Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: Hiding in Hip Hop

Book Review: 'Hiding in Hip Hop' by Terrance Dean
celebrating Black History Month 2014

4 / 5 Stars

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to celebrate Black History Month by reading a book - fiction or non-fiction - that illuminates the Black Experience.

For Black History Month 2014, our selection is 'Hiding in Hip Hop', an autobiography by Terrance Dean.

I felt a sharp pain and my body flinched.

In ‘Hiding’, Dean relates his experiences as a ‘down low’ man – the term preferred by bisexual black men who exhibit masculine behavior and dislike being labeled as 'gay'.

Dean attributes his attraction to men as the result of being molested, at the age of 13, by a neighbor in his 20s named ‘Ramone’. As he grew older, Dean dated and had sexual experiences with women, but remained attracted to men. As a college student, his first gay liaison was with a neighbor named ‘Kelvin’…..

I had never experienced such an excruciating pain in my life…..

The bulk of ‘Hiding’ deals with Dean’s experiences as a down low man in the television, feature film, and music industries in LA and New York City during the 1990s. In the black community, the prevailing opinion is that gays are un-natural, and homosexuality is considered a perversion. 

Accordingly, down low men were, and are, scrupulously careful about how, when, where, and with whom they confide their secrets. Dean describes his introduction to the underground world of the ‘down low brothers’, where carefully screened parties allow ‘beautiful’ black men to congregate and hook up without fear of being discovered.

I stared at the ceiling praying that it would be over soon.

Much of the entertaining portions of ‘Hiding’ derive from Dean’s accounts of hookups and one-night stands with actors and rappers whose external appearance is studiously straight. It’s hard not to start laughing aloud when Dean relates an encounter with a 'thug' rapper who, even in the throes of passion, nonetheless insists that he’s a ‘real’ man and ‘not gay’ !

Interestingly, Dean states that down low men are not on very good terms with gay black men. According to Dean, too many black gays are intent on 'outing' down low brothers, framing them as hypocrites who cover up their homosexuality even while publicly disparaging or denegrating gays. 

For their part, down low men view gays as overly effeminate, and too fond of becoming emotionally unhinged.

Dean is careful not to disclose the names of the down low brothers mentioned in his book, providing just enough of a hint to get the reader speculating, but never confirming, the identity of the guilty party. 

However, I suspect readers with a detailed knowledge of hip hop in the 1990s will be able to figure out who’s who for some of the pseudonyms liberally sprinkled through ‘Hiding’. If you google ‘Hiding in Hip Hop + identities’ or 'Hiding in Hip Hop + guesses', you’ll get some links to websites where people make educated guesses…....and you’ll laugh even harder.

I looked around and saw other guys kissing and fondling one another….Most of them looked like L.A. thugs.

‘Hiding’ is not a perfect book; the narrative often jumps back and forth in time, making any effort to apply a chronology difficult. As well, Dean expends considerable page space on lengthy, angst-filled expositions about how hard life is being on the down low, living a lie, forced to hide the truth, etc., etc. These complaints have a superficial quality as it becomes clear that for Dean, being down low allows him to have cake and eat it, too.

All in all, ‘Hiding’ is an interesting, often entertaining read, and well worth picking up.

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