Saturday, October 25, 2008

Black, Brown, and Gay in America: "Drifting Toward Love" (Book Review)

Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay, and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York
by Kai Wright
Boston: Beacon Press, 2008

Drifting Toward Love: Black Brown, Gay, and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York tells, in a sympathetic tone, the poignant stories of a small group of young men of color in some of the grittiest parts of New York City furtively looking for homes that protect them against the violence or disease that surrounds them. Like most adolescents, they face the conventional pains and traumas of growing up. But they do so in a world where their race, sexual orientation, and class works against them.

Kai Wright, the author of several earlier books on African American life, draws intimate portraits of these young men's tragic, but still heroic, lives. Manny is a black boy who is still coming to terms with his sexuality, as he cuts school, cruises sex sites, and hangs out at parks. Though an intelligent adolescent, he struggles to negotiate the color line at school whilst coping with a troubled relationship with his single-parent mother. He and best friend Jason plunge from an immature love relationship into a friendship of drugs and hustling. But Manny is pulled into an explosive social movement, and ends up as an activist. What motivates him to leave the shambles of the past should keep most readers engaged.

Julius's story, meanwhile, is a classic tale that many gays. of various colors, share: a young gay man flees his rural roots, seeking liberation in the promising lights of the city. But Julius, a black youth, never finds his new "home," as he is soon homeless, hustling, and using drugs. Love--by others and of the self--eludes him.

Julius seeks refuge in a gay-friendly shared house on the east side of Brooklyn. It is a refuge that a number of other dispossessed--in body and spirit--share. One of them, Carlos considers that same house a safe haven, but he must try to deftly balance his definition his identity with the patriarchal demands of his large Puerto Rican family.

In Drifting Toward Love, Wright, in an almost novelistic style, interweaves the stories of these men into the broader currents of social, political, and economic changes of the city. The end result is a fairly nuanced understanding of these lives set within a larger context. The book moves at a fairly brisk pace; there is very little intellectual jargon that you see in GLBT studies or history these days. If you can read a newspaper or magazine article, you can read this book. It will open your eyes to some of the more troubling trends in society today, and also remind you that in spite of many odds, sometimes people can, with the support of new networks of friends and loved ones, overcome their demons.

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