THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged lgbtqia)

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my life is a perpetual music soundtrack. i remember all of the moments – no matter how trivial or traumatic – in song. my friends often joke that whenever i say, “i love this song!”, they know a story will follow. and they’re correct. music and pop culture are usually how i recall and process my experiences. they help me to make sense of things.

during my many days of quarantine, i have spent a lot of time listening to music, specifically my “1990 was that gurl” playlist. there are times when a song comes on and i simply sing along and then there times when i am flooded with emotions that are normally dormant in busier times. one of those songs is “joey” by concrete blonde. a song that helped me make a little bit of since of the complicated and absolutely relationship i shared with my aunt blanca.

one song that reminds me of blanca, not necessarily because the song was ever playing when we were together – she would have never listened to modern rock – is concrete blonde’s 1990 hit “joey.” the song conjures up feelings that are both painful and sentimental. released in the fall of 1990, “joey” is an all too-relatable song about loving someone who is the depths as addiction.

i cannot listen to this song without thinking of the many nights i watched blanca disappear into herself. she never instructed me to keep her self-medication a secret. i just kinda just knew. i was already a master at hiding the severity of my own mother’s addiction. and for real, for real, everyone in my universe was either surviving addiction or fiercely judging those of us who were surviving. there was really no one left to tell. these secrets were easy to keep but heavier to hold.

I know you’ve heard it all before

So I don’t say it anymore

I just stand by and let you

Fight your secret war

And though I used to wonder why

I used to cry till I was dry

Still sometimes I get a strange pain inside

Oh, Joey, if you’re hurting so am I”

the youngest of my mother’s sisters, blanca was 10 years my senior and in 1990 was one of my favorite people to spend time with. she was an avid music lover. she loved babyface and keith sweat. when together, she and i would listen to the quiet storm and just talk – me about boys i had crushes on and she about the men who had broken her heart. it seemed her heart was always broken.

blanca wasn’t a drinker. i cannot remember her ever drinking actually. we drank pepsis and ate chinese take-out while we listened to songs about heartbreak. we laughed and laughed as songs by phylis hyman, stephanie mills and luther vandross played in the background. but then a song would begin to play and the energy would shift immediately. it was like literally like watching a broken heart bleed. i’d try to distract her with conversation and antidotes. i was a funny as kid. but she would just pull the small clear bag of heroine from out her purse and take a hit.

then the race would begin. i would begin to talk faster because i knew she would be nodding off soon. blanca engaged in conversation for as long as she could or until she was completely out of it. then i would continue to talk but not as much and not as fast. i would try to salvage the night before the feeling if regret began to set in.


But if I seem to be confused

I didn’t mean to be with you

And when you said I scared you

Well I guess you scared me too

But we got lucky once before

And I don’t want to close the door

And if you’re somewhere out there

Passed out on the floor

Oh Joey, I’m not angry anymore”

i never got mad at blanca for getting high. i hated that it made her disappear. but i knew heroine was a tough thing to kick. when she did try, i would accompany her to the methadone clinic. and when she relapsed, i would go with her to cop her drugs. i just liked being around her – most of the time. i liked the world we created together. blanca was funny as hell.

blanca struggled with addition up until the very end of her life in 1998. she was just 32 years old.

it has been 30 years single the release of “joey.” i listen to “joey” when i want to mourn the loss of the things i remember and the things that i don’t. like her birthday. i still listen to the songs that played in the background during our times together. sometimes i laugh because i remember her jokes. i tell you, blanca was funny as hell! and yes, there is trauma attached to these memories but the immense love i still have for her is what carries me.

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Horacio: Long story short, the quarantine made our March 21st date impossible so the day that the stay at home order was enacted in Philly (March 17th) we got a call from the chapel offering to sign our marriage license that day so it wouldn’t expire. We like to think of this “time off” as our honeymoon.

Besides binging televisions shows and desperately trying to come up with recipes that accomadte to our limited knowledge cooking, we’ve embarrassingly enough been spending many days playing Fornite on the couch without cat and dog. We introduced our sobrinos to it (yeah, not the other way around) and since then we’ve been playing together over the phone and it’s been a cute bonding experience since we can’t go visit them at the moment. When we need a little movement we switch to Just Dance or go for a little walk when it’s nice out. We also got to volunteer for Prevention Point here in Philly by helping put together bags of clean syringes and other sanitary measures for the community. When I told mom I had to reassure her we were more than six feet apart in a big room with masks gloves on. We’ve perfected the deep clean, our bathtub and stove have never been shinier. We’ve also become each others personal barber and our hair has changed color like three times. We’re homebodies to begin with so staying at home hasn’t been too strange but we do miss our friends.

