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*