I imagine the world was created beneath a canopy of silence. Perfect
silence. While in my own personal silence I would create the world
I dreamed of. A world full of love and absent of life's harsh realities.
A world where all dreams would come true. A place called Perfect.
But I've come to realize that some dreams you have to give up. I
live in a world that promises to protect me but will not catch me
when I fall. In this life I have fallen many times. From these falls
I have learned many lessons. Lessons involving lust, loss, love,
and life. Lessons that hit as hard as an unannounced summer thunderstorm,
sudden and sometimes destructive.
One of my life's unexpected lessons occurred during my senior year
in college. It was on the first Friday in October that my brain
released a secret it had struggled to protect throughout my adolescence.
I learned on that day that my sexual orientation was not a belief
or choice, but a fact of my birth. And just like the color of my
skin and eyes, these things could not be changed, at least not permanently.
My name is Raymond Winston Tyler, Jr., and I am a thirty-two-soon-to-be-thirty-three-year-old,
second-generation attorney. The son of attorney Raymond Winston
Tyler and Marlee Allen Tyler, an elementary school teacher, and
big brother to fourteen-year-old Kirby. I had a happy childhood,
growing up deeply ensconced in the black middle class. A child of
the integrated New South, born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama,
a city that in the past was known more for church bombing than being
the bedrock of college football.
I returned home after law school and several years of successful
practice in a large New York firm. About a year ago I moved two
hours south to Atlanta, after a two-year stint of running my pops's
law firm while he followed his lifelong dream and became a member
of the Alabama State Senate.
Atlanta struck me as a vibrant city. A cross between country and
cosmopolitan, a city where popular eateries still took personal
checks, that is with a valid driver's license. A city consumed with
sports and the dream of becoming the Motown of the nineties. Atlanta
was a city on the move and even though it didn't have the flash
and energy of New York City, it was more conducive to my life than
Birmingham. Now don't get me wrong, I love my family and my birthplace,
but I knew it was time to move on and continue my search for Perfect.
I was living in a trendy Buckhead condo and working for Battle,
Carroll & Myers, a black, female-owned law firm specializing in
entertamment and sports law. I had originally moved to Atlanta with
the understanding that I would go to work for the city government,
but a few days before I was to start, I received word that a hiring
freeze had been put into effect. I later found out from a friend
of my father that the reason for the freeze was because someone
in the mayor's offfice wanted the position promised to me to go
to an openly gay, black attorney. Now wasn't that just the shit.
My Columbia Law School education and major New York firm experience
didn't amount to anything. Just my sexual orientation and then only
if I was willing to make it public, which I wasn't. So with the
help of my good friend Jared Stovall, I went to work for Battle,
Carroll & Myers. My position created an ironic dilemma. I was hired
in part because of my love and knowledge of college sports. The
firm was actively seeking college athletes about to turn professional
and it was my job to convince these young men, mostly black and
from black colleges, that the firm would be looking out for their
best interests. I had just entered a period in my life when I was
practicing celibacy and trying very hard to put the male body out
of my mind, but now I was constantly in steamy locker rooms with
some of the most beautiful bodies in the world.
Our firm also represented a number of rappers and singers, but Gilliam
Battle, the founder and only remaining partner, handled the majority
of them along with the recording executives. Though an extremely
smart woman, Gilliam didn't know jack about sports, other than the
fact that pro athletes made a great deal of money and didn't have
the slightest idea of what to do with it. Gilliam not only assembled
a top team of attorneys but also a staff of investment counselors,
speech coaches, doctors, and whatever it took to make sure our clients
represented us as well as we represented them.
My social life in Atlanta was in a lot of respects similar to life
in Birmingham, back in the closet. Atlanta did have a visible gay
community but it was visibly white. I wasn't forced into the closet,
it was just a choice I'd made out of respect for my family, especially
my pops. My parents knew about and tried to accept my sexuality,
but the fact that they knew didn't mean they wanted to discuss it
around the dinner table or with my little brother. So like my parents,
I too decided to ignore my sexuality and went back to my old straight
act the minute I left New York. Talk about your safe sex. Besides,
men were basically dogs--couldn't tell the truth if their life depended
on it. And now your life does depend on it. Trust me I know. In
my past I too have been guilty of not being totally truthful, either
with men or women. But men never expect honesty. Women, on the other
hand, say that they want the truth; but then they act like they
don't hear you when you try to tell it like it is. Sometimes in
the heat of passion men are not the only ones who let their sex
do the thinking.
