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EXCLUSIVE: Inside ‘Queer Power Couples’ with Slay TV’s Sean & Terry Torrington

What does it mean to be a power couple? For many queer people, the definition lies in the recognition that we can and do find love. Hannah Murphy Winter and Billie Winter wanted to explore the idea even further by compiling original interviews and photographs that showcase 14 trailblazing couples.

The result is Queer Power Couples: On Love and Possibility (May 7, 2024, Chronicle Books). The authors explain in the inspiration and need for the book:

“We realized that perhaps the reason this book hadn’t been made yet was, because up until the last ten years, that intersection was pretty empty. And we had to recognize that the emptiness of that intersection was intentional: the result of decades of erasure and losing a generation of elders to the AIDS crisis, and not being able to see queer people grow up and age. And that was why everyone in this book talked about sifting for scraps — searching for allusions to queerness in popular culture to find proof that we’re not alone.

INTO is excited to share an exclusive excerpt featuring Slay TV co-founders Sean Torrington and Terry Torrington:

Slay TV co-founders Sean and Terry Torrington
Slay TV co-founders Sean and Terry Torrington. Photo by Billie Winter.

When we first started working on this book, every few weeks, I would google “queer power couples”—I wanted to see who people were talking about, who’d gotten together, who’d broken up. While I scrolled, Sean and Terry Torrington almost always popped up. The co-founders of Slay TV, a streaming network dedicated to Black queer entertainment, seemed to always exist in the public eye together. So, in early 2021, we reached out excited to talk to them about their experience with running the platform as a couple.

“Terry and I have been separated for some time now,” Sean wrote back. But he wasn’t declining our request for an interview. “We’ve maintained our relationship while running our business and still have so much love for each other … and are now as close as family,” he wrote. “Is there still space to be a part of this book?”

They ended up being our first interview. Sean said that their “journey of uncoupling is just a valuable as being a couple.” And we figured if this project was about finding maps of queer futures, separating is one of those maps.

They don’t agree on all the details of how they met—“Who spotted who first?” Terry says. “There’s always gonna be two different versions”—but they do agree on a couple of things: They met on the dance floor at a house party in Brooklyn and a guy named Mush was involved.

Terry: My version is that I spotted him first, because I was in the kitchen with my friend Mush. We were getting drinks, and I saw Sean come into the kitchen, greeting people, making his rounds, being the mayor. He smiled, and I’m like, “Oh, he has a really cute smile.”

And that was it. And later on in that evening, I was on the dance floor, you know, with my Corona, just doing my little two-step, and my friend Mush tapped me, and I turned around, and Sean is there. He’s like, “Sean, this is Terry. Terry, this is Sean.”

Sean: Okay, so before Terry even comes to the party, I already had it down—I was gonna find my boyfriend that night. Because I was tired of being single.

Terry: I’m not gonna lie. When I went to that party that night, I was on the opposite end of the spectrum from Sean. I’m going out to have fun. Because I had just started talking to a guy that wasted my time. And I’m like, “F**k all this dating stuff. I’m young. I’m single. Let me just have fun.” And then I met him. And then here we are eleven years later.

Sean: As I’m shuffling through the crowd, I see Terry. I spotted him because he had very, very nice teeth. And I’m a teeth person. So I was like, “Okay, he’s dark-skinned. He has nice teeth. And he looks like me.”

I saw Mush. I just asked him, “Is that your boyfriend?” So Mush just turns around: “Terry, this is Sean. Sean, this is Terry.” I was just like, “Oh, my God, that is so corny.”

They agree to disagree on who saw who first. And ultimately, it didn’t matter. In their web series Love @ First Night—which is based on that night at that party—they caught each other’s eyes at the same time: Terry in the kitchen, Sean on the dance floor. It became Slay TV’s first show.

Sean: In the beginning, it was the coolest thing to have Black queer people be represented in media. And you didn’t see that representation a lot in 2010. Slowly but surely, though, the community was putting us on this pedestal of, like, “relationship goals.”

Terry: Before I met Sean, I was very much not out to my family and to close friends and stuff. But I always make the joke that Sean is the mayor of the Black queer community in New York City. So everyone knows who he is. And then we started working together creatively—working through video, and press, and things like that, and it just started to become a normal part of my life.

