Nathan: All right. For this week’s Story Update, we’re going to be speaking with Nelson Moses Lassiter. And before we do, let’s take a look at his story now that we filmed almost six years ago. Let’s take a look.
Moses: I’m Nelson Moses Lassiter, I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
When I came to terms with my sexuality, it took a very long time. I used to just debate with myself back and forth and I used to, I was actually angry that I was gay and I was angry at God for making me gay, there were just so many things that were going through my mind. So when I came to terms with everything, I wanted to go out and just meet guys and make friends and kind of find my place in the world, knowing that the world that I came from just wasn’t the one for me, it wasn’t accepting. Eventually I started meeting people and making friends and there was this one time I was actually just chatting with this one guy and the conversation was going great and there was definitely a really cool connection there, there were a lot of similarities and I said, “Oh, do you want to grab a drink some time?”
And he goes, “You’re really sweet, you’re really nice, but I don’t date black guys.”
He was just like, “Well, they’re just not my type.”
I was like, “Well what does that mean, you don’t like me because I’m black? That’s weird.”
And he was like, “It’s okay, though, I have a friend who’s into black guys.”
And I was like, “What does that mean? What does it mean to be ‘into’ black guys?”
I met this guy and, his friend, and I was like, “So what is it about black guys that you like?”
He said, “I like the way that they look and they way they talk, the way they walk, the way they wear their pants down low.”
And I was like, none of this has anything to do with an actual black person, this is, these are stereotypes and these are just preconceived notions and things that you hear. It wasn’t that he liked black guys, he was into the idea or into, it was more like an object of affection or a fetish more than actually liking the person. It was at that moment when I realized, “Wow, this is another thing.” So what is this world that I’m slowly becoming a part of because it was the complete opposite of everything I was expecting.
On the flip side, what made things even crazier was that my black friends were upset with me because I was dating someone that wasn’t black. I had this one black friend who was still in the closet, he was actually rather upset at the fact that I was dating a white guy. We were hanging out and I was telling him about this guy and he was like, “Why are you dating white people? You know that they don’t like us.”
I was like, “What do you mean they don’t like us? Because I’m dating someone who likes me a lot, so what are you getting at?”
And he goes, “What, do you think you’re too good for your own race?”
He basically said that I was a self-hater and I didn’t like black people or I didn’t like who I was and I wanted to be someone else because of the fact that I wasn’t dating my own race.
These experiences happened less within like half a year. It was like all these new things that were coming into sight at such a fast pace in such a short time, I was just like, “We need a lot of work.” We can’t be seen as a group of people that want to have a unified message of equality and no discrimination if we ourselves are dividing ourselves through whatever methods, whether someone is feminine or someone is masculine or someone is black or someone is white. If we continue to create these own divisions within our own community, we are no better than the ones discriminating against us. And it’s extremely important because we have to change the way that we think. We have to change our own minds within our own community, open our own minds before we can expect other people to open their minds to us.
Nathan: All right, Moses, thank you so much for taking the time to join us. How’s it going?
Moses: It’s good. I mean, we’re in a, you know… considering the pandemic, we’re good.
Nathan: All right. I guess this all we can really hope for at this point. So your story touched on some really important stuff. And you know, like I said earlier, we filmed that or published it almost six years ago and six years is a long time in certain ways and not so long in other ways.
Have you had any more experiences like that since then about that… you know, the date – actually two things. One was the guy who said, “I’m into you, but…” you know, the preference guy who said he’s just not into black guys. And then also your friend who said, “Why are you dating white guys? They’re not into us. You should just date black guys.” Have you had any sort of similar experience comparing to either one of those guys?
Moses: Well, I think, first thing I want to say is thanks for bringing me back. And, you know, I love the work that you guys are doing. It’s fantastic. And creating these personal stories that others can relate to, I think is really, really great. And it just reminds us that we aren’t alone in our experiences. So I really appreciate you and your organization for doing that.
For me, I would say the – it’s crazy to believe that was six years ago. In a way, things have changed. In a way, things haven’t. I would say the biggest change is that I feel that people are more aware of a lot of the racial inequalities that are happening around, you know, that happen within this country. And I think that the gay community is definitely more aware of these things.