Eddie: During quarantine, I have learned that in life, you just don’t have control over the situation that happens around you. What you do have control is how you chose to respond to it. That there is a difference between staying home voluntarily and staying home involuntarily. I like one but not the other. I’ve also learned that I’m much less of a introvert that I thought I was. We’ve both been missing hanging out with friends and being social. Also that Hori and I can sleep a lot haha. But I could probably become completely nocturnal if left unchecked.

Horacio: Personally, I’ve learned to be less serious. I’m the dramatic one and Eddie is the level headed peacekeeper if you will. When I found out we both wouldn’t be working, it stressed us both out but his way of conquering stress is contagious. Of course there are moments of tension when we’re not on the same page, and I’ve learned to detect when those moments are coming and diffuse them by clearing the air before we grow silent. Mostly, I’ve learned that I really have married my best friend and that our connection is genuine and I’m lucky to be able to spend this historical moment with him.

Horacio & Eddie (He/Him/His)

Philadelphia, PA

interviewed (yesterday)& photographed (a few months ago) by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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growing up in the 1990’s, there were ballads and then there were slow jams. that distinction mattered in the early 90’s. today, with the advent of streaming, it is a norm to consume multiple genres in just one playlist. but in 1990, that required more work. if you wanted to listen to pop, you turned to mtv or turned your radio dial to a top 40 station. if you wanted to listen to r&b music, you watched BET music videos shows or switched your dial to an r&b station. and this was only possible for those of us who lived in bigger metropolitan cities because many cities didn’t even have a black radio station. my point is that radio was hella segregated. so “ballads” were code for non-black and pop slow songs. “slow jam” was an indication of an r&b slow tempo grove that made you feel all the things. that is thanks to the late radio, tv personality and quite storm originator, melvin lindsey.

raised in washington, d.c., melvin attended howard university and interned at WHUR, a local adult contemporary radio station. melvin’s break happened in may 1976 after he was asked to dj as a last minute substitute. he compiled a stack of his favorite records (the 1970’s way of creating a spotify playlist) that included smokey robinson, the delfonics, isley brothers and others. although young and inexperienced, melvin’s silky and calm voice coupled with his choice of smooth r&b songs were an instant hit with listeners. by 1977, he was a radio staple with his own nightly show, “the quiet storm.”


named after a 1974 smokey robinson song, by his friend and mentor, cathy hughes, the quiet storm quickly became more than a radio show – it became a radio format that was duplicated by black radio stations though out the country. every night from 8pm-12am, quiet storm radio shows played mid and slow tempo r&b songs with very few interruptions. the show creating an easy listening and intimate mood for listens. it is usually the quiet storm that folks are referring to when they says “baby making music.”

melvin’s impact cannot be overstated. the quiet storm helped to make luther vandross, freddy jackson, anita baker, sade, babyface and keith sweat, just to name a few, r&b mega-stars.

in the late 1980s and early 1990’s, melvin became a fixture on BET as a co-host of “screen scene,” a daily show that in the same vein as entertainment tonight and access hollywood. he also filled in for video soul host donnie simpson on many occasions.


throughout the 1990’s, the quiet storm became cemented in black radio history. artists were recording and releasing songs specifically targeting the format – which by then had become a genre of its own. many artists often released “quiet story remixes.” but melvin, the format’s creator would not live to witness its growth.

on march 26, 1992, melvin lindsey died from complications of AIDS. he was just 36 years. a few nights before his death, after going public with his diagnosis and prognosis, melvin addressed listeners of WHUR, the radio station where his career began, to thank them for their support.

