It's been eleven years since the night of the E. Lynn Harris book signing. I am a poet and a writer and I shopped regularly at the now defunct Education 2000 Plus bookstore in the East Arts Village community of Downtown Long Beach.
Marie, the owner, reminded me to stop by that Thursday evening to meet E. Lynn Harris. There were stacks of his books on tables at the store. Invisible Life, And this too shall pass, If this world were mine. They were stories of Black Men, Gay Black Men in hiding, under assault!
I didn't come to the book signing but on Friday when I stopped by again, Marie was waiting on me!
Marie: "Why didn't you come to the book signing?"
Jaycee: " I was busy and couldn't make it!" I lied.
Marie: "You should have come. You would have been able to meet him. His books are great!"
Jaycee: " Marie, I don't wanna read Gay Black Man Fiction!"
Marie: "IT'S NOT GAY BLACK MAN FICTION! It's great stories!"
Jaycee: Ok, then I will buy a few books. So I went and grabbed the one that had the least offensive covers to me.
Marie: "No, You've got to read them in order."
Jaycee: "Well, what's the first one?"
Marie: " That one!"
She'd pointed to the one that I'd avoided the most!
INVISIBLE LIFE! One the cover were two light skinned Black Men wearing corporate button down shirts. Did they look like the stereotypical Gay Men that I had seen? No!
But I picked up Invisible life and went home determined to read what the buzz was about. I began to read the first line. "There is something poetic about falling in Love."
I continued to read as the book introduced me to Raymond Tyler Jr and his search for Perfect. Raymond, a law student, was the son of a prominent Black Judge. He belonged to a popular Black Frat and had a high school sweetheart cheerleader girlfriend. In his last year in College he met Kelvin, a Freshman football recruit. Kelvin, was also openly and proudly Bi-sexual and fearless in spite of the danger of being so at a conservative Black Institution where Homosexuality was frowned upon and could be punished with violence.
He is seduced! Turned on and out and begins a secret relationship with Kelvin. The book wasted no time with getting into the sex cause at the start of the third chapter Kelvin had seduced Raymond. I threw that book from my hands like it was on fire! There it sat in my living room untouched for weeks. I loaned it to a female co worker! She gave it back! She couldn't read it! She was a Christian and just couldn't get through it!
I sat down and decided that no book would scare me. So I began to read about Raymond and Kyle, Kelvin and Cindy and their lives. The torture and anger that they felt. Kyle, Quinton and Raymond were Black Men trying to make it! Yet! Raymond was in love with Nicole and yet could not commit fully to her. It was the 1980's and AIDS was mowing people down like a machine gun!
When I finished the book I hated E. Lynn Harris! I HATED E. Lynn Harris! When a friend asked me why Hate? I said, cause he made me care about people who I didn't want to know. He showed them to be all too human.
It is now, that I am over a decade older and have seen more life that I reflect on his death. E. Lynn Harris has passed on at the age of 54 in Los Angeles, California. I never got another chance to meet him. That's alright!
I think that E. Lynn was able to tell a story. His story! I think that he was able to put a real face on Being Gay and Black and what that means? He was able to show folks, Black Men in all their complexity and Black gay Men in theirs as well. Gone was the stereotypical gay man, the church boy, the sissy!
Raymond was a Man! And admit it did anyone guess there would ever be a character like John "Basil" Henderson? The NFL football player who insisted that he wasn't gay! He just liked to kick it sometimes! If Basil had not existed I doubt that a character like Omar Little from the Wire could exist either.
He reminded us that "Those Gay People" were our Brothers and Sisters! Aunts and Uncles. Friends! He reminded us that people were ultimately flawed and complex but even more..
Sleep well E. Lynn!
BE Prayerful! BE Mindful! BE Careful!