I think what has become harder is being aware of our unconscious biases that we may have, and what is it actually triggering those, those biases – I mean, that bias. You know, and I think, given a lot of the things that’s been happening in the climate racially, it has allowed us to take that mirror and, and look at ourselves.
In terms of my own personal experiences and how things have changed, I think, the more and more that I’ve grown as an individual and just experienced various aspects of the gay community, I think that that level of discrimination still exists. You know, whether it’s blatant or whether it’s on apps or anything like that. You know, it’s… it’s not just black people, but it’s all people of color that deal with various levels of discrimination.
And it’s not just people of color, but then it’s also transphobia that exists within the gay community. And I find it rather fascinating that a community that’s supposed to be united still has its own self-created divisions within. And, for me, it’s more about trying to understand where it comes from. And a lot of it, I really think it comes down to just what we see. Our world is crafted so much by what we take in and what we visualize.
And when you look at gay media and when you look at the way gays were portrayed in the media, you look at the gays that are getting all of the views on an Instagram, or you look at the gays that are having the most watched videos omn PornHub or whatever. I’m just being honest because he’s all of these things really factor into your psyche and how you see the world.
And a lot of it is this – the stereotypical White male Midwest look. You know, it’s – and I have nothing against that, but I think that people need to understand how representation can actually change the way people see the world in themselves in it. And I think that, for me, this is just kind of like how I rationalized why we have these… these divisions and why we have these unconscious biases, because it’s what we’re being fed.
And the best way to really change that is to start from within. Me personally, it’s so interesting because I grew up in Philadelphia and then I lived in New York for a lot of my adult life and then I moved to LA. And what I found really interesting about LA is that I was actually… I felt more aware of my ethnicity and my race and LA than I did when I was in New York and I thought that was really interesting. And…
Nathan: Can I ask you a question about that? ‘Cause I feel like New York and LA are both fairly diverse cities. What was the biggest… what was the big difference that you felt in LA besides New York?
Moses: Well, the first big difference is that in New York, a lot of neighborhoods are integrated and you’re kind of forced to integrate. You kind of have no choice, especially when you think about everyone taking the subway or the Metro, they’re… you’re forced to be around people that are just different from you. You can’t stay within your own bubble. In LA, it’s a car-based city, so you can live in a particular neighborhood that could be predominantly one ethnicity. You can get in your car and you have a planned destination. You’re never really forced to confront things.
Another thing is that I felt like – I feel like the neighborhoods in LA are definitely more racially segregated than neighborhoods and New York. And a lot of that really is just kind of, the remnants of, of red lining, to be honest. And, you know, but that red lining then leads into social economic factors. If a poor neighborhood has a primarily low income, then those taxes that would be given to the school system, to provide an education – there’s not that much money there. So there’s less of a, you know, a better education that those individuals can see and it permeates, but that’s just kind of going into the weeds of it.
But when I came to LA, I was much more – I was confronted with that just because coming from New York, where, as I said before, you’re really just.. you’re integrated. And you do still get your neighborhoods that might be more Latino or more African American in New York. But for the most part, it’s very, very diverse.
And in LA, LA is diverse, but it’s diverse in neighborhood. And you go to… let’s say you go to a gay bar – and I don’t really don’t care if anyone’s gonna try to argue with what I’m about to say here, but it’s very true – you’ll see that there are people that only hang around people that look like them. And I’m not attacking them for it. I’m just saying it’s an observation. And that says something because if you’re only around people that look like you, you’re only getting one perspective, you’re going getting one, you’re only experiencing one culture. You’re only experiencing one subculture. And I think that does more harm for the community than good.
When I first came out and I went to a gay bar, I experienced those… those moments where, you know, that were kind of reflected in the previous video. And I thought that, you know, I really hoped that that was an isolated event. I really hoped that it was just those individuals that I encountered.
But what I began to learn is that even though it might not be everybody, there is a strong part of the community, a large part of the community that really thinks along racial lines. And it’s really, really hard to figure out how to break that down and why that exists. And it just kind of, you know, I kind of came to the conclusion that just because you’re gay, doesn’t separate you from having a racial bias. And it really comes down to that. It’s the racial bias.
