Chris Conde: On Being a Sober Queer Rapper

Gay/Lesbian, Queer / Thursday, August 22nd, 2019
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Chris Conde’s life has been colored by dualities. He is half Mexican and half Eastern European. He knew he was gay but tried to live as a straight person due to religion. He doesn’t feel like a cis man, but he doesn’t feel like a woman either. He spends his days as a journalist at a magazine, and he spends his evenings rapping at music venues. He now seamlessly blends all of these identities together, but it wasn’t always so easy. 

From a very young age, Conde knew there was something different about him, from his mixed race to his eccentric tendencies. He also figured out very young that he was attracted to men, but his Catholic upbringing led him to believe this was wrong. Conde tried to suppress it, though he eventually began coming out to some loved ones. But after attending a Christian retreat, Conde had a spiritual experience and began a renewed effort to live life as a straight man. 

It only worked for so long. Soon after, he began abusing alcohol and struggled with addiction. He tried to use it to drown out his identity, along with lingering trauma from being molested as a child and raped in high school. After years of struggle, Conde finally got sober five years ago. 

While he’d always loved writing poetry and listening to hip hop, once he got sober, he decided to start channeling his emotions through rap. It not only helped him process his pain, but doors began opening. Conde, who currently lives in San Antonio, Texas, now performs all over Texas for both up-and-coming and established rap and hip hop artists. I first came across him when he was performing at a local music festival in San Antonio earlier this year, and he performed an incredible rap called “Growing up Gay” about his difficult youth and struggles with his sexuality. 

After writing an op-ed for a local magazine, The San Antonio Current, about a local rapper’s homophobia, it opened even more doors. Conde, whose previous job experience was as a barista, was asked to start freelance writing for them. He excelled and was eventually hired, and he’s currently the publication’s only full-time queer staff writer. He says he works about 90 hours a week between rapping and writing, but he wouldn’t change a thing.  

Conde, now 32, currently identifies as bi-gender and responds to any pronoun. He also identifies queer, and he wears it proudly on his chest (literally, it’s tattooed across his body). LGBTQ youth often come to his shows, and he recognizes the importance of his visibility. While his body doesn’t fit into the typical gay stereotype, Conde has also learned that life is too short to not accept himself as he is right now. 

This is Conde’s story of struggling to accept his identity, overcoming alcohol addiction, turning to rap to process his feelings and using his queer visibility for good. 

Profiles in Pride: When did you start realizing that you were queer?

Chris Conde: So I’m an alcoholic; I’ve been sober for five years. I always felt different, and I think I had untreated alcoholism as a child. I think people are born alcoholic, with the disease of alcoholism. And being brown, even though I was light-skinned, and having white parents — I was raised by my mom and stepdad. I always felt super different. I always took things to the edge and to the extreme. I’ve always been super eccentric. 

I remember we used to watch “The X Files” when I was growing up. This was when we were living in Washington, D.C. My parents were military, so we lived all over; I went to elementary school in D.C., middle school in Guam, high school in Turkey and Japan, and college in Baltimore and outside Philadelphia. 

I remember watching “The X Files,” and looking at Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny. I remember as a little kid being attracted to him, not knowing what that was, but knowing it was different. I think through middle school I just knew, yeah, I’m gay. We were raised kind of Catholic; not super Catholic, but society had already taught me being gay wasn’t cool. 

In my rap “Growing up Gay,” I talk about seeing “Will and Grace” on TV and seeing queer people as main characters. That started to make me feel OK, to see that gay people exist. But I still wasn’t OK with it. When I was 13 and living in Turkey, I came out to my mom over the phone; she was living in Florida. I told her I was gay. She said, “I think you’re just going through a phase.” I said, “How many people go through gay phases?” 

Chris Conde, a queer rapper in San Antonio, Texas

Looking back, it was 2000. PrEP didn’t exist. It had only been a decade since the height of the AIDS crisis. I struggled with myself. I remember walking down the street when I was 13 years old, talking to my conception of a higher power. I was looking to the sky and saying, “God, I don’t want to be gay. I don’t want this.” 

It was a long journey, but I moved to Japan and went on this Christian retreat. I had a spiritual experience, and I came back saying, “Now I’m a Christian, and I can’t be gay because you’re not supposed to gay.” I had come out already — people knew me as gay — and then I said I was straight. 

I was in 10th grade and I was all kinds of confused. It was this weird thing, because I think that spiritual experience was something I needed to have, but for whatever reason, I somehow still believed there was something wrong with being gay. It was really weird, but I think having that spiritual experience saved my life in some way. Because I’d just been raped the year before that, and I’ve worked through a lot of that trauma already. But I think I had such low self worth that I didn’t know how to process that. So going on that retreat and having a spiritual experience kept me alive for the next couple years. 

