12 December 2007

Out of Balance

Risking the wrath of Terry McMillan, I recently read her ex-husband Jonathan Plummer's novel, Balancing Act.


During the McMillan divorce saga, I was inclined to be in Plummer's camp, and the book does nothing to change that. I can feel for and understand the man's dilemma. Not everyone knows or excepts their sexual orientation at an early age, and Jamaica is a country where gay people are taunted, chased, beaten, and sometimes murdered. I can understand how someone might not be ready or able to deal with being gay until after they left the island. Terry was and is an attractive woman (who may have been engaging in just a touch of sexual tourism), with the added bonus of being wealthy and offering him a ticket to the States.

As for the novel, I don't think Ms McMillan needs to worry about having a literary rival. Plummer's book, thanks, in part I'm sure to his prolific co-author Karen Hunter, falls into the "Urban Lit" genre (the first line of the book contains African America's favorite 12-letter profanity, for example, although the later sex scenes are, relatively, chaste). There's the same element of wish fulfillment one finds in many of these books, although in this case instead of from Ghetto to Riches it's from Jamaica (and relative wealth) to Riches -- and Magazine Cover Fame. There's a dash of early E Lynn Harris, and more than a little 'up market' product placement/name dropping. There's also more emphasis on 'what happens next' and plot than on developing any of the characters into real people. One skims along the surface of this book, but doesn't really feel anything.

What intrigues me here is that the novel, although written by someone who is now openly gay, still manages to fall into any number of stereotypical traps. Colorful 'flaming' characters dance around the edges of the story (set in the world of high fashion modeling, how could that not be the case?) providing comic relief and/or saving the day. The main character discovers his orientation at the hands, lips, straw (?!? ....don't ask....) and tongue of a white man, making it seem (once again) that "white people are the Source of Homosexuality." And once the main character leaves the security of his situation with the woman he's been involved with, the only sexual experiences mentioned are fleeting ones he engages in at a porn shop.

With friends like these, who needs Focus on the Family?

I don't mean to be shooting fish in a barrel, or taking a lightweight 'entertainment' too seriously. But it does disturb me: I've read a couple of 'urban'-styled novels, written ostensibly by someone either LGBTQ or a supporter of the community, that fall into similar traps (and I've heard similar things from a friend who read the deliciously titled, 'Jail made me gay, yo' novel, Homo Thug) and I'm wondering if what I've seen is a conceit of the genre. Leaving out the need to 'explain' the characters orientation, none featured characters who are comfortable with their homosexuality, or shown in a happy or even well-functioning, relationship.

I'm not saying an interesting novel could NOT be written about characters wresting with who they are. I do, however, wonder 'how far we've come,' this many years into the 21st Century.

Bonus Note: For a brilliant, hilarious take on the novel, check out author Stanley Bennett Clay's review on Amazon (scroll down the page).

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