutes gave me just enough time to do what I always do when I first wake in the morning. I turned onto my left side to face the wall; making sure that Jelani would only see my back if he were to get up early. Placing my right hand on top of the blanket, I quietly slid Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’ novel from inside of my pillowcase. It was the only copy stocked in our school library. A peering glow from the sunrise provided just enough light for me to travel between the lines of Baldwin’s infamous tales. His words made me think of a far-off day when I wouldn’t have to bow my head beneath the clouds. There would be no shame. No threats of having sin beat from my body. No one to forgive me for being black, feminine and frail.
My unclean thoughts could somehow fill the daylight and swallow up darkness. A place that had no language of rights and wrongs. Where I longed to be. I was so captivated by how ‘Giovanni’s Room’ detailed the social and romantic relationships between men. I would lie here for a moment, waist deep in helpless desires. My loins began to stretch. I had no power over this longing to feel and experience nakedness. A freedom illustrated between these pages. Since starting high school three months ago, I’ve read all of James Baldwin’s essays. My English teacher only required that we journal our thoughts and other findings from ‘Notes Of A Native Son’. However, I’ve begun to lose myself in Baldwin’s entire collection of work. He and I both paint the world with words.
I do not like being the first in the bathroom every morning. The cold licks my hideous skin, spreading across the unsightly pimples that are forming on my cheeks and my chin. My bare feet chill into clenched numbness against the freezing tiles on the floor. Standing in the bathroom mirror also forces me to see everything I hate about my face. Maybe Monday wouldn’t be so bad-looking had I not skipped my haircut on Saturday. I intentionally missed my appointment over the weekend to avoid the awkward, barbershop conversations. It’s uncomfortable having to change the topic whenever my barber begins to ask about the football game I clearly didn’t watch and whether or not I have a girlfriend.
I half sat and half leaned on the sink while brushing my teeth. I missed my father. Though most of my childhood memories include him nodding on the stoop outside of our house, he was always the first awake and walking around downstairs in the mornings. Even though he often reeked of whisky, I was too young to realize that he was an alcoholic. Some nights, my mother would yell for Jelani to help her drag my father from the curb in front of the church. Since he was always sitting there when I arrived home from school, I guess I thought his job was to guard the building. Whether my father was sitting outside at night or slouched across the couch in the living room, I always felt protected when he was around. I remember that he would carry me on his shoulders as we walked to the corner store on Saturday afternoons. He always wore the same pair of burgundy corduroy pants and a mustard yellow T-shirt. If it were cold outside, he’d throw on this worn, black leather jacket that smelled like mothballs. I’d hold mother’s grocery list in my fist, while gripping steadily the sides of my father’s head. He always bought me a twenty-five cent pretzel stick from the plastic jar that sat beside the register. He’d pull me from his shoulders as soon as we walked through the front doors of the store. My father would sit me on top of the counter and hand me two quarters from his sock. I’d pay the man with one and shove the other in my shoe. For years, I watched my father pull his dollar bills from inside of his sneakers whenever he needed to pay for anything. I guess I figured that’s where I was supposed to save my money too.
We’d leave the corner store, and my father would carry the see through, plastic bags back to the house. He’d then have a tiny, paper bag stuffed inside of his leather jacket. When I asked him what he bought, he told me it was his medicine. I remember a time when the brown bag fell onto the kitchen floor as my father lowered me from his shoulders. Glass shattered and dark liquid began seeping through cracks in the tiles. My father insisted that he’d clean up the mess, but my mother still began to cry. It was the first time I ever heard my parents screaming at each other. My mother would only shout in church on Sundays. And my father only yelled the time he caught me playing with Janna’s Cabbage Patch Kid. He yanked it out of my hand and said, ‘only sissies play with dolls Elijah!’
‘Get out punk. I need to take a shit’, Jelani shouted in his abrasive tone of voice. Even though I wasn’t finished getting dressed, I’ve learned to not argue with my older brother first thing in the morning. My stepfather will only defend Jelani, and my mother will argue with my stepfather for taking sides. Standing up to Jelani ruins the start of everyone’s day. Instead, I gave myself one final glance in the mirror, grabbed my navy, paperboy hat from the sink and began to walk out of the bathroom. Jelani slammed the door as I stepped away, hitting me in the lower back with the brass knob. A stabbing pain shot down the inside of my left leg. Gripping the top of the bannister, I fought back tears. Anger combined with helpless fury welled up in me. I grabbed my navy pea coat and grey, wool scarf from my bed. On my way leaving out of the front door, my stepfather yelled from the dining room, ‘why your pants so damn tight, Elijah?!’ I stopped and looked at him, very quiet. My stepfather had hardness about him. He chiseled his way through life, grunting his dissatisfactions. He rarely spoke two words to me, unless it was to criticize the way I walked, who I hung around, or even how I dressed. I placed my paperboy hat on my head and replied, ‘my pants aren’t tight…they just fit.’ My stepfather swallowed a fork full of scrambled eggs and then said, ‘well, your brother doesn’t wear his pants like that.’ Silence falls again. Before I could respond to yet another one of Glen’s comparisons between Jelani and I, my mother began to walk towards me from the kitchen. She was a sanctified woman who did everything she could to make life easier for me. My mother had a Cinderella soul. She was carrying my lunch in a white, plastic, grocery bag and wearing her sweet, nurturing smile. My mother shouted, ‘have a glorious day at school Elijah!’ Glen let out a huge grunt as he fell back into his chair. My mother then handed my lunch to me and wrapped her arms around my body. This was her way of defending me against my stepfather’s verbal lashings. I faked a smile as I turned away from my mother and walked out of the house.
The leaves created a natural quilt pattern that layered the ground in various shades of red, yellow and green. Adam was waiting for me in front of the church. He stood on the main sidewalk directly across the street from my front door. When I reached the pavement, I paused and looked in Adam’s face. He had clear, dark brown skin. His face was angular and his slanted eyes set deep within their sockets. He and I stood 5’10, shoulder to shoulder. The brown pea coat that Adam was wearing blended with the canopy of trees that lined the walkway. Adam and I called one another brothers, as we practically grew up together. His mother moved the family to our neighborhood when we were both five years old. We’ve attended the same schools since Kindergarten.
