The Men Who Make My Heart Smile
When I was a kid there did not seem to be very many out gay men on television shows, starring in films, and gracing the covers of popular mainstream magazines. That lack of representation meant a lot of things. One of them being, that I didn’t really have the permission to dream and imagine the same ways that my peers did when they saw someone attractive in the public eye, or to develop a school age crush on someone that maybe, just maybe could or would return my smitten gaze.
We still have a long way to go in terms of representation of out gay men—particularly Black men and other men of color—in the entertainment and sports industry, but we have made tremendous strides. I am happy for those men who live their lives openly and authentically while pursuing their careers, inviting us all in as fans to join them on their public journey. They are thoughtful and courageous—many are also cute. They are to be celebrated as well as admired. And thanked for granting us all permission.
Not long ago I was watching an episode of Sherri, a daytime talk show hosted by its namesake Sherri Shepherd. One of her guests was the actor Jeremy Pope. He was there to talk about his last film, The Inspection, in which he starred as Ellis French, a young gay man who after being rejected by his family tries to find his way through life. He eventually joins the military as a means to find stability and independence. His work in the role garnered Pope a Best Actor Award from the African American Film Critics Association and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture—Drama.
Pope also talked to Shepherd about his role as Jean-Michel Basquiat in the Broadway production of The Collaboration after it’s successful run at the Young Vic in London. As he sat on the couch across from Shepherd, Pope shared candidly and beautifully about his life, his work, and his red-carpet fashions. Amid it all, I couldn’t help but to acknowledge just how beautiful he is, too.
I smiled at his smile. I smiled thinking about how delightful it is to be seen and to see men who look like me and love like me shine on television, on the stage, on the screen, and in the arena. I smiled because the world now provides opportunities for me and countless others to have innocent celebrity crushes in the ways that others have for so long—and we had not. I smile because of the expanding landscape that provides permission for celebrities and everyone else to be themselves and embrace that it is okay to desire and be desired.
serpentwithfeet is a young, out, gay music artist. In the playful video for his song “Same Size Shoe,” he sings about the joy of the relationship he has with his boo who he relates to in many ways. The video follows the two of them through a casual day spending quality time with each other from breakfast to afternoon playtime right through the night when they snuggle up by a fire together. It is gentle and romantic. It makes you want to fall in love and allows you to picture yourself in that day too. He ends the song with:
“Boy, you got my trust ‘cause I’m like you
(You’re my heel and my toe mate)
Me and my boo wear the same size shoe
(I know that you can actually walk a mile in my shoes)
(That’s why I love you)”
Not long ago, I would have been hard pressed to name even a handful of celebrity out gay men of color heartthrobs who would allow me and others to picture ourselves in love. Today, I can rattle off the names of quite a few, including Nico Annan, Brandon Black, Joel Kim Booster, Anthony Bowens, Keith Boykin, Dyllón Burnside, Jerrod Carmichael, Wilson Cruz, Colman Domingo, Israel Gutierrez, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Frank Ocean, Alex Perez, Vincent Rodriguez III, Johnny Sibilly, Rafael Silva, Blake Young-Fountain, and the list goes on. We know that they could walk a mile in our shoes, and we appreciate they give us permission to have celebrity crushes, really for us. They make my heart smile. ▼
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. Since 2008, he’s also been a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ+ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker or Instagram: @Mr_CJFluker.