McVey-Russell, Gar. “Sin Against the Race”, Gamr Books, 2017.
A Different Kind of a Coming-Out Story
It has always bothered me that there is a racial divide in the LGBT community even though many of us have African American gay friends. What we do not have much of is insight into the Black community and how it reacts to its own gay members. We have had reality few novels and nonfiction works on the Black LGBT community and I found it distressing when in many cities Black Pride activities began to take place since this widened the gulf between us. Please understand that I am not saying that our community is racist, I am just saying that we do not know much about of brothers and sister of color.
When I get the chance to read and review a piece of work by and about the black community I jump at it for two main reasons—to educate myself more about something I know little about and then to pass on what I have learned. I was so pleased to be recently contacted by Gar McVey-Russell who asked me if I would be interested in reviewing his new novel and I told him what I tell so many others— it is polite to ask but unnecessary. I review because it is important to spread the word about our literary heritage. Whenever someone has a new book or movie out, they just have to send it to me and as hard as it might be to believe, I review everything that is sent to me. Reading has long been a part of education and none of us have ever learned enough.
Alfonso Rutherford Berry III is the son of a city councilman and the grandson of his state’s first African American legislator. He believes that history has ordained for him and while it might not be the kind of life he hoped for, it is his to build himself. Some might think he has a disadvantage with having a established political heritage while others might see this as an advantage. Alfonso loves dance and he hoped that hat would be where his life was heading. Sometimes we forget that to gain what we want we must move in that direction and surmount the difficulties that block our way. What has hindered Alfonso are a series of tragedies that began with the death of his out gay cousin Carlton. Alfonso and Carleton had shared a love for jazz and the blues but now with his cousin gone, he is on his own to make his way in the world.
Leaving his own closet behind him and in shatters, Alfonso hangs on Carver Street, the queer Northside of his largely black neighborhood. There he becomes friendly with some of Carlton’s friends including Sammy, a local storekeeper and “mother” image to all the gays in the neighborhood, Bingo, a “leather queen and nurse practitioner”, Vera, a transgender activist and photographer, and Charlotte, his father’s political rival. Alfonso is in the process of finding himself and he is lucky that Carleton came before him and opened the door for him to be able to walk through. Until this point he had simply been the son of a politician but soon he will be his own man.
When he goes to college, Alfonso becomes close to Roy, a guy he knew from high school and who has dreams of becoming an actor and Bill, a guy he recognized from his days at church. Then there is Jameel, who he has had a crush on.
Alfonso soon realizes that these events will pit him against his father, his family and his church and will definitely hurt what his grandfather established years earlier.
McVey-Russell is an excellent writer who pulled me into the story from the first moment and even with all of the coming-of-age stories that are out there, this is one that is very special. We are taken into a community that we know little about and we are with Alfonso as he moves into self-acceptance and stops being just the son of a politician to becoming his own man. I love that as I read, I became involved with the characters and felt what they felt. There were moments that I had to stop and dry my eyes. This is such a beautiful read and one that is badly needed as we see that we all deal with similar problems and that race is not important as we deal with who we are.