I was still wearing my make pretend smile. ‘What’s wrong Elijah?’ Adam asked. Adam knows my moods, even when I’m silent. He and I got to be, for each other, what the other missed. Adam had two younger sisters and always wanted another boy around. I had Jelani, but hadn’t felt close to him since my father passed away. I continued smiling and responded, ‘everything man. It’s everything.’ I put my hand on Adam’s back and nudged him to walk down the street alongside me. I didn’t want my mother to see me upset, as I knew she was watching us from the front window. Adam and I began to make our way down Branch Avenue. I explained to Adam that it was becoming extremely difficult to ignore Jelani’s bullying. Combined with my stepfather’s nitpicking, I told Jelani that it felt as if I was living with vultures. They both seemed to circle around and close in on me at the worst of times. It was as if they could sense my spirit dying, but circled lower to eventually feed off of me. Adam was already familiar with Jelani and Glen’s preferred way of living. He had been at my house enough to witness their ignorance towards everything and everyone that didn’t fit their one-way mold. Me included. Adam put his hand on my shoulder as I told him that I couldn’t wait to graduate and move out of the house. He reminded me of our lifelong pact to travel far away from Washington, DC. Our plan is to room together as freshman at whatever college or university that grants us both full scholarships. Adam said, ‘but in order to get to that point Elijah, you have to somehow fix your mind to get from one day to the next.’ Adam and I were both fifteen, but he spoke about life as if he had lived once before. ‘You have to avoid thinking too far ahead. Face the day’, he declared.
As Adam and I approached the bus stop, a group of boys stood clustered around the corner storefront. Most of them were dressed in dark sweatshirts, jeans and Jordan sneakers of some kind. I recognized one of them. He comes over to the house often to play video games with Jelani. I don’t know his name, but I definitely remember the face. He squinted while staring at Adam and I place our book bags on the ground. I slightly tilted my head back and chin up, to greet him like I usually do. He tossed his fist in the air and tilted his head as well. Now, all of the boys were looking at me. There was a stitch of silence amongst the group of boys before one of them blasted from the background, ‘you know that faggot?’ The group erupted in laughter. They playfully beat each around the shoulders. I leaned towards Adam and whispered for him to not turn around to face the boys. Adam prided himself on defending me. He wasn’t afraid to fight and he didn’t care about getting hurt in the process. Before Adam could utter a single word, loud music roared behind us. As I then turned around, I saw Jelani parking my stepfather’s pickup truck in front of the store. Jelani and I made eye contact. He turned his gaze towards the driver side door as his friend approached the truck. ‘I think it’s really foul that your stepfather lets Jelani drive his truck and he never offers you a ride to school.’ I responded, ‘It’s cool. I wouldn’t have anything to talk to him about in the car, anyways. Id actually rather catch the bus with you.’
The beat of the morning was unsteady. A mutable rhythm seemed to pace throughout the room. My math teacher stood at the front chalkboard. She requested volunteers to assist with our test review. No one responded. Even though I knew the answers, it was a heavy feeling of embarrassment that kept my hands pinned beneath the desk. Constantly being told that I sound like a girl or speak too softly weighed down my desire to talk in class. I was the only ninth grader taking Algebra II Honors. Sitting in the back section of Mrs. Beechman’s room, I tried to bury myself behind the rows of upperclassmen. I slouched down in my seat while keeping my gaze lowered between the series of math equations in my textbook. Mrs. Beechman made a habit of calling on me whenever we would make eye contact. As long as she couldn’t see me, I figured I would avoid answering any questions in front of the entire class. The room was quiet. A slow tempo of warm air blew from the ceiling vent. Mrs. Beechman slammed her teaching guide on the front table and told the class to close our notebooks. ‘Fine! Clear your desks and take out a pencil!’ Mrs. Beechman shouted. ‘If no one needs the review, it must mean that you’re ready to be tested’, she continued. The room erupted in sighs. A gush of relief flowed through my body. A pop quiz meant that we would be instructed to work in silence.
I met up with Janna between classes. She walked down the hallway swinging that thick behind of hers. I swallowed my grape juice while Janna shouted the lyrics to some Kelis song. Her voice sounded like pistols. People stared at Janna. She would lock eyes with the other girls especially and give them that yes-bitch-I-know-I’m-cute look. Janna had a round face, penny size dimples, hazel eyes and perfectly white teeth. She was pretty and had already become the center of attention at school. The first floor was filled with maroon streamers, gold balloons, sparkly confetti and various championship banners hung from the ceiling. Our football team won the homecoming game over the weekend. The entire school was still hung over with excitement. I, however, felt as if I was being embalmed alive. My physical body was present inside of the school building, but I didn’t exist amongst my classmates. Janna and everyone else around me seemed to have found their place within the crowd. Janna’s big hair and beaming personality naturally made people want to gravitate towards her. Even the upperclassmen girls who were intimidated by her popularity, still waved when we walked by. ‘I know! Lets take a picture!’ Janna yelled, as we were walking towards the cafeteria. I told Janna that I didn’t want to take a picture, as I didn’t like what I was wearing. Janna stopped in the middle of the hallway, turned towards me and gave my outfit her classic, once-over. She pulled her crinkled hair away from her face, raised her left eyebrow and looked me up and down. ‘What are you talking about Elijah? You look handsome! Best dressed boy here.’ I had on a pair of dark denim jeans that were cuffed at the bottom, black utility boots, a white oxford shirt and the black suspenders that Adam bought me for my birthday the month before school started. I guess I was still reeling over the comments that my stepfather made about how tight my pants fit. I didn’t want to pose with Janna in the hallway; drawing added attention to my skinny legs. Janna handed her pink cell phone to her friend, Melissa. She then pinned me against one of the grey, metal lockers. Poking out her butt and pressing her breasts against my arm, Janna instructed Melissa to take a full body shot. Playfully, Janna snapped, ‘Elijah, you better smile BOY…or do something sexy. Don’t ruin my damn picture.’ The camera on Janna’s phone flashed twice. I tried to look comfortable while posing beside her.
Janna and I have been friends since the first grade. While Adam and our other classmates were playing kickball or tag on the playground, Janna and I would be digging to China near the steep hill. Our teachers in elementary school always paired Janna and I as partners for class field trips. She would split her ham, cheese and cracker Lunchables with me, and I would give her half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Even when our seats would be placed apart from one another in the classroom, we’d still slide notes back and forth between the desks. Janna and I have just always been close. Whenever she meets new people, most of who happen to be other girls, she introduces them to me.
Now that Adam’s schedule has been changed, I felt awkward being the only guy sitting at a lunch table with Janna and her new girlfriends. They all talk to me, of course. However, I now wondered if everyone else in the cafeteria looked at me as being a sissy of some sort. At least when Adam would sit across from me at the end of the long, laminate table, it appeared as if we weren’t co-stars of ‘The Janna Show’. I was nervous about having to defend myself, again. Aside from Adam, guys in school never talk to me unless we are forced to work together on a science lab or other group project. The majority of my friends have always been females. I didn’t realize how different or weird it was until the boys in middle school began to tease me about it. Some of them would call me Elizabeth instead of Elijah. Janna would curse in response. She dared any of them to call me Elizabeth a second time, in her presence. She would pull her poofy hair into a thick bun and challenge anyone who made fun of me to also make fun of her. Janna has always been ready to defend me, especially if Adam wasn’t around.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Jelani standing against the floor to ceiling, cafeteria windows. His dark, masculine complexion and broad, vertical stance positioned him at the center of attention. He was posted up alongside three other juniors from the track team. I watched them with bitter eyes as they were laughing and pointing at the table of girls from my Creative Writing class. I hated the way Jelani treated other people, especially me. He doesn’t speak if he is walking with one of his friends. We at least played video games, watched television and walked to the store together when I was in the fifth and sixth grades. Now, I can’t even ask him for a ride home from school. Though my newspaper meetings end the same time as his track practices, he’ll say there isn’t enough room for me.
