The Brother to Brother T-shirt design is based on the first edition cover of the Black gay anthology “Brother to Brother” by Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam from 1991. I was immediately struck by the beauty of the book and the illustration (The original design was created by someone listed as Damballah). The book is full of poems and stories of black men connecting with each other, and sharing experiences of love and loss.
I want to honor those that put this incredible work together — giving future generations a roadmap for connection, love and friendship between men that is not consumed with toxic masculinity and violence. At the same time, by creating the shirt’s updated graphic and lookbook, I want to show the visual through-line from the past to my present reality as a Black, queer transgender man – who loves other men.
I grew up a boy loving other boys too – but the body that I was born in made my community, family and society at large see those connections as valid and worthy. While transition made me see myself for the first time in the mirror, it made connections with other men infinitely more complicated.
All of a sudden, in the eyes of many, it was not okay to love openly. To hold hands and be tender and imagine a radical future, out loud.
There were new rules of engagement at play here. Things to figure out about myself and the men I loved in a new world where "masc" is seen as currency, and softness in any degree as undesirable and weak. I looked to partners, friends, and homieloverfriends to locate myself here. Probably most of all though, I looked to the writings of the men in books like "Brother to Brother" to better understand in context.
The lookbook features myself, and some of the other black gay cis and trans men I've known in various ways throughout this journey. They wear the shirt as a way of visually linking us all to this heritage; of connecting us, Brother to Brother.
To the countless people that were lost in the 1980s and 1990’s to the HIV/AIDS epidemic — including Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill — may the legacy of your work, love and fight never be forgotten.