Brent Whiteside always knew what he wanted out of life: a career in entertainment. At a young age, the actor, writer, and podcast host packed up his things and left his hometown of Chicago for the Big Apple. His life has been a whirlwind since then and he details his “Broke, Black, and Single” life in his blog and the Werk podcast, which he co-hosts. We chatted with Brent about the things that are most important to him: his religion, his sexuality, and the intersection at which they meet.
Ev: You made a bold decision to leave Chicago and move to New York, what encouraged you to make that move? Why New York?
Brent: I wanted to flourish in [an entertainment] career in the best city on earth. I promised myself that I would make that dream a reality and when I was presented with an opportunity to leave Chicago and move to New York City, I couldn’t pass it up! I was terrified and also worried that maybe now wouldn’t be the best time, or the right time. Then, I quickly realized there would never be a ‘right time.’ So I seized the opportunity, packed my bags and never looked back.
E: Your blog and social media are pretty insightful & inspirational- does that have anything to do with your church upbringing?
B: I’ve never actually made that connection before, but that could be a heavy influence. I’m a firm believer in affirmations, I believe that we can control our lives through our speech. The power of life and death really do lie in our tongues. When we push out positivity and confidence, we yield endless amounts of rewards. When we focus on negativity and on what could go wrong, or what has gone wrong, you’ll begin to see dark clouds forming and more complex situations piling up around you. So instead, I choose to focus on the good in any situation and speak positivity over my life. To make it even simpler; it’s just easier to live life with a positive outlook rather than a negative one.
E: Your “Gay, Black, & Christian” Pride article is getting a lot of love, what did it take for you to become comfortable enough to share your story?
B: To be candid, writing that piece has been one of the most therapeutic experiences that I’ve had. It took some time for me to even sit down behind a computer to write it. The idea came to me, in a title, and I honestly had no idea where to begin. I was scared. Scared of how people would respond. I was scared that no one would want to publish the story, and most importantly I was scared to of what I would say. My sexuality and my religion are two things that make up who I am, and even within myself, I would separate the two. I use to cut myself down the middle and would never allow the two, to touch and agree with one another. Yet, through writing this piece, I realized that they both correlate more than anything. Through the love I allow myself to give unto others, is a direct response to the love I have for Christ, and him for me. When the urge to finally sit down and write the piece came to me, I decided to start with the truth, and from the truth the piece came to be what it is now. I would be lying if I sat here and said that I’m completely comfortable with my sexuality, my religion, or even my complexion for that matter. Each day is a test and through that test I am allowed to find a better understanding of who I am. So that is why I wrote the piece. As individuals we are all a work in progress. I find that marginalized groups are never able to be vulnerable, or just simply be human. We have to ‘strong’ we have to be ‘confident’ because if not, it opens a window for spectators to come and throw tomatoes. I wrote the piece because I wanted to be able to say, “I am here. You cannot ignore me. Now let me live my life and learn more about who I am.” The ability to grow and learn more about yourself isn’t afforded to marginalized groups. We expect them to be whole and be self-aware, because they are constantly on the defense. I wanted to write a piece to remind people that we are all on this greater walk of understanding, compassion and love, and no matter who any of us are, we have that right.
E: Were you afraid of any backlash from more conservative, less-understanding Christians?
B: At first, yes. I knew that people would read the title and would be immediately turned off and upset. There is a big community of “readers” who simply read titles, make an opinion off of it, and run to the blogs to spew that opinion. I quickly got over that when I realized that this piece was not for them. Yes, I would love if this piece could change the minds of how some Christians view homosexuality, but ultimately that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to be able to reach out to other men and women like myself who find struggles within their faith and sexuality. The goal was to show people that the bible should not be used as a weapon to push unwanted groups of people out of their Churches. The goal was to shed light on that fact that members of the LGBT community aren’t even afforded the ability to build a relationship with God just because of the narrative that is pushed on them from people within the church. These were my intentions and these intentions directly relate to the views and opinions of the more conservative, less-understanding Christians. So I realized, instead of being ‘afraid’ of their backlash, I embraced it. This is a fight worth fighting, and I am not afraid to fight.
E: What would you tell all of the other young men who are struggling with dated ideas of sexuality and conforming to religion?
B: I would tell them that their relationship with God is just that, their relationship. Seek him out and find understanding with him. Often in Churches we look at Ministers, Pastors, and other authoritative figures in the church for our understanding. These people are just vessels who commit their lives to fulfilling God’s will. They themselves, are not God. There’s a thin line that any Church Community dances on when it comes to holding these figures on such a high pedestal, that we’d sometimes go to them over God himself. I would encourage anyone, not even just men who are confronting their sexualities, anyone, to develop a better relationship with whom they serve first. Then build on that relationship with your church and its figures.
E: How do you feel about the state of gay, black representation in media right now?
B: I must say, it is much better than it has been in the past. Even over the past 10-15 years from when I was a child, there is a clear increase in representation – though it’s not enough. Gay and Black representation on TV have fell into a certain grain of archetypes. We are the sassy best friend, the confident/flamboyant wing man, the sensual sex pot, the love guru, and the sex expert. Rarely do I see any of these characters being displayed in a way that doesn’t directly relate to their genitals and what they do with them. Now I’m not sure if this is because American Media is in a state of horniness and everything has to be sexualized, or if this is because people can’t look past homosexuals and what they do in the sheets. Regardless, I look forward to the day when we can create dynamic characters who use more than just their genitals to make decisions.
E: Since you are making a considerable platform for yourself, do you feel the need to “pave a way” for more gay, black men in media?
B: Thoughts like this terrify me. I like to think that me being my authentic self will open doors for people to come along and be their authentic self, regardless of them being Black, Gay or otherwise.
E: In the Werk podcast you share your experiences in New York while being “Broke, Black, & Single”, describe your perfect mate.
B: My perfect mate is someone who is ambitious. If you lack ambition, we won’ t work. It’s quite simple actually: to be ambitious means that you’re passionate about something. When you wake up what is it that you think about? What’s that first thought that runs across your mind? What image of yourself do you see, and what are you doing? I need a man who, despite his current situation, dreams of something more, and then gets up and puts action behind that dream/vision. I myself am very career-orientated and would need someone who is in that same realm. I’m in my early twenties and I believe everything that I do now, is setting me up for my thirties, forties and beyond. If we can’t share that same belief system, we won’t work because I am building up something great, and I’m not dragging anyone to the top with me. I’d rather walk up that golden staircase side by side. I ain’t your mama, I’m not raising a man.
E: In addition to the Werk podcast, acting, and writing, what other great things are you working on?
B: I am currently in the process of creating a media platform for millennials by millennials that will allow us to have a safe space to be us. I want to create content that is relevant to who we are and what we are about. I’m tired of older generations speaking for us as if we’re lap dogs, and as if they weren’t a 20-something at some point in their lives themselves. We are smart, we are passionate, we are not lazy, we are empathetic, and we’re not completely self-absorbed. It’s time we change the narrative that faces our demographic and I am building a platform that will do so. Nothing I can speak too specifically as of now, but things are in motion and the stars are finally beginning to align.
Visit Brent’s website to learn more about him and his work.