Hiding in Hip Hop On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry--from Music to Hollywood, by Dean, Terrance
- ISBN: 9781416553403 | 1416553401
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 6/30/2009
Terrance Dean has worked in the television and film industries for more than a decade. From MTV Networks to Warner Brothers, he has worked with such artists as Spike Lee and Anjelica Houston. He lives in New York City.
One of the most invigorating things to do at least once in your life is to drive across the country and take in the wonderful views of the great ole U.S.A. I fell in love with life all over again after witnessing some of the most beautiful skylines spread throughout Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona.
It took us two days to drive to Los Angeles from Nashville, Tennessee. I was so excited that the long drive didn't bother me. It was me and my boy, Jacob, from North Carolina.
I was thrilled to be out in the world, seeing the green and brown land, and looking at the blue sky. I was twenty-eight and just released from a correctional facility in Nashville. I spent eight months in prison for stealing a car and was released early on parole for good behavior.
I stole the car years earlier while I was in college in Nashville, and the judge put me on probation. I wasn't supposed to leave the state without permission, but as soon as I graduated from college I hightailed it out of Nashville, and became a fugitive on the run for several years.
The first place I went to was Washington, D.C., where I started working in television production, and then later I went to Wilmington, North Carolina, where I met my boy, Jacob. It was in Wilmington where I was caught and extradited back to Nashville to serve my prison time.
But when I first arrived in D.C., after college, I was broke and sleeping on the living room floor of a friend. I was desperate to make my communications degree work for me. I was fortunate to land an internship with CNN, which I liked. I found what I was meant to be doing. I discovered something that brought me joy, and it was working in television. What so many search their entire life for, I found early.
When I went to work each day at CNN, it was magical. I spent four years in college trying to figure out what I wanted to do, so I felt like the luckiest person in the world to have discovered my passion, something that gave me a purpose. After being there a few weeks, I decided that I wanted to become a producer. They were in control and handled business. People respected them, and I liked the title because it seemed to have prestige attached to it.
I couldn't have asked to get better training for it, either. I was working with the most prestigious news network in the world. I was going places. I became a sponge and soaked up every piece of knowledge about television that I could. I asked questions, I volunteered to do things, and I stood out. I was on a mission to make it in the entertainment world.
After my release from prison I was a free man, but I had a record. I was tarnished. My squeaky-clean record now had a felony conviction on it. In the real world my chances of finding a decent job and making decent money would be even more difficult. With a felony, I knew I couldn't work for a bank or any financial institution. Not even most corporate companies would hire me. I couldn't become a teacher or work for any government agency. My list of options was very short.
But I discovered that in the entertainment industry many people had felony convictions. Many people were criminals. The very thing I loved the most was a saving grace for my life.
In the world of Hip Hop, the more adversity in one's life, the more street credibility earned. And with street cred comes your playing card: dropping out of school to make money (gold card), selling drugs (platinum card), jail term (titanium card), getting shot (the almighty, inviteonly black card). I'd been to prison so surely I would be accepted, no questions. Hip Hop artists usually fall into one or even several of these categories.
Now that I was working in the entertainment industry, I didn't worry about my livelihood. I could make money doing something I loved to do. Besides, I didn't have to explain or tell anyone about my criminal past. No one asked. There were no applications to fill out and no human resources department to do criminal background checks. So there was no need to be fingerprinted or provide my social security number.
Being in the clear and not feeling limited, I worked on movie production sets, learning everything I could. I was moving quickly up the ranks from production intern to production assistant to production coordinator. I was on my way toward my goal of becoming a film producer. My name was spreading among production crews because I had a great work ethic. I didn't mind the long hours and going above and beyond my job duties. I wanted this. I needed it. And the hard work paid off with a plethora of job offers.
Jacob and I kept in touch while I was locked up, so I called him as soon as I got out. I had to find out what was going on in the industry and if anyone was talking about me. I had developed a name for myself and I didn't want my arrest to prevent me from moving up in my career. I was determined to make it in entertainment. This was the only thing I knew and I didn't want to lose it.
