Our February GLBT Mini-Challenge is to read a poem or short story by or about a person of color. I selected a book from my home library called, Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry by the late Essex Hemphill.
The author died in 1995 at age 38 of AIDS related complications. His book was released in 1992 and received the National Library Association's New Author award. I was lucky enough to obtain a first edition last year on the now defunct Frugal Reader website.
I read his short story, Ceremonies, for our mini-challenge. Essex writes about his first sexual experience as a young black man when he was 14 years old and living in Southeast Washington, D.C.
"I had to carefully allow my petals to unfold. If I had revealed them too soon they would surely have been snatched away, brutalized, and scattered down alleys."
George, the man he gives himself to, is Caucasian and 44 years old. Due to age and fear of exposure, their love making is kept secret. Essex learns that other boys he knows have been with George too. These boys ended up mocking George later because they resented the recognition of their own homosexual desires.
"Ours was truly a fragile, stereotypical Black masculinity that would not recognize homo desire as anything but perverse and a deviation from the expected "role" of a man."
Essex laments that he and his friends could not, "...sexually explore one another in the same way that we all allowed George to explore us."
Essex is called a faggot, within earshot of his mom, when one boy sees him staring at another boy. To show he's a man and to be accepted, Essex stops his relationship with George and begins to look for "good girls" to date; "....pretending I was consumed by love--safe, by all appearances, from being identified as a faggot."
Ceremony can be defined as observance of an established code. I see that playing out in this short story. The code of behavior that Essex writes about is that Black men do not sleep with other Black men in order to be accepted by the community.
This mini-challenge made me realize that many of my GLBT books are written from the Caucasian perspective. I plan to change that and add more diversity to my collection.
For discussion purposes, what's your take on George? His age difference to Essex bothered me. I'm wondering if the boys thought it was more acceptable to have sex with a White man instead of a Black man. Since this book was published in 1992, I'm interested in how Black gay men are seen today by their community.
For other responses to the February mini-challenge, refer to the GLBT 2010 Reading Challenge website.
Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry, by Essex Hemphill. 1992. Plume. ISBN: 0452268176. Note before reading: the book is explicit in its portrayal of love between men.