The E. Lynn Harris Complex

By J Bell | Posted Mar 31 2015 | 32 Comments  

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I am no stranger to a good book, especially when It comes to fiction/fantasy genres.  The late E. Lynn Harris is notably one of the best writers of our time for this particular genre who catered to our community’s need for excitement, passion, mystery, and sexual appetite.  He was able to capture our deepest desires and emulate them almost flawlessly on paper. Although his style and bold works of LGBT writing has created milestones for our community, I fear that other authors seeking to imitate his style has both pigeon-holed these writers and if not addressed, could negatively affect the social make-up of our community.

Today I had the opportunity to read Jamaican American Thug Drama by J. S Lewis. Shortly after reading the first few chapters (riddled with grammatical errors), I sensed a familiar path of what this writer was trying to convey. I also later realized I had wasted 99 cents and 4 hours reading this novel. The book was narrated from the ever-so-common passive point of view that only caters to the bottoms in our community. The protagonist, Jevaughn, is a 19 year old gay resident of Kingston Jamaica who relentlessly and OBSESSIVELY falls in love with his neighbor, Dre, the typical DL thug. Dre is both tall and muscular, aggressive and powerful in his own right – pretty much all the characteristics of your typical “trade”. What frazzled me the most beyond his overt obsessing was the fact that the writer’s perspective was based on the identity of hetero-normative relationships. Many of our books, particularly written by black authors, tend to be narrated from a bottoms point of view which oftentimes paints the fantasy of being “kept” and protected by a seemingly more masculine man. It is very rare that stories are told from an unbiased perspective such as that of the recently outted guy whom knows nothing of his sexual identity, or the familiarity of unrequited love.

Now don’t get me wrong. These are fantasy novels and are meant to create situations that are not likely to occur in one’s life, but tell me, what are we REALLY portraying here?   Most fantasy/romance novels tell me things such as: 1) there must be a hetero-normal gender role in our relationships, 2) someone must be the bread winner, 3) someone has to be masculine and the other feminine, 4) every masculine gay man is DL, and 5) dating “trade” means you are #winning. Well in my eyes, I feel that if we continue to write these books we are most certainly #losing.

As a teenager, I was a closeted guy looking for any outlet or peek inside the reality of the gay lifestyle. That is when I was introduced to the works of E. Lynn Harris. He both excited me and confused me as to what was and IS the gay lifestyle. I held onto every paragraph of his books as though they would one day become the story of my life. It wasn’t until I came out that reality struck about the probability of meeting my “Mr. Big”. After maturing and becoming a fixture in my social scene, I realized that these books were just as they had implied…a fantasy. Nobody was knocking down my door to offer me the latest Mercedes-Benz as a testament of his love. I wasn’t being whisked away to Atlanta to be hidden in my own multi-million dollar townhouse, nor would it come with a personal gym and trainer. While not impossible, these gestures are a rare happy ending for most of us, no matter how hot we think we are (or the “trade” staring at you across the bar who probably won’t offer you a drink). I had to realize that I am my own Mr. Big and that I can’t look for Mr. Big.  Truth be told, when you are at a certain level, Mr. Big may not be as big as you thought he was. He is going to need to bring more to the table to give him any “Basketball Jones”. 

So I say to my fellow writers this…when you begin to write your next fantasy fiction or romance novel, think about representing our entire community…not just a fraction. Our community is a spectrum of culture and sub-cultures, as well. We must tap into that so that those young, confused and curious teenagers (like my old self) can have a better grasp and understanding of reality. Our youth are constantly looking for guidance in a society infested with judgment, criticism, racism, and self-hate that brazenly exists within our communities. We owe it to them to write about the real, unfettered truth about romance and fantasy. I know you may be thinking “well damn, J Bell, these ARE fictional books”, but also think about YOUR childhood self and what kind of fantasy you would have liked to have been told. I vote for one that doesn’t steer me too far from reality.

*sips whiskey sour*

 

 

About the Author

J Bell is an advice columnist beginning his budding career as a publicist in NYC. He can help you with personal advice, relationship advice and business advice. For more advice columns, stay tuned to CypherAvenue.com

   
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32 Comments Feel Free To Join The Cypher.

  1. Ocky Williams | March 31st, 2015
    +1

    This reminds me of Hollywood Simpson and Kerry Rhodes…all day long.

    kerry-rhodes-russell-simpson-5.jpg

    • hannibal
      Hannibal | March 31st, 2015
      +2

      Kerry is so hot. I can’t even take it. Life’s not fair.

