“It reminds me of my boyfriend…” I’d been on the air at Mix 96.5 for about two weeks when Randy from Baytown called in to request “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz. Ooh, my first gay request in Houston!
Texas felt a long way from New York, which had recently become a marriage equality state. Let’s see how y’all down here in Texas handle a gay request!
I was ready for a fight, staring down at the phone and waiting for it to blink. “I don’t like hearing that gay stuff on the air!” or “I didn’t need to hear that with my daughter in the car!” were the calls I was expecting. At least one.
The request line blinked. “Is this the DJ?” (Usually that’s how the angry phone calls start.) It was a woman.
“Yeah, that’s me.” Go for it, lady, I’m ready!
“I just wanted to let you know that was the first time I’ve heard a same-sex dedication on the air in Houston…”
“And?! What’s wrong with that?!?!” I thought to myself.
“…and I thought that was so sweet. I’m gonna make sure to listen to Mix 96.5 a lot more now. Thank you for that!”
Well, I sure hadn’t expected that. After a pause and a big smile, I thanked the woman, who had unknowingly given me one of my warmest welcomes to Houston.
Being openly gay, politically active, and on the radio is a constant balancing act. I’ve got to simultaneously satisfy two obligations: 1) to my job, and 2) to myself.
The job obligation is pretty simple: don’t make listeners tune out, keep them for longer periods of time, and try to appeal and relate to as many people as possible; be mainstream.
The obligation to myself is the more complicated part: to represent, and advocate for, the LGBT community. Working for a station with well over a million listeners a week, I have a unique opportunity to reach a lot of people with a positive—and important—message of tolerance and equality. But how do I fit that in to a widely appealing mainstream mold?
This is a question that every gay person struggles with—or at least should. How “out” am I? Can I do more to represent my community and advance tolerance and equality? The truth is, we can always do more.
Angel in Pasadena (who calls literally every day) asked me a while back, “Are you married?”
“Hah! No,” I responded. Apparently her daughter had a crush. But wait, I thought. She’s assuming I’m straight. Do I have an obligation to correct her? I didn’t. Why not?!
You’ve probably been there before. The “do I say something?” moment.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it, until Angel called a few days later after doing some “research” (a Google search) and said they’d found a news story about me and a marriage equality video I did with my ex.
“How’s that gonna go over with the Pasadena crowd?” I thought.
“I just wanted to let you know that now I love you even more!” Another teary smile.
Since then, she still calls every day, and we have had multiple conversations about bullying in her granddaughter’s school and what she does to stand up for her LGBT friends.
And in these moments, I manage to meet both obligations: maintain a relationship with a listener, and represent the LGBT community.
Of course that’s not always the case. Apparently I pissed off a listener from my old job in New York who wrote me on Facebook to tell me he liked me on WPLJ, but not my online posts: “Radical, left-wing LGBT glorifications” that are “unbecoming and unproductive.”
Needless to say, that set me on fire, and I responded passionately and publicly. Because Jim in New York is a former listener.
But what if he were Jim in Houston, who listened to Mix? My response would have to be a lot more measured. You never know who is being polled to measure ratings; Arbitron doesn’t only ask tolerant people what they listen to. This is the balancing act. (Jim, by the way, turned out to be gay. Figure that one out.)
I love being gay. It’s a challenge! We are constantly testing our own comfort zones. We come out to new people all the time. And sometimes, that is all it takes to make a step in the direction of full equality.
I try to push the limits and marry the mainstream with the ’mo. But I can always do more. We all can.
We may face resistance from the Jims in New York. But the Randys in Baytown need a voice. And the Angels in Pasadena will stand with us.
Blake Hayes is the mid-afternoon host at Mix 96.5 KHMX.