In exactly two weeks, we will be celebrating our 5th Anniversary of blogging for the community. Five years. Wow. And many people thought (and wished) that we would not make it this long.
If Cypher Avenue is like a college fraternity, then Discreet City was our High School locker room. A place where the fellas felt free to discuss any and everything, no matter whose feathers we ruffled. And ruffle feathers we did.
There has been no website created for and by the Black gay community as controversial as Discreet City/Cypher Avenue…sometimes for good reason. We pissed off the gay feminists, we pissed off the white gays, we pissed off some of our fellow bloggers and content creators…we even often pissed off each other.
One of my close friends called this site “The Fox News of the Gay Community” due to our assertive masculine-leaning point of view and frank discussion on taboo issues.
We were just two guys (myself and Ocky Williams), frustrated with the lack of websites and online communities that we could relate to as Black gay men. Instead of arguing for others to cater their spaces to fit our interests, we decided to build our own.
We never realized that we’d be showing thousands of fellow gay men that they were not alone, helping to give them courage to come out of the closet to friends and family, creating a space for them to connect offline with others like themselves, and that this site would eventually become one of the leading Black gay websites in the entire world (no lie, we have the stats to prove it).
Today we look back at our not-so-humble beginnings.
This was the original banner and menu bar for this website. A new subtitle would often be swapped out depending on how we were feeling that week. For two men with no experience running or building a professional website, everyday was on-the-job training.
The origin story of our site has been told by us before, but for the new Squad Members:
Back in 2010, I had been exploring the gay spaces online and posting in the BGCLive forums for about a year before I got frustrated. Just about every blog, YouTube video, Blog Talk Radio show and podcast were strictly from a feminine or fem-leaning point of view.
So I approached my homeboy Ocky about starting up a blog. Nothing major, just a place to share our interests without talk of Divas, shadiness, messiness and the stereotypes associated with Black gay men. Ocky argeed, but he had bigger goals than me. He wanted to make the site more of a Men’s Magazine. Big dreams, but we had to crawl before we could run a 6-minute mile.
I wanted a simple online journal, he wanted a Black gay Maxim Magazine. As a compromise, we decided to keep the causal “random musings” blog type feel, but also create separate categories for the posts to fall under, giving the semblance of a real website (as seen above). Next we needed a name.
After a lot of bad brainstorming, we came up with a name: Discreet City.
It flowed off the tongue and it automatically embodied what we were about in real life. Not defined by our sexuality, but still embracing it. It seemed perfect and non-threatening (or so we thought).
We focused-grouped the name with friends and got thumbs up across the board. Then we set about to figure out what the site would be about. At that time, we had no experience with the politics within the gay community itself. We had no idea that words like Masculine and Discreet were such trigger words for anger in some.
Remember, this is 2011. Back then gay men were still actively calling each other DL and saying “must be masculine” when looking for dates and hookups. Hell, they still do that NOW.
So when we came up with the text for our very first post on August 24th, 2011, we thought we were being very respectful and welcoming:
In hindsight, I can see where the problems were with this text. But again, this is BEFORE Jason Collins and Michael Sam, BEFORE Frank Ocean, BEFORE Kaldrick King, BEFORE Fly Young Red, BEFORE Freefall and all of the other Black gay web series that have come since.
Back then, the typical black gay websites only focused on these Female singers/rappers, Gay Porn & Porn Stars, News about Homophobic Attacks on Gay men and Trans Women and HIV/AIDS Awareness.
Seriously, that was pretty much it.
So we did our own thing. We only had a few rules: No celebrity gossip, no pornography and no cat-fights in the comments section.
To give you an idea here are some of the posts we released:
Our first official “article” was a film review, something that many other gay sites weren’t doing at the time. Many of them still don’t.
My first essay may have been about sex, but it wasn’t tips on how to be a better Bottom, like we’d seen on other websites and video blogs. It was a real discussion on how little HIV is actually discussed between men when hooking up or dating.
After only 3 posts, we already started to get push-back. One of the comments on this essay wasn’t on the topic and points brought up, it was a tongue-lashing on the images used. I was accused of “HIV Shaming” by having the banner image depicting a man sexually engaged with a scorpion.
Ocky’s first article was not about Beyonce or Lil Kim, it was instead about little known gay Civil Rights icon Bayard Rustin.
Following that, I posted an article that revealed to many gay A Tribe Called Quest fans that the group had once recorded one of the most Homophobic rap songs ever.
The following day, Ocky wrote an essay endorsing the benefits in adult Black gay men traveling more.
Notice the dates on these previous posts, they are all written within the FIRST WEEK of the site’s existence. We were setting the foundation for something different. Something non-stereotypical.
Eventually, we started to build an audience. Without a single advertisement on any websites. By word of mouth, the site gained traction. Unique essays, articles and advice posts like the following were shared on social media and even on hookup sites:
One thing that made me most proud was the community of commenters we had by this time. Notice in most of these posts there are tons of comments. On many gay blogs, they’re lucky to get 5 comments, if any at all. We were averaging 30-40 per post, and many of them were not short, they were long essays in themselves.
Given our strict, no-shade-allowed stance in the Comments Section, guys felt at home & comfortable to share their opinions, no matter how long-winded they were.
The site had grown beyond leaps and bounds. Those who were fans of the site back then will probably remember how often it would crash due to visitor overloads (we were housed on a cheap server at the time). I was so proud of our work here, that I screen-grabbed these stats when we hit over 1 Million Pageviews after only a year and a half:
THEN CAME THE CONTROVERSY
Little did we know, there was a growing disdain for the site and what it represented by black gay feminists on the Internet. I can’t say it came without provocation. In discussing all topics, no matter how taboo, we pushed a few buttons. For example, there was this one:
And then there was this one:
And then another one:
And this one:
The effeminate Black gay blog feminists went ape-shit.
Even though only about 5% of the total posts on Discreet City/Cypher Avenue were about Femininity/Masculinity, we had growing reputation as a site being populated with Dow Low Masc Fem-Bashers who wanted to eliminate feminine gay men from the world.
I rarely shied away from a good discussion on the critiques with them, but it always ended with them getting frustrated and blocking us.
Then they started blogging about us!
Can you fucking believe that?! We were the topics of conversation in blogs! To this day it makes me smile.
It first began with internet-popular Black gay feminist, Anti-intellect:
He went on to write more from there but you get the gist of it.
Then came criticism came from one of the current biggest Black gay bloggers in the game, Funky Dineva:
Then we got attacked on the pages of Huffington Post of all places:
While I didn’t mind the criticism, it was becoming exhausting. I get it, we were a site that criticized others, how hypocritical would it be for us to not be able to take it in return?
Ocky took the accusations of femmaphobia and internal homophobia more to heart than me, but we both eventually felt like it was time for a change.
The site, now being the subject of other major blogs, had grown out of its small beginnings. It was time for a remodeling. However, we weren’t necessarily “rebranding” a tarnished company. On the contrary, we were going to still be as brash, opinionated and controversial as ever. We just felt that it was time for Discreet City to graduate into the more robust platform, “Cypher Avenue.”
So this is why we don’t consider them to be two different sites. As a matter of fact, 97% of the articles that were posted on Discreet City were transferred over to the new server and Cypher Avenue.
So as we dive head first into year five, now with over a thousand articles, essays, reviews and posts, tons of podcasts and interviews, and a full modern message board with hundreds of users…I’m proud of the work we’ve done and thankful for the opportunity to contribute to the Black gay community.