    • SB3000 | March 31st, 2015
      0

      I still don’t believe this! I vote that they were trying to get a reality show and that this dude tried to spin the sitch when something went wrong btwn them. I just think it would’ve been bigger news if it was true.

      Not like I got any scoop, but sumthin abt this just doesn’t sit well w my spirit!

      • questforknowledge
        quest for knowledge | March 31st, 2015
        0

        Are you kidding me??! Have you seen those pictures? What straight man is all hugged up on another dude like that lol. I feel like there is some truth to the story, I think they did have a sexual relationship. But maybe old dude exaggerated some of the details of the story. Also I totally agree with everything in this article. This whole heteronormative theme is so prevalent in the gay community not just in gay novels, it’s ridiculous. Just taking a look at gay porn, gay films, gay tv shows, gay events, the list goes on, you can find this easily. Everything about the gay community feels so one dimmensional at times which is annoying particularly for me when it comes to dating or even making new friends.

        • hannibal
          Hannibal | March 31st, 2015
          +1

          Kerry can do whatever he wants! I’m still waiting on him to return all of my social media friend requests!

          • questforknowledge
            quest for knowledge | March 31st, 2015
            0

            I’ve checked out his instagram page and I crack up everytime I see all the comments gay dudes leave on his pictures lol. Kerry is one sexy ass dude to me lol. I check out his instagram photos and just think to myself god dammnnn lol.

            • hannibal
              Hannibal | March 31st, 2015
              0

              He don’t want you! He clearly likes feminine men! I’m ready for him. *stares out window*

              • questforknowledge
                quest for knowledge | March 31st, 2015
                0

                LOL! Hannibal you too much for me lol.

            • J's Destiny | March 31st, 2015
              0

              Why you had to tell me he is on instagram because I definitely quickly followed him and just yea… a beautiful man

              • questforknowledge
                quest for knowledge | March 31st, 2015
                0

                Lol, yes indeed he is.

        • J Bell | March 31st, 2015
          0

          Wow Quest!

          You put forth some really interesting points. This is increasingly becoming an issue that extends beyond media and writing, it is beginning to intrude in how we compose ourselves and are able to establish relationships.

          P.S. I have had my share of straight friends that treated me like a brother (similar to what I believe how Kerry was to Hollywood). Sometimes we have to stop fishing and appreciate these types of guys and accept them as our allies.

        • SB3000 | March 31st, 2015
          0

          But that’s the thing! Their body language doesn’t give me ‘romantic’ at all. In addition to the fact that since he certainly wasn’t trying to come out as gay, I have a hard time thinking someone in his position could be dumb enough to be so affectionate w him if he was worried abt ppl thinking they were a couple.

          Not to mention, Kerry would literally have been slumming…ijs

      • Ocky Williams | March 31st, 2015
        0

        Kerry was smashing that…

        • Nick Delmacy | April 1st, 2015
          0

          I would (without hesitation) smash Kerry after he smashed Hollywood Simpson.

    • FREEDOM TRAIN
      FREEDOM TRAIN | July 8th, 2016
      +1

      I DON’T THINK IF WAS A GOOD IDEA FOR THAT GAY GUY TO OUT THAT MR. RHODES LIKE THAT. LOOK WHAT HAPPEN, HE WAS IN BETWEEN CONTRACTS , AND THEN NO ONE PICKED HIM UP. I’M SURE HE HAS ENOUGH MONEY TO LIVE ON. BUT SOMETIMES THE FEM-GAY GUYS NEED TO STOP OUTING THE NON-FEM-BISEXUAL MEN SO MUCH. A MAN MUST BE HONEST WITH HIMSELF FIRST, AND THEN THE PERSON HE SLEEPS WITH , BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN HE NEEDS TO BE OUTED TO THE WORLD. SOME OF THESE FEM-GAY MEN’S MOUTHS ARE JUST TOO DAM BIG [ AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY ].

  2. hannibal
    Hannibal | March 31st, 2015
    0

    I would recommend a book called Sword Fight by a guy named Walter Vickerie. It was written from a masculine yet not Dl or “trade” black gay perspective. I liked it.

    And I read(for a fee) a black gay novel a few months ago. I’ve read a few actually and the one thing most black gay authors can’t seem to shake is the need to make everyone “FABULOUS.” I see it over and over again and it’s stupid.

    • J Bell | March 31st, 2015
      0

      Thank you, Hannibal. I will be sure to check that out someday soon!

