The testimonies in Keith Boykin’s anthology For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough should remind gay activists to not accept the luxury many gay persons enjoy in refusing to occasionally announce their sexuality. One of the biggest impediments to gay civil rights are gay people who have been reaping freedom acquired from the toils and sufferings of gay activists. These do-nothing-but-criticize reapers refuse to just sit quietly. They feel their status as closeted LGBT persons entitles them to put gay activists on notice, and force us in a new restricted speaking place.
Loud activism and too much testifying make them uncomfortable beneath the disapproving and warming-up-to-the-lifestyle heterosexual gaze. “Nobody needs to know about my PRIVATE life,” they usually protest. “I keep my sexuality in the bedroom. Why the screaming from the mountaintop!”
Many seem comfortable limiting their freedoms to bedrooms in dim light, dark bar rooms around pool tables, shady bushy parks littered with semen filled condoms, and sex sites such as Adam4Adam where many low self-esteem profiles seek a match who must be the masculine man-on-top in the bedroom, and must be on the down-low in public. They remain convinced that masculine and down-low men are the only “real men.” They fail to realize that gay men in drag sashaying down the street in purple lipstick and yellow skirt are among the real men, the freedom lovers who have forced homophobes from the extreme right to a more righteous political center.
Shocked that some can dare to be so free, what was abnormal to the homophobic eyes becomes closer to normal. Due to the norm breaking lipstick drag queens, homophobes change their views about the conservative homosexuals who usually walk heavy and easy like “real men,” and the thugs who bounce from left to right like their bare heels are on ice, walking like “real men.”
While homophobes still resent LGBT persons, the displayed culture shock of the lipstick queens forces them to locate some normalcy in other “normal acting” gay persons. From noticing these shifting viewpoints, gay activists and LGBT people acquire new opportunities to capitalize on their fight for freedom.
The life of many gay men opposed to those who chose to testify captures a daily tango with themselves, a struggle to connect with norms and persons that make them feel like “real men” who have learned how to talk with testosterone in their tone, walk without a swing in the hips, and laugh without their hands giggling too much. They must be “real men,” pleasurable to the heterosexual gaze! Yet many of them at least march yearly in LGBT prides with colors of the rainbow, smiling in the sunlight where there are thousands of all-sexual bodies that hide them from standing out.
Survivors of homophobia should have been able to re-experience the psychological ripping and healing within most experiences shared in For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home:
The Puerto Rican, Emanuel Xavier, a feminine little boy turned—confused teenager—turned adult who swallowed pills and passed out, became homeless, and angry, and later a survivor with an activist mission that uses poetry and writing to save lives.
Keith Boykin, whom an old woman approached and forcefully counseled that his sexuality would take him to hell, yet when he fell on his knees, and asked her to pray for him, she refused to grant his request.
André St Clair Thompson, a Jamaican immigrant, who as a child danced to homophobic dancehall music that advocates for the murdering of homosexuals, who later in his American life grabbed a knife and threatened his homophobic father in order to save his mother from physical violence, who grew up to accept a life of LGBT advocacy that dares to write, “I will no longer give up a part of myself to belong.”
Kenyon Farrow, who reminds readers that gay suicides are too common that they become just another death statistic in our thoughts. Disturbed that many persons remain psychologically unmoved given the prevalence of suicides, Farrow ends his story saying, “I want you to matter. I want me to matter. I want you and me to know, before it is too late that we matter to each other.”
That is the essence of Boykin’s anthology—an activism to recognize the contributors as people of color with testimonies that matter in a culture where the gay rainbow too often appears as a happy colorful slogan solely concerned with the ambitions of white queer people. We all are used to the images on news websites, TV’s, newspapers, and gay lobby advertisements with the gay rainbow curved over two white bodies smiling, hugging, or kissing in love.
The false messages have long been that the only folks engaged in LGBT activism are white people; the only folks yearning for and respecting freedom from cultural homophobic shackles are white people. LGBT people of color are stereotyped as persons who do not know how to identify, court, and embrace freedom. These popular patterns label us with uncivilized human characteristics.
In a culture of publishing presses that ignore the voices of queer people of color, it is admirable to note that Magnus Books, a white-owned small press that started in 2010 published Boykin’s anthology. Magnus’s website identifies itself as, “one of the world’s leading publishers of LGBT literature.” This new press demonstrates the need to represent not only the marginalized white queer voices, but also the black ones ignored by the very same marginalized white queer people.
While admiring Magnus Books, any serious observer should equally consider that Boykin’s career history as a popular American broadcaster with frequent appearances on CNN, BET, and MSNBC might have qualified him as an ideal candidate for Magnus Books. It is therefore necessary to observe future patterns for demonstrated commitments to publishing big and small name authors of color in this new press that prides itself as being a leading queer publisher.
By shedding light on only 4 of the more than 36 gay and transgender voices in Boykin’s anthology, I couldn’t have captured the span of the work’s substance. It should be noted though that this collective voice of people of color rejects the tradition of gay men not announcing their sexuality. There must be announcements, occasional reminders of identity in order to enact social justice.
These are announcements by men who survived their homophobic cultures, stories that reveal suicides contemplated as a mode of resistance. These voices that circumvented traditional roles as players in the dark. They should remind the gay community and its allies to force their stories and identities among and into the media centers of daily talk.