There are not many African American gay poets or writers who left an imprint in the world of literature. Unfortunately, their names are quickly forgotten just like the names of thousands artists, who failed to follow social norms in a certain period in history. Luckily, the name of Essex Hemphill is an exception. Through his works, he managed to convey his ideas and bring awareness to a wide circle of readers. His unique gift made him one of the most successful writers of gay community. Someone who was not afraid to be true to himself, Essex Hemphill was a symbol of self-acceptance and tolerance as well as of pain from not being accepted.
The life of Essex Hemphill was difficult. Although his mother acknowledged his sexuality, she still didn’t support him throughout life. Abandoned, isolated and not understood by his family, Essex led a lonely life without any presence of close relatives in it. This became the main theme of his poem Commitments. The tone is sad and pessimistic, he desperately needs understanding from his family, but gets none.
The poem not only simply depicts his inner state, but also shows how his family tried to create a false image for the society. He says that he’ll always be a smiling picture on the wall among the photos of his siblings. The cheerful tone of family holidays also creates a false sense of security before the bitter tone strikes in the third part. He understands that even while surrounded with the people he loves, he is still alone. The reason for that is obvious for him. He realizes that he will never be a true part of the family, since he differs from everyone, and they will never be able to support his lifestyle. In the end, he will never be more than a smiling picture on the wall for his own family.
In the last part of the poem, the author understands that this lack of love in childhood will not be compensated later in life because that’s the kind of affection you can get only from your family. His sexuality has deprived him of that feeling and will affect any kind of relationships in the future.
In other poems, Essex Hemphill tried to describe how people live in lies by trying to create a perfect image in the public eye. In reality, many people hide something behind the closed door, but do not hesitate to judge others. The poet proves that there is nothing unnatural in relationships between two men or two women. The unnatural relationships are those, which are built on profit, dishonesty and insincerity. These are the relationships that should be condemned, not genuine love between two people of the same sex.