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i came out to my mother when my grandmother died in 2006. and back then I had a cousin that was gay - - that IS gay - -he has not a stopped being gay. (laughs) he was living around here and my mother would always ask me, “why do you hang out with him so much?” eventually, i got upset when she said “it doesn’t bother you?” and I was like, “mom, would it bother you if i was gay?” and she was like “are you gay?” insaid “yeah.” but i was upset so wasn’t that soft. there was some screaming. then after that, we had that long conversation and the crying.

she’s been to the pride parade here. i bring her and i put out a chair for her and she watches the whole show. ya know, the first thing she said when i brought her here to wilton manor - she said, “i never thought they were old gay people.” she always thought that came and were young and “cute” and then when she saw older gay couples walking and holding hands she was like, “aawwww.” it blew her mind.

i still have to teach her. like with my boyfriend, i had to teach her that he is not just my “special friend,” he is my boyfriend. i need you to call him my boyfriend. i explain to her that i remember when you told me once, “don’t introduce me to every single person. just introduce me to the one.” and i explain to her that this is the one right now. you need to get with it.

he went with me to washington, heights for thanksgiving, in a house with like 50 dominicans. (laughs). i prepared my mom. i was like, “mom, i’m gonna take him. and you’re gonna get questions.” he’s the first person that has ever been to my family gatherings. it’s a big thing for me and my family. that know i’m gay but they never seen me with a partner. it was good until one my aunt’s found out that he didn’t speak spanish. ya know, older generations.

josé, he/him/his

wilton manor, florida

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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many of the important moments and even many of the not-so-important moments often times play out in my memory through music. for example, every time i hear “unbreakable” by alicia keys, i am reminded of the night i tested hiv positive. i was in the car with my best friend on the way to his house trying to process this new health reality when “unbreakable” began to play. in that moment, i thought, “for real, universe? this song? right now? does everything have to be like a mellow-dramatic made-for-TV movie with me?” i actually said it out loud. i know this because best friend and i laughed. then cried.

music grounds me. always has. which is why i write a lot about music, specifically the music of the 1990s. and these past few weeks have been unlike anything i have experienced emotionally, mentally and physically. well, i can think of something that may come close to this experience but this “short” post is already dramatic enough. anywho, just as i created mixed-tapes for my friends and family members in the 1990s to express my love and gratitude, i have created a spotify playlist that includes songs that has been helping me to survive. i humbly share it with you all.

thank you for your love and continued support. may this playlist give you some or all of the things it has given me.

enjoy, dance, sing, and be safe.

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chris: my brother really continues to teach me how to be unapologetically me. he is so unapologetically him ALL the time. like, i have never met another person who is able to be like “i don’t give a fuck if you don’t like anything about me. i’m pretty sure about who i am.” i’ve even told this to people about you (andrew), you are going to do what you want to do, when and how you want to do it and that’s it. that’s something i have learned because out of the two of us, i am the more reserved one. i am figuring out that i can be be that way too and that there is nothing wrong with me and he teaches me that.

andrew: you (chris) teach me to never be afraid to stand up. seeing you defend me when you felt i needed to be defended has always been very inspiring. we would be on the train and somebody would say something crazy about me and my brother would be like, “what the did you say!?” we much homophobia we DON’T get inside our home, we don’t live in a bubble. we don’t live in a place that is always going to be safe to be queer. and so i see you (chris) as a hero. your ability to stand up for people. you taught me “if my queer friends and family aren’t safe, i’m not safe.” that is something i have learned from you.

chris (he/him) & andrew (he/they)

bronx, new york

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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the year was 1982.

new york began the year as one of the most dangerous cities in the united states with a record 637,451 reported felonies by the end of year into what is now known as the AIDS epidemic but before the urging of activists during a july 27 meeting a new york to adopt the term “AIDS”, much of the media, researchers and medical providers called it “GRID (gay related immune deficiency syndrome,” “the gay plague” or “gay cancer.” the city’s underground club begins emerge into the pop consciousness after the release of madonna’s debut single “everybody” becomes a club hit. however, new york’s gay clubs are still under siege by the city’s police who still routinely raid clubs. on the night of september 1982, the NYPD violently raided blues, a manhattan gay club primarily patronized by black and latino queers and trans folks. police locked the doors and beat patrons for more than an hour sending 35 club-goers to the hospital. police were never charged.

