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Monday, February 14, 2011

"When The Lights Go Out: The Truth About Black Male Prison Sexuality" First Excerpt REVEALED!

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....At the same time that I was becoming known within the Nation Of Islam, I was also becoming known  on Tuskegee’s campus as well. I was active in a variety of other organizations, such as President of the Local chapter of the NAACP, Student Government( several elected positions), and a Kemetic(Egyptian) Brotherhood/Sisterhood called Ka-Het-Heru Ka-ra. I was the “it” guy on campus, known affectionately, and infamously, as “ Brother Hassan X”.

My name in that organization was “Ogun San Wo Sa Ra” in part because of my now more increasingly aggressive personality and militaristic persona.(Members are reassigned African names). In 5 years, I went from being Jason, To Hassan, To Hassan X, to Ogun.  I used to jokingly say to myself that I had more names than  Joan Rivers had plastic surgical procedures.

...The pressure internally, however, was suffocating. In late  March of 1993, during my freshman year at Tuskegee, I got a phone call from a young man that I considered a “spiritual big brother” to me, Bro Aaron...He was charismatic, funny, warm, but fiercely disciplined and tough when he needed to be. I appreciated his toughness with me, as it made me a sharper person.


We bonded instantly years prior when I first joined the Nation. He was far more outgoing, while I was, in one-on-one conversations, quiet and reserved.  Only a year older than me, Aaron was a sophomore at an HBCU in South Carolina. We would chat all the time by phone, mostly about Islam and being a good member of the Fruit of Islam, (The name given to the military training of men who belong to the Nation Of Islam in America). He quickly became, in the final year I knew him, like the big brother I never had growing up.

Many people who knew both he and I may not have even known that we were that close in that final year. I could ask him questions about almost anything, and he could show me an answer that would either make me laugh, or blow my mind, or both. He would confide in me about issues with him and his  new wife, and certain members of his family, and I would provide a quiet, non-judgmental ear for him to vent his frustrations to from time to time. This unusually warm spring night in my dorm room at Tuskegee University in March 1993, I called Aaron just to see how my “play brother” was doing. He answered, and although we had our usual  discourse, but  near the end of our conversation, there seemed to be a great deal of angst and   sadness in his voice.



“Brother Hassan, I just want you to know that I love you , my brother.. keep your head in those books and  stay out of trouble”, he said.

Yes sir Brother Aaron, you know I will, and I love you too” , I replied, ending the call with the standard “As-Salaam-Alaikum“ , or greeting of peace among Muslims.



 Later that night in  the spring of 1993, I would learn, Aaron would hang himself in his dorm room in college. The  young man I looked up to , that would always be good for a shot of emotional energy and positive spirit when I was feeling down, was struggling with a reality that he felt that he could never share with me. I felt a mixture of hurt, anger, confusion, and shock. A myriad of emotions swirled through my mind. This cannot  be suicide, I thought. Someone must have taken his life, for some bizarre, stupefying, crazy and sick reason. It had to be murder. No way my homie would take his life like that.

When I received the phone call from another friend of ours in Chicago to tell me the news, I couldn’t sleep that night. Or the next night. For several nights after this tragedy, I would wander  aimlessly around Tuskegee’s campus at night and sit near the famous statue of  founder Booker T. Washington lifting the "Veil of Ignorance", wondering what I would do now that he was gone. I was furious on some selfish level that he would take his own life, when he knew that I needed him.

His energy and infectious laugh, coupled with his strict discipline and tireless dedication to study, helped me grow as a young man in that last year of his life by leaps and bounds. Just when I started learning how to stand up for myself, speak out for myself, thanks to him, he was now suddenly gone.

It’s very possible, from what I would later hear, that I was one of the last, if not the last person he spoke to before killing himself.


I had no clue, however, about the quiet “scandal” that was going on in Chicago at Nation Of Islam headquarters while I was at Tuskegee. Apparently, from what I was later told by several sources in the Mosque at the time, Aaron and “several other brothers” in the squad we belonged to, called the Task Force, (we were called the “Task-Force“,  because we were a squad of young men ages 16-25 being groomed to become the next leaders of the Nation of Islam. We considered ourselves to be the “elite”, the rising young guns, those next in line for potential leadership within the ranks of the nation Of Islam.)were having sexual relations with each other .

I was told by several sources that  the highest ranking member of the squad,  whom we shall call “Ali”  had been allegedly caught by his own wife having sexual relations with ANOTHER brother in the  same squad , “Marcus 12 X” ( In the Nation, when members were first entering the Nation they were given the last name “X”, to symbolize the unknown ancestral disconnect that slavery brought upon the Black community.).


