B. David Zarley notes that West "brings a personal history that ties queer masculinity to genre-bending hip-hop" in his current role as the Center on Halsted's Associate Director of Youth Programs.
A founder of the influential Bay Area gay rap group Deep Dickollective, West played an important role in challenging and expanding the definition of hip-hop (not to mention the definition of the Gay Black Man) and helping to create a new kind of landscape now occupied by artists as varied as Mykki Blanco and Frank Ocean. In his work at the Center, that kind of cred goes a long way.
West speaks with authority about the difficulties facing the young people who turn to the Center for help—the violence, the crime, the poverty. Such difficulties are often amplified for those who identify as anything other than straight. West understands their pain, and he wants his own experiences—specifically, his exploration of race and sexuality, and his success in using hip-hop as an unlikely tool to ease the tension between the two—to guide them.
"I protect and advocate and look out for their interests," he says. "They know I love them. They know I care about them, that I want them to thrive, that I hate a lot of the racism they have to face in Boystown, that I hate a lot of the homophobia they have to face in their own neighborhoods on the south and west sides." ...
Eventually, West discovered men similar to himself. He also came to fully understand who he was, thanks in no small part to the controversial 1989 PBS documentary Tongues Untied, which explored the hidden world of black gay men and HIV. The film made West realize that the "black gay identity can be political. It can be masculine. It can be a lot of different things."
After Duke, West attended the New School in New York City. Outside the comforting embrace of DEN, West turned his creative attention to spoken word, finding the more open gay culture surrounding poetry more welcoming than the still predominantly homophobic hip-hop scene. "Spoken-word culture became kind of a safe haven," West says.
West also offers his take on the Chicago gay hip-hip scene which he says "reminds him of the dynamic energy he found in the Bay Area in the early aughts. At the Center, West has built bridges with members of the scene, including the Freaky Boiz, who West says possess a deft understanding of 'the politics of representation.'"
The profile is very intriguing. In true Reader style, it's a long read but worth the time.
Tim'm West is among the fellow contributors to For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Still Not Enough. West's poem "Umm ... Okay" is one of the standout contributions to the project. (You have to see his liver performance!) The critically acclaimed anthology won the American Library Association's Stonewall Book Award-Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award in January. The book was released in August and edited by New York Times bestselling author/television commentator Keith Boykin.
On a personal note: The Chicago Reader is where I started writing during college before my staff job at The Los Angeles Times and segueing into television news. If you want to turn on the wayyyy back machine, perform a search for some of my articles in the early 1990s. Fun times.
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