Racialicious Crush Of The Week: James Earl Hardy

By Andrea Plaid

James Earl Hardy. Photo Credit: Sylvester Q. Courtesy of the interviewee.

Award-winning author James Earl Hardy mentioned that quite a few people may have seen his best-selling book, B-boy Blues, outside of college classrooms–where it’s required reading in African American/multiculti lit and queer lit courses–and bookshelves: actor Isaiah Washington, who plays one half of a same-gender loving (SGL) couple in Spike Lee’s 1996 flick, Get On The Bus, is a holding a copy of it.

Lit-checked in a Spike Lee movie? Such is Hardy’s swag.

After the jump is the interview, in which Hardy talks about the “One Superstar Person Of Color At A Time” mindset in publishing, Black masculinity in pop culture, and his writing a one-person play about a man of color who’s a porn star and entrepreneur. (You read that right.) Hardy also talks about Washington’s career-ending homophobic remark, made a decade after his role in Get On The Bus.

In 1996, Isaiah Washington, in the role of a Black SGL man in a relationship, is holding a copy of your book in his hands. A decade later, he’s fired from his job on Grey’s Anatomy for his homophobic remark about his co-worker T.R. Knight, who publicly disclosed he is gay after the media exposed the initial situation. Thoughts on that?

There isn’t a justifiable reason for [Washington] to have said it. However, the media—white gay media, in particular—did not place the incident and his history playing a gay man in the proper context, choosing instead to paint him as the Big Bad Black Guy picking on the Poor White Gay Guy. He should’ve been reprimanded in some way, maybe suspended for an episode or two. But fired? I stopped watching after that. If Sean Penn or Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won Oscars for portraying gay men, had found themselves in a similar situation, would there have been demands to whitelist them from Hollywood, as was the case with Isaiah? I doubt it. No matter how enlightened or progressive one may think they are, we are all affected and infected by the isms and phobias of society. Isaiah wasn’t given the benefit of that doubt and he should’ve been. His punishment did not fit the crime.

You recently wrote a play, Confessions of a Homo Thug Porn Star, about porn star and entrepreneur Tiger Tyson. Would you mind explaining how and why you chose Tyson to write a play about? 

Tiger approached me about helping him write his memoir. As he opened up, I realized just how ripe his story would be for the stage. Because they are often reduced to their body parts and what they do with them on screen, we forget that porn stars are people, too. And Tiger’s is a true rags-to-riches tale: a boi born in the ‘hood, raised by a single mother, high school dropout, drug dealer, stumbled into the sex industry as a stripper then helped create a whole new genre in porn and built a studio to capitalize on it. That’s the American Dream come true.

You have a very distinguished career: Confessions of a Homo Thug Porn Star won an award; your book, B-boy Blues, is not only praised for being the first gay hip-hop love story but is taught in African American/multicultural lit and queer lit courses. What is, in your opinion, the current state of Black queer writing in terms of the publishing industry and teaching it in schools?

I’ve actually had more than one editor say to me: “The E. Lynn [Harris] era is over, we don’t do black gay books anymore.” Too many in the corporate publishing industry decided that, when we lost E., Black SGL literature died, too. Of course, it didn’t. So, as we’ve done historically, most of us have self-published or been picked up by independent/university presses.

Not only are you an award-winning playwright and novelist, you’re also an award-winning journalist. Wait, I’m fangirl-ing…there’s a question in this…oh yes! What do you think is the current state of journalism in terms of covering issues affecting LGB&T* communities of color?

There is still a whiteout when it comes to how “gay” is packaged and presented in media. Black and other SGL people of color are rarely granted the opportunity to speak on the issues of the day—even when that issue is the homophobia of heterosexuals of color. Common sense would dictate that if anyone would be a so-called expert in that area, we would be. But white gay voices, just like white gay stories and white gay lives, are the default, they are deemed and propagated as more valuable and important—and why wouldn’t they be, in a culture that still thrives on white supremacy. It’s more convenient and controversial to push the racist and homophobic Black vs. gay meme, than to debunk the myth of both “the black community” and “the gay community.” Neither Black people nor gay people are monolithic groups—and Black SGL people are [the] proof.