  3. RolandG
    Rolandgarros28 | March 31st, 2015
    0

    I’m not sure why this author seems so desperate for authors to write their reality. Obviously, if an author’s reality is sitting around dreaming of being swept away by a Mr. Big, that’s what he’s going to write about. If everyone agrees that the black homosexual community is overwhelmingly effeminate, why are we then confused when most of the novels are written from this perspective? People have different realities and one could surmise, from the plethora of novels written from a bottom’s perspective, that it’s either mostly bottoms who wish to write novels about their fantasies or maybe masculine men can’t write worth a damn. LOL

    And gay men honestly sit around looking for men to hand deliver Mercedes Benz cars to their driveways? Really? Are these men bottoms or tops? Masculine or Effeminate? Not trying to be too harsh but this article, like many others, seems to be baseless griping about what other people chose and are free to write.

    • hannibal
      Hannibal | March 31st, 2015
      +2

      I’m a gay writer and I’ve never written my reality. It can be done. I just think it’s lazy to know that there are certain literary tropes that have become gay clichés…and the writers still do it. It’s just lazy. At least Free Fall was unique.

      And masculine men aren’t bright enough to write a shopping list let alone a novel.

    • J Bell | March 31st, 2015
      0

      Hello Roland,

      It would appear that the point of my article has not landed on your tarmac. I simply implied that authors should write more about the REALITY of gay culture, not THEIR reality, otherwise that would be somewhat of an autobiography, no? I am simply putting forth a call to action for authors to think about how our community is being portrayed when most of our romance novels are filled with a skewed, one-sided perception/narration. If writing the same ol’ love story is up your ally (or even reading it), by all means, continue to live in your happy fantasy. And who agrees with you that most of the black gay community consists of effeminate men? Not I! That is the propaganda of modern media. You (in your seemingly wise age) should know that our culture consists of much more than this. As far as the Mercedes comment…don’t take things so literally. If, in fact, you read some of E Lynn Harris’ works, you would have realized that these were a few examples of happenings in his novels. I appreciate your criticism of the article but I also ask that you try and internalize the message before formulating a counter.

      J. Bell

      • Ocky Williams | March 31st, 2015
        0

        Speaking from my own experience and not modern media…I do think/feel most gay men are fem or fem leaning.

        • J Bell | March 31st, 2015
          +1

          Hi Ocky,

          Would this be included ALL gay men or just black men? While I do agree that our younger gays may have the wrong idea of what being gay really is, I wouldn’t agree that most gay MEN are fem. I understand that you live in Atlanta and TRUST ME, I know how overwhelming and disturbing the fem epidemic is. But the reality is that many masculine gay men exist. They just don’t frequent many gay scenes lol. Probably because they are filled with these feminine men you speak of :p

      • RolandG
        Rolandgarros28 | March 31st, 2015
        +1

        Reality for one is not the same for another. That’s the point I was attempting to make. The call to arms to write the REALITY of the black gay experience can’t be done because there isn’t one REALITY as you seem to suggest. Not every author can write from a foreign point of view so my belief, as I stated, is that there simply don’t appear to be enough masculine black gay men authoring stories based on their REALITY. Doesn’t have to be an autobiography. E. Lynn Harris’ books weren’t all biographies but they may have been stories based on things that he witnessed or lived. Some men can’t write that if they’ve never experienced it.

        And…I didn’t say, definitively, that the black gay community consists of effeminate gay men. The overwhelming sentiment on this site seems to be that the majority of black gay men are effeminate and you can see @ocky‘s comment as well for reference.

        Finally @jbell, the last line of my original comment concerning baseless griping was unfair to you so my apologies. Thanks for taking the time to write and submit your article.

  4. honestblackman06 | April 1st, 2015
    +1

    After reading all of the great comments and following K Rhodes on IG, I had to comment that I too long for gay black novels that speak to the everyday lives of all of us. I’d like to see a novel about a gay couple raising kids, or dealing with the tragedy of a daying loved one, or the complicated relationship with parents/siblings/family. As storytellers/fortunetellers, I feel authors should speak to their audience in more ways than one. Whether it’s by pen name to not disengage their “fan base” or something else, it’s so important to the black gay community to teach and inspire hope, help, and healing in some way. The Invisible life was such an awesome book at the time I started reading it in college, but so was B-Boy blues. The ones I find now are a bit raunchy and uninspired. Not to mention riddled with typos and grammatical errors. I can say i have come across a few such as the trilogy of This Place of Men (Doug Cooper Spencer). It can be done. Just need people to get into the idea and make it happen. Basically true pioneers and torch bearers to continue the work started by those who have set the path.