this is the new york that hector valle, a 22 year-old vibrant puerto rican gay man with a flair for style, existed in. hector was widely known throughout the community and dance clubs for his elegant and athletic style of vogue. while not formally a part of any ballroom house hector was enchanted by new york’s growing ballroom scene, and made the bold decision to start his own house – the house of extravaganza (original spelling until 1989). hector set out to recruit members from the pre-gentrified christopher street pier from the legendary queer dance utopia, paradise garage which would helped inform the xtravanganza culture. one of the first official xtravaganzas included a young puerto rican trans woman who later become an icon in her own right – angie xtravaganza.


the house of xtravaganza made their debut in 1983 and under the leadership and guidance of hector and angie, who served as house mother and father, the then not-so-experienced house quickly emerged as one of the most exciting new houses on the scene. as their popularity expanded, the xtravaganzas became a fiercely close family on and off the runway. hector’s pioneering vision was in full fruition.

in just two years, new york was rapidly becoming a different place. gentrification was beginning to change the landscape of new york’s nightlife and culture. madonna had emerged from the underground scene and was reaching pop icon status after the release of her 1984 sophomore album, “like a virgin.” And after the protest of black and latino LGBTQIA people and allies The NYPD was no longer raiding gay clubs but in the fever hystreria of AIDS panic has begun to close bathhouses. And by the end of 1985, AIDS had claimed over 5,000 people including the pioneering hector valle xtravaganza. hector was just 25 years old.

the house that hector built would continue under the leadership of angie xtravaganza until her own death in 1993 at the young of age of 28. by the late 1980’s, the house broke into the mainstream appearing in both time and american vogue magazines. the house was also prominently featured in the 1990 groundbreaking documentary film “paris is burning.” and two of the xtravaganza children, josé and luis xtravaganza rocketed to international stardom as dancers for the madonna, the singer who started her career the same year the xtravaganza was founded.

almost 40 years later, hector’s vision remains stronger than ever. the house of xtravaganza continues to be one of the most influential and iconic houses in ballroom history. one of the first houses to incorporate HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment messaging into their mission and vision, the legacy of founding father hector valle xtravaganza still shines. and for someone known for his flair, this makes perfect sense.

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i know there are days where the oppression feels like glue. Somewhere, somebody, is melting that glue with sex, with substance, with story, because it’s spring during a pandemic, and there is a body here that makes heat when you rub it. I praise science & brujeria. I was a boy that became a graveyard for a virus that doesn’t die. Welcome to our homecoming, there is no word for cure here, now that we are medicine.

José, He/They

Durham, NC

Gran Varones Fellow

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last august, hydeia broadbent celebrated her 35th birthday. this wasn’t just a milestone but a testament to the sheer determination of life and hope.

diagnosed with hiv at three years old, hydeia was not expected to survive past age five. and in 1987, years almost a decade before the breakthrough of hiv treatment, this prognosis was pretty accurate for children battling the opportunistic infections brought on by HIV. hydeia’s mother immediately became a fierce advocate and enrolled hydeia into clinical trials with the hopes of prolonging her life. and no easy feet during especially during a time when hiv clinical trials did not include women, young people and people of color. 

a chance meeting with the late hiv advocate elizabeth glaser in 1988 at the national institutes of health, where they were both receiving treatment, led to hydeia becoming a public speaker. after telling her story across the world including on a tv special for nickelodeon with magic johnson, 20/20, good morning america and becoming one of the most memorable guests of the oprah winfrey show. at just age 10, hydeia had become the face of not just pediatric aids but the first generation of children born with hiv.

in the years since, hydeia has dedicated her life to promoting hiv prevention among young people, specifically young black women as well as advocating for accessible treatment and healthcare for all young people living with hiv.

today, on national youth hiv/aids awareness day, we honor and celebrate all of the work hydeia has done to center young people living with hiv. we thank hydeia broadbent for teaching us all the power of storytelling as a radical tactic for activism and advocacy.

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“Any disease that is treated as a mystery and acutely enough feared will be felt to be morally, if not literally, contagious.”