Having written bios on both Spike Lee and Boys II Men–and circling back to Confessions and B-boy Blues–do you think images around Black masculinity are changing in the popular culture? If so, what’s the evolution? If not, what images is pop culture still stuck on? 

Courtesy of the interviewee.

Black masculinity, like white masculinity, is still narrowly defined and performed through a prism of heteronormativity. For me, the images that cultivate a more healthy, nuanced Black masculinity are the Youtube videos and Facebook postings documenting the marriages of Black SGL male couples. When I wrote B-Boy Blues nearly twenty years ago, I never thought I’d see the day when we’d celebrate our love for each other—and ourselves—so openly and unapologetically. These visual testimonials counter the myth that marriage equality is a white thing. Here are two Black men standing before God, standing in their truth, standing up for their love, standing up for love. They have shed or shunned societal expectations to perform a masculinity that is repressive and regressive, refused to wear a mask or live a life in denial and shame, and have embraced freedom in the most glorious way. You can’t get more gangsta than that. Essex Hemphill and Joseph Beam are definitely smiling down from up above.

Which makes Frank Ocean’s declaration so revolutionary. Some dismiss his disclosure as a publicity stunt but that is such a cynical, jaded response. He didn’t have to reveal it and, yes, even in 2012, it is still a very big deal—and in some places and spaces, dangerous—for a man to publicly express his desire or love for another manespecially if that man is Black.

And how do you see President Obama in these images, be it both as a part of the evolution and stuck images?

Not even the President of the United States—a man that exudes class, grace, character, integrity, dignity, intelligence, and cool—can escape the tag of being labeled Public Enemy #1, and the disdain and contempt that goes along with it. That, I believe, is where his comments about Trayvon Martin’s murder came from; it wasn’t just that Trayvon could’ve been his son, but that he knows what it’s like to be maligned and demonized, just for existing. Even he, the leader of the so-called free world, is still viewed and treated like a n****r, as the racist hits from Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, Tagg Romney, and Mark Sanford illustrated over the past couple of weeks.

I’ve given a little bit of your background as a writer in the questions I’ve been asking. How/when did you get into the written word? Did your background–hometown, education, family/friends, etc.–lead you to writing? 

Writing, for me, is like breathing. It’s always come naturally. I can’t ever remember not doing it. I wrote my first poem around age 8; that’s when I realized the power the written word wields. I’ve embraced, respected and honored it ever since.

What are your interests outside of writing?

Reading, mostly non-fiction; I check out sites like Racialicious and Pam’s House Blend every day, and recently finished Nile Rodgers’ memoir Le Freak. Fans of the B-Boy Blues series know that one of my other pastimes is music. Four of the B-Boy titles are taken from the Luther Vandross catalog: 2nd Time Around, If Only For One Nite, A House Is Not A Home, and Love The One You’re With. And the soon-to-be-released print edition of my short story collection, Can You Feel What I’m Saying?, is a hat tip to Minnie Riperton. For most of my professional writing life I’ve been a cultural affairs reporter, doing artist profiles and music reviews. I’ve always wanted to write the way Luther sings.

What scoops/tidbits do you want to share with Racialicious readers about your upcoming projects?

My first solo project in seven years, How Stanley Got His Back in Groove, is available on iTunes and amazon.com. As you might’ve guessed, the eBook is a nod to Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back, except this May-December couple are a 40-year-old born-again virgin and his former student, who is now 20, sinfully sexy, and ridiculously stacked.

A film adaptation of B-Boy Blues is currently in development; Frank Gatson, Jr. has signed on as director. I just got word that the theatrical version of B-Boy is a finalist for next year’s Downtown Urban Theater Festival. And the eighth title in the B-Boy Blues series, Men of the House, will be released next year, so Raheim “Pooquie” Rivers & Mitchell “Little Bit” Crawford will be returning in 2013 in a big way. 

Anything else you want to add? 

Just this week someone asked me, for the umpteenth time, “Who is the gay rapper?” As if there is only one. Some heterosexuals still don’t get it: Hip-hop is a homosocial institution, not because of the intensely homoerotic camaraderie but because there are so many homosexuals in it, both holding the mic and behind the scenes. So can we please leave that ridiculous gay rapper meme in the 20th century?

Also, if you haven’t yet and you’re allowed to: vote early!

Major love to writer/scholar/activist Darnell Moore for introducing James and me!