Author & LGBT Activist, Jayce Baron Talks Novel, Absolutely Me & His Kiss and Tell Network
Jayce Baron grew up with a pretty great life, a well to do family living in sunny Southern California, popular amongst friends, and above average good lucks; despite his parents divorcing at a young age, there wasn’t much to complain about. However, his journey to self-discovery as a homosexual Black male was the only confusing part. Growing up between two households, the leniency of his agnostic father and the strict upbringing of his mother, also being the First Lady of Living Water Baptist Church, there wasn’t much of an example to figure out what he was feeling and experiencing. “I didn’t even really know what it was. I knew there was something different.”
Life experiences lead the way to his personal truth: dating, heartbreak, coming to terms with his religious beliefs, and the acceptance of his lifestyle by his mother. It would also lead to his purpose of becoming a voice and advocate for the LGBT community, also creating the Kiss and Tell Network, and sharing his story in his first published book, Absolutely Me.
Jayce Baron, introduces you to the character Elijah Rockwell, a conflicted male who is looking for the definition of sexuality, through a series of six diverse men. Readers take a whirlwind of a journey with Elijah, experiencing his struggle with dating, society, religion, family, and self reconciliation.
Between darting across the country promoting his book, and hosting events for the Kiss and Tell Network, I was able to catch up with the busy Jayce Baron. His candidacy and ability to make light of and even humor about the problems plaguing the gay community and people in general, that has him sought after for so many public appearances and speaking engagements is very apparent in our interview. Jayce is an open book, and in our conversation, he teaches me that we’re all not as different from each other as we may think.
Parlé Mag: You were not only were raised in a Baptist church, but as the first family of the Baptist Church. What was it like growing up?
Jayce Baron: Well my parents are divorced and my dad is agnostic. My mother, after they got divorced married a pastor, so it was complete opposite. Growing up was very different because I had one household, where I didn’t really have any structure, rules, or even a bedtime at my father’s house. And the other household was completely structured, Baptist–where’s your homework . On top off that being in the church, it was just polar opposite. So I got a well rounded look on life, if you will. So with that I was kind of able to make my own decisions and viewpoints about how I view the world. But I was always put in situations where I was like in the forefront of a community. Even in high school, I went to Christian school as well, I had Bible class, we had Chapel on Wednesday, but then because I was staying with my dad every other day as well, I had a vast viewpoint of how the way the world works.
Parlé Mag: When you were growing up, living between both households with such differences, was it difficult? Did you even know you were gay at the time?
Jayce Baron: Not really to be honest, I didn’t really even know what it was. I knew there was something different about me, but because I was in the First Family of the church and because I was the popular kid in high school, I guess I kind of saturated myself with other things, so I didn’t really address it. I had girlfriends, I dated girls and I think I was sexually involved with… I want to say I was like 19 years old, with this guy. It happened just one time. I was like alright, this is stupid, I’m going back to girls.
Parlé Mag: So it was a process?
Jayce Baron: Right, it was a process– a process of discovery. Then I think I kind of knew that I was gay, when a guy broke my heart. I didn’t really know I actually was [gay] until I was crushed.
Me having sex with men doesn’t define me as gay. Even if I’ve never had sex before, I’m still gay…
Parlé Mag: Your father was agnostic and your mom was married to a pastor. Were there opposing feelings from your family on finding out you were gay?
Jayce Baron: Well I didn’t tell them until… I think I was on my second boyfriend. I was living in New York and we decided to move back to California together. He was from New York and he wanted something different. It was snowing and I hate snow. I was like sure we can move to California. I was kind of forced to tell my parents. Which was good, at the time I was 24, and I was kind of ready at that point. I had already reconciled with myself, my sexuality, with God, and everything. I didn’t really come out to my friends either. It was like one day, here’s my girlfriend and then the next, it was here’s my boyfriend. And everyone was like, oh ummm okay. My dad was like okay, can’t wait to meet him, it was really simple. My mom was a little more difficult, she was a First Lady of a church. I think it was more of a place where she loved me, and she wanted what everyone wants for their child– what’s best for them. She was conflicted with the religious aspects of it. Today, she’s a lot more open minded, we got through it. She even opened up and met my boyfriend, we went to lunch, and things like that. But it was more of a difficult process for her. So I kind of had to give her my time, and give her time, as well as take my time with sort of positioning that part. It was the first time that I had to have an adult conversation with her, cause you know, your parents are like your parents. You have to realize that at the end of the day, you are both two adults. So I think that was the first time that we transitioned to that relationship, and it’s been dope ever since.
Parlé Mag: So are you two still working on building that relationship?
Jayce Baron: Oh no, not at all! We solved that years ago. It wasn’t long at all. It was maybe like a 3 month transition for her to be completely comfortable with it. At the same time she was still forcing herself to meet the boyfriend, asking questions and talking about it. She was still uncomfortable about it, but she was still forcing herself to adjust.
Parlé Mag: You’re a gay rights advocate for the LGBT community, why was this so important for you to be a voice for the LGBT community?
