I have the greatest admiration for James Baldwin, his gift for planting words together, side by side, has yielded deep insight into our human condition.
As a young man I read "Giovanni’s Room", trying to find my way along this labyrinth called sexuality. Baldwin led me to the light. If he were walking on earth today, I’d probably kiss his feet.
Continuing this month of celebrating Black History... a small tribute to a great man.
A few years ago I wrote an article for a newspaper in Guyana. The essay titled “Homosexuals... Dirty Words... and Me” described my journey to self acceptance.
A piece like that, from me, would never have made it onto an editor’s desk without James Baldwin. He changed the way I saw myself and consequently changed the course of my life.
My journey began long before we met in Giovanni’s Room, but it was James Baldwin who dared speak its name, giving voice to feelings that churned just below the surface of my being. It was he who explained the fine print near the bottom of the contract my genes signed, long before my birth. He then went on to narrate, in graphic poetic clarity, the path my life would take if my mind couldn’t or wouldn’t accept.
I don’t remember how I found this elegant novel, but after that first reading, I knew, even though I couldn’t remember much of the story’s details, something had changed within me. A door had opened, I could feel rays of sunlight shining on my face, my arms, my thighs and my feet.
Prior to James Baldwin, I’d been stumbling around in my own private, eternal night, bumping into walls and men. I‘d sat in those bars surrounded by those tongues that sliced air like razorblades, even as bitter tasting drinks burned holes out of my insides. I’d been that guy who stood ashamed in that smelly darkness because he was too afraid to love.
James Baldwin wasn’t only describing Giovanni’s room, he was describing my own. His observations, so vivid, so precise, so clear, were so true. He articulated this sense of a world, the parameters of which I was completely deaf and blind to. I was constantly crossing a line, invisible as electricity to me, but which nonetheless burned and shocked me, for those boundaries, imperceptible to me, were as real as the pain that paralyzed me - body, mind and soul.
James Baldwin handed me a map, one I could read and understand. This society, I heard him say, often pressures us, for whatever reason, to conform - to ignore and mistrust our impulses... our instincts... our very nature. And even though, for many of us, these messages never truly resonate, we often give into this peer pressure. James Baldwin admonished me to be brave, to trust my voice, accept the view from my own standpoint and most importantly to love.
Others may see things differently, but that is only because they are standing in different locations. Honoring our whole selves is vital to our happiness here on earth. Accepting that we are fundamentally good and right just as we are, just where we stand, is crucial to our peace of mind. Anything we could ever want or need grows out of this very sacred space.
Thank you James Baldwin for giving me the gift of me.