I’ve told him to stop pushing up on Janna. He makes repeated comments about her ass whenever he sees us walking together. His eyes always move over her body. Janna smiles and rolls her eyes at him, but I think it’s disgusting. It would seem that Jelani would look at Janna as his little sister or younger cousin.
As fourth period lunch ended, I could hear Jelani’s voice chanting above the cluster of other voices. ‘Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!’ belted from him as I walked beside Janna and her friends. The harmonized laughter from Jelani’s track teammates infuriated me. They were following behind us as the crowd dismissed from the cafeteria. I had never before expressed to Janna how irritated I was by Jelani’s advances towards her. I figured that she wouldn’t entertain his nonsense. Janna was a big flirt when she wanted to be. She dropped her purse on the floor and stopped in the middle of the doorway. She stuck out her tongue, rubbed her fingers through the back of her hair and started shaking her ass. Janna was wearing grey leggings that accentuated her full curves. Melissa laughed and started chanting in unison with Jelani’s clown posse. I darted ahead of them.
I loathed crossing the big, burgundy corridors that led to the gymnasium. This is the worst part of my day. An intolerable heaviness formed in the pit of my stomach as I slowly dragged my body down the long, dark, basement hallway. While captains chose the other, more athletic guys to join their teams, I was always the last pick. As beige, concrete walls frame my journey to PE, I can’t help but to want to skip class, again. I intentionally missed eighteen days out of forty-five during the last quarter. I also only changed into my gym uniform eleven of those eighteen days. Coach Miller gave me a sixty-five as a first quarter grade. Even though it’s considered passing, my mother was very disappointed. In the teacher’s comment section, Coach Miller reported, does not participate fully in class, attendance is unsatisfactory and does not present proper and appropriate class materials. Avoiding gym class in middle school was easy since I played the saxophone. Band was a year long, mandatory elective for all members. During the first week of this school year, I begged the ninth grade advisor to assign me any other class other than Physical Education.
Adam was already changed into his gym shorts by the time I entered the locker room. He was standing shirtless, bow-legged and barefoot, while shoving his jeans and boots into his book bag. Since the start of second quarter, Adam has been weight-training afterschool, three days each week. I could already see results in his upper body. Adam’s pecs were sitting at attention, his back looked wider and his arms were definitely thicker. Before we started high school in September, Adam and I spent the summer talking about putting on more pounds. We were supposed to start lifting weights together. I instead joined the school newspaper. As I sat down at the end of the wooden bench, Adam laughed and said, ‘I see that sixty-five got your ass in here this afternoon.’ ‘Barely’, I responded. Adam grabbed my neck with one hand and playfully pulled me backwards. He then leaned over me with his little smile and said, ‘well, you’ll enjoy these next few weeks of swimming bro.’ The heavy knot instantly grew larger inside of my stomach. I was going to have to stand barechested in front of my entire gym class. While swimming is one of the few sports that I excel in, I hated my puny body.
The white, drawstrings on my gym shorts were tied extremely tight. I would normally have my tee shirt tucked in to prevent my shorts from falling down. Standing half naked around the pool caused me to freak out! My heart was beating like a fist banging on a locked door. I could feel my fingers trembling. They were cold and clammy like fish scales. Adam stood directly beside me while Coach Miller called roll. As each of my classmates names were called, I couldn’t help but notice their bodies. I avoided making direct eye contact with any of them as I snuck quick glances of their torsos. I was still the skinniest amongst the group. This was the first time I was seeing the other guys in my gym class half dressed. While changing in the locker room first quarter, I always took my clothes off in one of the bathroom stalls to avoid moments like these. I couldn’t wait for Coach Miller to blow his whistle so I could jump in the water. I desperately wanted to hide.
Wringing wet and funky with chlorine, I dried off while facing the lockers. My towel was wrapped around my waist as I slid my shorts off. I was afraid to peel my gaze from the cement wall. The fear of being seen naked or someone else seeing me, see them naked kept my eyes mounted forward. While Adam was rinsing off in the showers, some of the other guys walked into the aisle to congratulate me for swimming the fastest laps. It was the first time I had ever heard my name spoken inside of the locker room.
The remainder of the day felt like that moment between reaching the top of a roller coaster ride and dropping 144 feet into the depths of unknown territory. I was now tall. For once, I finally felt like all of the other boys in school. It made me wonder if God had finally answered my prayers by making me normal. I walked down the center of the third floor hallway with a gigantic smile on my face. Janna stopped me as I was headed to Spanish class and asked why I was grinning so big. I told her that I swam the fastest lap speed during gym. She jumped, brushed her hands through my wet hair and then grabbed me tight around my upper arms. Janna then shouted, ‘my winner…you Elijah, are MY winner!’ People were slowing down in front of Janna and I to see why she was once again yelling to the top of her lungs. Her enormous personality had a way of crowding open spaces. This time, the stares didn’t make me feel awkward or uncomfortable. In my mind however, I questioned whether or not this day would mark the beginning of my happily-ever-after. Had the listening walls finally heard my silent cries?
It was now four o’clock. Mr. Gibson ran afterschool newspaper meetings the same way he taught our last period, English class. Everyone sat around a semi circle of wood finish desks to toss ideas back and forth. It forces the group to engage with one another directly, I suppose. Aside from Mr. Gibson, I was the only other black sitting amongst seats that were filled by white students. I didn’t mind, for I rather enjoyed being the ONE everyone turned to for advice when completing sensitive article assignments. Since the majority of the student body was black, I did often wonder why I was the only African American student on staff. Mr. Gibson suggested I sign up to write for the school paper in the beginning of the year. He was impressed with my first thesis paper and said he enjoyed my unique, writing style. I guess he has become the only teacher I relate to outside of school. He took me to a journalism workshop in Georgetown a few weeks after I officially joined the paper. Hanging out with Mr. Gibson on a Saturday made me look at him a little differently than I do the other administrators. He’s only twenty-five, so our conversations reminded me of how Jelani and I would possibly talk to one another if Jelani ever spoke to me at all. I remember during our first staff meeting, the Editor-In-Chief of the paper assumed I would be interested in doing the sports column. She probably thought that black boys in Washington, DC didn’t enjoy life beyond the basketball court. I initially accepted the position, for I didn’t realize that I had the option to turn it down. Having no idea how I would cover games that I never attended, I later expressed to Mr. Gibson that I felt more comfortable writing editorial pieces. He spoke to the Editor-in-Chief days later. Together, they obliged my request.