While this fire-storm of controversy was swirling within the  ranks of the  Nation Of Islam behind the scenes, I  was clueless as to any of the events that were transpiring. How ironic, that I was so scared to tell my own squad members that I think I might be gay, and then find out that SEVERAL of them were already gay and I never knew! Go figure, I thought. Why couldn’t Aaron feel free to tell me what was going on with him? What was he afraid of?


Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

He was afraid to tell you the exact same thing that you were afraid to tell him.


 I thought reflectively to myself. He had begun acting on his desires, while I was only in serious contemplation about it at that confusing stage of my life. He felt what I felt about what would ever happen if the rank and file of the Nation were to discover  these sexual desires in any brother. There was no precedent for me to draw from in this organization until this tragic episode that I was ever made aware of in the Nation. Then again, even this  situation was kept largely out of the mainstream media, and for obvious reasons.


Imagine how the media would have exploded in 1993 if it was discovered that a young man so close to Minister Farrakhan himself had committed suicide because he was allegedly gay or bisexual.

In 1993, Minister Farrakhan’s popularity could not have been higher within the African American community.  The controversy with members of the Jewish community, and whites in general in the United States, could not also have been more pronounced. His mere name polarized rooms full of people if they were of different races.

Never had I seen the mere mention of a man’s name strike fear into the hearts of one group (whites), and yet simultaneously engender that equal portion of love among his own people. The last thing he needed, as he was planning a massive march in two years of a Million Men, is to  have a gay scandal splattered all throughout the mainstream media related to any member of the nation Of Islam. The mere pain of the suicide  must have been excruciating enough  for him as it was for me.

I still, however, felt as if there was more I could have done for Aaron. If only I had confided in him as to what I was beginning to feel. Would he have opened up to me as well, and thus giving each other a deeper bond, one that would have prevented this suicide? Looking back, it seems crazy to beat myself up over someone else's suicide.

As a teenager, that had never been confronted with suicide  with anyone I personally knew,  this was all  very new and awkward to me. I didn’t know what to think, or how to process this event. Dr. Phil was not on the air in 1993, and  Oprah only came on during the afternoons,  when I was in class at Tuskegee, nor were any of the great television shows that deal with serious issues like this.  I was an inner train wreck, but outwardly, no one knew that I was any different.  One must keep up pretenses when everybody is watching you, i surmised.


Aaron was ,as I was told, allegedly “outed” by Ali, once Ali was forced to  admit that he was “bisexual“(his wife reported him to the leadership of the Temple, and he was promptly interrogated, but supposedly did not report back to receive his disciplinary action), and ,out of fear for what he ASSUMED would happen to him, Aaron  committed suicide. As close as I had become to Aaron during the last year of his life, I  had an equal portion of complete disdain for Ali. I  thought of Ali as arrogant, high strung, quick tempered, sneaky, two faced, catty and downright shady.


Something in my spirit loathed to be near him in any way at all.  Very rarely has my spirit resounded so loudly and forcefully in my head that this guy was “bad news”. He clearly had his “favorites”, and I was never to be one of them. There were times during my high school days, that Aaron would instruct me to not get too close to some of the brothers in the Task Force. This seemed so strange at the time, but I listened and kept a distance from many of them.


A few days later, I got a call from another brother who informed me that Aaron had killed himself, and that I needed to come back to Chicago right away to attend the funeral.


My brothers of Ka-Het_heru Ka-Ra bought me a ticket to return home, and off I went.. On campus, and when I told one of them of how my “spiritual big brother” killed himself, they got together and , as a group, paid for my ticket to Chicago. As I arrived, The full recount of events was told to me privately by several members of Mosque Maryam, the Nation's headquarters.
 While at the funeral, which lasted only 20 minutes ( Muslim funerals are notoriously short...no sense in spending hours mourning the dead, esp. Those that kill themselves), my own  inner turmoil was now in overdrive.

It was at that point that I decided that I needed to re-evaluate my existence in this Muslim reality, while having urges for men.  It was extremely difficult, to say the least.


A day later, on a Wednesday evening in early April, 1993, at the Muhammad University Of Islam gymnasium, Minister Farrakhan delivered a speech on the subject entitled  “The  Problem of Suicide and the Cause of Homosexuality”, in which he attempted to explain the root “causes” of being gay. Having looked at the same speech recently on DVD, I couldn’t disagree more with some of  Min Farrakhan’s assertions about  what “causes” a man to be gay.



 I respected his attempt, however, in that speech to exhort his followers at the time to be more tolerant and respectful of  gays and lesbians in that speech. Perhaps the suicide of his godson, Aaron, the man that I playfully called my “big brother”, softened and tempered  the Minister’s rhetoric to an extent from the mid 1980s speeches at the Final Call building where he  used the words “faggot“  and "sissy" to describe gay men. My hopes of a more conciliatory tone from the Minister were recently dashed, however, when I ran across a series of quotes of Min. Farrakhan from as recently as 2006 and 2009 in which he blamed  Jews, of all people for promoting the “filth” of homosexuality.

