"There is no longer dignity in telling the truth" is a line from E. Lynn Harris' debut novel, Invisible Life. Back in 1994 Harris' commentary on the shame of living closeted felt poignant and brutality realistic. At the time being open about your sexual orientation, especially if you were a person of color, did not feel like an option.
I vividly remember the first time I heard about Invisible Life. It was 1995, and I was a teenager who knew nothing regarding the intersection of gayness and blackness. In my uneducated mind, I didn't think black gay people existed. This was a time before Web searches, smartphones, and affirmations from the president. It was easy to feel isolated if you were different; I thought I was the only one.
One day I happened to hear two women talking about Invisible Life on the subway. One of them had the book in her hand as she said, "Child, it's about two faggots!"
I cringed at the anti-gay slur, but my ears perked up. Two men? "I must get that book," I thought.
Later that week, I arrived at a local bookstore to hunt down the mysterious novel. Terrified to enter the "gay and lesbian" section, which was just one shelf, my eyes darted around the store, looking for anyone who might know me. I circled the section a couple of times, ridiculously paranoid, but I finally eyed Invisible Life. On the cover, a man stood in the middle with a man to his left and a woman to his right. I grabbed the book, kept it face down, and paid at the register, making no eye contact. Back at home, I locked myself in my room and read the book in one sitting. Terrified my father would find Invisible Life, I hid it deep in my closet (ironic, isn't it?) and would sometimes dig it out to reread my favorite parts.
Today, Invisible Life is quite dated: A bisexual man lies to his wife about his sexual identity. The storyline has been ridiculously exploited, from homophobic church plays to God-awful, ghostwritten books like On the Down Low by J.L. King. Nonetheless, Invisible Life was a first of its kind. And E. Lynn Harris' journey of love and tragedy was a cautionary tale for me. I vowed that a life of lies and paranoia would never be my reality.
July 23, 2012, marked the third anniversary of E. Lynn Harris' untimely passing. In honor of the impact Harris had on me, I am delighted that today marks my literary debut, in For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home. With Keith Boykin as editor and me as a co-editor and contributing writer (along with three others: La Marr Bruce, Frank Roberts, and Mark Corece), the Magnus-published book proves how far we have traveled since E. Lynn Harris' debut novel almost 20 years ago.
The diverse anthology includes work from 42 different authors. There is Charles Stephens' "The Test," which details the anxiety of living in our allegedly well-educated era of HIV/AIDS. There's also Rodney Terich Leonard's "Teaspoons of December Alabama," which tells an unforgettable story of surviving sexual abuse. Then there's my essay, "Religious Zombies," a comical yet poignant examination of the black church, sexuality, and famous hypocrites like Eddie Long.
The voices in For Colored Boys represent empowerment, which isn't always beautiful and sometimes laced with grit. We colored boys are slapping flesh onto a monolithic image of black LGBT people, who are usually regulated to being accessories for heterosexual women in campy reality shows. With President Barack Obama stating his support for same-sex marriage and Frank Ocean making pop-culture history as the first mainstream R&B/hip-hop artist to come out, For Colored Boys is relevant, regardless of the reader's gender, race, or sexual orientation.
I go back to that line in Invisible Life, which the main character, Raymond, writes in a letter to the woman he deceived for years: "There is no longer dignity in telling the truth." But in 2012 there is dignity in truth. Out of the 42 authors in For Colored Boys, you will not read one story about a tragic homosexual who secretly sleeps with men while his victimized wife twiddles her thumbs. Our diverse stories are unique, powerful, painted with every color, and untold until now. Today, there are rewards for living authentically: freedom, success, and, hopefully, love. For Colored Boys proves we no longer need to live an invisible life.
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For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Still Not Enough: Coming of Age, Coming Out, and Coming Home is available online today, Aug. 8, and in stores on Monday, Aug. 13. Go to 4ColoredBoys.com for more information.
Clay Cane is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and the radio host of Clay Cane Live on WWRL 1600AM.