Jacob was a real cool brother who didn't pass judgment on anybody so I knew I could trust him. He was a down low brother, like myself. Although we had girlfriends and slept with women, we also liked sleeping with men. The women were unaware of our lifestyle.
Jacob let me stay at his condo with him in North Carolina. The place was right off the beach, and it was laid out beautifully. Jacob had very nice taste, and his condo was a reflection of it -- big-screen televisions, plush leather furniture, and queen-size beds in each of the three bedrooms. He was making some serious money as a soundman in North Carolina.
He was also one of those brothers who everybody loved, with the nicest disposition and kindest heart. Whatever you asked of him, he would go to great lengths to help you. When I got locked up, he just packed up all my things and put them in his basement. I was very grateful for his kindness and willingness to stick by me.
"Jacob, what's going on? What are people saying about me?" I asked nervously when I called. I had been gone for nearly a year.
One thing about the industry is that any bad news, gossip, or rumor will spread faster than wildfire. But as quickly as they spread, they are forgotten. If you're away from the industry for too long, you, too, can be forgotten. It's true what they say: In this business you are only as hot as your next project.
"Nobody's talking about it any longer," he replied. "It's old news. Besides, this is Wilmington, this ain't Los Angeles or New York where the big boys are."
I was relieved. That meant I could get back in the game and start fresh.
I just needed a place to go. Nashville is cool but, let's be real, it's not a television or film city. I needed to be in a place where I could make things happen.
Jacob let me know he was moving to Los Angeles to continue his career as a soundman for films. I was looking for a new start in life and to begin my career as a film producer. He was driving cross-country and planned to pass through Tennessee. He asked if I wanted to go along with him out to Los Angeles. That was music to my ears.
Before I spoke with Jacob, I had narrowed down my choices to either going back to New York or trying out Los Angeles. I chose Los Angeles. I could hide in a big city. In Hollywood it's all about illusions. I could be anyone I wanted to. I had already lived in New York for a couple of years, and besides, the farther I was away from my family in Detroit, the better. I didn't have a good relationship with them and hadn't seen them in a couple of years.
While I was holed up in Nashville, I was staying at a motel off Trinity Lane. It was one of about six sleazy motel spots for truckers, druggies, and prostitutes, but I had my freedom and I knew it was temporary.
Being locked up makes you appreciate the small, simple things in life. Once I knew Los Angeles was my way out, I knew it was a sign from God. I just knew it. I could feel this was my chance to start over.
The motel was twenty dollars a night. My cousin Cynthia wired me some money that I had stashed at her home in Detroit. Damn, that six hundred dollars was right on time. It wasn't a lot in a city like Los Angeles, but I'd lived off less than that before.
When I lived in D.C., I barely had money because the internship with CNN did not pay. I had to live off money I made from a part-time telemarketing job. The only thing I could afford to eat were Snickers bars and potato chips. That was my meal every day for lunch. For dinner, it was whatever pieces of chicken and pasta I could find for less than five dollars.
I was excited that I had some money to help me move to Los Angeles -- I was desperate to go.
One thing I needed to take care of before leaving Nashville, however, was getting my parole transferred to Los Angeles. I was going to be on paper for two years and I definitely didn't want to be in Nashville all that time. I wanted to get as far away from Tennessee as possible. Being a black man with a felony in the South and trying to get a job was like going to an all-white college and trying to convince them you did not get in because of affirmative action. It ain't going to happen.
In order for my parole to be transferred to Los Angeles, I had to prove I had a place to live and a job.
A good friend of mine, Sandy, had recently moved to Los Angeles to pursue her career as a producer as well. She knew about my sexuality -- she was one of the few people with whom I shared my deep, dark secret. I actually had no choice but to tell her.
Sandy is very attractive and has humongous breasts and they are very hard to miss. When we met I fought hard not to stare at them asthey spilled out of her top. After a few months, she came to me and said, "You're gay aren't you?" I looked at her, perplexed. I had never before been approached so forthrightly by anyone asking me about my sexuality.
"Naw, why you say that?" I asked.
"Well, most men can't keep their eyes off my breasts when they speak to me. But you never stare at them while you're speaking to me."