These false Jews promote the filth of Hollywood that is feeding the American people and the people of the world and bringing you down in moral strength…it’s the wicked and false Jews that are promoting Lesbianism, homosexuality. It’s the wicked Jews, false Jews that make it a crime for you to preach the word of God, then they call you homophobic.”


I wonder if these “wicked and false Jews” made Min. Farrakhan’s godson  a closeted bisexual man,  so terrified of facing the NOI after his sexual orientation was revealed that he possibly took his own life.   I have recently read and heard other comments that were incendiary and antagonistic towards the LGBT  community from Min Farrakhan as well, culminating in not allowing Keith Boykin, a tireless defender of LGBT issues in the African American community, to speak at the 2005 Millions More March after  extending an olive branch to the LGBT community.


I stayed in the Nation for roughly another 19 months after Aaron’ s suicide. His death forced me deeper and deeper into the closet, and any curiousity I had about the touch and romantic interest  of a man, was repressed even further. That summer of 1993, I went to Washington DC that summer during the summer semester break, and began working for the Nation Of Islam Security, Inc ( formerly called the “Dopebusters” for their ability to clean up  housing projects in DC such as Mayfair Mansion in the early 1990s. It was a highly successful model of African Americans ability to police their own neighbor hoods without interference from local and federal authorities), and worked 12 hour shifts every day, sometimes working 24 hours straight, partially to keep my mind off of Aaron's suicide, my own struggles, and to earn extra money for my sophomore year at Tuskegee.
During that summer, I attempted to reinforce my faith in my decision to re-commit to Islam and the Nation, and “ignore” the part of me that desired a relationship with a man.

A strange thing occurred to me that summer, however,that should have been a warning sign for me to leave the Nation Of Islam. Something that I have not told a soul, not even my family,in 18 years.

I stayed in a group home of registered male members of the Nation Of Islam called the “FOI house” while working the security post. My roommate, whom we shall only call “Billy” , was very welcoming to me, and we became very close. Billy and I worked different shifts, at different locations secured by the company, so we did not get to see each other very often. Another member who also lived in the house, “Kenny” would cook food and he and I would watch television, or a videotape of Minister Farrakhan in my room. On a brotherly level, of course.

Being that he and I were both Muslims, the last thing that I suspected, was what happened one  warm Saturday evening while watching TV. Kenny was much larger than I was, roughly 6 feet tall,  light complexioned, hazel eyes, and around 200 lbs., and one could clearly tell that he was no stranger to a gym. That evening, while watching TV, we laid in the bed next to each other, fully clothed, when he climbs on top of me, and begins to hump on me slowly, while kissing my neck. I was simultaneously stunned, frightened, and oddly enough, aroused. What would happen if I try to get him off  of me? who could I tell? would anyone believe me?I was beginning to feel so nautious that I wanted to vomit.

I never asked this guy to touch me. Did I invite this, or send him “signals” by opening up to him as a brother and spending time with him? What was it about me, that made him think that he could  do this to me?Was i giving off the "gay vibe"???


Dozens  of confusing, bizarre  thoughts swirled around in my mind, as I lay there, terrified, wondering what my next course of action should or could be.  No man had ever touched me before, and I  cringed at the smell of  Clean& Fresh/Eden Body Lotion  that defined his scent. Kenny was a known black belt in karate, and could have easily torn me to shreds in a fight. I hated this feeling. I felt as though I were being completely violated, but why was I getting aroused? The confusion that was already in overdrive, nearly sent me off a cliff after this began to occur. However, i was getting aroused. What the hell?????

 Although i discontinued spending time with him,Kenny would sneak into my room whenever Billy was not around, and climb on top of me when I was asleep, humping on me in the same manner until he ejaculated, and then left, with no words ever exchanged. There were no locks on the doors( we worked on the honor system as Muslims…no need to be anything other than secure amongst the brothers), and so I felt powerless and helpless each time he molested me.

It was hard for me  to define it as molestation for many reasons. First, I was 19, which made me an adult. Only children get molested, I surmised. I insanely reasoned that perhaps I was giving off a “gay signal” that let Kenny know that he might get what he wanted from me. As difficult as it is for any man to admit that they were violated in this manner, it was even more difficult for me, given my being a part of this organization, this brotherhood, that another member would do this to me. It may sound incomprehensible to some, but I viewed my fellow brothers as being absolutely incapable of abusing one another in this manner, and that having no known precedent that I could think of, trembled at the thought of what my future in the brotherhood might be if I spoke up to the leadership about it.

