Terrance Dean, author of the new memoir Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry from Music to Hollywood has had celebrity blogs in a mini-frenzy since Simon and Schuster announced last year that he would release a book dishing about closeted gays in the entertainment industry. The catch? The 10-year industry vet doesn't actually reveal names; he instead uses a slew of blind items recounting his run-ins often intimate with famous gay men hiding out in the film, television and music worlds. In a time when authors are being unmasked as frauds, some may find Dean's reliance on blind items very convenient. But Dean says that his goal was not to out others, just himself. Blog commenters are far less diplomatic, though. They've been feeding heartily on guessing who his characters are. TIME chatted with Dean in New York City about candor, empowerment and what down-low really means.
Where do you keep your list of names and corresponding fake names?
[Laughs] Writing the book of course I had to keep my notes. I am a journalist, first and foremost. I used to write for the New York Sun and the Tennessean. I keep notes and I have those in a very safe place. [Laughs] To make sure I don't forget who's who because I knew I had to change everyone's name. Yes.
Do you think at any point you would reveal any of those names? Why or why not?
No. I didn't write this book as a way to demean or out anyone or to do damage to anyone's careers. I think or I hope first and foremost that [people] can understand and recognize that this is my memoir. It is a memoir of my life as a down-low man in the entertainment industry. I wrote it with the intention of hoping to provide a voice for not only myself but a lot of people who are in the industry or are struggling with their sexuality but also those people who are down-low men or gay men who are looking to get into the business and they can't. It's been really empowering the experience of writing this book and knowing that I didn't have to out anyone to do that or to tell that type of story.
You've written books about empowering men of color, so how do you think this book empowers men?
The great thing is because in writing my book, I was able to find my voice, a true voice that I had hidden for so long. Because as I talk about in the book I was sexually assaulted at the age of 13 by a male next-door neighbor and that incident traumatized me. I came from a dysfunctional family where my mother was a prostitute, she was a heroin addict and then my mother became infected with the HIV virus and she passed it to my baby brother and they both died from the AIDS virus. I had another brother who was also sexually assaulted when he was in a group home and he was infected with the AIDS virus and he later died. All of these different types of things that occurred throughout my life, all these challenges and all these obstacles I felt was a universal story within the black community the community of color. So hopefully this story will empower them.
What's the difference between being down-low and being in the closet?
There's down-low, there's down-low gay and there's gay. What I consider to be in the closet is someone who I would call a down-low gay man. A down-low man is a man who considers himself a bisexual. He has relationships with both men and women but he would never identify his sexuality as that of a gay man because he doesn't see the act of what he's doing as that of being gay. Most times he is the penetrator or he's the receiver in oral sex. So he doesn't see himself as being gay. If you ask him, he would never admit to being gay.
In the book you suggest that white gays are more accepted than gays of color in the industry, so what impact has that had on you?
I think the business has now become more receptive because there is an abundance of gay men in the industry, and it just seems to be a natural place for gays for a number of reasons: it's a very creative atmosphere, it's a very freeing atmosphere, it's a very open and liberal atmosphere. I think for whites it has been more accepting because you look at the presence of Ellen DeGeneres, Rosie O'Donnell, Melissa Etheridge, they've all been accepted. When they came out, the community rallied behind them and encouraged them, and they were empowered. Unfortunately in the black community it seems that if you come out, you risk jeopardizing your career because we do not discuss sex or sexuality in our community. It's seen as taboo. The more masculine you present yourself, then we will love you, accept you, praise you. The more effeminate you are, we tend to shy away because we don't want to be seen with you, we don't want to be guilty by association. Even if [a person] is not gay, but because a friend is, that person will stop associating with them because they don't want people to think that's what they do.
You make lots of references to how you didn't really question your sexuality until after you were molested, so what would you say to those who think that being gay is a choice?
I used to think like that until I started meeting more and more gay men and having real, intense dialogue with them and I realized that they were naturally born that way, they had no desire to be with a woman, they always knew that they were attracted to men. It just so happened that in my instance and my situation, I had not had a desire or thought of being with another man until I was molested by the male next-door neighbor. An incident helped spark, I would say, or created an opening for me to start questioning or start experimenting. There was a male in my group who I used to hang out with as a kid. And for the first time I looked at him, and I thought, oh my God, he's very attractive. He and I experimented and I was, like, OK. It made me just want more and more of it and I thought well maybe this is something I am supposed to be doing.
How do you respond to people who question how true or accurate your accounts in this book are in light of recent news that several high-profile memoirs have been found to be mostly or partly untrue?
Two things. One, is that I have over 10-plus years working in the industry, which anyone can verify both my name, and call any of the companies I've worked for. I've worked for major companies and corporations in the production field such as MTV, BET, Warner Brothers. I name all of the films and the projects in the book. Anyone who is resourceful can verify that information. There are some things you definitely can't [fake] in the entertainment industry because there are production records. The great thing, as you said, in light of the memoirs that have been proven to be false or fabricated, Simon and Schuster, the legal team got involved and verified a lot of the information in my book, to protect themselves but also to protect myself.
Was it difficult for them to verify the information because of the down-low status of many of those mentioned in the book?
Well, again, a lot of the people I mention in the book, I don't disclose their status. I don't name any names, so people can come to a conclusion of who they think the person is that I may be describing in the book. The legal team at Simon and Schuster, I was forthright in letting them know certain names of people who I knew, so they were able to verify the information on their end.
So Simon and Schuster editors do know some of the names?
Yes. [Laughs] But we're not naming names.
When you came out to your close friends and your family, they generally didn't seem to be very shocked, so how down-low do you think you really were?
[Laughs] You're right. I did think, yeah, well maybe I'm not as down-low as I think. I think, people who are closest to you, know. It's very hard to hide. You think you're getting away with something, you're being deceptive, and the people who are really closest to you, they can tell. When they find out, it's no surprise. When they find out, you're like, Oh, you don't care? And they're like no, we knew. We were waiting on you to come out.