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The Most Important Thing Black Men Need Is Love: Travoy Deer

"I know that that looks different for everyone."

Listen: Travoy talks about the immense power of love, and why it's crucial for Black men. Music: Driftnote. Audio editing: Omar Rivero. Audiograms: Al Donato.

Travoy Deer, a multi-disciplinary artist, activist and community worker, is one of the faces and voices best known for his advocacy on behalf of the young, black, and queer community.

The York University Sociology major counts the House of Monroe, Kiki house of Old Navy, Suite Life: Arts For Youth, and Street Art: Youth Presenting Arts Festival (StArtYPA) in Scarborough, Ont. among just some of the initiatives he works with, ensuring Toronto's black queer youth are not only being heard but are being respected.

You can find Travoy hosting events, co-hosting the new podcast "Sip On This," writing songs for his new EP, or anywhere on social media being "social." Travoy is in your face, in demand, and #InTheFlesh.

Travoy Deer
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Travoy Deer

What is Black masculinity?

Black masculinity is a lot. It's real, it is fragile.

I know for me, masculinity has shifted over the time of my understanding of it, and growing up and what it just means to be masculine, and to add "Black" in front of it is a whole other thing. I don't think I fully understand personally. I think is problematic. It's problematic, [and] it is toxic sometimes.

What did you first learn about Black manhood?

I grew up in a house with my family. It was me and my aunts and my uncles' girlfriends or my uncles' wives. My uncles were never really around, and they were all soccer players or they all played sports, and they took me to the games to watch them play, but they knew that I would be there and I would find something to entertain myself with, because sports wasn't my thing.

When my cousin came up from Jamaica, they took him to all the soccer games to play soccer, not just to watch, like they took me.

Travoy Deer
Courtesy Travoy Deer
Travoy Deer

And I didn't realize it then, but that was the first time I was faced with being a man.

They taught him how to drive, they took him to the soccer games. Everything that men use as a rite of passage essentially, they did that with him, and they never did that with me.

That was the first time that I had to deal with what it is to be a man — and being left out of what it is to be a man.

What are you presently learning or unlearning about Black masculinity?

I am now the mother of the House of Monroe, which is the longest and first ballroom house of Toronto.

The ballroom essentially became a subculture, based on the fact that Black and Latin queer gay men [trans women, trans men and drag queens] couldn't fit into the mainstream. It was a place where we could go to be ourselves. It usually happens late at night, because again that is when we can be our freest self. The regular everyday average Joe has gone to bed, and I guess the best way to explain it is the freaks come out at night.

Travoy Deer
Courtesy Travoy Deer
Travoy Deer

I support it, [the Ballroom scene] because I know there is someone who needs it. They want to be as free and they want to express themselves and I feel like my job is just to support it in any way possible, whatever that might look like. I don't even have to participate, but just showing up.

The other day, we had a function. I had said that I am only out here for the culture and this young girl looked at me and said, "You are the culture." It was just one of the moments where you don't think about yourself in a particular way, but, to others, you are literally the reason that this [space] exists.

I think the most important need for gay and bisexual men, particularly Black men — it sounds so cliché, but it is love.

These interviews have been edited and condensed.

In this series on Black masculinity, we speak to a number of Black men on what masculinity means to them, what they have learned or are in the process of unlearning, and how Black manhood reimagined has presented itself in their lives and work.

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