One blisteringly hot Wednesday evening in late July 1993, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Kenny performed his same ritual, quietly sneaking into the room when he assumed i was asleep, and began to grind on my buttocks  again. This time, however, I had a serrated knife under my pillow, and the moment he attempted to climb on my back to grind on me, I leaped from the bed and swung at him, with the knife, full force, in a rage.

I came only inches from stabbing him in his penis,  chest, and thigh.
I managed to chase him out of the room, and make him seriously reconsider  the consequences of violating me, ever again..

There was no other option but to tell somebody.

I took the next step, and that was to report the molestation to the Captain of Mosque #4 at the time, Bro. Timothy. He set up a meeting between himself, me, and Kenny. I told him what happened, that on 5 separate occasions, Kenny climbed on top of me, while I lay on my back or my stomach, and held me down as he humped up and down, until he ejaculated in his underwear.  Kenny , while not denying his abuse, began attacking me, calling me an “agent”(as in FBI agent), sent there to cause drama and mess. Capt Timothy assured me he will be swift in this matter, but from that day, until this one, I haven’t a clue as to what his decision was. No punishment at all for Kenny, as he still stayed there in the house, although he never touched me again.

To be called an “FBI agent” in the Nation Of Islam, is a charge that could get a person killed, or severely beaten. You are seen as helpers of the enemy of the struggle of the Nation, and thus worthy of elimination.  Your life was therefore jeopardized, if that charge is taken seriously. So Kenny, in leveling that charge to deflect his own abusive behavior, stained my reputation in the Mosque, even if Capt Timothy denied that he paid any attention to it.

This  “non-outcome”was stunning.

Humiliating.

First, I lose my friend Aaron to suicide, because he was too afraid to come to terms with his sexuality, and now , 4 months later, I am being molested by a fellow member of the Fruit Of Islam? the humiliating part was in  my reporting Kenny. The stigma of admitting that this older man ( he was 28 or 29 at the time, while I was 19) was touching me and grinding on me, and was not disciplined by the leadership of the Nation, made me seriously question what on Earth I was involved in.  If I couldn’t get justice in the Nation Of Islam, and feel safe amongst my own brothers, then who could I trust?

As is familiar in my pathology, I blocked it out of my mind, and said nothing more about it. I simply acted as though it never happened. No tears. No anguish. No resolution of the pain. This pathology of mine, would resurface over and over again in my life, until my stay in prison forced me to begin to unload all of the emotional baggage I had accumulated  throughout my life. It was an incredibly painful process, made worse by the fact that, while in prison, I could not show any visible signs of emotion to the inmates( Many might view that as “soft” and attempt to harm me).

  Before I left DC in  late August, 1993, the 30th re-enactment of the March On Washington occurred, and in a surprising move at the last moment, Minister Farrakhan, who was scheduled to speak at the march, was dis-invited from the event. I stood on post  to guard outside the room where Min. Farrakhan and many mainstream African American leaders such as Andrew Young, Rev Jesse L Jackson Sr, Coretta Scott King, and others, discussed their stunning decision to remove him from the list of speakers at the event. I thought to myself, “Wow. Im actually on post protecting Minister Farrakhan again. This I could do forever. ( I had held post indirectly involved with Farrakhan's security earlier that year when he arrived at Tuskegee University's graduation  to watch his daughter, Khallada, graduate from Tuskegee that year, and during his Stop The Killing  national speaking tour in 1990, although not nearly as close as I was to him at that moment.) I had met and was friendly with Khallada throughout my freshman year, and she was  warm to me, yet aloof  to  many of the Brothers on campus.



Inside, however, I was at war with my love for Islam, and my desire to love another man.

 I  received a partial scholarship to continue my studies at Tuskegee from Minister Louis Farrakhan himself in  August,1994 . Privately, however, I  had contemplated acting on my desires, and had begun to meet men that i would get to know both romantically and intimately.  My existence in two completely different worlds was slowly, quietly tearing me apart. I loved the Nation of Islam, and the powerful brotherhood that I so longed for throughout my life.  It provided a sense of familial fulfillment that one can only achieve as a young man by having strong, stable male role models to pattern ones self after. My growing awareness of what i would eventually embrace within myself could no longer be ignored.


College is often prime territory for exploring one's own desires and feelings, and i was beginning to be hit on by  a few athletes that i would tutor in subjects such as history and mathematics. There were nights that i literally had to take cold showers to cool my body off, from the thought of "almost" giving in, and becoming intimate with some of the football players that would literally hit on me and say, "I know you can keep it on the low. Nobody would think you would get down that way".

