This post was originally published July 23rd, 2009
Today I learned of E. Lynn Harris’ untimely passing. In his death, I am left to mourn him in much the same fashion as I celebrated him in his life; as an enigma to me; one who created works that in so many ways, broadened and brought black gay life to mainstream black America and yet at the same time as one who painted a picture I could never find myself to fit in completely…. a picture marked by a class experience I had no cognizance of and a measure of hetero-normativity I did not desire to harbor.
I remember him as one whose works contributed so much to fostering dialogue about the woundedness of being male, black and gay in America and also remember him as one whose work helped to further conjure and consolidate so much of the gendered muscle queen chaos of black gay culture.
I do not, nor will I pretend to, remember him or his contributions as perfect. I will remember him bright. young. Crafty. Intelligent. I will not eulogize him into a cast of iron that robs him of his uniqueness, his contradictions, his work’s shortcomings, nor of his brilliance.
I will remember him as human.
I will remember when I came across his novel “Just As I Am”.
That book to me was the first affirmation of my existence. It was the first work I came across that described me, as a black gay man, as something more than an object to be studied; or as more than a black heterosexual woman’s buddy to be leaned on.
It was the first time I even considered the possibility that I could live a life loving a man…. or that a man might love me. It was the first time I was offered the opportunity that I could create beyond the confines of heterosexuality a space where I could breathe and be. It in many ways, helped me plant the seeds that would sow my sensual freedom. For this I am forever grateful to him.
Throughout the years I followed E. Lynn’s writings and had more than my share of challenges. My favorites were his early books, Just As I am, This Too Shall Pass, If this World Were Mine, etc. His books shifted as did his style and in later years I was not a frequent follower or fan.
He & I met in many comings and goings, but he was not someone I knew well or was close to.
However, his contribution to the current state of black gay literature, in all it’s complications, is irrefutable. That he was a pioneer is undeniable. That he was not perfect, is evident. Coming from a space of critical queer voices, I know that all too often E. Lynn and his contemporaries were ( and still are) the subject of harsh ridicule for being imperfect or for their failure to produce “non-problematic” work or embody a specific politic.
Yet I do not believe sainthood, however it may be constructed, makes one worthy of recognition. I believe its our humanness that makes us wonderful, beautiful and yes, that sometimes makes us ugly… and I believe that all of it is worthy of celebration. & so In memory of E. Lynn Harris I will remember all I know of him and of his work and celebrate his life.
Thank you E. Lynn, for going to places many of us did not have the courage to go and for giving so many of us, the gift of ourselves in your reflection.
May you rest in peace, in love and in wonder, knowing that you will not be forgotten and that we are thankful for the fruit that bore from the tree of your brilliance.
In love always,