Although she was right, I was simply trying to be a gentleman and not make it obvious. We joked about her breasts, and I confessed to her that I was bisexual. I told her that I was still attracted to women, but I liked sleeping with men. After that, she would grab my hand and put it on her breasts, or she would grab my head and push it inside her cleavage. "I'm going to turn you straight," she would joke with me.
I called Sandy and asked if I could stay with her. I let her know that if I had a place to live in Los Angeles there was a strong possibility I could get my parole transferred. "Boy, you better bring your black ass out here." She laughed. "You know you always have a place wherever I am."
I met Sandy while I was in D.C. working on a Warner Bros. film called Shadow Conspiracy. It was directed by George Cosmatos and starred Charlie Sheen, Donald Sutherland, and Linda Hamilton. I would often run into Charlie Sheen and Donald Sutherland at the production office. They were extremely friendly.
Mr. Sutherland was a tall man who towered over most of the other actors. In Hollywood most male actors are very short. He had a commanding presence with his white hair and piercing eyes. He was very sophisticated and refined. Even with his leisure attire he wore a blazer.
A real gentleman, Mr. Sutherland once asked me to get flowers for all the women in the production office. He wanted to let them know how much he appreciated all their hard work.
Charlie Sheen was a handsome man, but was short and small in stature. When I visited the film set, I would often see Charlie joking around with the crew. But later in the evening, I would see him in the hotel lobby surrounded by beautiful women who looked like models. Charlie was definitely a player. The smile on his face was a dead giveaway.
Working on the film also garnered me some attention from the hotel staff. The film's production office was located in the Wyndham Hotel. A few of the male front desk employees would flirt endlessly with me. Ironically, all the men were black, and there were no women at the front desk of the hotel, or maybe I just didn't notice. I think it was the latter because I found the men to be very attractive, but I was careful not to let on I was paying them any attention. I didn't want to blow the cover on my sexuality. The less anyone knew about me the better.
Every day when I ran in and out of the hotel to do errands, the men would try to make conversation. I was always cordial and exchanged pleasantries with them, but I wasn't going to let on that I was interested in any way. Even so, one brother did catch my eye. He was definitely an attractive man -- tall, with a caramel complexion, beautiful lips, and an athletic body. When I first saw "Calvin" I assumed he was very straight. Nothing in what he said or did gave me any indication he was a down low brother.
Calvin was pursuing a career in acting. He was a model and had done a few commercials in the D.C. area. He really wanted to break into acting. On the few occasions when I had time to talk, he and I would discuss my goal of becoming a film producer and his desires to become an actor. I must admit that I was smitten by him. He had an engaging personality and an inviting smile. Whenever I came through the hotel's lobby, I would see his handsome face and broad smile from behind the counter. He'd nod toward me and I would nod back smiling.
I became aware of Calvin's motives. He wanted my help getting a part in the film. I liked him and didn't want to be shallow, so I bought Calvin a book, The Artist's Way, that many actors swore by as they pursued their careers. I figured if Calvin read it he would become motivated and make moves for himself. Sure enough, he loved the gift, but the message was perceived in the wrong manner, and Calvin eventually asked me out. He wanted to hang out and show me around the city. I accepted. But Calvin had an ulterior motive. From his advances, I knew he was willing to do whatever it took to get what he wanted. Well, if he was willing to play the game, so was I.
My part wasn't difficult. I had friends in the casting department and all I had to do was give them his photo and résumé.
I eventually helped Calvin get into the film as an extra, and each time we slept together, he made sure that he put his all into it, as if his career depended on it.
After I called Sandy, I informed my parole officer that I had a place to live.
While waiting to get permission from my parole officer to move to Los Angeles, I came across an opportunity to work as an assistant to one of the executives, "Orlando," for the Stellar Gospel Music Awards.
Orlando was an attractive, older man. Well, he wasn't that old; he was in his forties. He looked like the type of man who was settled down with a family in the suburbs, and he had no idea I had just gotten out of prison. He was impressed with my qualifications and the jobs I had held.
As we prepped for the show, Orlando invited me to dinner. I was game. I had not eaten a good meal since my release. During dinner I would catch him gazing at me. I felt uncomfortable because I knew that look. It was a look I had seen in the eyes of many men when I was out with them. It was passionate. It was lust.
