Michael L. Counter, Jr. is a veteran of the United States Air Force & current member of the Department of Defense Civilian Sector. He is completing his pre-graduate studies in English Arts at Midwestern State University. He is a current intern & writer for the non-profit minority-based newspaper Dallas South News (www.dallassouthnews.org). His work covers race relations, literacy, gay rights, and youth empowerment. Michael is also a regular film & music critic for the online magazine The Couch Sessions (www.thecouchsessions.com). He is also the go-to-guy for the AUTHENTIC Female and Music Collective, the
premier public relations & marketing firm (www.sheisauthentic.com; www.onlyauthenic.blogspot.com) for artistic women of color. Ultimately, he will be a novelist & social critic whose work will focus on empowering the Black LGBT community & cementing its place within the Gay Rights Movement. He lives in Texas with his boyfriend Scott & their two cats Telly & Mac.
What is your relationship to the American South?
I grew up in Magnolia, Arkansas, a small town in the southern part of the state. Our church to citizens ratio is ridiculous! Everybody’s daddy uncle brother grandpa was a preacher or wanted to be a preacher or would be a preacher. Needless to say, I was in church & knew church folk, & trust, they knew me & all of my business. I had none, but what little secrets a black gay boy could have in southern Arkansas, the town measured me by these assumed indiscretions and whatever rumors that seemed conducive to their worldview. I was the nerdy bright-skinned, big headed, brown-eyed boy with the girly voice that loved to dance. Not much has changed.
What was the last book you read that you would suggest to young gay men of color?
James Baldwin’s Just Above my Head has been haunting me for the past month. I’ve visited it before, but something about Baldwin’s prose feeds a hunger in me that only he can fill. Although the book is long (over 500 pages), watching this story of a gay black southern gospel singer struggling between the sacred and secular worlds is a story of so many black gay men in the South. These characters existed in my family and in my church. I knew this story before I read it. Baldwin’s novel simply provides primary color to my pastel memories.
What was the first book you read with gay characters and/or themes?
E. Lynn Harris is from Arkansas. He had just published his first book Invisible Life. My town library had it hidden in the top room of the building. Not because it was about the kids *three snaps*, but because the top room was set aside for Arkansan authors. I was such a smarty & a diva (I still am!); so instead of reading age-appropriate literature, I snubbed A Wrinkle in Time and chose to have tea with Toni Morrison & Alice Walker. I knew then that my fairy-tale didn’t exist in that space between Judy Bloom’s pen & pad. Boys like me wanted to be one of Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters – beautiful black queens in the making. I learned to re-imagine stories until I could venture to the Adult Fiction section of the library. Actually, I re-imagined until I could coax Ms. Katherine into letting me check out Invisible Life. Ms. Katherine was the first black librarian in our town. She loved that I loved books & she always made sure that I never had late books. I suppose this would be a time in my life when Master P would say “I got the hookup! Holla if ya’ hear me!”
Nevertheless, being the snooty so-&-so that I am, I went upstairs to finish my analysis of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Yes. At 11, I was preparing analyses of texts for my mom & dad. Usually, that text was the Bible; but they always to encourage me to see beyond the limits of society & my home. My parents wanted to know what I thought about Roald Dahl’s book. I was focused on the little men that Mr. Wonka kept in his *clears throat* factory.
I remember needing a break from the table at which I always sat. On every book shelf there was somebody from Arkansas talking about the great Ozarks or the Little Rock 9 or Arkansan wildlife. I passed this shelf that looked like all the other shelves in the room. However, I came to one shelf & saw a new crisp cover with two men & a woman on it. They were black. And the two guys seemed close. I picked up the book & read the last page. I do this with any fiction book I want to read. If I like the last paragraph, I’ll get the book. E. Lynn Harris peaked my interest even more when I found out that he was black. At that stage in his new career, I don’t think there was any information about his being gay, but the back flap did mention his help with the University of Arkansas Razorback Cheer Squad. This, my friend, had me hooked. I finished the book in three days. Invisible Life was the first book I read that helped me begin to imagine what being a black gay man could be and was and is and should be.
Did it have any impact on your life or writing?
Of course! I remembered what it was like searching this vast library, looking for myself. I was looking for boys and peers and men like me. I wanted to be part of life. But not just any life. I wanted to be part of life that included my interests and ideals and hopes for family and friends. I wanted my wet dreams to not be interrupted by Laura Winslow from “Family Matters” or the precursors to today’s Video Ho. I wanted to touch objects that held words like “he loved him” and “he yearned for him” and “he and him lived happily ever after.” This is why I write. So that little black boys with a dance in their heart, the earth at their heels, and the world in their palms can find themselves in the book of life.
Is there anything that frustrates you about the portrayal of gay men in literature & art?
My love for words and expression and my generally pacifist nature frustrates me because while I feel it is wrong to censor images or words, oftentimes I don’t feel like my gayness has value when I ingest the images the media places before as who I am or what I should aspire to be. I often believe it’s my job as the consumer to enable the images and sounds and words and art that most encourages my vision of gay men and our lives. I don’t want to get rid of the sidekick queen who snaps and snakes and twists and dips and screams and hisses on every show or in every movie. That’s his story. I want love stories. It’s my responsibility to give money and voice to the story about the multi-dimensional black gay lawyer whose two kids love him. He has a wonderful partner who is a cashier at the local Target. And they’re happy. They don’t visit the gym everyday. They just make sure that they make all of little Alicia’s recitals and all of Jared’s baseball games. And yes. Gay-bashing is real. But not every gay story knows bashing. And not every gay story includes a jaded hag. But the lawyer and the cashier live in America. And although, they rob Peter to pay Paul, they don’t have sex with them or invite them to a ecstasy-laden rave. They go to the movies and discuss what they watched as they get ready for bed. The lawyer kisses the cashier and says, “I love me some you.” The cashier nods and hums Toni Braxton’s “I Love Me Some Him.”