Jayce Baron: Just for me personally I never really had an example. I’m very transparent when I know what I’m talking about, and for the longest time I just didn’t know. And like I said before I was always in the forefront of my community, and people—whether it was good or bad—were always saying something about me. So for me, I was like I’d rather just have the honest conversation, instead of sugar coating something. I just started writing blogs, and that turned into Kiss and Tell Network, because I wanted to have conversations. If you don’t really have an example—most of our parents are heterosexual couples—so when it comes to dating and how we treat each other, we’re just kind of unclear. I just wanted to bring people together, so we could have the conversations, and it wasn’t even intentional. People started wanting more, and I just started speaking out more about my experiences. People started interviewing me, and I was like ‘oh wow, people are really touched’ and the way I addressed my own crazy demeanor, it was easy for people to digest. I started speaking out more, and addressing issues, and researching stuff, cause I’m still learning stuff as well. A lot of different organizations such as the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) contacted me, they wanted me to be in a PSA, which will be coming out any day. It is talking about H.I.V., and the reason why they contacted me, they told me there are serious issues, and my delivery is a lot more digestible than looking at a chart or a graph. I love people, I love to help people, and I just want to be myself. If me being myself helps you, then all the better.
Parlé Mag: Hearing your story, you really had to comes to terms with being gay with yourself and even your family and friends had to adjust. Was this the inspiration for your first published book, Absolutely Me?
Jayce Baron: Well, I actually started writing the book in college. Remember I said the boy broke my heart, that’s when I started writing the book.
Parlé Mag: That’s funny, I started writing after a break up. That’ll do it.
Jayce Baron: I was all in my feelings! So I took out my laptop and started writing it all down. It is real as hell! Break ups just bring all types of emotions, it’s just purged out. Some people do it with cursing, bashing out windows–I chose writing. It’s a lot more testimony than people think, I just published mine. But yeah, I just started writing it in college. I wrote one passage about what happened, and I wasn’t doing it to write a book. I was just doing it, to just do it. I think it was 2013, I actually found what I wrote on accident in an old email chain. And I was like wow, so much has happened, since this happened. A lot of growth, a lot of personal development, a lot of boys, a lot of sex, a lot of just everything. I was reading it, and I was like wow, I’ve grown so much, and I said I should finish this. This could be a help for everybody. I broke it down to 6 different guys I was dating, at the time it was kind of when I realized I was trying to find my sexuality through other men. I found this passage in my email, and I said I should really write about this. So I broke it down, wrote about people I was sleeping with, people I tried to date, people I dated who were amazing people, but ended up being so wrong. I was with them because it was cookie cutter, look at us, and then I wrote about the person that we had this crazy, romantic fling, but he, nor I were ready to be together. So there were different scenarios that everyone could relate to, whether you were gay, or straight, or Black, Asian, Mexican, or whatever. I just wrote about it and knocked it all out. I made sure that my editors were honest whether they were women, or men, and they all loved it. For example, one of my editors, her son is gay. I didn’t know that before giving her the job. And she was like wow, I understand so much more about him. Cause you can’t really have a conversation about gay culture with your mom, I mean you can, but it feels uncomfortable. She was like I understand my son, and his group of friends so much more because of your book, so thank you. That was pretty awesome. So that was the inspiration for the book.
Parlé Mag: Just to give some insight on your book, there’s an interesting statement you made about your journey to self discovery, it says, “that his sexuality has nothing to do with anyone but himself” can you elaborate on that?
Jayce Baron: What I was conveying with that statement, the character Eli, I kind of compiled his character, it’s based on my experiences, and other people’s experiences. So that kind of made him into one person. When I say his sexuality has nothing to do with other people, the character Eli is pretty much trying to figure out who he is through other people. He’s trying to find validation with himself through other people, with his sexuality. Maybe like last month, I said something along the lines of homosexuality is not about sex. A guy called in, he said well what do you mean by that statement. How is not about sex? I was like okay well, your straight, right? He said yeah. I said if you’ve never had sex before are you any less straight? He was like oh. I was like yeah. So me having sex with men doesn’t define me as gay. Even if I’ve never had sex before, I’m still gay. It was a layered conversation. The character (Eli) is trying to find out, he doesn’t know what gay is, he’s trying to use other men to define that. And that’s just not how it works.
Parlé Mag: What is the impact that you want this book to have on the reader, or just people in general?
Jayce Baron: I just really want people to know that they’re not alone. We all have very similar stories, and the more I’m vocal about my personal experiences, I get a lot more people contacting me. Whether it’s face to face, whether it’s in my dm, or inbox. We all go through something that’s similar, we’re all not that different. I think that society right now is just not becoming comfortable, especially Black people, with the LGBT community, and not looking at them as weird individuals, but as people –as humans. Our experiences are not that much different, it’s just a man being replaced with a woman, or a woman being replaced by a man. So that was pretty much my main goal. As far as the gay community as well, it’s in our own community, us as men don’t want to talk. We’re still stubborn, we may be gay, but we’re very stubborn. A lot of times we’re not having these conversations. So if you can read the book, and can laugh at these experiences that you can relate to, it’s like wow, that’s pretty dope. There’s nothing out there that’s like that right now.