An early fall sunset illuminated the tips of the bright red oak trees that framed my ride home. It was now a quarter after five. As I sat in the rear corner seat of the transit bus, I thought about Adam. He had been teaching me to take precautions when traveling the city alone. Adam insisted that I sit in the back row whenever we weren’t together. He said the back row provided the best view to see everyone. Adam said to never place myself where someone I couldn’t see would be able to watch me. I directed my gaze outside to witness the city get darker between each bus stop. I somehow didn’t want to go straight home. My mind wandered as I thought about James Baldwin’s adventures in New York City; the ones I had repeatedly read about. I recounted in my head the stories about him meeting other writers and artists in Greenwich Village. As I imagined living somewhere like Manhattan or Harlem, I envisioned myself sitting outside of a tiny café. I’d sip coffee beneath a white, bistro umbrella and people-watch between writing journal entries.
My daydream was then interrupted by the acrid smell of smoke. I looked up to notice three guys sitting near me in the rear of the bus. They all looked familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place their faces. The thicker one of the group had taken up two seats on the opposite side of the back row. He was looking at me from the corner of his eye and moving his lips soundlessly. The visible wear and tear of his clothing made me think that he had just left his job at a warehouse or something. I saw the other two staring at me from their seats as well. They kept tapping one another on the knee and motioning their fingers towards me. The bus driver peeked at me through his long, rearview mirror before turning into my neighborhood. It was then I realized that the guys were a part of the group that hung out in front of the corner store.
My stop was coming up. I wanted to ring the bell, but the muscles in my arms were frozen in fear. The thought of these guys following me off the bus made me wish I had Janna or Adam sitting beside me. My first mind told me to remain seated and simply allow the bus to roll by Branch Avenue. I figured the boys were getting off there anyways to do whatever it is they do on the storefront at night. If I got off at the stop after Branch Avenue, I could easily take the alley behind the church. Id cut across the street in front of Adam’s house to get home. Jelani nor my stepfather would care if I made it home tonight or not. However, I knew that my mother would be heartbroken. It was the thought of seeing her smiling face at the receiving end of this Monday that forced me to get up. As my mind raced between the ideas of being ambushed by the group and my mother finding my mutilated body lying in the street, I began fidgeting with my house keys. For a moment, I felt silly even having these thoughts about three guys I didn’t know.
I fearfully lowered my gaze to stare at my shoes. Though my tiny fists probably wouldn’t inflict severe pain during a fight, I knew the front of my utility boots could. Lifting my right arm to pull the bell, I stood and began walking towards the back door of the bus.
The boy wearing the black thermal shirt and black puff coat turned his head towards me. He was sitting in the seat directly across from the back door. His wicked gaze traveled from my shoes, resting on my book bag and up to my face. I caught only a glimpse of his eyes before turning to face the outside. I shuddered as I could see the window reflection of all three boys standing up behind me. I held tightly to the silver pole that was parallel to the back exit sign. My house keys were now clenched in my right fist. The taller, light skin boy had a devious smirk wiped across his face. He kept looking back and forth between the heavyset boy and me. Neither of them seemed too threatening. However, the guy in all black appeared to be someone who could be capable of anything. I recognized him as the one who called me a faggot after I spoke to Jelani’s friend at the storefront.
The bus finally stopped on the corner of Branch Avenue and Hampstead Road. As the backdoor swung open, I felt a brisk wind blow against me. My body filled with panic as I walked down the exit stairs. My throat tightened for a brief moment. I tried slowly to breathe-in the air that was smacking against my face. The tingling of pins and needles in my toes made it difficult for me to walk. I knew once the bus driver pulled away there would be no one to protect me. ‘Where’s your little boyfriend?!’, the one in black shouted. I didn’t respond. The two other boys laughed while standing behind me. He continued, ‘you heard me FAGGOT.’ I turned to face the group of boys and said, ‘I’m not that.’
A high-pitched squeak from the brakes on the bus drowned out whatever the boy in black said next. His eyes were cold and empty as he jumped towards me. He grabbed the collar of my coat and viciously shoved me to the ground. When my face hit the concrete, I heard a familiar ringing sound in the distance. It was a torn, chilling metal, clapping against the evening skies. Curling my body into the same fetal position that I usually sleep in, I covered the back of my neck with both of my hands. The thick lining of my coat seemed to cushion the heavy blows from shoes kicking and stomping my body. It hurt then it didn’t hurt. As angry hits then streaked across my face, I could still hear the chime of church bells in the background. Sharp knuckles pierced my skin causing blood to gush from my nose. I laid nowhere. Shadows from tree branches framed around me. My body was being protected. I wanted to scream for my mother, but I knew she wouldn’t hear me above this Monday night storm. It had come. It was doing its damage and then it would hopefully be gone.
The clouds would no longer cover my scars as dusk turns to dawn. I stumbled across Hampstead Road with my torn book bag still strapped to my back. The three boys had darted into the darkness. My foolproof plan to pray away my differences had been outnumbered. I was coughing and crying beneath the streetlights that lined Branch Avenue. The air was foul with the smell of mothballs and whisky; the same scent that stayed in my clothes for weeks after my father would lower me from his shoulders. I felt his presence in the series of short steps that led me closer and closer towards my front door. The dollar bills I had shoved deep into my left sock after buying snacks at lunch were now soggy and sticking to the bottom of my foot. It was as if my father was taking this walk ahead of me. A barrier of protection from the intolerable world. He spoke a silent language in my ear this night. Over and beyond the thoughts of what I would tell my mother or how Janna and Adam would react, I heard my father saying, ‘Get home, Elijah.’ Blood trickled down the side of my face, but I somehow wasn’t in physical pain. Shame fell away from my heart, even knowing that Jelani and my stepfather would see my wounds. I felt no more threats of having to defend myself against their verbal lashings or the physical blows from strangers. There was no need to be forgiven for my being feminine, soft spoken and frail. I began thinking about what Adam said to me in the morning as we walked down this same street. And he was right. I had to face the trials and tribulations of each day in order to celebrate the triumphs of tomorrow. There was no majestic place I could travel to escape my way of living. No faint ability to blend into the crowd. No miracle. No miracle on Monday.
