Growing up 55 shades of gay in the ’90s, there were not a lot of places for a young whippersnapper like me to draw inspiration from what life could be like as an adult.
Friends? Too unseasoned.
Seinfeld? I don’t know her.
Fraiser? Cute, but for a six-year-old with a serious Princess Ariel obsession, not my swirl.
Thank Black Jesus that I had my girls, the girls of Living Single, an iconic program celebrating its 25th anniversary today.
Living Single, which starred Queen Latifah (Khadijah), Kim Coles (Synclaire), Kim Fields (Regine), Erika Alexander (Max), T.C. Carson (Kyle) and John Henton (Overton), was an unexpected hit on Fox that changed the game. And, for me, it was one of the first programs to give a realistic take on modern urban life through the stories it told.
I was all of six-years-old when the show premiered, but I remember sitting with my mother watching the characters and being mesmerized by the storylines. At that tender age, I obviously didn’t understand what was going on, but I knew it was a good thing from how my mother would react so positively to each scene. After all, my mother, like the majority of immigrant women, are hard to impress, so I knew Living Single was a winner from how she would laugh and engaged with the characters.
Fast-forward to 25 years later and Hulu announced that they were placing every single episode of Living Single on their platform. When that announcement happened I did two things: 1) Thanked my dad for his on-time payment to the streaming service that allowed me access, and 2) canceled all my foreseeable plans for the next week.
Re-watching the episodes, I was instantly transported back to my mother’s room and became that six-year-old boy who was enamored by those four women in their Brooklyn brownstone. Being gay, I didn’t have many characters to look to growing up, so I turned to black women and these four women, in particular, shaped how I viewed love, career and friendships.
The characters on the program were #goals before I even knew I had them. Because of this show, I knew I wanted to live in New York City (which is where I reside now), and no one exemplified that NYC hustle like Queen Latifah’s Khadijah James. She, along with my father, taught me the importance of “making it work.” Khadijah’s struggles destroyed the romanticized version of New York that many got with programs like HBO’s Sex and the City, and gave a realistic view of what it’s like to live in the Big Apple. One is the fact that Khadijah owned an entire magazine and still had to have a part-time job delivering pizza and had to call on the help of roommates to afford that pesky monthly thing called rent.
Khadijah and Maxine’s careers were the most appealing to me. Earlier in life I ended up leaning towards Max’s career of being a lawyer because in an immigrant household you have four career paths: lawyer, doctor, engineer or failure. After my brief stint with the LSAT, I knew that was not the life for me, so I moseyed on to the fourth category of immigrant jobs and settled on being a creative. It’s because of Khadijah that I am in a field that I love at The Root, which is what I affectionately call the 2018 version of Flavor Magazine.
Living Single captured dating in a major city perfectly and gave you more than just happily ever afters. It showed you the good, the bad and the one night stands, but not once did the characters let their pursuit of love make them lose sight of their goals.
One character who ended up shaping my dating life and feelings towards men was Maxine Shaw, Attorney at Law. Max was strong and wasn’t about to tone it down to please a man. She was a mood. Being that I too have a strong personality, Max was a breath of fresh air. You were gonna get all of her and you better had been grateful to even be in her presence. She wasn’t about to dim her light to make your light shine. She was a maverick and you should approach her as such.
Her back and forth with Kyle shaped the way I approach men to this day. Like her, I will throw insults to show my affection, while simultaneously masking my true feelings of lust and desire for you. My mouth is telling you that you’re incompetent, but my mind is currently picking out our wedding colors and names for our children. I’ve settled on Phoebe. After a night of passion Max told Kyle, “If I hear one word of this, I will kill you, burn you and salt the earth where I bury you.” This to me was biblical and stuck with me to this day because setting things on fire is a way of life. Her way of throwing insults to show her love for a guy is currently how I navigate my own love life. I am currently still single, so I might want to revisit this approach. Stay tuned.
Then there was Khadijah, she was a BAWSE and it was always amazing to me that men were not only attracted to her looks but were also turned on by her drive and aspirations. Khadijah showed me that while appearance is important, you have to have more going for you than that. Khadijah had them all from doctors to professional athletes and not once was she insecure about who she was or what she could bring to the table. Hell, she was the damn table and you’d be lucky if your black ass got a seat.
Lest we not forget about Regine and Synclaire, who were both important factors. Synclaire was just out here thinking a spoon full of sugar and a troll doll could solve all of life’s issues. Her desire for a happily ever after birthed my hopeless romantic persona and showed me that you probably have to go to Brooklyn to find love because there are no tops in Harlem (that’s a story for another day).
Regine’s pursuit of love was different from the other ladies because she wanted to be a kept woman and live in New York, which I totally get it because the rent is too damn high. But aside from her gold-digging, she made me realize that I deserve a man who has goals and aspirations, and not one who is reminiscent of a TLC ’90s bop, also known as a busta. I guess I can thank Regine for being as deep as a puddle when it comes to picking the men who I date. She was always with a F-I-N-E brotha, but they all ended up wasting her time and selling her a dream. There’s a message somewhere in there, but I am too busy looking at this thirst trap to further investigate.
The characters were tight-like-glue, and though weren’t tied by blood, were family. Whenever Khadijah had issues at work? Her friends were there. When Regine had yet another trouble with a man? Her girls were present. When Synclaire was trying to find her way in the world? They all came together to give her advice. When Max was facing an issue at work or with her relationships? They gave her a listening ear and an open fridge.
There was a specific episode where Khadijah was nervous about going on a date and her girls were right there with advice and medication to help calm her nerves. Upon finding out that the pills Max gave her were tranquilizers, each and everyone ran to her aid to save her from what would turn into a nightmare. The night was a mess and it was totally Max’s fault, but her intentions were good and the episode, along with many more, showed that these girls had each other’s backs.
The girls were loyal to each other and formed a sisterhood that was impenetrable by any man. Even when Synclaire married Overton or Kyle finally crossed the burning sands into Max’s life, the women still held on to their friendship and remained close. This example of friendship is why I’m one of the most loyal people my friends will ever meet and always provide an ear to listen or a pan of deliciously seasoned jerk chicken to drown their sorrows in.
At 30, Living Single has played a significant part in my life. It molded my views on being young and single, and the show was even the inspiration behind my baby sister’s name. In my career, I’ve been able to interview Queen Latifah and Kim Coles and those two interviews are among the highlights of my life. In an interview with Coles, she told me that the show was filled with positive and progressive images for black people in this country, with ups and downs filled with laughter and love, and those examples are why this series has stood the test of time.
Since the premiere in 1993, the series has been on someone’s network blessing the masses and it was a gift to see black love, black struggle and black success showcased in such a relatable way. Living Single walked so shows like Girlfriends and The Parkers could run and help give young black kids something to aspire to. And for that I’m forever grateful. Smooches.