I moved to Staten Island when I was 15 because of Hurricane Katrina, it wasn't on purpose. It was more a last resort thing. It's like "we've run out of savings, we can't go home and we have to go where our family is because that's what you do," and, we came to Staten Island. They flew us out here two days before high school started here in New York. I went straight into high school, and then I've kind of been here ever since, just taking my time, finding myself, learning Staten Island. It was totally different.
I was also battling with not wanting to come out and not even acknowledge that was a thing, that was something that I had left in New Orleans. Just being able to cook every day and practice what I love doing was awesome and I thank Port Richmond high school for that. I don't think if we went to a different borough, I would have gotten that. There's not a lot of cooking programs on Staten Island and it's like the biggest thing ever. When the mayor comes, we cook for the mayor, when the city council comes we're cooking for city council and then we're going to competitions, we're going around the state to different things. That was kind of my identity for a while, I was just a cook. Like I was doing it during the summer, I was doing it during the school year well during the summer I tried but then that's when I would go home to New Orleans. I think that was also a shell shock going home to New Orleans and then like all of us staying in a trailer when we first got there, all my family was in trailers.
I think right now I feel the most comfortable but to get here was a slow process. It started first started off as me wanting to tell my truth, meaning that like I had come to a point where I was just tired of lying. I was like, I had accepted the fact that I liked guys and I was just tired of lying about it. And I also here on Staten Island, there's not a lot of places for me to just be gay. So I was also doing some things where I was like, I need to tell somebody. I'm going to meet like strange guys and stuff like, I need to have a friend or like a text buddy or something. And you know, unfortunately, I didn't have anybody to tell me about going to the piers in Manhattan so I actually came out to some co-workers who were very supportive.
I was never the most masculine. I was never like that guy. When I told my dad he was like, oh, there were signs. That's exactly what he said. He was like, there were signs. He was like, there's nothing you can do as my son to ever embarrass me, he said, you are a Robinson, if you kill somebody, we will hide the body. He was like, we will make it happen. He was like, you were always my son. I was always my father's son and he was always my dad. Like he was, even if he had to scrounge $200, I mean, one time I needed money for school and he just gave $200. All he ever really gave me for school, but that was him trying. He always going to try his best to do for his son. And he always made me know that I can really do anything I wanted even though I wasn't out. It wasn't as if he ever made me feel embarrassed. He came to all my dance recitals. He was okay with me doing dance, he was okay with me doing Boy Scouts, he was okay with whatever I wanted to do as long as I was doing me. My dad loved Prince, my dad loved Gail Scott Harris, my dad loved to just hear good music. He would just sit and listen to music for hours and hours and just whatever he wanted. He had Barbara Streisand CDs too like he just loved good music. So I was also like raised listen to whatever I wanted. So I think I almost wanted to be free or like him and then since he wasn't here, I was kind of doing it here on my own. But like listening to Prince was like one of my first like coming out songs.
Growing up, learning about manhood a lot, it was always my dad at first. So in New Orleans which I actually learned here in New York a lot of my friends here in New York don't have father figures, which is a little different. It was hard to see. Like it took me a while to appreciate my dad because he was always there so I always had that father figure. But here in New York, it was like he was there in New Orleans so you're getting it from mainly from culture. So like it's like the barbershop, that's how you be. That was a blackest Staten Island thing I think I was doing at the time was going to the barbershop then going to like the fish fry place. Like going to your first Jamaican restaurant and just seeing those men. Going to high school, when you were in high school you really had to be like, find your friends and make sure everybody knew you were not to be fucked with.
I feel like I got more of my masculinity and just learned about how to be a black man through my mother's sisters, are here on Staten Island. Black women have been so much more influential to my growth than black men just because that's where I connected with more.
It's a place where you really want to be happy and proud to be black but then at your biggest events, you know, you are the only black male there. I have run into situations where I'm literally the only black male in the whole bar or something, which then changes your dynamic because you never want to be seen as that angry black man. So if something happens, now you're first off, the angry black guy, your friends who came with you now know you as the angry black guy so you end up, I think, even quieter.
I've always had to walk out of my house with my head held high no matter what. I'm walking out of the house, five foot nine with box braids in heels like I've got to pump out of the house. I have to make sure my face is up like this because nobody's going to bring me down. So yes, I kind of walk sometimes like I'm a model in the street, but that's because I always want myself to feel like I own the street. I always want to feel good. That's it. There's no space for that here on Staten Island so I am the space.
And I love the fact that sometimes you can see a little kid here on Staten Island and they're about to come out, I want them to feel the same way I did, so just walk like me. If I have to go through and be the first guy with box braids and heels to walk down Port Richmond Avenue so you can, that's great.
Being a male on Staten Island means creating your own lane to be the male on Staten Island you want to be. You have to just kind of do it.