Hello Xem. My name is Andrew. I don’t mind if you share this letter on your website because at this point I am extremely fed up. I have been a fan of yours since 2010 and I very much respect your point of view on the different issues you discuss with us. I don’t want to take up too much of your time because I know you get so many of these requests on a regular basis. So to keep it nice and sweet, I am at the point where I feel my friendship with one of my best friends is in jeopardy. He has been living with me since March in my one bedroom apartment and it doesn’t seem that he is making attempts to move out. He lost his job around Christmas and began borrowing money from us to pay his bills, so we thought (there are 3 of us who have known each other since high school). He told us that he was going to be receiving unemployment and would pay us back once the checks began coming in after the processing period. He said that would be in January. Well, we come to find out that he used the money he borrowed not to pay his rent or other bills in full, but to still buy gifts for other people. Then, when the new year came around he was trying to play catch up on his car note and gas and electric and rent. So, none of us (the 3 friends) knew that he was borrowing money from all of us. Something happened with the unemployment whereas he wasn’t able to receive the checks. I guess he started receiving eviction notices in March and his car company even began calling me looking for him because he was so behind on his car note. I became really concerned and because I love him like a brother I offered him to come stay with me until he could get back on his feet. I’m a bank manager, so I know that we do summer hires every year that most often turn into full time positions. I arranged for my best friend to interview in April for one of the three teller positions that was opening in June. I basically tailored his resume so that his skills would fit the teller position requirements. Everything was arranged for a Wednesday afternoon. I even allowed him to drop me off at work using my car that day, go back to the apartment, get dressed later in the day and come in for the 1pm interview. He never showed!!! I thought something happened to him so I began panicking and calling him and our other friends. He was asleep the entire time!!! This has become who he is now. He sleeps through the entire day and is up throughout the night blasting the television or asking to use my car before I go to bed. When I give him leads for different positions that are opening in different places he doesn’t follow through by faxing his resume. I have a fax machine and scanner at my apartment, so he doesn’t need to venture out to an Office Max or anything.
I also don’t feel that he respects my things. He sleeps in my living room every night, but he doesn’t fold the sheets or blankets or fix the couch when he wakes up. He doesn’t clean out the bathtub once he takes a shower or even do anything for that matter. Our other friends warned me to not allow him to move in with me but he honestly had nowhere else to go. His parents moved to Texas two years ago and that’s when he moved out into his own place here. His sister is away at college in Minnesota, but goes home to Texas during her breaks and we (the 3 of us) are basically his other family so to speak. I’m the one who welcomed him into the house, so how can I ask him to leave now? I know he is unmotivated right now and probably depressed in certain ways, but when I try to even talk to him he doesn’t want to discuss anything. I think it would push him over the edge if I asked him to leave, but our other friends are saying that he needs to hit rock bottom before he stands on his own. Do you agree with that and how would you handle this situation? I know I wrote more than I expected. Sorry. I hope you will still respond to me.
I absolutely agree with how your circle of friends feel regarding your present living situation, and the circumstances that surround the mutual best friend. Your heart was obviously in the best place when you opened your home to someone who you consider to be a brother. He was facing hardship and you provided what should have been a temporary cushion to soften the heavy blows of life. However, you made the mistake of not setting rules and framing a timeline for your best friend to follow prior to moving into your home. While we’re sometimes unable to predict how long it will take for someone to “get on their feet”, I feel that allowing a friend to live in your home for 2-3 months is more than fair in aiding in their process to restructure their financial life. When we fail to set expiration or due dates, the people closest to us will subconsciously take advantage of that opening. We extend ourselves out of a pure love for a friend, but that friend becomes so comfortable that they begin to depend on our helping hands. You have created a situation for yourself where you are now taking care of your best friend, as opposed to your intention of helping him once again take care of himself.
If it truly isn’t in your heart or your spirit to send your best friend out into the street immediately, it is time that you give him a deadline to move out of your apartment. If he knows that he now only has until November 1st to find another place to live, I am confident that the deadline will light a fire beneath him to vigorously search for employment. Your best friend is obviously not a dead-beat, otherwise he would have never been able to maintain his own place or vehicle for the past two years. He certainly possesses marketable skills, as he held a full-time position prior to losing his job last December. So, the issue isn’t that he can’t find a job or a new place to live. The problem is that he has become complacent and refuses to move his feet.
In the meantime, you must also create basic rules to govern your household. Treat your best friend as if he is your roommate. In essence, that is your living situation for these final 2 months that you will allow him to live in your home. Make it clear to him that you need your rest at night and therefore, he needs to monitor the volume of the living room television. Give him the responsibility of cleaning the bathroom every Sunday and mopping floors or vacuuming on Saturdays. Sometimes, as this is true for a lot of men, they won’t initiate cleaning – but they will follow a routine of straightening up behind themselves when they are instructed to do so. Remind your best friend that even though he sleeps on your couch every night, that area isn’t considered his bedroom. Ask him to please fold the sheets and straighten the pillows each time he wakes up and starts his day.
If your best friend is offended by your deadline date or taken aback by the new rules you set in place, he will possibly leave on his own. You cannot feel guilty if he catches an attitude and decides to move out now. This grown man has lived with you, rent-free for the past six months. Honestly, you have already extended yourself beyond reasonable expectations. If he decides to stop speaking to you and continues to associate with the other friends who refused to let him live in their homes, then he doesn’t value your friendship. You have provided for him in ways that no one else was willing or able to do during these dark moments in his life. Though he may be depressed or frustrated at the hands of his present circumstances, he has also made you feel uncomfortable living in your own home. It’s unfair. A large part of maintaining a healthy friendship is being able to look at someone you care about and say, “HERE IS WHERE I DRAW THE LINE”. If they continue to cross those boundaries, that’s your cue to cross them out of your life.
As Labor Day Weekend is coming to a close, everyone has begun to upload their group photos from the local pool parties, different out of town excursions and final summer outings at the beach. Meanwhile, you are sitting behind your computer screen and suffering from feelings of rejection or dealing with other self-deprecating thoughts. As you’re seeing pics of fun times filtering through your social media timelines, it’s tough to not wonder, “Why was I not invited?” – Another holiday weekend passes by and all you’ve done is clean up, watch movies and order carry out for ONE.
It’s easy to begin questioning whether or not you’re to be considered socially awkward when you’ve spent three free days behind closed doors and no one in your life has bothered to call or text about making plans. Your friends who decided to stay in town never made mention about going out to eat or getting drinks at the downtown bar, and the guy you’re sort of dating never said anything about coming over to keep your company. As far as you were concerned, everyone was going to lay low, lounge around the house or maybe engage in family activities. However, seeing pictures of people you thought you were close to, hanging out with others you don’t even recognize has made you feel out of the loop. You aren’t necessarily angry or upset, as much as you have become frustrated by not being included in the group activities.
