I know for a lot of people, a coming-out story in 2022 is as intriguing as an update on the color of the sky, but in the case of Tevin Campbell, I want people to understand how hard this has been for him.
“What makes me happiest right now is how far I’ve come in life,” Campbell said. “You know, there are a lot of child stars that don’t make it. But a lot of us do… I’ve embraced me.”
Campbell noted he never really concealed his identity from those around him. “I didn’t hide anything about me,” he explained. “I didn’t try to act a certain way or anything. You just couldn’t be [gay] back then.”
Campbell said it wasn’t until 2005, when he appeared as Seaweed J. Stubbs in the Broadway musical Hairspray, that he felt like he found himself: “Being around people who were like me, LGBTQ+ people that were living normal lives and had partners. I had never seen that. That was a great time in my life.”
Because I happen to have enjoyed A Madea Homecoming, I laughed at the tweet that pointed out that a lot of the reaction to this interview on Twitter mirrored the same flinch of “duh, bitch” as that coming-out scene from the Netflix flick. You’ll find similar sentiments elsewhere on social media.
I like that we’ve reached a point where a lot of people greet the news of someone coming out with levity or even a bored shrug versus lashing out. But still, I hope Tevin Campbell is proud of himself.
A lot of people forget that he was arguably outed and forced to confront an identity he hadn’t fully accepted because of other folks’ homophobia. In 1999, Campbell was arrested after asking for a lewd act from an undercover police officer in Van Nuys, California.
In the years that followed, Campbell gave a now-infamous interview with Jaime Foster Brown for Sister 2 Sister, in which he stated: “I’m not gay, but there are a lot of different things that I do like, sexually. Being in the business, you are introduced to a lot of different things. I’m not gay, but I’m a freak, and I think a lot of people know what a freak is.”
When pressured by Brown to elaborate, Tevin continued: “Basically, I’m trying a lot of things. Being open-minded. It has nothing to do with attraction. It’s just having fun, and I did a lot of that on the road with dancers. We had truth or dare.”
Brown asked if he was “bisexual,” to which Campbell replied, “No, just try-sexual.”
I don’t remember how old I was when I read that interview, but I remembered being so embarrassed for him. He was not ready to share that part of himself and I wish he hadn’t felt compelled to speak at all about it. It was so cringeworthy and left him subjected to even more speculation about his sexuality and the homophobia that comes with it.
A few years later, in an interview with iMissTheOldSchool, when asked if he was gay, Campbell said: “That’s nobody’s business. If someone is interested in me and they wanna be my friend or whatever, then we can talk. It’s nobody’s business what I like to do behind closed doors, just because I am a celebrity.”
It always felt unfair that people were pressuring Tevin Campbell to share parts of himself he was not comfortable with sharing because he rightfully understood how damaging it would be. Even if all of this was years ago, the homophobia has never gone away for Tevin.
In a since-deleted tweet, he wrote: “I read the comments I done heard it all ‘his a** loose,’ he a f*g,’ ‘he gay as hell,’ y’all homophobes gotta do better the thing you will NEVER EVER be able to say about me is ‘that boy CANT sing’ that’s the day I will be sitting at home crying and that day will be NEVER.”
I’m glad Tevin knows that above all, he can sing, but I hate that someone that talented was sidelined in that way. I hate it even more that people still use his sexuality as an insult. Yet he never sounds bitter.
On Lil Nas X and Frank Ocean, Campbell said: “It wasn’t like that in the ’90s, but I’m glad I get to see it. I’m glad that’s changing. There are a lot of kids, especially young Black boys, that need to see representation. They’re not being taught to love themselves because of who they are.”
Yes, because for all of his success, Lil Nas X still has to contend with homophobes in and out of the music industry.
And it doesn’t help when White men like Harry Styles gets championed as some kind of queer icon without actually identifying as queer (regardless of his bops).
I don’t know what will come of Tevin finally coming out, but I hope he gets new opportunities to make up for the ones robbed of him.
No, he wasn’t telling us anything many of us didn’t already assume to know, but he had it harder than he should’ve, so he deserves to be celebrated for finally living freely.
Michael Arceneaux is the New York Times bestselling author of I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé, I Don’t Want To Die Poor, and the forthcoming I Finally Bought Some Jordan’s. This article originally appeared on levelman.com.