This week’s portrait, Wyatt O’Brien Evans, is truly a Renaissance man. He is a writer, journalist, radio personality, entrepreneur, instructor, voice-over artist, public and motivational speaker and even a standup comic.
Perhaps more importantly, he has opened dialogue on a topic often overlooked in our community, intimate partner violence and abuse (IPV/A). Evans has reported and written for outlets including the HuffPost, The Washington Post, Advocate, The Bilerico Project, Baltimore Outloud, Baltimore Gay Life and Washington Blade. He has written an award winning, influential, no-holds barred series, which has been syndicated in numerous venues.
PGN: You’re an entrepreneur, a teacher, an author….[Laughing] It would probably be quicker for me to ask you what you don’t do!
WOE: I don’t dig ditches!
PGN: What is NCTUA?
WOE: It’s my series of novels, “Nothing Can Tear Us Apart,” that I write. The most recent one is called “Frenzy.” The overarching theme for the series is intimate partner violence and abuse. I believe that it’s a really critical issue that needed some light shined onto it. I’d been writing about it as a journalist and doing speaking engagements, and I thought, you know what? Let’s put this in a fictional version to make it more palpable for people. The story line for “Frenzy” is about Wesley who is a wealthy African-American guy in his early 40s and his partner Antonio who is Latin American and about 10 years younger. They fall in love and unfortunately because of various circumstances, Antonio batters Wes who he thinks is cheating on him. He has other emotional issues going on within him as well, and I charge the readers to discover if they get back together. And if they do, will they enter therapy together? What will happen to them as it unfolds? It also deals with discrimination and racial tensions, as they both come from different backgrounds. I try to make it good fiction without being preachy.
PGN: Let’s backtrack and find out where you’re from?
WOE: People claim that there are no native Washingtonians, because it’s just all political transients, but I am here to say that I’m one of the few of us who were actually born and raised in D.C.
PGN: They do exist! What was it like growing up in D.C.?
WOE: I grew up in a lower-middle class household. My father died when I was about six and that became one of the issues I had growing up. I had four sisters and a mother, but no male role models. I love D.C. even though it’s changed so much, even in just the last 10 years. It’s become very gentrified, but it’s also become a big cultural center. I was born in 1956, and in the ’60s, it was a very backwater, truly Southern town, but with the advent of the Kennedy Center that changed. D.C. has definitely changed over the years.
PGN: What was it like growing up with four sisters?
WOE: Well, at times my sisters didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I was the youngest by about 10 years, and I guess they thought I was a pest. Not having a father, I felt kind of isolated and grew up with a lot of insecurities, especially with my sexual orientation. I was a big reader and very much into academics, getting all A’s and participating in spelling bees. When I was about 10, my friend and I created our own comic books.
PGN: So you were a little nerd!
WOE: [Laughing] No! I was not a little Steve Urkel! I like to think we were cool even though we were scholastic. My mother and I used to watch news and current affairs shows, and she encouraged me to know what was going on in my community and around the world. It was my foundation to becoming a journalist.
PGN: What did mom do?
WOE: She was a housekeeper and a seamstress.
PGN: What’s one of your favorite family memories?
WOE: Even though things have changed — my mother passed away 20 years ago, my sisters have all gotten married etc., — we still all get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We really believe in it and make a point to stay connected as a family. But a favorite childhood memory is with my mother. When I was 11, she took me to see “Valley of the Dolls,” and we got all dressed up and made it an afternoon. I had my little suit on, and she wore a formal dress, and we went to lunch before the film. It was so cool. I cherish that memory.
PGN: That film was a little dramatic for an 11 year old!
WOE: Well, my mother and I used to watch “Peyton Place” together. One of the stars of the series, Barbara Perkins was in “Valley of the Dolls,” so we went to see her. And I have to say, I was a bit advanced for my age, so I did a lot of things that were probably unusual for most 11 year olds.
PGN: Where did you go to school?
WOE: High school was McKinley Tech, which was a special college prep school. After that I went to George Washington University and got two Bachelor of Arts degrees in journalism and political science.
PGN: Were you part of the school newspaper?
WOE: I was. I did the high school newspaper thing and then did my own thing at George Washington. In the mid ’70s the campus paper, “The Hatchet” didn’t really cover African-American issues, so a group of us started our own paper. It only lasted for four issues before we got backlash and had to close down, but in those four issues, we took a stance on some important issues. It was a good paper if I don’t say so myself.
PGN: When did you come out?
