HIM Blog

My Time at This Year's SLAYFEST by Damian Ruff

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From Friday to Sunday this weekend was one for the books. I had a fab date with a lovely young man at Coney Island and even though the fireworks Friday were breathtaking the real show was Saturday. SlayTV, the brainchild of Sean and Terry Torrington, hosted its inaugural SLAYFEST celebrating the queer Black creative. Part film festival, part concert, SLAYFEST was nothing but love and Black excellence. Housed in the Fisher Building of the Brooklyn Academy of Music it was four floors of unapologetic greatness and a whirlwind of activity. This little bee played your insider for HIM while the boys were busy interviewing some of SLAYFEST’s lauded guests. If you’ve ever tipped through downtown Brooklyn you’ve passed BAM Fisher several times over, Heaven knows I have, and yet I never guessed that one day I’d get to pump under the cover of its roof. Mind you, the rooftop held an open bar for the girls getting themselves together for that evening’s concert which Cakes Da Killa and Dai Burger were slated to headline.

The sun was as high as Dominique Jackson’s cheekbones when I pumped out of Atlantic Terminal and bumped right into HIM’s pretty boy and thought provoker, Erin. Walking down Ashland Place I thought to myself how unsuspecting the Fisher Building seems from the outside,
how easy it is to pump by without noticing it, but walking through that door I buzzed with a nervous energy. I picked up my VIP pass from the one and only Twiggy Pucci Garcon, in a rare moment of stillness in his duties as Director of Programming, and tipped down the stairs to the
Jay Sharp Lounge where the rest of HIM were gathering themselves.

Malik gave us the run- through of what was expected of the day and by half past noon we were ready to hit it. Now, you know how us colored folk are when it comes to time but after Friday, and a bit of good news that morning, I knew time would be on our side. So, when the screening of short films was delayed due to unforeseen circumstances a shiver of anticipation washed over me as I kiki’d with Stevie and Trey while Erin and Malik were in their phones.

The Fishman Space was set to house the screenings of shorts and short films by various Black and queer filmmakers which, as I’m guessing some of you have gathered, is my bailiwick. When the screenings started I was immediately sucked into the superstar performance of MJ Rodriguez as the title character of 2016’s Gema. Following the moments leading up to Rodriguez’s Gema meeting Ari Blinder’s Sam’s parents for the first time it was a wave of stellar performances from both actors. When Sam says that hasn’t gotten around to telling his parents about Gema’s tea, she’s upset. The tension in the newly engaged couple’s bedroom was palpable as an underlying air of fear pinged out of every scene. It was perhaps the final shot of the film that left this audience member at the  edge of his seat as Rodriguez stood in her underwear with Blinder seated behind her as the bell of reality rang on their small paradise.

Following Gema was a set of episodes of Christopher Rule’s series, Reality Check. Inspired by a breakup and life in general it left this writer cackling almost as hard as when I was kikiing with Stevie. Following Reality Check was the powerful docuseries, Finding Home, which
is “chronicling the painstaking efforts of LGBT immigrants to build and define a home in Los Angeles,” and had Stevie in tears within the first two minutes. The featured episode followed Stacy, an immigrant from El Salvador seeking asylum in the US. It followed her as she worked as a hotel maid by day and performed in drag shows at night with the threat of deportation over her head. Returning to El Salvador being the worst thing for her as she was raped by the police and beaten by gangsters in her country. Clicking the trailer on SlayTV’s SLAYFEST lineup will lead you to a Kickstarter to help support the series. It was partway through the sxcreenings when the boys and I tipped out of the auditorium to check setup for the podcast and I was itching to see what else SLAYFEST had to offer.


I took the elevator up to the second floor for the panel on Representation in the Media, but was told that it would not start until a half hour. I went back down to the screenings in time to catch the leading lady and comedic chops of Miss Angelica Ross in 2017’s Missed
Connections. Following two people who meet at a festival and are parted by fate before they can exchange information, it seemed all too fitting for the day’s festivities. We watch as friends and friends of friends and their followers work in concert to get a Missed Connections post on Craigslist to go viral so that Jermell Smith’s Kamal could meet Ross’s Jennifer again. A touching romantic comedy, this is a feel good short film to watch alone on a rainy day or with your girls and a glass of Moscato. After this was Justin Dominic’s Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man which proves itself as powerful as the first few times I saw it writing my review. This time I found myself sitting in the front row with tears welling in my eyes watching the dancers speak to one another through movement. A powerful message through the fantastic choreography of
Justin Dominic on the intersections of Blackness, queerness, and maleness in a society where to
be all three is to be undervalued, and under-appreciated. It speaks on the importance of Black
queer men loving themselves and each other despite societal expectations.