Susan Sontag, Illness As Metaphor

In December of 2019, a virus emerged in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei Province, located in China. This novel coronavirus was now beginning to infect, sicken and kill people. This stirred global pandamonium, rooted in anti-asian racism, prejudice and xenophobia. As the world began to construct narratives of how this emerged, coronavirus was steadily building up its network, and infecting many globally. Scientists point to a species jump, from animals to humans. This is the trajectory of many viruses we know of, such as HIV. It was named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization on February 11, 2020, meaning coronavirus disease and tagged with nineteen to establish that it surfaced in 2019. Interestingly enough, a simulation of a pandemic caused by a “novel zoonotic coronavirus” was held by the Center For Health Security, in October 2019. The scenario suggested that this virus would be “transmitted from bats to pigs to people that eventually becomes efficiently transmissible from person to person, leading to a severe pandemic.” In this simulation, the origin of the virus were pig farms in Brazil, but the accuracy of this exercise provides eerie foreboding.

Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, sounds familiar because it is in the family of viruses that caused the 2003 Sars Outbreak. This current outbreak was not quelled in the same way and now is identified as a pandemic, which means it is spreading rapidly, globally.

HIV history reminds us of another time of panic and uncertainty. HIV is transmitted by blood, seminal and vaginal fluid; anal fluid and breast milk, that enters the bloodstream through mucousal tissue and/or other ways. Sars-CoV-2 appears to spread by oral or nose droplets, aerosol and surfaces touched by hands, or indirectly sprayed by the droplets of those infected. This makes COVID-19 more contagious than HIV. It has been proven by the exponential infection rates growth around the world. Yet many people are committed to believing the racist notion that it is an “Asian” virus.


HIV first infected a young Black boy in St. Louis named Robert Rayford, who may have been the first person documented in the U.S. to die of AIDS. A reporter first talked about Robert in a Chicago Tribune article in 1987. HIV clocked the world’s collective consciousness on June 5, 1981 when the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) reported 5 cases of pneumocystis pneumonia among previously healthy “homosexuals” in Los Angeles. This lit a storm of hatefulness on the marginalized gay community and AIDS, which was once called the “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” became the juggernaut that leveled whole queer communities. Many beautiful people perished and there are still many dying silently of AIDS, even today.


Ronald Reagan, a republican, was president of the United States when HIV attacked and Donald Trump is currently a republican president during the coronavirus pandemic. Both are adherants to white supremacist frameworks of government, with Reagan concerned with trickle down economics and the war on drugs, a failure that lead to the mass incarceration of Black and brown folks, another enemy to HIV positive people. Historically, Reagan slowly dragged his feet during this public health crisis as many buried their loved ones. Trump, concerned with faux nationalism, currently uses his law and order rhetoric to galvanize white working class people against organized foes: One week it’s Black people in Chicago, the next Muslims, and lately it is China. By moving his target, it allows for a never ending list of the made up culprits of his imagined war that has devastating material impacts on communities he named as public enemies.

Reagan ignored the crisis, a top official laughed at AIDS and ACT UP fought back, organizing radical direct actions, throwing ashes on the white house lawn during the first Bush’s Presidency, holding public funerals, making trauma actionable and blowing lids off of hypocrisy, inaction and the violence of indifference. Reagan’s nonresponse was like Trump’s passive and deflecting response, both men, white and Presidents ravaged communities by either shifting blame, turning their backs or escalating fears by creating an enemy to point to. In Reagan’s day it was the gays and Trump’s enemy is China. Proving that white supremacy is the true parallel.

Like ACT UP, formations of other gay men came together as People With AIDS. Communities of the dying: the faggots, the transwomen and the sex workers took to the streets, collected medicines at home and shared knowledge to get us through an epidemic. We were held by a loving community of lesbians, radical doctors and unapologetic drag queens. We brazed through losing many while saving our souls and preserving our histories with undying collective work. We are always the answer we are searching for. Powerful, even when we are down, shining a light on the wrongs of humanity.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a poz organizer and writer from Philadelphia.

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it has been almost 20 years since the death of singer and prolific songwriter, kenny greene. sadly, his death was shrouded in hiv stigma and biphobia. .

kenny greene was the dynamic mastermind behind 90’s r&b trio INTRO. born in detroit, michigan, kenny, was inspired to put a trio together after meeting two other singers while serving in the army. after being discovered by dj eddie f in 1990, INTRO began to groom their sound.

kenny wrote and composed most of their 1993 self-titled debut album. the lead single “come inside” cracked the r&b top 10 and peaked at #33 on the hot 100.