    Just My Opinion, nothing that i say is law

  5. budda | April 2nd, 2015
    +1

    Nice perspective, great article. I really never look it like that. I meet E. Lynn Harris in college. This was in 1994. My freshman year in college. He was invited by the black and gay caucus at my university. At the time, I was in the closet and I was taking a black art class and it was mandatory that we go to hear him. I laugh at this now, but I remember being scared that someone would see me and know that I was gay. To make a long story short, I believe I had meet someone who was beyond his time. When he talked about Invisible Life this was the life I was leading. What frightens me is that his voice was strong but I could see the reluctance. He talked about the powers that be that where against him. Brother Harris was a Alpha and back in the day they did not like his candor or his sexuality. I remember leaving this lecture and feeling good that I had meet him. He made me want to be gay. Of course I got his autograph and just like himself he wrote something special. This brother was so beyond his time its hard to compare his work to others. I am just glad I was able to meet him and understand his struggle. I will never be someone I am not.

    • J Bell | April 2nd, 2015
      0

      Hello Budda,

      Wow, its great that you had the opportunity to meet “Brotha Harris” :p. I too had the opportunity to meet him a few years back. He was an amazing soul and an intelligent man. I can see your apprehensions about being comfortable with your sexuality during those earlier years. I agree with you that it is hard to compare his work with others. Well, it’s more difficult because I am so critical of the others. I also believe that we live in a more accepting society than when he was at his prime and we can not only write fantasy novels but those that also touch on real topics and truths.

  6. Discordant | April 2nd, 2015
    +1

    Great article and I agree completely. There should be a larger variety of black gay stories, and not just romantic ones. Romance, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy are all interests to the community, we just need people motivated enough to write the stories. Also, I too agree that the grammar in a lot of these urban fiction stories, straight or gay, is abysmal, but self-publishing has made it easy to get around editorial review.

    • hannibal
      Hannibal | April 2nd, 2015
      0

      There are lots of authors and filmmakers that try to venture out but they don’t get the financial support.

      • Discordant | April 2nd, 2015
        +1

        In this day and age, self-publishing can mitigate the costs of being an author. You may have to be more creative in your marketing since you don’t have a major publisher behind you, but it can be done. Funding a film I would agree is harder due to financial constraints, but a lot of great indie films have been done on a shoe-string budget.

  7. Pensive | April 2nd, 2015
    +2

    J Bell, I really appreciated your post. And I agree with you on the call for action for authors. I wonder though how “politically correct” it would be to write about the REALITY of gay culture. Truth goes against the grain in society at large.
    Fortunately I have a friend that is about to publish a non fictional self biop which will largely be about his experience right here in Atlanta. I can’t wait ! It will be a page turner. And it’s ALL REAL. So there is hope,
    I indulged in E.Lynnn Harris with the first two novels. I think I read some of the third. Then I realized the fantasy component in the overall theme of the series and I fell off until “Basketball Jones” and that sealed the deal for me being tired of the same ole same ole that I saw others were attempting to copy ,although not as well, over the span of years.
    Todays youth really need real stories told. And when real ones do make publishing the best we can do is pass it on to that young brother we actually CARE about.

    • J Bell | April 2nd, 2015
      +1

      Hello Pensive

      Thank you so much for reading the article. I do not think that it would be politically INCORRECT to write the reality of the black gay community. In the society we live in today, many things are not politically correct. In fact, I think that now is the best time to expose such realities in a more accepting society. Luckily, storytelling isn’t very political.

      Oh, keep me posted on your friend’s biopic! I would love to read it, especially if you feel it will be a page turner!

  8. FREEDOM TRAIN
    FREEDOM TRAIN | July 8th, 2016
    +1

    NICE ARTICLE UP ABOVE. I HAPPEN TO VERY MUCH LIKE THE E. LYNN HARRIS BOOKS. SOMEONE BOUGHT THE RIGHTS TO HIS BOOKS. HOPEFULLY THEY WILL MAKE A MOVIE FROM THEM REAL SOON. I LIKE A GOOD BLACK-GAY-STORY TO GO THERE, TAKE ME THERE , SAY IT GOOD , SO I CAN WISH AND ENJOY THE FANTASY WITH THE WRITER. BUT LOTS OF BOOKS DON’T GO FAR ENOUGH. THAT’S WHY WE NEED MOVIES TO TAKE US THERE VISUALLY. THE MOVE ” PUNKS ” DID IT.[ HOWEVER THE CAMERA WORK WAS BAD IN THE GOOD SPOTS ]. THE WEBSERIES ” ABOUT HIM ” LOOKS GOOD. THE ” D L CHRONICLES ” ARE THE ONES WHO ARE NAILING IT WELL RIGHT NOW. — SO IF A GOOD BOOK CAN TAKE ME THERE AND THEN THE MOVE CAN SHOW ME THERE THEN I’M HAPPY.




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