Currently there is not a female in my life besides my mother and
Gilliam, but there was a man, a good man. I'd met Jared Taylor Stovall
in Birmingham when he'd come to run my pops's political campaign.
Jared was a political consultant who had been highly recommended
when Pops's victory was in doubt. Jared became a member of our family,
practically moving into my parents' home during the race. Jared
actually convinced me to move to Atlanta by offering me a place
to stay and remarking with a devilish smile, "I want my niggah around
me all the time."
Jared was quite handsome in a rugged sort of way. His looks inspired
confidence--tall and strapping, six foot three and two hundred and
ten pounds of slightly bowlegged, biscuit-brown masculinity. Large
bittersweet brown eyes, and a smile that would have lit up the Atlanta
skyline. He was as smart as he was good-looking, finishing at the
top of his class at Morris Brown College and later getting an MBA
at Clark-Atlanta University. He was the oldest child and the only
son of a devoted mother who had raised him and his two sisters alone
in southwest Atlanta. Jared never mentioned his father.
I hadn't shared my sexuality with Jared mainly because it had never
come up. I hadn't determined if Jared himself was gay or straight,
just as I couldn't tell if his closely cropped hair was naturally
curly or mildly relaxed. Only when I felt lonely did Jared's sexuality
cross my mind. Sleeping alone with just my pillows for comfort created
an insatiable void in my life. Our relationship wavered between
brotherly love and romantic love, though it was a romance without
sex. A romance in my mind only, at least as far as I knew.
I'm what you would call a romantic, a severe romantic, yet lasting
romance has eluded me. I grew up believing that you really fell
in love only once and that that love would last forever, like in
the movies. I now know that most people consider themselves lucky
if they fall in love once and have that love returned. But I wasn't
even that lucky; the truth of my present situation was a love life
that consisted only of daydreams about Jared and listening to R&B
songs about love dreamed but never attained. I longed for a love
that would make me feel like the soothing love songs that caused
an involuntary smile to linger not only on my face but in my heart.
A love life that was an eternal "quiet storm."
My love life had included a quartet of lovers--two men, Kelvin and
Quinn, sandwiched between my first love, Sela, and Nicole, the woman
who had broken my heart because I hadn't told the truth. A lie that
sent me packing back to Birmingham, back into the closet, and into
my present celibate state.
Now even though I hate labels, I still consider myself bisexual.
A sexual mulatto. I mean how else could I explain how members of
the singing group En Vogue and certain members of the Atlanta Braves
aroused my sexual desires with equal measure?
I didn't feel comfortable in a totally gay environment or in a totally
straight environment. I often wondered where the term gay came from.
Lonely would better describe the life for me. There was absolutely
nothing gay about being a black man and living life attracted to
members of your own sex in this imperfect world I called home. For
now a place called Perfect remained a dream.
When I was in the fourth grade, the boy who sat behind me would
always pull my hair any time he thought no one was looking. He would
really get on my nerves. One day instead of pulling my braids he
slipped a note in my hand. It read, "Will you go with me? Yes...No...Maybe.
Please circle one."
Since I didn't know where he wanted me to go, I placed the note
in my knee socks and took it home to my daddy, asking him what I
should do. He gave me some advice I've always tried to live by.
"Listen to your heart," he said.
From my daddy's words of wisdom I realized that my heart has a voice.
It speaks to me with each beat. My heart protects me, shielding
me from the things I can't see or lack the courage to face. My heart
knows who I am and who I'll turn out to be.
My name is Nicole Marie Springer, former beauty queen, Broadway
actress, and sometime word processor. Thirty years of age, but that's
twenty-five in show biz years. Born and raised in Sweet Home, Arkansas,
right outside of Little Rock, population five hundred and eighty-five,
and one stoplight. Daughter of cotton farmers James and Idella Springer,
older sister of Michael. A small-town girl with big-city goals.
They say in every life some rain must fall, but I've just come through
a couple of years dominated by thunderstorms. Right now my life
is cloudy and overcast, anxiously awaiting the sun.
In the last three years I lost my beloved father to a sudden heart
attack, my best friend Candance to AIDS, and Raymond, the brief
love of my life, to another man.
