Into Black Guys x Josh Rivers
“I don’t think you ever stop becoming a Black man. To be a Black man is to be in a constant state of becoming. Sadly, that’s why we’re often so tense.” Matty Pipes of Into Black Guys in conversation with the Founder and Host of Busy Being Black, Josh Rivers, discussing code switching and becoming a Black man. Matty shares why he launched @intoblackguys, flexing like Rihanna, the pressure to be “fit” in the queer collective, formative cultural moments in the queer Black experience and more…
Shot by Justin Gilbert @jussy
INTO BLACK GUYS
Josh: Talk to me about the genesis of Into Black Guys?
Matty: I started intoBG in December of 2014. I was working as a social media manager at an agency, so I was basically living on the Gram. It was a time when a lot of IG profiles were popping up touting themselves as the standard in male beauty. It’s a trope that’s so recognizable today but back then it was really new; an Instagram profile acting as a mood board for hot men and their aspirational lifestyles. I realized after observing this new breed of profiles that none featured black or brown bodies. These pages had thousands of followers and had names like @AmericasHottestBros but were essentially erasing men of color from the narrative. They were creating a digital catalog on male beauty and sending a strong message that black men were not included. I wasn’t having it. So, I used my skills in social media to start @intoblackguys as a way of promoting black men in the digital space and providing representation for young black and brown boys where there was none.
J: Into Black Guys appears to be a very specific (and this is not a criticism) type of guy. Can you speak on why it was important to showcase the muscular, the gym-fit, the adonis?
M: Well, I’d like to be very clear here, my posts on intoBG are always about the artistry of the image first. It’s about the celebration of the black male form as captured by black men themselves. I don’t search for the guy with the biggest muscles or the best abs. I actually have criteria against stuff like that: no flexing, no gym pics, no professional photoshoots and no mirror selfies. It’s important to me that every guy I post look like someone you know, that the settings look real and every image looks like something anyone could take with their iPhone. For me, it has to be attainable, candid, and aspirational.
That being said, the majority of the guys who are celebrating their bodies in this way on Instagram happen to be fit. So my page is full of fit black men. But that’s not the only body type you’ll find on my page, nor do I want it to be. I get so many DM’s from guys saying “Oh, I wish I had the body to be on your page,” and I immediately go to their profile, find a pic that works and post it. No one should think they’re not good enough. That’s not the point.
J: Digital spaces can be so reductive, right? We live life in 3-D, but then go online and are reduced to one-dimension and that one-dimensional self has to be so perfect. Is there more we can be doing to embrace ourselves and who we are online or should we learn to lean into the one-dimensionality? Perhaps we don’t need to be our 3-D selves everywhere?
M: I think it’s about balance. Social media is meant to be an escape, not reality. That’s why we only post our best photos to Instagram and our most witty musings to Twitter. Our avatars are our most awesome renditions of ourselves…but they are not us. It’s important to find things that ground you in reality and give you validation in the real world. Because flexing on the Gram is not sustainable all day every day. Unless you’re Rihanna.
“It’s important to find things that ground you in reality and give you validation in the real world. Because flexing on the Gram is not sustainable all day every day. Unless you’re Rihanna.”
J: I spoke with a friend recently about feeling unable to opt-out of the gym because it feels part-and-parcel of being gay: 50% of me going to the gym is about the physiological benefits, the other 50% is because I have no choice. What’s your advice for separating what can often feel like an overwhelming pressure to present a certain type of body and your desire to be fit for yourself?
M: I grew up with two active older brothers and was running, jumping, and trying out for sports teams ever since I can remember. I don’t see fitness as this need to have a certain body type. Exercise has just always been a part of my life.
For those who may feel overwhelmed or overlooked at the gym, I would say it’s important not to compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 12. Celebrate the achievements you’re making and stop wondering why you don’t look like that buffed-out guy at the next machine. That buff dude wasn’t born in the gym. He had to grunt through his first day or month or year of exercise just like you. The important thing is that you commit to being healthy and that you’re happy in your present state, whatever it may be.
J: Through my own journey with Busy Being Black, I’m trying to add to a queer Black cultural canon, something our community can look to for inspiration, motivation or to see themselves and their potential reflected back at them. What important cultural moments or people do you consider essential for queer Black life? What or who has helped shape you?