PIP: How did you eventually come to terms with your sexuality?

CC: I got into drinking a lot, and that eventually led me into sobriety. Sobriety led me to releasing this old idea of a higher power, which was this god that said there was something wrong with me. The whole “hate the sin, love the sinner” bullshit — how do I hate the sin if it’s part of me?

I remember having a really hard time. I was just like, “I don’t give a fuck if I do have to go to hell, I’m just trying to stay sober at this point, so I need to release this idea that I have of myself to survive.” I remember five years ago, just surrendering all these old ideas I had. “OK, new God, new higher power, new something: help me stay sober.” 

In that process, I reached out to a friend who was seven years sober. I’d helped him with drag shows in the past. I asked what he did, and he had me come over. He said, “I’ll tell you my story and how I got sober, and I want you to tell me what’s been going on with you, and in the mean time, I’m going to put you in drag.” 

I was two days sober, he put me in drag for the first time, and it was so healing. It was this weird God and queer experience that made me feel like, it’s OK to love yourself and be queer. It was this really intense thing, like, “Oh, there doesn’t have to be shame around this, this is just who we are.” Sobriety was the first real step toward really accepting myself and really acknowledging that it was OK for me to be queer, and it was something I could really celebrate. 

And it wasn’t so much celebrating myself, but celebrating the journey from internalized shame to internalized pride. I can’t change anything about myself and this is who I am. That’s what I started to write a lot about. 

I’ve been playing music and rapping for a long time, but I hadn’t really rapped about being gay, so I felt like it was super important to start talking about it and making myself very visible in the genre, because I think the genre still can be relatively homophobic. It’s gotten better, but I think it’s important, especially for the younger LGBT people who are coming up, and for straight people too, to show that we exist in all different spaces and all different mediums of art. We’re everywhere; we’re football players, we’re dancers, we’re singers, we’re painters, we’re engineers and architects and teachers — and rappers!  

PIP: Speaking of, how did you first get into rapping?

CC: I always wrote poetry; I think that was the quickest way for me to process the weightiness of life. I mentioned I’d been raped in high school, but I was repeatedly molested growing up too, so I had a lot of trauma. Life was just heavy, and I needed a way to actually write it out. So I turned to poetry, and I just kept writing. I also had mentors throughout high school who helped me with my writing.

Eventually I started a project with a friend out in Maryland and started writing hip hop. Friends affirmed that I was good and they said I should keep doing it. I didn’t believe them at first, but I eventually kept doing it because I thought it was fun. I’d say six or seven years ago was when I was like, “I really want to try and do this.”

When I got sober back in June 2014, I was 27, and I thought, “What am I supposed to do with my life now?” I felt like I’d wasted a lot of it drinking and using and feeling ashamed of myself. I thought, “Let’s put everything I can into trying to do hip hop.” As soon as I did that, doors just started flying open. I started getting all these opportunities to play music and open for a lot of big artists. I’ve opened for people like Big Freedia and Cupcake and really iconic artists in the queer world. 

I think it’s super important for people to recognize that along the way of doing that and pursuing my own music, I thought about opportunities to help uplift the LGBTQ community in San Antonio. I started this thing called Queers and Beers, an all-LGBTQ music showcase I throw once a year. I try to focus on a lot of new and up and coming LGBTQ artists and giving them a platform. I like to do it in spaces that are traditionally straight. 

PIP: Do young people ever reach out and say how important your visibility is as a queer rapper?

CC: Yeah, it’s really crazy; I have a lot of kids who have not come out yet to their parents that come to my shows. They tell me they don’t know what to do. It’s a really big thing with Hispanic and Latin families. One time, this girl came up to me and said, “I’m gay and I don’t know how to tell my dad.”

I said, “You take your time. Don’t be pressured to come out; you do what you need to do. But know that if your dad is not OK with who you are, that you are able to pick your own family and there is a huge community that’s ready to wrap their arms around you. So whenever you’re ready to come out, know that we are here too.” 

That’s the biggest thing for me — I didn’t know that existed. I don’t know if I would have come out so much later on had I known. But I knew there was something inside of me that was bursting and I needed to tell my family what was going on. Looking back, it happened the way it did. But I think it’s important for the youth, because it may be dangerous. A lot of people still get thrown out on the streets with this sort of thing. There are repercussions and it sucks, but for me I needed to live my truth in that moment even though I did get rejected from my family for it.