Parlé Mag: Sounds very powerful. We’re not much different, we all have our problems, society and the media tries to make it seem like we are.
Jayce Baron: It’s interesting that you say that too, that the media tries to make us different. I actually didn’t just get a gig because I wasn’t flamboyant enough. I was like what?! It was like ‘yeah, you’re very handsome, we like your energy, but your not flamboyant enough’. They wanted to portray homosexuality as this pastel bow tie wearing man, who liked to flail his arms around. That’s not me! They even told me I was too masculine, for me, I think I’m somewhere in the middle. But what is masculinity? This was for a huge network as well.
Parlé Mag: I get it, I don’t like how some Black women are portrayed on reality tv. How do you feel when you see gay Black men being portrayed as flamboyant on tv?
Jayce Baron: I want more diversity. My personal background is entertainment. I was at Bravo, for a little while, working PR and stuff like that. So I know how these networks work, they want ratings. That’s the only thing they care about. When I see that, yeah there’s somebody on television that’s acting crazy in the club, or doing whatever, and that represents somebody that’s watching it. I’m totally for that, but that can’t be the only face of the community that people see. It’s the same with you as a woman, if a little White girl is watching Love and Hip-Hop, and that’s their impression of all Black women; it’s like no, that’s not the case, where are the other faces. I would just try for more diversity when it comes to the content, versus showing someone not acting a certain way.
Parlé Mag: You’ve also been on a National Book Tour hitting Atlanta, D.C., Chicago, and New York. What has been the feedback?
Jayce Baron: People like it. I sold out in Memphis, they were all the giddy. A lot of people are really receptive towards it. It’s funny because the way it’s written, it’s a very easy read. You can get through it in like 2 or 3 days. I’m so satisfied that it’s such a vast audience enjoying it. There are people who are 20 years old, people who are 50 years old, are like wow, this is amazing. The fact that this one book, has reached a whole demographic, is dope to me! I’ve met my goal.
Parlé Mag: You said that “people are your passion” and you’re really touching of people. That’s awesome!
Jayce Baron: We can all learn something from somebody.
Parlé Mag: You mentioned the Kiss and Tell Network, which you created in 2015. What was the idea and goal behind the Kiss and Tell Network?
Jayce Baron: Originally it was just supposed to be a Valentine’s Day event for dating. It was supposed to be one time. I actually started in November of 2014, preparing for Valentine’s Day. I think February 8th 2015 was our first event. Initially, it was supposed to be like, ‘oh let’s do gay dating’. Then I thought, I could learn something from someone who’s like a lesbian, her experience, or someone one who is transgender, so it was like let’s incorporate everybody. So I contacted my friend who is another drag queen; my other friend who is on the Obama advisory board, Gabriel Maldonado; my other friend who is a transgender performer; and then my other friend who is a lesbian YouTube personality. We kind of just answer all these questions in a very candid way. How do you reconcile with your religion and do you believe in God or do you not believe in God? Are you more spiritual? Are you more religious? We just have this open conversation. It’s not like well my thoughts on Oprah. No, I wanted it to be very direct, and people loved it. People asked me when the next one was, and I was like are we doing this again. We’ve done five shows in L.A., one show in New York, and we launched our first show in Las Vegas July of this year. We interviewed Senator Kelvin Atkinson and his husband, Sherwood, and he’s a United States senator. They were the first same sex couple to get married, once they passed the law in Nevada. So Shar and I started Kiss sand Tell Radio as well, which could produce more content, cause it was a lot to produce an actual show. So we started the podcast and that comes out every two weeks. So yeah it’s been dope ever since.
Parlé Mag: There was a greater purpose for Kiss and Tell, than what you initially set out to do.
Jayce Baron: Yeah my dad is up there in the front row every single show.
Parlé Mag: Anything special that you’re working on right now?
Jayce Baron: So current project, which I’m pretty sure that I got, but can’t say it. But it’s big. I’m also working on my second novel, the sequel to Absolutely Me. So it should probably be out by 2017, the end of this year. Also a documentary is in the works, so I’ll be filming that next year.
Parlé Mag: Your plate is full!
Jayce Baron: I spoke in D.C., and one of the girls asked me a question, ‘what was the decision factor when I took the leap of faith?’ Once I really found my purpose, there wasn’t a question. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be, or the sacrifices; I lost my car, I lost my apartment. I had to sacrifice a lot! I drove Uber for a while, I had to sublet my apartment, turned in my brand new 2015 Mazda 6, and I slept on the couch for a little while, but I knew it was worth it. It definitely has come full circle. I stayed really prayed up, and He provided.
Parlé Mag: Jayce thank you so much for taking time from you busy schedule, and keep being a voice for so many.
Jayce Baron: Thank you, it was my pleasure.
Absolutely Me is available on www.amazon.com