There was no shortage of  strong, intelligent, powerful Black male figures in the Nation.   Minister Khalid Abdul Muhammad showed me that  being supremely  educated and yet  un-apologetically pro Black did not have to be a contradiction.  Mustapha Farrakhan, son of Minister Louis Farrakhan, possessed both style, good looks, and a fierce military discipline as then-Assistant  Supreme Captain. Minister Abdul Allah Muhammad was a walking encyclopedia of information, and Minister Farrakhan   was the father figure that I thought I had so longed for all of my life,(at least in my head). How the mainstream society viewed these men was completely irrelevant to me, as they were (only  in my mind, at least) the father and big brothers I wished that I had, even if I had only met them a few times casually throughout this period.

After Aaron  died, I began acting out in small, yet highly  destructive ways. . Aaron's ability to keep me reigned in and disciplined, was no longer there for me to attach myself to. It was to be the first  major signs of a downward spiral as an adult that would later land me in prison later in life. I dived myself into my work as a representative in the Nation, and tried to ignore my hypocrisies.

 In the Nation Of Islam, leaving the organization was so frowned upon, that those who did were labeled as “hypocrites”, one of the worst possible labels that a Muslim could be called.  If a member is to leave the organization, or is put out of the organization, they are not allowed to have any conversation with any member in the organization. I did not wish to be labeled as such, and it caused me to stay as a member for 19 months too long, in retrospect.


While all of this was going on, another dynamic was building that I couldn’t POSSIBLY see coming. I turned to speaking and preaching on behalf of the Nation to get my mind off of the pain and confusion of  Aaron’s death, my sexual identity confusion, and my  privately acting out the sense of abandonment that I felt by his suicide. I had become a great orator, one that enjoyed the intellectual battle of debate,  and  I was rapidly  becoming the “face” of the Nation of Islam on campus, and my speeches were being attended faithfully by  several hundreds of students.(Tuskegee averaged  only 3,200 students at the time.)



 I expected the other brothers of the Nation on Tuskegee’s campus to be  supportive of me, and initially they were. The other brothers of the Nation on campus started to groan privately about how Hassan was “starting to think he was Malcolm X or  Min Farrakhan”, and grew more envious of my deepening connection to the student body. I will admit that  I used the drug of crowd approval to help soothe my inner pain at Aaron’s death and my rapid realization that I would never be with a woman emotionally or physically. On the outside, I was beloved on the campus, and some students even said that my image on campus was so well respected, that people felt as if “Hassan could walk on water”. As much as I loved the accolades of going from school to school , electrifying audiences on behalf of the Nation,  and being adored by my peers, I was a train wreck on the inside.



 I used the attention from the crowds as if it were both a sedative and a stimulant. What petrified me, was  the  notion that the image  and perception that people had of me once I spoke to a crowd, would be crushed, destroyed, and annihilated by the realization of my sexual orientation. Being a Muslim, and member of the Nation Of Islam at that,and highly visible on campus during the height of the Nation’s popularity, at a school located in the heart of the Bible belt, with a strongly religious student body and staff, was NOT the ideal place for someone like me to “come out of the closet”. The part that would catch me off guard would be that my own brothers would turn on me, not because of an awareness of my sexual orientation, but over the most unlikely of incidents, something I could have never in a million years seen coming.


 In November of 1994, I was serving in an appointed position of Chief-Of Staff for the then Student Government President, and thus gave the Nation on campus a voice on the inside of SGA to get speakers to “enlighten” the student body. This was about 3 months after I received a scholarship from Minister Farrakhan himself. If any one  singular event could have caused intense envy and jealousy among some of my Muslim peers on campus, it was my being awarded a  scholarship from the Leader(Minister Farrakhan) himself. Not many at that time were given a scholarship from  Minister Farrakhan directly,  especially  those  that had not attended the Muhammad University Of Islam( the official elementary and high school of the Nation).  I heard  on several occasions from  one brother, “How did YOU get a scholarship from him( Min Farrakhan) and I didn’t?“. I dismissed it as just a form of hater-ation.



There was a time that I could never understand  what drove Malcolm X to leave the Nation in 1964. I read where some  people inside  the Nation were jealous and envious of him, but I had never experienced envy before.  Envy is not a “passive” emotion.  When a person is envious of you, they will work night and day, in any way they can, to see your downfall. At that moment, where I was forcibly beaten for what I now know to be jealousy of my being the “golden boy” on campus, beloved by everyone, even enough by Minister Farrakhan to have been awarded a scholarship from him, I knew exactly  how Malcolm felt. My life had to take another direction, and fast.
I still had a hard time believing that a human being can be so driven by envy or jealousy that they would desire and actively pursue physical harm of another person. It just seemed too simple and dismissive an explanation. That night, however, I saw what those emotions, coupled with over zealousness and  the group think mindset, can do when taken to their brink. I would no longer straddle two worlds any longer. My life, and my world, would take  a huge turn that night.
What I was beginning to feel, as I received awards, accolades and notoriety from everyone around both the campus and in different organizations around the state, was that some of my own brothers on campus, unlike Aaron and others in my life, were growing envious of what some felt should have been their right to represent the Nation in that area. On November 3rd, 1994, An attempt to bring a well known Minister and  speaker from the Nation to speak on campus fell through, and because of bureaucracy/red tape with the school, the event had to be canceled at the very last minute.