Two years ago I started the first gay radio show in San Antonio, Queer Vibes in 91.7 KRTU. Performer Alyson Alonzo runs it now. I wanted to be able to continue building a bigger community. I felt like I was experiencing a lot of success with my own pursuit. Then I got the job at The San Antonio Current, and I’ve been able to continue trying to give more queer people a platform and talk about queerness. There are a couple queer contributors, but I’m the only person on staff who’s gay that’s writing. 

Now it’s different; I’m in my thirties and they don’t really care so much anymore. But to answer your question, lots of kids, lots of queer youth have come up and are stoked to see me. I’m in my thirties but I have a baby face and I look kind of young, so I look sort of eccentric and can look like an older peer to them, so I’m approachable in that way. I think a lot of them look up to that and are encouraged by my being vocal about my queerness.

PIP: That’s amazing. I know you also sometimes go shirtless or wear form-fitting clothes, and you really embrace your figure. Would you say that body positivity part of your intentional message?

CC: I wouldn’t say specifically that — I don’t think I consciously was like, “Let’s be body-positive.” I just think it’s been a part of my journey of self-acceptance. A lot of people struggle with weight. I’m a big person, and I want to also celebrate my sexiness. We have to celebrate what we have. Shake what you got! Whatever it is, whether you feel too thin or too big, or too whatever, life is too short for us to wait for us to be a certain size. I need to love myself where I’m at right now. 

I can stay obsessing, like even little things, like, “I wish I had this little part of my arm filled in with tattoos,” or “I wish I was on tour in Europe.” Or whatever it is. But no, I need to celebrate where I’m at it right now. I’m a big kid right now, so I celebrate that. It’s all about freedom. While there’s some darkness in there, my message is about hope. In some of my songs, there’s a little bit of an ego trip; it’s mostly a nod to early hip hop, like, “I’m the shit.” But it’s basically saying everybody’s the shit, we’re all the shit in our own unique way. 

I think that’s my theme; that’s what I want people to leave with. I want people to realize there are struggles and we all struggle with all different sorts of stuff, but we’re all so unique and have something to bring to the table and to be able to share and help each other with. I believe our purpose on this planet is to be able to take the gifts we’ve been given. Like I’m an artist, so I’m supposed to take the art I have and be able to share some sort of hope through my own experiences so someone else can leave with hope.

I think ultimately, if we’re not so focused on trying and feeling upset with what we don’t have, and just accepting who we are, we have more time to love other people and share our experiences with other people to help them get free from other bullshit or bondage or negative thinking that they’re dealing with.

But I think it starts with us, our own healing and path. For me, it was getting sober, which taught me to love myself for being queer, which taught me to love myself for being big, which taught me to love myself for figuring it out and being OK with figuring it out along the way.

PIP: People say confidence is sexy; it’s cliche but so true!

CC: Yes, I don’t wake up and be like, “What’s up you sexy bitch, you ready to slay?” But I wake up and I go about my day, and I stopped waiting to buy the clothes I wanted to wear until I got skinny again. I was just like, I’m gonna rock whatever the fuck I want. If it’s a cutoff shirt that shows my belly, fuck it. I don’t care. If I’m gonna strip down to a leather jock on stage, whatever. 

Chris Conde, a queer rapper in San Antonio, Texas

PIP: Yes, I saw on your Instagram that you were wearing that at a recent show!

CC: It started because I was playing with some drag queen friends of mine, they asked if I could jump on this show at a weird sports bar I’d never heard of. Someone was having a birthday party and I was supposed to go on, but they were were trying to finish watching a football game.

I started my gig, and nobody was paying attention, but I happened to be wearing a leather jock and boots. I said, “Fuck this shit.” I turned up everything super loud, took off all my clothes, and jumped on the table. I was like, you’re going to pay attention. I’m here, and I’m gonna make everyone recognize what I’m doing! 

PIP: I love it. I know you’re also a staff writer at a local magazine, but this is your first foray into journalism. How did this become your career? 

CC: I went to school for Radio-TV-Film at Wilmington U outside of Philadelphia and did not finish. I dropped out and stayed in Maryland for a few more years, then I moved down to Texas 11 years ago. I’ve mostly been a barista and bartender.

In early 2016, there was another rapper in San Antonio who posted a transphobic and homophobic thing about Jaden Smith in a dress in a Louis Vuitton ad. He said, “This is the devil, boys shouldn’t wear girls clothes.” This guy had been voted #1 rapper by The San Antonio Current, and I’d played the same venues as this guy.

I messaged him and posted this thing, like, “Yo, you have a voice in San Antonio and this is very dangerous, because there could be queer kids and people looking up to you, and you’re saying this is wrong. This is how trans kids kill themselves.” 