I tipped out of the theatre and ran into Ronaldo Maurice who, along with Twiggy, runs a masterclass on runway and vogue performance that makes it look simple enough for me to do. The classes are held at Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance Company, check their Instagrams for the
next class. I took the elevator up to the second floor and stood in on the panel on Representation in the Media in time to catch Jamal Lewis’ nugget of wisdom in the wake of Pose that, the danger of representation is that it “feeds some and leaves others hungry.” My phone went off in
my hand and I stepped out to pick up a friend who had been invited to perform by Sean Torrington just that morning. Before stepping into the gray light of day I passed the boys of HIM who were interviewing photographer, Lamont Baldwin. To the outsider in the Atlantic Terminal area one would think that some fashion show was taking place at BAM as M.L. Thompson and Laquann Dawson pumped around with a gorgeous young woman looking for something to fill their tummies among the other immaculately dressed children hungry for more than just a good
time.

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I got back to the Fisher Building and into the screenings to catch snatches of Whose Street, a documentary on the Ferguson, Missouri riots after the wrongful death of Michael Brown at the hands of Caucasian Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. I watched with my hand over
my mouth and disgust in my heart at the powerful images of Fergusonites being pelted with rubber bullets and tear gas on their own lawns after the issuance of a curfew. “This is my home!

This is my home,” one distraught man yelled as I felt a lump form in my throat at how easy it is to feel powerless in the face of militarized humvees and faceless officers following orders. Mind you, the Nazis were “only following orders” too but that doesn’t justify a single thing about them. Needing a change, I tipped down to the Jay Sharp Lounge, buzzing past the boys of HIM as they interviewed Ryan Jamaal Swain, who had just come down from where he was a panelist for Representation in the Media.


Walking into the lounge I was greeted by the lovely strings of multi-instrumentalist
Devon Webster as he played along to classic R&B favorites with his violin. I found a seat at the far end of the lounge, closest to the bar, and let the soothing sound of the violin mixing with the familiar backing beats wash over me. The room seemed to be feeling his music as well as many of the guests took video and nodded approvingly at him, but it was during Devon’s rendition of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” when my suspicions were confirmed, as those gathered sang along. Sitting there, notebook in hand and smile on my face, I looked up to the first floor where guests and staff alike leaned over the open space to listen.

I was conflicted when six o’clock hit and the rooftop bar opened at the same time the Women’s Experience panel started, but when Monsieur Garcon asks you to sit in on a panel you ignore your inner lush. The boys of HIM and I sat in on what was, in my opinion, one of the best panels of the day, which is saying something because I enjoy a good Q+A with filmmakers. It was church up on the second floor as the ladies got us together. As someone who identifies as gender nonconforming and who has been raised by more women than men, I thought I was familiar with the plight of the fairer sex, but we can always learn more. What I learned was that I take my privilege as someone who has worked with the queer community in the non-profit sector for granted. Much of what we know is not disseminated to the masses in an accessible way and so, being there with someone who went up and thanked the panelists for their perspectives, I was humbled. This all comes back to representation in the media being of paramount importance now more than ever; visibility matters. It was the overarching consensus that “safe spaces” for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals is not something that should be sought that, in order for us to actively be the change, we have to go out of these “boxes” and inform not just each other but those outside of our communities.

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After a quick run to the liquor store, because the open bar had been capped and the prices in the bar of the lounge were a tad exorbitant for the underemployed, I tipped my personal into a Stella (purchased at the bar) and relaxed in the company of HIM and the young man who accompanied me. When Twiggy and Winstina Dakers, head of PR at SlayTV, leaned over the banister to tell the children that the concert doors were open I held back from the mass exodus to have some one-on-one time with my date. I noted an empty pint bottle of Hennessy by one of the benches and applauded the children for their discretion and savviness. By the time we got up to the concert, which was held in the same auditorium as the screenings that morning, we were ready to turn up. Turn up we did.

The concert, which was hosted by Lonnie Bee, boasted a loaded lineup of Black queer performers. Headlined by Dai Burger and Cakes Da Killa, Boy Radio, Shea Diamond, Punk Adams, and Brynt were also slated to perform. We arrived in time to see Rozay Labeija take the stage, and were turnt when Rahrah Gabor got up with some sick bars that left both me and my date gagging. Twerking along with the boys of HIM to Charlie Xile, I was stunned when Mila Jam came out in full performance mode serving Queen Bey in “Ghost” tease. This little bee was beat by the time Mila Jam was halfway through her set and so were the boys of HIM. We tipped around saying our goodbyes but not before meeting MJ Rodriguez, who sat discreetly on the second floor of the auditorium enjoying the performances. Between meeting her, Ryan Jamaal
Swain, and Boy Radio my day had been made several times over.

