In the landscape of mainstream media, stories of the Black gay experience are still largely missing or warped. Wanting to express to the world the nuances of their own lives, Khary Septh, Kyle Banks, and Andre Jones of the Brooklyn-based Pink Rooster Studio created THE TENTH. The literary magazine’s first volume was released on April 10,with over 80 contributors from various backgrounds, communicating through literary and visual mediums. These are the rich stories in our history that have always existed, and the new publication is bringing them to light.
We chatted with the “print enthusiasts and magazine aficionados” behind THE TENTH to learn more about the magazine and why its existence is critical.
EBONY: How did the idea for the magazine come about?
THE TENTH: We’re a Brooklyn-based creative studio focusing on print, identity, exhibition and interactive work with clients in fashion, film and music that range from L’Oreal Paris and Swarovski Crystal to the PROJECT tradeshow and Sony Japan. The idea for THE TENTH, however, was born out of our need to engage in work that was much deeper, less trend based, as most of our commercial work is.
We also wanted to address the need for collaboration in the Black Gay community. What would happen if we trusted each other — if we were vulnerable and chose to share resources? What could we create? As Black people we’re not often allowed these freedoms, nor do we have the training or psychological history to do so. ‘Crabs in a barrel’ or ‘Willie Lynch,’ although very real, are tired old clichés to the boys at THE TENTH. We don’t believe we have the luxury of being disjointed as Black gay men — there are too few of us visible and there is strength in numbers. THE TENTH is us joining up and linking arms. Independently we’re the creative directors, contemporary artists, actors, agents, designers, intellectuals, musicians and others that work at the heights of our respective industries, but as there’s a colorless-ness that is required to do so in the commercial world, we’re taking our freedom back on pages of THE TENTH and allowing ourselves to be Black, gay, joyous, irreverent, smart, provocative, beautiful and indifferent to what white people, or straight people will think. The statement perhaps being that the Black gay man doesn’t want to live in the shadows anymore, doesn’t quite believe that he needs to be “tolerated,” nor does he want anyone else defining for him what him image or identity should be. We can control our own image and in doing so regain some of our power and shed the shame.
EBONY: Tell us about some of the topics that will be explored in the ‘zine and who will contribute.
THE TENTH: For volume 1 of THE TENTH, we’ve collaborated with over 80 of the world’s most talented Black, Gay artists and intellectuals to develop cutting edge content where ideas from BEAUTY to STYLE are explored though essays, interviews, writings and a full range of visual arts. So for example, the opening piece of the magazine is a story titled “Masters,” and for this piece we traveled with a group of exceptional young Black gay men to a plantation in Franklin, Louisiana to explore that idea. What it meant to have had a “master”, have been forced to “master” a skill on the plantation, and then to place these gentlemen who’ve mastered things like Contemporary Art and Photography in their modern lives and see how it all related was quite fascinating. By simply placing ourselves in that environment and talking about the history of our existence as Black Gay men in slavery, we were able to connect with our ancestors and see ourselves as simply living on a continuum of exceptional Black Gay men, freedom fighters, masters. We were also interested in what gay male sexuality might have meant in the antebellum South. Would we have been able to find love? Ultimately we say, yes, but it was us taking a few days on this plantation, really connecting to our history, and deconstructing the narratives that we’re so familiar with as Black People and finding that there was probably an insignificance of sexuality when survival was at the forefront during those times. These ideas are what we’re sharing in VOLUME ONE of THE TENTH.
EBONY: Why is it critical for a magazine like this to exist?
THE TENTH: It’s critical for magazines like THE TENTH to exist because they are vehicles by which we can understand each other better. We sometimes feel alienated by the larger Black community — get it, get this, our families, our churches, our schools — and if we can reach our manicured, Black, Gay fingers out in the world and touch each other, then we’ll be able to build our own Black Gay utopia. Genuine Love, genuine trust, real human contact that is less on-line, deeply getting to know one another. And perhaps the larger Black community will recognize that love and will learn to love us, because we don’t really want tolerance. We want Love. We want our mothers and fathers who perhaps didn’t know how to deal with gay sons to be able to know us better, and in the process love us better. A lot of us are truly finding love for the first time when we find our gay families. Performance artist Andre Singleton shares in his story ART FAG: “My inner black gay child — Now he’s ready to sing in front of the church, he’s not just going to do it in grandma’s house. It’s in front of the congregation and he’s still going to be met with people that are dissatisfied, but the people that really show love, show love. As a gay boy I’m experiencing Love for the first time — with Justin and Jillian and Courtney — And my family did the best they could, they loved me down.”
EBONY: What do you hope the themes of the magazine will teach the world about the black, gay community?
THE TENTH: That we’re a dynamic group of men and although men like us cannot be clearly defined or categorized, what we do know is that we are in some way exceptional, taking risks and breaking norms. THE TENTH is a platform for us to shine and we hope we can teach the world a few lessons about Love. And a whole lot of lessons about STYLE and ART and FRIENDSHIP and CULTURE and TRAVEL and DESIGN.
EBONY: Many people, including the media, have fed us the idea that being gay is taboo in our community. How do you hope this magazine can dispel that myth?
THE TENTH: The media has fed Black people so many myths. But we don’t know how taboo your brother or your son or your cousin or your uncle can be. We’re family. Just get to know us. In a story called The Beautiful and the Damned, where we talked to and photographed kids that play with drag and androgyny, one of our subjects Middy shares this about the time he first went home dressed as a girl: “My cousin, he is a certified thug. Dreads, gold teeth, tattoos everywhere. And I pulled up in the car, and this was the first time I’d been home since I been like this. The first thing he said to me is ‘Wow you look real pretty’ Everybody was really accepting.”