More thoughts on Mister Cee, sexuality, and hip hop culture

I’m still thinking about DJ Mister Cee. He recently did a PSA in which he speaks openly (and more confidently) about his sexuality and decision to share his journey publicly. In it, he says:

The decision I made this week to open up about my sexuality has definitely been the most difficult thing that I have ever had to do in my life. But I felt like this was the time for me to do it personally and professionally. For me, I felt worried about how my family would be affected, how my coworkers and my friends and even my fans would be affected by this decision because in this hip-hop community of ours, it’s not cool to be gay.

Over at Colorlines, Akiba Solomon asked some experts in the field of masculinity and hip-hop what Cee’s “coming out” meant for the culture. The general consensus was a feeling that this a step in the right direction, that hip-hop has shown a willingness to open up and confront ideas of sexuality and be more accepting.

(A friend of mine, activist Darnell Moore, was one of those consulted and brought up a brilliant point in saying “What type of person is OK? Would a femme performing brother or a masculine lesbian be accepted? That’s the tricky part.” The acceptance around Cee certainly relies in part on his stature in hip-hop, but also his presenting as cisgender and masculine.)

My hope is that, along with becoming more accepting, this pushes, not just hip-hop but the wider culture as well, to develop a more useful and inclusive language set to discuss male sexuality.

It’s a point brought up by both Laverne Cox and Mark Anthony Neal during this HuffPost Live conversation (in which I also participated). Apart from the emotion that Cee and Hot 97 program director Ebro Darden exhibited during their on-air conversation after Cee’s resignation, the thing that stood out was their inability to articulate their thoughts and feelings around desire. At times, they fumbled through their conversation about sexuality like two a couple of twelve year olds being let out of their first sex ed class. They fell back on outdated terms and transphobic slurs, and spent more time than was needed trying to decide whether or not Cee is gay.

Our conception of masculinity has our sexual vocabulary in a chokehold. We barely have the language for the desires we think we understand. For that which has been deemed “abnormal,” we don’t even know where to begin.

In this particular instance, it starts with the recognizing, as Janet Mock said in that same HuffPost Live conversation, that trans women are women and there will be men who identify as heterosexual attracted to trans women because they are women. We can’t continue misgendering and erasing trans women’s identities.

More broadly, developing this language means throwing out the masculine script for sexual desire, which remains incredibly limited and not at all representative of our actual sex lives. There needs to be space to discuss male sexual desire that doesn’t rely on the language of domination and violence, or solely revolves around the attraction to cisgender women, or that delegitimizes the erotic possibilities between consenting adults as unworthy of manhood. Without it, the emotional toll that comes with feeling outcast and misunderstood.

And not all of these conversations are going to take place on the airwaves of the nation’s most well-known hip-hop radio station, but they remain crucial nonetheless.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian,, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon.

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