If you didn’t get the chance to come to this inaugural SLAYFEST fret not because I am sure that come next summer you too will be able to pump through and catch your life. I would like to thank Sean and Terry Torrington for creating SlayTV, a vehicle for Black queer creatives
to come together and showcase their art. I would like to thank Twiggy Pucci Garcon for hooking me up with a VIP pass and, of course, the boys of HIM who are all so special in their own beautiful ways.


Catch this week’s podcast to hear the boys of HIM interviewing Kyle Price, Mikelle Street, and Ryan Jamaal Swain. Take care, and remember that you are beautiful.

How Pose and Twelve Inches of Shirley Bassey Go Hand-In-Hand

It’s very easy to forget the importance of representation when you live in a city like New York where you see queer people of color living or working towards living their best lives. In the world of television, there has been a dramatic upswing in queer representation, which I am totally here for, but there has yet to be anyone on tv where I can say, “Hey, they’re just like me,” or, “Oh shit, that happened to someone I know.” With great shows like Noah’s Arc and Looking we had a predominantly cisgender male cast of homosexuals giving us positive perspectives on queerness in a post-AIDS outbreak/post-Bush presidency America and yet they were somehow lacking. Not that those shows were bad because they weren’t and I’m honestly still not over the cancellation of Looking but this is the marked nature of queer presenting shows on television, a noted derision of the community it presents. With the June 3rd premiere of Ryan Murphy and 21st Century Fox’s ‘Pose’ on FX we were given what most thought would be another of these soft-shoe shows. Oh, what a surprise.

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Why We Need Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man (And Why You Should Care) by Damian Ruff

 background image by Whitney Browne 

background image by Whitney Browne 

Let me start by saying that anything dripping in melanated brothers I am here for, okay? For years Black media has remained an off-center part of the overall scheme of production and cultural legacy and it’s high time it got more attention. When I was invited to a screening of Justin Dominic’s Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man I was down for two reasons: one, this is my “year of yes,” and two, it was free. I went in knowing nothing of what I was about to experience but I knew I was going to have a good time because one Malik of HIM asked me to come out and cover it. As this was officially a work event I let the spliff in my pocket rest there and prepared myself by enjoying the NYC back alley vibes of St. John’s Place in the cut just off Canal.

The event was hosted at the Living Room of Spring Place which oozed a quiet elegance like that of any hotspot lounge one would see on Sex and The City; I was living. Little did I know that even though the bar gave very much Miranda Priestly tease the sunken living room just to the back of the lounge would serve my inner Beat fetish.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Living for the plush red sunken in seating area which was a complete square in the middle of the room, I positioned myself just the side of the front for optimal viewing. With Malik on my left and Trey on my right, I looked up at the screen where Daniel Calderon and the creator/visionary Justin Dominic introduced the short vid introducing us to some of the crew involved with the piece.

Justin Dominic, Ronnie Carney, Andre Drummond, and Nigel Campbell were our four principles, and each reflected the uniqueness that is the Black man. From the title, one can easily ascertain just where this piece’s niche target lies but there is universality in the arcs presented by each sequence. Each dance sequence, all of which had been choreographed by Dominic, tells a story of the Black gay man’s experience in subtle and powerful ways. In an attempt to not give away too much of something that must be experienced in order to grasp the beauty of it there were two scenes that stuck out to this writer in particular. Mind you, I was not alone in how powerful these scenes were as they came up in the subsequent Q+A with Dominic, Calderon, Carney, and Nathan Bajar, who curated the soundtrack along with Dominic and Calderon.

Hosted by the incomparable Emil Wilbekin, whose impressive credentials were so caringly mentioned in Calderon’s introduction of him, he carried us through the forum with such ease that I longed for it to carry a little while longer; but I digress. Dominic mentioned in the Q+A that some of the sequences were composed of watching the other subjects interact on the set which was an Airbnb rented for two days. When Dominic said they had managed to get all the shots they needed in one day I could see it in the chemistry between the principles on film.

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The first scene which drew the attention of the audience and was brought to my attention again a week later by Malik is a scene in the kitchen between Ronnie Carney and Andre Drummond which Malik calls “Levels.” Carney and Drummond have what can only be called a conversation-in-choreo where one gets the sense of a longing for intimacy yet a resistance brought on by internalized societal norms and expectations placed on Black men. You could almost hear the pleadings of each dancer as they beckoned the other for trust and truth and intimacy and your heart breaks when you see the walls go up in successive levels suggested by their arms blocking the space between them. It was like watching (and I’m going to personalize here) all the times you’ve wanted to reach out to another beautiful Black boy for that affection you desire and both deserve but pride and societal prejudices tell you that as a Black man you can’t be vulnerable. Of course, this is a toxic notion which we all deal with on some level but seeing it on the screen brought back just how unified we are in certain aspects of our lives.