I focused on my food. I refused to let my eyes meet his. I knew if I looked into his soft eyes I would respond. But I also considered how much older he was. Even though he was a good-looking man with a nice build, I just couldn't imagine myself in bed with an older man.
But Orlando continued to flirt with me. He made numerous requests for dinners and invitations to his home, and I would always make up some reason why I couldn't join him.
I was happy when we got closer to the show date because I knew he would be too busy to focus on me.
Working the show, I had the opportunity to meet some of the top gospel artists whose music I sang as a child in church, artists such as Shirley Caesar, BeBe and CeCe Winans, and John P. Kee.
I also got the chance to see how big the gospel industry truly was. People from all over came into town for this event. There were choirs from North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Chicago. Backstage was like a huge family reunion. Everyone was greeting and hugging one another like they were distant cousins who had not seen one another in years.
As I ran around for Orlando, I noticed another scene happening backstage. Men screaming excitedly, embracing one another, and giving air kisses. They twirled around in their choir robes. Some sashayed flamboyantly, waving their hands in the air. I knew those types of men. They were the brothers we whispered about in church. They were the men the ministers preached their antigay sermons toward.
Seeing these men, I was glad to be an outsider. Men like these are called "church queens." They are well known in the church community and travel from one church event to the next. I kept my sexuality a deep secret, like most down low men, and I was not a part of this church circuit. Even though they appeared as if they were not bothered by what people thought of them and they hadn't a care in the world, I hated that they were so flamboyant and was glad I had not become that effeminate. I didn't want anyone singling me out and making fun of me.
After the first day of rehearsals and meeting most of the staff, I finally met "Clifford," one of the producers. He was an impeccably dressed man. When Clifford walked in you would have thought the president of the United States had entered the building. Everyone surrounded him, shaking his hand and hugging him. He was well respected and well known.
I was impressed that Clifford knew many people by their names. He asked about them and their families, and the way he touched them and put his hand on their shoulders, sometimes hugging them, made him appear fatherly. He was compassionate. He cared.
Yet, it was Clifford's interaction with the flamboyant men that made me notice how friendly he was with them. He knew them, personally. They laughed and kee-keed like old friends. He was comfortable with them. There was a familiarity.
Clifford approached me with his broad, dazzling smile. "Who are you, young man?" he asked. His voice was deep and sounded like he was singing when he spoke.
"My name is Terrance."
"Hello, Terrance. What are you doing here on the show?"
"I'm the assistant to Orlando."
Clifford looked at me, puzzled.
"The assistant to my Orlando?" he said as he placed his manicured hand delicately on his chest. His wrist and fingers were dripping with diamonds.
I looked at him, confused.
"Yes, I'm Orlando's assistant."
"My Orlando?" Clifford asked again. His hand tapped his chest.
"Yes, Orlando." I was not sure what he meant.
He smiled and walked quickly toward the production office.
As the days went by, I noticed a change in Orlando. He no longer pursued me or gazed at me. He was short with me and spent a lot of time with Clifford. As a matter of fact, they were stuck together like glue. I never saw one without the other.
I asked Orlando if everything was all right. I missed the attention. He assured me everything was fine, but it was pretty obvious what had happened.
I was ecstatic when I got the phone call from my parole officer that the transfer had been granted. I was ready to get out of Nashville. Now all I needed was a job when I got to Los Angeles. My parole officer granted the transfer on the condition that I get a job in thirty days. I knew that wouldn't be a problem. I was going to the entertainment capital. I was going to be in a place where there was an ample amount of production jobs.
While I waited for Jacob to come get me, I killed a lot of the time sitting in the motel room watching television. I didn't want to venture out and get caught up in anything. I only left the room to get food. Shit, I didn't need anything else, and it gave me the opportunity to reflect on my life. This was a new turn of events for me. I no longer had to constantly look over my shoulder wondering when I was going to be arrested. That chapter was over. It was time for a fresh start, a new page in the book. I was going to be on a new path. Maybe moving to Los Angeles would be good for me. It would be a welcome relief from all the drama I'd experienced in my life.
And my, oh my, what a life.
Copyright © 2008 by Terrance Dean