My Secret Love

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I was born and raised in the Bronx, where I learned to walk and talk tough and spit with dignity and class. I know who to watch out for on the street, like dudes who carry liquor bottles and wear too much red. (There are a lot of gang members around my way.)

The way I dress reflects my neighborhood, so most people expect my taste in music to follow the same pattern. Bronx streets + Pelle Pelle jeans + cornrows + Timberlands = hardcore rap 24/7.

That's partially true, because hiphop is a major part of my life. But there's also a hidden part of me. It's not something I like to talk about. If I did, people would laugh long and loud. It's not easy for me to admit this, but - I love musicals.

Yep. "The Sound of Music," "The King and I," "Carousel" and "West Side Story" ... you name it, I've seen it and enjoyed it.

I like to see "Mary Poppins" fly around with an umbrella, singing about medicine going down nicely if you take sugar with it.

But you're not listening. You're too busy laughing at me. The way I began this story, you probably thought I had a drug problem. If I did, I would have gladly put my name on this article. No one would laugh at me if I was addicted to cocaine.

Musicals and I go way back. "The Sound of Music" was the first musical I saw, back in sixth-grade. At first, it looked like the beginning of another boring "class thing."

My teacher rolled the TV into the room, switched the lights off, and let the show begin. I sighed and braced myself for what I thought would be the wackiest 40 minutes of my 11 years.

But then, when the characters started singing, it suddenly became interesting to me. Characters would be talking about something, then they would just jump into song. As I watched the film, I realized I was being introduced to a revolutionary concept - a fulllength movie that conveyed emotions through music and singing.

In one of the most memorable scenes, the main character, Maria (played by Julie Andrews), comforts the kids she is taking care of. The children are scared of a raging storm, so she begins to sing about her "favorite things" to take their minds off their fear.

But then I lost interest and musicals were the last thing on my mind, until my music teacher during senior year in high school rekindled my interest. He showed flicks like "Carousel" and "West Side Story" to our class every week. The other kids didn't appreciate it at all, but every day I secretly hoped he'd continue showing them.

My music teacher was gay and white, so admitting that he liked musicals didn't hurt his reputation at all. I, on the other hand, wouldn't be able to take the "Oh yeah, he's gay too" stares I knew I would get if people knew my secret.

But one day, I took a chance and admitted that I had watched a few musicals.

"Come on, sing a show tune you know," someone said.

"Yeah, don't be shy."

"Why not?" I said after a moment's hesitation.

So I started singing in a mock soprano voice.

"I am 16, going on 17, I know that I'm naive. Fellows I meet may tell me I'm sweet, and willingly I beleeeeive."

Instead of applause for my attempt to bestow culture upon them, what followed was 10 minutes of uncontrollable laughter.

There's a black kid I know who listens to Smashing Pumpkins, a rock band, all the time. But he doesn't tell anyone. His peers ridiculed him into expressing his affinity for alternative music only to his closest friends. Unlike him, I've made no attempt to come out of my creative closet because I want to avoid derision.

But it's still unfair. Just because I'm a rough Bronx cat who happens to like watching films where people abruptly break into song and dance shouldn't automatically draw people to the conclusion that I'm a freak.

I don't want to be the butt of jokes or to be looked at as pitiful. I don't want people to say, "My life is messed up, but I'm better than the cat who likes musicals."

I just don't get it. If JayZ can use parts of "Annie" and "Oliver" in his rhymes, why can't I sing songs from "The King and I" in peace?

(c) New Youth Connections, New York