“Boyz N the Hood” Prepared Me for Growing Up Gay as a White Boy in Indiana
A little over 22 years ago, when I was about 12, my parents took me to see the John Singleton masterpiece, “Boyz N the Hood.” You must be thinking, “Wow, what progressive parents.” This wasn’t on purpose. Instead, we intended to see “The Rocketeer” or “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But both were sold out.
In the heat of July, bodies cramped up against a tiny ticket office, my dad made a proclamation—one that would forever shape how I see the world: “Welp. Let’s see ‘Boyz N the Hood.’ I think that’s supposed to be good. I don’t remember what it’s about, but I think I remember the previews looking good.”
And with the purchase of “Four for ‘Boyz N the Hood,” we escaped the July heat into the coolness and sugary land of Kerasotes.
Since we made a last minute impulse buy, the movie had already started and the room seemed full as we entered the theatre. As we narrowed the hall leading to the bottom looking for a seat, we couldn’t find four together. At that moment, my 12-year-old mind quickly made an observation, “Oh. . .my. . .God. . .we’re. . .the only. . .white people. . .in here!”
At that moment, my dad spotted two seats together in the front row. He pointed for my mom and me to take those as he and my sister searched out for two more elsewhere in the theatre.
As my mom and I took our seats, I noticed the man to my mom’s left was smoking what seemed to be a cigarette, though it wouldn’t be until years later, senior year in fact, that I would smell that same distinct smell and realize it wasn’t a cigarette at all.
Through the rolls of smoke, I looked around the theatre wondering where my dad and sister had gone. As my eyes cut to focus, I studied the faces of the people—the black people—in the room and wondered why we were the only whites in there. Who were these people, and why hadn’t I ever noticed any of them before?
I was 12. I was from a town called Cowan. I could’ve easily lived my whole life, in that town, without ever having to interact with anyone different than I was.
As I settled into my seat, head pushed back enjoying all 22 x 52 feet of Singleton glory, I noticed my mom kept gripping me tight as if she had to protect me from something. As I kept trying to pull away, the more I’d smell my mom pulse Oscar de la Renta with a touch of marijuana. At that moment, the man to my mom’s left jumped up, ran across the front of the audience, and with his hand in his coat shouted, “Bang, bang – you’re all dead mother fuckas.” The crowd exploded in laughter, clapping, and a few hoots and fist pumps.
I thought it was brilliant.
I laughed and hooted with the crowd. My mom was scared shitless.
We sat there for all 2 hours and 7 minutes of the movie. An outburst here and there, a contact buzz like no other—and three bags of popcorn later—I felt like I had just experienced one of the biggest culture moments of my twelve years of life.
The car ride home we sat in silence. In the 20 something years since, my parents and I have never talked about the time we went to go see, “Boyz N the Hood.”
In those years that have gone by, though, I’ve talked with others about the time I went to go see “Boyz N the Hood” on multiple occasions. That moment truly did have a pivotal impact on my development. If you have a belief in God or rather understand the karma of the universe, there was a reason “The Rocketeer” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” were sold out. Everything happens for a reason.
I think “Boyz N the Hood” prepared me as I grew up gay and experienced the world at times as the other and at times as the privileged.
In 1991, I didn’t really understand that someday I’d be the other. In the sea of black faces, together celebrating one of the biggest theatrical releases that faced black youth culture in America in the 20th Century, I was the other.
As I grew up gay throughout the 90s and eventually came out of the closet, I quickly became the other.
When I stood in the study abroad office my junior year of college and the receptionist tried to convince me that I should do the London Center program but, when I responded with, “No, I’d like to go where I can’t speak the language and no one looks like me,” I made myself the other.
I’ve stood in Tiananmen Square where I was the only Anglo face, and I’ve been rushed through a crowd in South Korea with Korean students shouting at me, “Go home Yankee; you’re not welcome here.”
I’ve stood on a street corner in my own hometown and had a passing truck yell, “Faggot!”
Those moments are scary; those moments have taught me so much.
What if I would have been born straight? What if I would have never left Cowan? What if my parents would have never, even by accident, taken me to see “Boyz N the Hood?” How would my life be different?
I don’t know; we’re all a series of events that lead us to moments in time. Perhaps I’d be the same; perhaps I’d be vastly different.
But I do know two things for sure – Kerasotes has the best popcorn ever, and “Boyz N the Hood” is still one of the best movies ever made.
Oh, and my dad makes the best rash decisions ever. Thank you, Dad.