We met up with Andre and his smiling friend Joye at the smokiest cafe in all of central Michigan on the campus of Michigan State in East Lansing. Andre’s a freshman at Michigan State and was anxious to talk about growing up in the center of Detroit (aka “The D”) as a young gay guy. Here’s our chat:
YGA: This must be the smokiest place in town.
ANDRE: It is. I stopped coming cuz everyone plays the guitar and I just can’t stand listening to bad guitar while I’m trying to study.
YGA: Are you guys from here, from Lansing?
ANDRE: No we’re from Detroit. We’re from Detroit proper. The true D.
YGA: What’s that mean, the “true D”?
ANDRE: Detroit has so many suburbs. A lot of people say they’re from Detroit but they’re not really from Detroit proper. We’re from The D.
YGA: Kewl. So how does Lansing compare to the D?
ANDRE: It’s taken some adjustments to get used to, for me. I’m just a freshman and it’s a real different scene than what I’m used to, from growing up. At home, we don’t have anything like this, a coffeehouse where everybody comes to. We don’t have anything this open or relaxed. We don’t have a lot of the crazy people, the purple-haired people, the artsy-type people. In my hall there are murals that people can go paint on at 3 o’clock in the morning.
JOYE: Where we’re from that kinda art is illegal.
ANDRE: It all depends on who you talk to about Detroit. Some people say it’s the worst place on earth. There are a lot of fights and a lot of violence, that’s somewhat true, but it’s a pretty cool place if you grew up there. You can hang out downtown, at Renaissance Center or Hart Plaza. You can skip school and go to the mall. In the summer, there are festivals at Hart Plaza. People say the city’s dangerous and sure if you go downtown at 3 in the morning it might be, but that’s no different than any other city.
JOYE: I went to a school down the street from Andre, one of the better schools in Detroit. We have a no-fighting policy and everything. I think no matter where you go in America there are gonna be good and bad people everywhere. Detroit’s a cool place with a bad rap. A lot of people never step foot there and say it’s just dirty and full of pollution. But it’s not that bad.
ANDRE: When I think about it, though, you do have to go outside Detroit a lot of times if you want anything homosexually-oriented. Paradise and Spiral, for example, the two gay clubs out here in Lansing? We go to those clubs from Detroit.
ANDRE: Yea, the only place I know of in Detroit is this grody-ass place called Menjo’s where all the grody people go. If you’re young it’s definitely NOT the place to be, unless you’re trying to make some money or something. There’s really not a lot if you’re young and gay in Detroit. To get my XY Survival Guide, my teacher drove all the way out to Ann Arbor and bought it for me.
YGA: She did? What an awesome teacher.
ANDRE: She has really been the greatest person to me. She was the first person I came out to. She was our high school debate coach and English teacher. She told me where I could go for resources, helped get me books and stuff, and really took me under her wing. It’s because of her that I want to be a teacher now, because I recognize how many kids out there don’t have anybody like that to help them out.
YGA: What about your parents?
ANDRE: The only reason I’m out to them is because my mother searched my room and went through my journals. She never said anything for the longest time but we both knew what had happened. One day she snapped on me and started crying and stuff. I went in my room and went to sleep. While I was asleep she went and called my grandmother and my two aunts. So suddenly all my family found out.
ANDRE: They’re all cool with it now, though. My mom’s the only one who isn’t.
YGA: Is your family really close?
ANDRE: Oh yea. Except for my mom, cuz she always gets in arguments.
YGA: What was school like for you?
ANDRE: When I first went to high school it was a predominantly white high school so people had a lot of ignorant remarks for me, racist remarks. When they started making anti-gay remarks on top of it, that got pretty overwhelming and very tiresome. I used to try to fight back to each one with words, but it got hard trying to fight it all the time. You just can’t go around everyday fighting everyone and trying to change them. After a while I just gave up. I stopped saying things when I heard people say stupid stuff.
Just the other day, this guy down the hall was playing rap music. And I hate rap music. Someone was like “who’s playing the rap!?” and this guy said “you know it’s the black kid down the hall”. He’s a nice guy, he doesn’t know better. Most people are good people, but it’s still hard. When you come from Detroit the word FAG is used to describe everything wrong. Same with a lot of places. Kids get in arguments and the worst thing you can say is You Cocksucking Whatever. That type of language starts fights. Just bein around that really jacks you up.
YGA: Did you ever feel afraid for your life?
ANDRE: All the time. I never said anything too “gay”, or made that big a deal about it, but then again I never tried to hide anything either. I had boyfriends, brought em around, or I’d made jokes or comments about this cute guy and that cute guy. People would always talk shit about me. They’d talk about me in a high-pitched voice and stuff… The main thing I learned was that your friends can be the most important family you have. I have four best friends, we’ve been through so much together.
YGA: That’s great. One issue we often try to deal with is the appearance of black people and black issues in the media, particular the gay media. What do you think about the way those issues are, or aren’t, dealt with?
ANDRE: I don’t know, that’s a tough issue. We have discussions about this at the gay group on campus. My whole thing is: I don’t see a commuity of ANYONE out there. I don’t see gay people banding together. I don’t see black gay people together. There are so many gays and lesbians who hate bi people, so many gay boys who hate dykes, so many blacks who hate whites. When it comes to how black people are portrayed, I’d have to say what about the Community that we portray? Where is it? I know a lot of people who are searching for that community but can’t.
YGA: Do you like the idea of a community in general?
ANDRE: I don’t, I guess. I mean, I understand people need clubs and organizations. But mostly at the gay meetings people just bitch about straight people and at the black caucus people just bitch about white people. We have to learn how to pick our battles better.
YGA: What else do you wanna do with your life, besides be a teacher?
ANDRE: I want to start my own gay magazine. A more political gay youth magazine that what’s out there.
YGA: That’s awesome. We could always use more gay youth mags. If there’s anything we can do to help you, man, let us know. Thanks a lot for chattin with us.