NY Ink's Robear Chinosi Speaks Out
Robear Chinosi challenged gay stereotypes as the out, loud, and proud floor manager from the TLC show NY Ink. The New York native added his own colorful stamp on the world of the tattoo industry and doesn’t think young gay people should be discouraged form perusing a carrier in any field simply because they don’t fit a stereotype. As the show’s season came to a close last week, Robear opened up with gay.com about his experience on the show, breaking down barriers, and working in a macho industry.
How did you become involved in the tattoo industry?
I was working for a construction design company for 12 years and I got laid off because the economy crashed. Nobody was really building in New York City and competition was fierce. My friend owned a tattoo shop in Long Island, New York called High Roller and she said, “Come over and manage my tattoo shop.” So I said yes and everything spun off from there. TLC found me at High Roller, did a test shoot and then hired me the next week after seeing me in action.
How have things changed for you since you’ve been on the show?
Socially, I’m sill single. Always have been actually. I’ve never had a boyfriend and I’m in my mid-thirties. I’m just very career driven. With that being an aspect of my life I consider love a luxury. I date here and there, casually more than anything, but no long-term relationships.
Professionally, being on TV is a really interesting experience. You get invited to parties; people come up to you [wanting] your autograph and to take pictures with you. It’s been a very fun experience, but at the same time it’s been one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. You’re spending 10, 12, 14 hours a day with your co-workers and fellow cast members and it’s a hard job. There are a lot of egos. There’s a lot of gossiping and there’s a lot going on that you have to deal with.
What was it like trying to run a business on television?
That was a little hard to deal with. All day long the cameras are constantly rolling and they catch everything. I’d say after about day 3, I started to forget that the cameras were there because I was so focused on doing a good job as a manager in a real business. I was very fixated on [the details of the business because] it was being filmed. I wanted to make sure that everything met the health code standards of a New York tattoo shop. So I [took] no prisoners. If you got in my way you suffered my alter ego, the “Robeast” when you got me angry, but when you were friendly and being a team player, I was Robear.
Tattoo parlors are seen by most people as being firmly planted in the realm of macho, heterosexual men. Was it difficult being openly gay in an industry where gay people have very little visibility?
It’s more difficult. It’s almost like back in the day when women had to prove themselves in the “manly” corporate world. It’s a similar parallel because I have to work a lot harder to prove myself because I’m not as masculine; I’m not as street. I think that the straight men at the shop—or any other shop—would see that as a weakness and test me. But you just have to stand your ground and be firm…because my being gay has nothing to do with [the job.] I’m there to run the floor of an actual business. Yes, it’s on a network, but [it’s still] generating income. I really try not to focus on the gay thing. If other people get fixated on it that’s [their problem.]
How did the heterosexual men in your shop react to you? Were you teased?
I do admit I’m an oddity of some sorts. They’ve never seen a heavily tattooed gay [who is] slightly flamboyant, but also has butch qualities. The straight guys tease me…for things like…my bag that I carry everything in [saying,] “Is that a purse?” and I say, “No, it a man-bag. It’s called a murse.” I try to make jokes about it. Yeah, I’m teased, but as long as it’s not coming from a vicious, hatful place and they aren’t attacking me then I can go with the flow.
Do you feel that being open in such a macho profession makes you a role model for young gays that might be watching your show?
I can only hope to be a role model for other gay men or [even] straight men who [might] question our ability or our strength. I not only work with [straight men] but I’m an authority figure.
Growing up gay is never easy, but if you could take something from this experience and share it with your younger self, what would it be?
You know, being gay we face more adversity than most people. I could look back on all the bad things that I’ve been though, but I actually want to thank everybody who gave me a problem because they made me that stronger person [who] is now seen on TV. I don’t take shit from anyone and it’s because of how I grew up and all the teasing. Back then I was the victim, but now…with the TV show as a platform I am victorious. So I won in the end.