This enraged a few of the brothers, who somehow felt that I didn’t do enough to bring  Minister Ava Muhammad to the campus.  They attempted to persuade Minister Farrakhan's nephew to join them in their plan to "discipline" me, but he firmly refused. They used this "incident" as an excuse to confront me angrily. Words were exchanged, and the more heated it got, the angrier everyone became.

The next thing that I knew, I was being jumped, forcibly grabbed and placed in the trunk of a car, and  we arrived in the woods where a 6-on-1 “fight” resulted in me being beaten half to death. Over and over, they used the refrain, “You think you are the Leader(Farrakhan),don’t you?? don’t you??? we will show you not to EVER lead us on like that, not bringing  sister Ava here”, as they , a group of 6 men, all  larger than me at the time , took turns beating me mercilessly  into the ground.


I was confused, frightened and stunned. Not only was this beating unforeseen, but it made no sense. If a speaker was not able to appear on the campus, then so what? Things happen. Shit happens. I couldn’t understand why these young men that I looked at as family were stomping me into the dirt, in the woods of Alabama, late at night.  One brother was even a former room mate of mine  the year before, and was like a little brother to me in many ways. He stood there while the others took turns kicking and hitting me. That was probably worse than the beating itself.  I would later find out that the men who committed this heinous act believed that I had lied about  wanting to bring Minister Ava to the campus.

Such a rationale made no sense to me.  For months after this, my name was dragged through the mud by the friends of these 6 brothers as if I were the most vile, evil being that ever existed. When people say to me, “ That doesn’t even make sense. Why would they do that to you???” I honestly, truly have no answer for them. Even to this very day, the perception that I would “lie” about something like an event involving a speaker just doesn’t seem to be justification for beating a man half to death. There had to be more, I thought.  I never learned what that “more” was, however. Perhaps it isn’t meant for me to understand that level of senseless, inhuman violence.


As I lay in the woods, bloody, with what I was later told was a concussion, swollen eyes,  and barely able to move, I began thinking to myself. All of these years hiding the “big secret”, and I get beaten up for something so miniscule and petty?  I was stunned in every sense of the word.  Embarrassed, humiliated, while  all sorts of  those  false, salacious rumors floated  around, and a war of words ensued  for the next 2 years between myself and the two remaining members of the Nation on campus. Thank GOD that they never found out I have desires for men, I thought.

Clearly, the decision was made for me that night.


My  spiritual “marriage” to the Nation of Islam, was now turning into  a nasty, bitter, and potentially fatal divorce. It started slowly with me when I learned of Aaron’s death. He had been raised in the Nation  Of Islam from birth,   unlike myself, who joined the organization as a young teenager.  He had much more experience in understanding the  collective mindset and social climate of the Muslim  brothers of the FOI than I would have, although I understood it as well. If that understanding told him that it might be “better” to commit  suicide than to have to face the FOI after being caught in an alleged gay scandal, then what was I doing  even IN this organization?? Was I on a fast track toward my own death if I continued to stay?    I turned full steam into the “lifestyle” that was hidden to me  for so long.


That night, after the beating, I was dumped back in the  trunk of the car, and driven to the road near the campus, and then dumped off in the ditch. I pretended to not be breathing, so that they would panic and get rid of me some kind of way. I stumbled back onto campus, my face swollen, bruised, and beaten, two teeth knocked out of my head, barely able to see as the blood began to sting my eyes to the point of near blindness. I had been kicked and beaten so hard that I literally used the bathroom on myself.  I was walking down a dirt road, late at night, sometimes crawling as I would fall to the ground, feces in my pants from having  been kicked so hard that my bowels opened up, mouth and face bleeding, until I finally made it back to the Dorm.


My dorm mates went into a fit. They had no idea what  happened. Hysteria  swirled around the dorm. At some point after I got back to the dorm, I blacked out on my bed. I woke up and found myself at Auburn Hospital, still in my clothes, with a nurse tending to my wounds. Rumors began to swirl from the brothers in the Nation on campus to try and smear my name, and make them appear guiltless. “Hassan stole money from the Nation”, was one false rumor that devastated me.




