Author Terrance Dean opens up about his D.L. lifestyle and why he's finally coming out to the world
Have you ever suspected that there's a little more to the story about your favorite actor or studio MC? Former entertainment executive and MTV big shot Terrance Dean might confirm your suspicions in his soon-to-be bestselling book, Hiding In Hip Hop: Confessions of A Down Low Brother in the Entertainment Industry (Atria, $23.00). Though Dean, 39, doesn't name-drop in his juicy, autobiographical account, he promises his descriptive, page-turning exposé about his closeted same-sex romances with Hollywood and Hip-Hop's leading Black men will be a rude awakening for many and healing for others. Essence.com spoke to Dean about living a lie, never knowing the beauty of a long-term relationship and whether ladies can learn how to spot a D.L. brother.
Essence.com: What caliber of men were you dating who were also on the down low?
Terrance Dean: Celebrities—actors, rappers, singers and executives in the entertainment industry.
Essence.com: How do you meet these men if you are all in the closet?
T.D.: I was on the set of Moesha and I ran into a friend of mine. He kept asking me all these personal questions about where I hang out and what I do. Then he invited men to a party that weekend. When I arrived, there were a bunch of celebrities and people who work in the entertainment industry. The hostess was showing me around the house and her girlfriend came up and kissed her and that's when I realized, "Oh, these people are like me." Once I got introduced to that scene, I was invited everywhere. It was like a welcoming committee of down-low men saying, "Welcome to our side! We got your back!"
Essence.com: What are the tell-tale signs that men use to identify others on the down low?
T.D.: There's not a way of dressing. There's not a phrase that you say. When I meet a man on the down low, I just know that there's something different about him. Because of the ignorance that surrounds sexuality in the Black community, we think all gay men are going to be finger-snappin', switchin' men who wear lip gloss and want to be women—and that's just not the case. I like cars. I like sports. I just like sleeping with another man too. It blows my mind when women say that their thug, hard core man who's been locked up, in and out of jail, or whatever cannot possibly be gay. Actually, those are the type of men that I end up with.
Essence.com: Why not simply choose to be honest about your sexual preference rather than hide it?
T.D.: Black people are conditioned to believe that we have to work twice as hard to get ahead. I didn't want my sexuality to become a reason to work three or four times harder. When I arrived in Hollywood and looked at all the men at the top of their game, I saw that many of them were happily married or had girlfriends. I realized that in order for me to get in that circle and move up in my career, I had to play the game. A lot of men like me were afraid of losing jobs, careers and families.
Essence.com: What extreme measures did you take to conceal your same-sex relationships?
T.D.: I would just lie and deceive people. If someone were to ask me if I was gay, I would say no. I would make sure I had a cover girl--we call them beards--with me at all time. I would talk about all the women I was having sex with even though I wasn't just so I could feel like I was part of the whole brotherhood. When people asked me what I did over the weekend, I made sure that I always said "she" instead of "he."
Essence.com: Do you think people knew anyway?
T.D.: Yeah! But they never said anything. They played along with me.
Essence.com: Did you ever have close calls when your cover was blown or threatened?
T.D.: Once you're in the game, you learn how to cover all your bases. In the book I talk about some men having a separate phone line and email account, especially if they're in a relationship with a woman. I've dated men who said, "Call me on this cell number. Don't call me on that other cell. If you have to email me this is the address you use."
Essence.com: In the book, you talk about the glitz and glam lifestyle that dating D.L. brothers in the entertainment industry afforded you. What were some of those fabulous perks?
T.D.: I was treated to the finer things like staying at five-star hotels. I was eating much better than before and driving Mercedes, Bentleys and BMWs. I lived in fabulous houses in Beverly Hills and Baldwin Hills. I went on vacations to Catalina Island, Bahamas, Jamaica, and Paris.
Essence.com: So were you sleeping with these men for the sex or the perks?
T.D.: I never wanted to be in a relationship with someone because of their wealth and power. It was about more than sex. We were all looking for a connection. I wanted someone who I could relate to who understood that I could never talk about being on the down low. I have to hide this. I can't go to the Black church, I can't go to a minister. I can't talk to any women about this and none of the straight men are going to understand. The only other person who can understand what I go through is another down-low man.
Essence.com: Did you have any long-term exclusive relationships or were they simply flings?
T.D.: Unfortunately, when you're dating celebrities, there can't be any long-term relationships because you realize that the relationship is all based on lies and deceiving. I couldn't get emotionally attached to anyone because he wasn't going to risk his livelihood and career to be intimately involved with a man for a long-term relationship because eventually the secret would get out.
Essence.com: Are you afraid of the backlash that this book is going to cause in the entertainment industry?
T.D.: (Laughs) No. This is not a book to destroy people, their careers and families. That's why I chose not to name names. When I told people I was writing this book, they were so supportive. They were like, "Tell your truth. We support you. Just make sure you don't put my name in there." I wrote the book years ago and was afraid to publish it because I didn't know what people would think. With the amount of love and support that I've received, I wish I would have put this book out a lot sooner.
Hiding In Hip Hop: Confessions of A Down Low Brother in the Entertainment Industry (Atria, $23) is on sale at bookstores May 23.