And for me, it’s like, listen, you can say you have preferences or this and that. You know, the best way that I describe it is like, let’s say you like apples and you like green apples. Okay. And let’s say you have this bushel of apples in front of you and it’s red apples. Now my philosophy is this: let’s say you prefer the green apples and if you see them definitely go for your green apples. But if you’re only given a barrel of red apples and you say, You know, I would rather starve than eat this apple. That is where there’s a problem because now it’s like this, those red apples provide you that same level of sustenance, but just because it’s not the color you want, you would rather have that work…, you’d rather that be a detriment to you. And that’s what I find, which is rather fascinating.
And honestly, I don’t have the answers. The best thing that I can do is lead by example and show that listen, Love is love. We practice that. We say that. So we need to mean that. Love shouldn’t have any racial bias. Love shouldn’t have any weight bias. Love shouldn’t have any bias towards how an individual was born. You know, people give the argument, they’re like, Well listen, it’s a preference. Just like me liking men. It’s a preference. Well, let me tell you something. Liking men is not a preference. That’s your sexuality. You’re not choosing to like men, you are attracted to men because of your sexuality. Now, if you’re Bi, that’s different, there’s a scale. But the preference argument is something that I find that’s deeply flawed. And a lot of people hide behind that.
Now my outlook and my state – my thoughts on this is, is not an attack. It’s more about just… just be aware. You know, and just think about why is it that you feel this way about one thing and feel this way about another thing. Especially when race is in itself a social construct that does not exist.
Nathan: So what would you say to someone who – you know, earlier you talked about this scenario and what you observed at the bars in LA, where it is a little… like, people are hanging out with people who look like them. What would you say to someone who is watching this and hears that and they say, “Well, it’s, it just happens. You know, like I just happen to have white friends and I just happened to hang out with people who look like me. And I just happened to date people who look like me, of my own race.”
What do you – you’re story has inspired a lot of comments and a lot of comment threads and disagreements and – and not in a bad way – really good conversations have been happening on your story. So what do you say to them who say, “It just happens that way”?
Moses: I would say that nothing just so happens. The world is a very diverse place and if you want to take ethnicities into account, let’s be honest, Caucasians or white people, however you want to describe it, they are actually the minority in the world, the grand scheme of things. And if you think about, census reports that have been coming out, they’re saying that within the next few years, Latinos will be the dominant ethnicity in the United States.
So to say that it just so happens. that this are just so happens that that is that, I do think in a lot of ways that is an excuse. There are parts where I’ll say, listen, if you grew up in a small town and that’s all that exists in the town, then yeah, I can understand that. But when you’re living in a major city, and let’s say you’re new to that city and you don’t have many friends and you’re trying to build a friendship circle, having all white friends is not something that… that just so happens, especially when you are surrounded by pockets of diversity.
The real question is, do you have any interest in having friends that don’t look like you or come from the same town or the same ethnicity as you. And that’s where it really comes down to is taking that, you know, having that honest question with yourself, And if that interest is not there, then the real question is why.
You know, my take is it’s not – I’m not here to attack or condemn or make someone feel bad about the decisions that they’ve made but I’m from the mindset that the world is colorful and it’s diverse and diversity is beautiful. I would have rather they’re live in a mosaic than everything painted in one tone.
And the truth of the matter is the world is diverse and you’re doing yourself a disservice. If you’re not taking the opportunity to capitalize and learn that diversity, there’s something that is hypocritical about your outlook. If you’re the type to say that all black lives matter and black lives matter yet you have no one in your life that is black – what does that statement really mean? What do you know about black lives that makes it matter to you? And that’s really what it comes down to, you know? Nothing happens by – nothing is happenstance when it comes to picking and choosing your friends, because those are decisions that are made with intentions. And those are the same intentions that are made when you’re looking for a potential mate. Everyone has these decisions, you know, intentions on what they want and what they like. And I’m not saying that everyone should date someone that looks different from them. I’m saying at the end of the day, you like who you like.
But to only limit yourself with a, you know, to only limit your decisions and your, your pref, you know, these people that you date or make friends with based off of preference, I think is an unconscious bias that is rooted in racism. And I think that it’s something that really needs to be explored, whether you choose to accept it or not. Being gay, doesn’t exempt you from being a racist. And that is, I think, is the hard truth.