with their blend of sultry melodies, new jack swing and early neo-soul sound, INTRO became one of the hottest r&b groups of the mid 1990’s. kenny’s voice so impressed stevie wonder that kenny was given blessing by stevie himself to cover “ribbon in the sky.” mr. wonder himself even appears in the video.

kenny teamed up with dave “jam” hall to create “love no limit” from mary j. blige’s iconic debut album “what’s the 411.” kenny’s songwriting skills were so celebrated that he was awarded the 1993 ASCAP songwriter of the year.

through-out the 90’s, kenny continued to write for other artists, including 98 degrees, tyrese, will smith, and cam'ron.

in a 2001 interview with the now defunct sister2sister magazine, kenny courageously disclosed that he was bisexual and he was battling complications brought on by HIV. he shared the pressures brought on by societal expectations that he present as both heterosexual and the alpha-male. while many privately applauded him for using his story to raise awareness, many publicly condemned him.

on oct. 1, 2001, kenny greene died in NYC. he was just 32 yrs old. 9/11 attacks, kenny’s death received little media coverage. and outlets that did cover his death, framed his death around the how bisexual men or men on the “DL” were a danger to women.

kenny’s wake was arranged by close friends. his family did not attend. kenny was honored by the US army and is buried at calverton national cemetery on long island.

kenny greene is not a household name although many households are probably jammin’ to his songs. he honor his life and legacy.

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Adonis Timōne is not here to blend into the background. Straddling the lines between artist and HIV activist, Adonis Timone is combining both to push the boundaries in the world of Hip-Hop and HIV activism.
I met Adonis last September when we began...

Adonis Timōne is not here to blend into the background. Straddling the lines between artist and HIV activist, Adonis Timone is combining both to push the boundaries in the world of Hip-Hop and HIV activism.

I met Adonis last September when we began working in partnership as part of ECHO(Engaging Communities around HIV Organizing), a youth cohort of young people living with HIV who are working to raise awareness about the need to decriminalize HIV. It wasn’t until the final day of our five-day cohort meeting that I discovered that Adonis, who was pretty reserved most of the time, was an emerging queer Hip-Hop artist. And because Adonis knows the power of a dramatic entrance, it wasn’t until they took the stage during the closing talent show and music dropped that all 150 young people in attendance were left in complete awe, for a few seconds, because everyone began to dance as soon as Adonis began rapping.

Adonis, who is gender non-binary, incorporates their experiences, both painful and joyful into their art and expression. They are in great company with other Black Queer artists such as Mahawam and  Mykko Blanco, who are confronting HIV stigma through their art.

In honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Gran Varones partnered with MyStoryOutLoud, a storytelling project amplifying the stories of LGBTQ Youth of Color, to schedule a chat with Adonis about their music, their impact, and what it’s like being a Black queer HIV positive Hip-Hop Artist.


So where did you grow up and what was that like?

I grew up in Milwaukie, Wisconsin, in a pretty urban area. Growing up in Wisconsin is like…everyone pretty much knows each other especially if you’re from the hood. Then when you grow up and get into the gay scene, it’s like a big family.

When did your love for creating music begin?

I was about seven years old and I wrote something that went along the lines, “I keep it so fresh on the microphone, girls won’t leave me alone, keeps calling my phone.” I was young! When I was 14, I went into the studio for the first time and I was so scared to show my mother because it had a lot of curse words in it but she really liked it and played it more than I did.

When did you begin to craft your first EP?

In 2017, I was messing with my laptop and seeing what I can do, I then showed some stuff to my friends and they kept encouraging me to keep going and creating. It was around this time that my ex-boyfriend had a connection with a really good engineer. We went into the studio together and it’s been that same relationship since then.

What has been the response from people?

I get really good feedback from people of my same experience and even in the heteronormative community. They respond really well once they sit down and actually listen. But sometimes, when I would go to open mic nights, there would be times when there would be like dead silence or no response at all. But there also have been times when people are like, “Oh my god, “he” is amazing.”

Your lyrics are unapologetically about being queer and sexual. What has been the response from those in the HIV field?