Often times, we see or hear about our friends spending time with their other associates and we make ourselves feel insecure about those relationships. We assume that we are being intentionally left out of “exclusive” outings. As a result, we force ourselves into this mode of questioning our friendship status with certain individuals. It rarely crosses our minds however, that no harm was meant by the parties involved that did not directly include us in their group plans. Circumstances simply created a moment where a circle of people came together for a social event and you were not in attendance. It may seem shady on the part of your good friend, but you have to keep a few situations in mind…
THE PLAN WAS SPONTANEOUS – Every outing isn’t scheduled or detailed ahead of time. Sometimes, plans fall through with one circle of people and your friend is invited to join their associates at the last minute. Since your friend isn’t close to the majority of the group they’re being asked to hangout with, it would be inappropriate for him or her to simply invite you to come along. Their intention may have been to stay in the house the entire weekend. However, your friend never said that they wouldn’t go out if an opportunity presented itself. Did you make any suggestions to your friend for you both to see a matinee movie together or to randomly grab a cocktail on some uptown rooftop? NO.
THE OUTING HAD AN UNSPOKEN OPEN INVITATION – Sometimes, our friends assume that if they are hosting a cookout, movie night or game party at their place, you automatically know that you’re invited. Since the two of you have known one another for so long, your friend doesn’t always deem it necessary to formally ask you to come over or stop by. If you understand the dynamics of your relationship with certain people, the ones you are closest to consider you family. Family is usually the first to arrive with helping hands and possibly a homemade dish as well.
YOU DON’T GET ALONG WITH A PARTICULAR GROUP OF PEOPLE – Your friend has decided to attend an event where the majority of the attendees will be a group of individuals you don’t like or enjoy mixing with. On numerous occasions, you’ve made it clear that you don’t want to be present in the company of certain people your friend hangs around. Keeping this in mind, your friend didn’t even bother to mention the plans because they knew based on past experiences that you’d be uncomfortable or annoyed. YOU SAID IT.
IT WAS ASSUMED THAT YOU ALREADY KNEW ABOUT THE PLANS – Your friend sent out an Evite via email or created a Facebook Event. The digital invitation was sent to you along with everyone else days in advance. Somehow, between your busy schedule and other responsibilities, you had not been able to check your online inboxes. You can be bothered by the fact that you missed the party, but you can’t be angry at the host for not personally calling or texting to invite you. We are adults living in an age where most people plan casual get-togethers online.
YOU NEVER SHOW UP ANY OTHER TIME SO WHY SHOULD THIS EVENT BE ANY DIFFERENT? – We tend to exclude ourselves from group activities so often that our friends become too frustrated to even make mention of an upcoming party or get together. While your second job, romantic relationship or financial obligations don’t always allow you to hangout, the people around you become use to your absence. When the invitation list is being created, it’s assumed that you won’t be able to attend for one reason or another. The fact that you’ve missed the past three or four outings makes people think that you’re too busy or preoccupied to participate. Begin making yourself more available to socialize in public and your name may inch itself back to the top of the invitee list.
Most often, it is a harmless misunderstanding between friends that results in one person not being formally invited to attend an event, or another individual never hearing about a particular outing. However, we can’t rely upon our friends or other people to fill the voids in our lives. While being left out of group events or holiday weekend plans can be hurtful, our happiness or sense of comfort should never depend upon inclusion in social circles or other activities. It is the responsibility of the individual to engage themselves in solo tasks and hobbies that are just as entertaining behind closed doors, as hanging out with other people in public. Create situations for yourself where the absence of an invitation cannot create a hole in your attitude, mood or demeanor.
I love and embrace the fact that the large majority of my supporters truly respect my talents and look up to me as a “big brother”, boyfriend-in-your-head, loving friend or even a father figure. However, I’m just really starting to become ANNOYED that people hold me to a completely different standard than they do some of the others. Please understand that before I am ‘Xem VanAdams’; a public figure who enjoys writing and speaking about social issues or relationship topics, I am very much a human being. You may have been introduced to me through an online video or article post that focused on a serious, relatable matter. Then, you probably began digging for additional content from me that was created along the same lines. By natural order, you may have decided who I was in those moments and somehow placed me in this mental box of purity and other straight-laced confines. You assumed that because I speak a certain way or that I think along certain lines, I’m simply not allowed to be silly or sexual. You mentally painted me onto a canvas where my everyday personality and common interests aren’t given room to color outside of very black and white lines.
THAT’S COMPLETELY UNFAIR!
In my real, everyday life, I too enjoy looking at male celebrities or listening to TOP 40 music on the local radio stations. I too enjoy posting a shirtless pic every few weeks to show off the hard work and dedication that I’ve invested into building my body. I too am allowed to cruise MyVidster and make casual mention of it online if in that moment, I feel comfortable doing so. I AM NOT A MONK.
Every single pastor, professor and political figure you’ve ever come in contact with engages in the exact same activities as the individuals they serve. I have never presented myself publicly as being holier than thou. What many of you must remember about my platform is that I have been a present force for over six years now. When many of you discovered me circa 2008-2010, social media had not risen to the degree where it presently burns. As a result, I didn’t have to promote my content or myself across various platforms. I didn’t have to tweet at the high points throughout each day to stay connected to my audience. I wasn’t forced to update two different Facebook pages with links and status messages during peek hours in an effort to increase my web traffic. There was no Instagram in existence for me to post pictures regularly in order to maintain the attention of my readers & viewers in between the release of projects. All I had to do was release a video on Youtube once each week and post to my Blogspot or XemVanAdams.com. I wasn’t being pressured to meet quotas in order to receive a monthly paycheck from Google.
EVERYTHING I POST IS VERY STRATEGIC. EVERYTHING! Marketing 101 will teach you to grab your potential customer with an enticing visual and then slide the message or sale directly behind it. If you’ve paid close attention to the ways in which my social media pages are updated in association with the core content, you’ll notice a balance between surface imagery and quality sustenance. My platform does not rely heavily on celebrity gossip, reality show reviews, award show critiques and other mainstream topics of interest. As a result, to maintain my high reader and viewership, I must constantly attract new followers.