We have a lot of Black Lives Matter fans, which are going around masquerading as Black Lives Matter but they’re secretly Karens in training. And I think what’s really important is that you take the opportunity to not look at people bringing this to your attention as an attack, but actually bringing it – bringing it to your attention as something to be aware of. You know, for a really long time people would look at the Black Lives Matter movement and would say, Oh, it’s just a bunch of noise. This isn’t something that’s rarely going on. And then finally, once they started to actually listen, they realized, Oh, this is something that’s really going on. We should actually pay attention to this. What can we do to change this?
So in that same way they think about the discrimination that’s happening within the gay community, think outside of your comfort zone. If you hear a lot of people ranting and talking and saying that this discrimination exists, don’t dismiss it. Actually think about it and figure out why is this happening? How can we change this as a community? Because only then can we truly, truly, you know, stand by our statements that love is love. And we all deserve equality. We have to – again, as I said in my earlier message, you know, those many years ago, we can’t expect other people to give us the love and respect that we feel that we deserve, if we’re not giving it to each other,
Nathan: It seems as though the easy and fun sometimes work it’s to go to the protests and the marches and, it’s all outward, but the most important work and the more difficult work is to look inward and see what, you know, what any involvement that you have in… whether it’s internalized racism or homophobia or any negative feelings towards any group of people, that’s really where the important where it comes from.
Moses: One hundred percent.
Nathan: And also earlier you, you talked about representation and I think that that is really like a… you know, when younger kids see racially diverse TV shows, which now thankfully is all over TV shows and Netflix and Hulu and all these things, it’s really gonna make a difference in the long run. And because now kids are just seeing diverse people on TV everywhere they look in ads and movies. And so I know that we follow each other, we’re friends on social media, and do you want to talk any about your current job and what you do? And if any of this pertains to, you know, if you can take any of that to work with you.
Moses: I mean, I really do believe that there’s a lot of power in media, and that’s something that I really appreciated and appreciate about it. I remember watching this movie called “Always Be My Maybe”, and it was the film where the heartthrobs were Asian men, not your typical Caucasian male. And that says something because people watching that are like, Wow. Look at that sexy man. And it’s not the stereotypical thing that you’ve seen for years in the media, it’s something different. And it’s just a reflection that. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and all ethnicities and it’s beautiful.
So it’s really exciting to see that level of progression happening because it does leave an impact and it does leave an impression and it can change the way that people see the world and themselves in it.
I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about what I do, but I will say that one of the big things that we are doing where I work is that we really care about diversity, not just within but in terms of representation in front of and behind the camera, because we know that having diverse stories, having diverse storytellers, having diverse directors and DPs will change the way that we see film and television and will change the way that people see the world.
People are ready for shows and movies that reflect the world as it is, and reflect the world for all of the beauty and diversity and storytelling that it has to offer. And that is something that we’re dedicated to doing. And that is something that I strongly care about. You know, those many, many years ago when I had those experiences at the bar, I was always trying to think at what level is this unconscious bias… where is it incepted into the mind?
And if we can change the way things are portrayed in the media, especially with gay representation, but also in what is considered beautiful, we can really change the way that human beings are treated. When black hair is just as admirable as straight white hair,, or when black bodies are just as admired as white bodies or when something that is not white is not fetishized or considered exotic, but yet equally beautiful to the same standard with no contingency related to it, is when we really get to a point where the lives and the way that we treat people in this world will change. But It all starts with really looking at yourself, putting that mirror to yourself and accepting those hard, ugly truths about ourselves that we don’t want to accept. And only then can be really progress forward.
Nathan: That’s great. Well, Moses, thank you so much. You said so many important things today, just as you did almost six years ago. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us. And if anyone has any comments or questions for Moses, leave them in the comments and Moses, maybe you can check back some times and respond if they have any direct questions to you.
And if you want to watch Moses’s story, it’s obviously – and we just watched it earlier, but it’s also on our YouTube channel as well as hundreds more on our website and Facebook and Instagram. So I check that next week for our next story update. Thanks for watching.