I did a freestyle to Nicki Minaj’s song Megatron last summer and I recall colleagues that worked in the field of HIV prevention suggesting that I change my lyrics when I said: “He almost took his own life when he tested dirty.” They didn’t enjoy the stigmatizing word  “dirty,” and felt as if I was encouraging the language. I was not. I was merely meeting the community where they were to understand the severity of the feeling of being diagnosed with HIV. It is life-changing and going through our own grief you may feel “dirty, sick, or maybe even nasty” because it’s what we as Black folk hear growing up. Then I continued the rap with lyrics of empowerment and with an encouraging message to keep going and thrive. We tend to discriminate our own people for being different, yet we all have similar struggles.

What are your thoughts about Black queer representation in entertainment?

There has been an uproar in the representation of LGBTQIA+ in media and entertainment in the past few years. With shows like Pose, Love & Hip Hop, Sex Education, and many more, we finally have television that tells stories that are relatable to our own stories and situations. Hip-hop has become one of the most popular genres in the world and black same gender loving individuals still have little to no representation despite our efforts for equality. In rap culture, it’s almost considerably acceptable to be homophobic with derogatory language that deems females and gay males less than their more masculine counterparts. The fact that the Black community as a whole is affected by most of the same socioeconomic disparities that have hindered the development of our neighborhoods, healthcare, and mental stability is enough reason to understand that “we’re in this together.” Which is also the theme of this year’s National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

What is your message today for Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day?

As someone who is not only unapologetically Black but queer and living with HIV, it becomes difficult to find spaces that are safe and accepting. I’ve performed for heterosexual crowds that loved my music and crowds that hear my lyrics and instantly turn their noses up and depreciate my music and performance. I know not everyone will enjoy my music and I respect that. Yet it takes a lot of courage to perform on stage in front of the same community that labels you a f*g before they even know your name. However, I try not to let that get to me. In my most recent single, Spot,  I address some of these topics literally saying “ I was called a f*g before I knew what it was.” Twice for dramatic effect.  And it was the truth! We have to understand that WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER! We have to address these unspoken stigmas. If not, then we can’t move forward and thrive as a whole. I have fans that encourage and constantly remind me that I matter, and my voice should be heard. Music is universal and everyone deserves to have their share. I will continue to work hard and use my music and platform to inform, protect, and honor my values and beliefs and advocate for those whose voices go unheard.

You can follow Adonis on Instagram @adonistimonemusic. Also, check out their music on Spotify.

Special thanks to MyStoryOutLoud for their support in making this interview happen. You can follow MyStoryOutLoud on Instagram and Facebook.

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i grew up in a latino catholic family. mexican family from puebla and we just grew up going to church. on a good week, like 4, 5 times a week. we were always very involved in the church. until i came out to my church friends and then i was low-key exiled.

i was prescribed that word “faggot” and then later “fem” before i knew what they were. so when i was like 5, kids were already saying, “that’s a faggot” and i was like, “well, i guess that’s what i am.” but i didn’t know what it meant until i was like 11.

in a primarily latinx immigrant community, everybody around me looked like me but i was the only queer person that i knew for a very long time. it was very lonely. it wasn’t until i got to high school that i met other queer people.

i was 14, 15 years old and my queer friends were much older. the trans girls and queer boys would me invite to the clubs. high school, meeting my first boyfriend and going to hiv prevention support groups and meeting this eclectic group of people led to me finding joy in being queer early on.

part of having older friends was that they were like, “this is madonna, she was jacking shit from the ballroom scene,” “this was the aids crisis,” “this was stonewall.” i never felt that didn’t have a rich history as a queer person of color but it was never knowing it mattered.

ruben, he/him/they/them

los angeles, ca

interviewed & photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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Last year, over 600 people from at least 6 countries on 3 continents participated in the inaugural digital media action #TransphobiaIsASin. Both a call to action and effort to amplify the issue of religious-based violence that Transgender people experience, #TransphobiaIsASin is proof of the power of social media.

“We had Black & Brown Trans & Non-Binary folks who have experienced religious trauma participate, we had clergy participate, we had folks who have loved ones who’ve experienced religious trauma participate, and even my Momma participated (which for me was my favorite part). We really had no idea how many folks would join in, and it was amazing to see how much it resonated.” Says J. Mase III, who created the campaign with Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi.

Inspired by the work both J Mase and Lady Dane are doing with the Black Trans Prayer Book, an interfaith a book of prayers, meditations, poems and stories that center the spiritual realities of Black trans people, #TransphobiaIsASin is direct response to the trauma Trans people have experienced in religious settings. I reached out to J Mase III, who I know from my old stomping grounds in Philadelphia and even worked with him on my first digital media actions called “Start Rhyming, Stop AIDS” almost a decade ago, to find out more about #TransphobiaIsASin.