He would delete my comments and he wouldn’t write back to me. I decided to take it to another level. I messaged the music editor at the time and told him about it. He said, “Why don’t you write an open letter to him and talk about homophobia and hip hop as a fellow rapper in San Antonio? I said OK and  wrote this whole thing. I was like, “Hey, this isn’t cool, but we’re all learning and we’re all struggling and figuring it out, and this is why it isn’t OK.”

I wasn’t completely tearing him down, but I was also like, “Hey, this is not OK. You’re forgiven, just don’t do it again.” It turned into this whole thing. It blew up and people really liked it, and then I got death threats from his whole rap crew. The editor at The San Antonio Current thought it was great; he was like, “You just went there and called this dude out! It was informed and well written.”

I was like, “Cool, I didn’t go to school for writing, but hey, sometimes I think my Facebook posts are insightful.” He said to let them know if I wanted to do more stories. So I got more work, and two months later the music editor left and they needed someone to pick up the slack. I basically freelanced for six months, and at the end of that six months they offered me a full-time gig. Week one of 2017 was when I got hired as a staff writer. I never thought I’d have a job like that.

Through different editors and staff writers, I’m learning how to tell stories better, and my own stories. I’m currently the only full-time writer who is queer. I’ve been able to talk about what pride is, and I’m able to talk about queer stuff in a straight publication. They’ve given me a lot of freedom to talk about a lot of different stuff, which I’ve been super grateful for. 

I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve gotten. I don’t just open up for queer artists; I get to open for a lot of touring underground hip hop artists that I’m friends with and who respect what I’m doing. Whenever they come on tour through Texas, a lot of times I’ll play their Texas dates. So I’m able able to be a queer person and to be in front of these audiences from Texas that are seeing yeah, there’s queer people and queer rappers in your community who are opening up as direct support for these artists who you also look up to that it’s OK to be who you are. 

PIP: In closing, how does rapping and expressing yourself that way help you?

CC: Music, especially lyrically — I don’t necessarily sit down and say, “I’m gonna write a rap about this.” It’s usually whatever just comes out comes out. What’s cool about that is whenever that shift goes from left to right brain and you get into full-on artistic mode, that’s when the raw authentic shit comes out. And I’m like, “I’m afraid of these things and this is why.” I’m able to get really real, and I’m able to talk about what it was like growing up gay, and the fears. 

At the end of last year I wrote another EP that’s coming out soon; I wrote about how my depression manifests in the form of not cleaning up after myself. Where I won’t do the dishes for a month or I won’t do my laundry and will just buy clothes so I’ll have dirty laundry in my house. They’re really embarrassing things to say as an adult, but it’s actual sickness; this is how my trauma and depression manifests itself. So I was learning to be able to get real and face it and seek help from it. A lot of my music has been that. 

Especially my last record, I talk about all different sorts of things. Getting sober, and a few songs I’d written before I got sober, which helped me get sober. I was like, “Wow this is super dark, I’m rapping it as I’m actually feeling it.” And getting sober and still feeling empty because I’m unlearning old behavior. Sobriety is essentially a journey to unlearning these defects of character that we taught ourselves as a form of survival. I’d manipulate and use and lie to people and myself get that next drink or drug for myself to feel OK. 

Early sobriety is a lot of unlearning that and learning how to process life without the solution of alcohol. My new solution has to be meditation and spending time with other people and serving other people and prayer. 

Writing lyrics basically forced me to see the truth, and that’s why it’s been so important and this amazing tool for me. I used to tell my friends when I was in the midst of depression, I wish I wasn’t — I’d rather have all my gifts stripped of me to not have to feel the depths of how I feel. A lot of artists, we feel things on a crazy level. It’s almost like we’re forced to be able to go there. To be able to try and reflect and communicate what it is to feel the darkest of darks and lightest of lights and everything in between. And all the colors and textures, and to try and reflect that to people. 

Lyrics and music have really been the biggest thing that’s saved my life and helped me really see life for what it is. My crazy mind needs it; having this tool has been a blessing, but it’s definitely a weighty one. 

Being sober now, it keeps me in check, especially writing songs. They say in sobriety, it’s like an onion, and there’s these different layers. I didn’t know five years ago if I was going to be willing to really see and deal with the trauma and depression I had. It’s only been the last year and a half that I’ve really faced the stuff, like cleaning up after myself and taking care of myself and really understanding that it came from being molested and raped in my early years. Music is a healing thing and I’m just grateful to have the tools to be able to process this life. 

Keep up with Chris on Instagram @chriscondetherapper.

All photos courtesy of Chris Conde.

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