Joe and Shmoe may start following me on Twitter because someone retweeted a Twitpic I posted of Trey Songz taking a selfie in his underwear. However, immediately following that tweeted pic will be a link to my latest article posted on XemSays.com or my most recent video uploaded to Youtube.com/XemVanAdams. Joe and Shmoe are more than likely going to click the link and then be turned on to my real work. It’s very calculated ladies and gentlemen. On average, each of my articles is read 5,300-5,500 times over a 30-day period. That traffic would be cut in half if I did not use certain types of images to attract the common reader. I don’t have the luxury of posting a link once, sleeping the rest of the day away and waking up to full readership or viewership. Unlike some of the others, I have to actually dedicate 50% of my time to simply promoting my material. Part of that promotion is also sharing content that is associated with my target audience, but not necessarily a direct parallel to the stories, articles and videos I create for that particular group. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? – No, I’m not going to record a video discussing Kim Kardashian. However, I will post a new picture on my basic, social media pages of North West posed in the fall 2014 Chanel ad. A random, Facebook friend named David Collins may see the picture in his timeline as he is scrolling one evening. Having only followed me because he liked my avi three months ago, David Collins may have NEVER read a Xem VanAdams article or even so much as watched a Xem VanAdams video. NOW, because David is home from work and has a little time on his hands, the chances are greater that he will go from ‘liking’ the pic of North West to now scrolling my entire wall. Once David begins perusing my Facebook wall, he sees a photo of a guy he finds attractive. That photo is attached to a link that connects to my article of the day. David reads the article and not only loves my writing style but also relates to the situation Ive described or the advice Ive given another reader. David Collins begins visiting my website daily and then discovers my youtube channel in the top header.
The reason why 15,000 people will watch me sit in front of a camera for 15-30 minutes and discuss a real, everyday issue is because I’ve shared many facets of who I am over a course of time. I’m not going to pretend that I’m some thirty-something intellectual who walks around each day preaching about sexuality, giving love advice or being serious from sunup to sundown. I pride myself on being vulnerable, honest, approachable and HUMAN. A large part of me being HUMAN is also sharing my appreciation for the male form, new music, paparazzi pictures, selfies and other social media ingredients that are mixed to create a substantial following.
Sometimes, in order to attract the attention of common individuals, you have to reel them in with conventional images, popular hash tags & headings, or mainstream interests.
As you obviously exist as a part of my core audience, please allow me to express myself in a personal and professional manner that has proven to be effective. As I eventually move beyond my sole, online platform, there will be additional sides of my character revealed as well. I’m not apologizing for any of it. At the beginning and end of each day, I feel very PROUD of what I have managed to accomplish in such a short period of time. I cannot and will not pretend to be a boy scout simply to appease those who mentally created that image of me a long time ago. I was never that person, even when I recorded “Young, Black & Gay In America” in August of 2008. Smart guys are allowed to be sexual. Pop culture junkies are allowed to discuss politics. And I must be allowed to continue sharing myself freely – until the powers that be are paying me to brand my media content separately from connecting to my audience, personally.
Many people spend forty hours each week strapped to a swivel office chair that is positioned comfortably behind a cubicle or a cherry wooden desk of some kind. Between taking calls, inputting computer data, running reports or managing a staff that completes all of these tedious tasks, your job has become an intricate part of your life. You either love what you are paid to do from nine to five everyday or you’ve grown to loathe everything associated with your title, position and responsibilities. However, you’ve become very comfortable or complacent in the routine of each day. You don’t have to consciously think about what needs to be completed first thing in the morning. Your boss no longer has to remind you about turning in certain files after lunch, or remembering to shut down your computer and lock your phone at the end of the day. When you are in the office, you pretty much do whatever you want because you’ve been employed with the same company for years. No one of authority addresses your attitude, mood or demeanor and that’s precisely why most of your co-workers can’t stand you.
For quite some time now, you’ve been allowed to get away with being less than professional. Everyone who works around you has become increasingly bothered by your behavior. The things you say out of your mouth and everything you do during office hours has become so normal to the higher ups that they basically allow your actions to slide. As a result, you’ve become the topic of lunch hour conversations for seven of your most annoying, in office habits….
7. PROLONGING GROUP MEETINGS – You are the only individual who sits in the back of the team room and actually responds to the boss when he asks if anyone can share a story or give an example of a situation that supports a statement he has made. You see meetings as the perfect opportunity to ramble on and on about how things use to be when you were hired before all of the new people came on board. Very little of what you have to say in meetings is concise or even relevant to the topics that are being presented. Your entire point and purpose in raising your hand is to verbally remind everyone that you have some level of seniority or advanced experience.
6. YOUR OFFICE PARTY CONTRIBUTIONS ARE ALWAYS BASIC – As much as you love to brag about your seniority on the job, you never like to bring real food or necessary items to the holiday parties or other company events. While everyone else makes homemade pasta, grilled chicken, baked cookies or a special seven-spice punch, you’ll bring straws – a pack of 20 for a staff of 53. Even when it’s your turn once a quarter to contribute to the Friday staff breakfast, you’ll simply stop at Dunkin Donuts to purchase one, twenty-five count box of munchkins. You’re the first person in the office to pile your plate with everyone else’s homemade dishes. However, when it comes to contributing food items that most of the other staff would eat and enjoy, you choose to bring the flimsy, white, dentist office cups.
5. YOUR GOSSIP HAS CREATED A LOT OF OFFICE TENSION – Since you’ve been working for the same company for so long, you seem to know the personal and professional business that’s associated with the admin, supervisors, newcomers, janitors and support staff. Although you don’t maliciously cause drama by sharing people’s business with others in the office, you certainly don’t stop yourself from gossiping either. Since you spend more time walking by everyone’s cubicles than you spend sitting at your own, you tend to catch the tail end of personal conversations. Anything you hear, whether it is accurate or only the partial story, you take the information and tell it to anyone willing to listen. If you see Tony tap the vending machine with his fist to help Janet retrieve her soda that was stuck, you’ll begin telling others that they’re dating. Your mouth and half-truths are always found at the center of controversy that ignites between your co-workers. When people approach you to ask why you said certain things about them, your first and immediate response is always, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Where did you hear that?”
4. YOU DON’T RESPECT THE OFFICE CLOCK OR OTHER COMPANY POLICIES– As far as you’re concerned, everyday is casual Friday and your ‘lunch hour’ is merely a title that has little to do with a set, 60 minute time period. Despite the fact that you work in a fairly business-casual environment, the outfits you decide to wear to work are always inappropriate. You will come into the office on Monday wearing thong flip-flops and a wrinkled, graphic tee. Sometimes, your explicit body art and other piercings are blatantly on display. You have violated the dress code so often that for you to actually be dressed appropriately for an office environment would appear abnormal to the other staff. Meanwhile, though a five-minute grace period is in effect to give employees time to return from their hour lunch break and settle down, you return to your desk at your own leisure. Often times, without notice to anyone on the administrative staff, you’ll leave for lunch fifteen minutes early and return thirty to forty-five minutes late. Not only do you return from lunch way beyond your scheduled period, you’ll also then sit at your desk and carry on the cell phone conversation that contributed to your lateness. You’re loud, laughing and talking to the top of your lungs. Never mind the fact that cell phone usage is only permitted outside, in the break room or in case of an emergency – your desk is used as a phone booth. Your co-workers know the intimate details that surround the lives of your family and close friends because they’re exposed to your “personal” conversations on a regular basis.