WOE: That was difficult for me. In my freshman year I was going through a whole lot of stuff. I had confidence issues; I was my mother’s only son, and I know she wanted me to carry on the family name, etc. So, there was a lot of internalized pressure to not be gay. In my sophomore year I stumbled out. I’d been in therapy and finally decided I needed to be my authentic self, and I met this guy I really liked. I was still living at home, and I spent the night with him. In my excitement, I forgot to call home, and when I got there the next morning, I was greeted by my mother and the four sisters. I said, “Look, I know I should have called, but… I was with a guy.” I just blurted it out. They kind of knew, but in that moment I verified it.
PGN: What prompted you to make IVY/A a mission?
WOE: I felt it was an urgent societal health issue, especially in our community. At least one in four LGBTQ relationships are abusive in some way, be it emotional, physical or mental. In my first real relationship, I was a senior at George Washington and he was a junior at Howard. We met, fell head over heels, and there was a honeymoon period, but it didn’t last long. Abusers are like sharks in the water who smell the blood. They can sniff out the vulnerable and any insecurities they might have. At the time, I was still unsure about my sexual orientation and what it meant. So the abuse was 10 percent physical and 90 percent emotional and mental, which was more damaging for me. I try to teach people that it can happen to anyone. I don’t care how strong you are physically or what station in life you come from — your age, gender, orientation or income, it doesn’t make a difference.
PGN: How do you reach people and talk about this issue?
WOE: A myriad of ways, through YouTube, radio and print interviews, in my book series and in seminars and workshops on the subject matter. And I’m involved in something called, “Positive Affirmations,” which is a bold community effort focused on MSM (men who have sex with men) of color. It’s a space where we can talk about issues that are often taboo to talk about, these types of things. We don’t pass judgment or give advice, we just listen and talk. There’s also a lot of information about IPV/A on my website. I’m trying to get people talking about it from as many angles as I can. There’s still such a stigma attached, especially when it comes to men, because let’s be honest, no man wants to admit that another man is kicking his ass. So the stigma is a huge impediment to getting out of the situation. It’s the albatross around your neck.
PGN: I also think that in the LGBTQ community, we try to put our best face forward to the public. We want to seem like we’re a loving, cohesive community without the peaky things like domestic violence that plagues heterosexuals. We want to keep the uglier side hidden.
WOE: Yes, and in the African-American community, we also have so much else to deal with, racism, economic inequality. The church is also very dominate, which all makes it harder for LGBTQ people to make what I call “The Great Escape” to get out of an abusive situation. Not to mention that it can be a very small community, so it’s hard to truly get away when you don’t want anyone to know what’s going on.
PGN: I also wonder if some of it comes from our cultural acceptance of personal violence.
WOE: You make an excellent point, and a lot of that culturally goes all the way back to slavery when it was acceptable and common practice for a slave master to beat a slave and have the children witness it regularly. You become desensitized, and it eventually becomes normal behavior. Corporal punishment has become a tradition in many Black homes. The partner who abused me, had been abused by his father, who also abused his mother, both physically and mentally, so it’s also a learned behavior.
PGN: What’s a breakthrough moment you recall from some of the work you’ve done?
WOE: I’m a strong advocate for counseling, which is another thing that can be stigmatized in the Black community. Too many of our folks think that going to therapy is something only white people do. So in meetings, I don’t preach, but I do talk about the benefits of and how therapy helped me. There was a situation with a guy who was engaging in some very destructive behavior. As he was talking, I was seeing various patterns that he wasn’t understanding that he was doing. I was able to let him know that not only was his situation not as hopeless as he was painting, but that maybe trying to talk to someone would help. He did, and hopefully it has helped.
PGN: Let’s go to something a little less serious. When did you start doing standup comedy?
WOE: Well, I started off as an actor, in the ’80s and ’90s. I don’t know if you remember the Discovery Channel Show. “The New Detectives,” but I had a lead role on an episode of that where I played David Middleton, who was a former cop turned serial killer. Around the same time, I was doing comedy. Wanda Sykes was actually on the same circuit as me, but she managed to do a little better! Comedy is tough. You have to really know who you are, and I wasn’t ready for it.
PGN: Your first kiss?
WOE: I was a late bloomer, and, in fact, as I was exploring my sexuality, I had a rule that I would never kiss a guy on the mouth. I think I somehow thought that meant I wasn’t totally gay. It was just a bodily function rather than an emotional connection. But when I met my first partner, he was a great kisser and forget fireworks going off, it was a volcano!
PGN: Tell me about Wyatt’s Man Cave.
WOE: Ah, my radio show! It’s produced by one of your former Portraits, Jazzy Gray-Sadler from LesBe Real Media (www.lesberealradio.com). It’s an online talk show about issues that impact gay men. We have the occasional guest and frank discussions on a myriad of topics. I like to call it an eargasm for grown folk!
You can order copies of “Frenzy” and find more information on Evans at wyattevans.com.Catch Wyatt’s Man Cave Thursdays at 5 p.m. at mixcloud.com/wyatt-obrian-evans.