The detective asked me if I wanted to press charges against whoever did this. The most painful decision I ever had to make was now upon me.  If I say yes, then my life could potentially be in danger, and I would have to live with the title of “snitch” . If I said no, then how would I explain two black eyes, bruised ribs, swollen jaw,  and injuries to my knees and ankles to my family, and 3,200 students on campus? I said yes, and wrote down each name of my now “former” brothers that had done this to me. I seriously believe that had they known that I was sexually attracted to only men, that I was “gay” at that point, that I would be dead today.  


I seriously believe that, just as surely as you are reading these words.


In retrospect, perhaps it was the Divine allowing this to happen to get me away from this organization. That incident afforded me the excuse to leave the Nation and not look back. I did not need to belong amongst them, nor they in my life . I should have read the signs, or the proverbial “handwriting on the wall“ as it related to my mind living in two different, completely opposite worlds. Aaron telling me in 1991 to stop coming to the Mosque for a few months, because he didn’t want me around some things that were going on there. He wouldn’t tell me what those things were, only that I didn’t need to get mixed up in it. I obeyed. Aaron’s suicide should have been a loud red flag waving in my face.


Being beaten half to death for not doing all I could to bring a speaker to the campus was the loud siren that said, “Get  out NOW Hassan! What part of  ‘this group is not where you need to be’ do you not understand???” I slowly healed, brought them to justice, and set out to discover fully this new world to me that I knew nothing of.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Best Letter Ever Written!

www.hassanhartley.com



On a beautiful, sunny October 7th afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia, I sat down to enjoy a rare occasion where I could come home early from work to catch a new episode of your daily talk show that I have watched on and off for the better part of the past 3 decades. Upon pressing the info button on my remote, I learned that your show would be discussing a woman who “sued her husband for 12 million and won,” after finding out he had given her the HIV virus. To say I watched this episode unfold in horror is a profound understatement – I was uncomfortably riveted and disgusted for the entire hour.