3. YOU THINK YOUR POSITION IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT IT REALLY IS – Sweetie, though you’ve been employed with the same company for three years, you have never been promoted beyond your entry level position. You hold the same title as all of your co-workers who were newly hired or brought on board permanently after completing a temp assignment. However, you make it your business to send out mass emails and other memos that detail what others in your same position need to have completed and processed by certain deadline dates. You’ve taken on this self imposed leadership position over individuals who have completed higher levels of education than you’ve achieved. These same co-workers have also garnered just as much experience working at other companies. You wear your job title on your sleeve, but you aren’t willing to actually do the work that is attached to your position.
2. YOU’VE TAKEN CREDIT FOR TASKS YOU DID NOT COMPLETE – Often times, it’s other staff members who have had to show you how to use the new programs, software and other equipment. You’ve grown so comfortable with the tools and resources that were used years ago, that you’ve never adapted to the system updates. As a result, you’ve been unable to effectively contribute to the projects that have been assigned by the higher ups. However, you’re the first person to volunteer to turn in the completed projects, as to receive credit for the organization and presentation of each assignment.
1. YOU IGNORE ALL HAPPY HOUR INVITATIONS & OTHER OUT OF OFFICE ACTIVITIES – You love being the center of attention inside of the office, but you’ve made it perfectly clear that you don’t want anything to do with your co-workers or boss after work hours. When everyone is going out for cocktails and wings on a Friday evening to celebrate someone’s promotion or new job offer, you’re the first to say, “oh…I have a doctors appointment”, or “wait…I have to pick up my son from daycare”. Everyone knows that you’re lying to simply get out of attending the out of office functions, especially since you don’t have children. Even during times when everyone has donated a dollar or two to purchase a wedding gift or flowers for a co-worker who lost a family member, you opt out of contributing anything. You don’t enjoy socializing with your co-workers outside of the office, but you will certainly make their lives a living hell while on the job.
As you pack your bags at the end of each day and unplug the portable heater that’s not allowed and hidden beneath your desk, you don’t even realize that you’ve alienated everyone sitting around you. You’ve become so set in your poor professional ways that much of what you do and don’t do in the office is acceptable as far as you’re concerned. The vice president of the company thinks the world of you and his supporting staff simply follows his lead. As a result, you’ll never be reprimanded for your bad office habits and that’s the only reason your co-workers need to hate your incompetent guts.
This morning, I woke up to the Facebook post that has been embedded above. Written by an obviously frustrated, gay, black male, I certainly understand his point of view. While I do not agree with all of his piercing statements, I certainly empathize with his feelings regarding the image of gay, black men in mainstream media. Derek J, Atlanta based hairstylist and on-air, BRAVO personality, shared the online post via his Facebook wall. I read Derek J’s thoughts in response to the original writer, and have publicly replied to both. I am sharing my feelings with you below. If you have followed or supported my platform over the past six years, you’re already very familiar with my thoughts and ideas regarding this particular issue…
DEREK J’S POST: So this post by Trent Britian Jéter was brought to my attention. The points that are brought up in his post are valid and very well understood, but it always amazes me when people pick and choose what they want to support and stand for. You don’t want to support a feminine man in media because you feel like we are not a good representation of the black gay community. But on the other had you would support a black woman that has rape the gay culture for their lingo, fashion sense, and beauty creating skills. Or better yet you would support the rapper that don’t even see the lifestyle at all in a positive way for the black community. I can on speak for myself, before I was on tv I was and still a black gay business man who owns a successful salon, that also mentors gay youth and give back to the community. I am also a gay black man that’s not trying to be a woman, who is comfortable in his skin and don’t mind being who I am. So with that said I challenge all the “masculine” men that have a problem with the representation of black gay men on television to stand up and do something about it. Ooooooo I forgot you didn’t want anyone to know you were gay.
XEM SAYS: I partially AGREE with the writer, Trent Britain Jeter. The mainstream media carefully and very specifically features gay men of color on nationally televised platforms who wear high heels, carry handbags, adorn makeup, work as cosmetologists and hail Beyonce as their holy grail. While the effeminate male is a very necessary and immediate figure amongst the black, gay community, he is always only painted as a one dimensional caricature. The viewing audience is NEVER given any real insight into his romantic life, relationships with biological family or his lifestyle outside of doing hair, makeup or styling for the lead, female characters. THAT IS MY PROBLEM. The focus of his character is centered on his over-the-top, outlandish antics, and never geared towards the struggles he has faced to feel safe in being so open or free. I love effeminate men, as I too possess feminine and masculine qualities. However, when placed on a television screen, gay men of color are ONLY EVER cast as the over-the-top, “clown-characters” – mostly one dimensional and realistically flawed. The writer wants a bit of what I’ve been fighting and pushing for over the past few years. WE should have the privilege of seeing ourselves in the light under which many of us live on a daily basis. I have been pushing forever to have gay men of color centered in media as three dimensional characters who have healthy relationships with both parents, professional jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with fashion, makeup or hair, working out at the gym, studying in a typical, college setting, enjoying happy hour and brunch with male friends or interacting with our female counterparts who don’t snap and label us “miss hunni” or “gwarl” upon greeting. I want to see the representation of myself and the others I’ve met over the past 13 years featured on screen; those who fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. I believe THAT is why so many individuals are creating these online reality and scripted, web series showcases. It’s because the black, gay community overall does not identify with the lineup of televised, minstrel acts that are shoved down our throats. When young boys growing up in small, rural communities are ONLY exposed to the individuals mentioned in the writers post, it gives them a very false sense of who they are & what it means to be a gay man of color in 2014. If their idea of homosexuality is solely based upon what’s televised under the powerful, media umbrella, they begin to question whether or not they really are gay. WHY? Simply because…as human beings, visual representation and imagery dictates a great deal of how we see ourselves and how we are viewed by others. If I were a 15 year old boy, questioning my sexuality, living in a small, remote area of Mississippi, I’d be a bit puzzled and confused if my acceptance of being gay meant that I was supposed to dress in women’s clothing and carry myself like one of E! Televisions, spoiled rich kids. White gay men are given a balance of images to identify themselves with. The white, male teen characters on the new 90210, Glee & various soap opera’s, combined with the images of white homosexuality on Showtime, HBO, ABC, NBC and CBS allows for white, gay men to be represented in a way that’s balanced, seasoned and three dimensional. We are emasculated on-screen, and I’ve watched it unfold since I began sharing my voice online 6 years ago. I’m tired and frustrated with having my ideas rejected, as I continue to fight for the change that our black, gay community is ready to see. It’s network executives and production companies who band together in an effort to maintain the one-sided, foofoo image of black, gay men that dominates mainstream media. It’s frustrating and completely unfair. I certainly don’t want to see a cast of gay characters that are all hyper masculine, but we do NEED scripted and non-scripted shows that portray the reality of who most of us are – the ones standing in the middle.