M: This is such a great question. As queer people we are already working from an abridged history. We really have no way of understanding the true roster of our historical heroes because so many gay men of the past were closeted for fear of persecution and sometimes death. To add the nuances of finding a black queer man in history narrows the scope even more. Where are our heroes? It’s one of the reasons my nickname for the guys I feature on @intoblackguys is “Heroes.” I feel so lucky to live in a day-and-age where I can actually point to and honor black men who outwardly identify as gay or queer.
Below I’ve put together a list of black queer representation that I’ve looked to for inspiration or just funny stuff I remember from my childhood. Some aren’t necessarily positive – like skits where straight men cast themselves as the overly flamboyant sex-crazed gay man. But I still see them as part of our history. A jagged stone on the path to where we are now.
The cast of Paris is Burning, Marsha P. Johnson, James Baldwin, Billy Porter, Frank Ocean, Don Lemon, RuPaul, The work of Alvin Baltrop, The black male nude series from photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, “Hollywood” from the Mannequin movies, Will Smith in Six Degrees of Separation, The movie Moonlight, The movie Set it Off, Shangela, Todrick Hall’s “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels” video, Shamar Moore’s entire International Male Catalogue modeling career, EJ Johnson and Magic Johnson’s relationship, Mathew St. Patrick’s character in 6 Feet Under, Lil Nas X, The work of Kehinde Wiley, Playwright Jeremy Harris, The “Men on Film” skit from In Living Color, The movie “The Pass,” POSE and Alvin Ailey.
J: I’m interested in the many manifestations of self-care. Aside from prioritising your physical health, how do you look after yourself?
M: I started a tradition 8 years ago that has helped me immensely with grounding myself. Every year from August 1st to October 31st I practice full sobriety and try to cook every meal I eat. Living in Los Angeles it’s really easy to get caught up in the endless summer and, before you know it, November’s here and you’ve been at pool parties for 6 months and none of your dreams have been realized. So, I decided to create my own Fall.
For the first few years I couldn’t wait to get to the end. So I could drink and smoke and party with all my friends. But as the years went on I started to realize how much I was getting done during those three months. One year I realized I didn’t want to introduce alcohol back into my life. So, I didn’t. Then another year I lost my taste for meat. So I became vegan.
Now I live a life where I am not afraid of being the sober person at a party or leaving early to be by myself. Now, so much of the things I’ve learned in those three months have carried over into the rest of the year. The meditating, the exercise, the work ethic, the yoga. It’s really changed my life.
“Homosexuality isn’t anti-African, Homophobia is anti-African.”
J: Our LGBTQ siblings in Kenya suffered a massive defeat. After Jason Jones’ success in Trinidad and Tobago and the repeal of Section 377 in India, there was so much hope that our siblings in Kenya would also be liberated. What might you say to LGBTQ Kenyans in this moment?
M: I would say that history only has one way to move and that is forward. I understand that times are difficult now and I can’t imagine the extreme hardships you’re going through as I sit in West Hollywood, one of the gayest towns in the world. But I feel for you and hope you know that the message we’re spreading over here in the States is that We’re Not Liberated Until We’re All Liberated.
Also, I love the new perspective you’re taking to the cause: Homosexuality isn’t anti-African, Homophobia is anti-African. This is your country and your culture. Fight for it tooth and nail. Fight like you wanted someone to fight for you when you were growing up. Yes, you are living during a challenging time but also during an exciting time because you will be the ones that make history. You will be the ones who will kick open the doors. Look in the mirror and see yourself for what you are. Heroes.
J: The incredible filmmaker Shikeith has a powerful experimental documentary called #BlackMenDream. In it, he asks, “When did you become a Black man?” If he were to ask you the same question, what would be your response?
M: I don’t think you ever stop becoming a black man. To be a black man is to be in a constant state of becoming. Sadly, that’s why we’re often so tense. Our white counterparts have the privilege of letting their guard down, of living a life of leisure… of being themselves. But as black men and black queer men specifically we’re constantly code switching. Throughout my day I’m continuously becoming a different person. While walking down the street I’m becoming the non-threatening black man so women walking their dogs don’t feel threatened. While on a date I’m becoming the articulate black man who “isn’t like the others.” While at a job interview I’m becoming the gracious and appreciative black man who realizes the GREAT opportunity he’s been given. So, I guess I became a black man when I first began to understand this constant navigation as a means of survival.
J: Finally, at the end of each episode of Busy Being Black, I ask all my guests the same question: What do you hope for? (It’s purposefully broad.)
For myself: Purpose.
For the world: The absence of fear.
“As queer people we are already working from an abridged history. We really have no way of understanding the true roster of our historical heroes because so many gay men of the past were closeted for fear of persecution and sometimes death.”
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