Gay black authors try to turn the page on intolerance

theGRIO REPORT - Whenever gay literature is mentioned, the likes of E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy and others come to mind...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Lee Hayes does not sit around thinking about ways to kill people. Well that is except for when he is writing a book.

“I just happen to have a vivid imagination,” said the critically acclaimed author of Passion Marks and A Deeper Blue. “People read my stories and actually think the stories are about me. But I had a pretty normal childhood – besides being poor and black in the south. I have just always gravitated towards horror movies and fantasy stuff.”

He is adamant that he is not crazy. But he does consider himself a writer of “dark gay literature,” somewhat of a venture from most literature targeted to the LGBT community.

“It is a very cool thing that we have authors out doing things so different from each other,” said Hayes. “In the past, the industry has been regulated.”

Whenever gay literature is mentioned, the likes of E. Lynn Harris, James Earl Hardy and others come to mind. These stories, at times, have been criticized for being fantastical ventures in the gay and lesbian world; stories of love and happiness, sex, success and drama.

They are the stories many of us have become familiar with that look at the struggles of identity, acceptance, settling down, etc. They are the stories that have in the past become the more successful of gay and lesbian literature thanks to the Harris’ and Hardy’s of the world.

“It is important for us as creators of literature to think about doing stories that have never been done before,” adds Hayes.

Today Hayes and a select few are presenting stories that venture, slightly or not, from the stories we have become most familiar. They are making their mark on the literary world by presenting diverse stories that speak to the diverse needs and interests of the LGBT community.

For Hayes it is dark gay literature, looking at issues such as domestic violence, betrayal and even pre-meditated voluntary manslaughter. For Darian Aaron, there are stories and examples of black gay men in long lasting, successful relationships. And for Terrance Dean, it is a look in specifically hip-hop the role gays and lesbians play in the entertainment industry, and most .

All three have released new books this year and their projects cannot be anymore different from the next.

Hayes released his fifth project The Bad Seed in June of this year. The Bad Seed has been described as a duo of novellas. In it are two books, I Guess that’s Why They Call It the Blues and Crazy in Love.

Hayes said while most books have a protagonist, with this project the main characters are “really bad and they are bad to their core.”

In the first story you have Blue, an emotionally damaged yet beautifully aesthetic young man who is running from the demons of his past by marrying a wealthy, older man. The story looks at the issue of being in a happy-less marriage and what brings one to consider the options of having all they want sans the marriage.

In the second, you have Brandon Heart, a high school teen who develops a crush on his English teacher. The story takes you along the twists and turns of how a teenager’s mind can sometimes blur the lines of fantasy and reality to get what he wants, which eventually turns ugly and dangerous.

“It may have been the hardest book that I have written. It is so contrary to what we think literature is,” he said. “I think crazy people are really interesting. And I have always been interested in people’s thought process.”

In real life, he said, we know sometimes the bad guy wins. And that is what this book represents — reality.

Around the same time Hayes released his newest book, Atlanta blogger, Darian Aaron put out his first project, When Love Takes Over: A Celebration of SGL Couples of Color.

He still flinches at the idea of calling himself an author, but does take pride in the fact that he was able to produce a product unlike anything else out today.

“The main reason I decided to focus on a coffee table book that concentrated on black gay relationships was because so many people I know don’t think it is possible to have a successful, black gay relationship,” said the 31-year-old. “I did not see anything out there that celebrated those couple that have committed their lives to each other and share it with the community.”

Aaron said black gay authors are pigeonholed to write about one kind of story. “I love E. Lynn and I love his work,” he said. “But there was only one kind of story out there. For the longest time I sat on the sidelines and I complained about not seeing the positive images. And then one day I said to myself, ‘How long are you going to complain before you decide to do something about it?’”

And so he did. Thus far the book, which profiles 18 black, gay male relationships, has been widely received. “Everyday someone is calling or telling me I am ordering it or sending it to other people I know,” he said. “It is still so new and I am still not use to it all.”

And then there is Terrance Dean, already an accomplished author who has worked in the entertainment industry for years. His first novel, Mogul was released the same month as Hayes and Aaron’s projects.

The story of Big AT picks up where Dean’s last project, “Hiding in Hip Hop” sort of left off. Both books look at the phenomenon of gays in hip-hop.

“I needed it to be document as part of history our role as LGBT members and contributions to hip-hop and the entertainment industry,” Dean said. “You cannot have the industry without mentioning us.”

Big AT, the main character in Mogul, is an up-and-coming music producer who gets his big break when he attends an exclusive party of powers-that-be in the industry. During the party, AT learns of the power that gay men have in the industry and is recruited to be the next big hip-hop powerbroker.

However, by the end of the story he is faced with the decision of whether or not he should come out of the closet. Dean admits the characters and storylines in the book are based off of actual people and instances.

“Those of us in the industry know there are others who have partners, it is common knowledge for many of us,” he said. “It is not big deal within the industry. But for the general public, it is not common knowledge.”

These three can be considered literary trailblazers today; however they each shy away from accepting such acclaim.

“I do not think James Baldwin and Langston Hughes were thinking we would be talking about their work and their impact so many years later when they were writing,” Dean said. “In my mind, I am not doing anything different today that those writers were doing then, necessarily. They were writing for their moment.”

Hayes said Harris must be recognized for the role he played in opening up the genre of gay literature for everybody. It was Harris’ success that let Hayes know it could be done.

And it was Harris’ encouragement that motivated Aaron to keep writing. He considers Harris to be legendary.

“I am forever thankful for what the Baldwins, Hughes and Harrises that they did what they did,” said Hayes. “I am standing firm and tall on their shoulders. They are the icons. Had it not been a them it would not have been a me. Their influence could never be minimized.”

Hayes and Dean consider what they are doing to be their calling.

“I realize to one degree, one of my purposes is to create and I am in a space now in my life where I can create and put stuff out there,” Hayes said. “I am just doing what I think I was called to do.”

And he is committed to helping others get their chance.

“People say the top is crowded, that is not true I think the bottom is crowded,” he said. “When I say there is room, then I say there is a lot of room. If I am on this journey, I am holding your hand and pulling each other forward.”
Aaron stays humble.

“There was a void and no one else was stepping up to the plate, so I felt it was something I had to do,” he said. “I don’t think anything I have done in my career is special. We all have the ability to share our voice.”

Dean said he remembers reading something by Iyanla Vanzant where she said, “When you do what you love you don’t have to worry about the money,” and thinking you can say that because you are doing it.

He recently realized he is doing what he always dreamed of doing, to live and work as a writer. He does not take that for granted and is committed to being present in every moment.

“This is my moment and I step into it graciously and humbly,” he said. “And I am going to keep using every opportunity as I can to make sure not only is my voice heard but many are heard as well.”