One audience member speculated that the theme of the piece was touch, something that the dancers did a lot of, and Dominic confirmed this. In fact, the dancers seemed to do nothing more than touch or want to touch and connect with the others.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Playing off of the theme of touch I want to take it one further and say that intimacy was my overall takeaway from the piece. Another such powerful scene was one where the principles and other subjects stood with their backs to the camera, and here without faces, we are shown the diversity of the Black man; diversity, of course, being another theme of the piece. At first, it looks like they’re just standing there like they’re waiting for something, then slowly we see that they are embracing one another. Hands on shoulders, on waists, heads leaning in, the men huddle together in a sequence that suggests that we have to be the givers and receivers of the intimacy we need.

Set against music that I can only describe as acid jazz meets psychedelia Unapologetic Me is a visual and audio treat. The cinematography was done by the Macaiah Carter who recently shot The Weeknd for Times Magazines Next Generation of Leaders issue. Not only are the brothers attractive, the music and sound bites of interviews with queer Black men provide the audience with visceral truths on Blackness, queerness, and maleness in a society which seeks to make us apologize for simply being alive.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Written, directed, choreographed, and produced by Justin Dominic Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man is, as Emil Wilbekin called, a “legacy” to be left in the ashes of queer Black art and history destroyed by the AIDS epidemic. Ronnie Carney (and I hope he doesn’t mind my saying) was the oldest of the dancers Dominic approached for the project, having been his instructor early in his career, Carney expressed excitement at being asked to participate but it was something he said in the Q+A that seemed all too poignant. “I no longer have to be that warrior walking down the hall. Now I’m more of a mentor or teacher to the younger generation.” What Ronnie Carney touched on here was the wide divide between homosexuality being a social death with a looming expiration date and cause of demise to being something almost completely accepted…almost. There is still this disparity between the older gays and the young ones, and a lot of our personal history has been lost to untimely deaths; Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man is, and I don’t think I can say this enough, an answer to that lost legacy.

We as Black gay men are some of the most diverse people and we uniquely experience a world which either does not want us or, and perhaps more insidiously, feigns tolerance of us. We as Black gay men have to pick up the torch and tell our stories amongst each other, and allies who will listen, and even to those who don’t want to hear because our stories matter. I believe that if we are like Justin Dominic and create something that speaks to us then we will be able to speak to others. Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man is a conversation starter and it’s time we joined the discussion.

 photo by Mark Clennon

photo by Mark Clennon

Like Patrik Ian Polk did with Noah’s Arc, P.U.N.K.S., and The Skinny so too do we have to continue to share in visual and visceral ways the truths of our existence. Because we are here, our stories are important, they tell a side of society so easily shunned and ignored until it is fetishized, and we need to show that we are more than Drag Race memes and victims. We are powerful, we are strong, and we have come too far to let another day go by where a little Black boy in Arkansas doesn’t know that there are people out there like him who love him. Go see Justin Dominic’s Unapologetic Me: Black | Gay | Man, catch your life and save a life. 

Watch the Trailer for UNAPOLOGETIC ME: BLACK | GAY | MAN below and get more informantion about the film at http://www.justindominic.com/unapologeticme/ 

Stevie Post: Bandana Vibes !!! (Personal Therapy + Be Your Own Number One Fan)

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“Personal therapy” is important for your every day life, and on your personal journey you should find ways to keep your mind at ease. Here is my advice on how to find your own personal therapy.

“Be You Own Number One Fan”. As much as you want the support from friends and love ones you learn that you never know when there’s a fraud in the mix so you have become your own support and push through. 

Trey Post: 2018 is My Year of LOVE

Last year I took on the challenge to say yes to almost everything and changed my life for the better. This year is my year of LOVE not just romantically because lord knows I've been single for a while, but love for myself, love towards others, love for my work, just love all around !!!!! the reason why I decided to take this challenge of dedicating an entire year to love is that I had come to learn that in the past I've stonewalled love and used every opportunity no not put myself first and to lead a life that lacked the love necessary for me to succeed.

Now I see a lot of you reading this in my head thinking "Trey is full of shit, he knows damn well he's been loving himself for the past 5 years, how is dedicating another year to love going to change anything"  But trust me it will, I'm taking the time to cook the food that I love but will also help me love my body as well. I'm taking the time to love my friends old and new, and lastly, I'm taking the time to find love. I know that I'm young and at 21 who the hell is going to find the person that they are going to open the rest of their life with but honestly that's not what I'm talking about, I've looked back at all my past relationships and with an exception on maybe two people I haven't been in love with the person that I was dating, most of the time it was just me going through the motions not wanting to be alone but with time I've gotten older and learned to love my alone time and solitude.

This year much like last year I'm challenging myself to go beyond what I'm used to so I'm leaving with this question: What Do You Want To Achieve This Year?