Louie: How did the idea of a digital actions/social media campaign come about?

J Mase III: There was a day when we were talking to a group of other Black & Brown Trans folks and someone said, “Oh, I could never support a project like that because I have too much religious trauma.” And we were like, “That is exactly the point.” We have been doing this project BECAUSE Black & Brown Trans folks have religious and spiritual based trauma they do not deserve and should have tools to heal from. This action gave us space to engage more Trans folks and solidarity partners on our right to disrupt and heal from religious and/or spiritual based violence and harm. What we know is that religious violence turns into familial violence, domestic violence, sexual violence and political violence. Disrupting that, means cutting off white supremacist and transantagonist theologies at the root. This is one way we have been working to do just that.

Louie: There was a great response last year, what are your hopes for this year’s action?

J Mase III: This year, and every year, for us it is about holding religious institutions accountable and saying you cannot keep causing harm to Trans people. In every religious group I have ever worked with, there is a consistent belief, that we are more than just our physical selves. No one captures that more than Trans people, who are given language for their bodies by cis people, and say no to that. We are given a path, and we manifest a new one. We want more Trans folks to know they have a right to healing, and being cared for, and we want religious institutions to stop lying about who Trans people are and spearheading the frameworks that cause physical, mental and sexual violence against us. We want to change how folks define who is worthy.


Here some questions and answers for anyone interested in participating.

When does this year’s #TransphobiaIsASin takes place?

This Wednesday, January 15th on all social media platforms

What is the purpose of the campaign?

To call attention to, and disrupt, the religious violence trans people experience everyday.

Who can participate?

Anyone and everyone who is invested in reframing the conversation around trans people in faith spaces and ending religious based violence against trans people.

How do I participate?

First step: Take a picture of yourself with a sign with one of the following lines:

Transphobia is a sin

Transphobia is haram

Trans people are divine

Trans people exist because our ancestors existed.

Second step: Use the hashtag #TransphobiaIsASin

Third step: Post picture on Wednesday, January 15, 2020.

For more information. and updates on #TransphobiaIsASin and the Black Trans Prayer book, follow J Mase III @jamseiii and Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi @ladydanefe on Instagram.

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i was in the 11th grade. there was this guy that everyone used to say was bisexual. and i was like, “what does being bisexual mean?” i did my research and was like “oh ok. someone who likes both. maybe that’s who i am. maybe i’m bisexual.”

i remember being in computer class and at that time, everyone had piercings. so he had a tongue ring and he was across from the computer and he goes, “hey joel.” and i go, “what?” he opens my hand and puts his tongue ring in my hand. i’m like, “what the fuck?” i look at it and say, playfully, “eww, take it away from me!”

then we were in the auditorium and he was across from me and he yelled, “joel!” and i’m like “what?” and he motioned “i heart you.” and i like “oh my god!”

i think towards the end of that year, i was in a relationship with a girl. she and i met as part of a quinceañera, we were partners. she went to a different high school. so anyways, i’m in school and i go on a bathroom break. all of sudden the guy walks in. as i get ready to leave, he says, “joel, don’t leave.” so i am standing near the bathroom door to exit, he finishes washing his hands and walks up to me and says, “this is something i always wanted to do.” he starts making out with me. so i’m like, “whoa. this feels weird.” we start making out again. all of a sudden, some guy walks into a the bathroom, sees us and is like “oh, wait. uh, i’ll go to the next bathroom.” like it was something “normal” and then he leaves. it was so weird to me.

i was nervous. did i just cheat on my girlfriend? that night, i called diana and i’m like, “listen. something happened today. somebody made out with me.” and she was like, “who is the girl? i’m going to go to your school and beat her butt!” i’m like, “no, it was a guy.” and i swear, this was the first time i heard this word - she was like, “so you’re a faggot?” and she hung up on me. and i never talked to her since.

i mean, i think she should have known. for one of my birthdays, she bought me destiny’s child’s second album, “the writings on the wall.”

joel, he/him/his

orlando, florida

interviewed by: anthony leon

photographed by: louie a. ortiz-fonseca

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