(Damn! Bruh continues to go in on Oprah! Don’t piss off the gays Miss O) …


To be quite clear, I wasn’t horrified or disgusted by the fact that this unfortunate Black woman had contracted HIV as a result of her husband’s secretive “Down Low” infidelities with other men. As a Black gay male, physician and public health advocate who has dedicated the past 12 years of my life to the behavioral prevention and treatment of HIV in the Black community, I have heard stories like your guest’s on this day more times than I would like to admit. To the contrary, the acidic taste of bile that coated the back of my throat as I heard her story was in response to the superficial and sensationalistic manner in which you handled the topic, and how it was apparent that you and your staff have learned absolutely nothing in the 6 years since you originally interviewed J.L. King on your “Down Low” episode in 2004.
Yes, you can claim that for this updated version of your “Down Low” show, you actually included the fact that publically “heterosexual” White men and men of other races are equally capable of having secretive homosexual affairs as their Black counterparts. And yes, this new version of J.L. King who again opportunistically sashayed onto your stage to promote himself now uses the word “gay” to describe his sexual identity (partly as a consequence of the fame and fortune he attained from appearing on your show). However, everything else about the show remained stuck in a metaphorical time warp in which Black women are portrayed as simple victims with no personal responsibility or accountability when it comes to their sexual behavior, and Black men are projected as nothing more than predatory liars, cheaters and “mosquito-like” vectors of disease when it comes to HIV.
I felt like I was like watching a train wreck or an car accident about to happen: it was so awful that despite wanting to turn it off, I found myself transfixed and could not bring myself to pick up the remote or change the channel. From the ominous background music and blurred images on the screen when discussing Black men being intimate with one another (God forbid!), to your declaration that reading your guest’s husband’s sexually explicit emails and messages on gay websites “blew your mind,” the way in which your show was staged did nothing to forward the conversation on the current facts or the social context that currently drives secretive same sex behavior among Black men and the current HIV racial disparity in the United States. Instead, what came across was a clear, fear-mongering and hyperbolic message: “Black women, look out for your husbands, they could be lying and cheating on you with other men and putting you at risk for HIV.” It was bad enough that 6 years ago, after your original “Down Low” show, you single-handedly launched a major media and cultural hysteria where Black women across the country were now searching for signs of how they could tell if their men were “on the Down Low” through stereotypical signs and ridiculously offensive generalizations about how homosexual men think and act. Your show also helped J.L. King and other self-proclaimed “HIV experts” make a lot of money off this capitalistic, fear-based industry to promote their books, movies and narcissistic products on the so-called “Down Low.” It did nothing, however, but open new wounds and put salt in the old scars caused by centuries of sexual exploitation and calculated pathologizing of Black bodies in the United States and internationally. The way you and your staff have handled this topic has done nothing but widen the already irreparable rifts between Black men and women, as well as between Black heterosexual and non-heterosexual peoples.
While I realize that this is your show’s “final season,” let me give you and your staff some suggestions on how you can better address this issue of the “Down Low” and HIV in the Black community if you ever wish to revisit this issue during this year:
Please do some research on the facts explaining why so many Black women in the United States are contracting HIV. I can guarantee you that what you find will surprise you, as the vast majority of cases are not due to so-called “Down Low” Black men. Remember that in other countries like South Africa, India, Russia and China, there are millions of HIV cases attributable to heterosexual transmission. Ask yourselves where is the proof, outside of anecdotal stories that are splashed on your show, BET and the pages of Essence magazine, that bisexual men are primarily accountable for this horrible disparity among Black women?
If you are going to tell the story of HIV in the Black community, please give equal consideration to the social context and personal story/struggles of Black men who contract the virus, regardless of whether it is through IV drug use or sexual behavior. I can tell you for certain that if you sit down and ask these men to tell their stories, you will undoubtedly have your eyes opened to the fact that there is much more to their lives than the “predator” labels you so easily ascribe to their actions. And believe it or not, Black men can also be “victims” of this disease when exposed through their wives or female sexual partners who don’t tell them about the other people with whom THEY have been having sex.
If you are going to talk about the so-called “Down Low,” then really talk about it. That means, be prepared to discuss how Black men are socialized in this country to believe that our manhood solely exists in our athletic prowess, entertainment value, and the size and potency of the flap of skin that dangles between our legs. Moreover, be prepared to talk about how these manhood expectations placed on Black man are in stark contrast to the stereotypical images and expectations of “gay” men we see in the media: White men who assume a gender performance of how women are traditionally expected to act. And then talk about our society’s pervasive disdain, hatred and religious condemnation of anything that does not fall into a heterosexual “man-woman” norm of relationships and behavior, and how this puts pressure on men to deny who they truly are for fear of rejection and isolation. Only when you begin to scratch the surface of these dynamics can you begin to rise above your current myopic and pathologic lens through which you view and project secret homosexuality and bisexuality as an “immoral act” on your show.
Have your team do better research on the notion that just because men do not disclose that they have same sex relations to their female sexual partners DOES NOT automatically mean that they are irresponsible when it comes to condom use. Simply put, “coming out of the closet” does not mean that a formerly “Down Low” brother will increase his condom use. I can provide you team with numerous studies to support this statement if it goes against your preconceived notions of the so-called “benefits” of “coming out.”
Withhold your judgment and disdain for explicit homosexual websites until you take time to explore websites like craigslist, nudeafrica.com, xtube.com and the many others that heterosexuals are just as freaky, raunchy and sex-crazed as homosexuals are. If you really want to read some conversations, pictures and videos that will “blow your mind,” check out these websites and do a show on how HUMAN BEINGS are sexual creatures – instead of suggesting that homosexually active people have a monopoly on that market.
Finally, if you are going to have a discourse on homosexuality or bisexuality on your show in the future, please be bold and courageous enough to tell the various sides of men’s stories. We are not all self-loathing, secretive, unprotected sex-having, disease ridden liars. Surely in the work you have done in the entertainment field over the past 3 decades, you have interacted with enough same gender loving men to realize that sexuality is a fluid journey for anyone, and that there are many Black homosexual men who are well-adjusted, comfortable with who we are, and at peace with our lives.
Oprah, I was so disappointed with your show and treatment of this follow up to your “Down Low” episode 6 years ago that I don’t know if I really care to watch the remainder of this, your final season. As a seasoned journalist, you have intricately described and explored the nuances of diverse topics such as eating disorders, mental health, spirituality, violence and criminality, cultural diversity and even the benevolent nature of human beings on numerous shows. You have approached these topics with a sensitivity and attention to detail regarding the social contexts driving human behavior, that even the most skeptical viewer can understand why some people do the things they do. So why is it with this topic (the so-called “Down Low”), particularly when it comes to the task of actually humanizing Black men, that you and your staff appear mentally, emotionally and intellectually incapable of creating a show that shows the rich, diverse and complex experience of being a Black male and homosexual in this country? Is it really that difficult?
As one of the most powerful human beings this country has seen in the past 30 years, and someone whose show I grew up watching, it would be nice if you realized your influence and took more personal responsibility for the quality of your shows that address serious topics like HIV in the Black community. The careless manner in which you continue to drive a wedge between relationships among Black men and women, between heterosexuals and homosexuals in this country through your one-sided analysis of Black sexuality in your shows is reprehensible. And I for, one, refuse to sit by idly and say nothing while you spoon feed sensationalism and fear to our community who will all too willingly eat every last drop because it comes from your hand. I need you to do better Oprah – the world is watching.
And homie left his information in case Oprah wanna check him!!
David J. Malebranche, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor
Emory University Division of General Medicine
49 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive
Suite 413
Atlanta, GA 30303
 

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