Sean: For me personally, we were really showing representation of two first-generation, masc-presenting, West Indian, dark-skinned Black men. You don’t ever see this.

Terry: And it showed a lot because sometimes we’ll be out on the train, and an old lady would be staring at us. And she’d be like, “Are you two brothers?” Sean will be the one that’d be like, “No, this is my man.” And people just get this weird, like, shock. It was always the same reaction every single time.

We were really showing representation of two first-generation, masc-presenting, West Indian, dark-skinned Black men. You don’t ever see this.

Sean Torrington

In person, you can see the remains of that dynamic. Terry’s still a little quieter, hanging back, while Sean practically two-steps down the sidewalk. Terry called him the mayor of the Black queer community, but it seems like he’s the mayor anywhere he goes. Walking through Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, he stops to talk to someone he knows on almost every block. 

It’s been three years since they separated, and they’re clearly still figuring out the contours of their relationship. Because of Slay TV, their separation was never going to be a clean break, and it gave them an opportunity to pick and choose the parts of their marriage they wanted to hold close and the parts they’d grown out of.

They’re still the Torringtons—Sean took Terry’s name when they got married, and he has no interest in giving it back. They’re still regulars at the same restaurant they always went to—a vegan spot on Nostrand Avenue called Aunts et Uncles—and everyone there still recognizes them as a unit.

“And secondly,” Sean says, “we’re still married.”

Terry: I try to explain this to everyone—we’re still together but in a different capacity. It’s still like family—I still check in on him and listen to stories about what’s going on with his family and vice versa.

Sean: Most people that we have spoken to are like, “How do you do that? I can never be friends with my ex.” I’m like, “Were you friends from the beginning?” It’s that unconditional love, knowing that, no matter what, this person has my back.

Throughout our conversations, we talk a lot about the intersection of their queerness with the hypermasculinity and homophobia that they encountered in West Indian culture.

In particular, it meant that they had no access to any semblance of queer imagery. So they found it wherever they could.

Terry: It was Lamar Latrell from Revenge of the Nerds. Lamar was the first person I recognized as queer. I wanted to be him. I was probably like four or five when I saw that. And that embodiment of him—it made me know it was okay to just be so colorful, because he was so different. And it was normal—watching my family watch it and just laugh at him, it’s just like, it’s on TV, so it’s okay. He was my gay icon growing up before I even knew what gay was.­

Sean: I don’t know if I had a queer icon growing up—I think I’d spend so much time running away from that part of myself that I didn’t. It was the divas at the time that really felt like icons to me—Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston—just seeing them free in their femininity and being fabulous in sparkly dresses and singing that really woke it up for me.

Acceptance was a slow roll for both of their families.

Terry: My father said he already knew. All he said to me was, “Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s not your fault. Just don’t embarrass me.” Whatever that meant. To this day, I still don’t know what he meant by that.

Sean: My mother said the same thing.

Terry: It’s probably a Caribbean thing. With my mother, the part with her was more the “devastation” because she’s like, “Oh, you’re not going to give me grandchildren.”

But for the next generation, they’ve had a chance to crack open some doors in their families.

Sean: My nephew is queer. I kind of knew at a very young age. I knew when he was four because, when we was in the room voguing and stuff, like, he was so fascinated with it. And me, his mother, and my friends would be voguing, and he would try to vogue. And now he’s voguing at balls.

Terry: He’s 23. He is so amazing.

Spending time with them, it was clear that Sean and Terry have a lot of the same shorthand. They credit it to being two Black, masc, dark-skinned, first-generation, West Indian gay men in the same industry; they move through similar worlds in similar ways.

Another factor, I think, is that they’ve both clearly grown so much because of each other.

Sean: I learned the power of being still and doing the inner work and seeing that someone can actually heal from certain traumas. This journey that Terry went through—I’ve seen him become this kind of illustrious being. And I’m like, “Wow, he’s in a different plane right now. I need purpose.”

Queer Power Couples, written by Hannah Murphy Winter and photographed by Billie Winter, is available May 7, 2024.

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