Friday, July 31, 2009

Thanks for the Message, E. Lynn Harris

By way of explaining why my blog posts have been so negative recently, especially on the subject of being gay, I want to relate something that happened today. Nothing happens by accident.

When I was at the public library writing the previous post from today ("Who Wants to be Gay?), I saw a book by E. Lynn Harris on a display rack that said "Try Something Different." I recognized the name right away. E. Lynn Harris is a middle-aged, black, gay writer. I've read one of his books--I don't remember the title--and I didn't particularly like it. It was about gay characters, as all of his books are, but his style grates on my nerves. It seems too informal, to slapdash, even though I'm sure it's not. Let's just say none of Harris's books will ever be considered great literature.

That said, I picked up the book, leafed through it, and decided to take it out. Who knows? I might gain something, some knowledge about gay writing that will help me with my own writing in the future. It can't hurt, right?

Several hours later, I was at Chapters in Coquitlam, waiting for Chris to arrive on the West Coast Express so we could have dinner together. As usual, I found the latest issue of "Entertainment Weekly," and I scanned through the pages for stories or pieces of interest. I noticed on the pages detailing the people in the entertainment industry who passed away recently that E. Lynn Harris's picture was there. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that Harris had passed away on Thursday, July 23, from heart failure. I was stunned.

I read the piece on Harris's death, and learned that he had spent much of his life despondent over being gay. That in the early 90s, he was suicidal. Only one thing pulled him out: he discovered writing.

In the final line of the piece, Harris was quoted as saying that before his writing, he was filled with self-hatred and doubt, but, after writing, he moved to a place of self-esteem and self-love.

I found this information tremendously helpful, especially after writing the piece on "Who Wants to be Gay?" I concluded that piece feeling negative, like I shouldn't think about being gay the way I do; like I'd put out information that I shouldn't have shared with anyone else; but also knowing that I was being completely true to what I thought at the time.

I see from what Harris said that he, in large part, felt as I do about being gay, and that the effect of being gay was difficult for him, leading him to self-loathing and self-doubt. I understand that completely. It turns out, I'm not alone. There are other gay people who have a tough time with who they are, even to the point of suicide.

I needed Harris's message today. I needed to see how difficult being gay was for him. I needed to read that his writing helped him through the darkest part of his life. I needed to know that writing could have that positive effect on someone else.

That's why I write too. That's why I'm as honest as I can be with what I write. That's why I may not always write things that other people want to know about me, or that they are comfortable reading. More than ever, my writing is about coming to terms with so many things in my life that I've felt over the years but never examined as fully as I should have. I see my writing as having the same potential for me as Harris's writing had for him--a lifeline to the other side of a better understanding of myself. And from a better understanding, I've seen through Harris's example comes acceptance and the possibility of loving oneself.

This is why I write. The things I write about are what I know I must explore now. I've taken nearly fifty years to deal with some of this stuff. Don't you think the time to do this is long overdue?

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