The death of my daddy, though sudden, was not quite a surprise.
He was seveny-seven years old and had spent his twilight years defying
his doctor by not taking his high blood pressure medication. But
the loss of my college sorority sister and closest confidante was
Candance, the first person I had met at Spelman College, was not
only beautiful and brilliant, but was just months away from her
dream of becoming a physician. Her sudden illness hit like a ton
of bricks. Candance, who told me hours after our initial meeting
that she was going to become a doctor, marry, and have two children.
She lived to see only one of those dreams come true, marrying Kelvin
on her deathbed. Kelvin Ellis, the suspected culprit of Candance's
demise. Kelvin, the same man who introduced me to Raymond who I
fell quickly and deeply in love with, the love I thought my heart
had led me to. I never found out if Kelvin was in fact the man in
Raymond's secret life. I was too distraught to even think about
After the breakup with Raymond, I began to doubt my own sexuality.
Had I not been enough woman to satisfy him, or had I been too much?
I spent night after night crying myself to sleep, praying that my
daddy and Candance would send down some advice, since I could no
longer count on my heart.
I questioned how Candance and I could have fallen in love with men
who were so incapable of loving us completely. Men who would never
give the one thing they could give for free. Honesty.
My relationship with Raymond did slap me into reality. I realized
that things were not always what they seemed. I now questioned any
man I was interested in dating, asking if he was gay or bisexual
or if he planned either in the future. Though I couldn't always
detect the truth, I got a lot of interesting responses, including
one guy who threw wine in my face and then stormed out of the restaurant
we were in. The wine tasted like a "yes" to me. There was also the
guy who when I posed the question to him, politely excused himself
from the dinner table, went into his bedroom, and returned minutes
later, standing before me butterball, butt-naked with a certain
part of his anatomy at attention. "Does this answer your question?"
he smiled. I wanted to respond with a song I loved, "Is That All
There Is?" But I know how men are about their...well, you know.
These dates from hell led me to my current beau, Dr. Pierce Gessler.
In a decade where everybody was looking for safe sex, I was searching
for safe love. With Pierce, I was able to maintain my self-imposed
celibacy vow and still have a suitable escort when needed. Oh yes,
Pierce is white and Jewish. So much for my dreams of marrying a
BMW (Black Man
Working) or a BMS (Black
Man Straight). But Pierce was wonderful, supportive,
and loving, without a lot of luggage. He helped me out in the lean
times when I was getting more calls from temp agencies than my agent.
An agent whom I later fired when I heard him tell a casting person
at a soap opera that I was a dark-skinned Robin Givens.
Pierce was always telling me how beautiful I was. It made me feel
good. No man besides my daddy had ever constantly told me I was
beautiful. Raymond told me a couple of times but his honesty was
in question. And even though I had won several beauty pageants and
was third runner-up to Miss America, I never considered myself beautiful.
When I looked in the mirror I saw a face enhanced by Fashion
Fair makeup, and hair, even though it was my own, permed
with the help of a colorful box of chemicals.
In addition to Pierce, I was also blessed with two wonderful friends,
Delaney and Kyle. I first met Delaney at an audition and again later
when she was doing hair and makeup for a show I was appearing in.
My big Broadway starring role that closed after thirty-one performances.
Delaney was very beautiful, a talented dancer and a just a little
bit crazy. She made me smile and take a look at life from a more
upbeat view. Kyle, Raymond's best friend, had become a friend through
default and, in a selfish way, our friendship allowed me to keep
in contact with Raymond without really being in contact. Kyle was
handsome in a cute little boy sorta way. Cornbread brown skin, deep-set
brown eyes, thin black curly hair that was starting to recede, and
a smile that could dilute darkness. Kyle was openly gay and didn't
pull any punches. You knew where he stood. I could deal with that.
He was my first openly gay friend, and he kept me in stitches with
his quick wit.
My career in New York, similar to my love life, had been one of
highs and lows. Moments when I didn't feel very successful, times
when I would have given anything to be sitting on the porch back
home watching my dad eating sardines and crackers while I munched
on strawberry Now 'n' Laters. After signing with another agent,
JUST AS I AM by E. Lynn Harris Copyright© 1995 by E.
Lynn Harris. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random
House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be
reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.