Keith Butler on his 'Unapologetic Memoir'

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday February 15, 2022
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author Keith Butler
author Keith Butler

Memoirs by LGBTQ authors continue to be more popular than ever, with books by Mary Gauthier, Leslie Cohen, Lauren Hough, Michael Sayman, John Paul Brammer, and Precious Brady-Davis published in 2021, and memoirs by Harvey Fierstein, Alexandra Billings, David Pevsner, and Henry Hoke due out in 2022.

Little Black Gay Boy: An Unapologetic Memoir of Surviving, Coming Out, and Recovering (Acta, 2021), by Keith Butler, is another addition to the genre. Butler, who grew up in Virginia before relocating to Chicago where he currently resides, has written a no-holds-barred book about his personal struggles and his path to recovery.

Gregg Shapiro: Keith, why was now the time to write your memoir Little Black Gay Boy?

Keith Butler: I have been wanting to do this for so long but never thought I had a story to tell or that anyone would really care to hear it. Over the last five years, I have really done some intense work on myself and realized that my story could help others and it was time to get it out.

You write with brutal honesty about your journey, ranging from childhood sexual abuse to coming out, to meth addiction, to recovery. Was there ever a point in the process of writing the book that you considered writing it as a novel instead of a memoir?

No. I wanted people to know the truth about my life and by writing it as memoir they would hear my story in a compelling way because it really did happen this way. As a novel, people that I speak of, my family, could deny the things that I talk about but as a memoir, it's my voice telling the truth about my experiences, and no one can deny or downplay my experiences.

In the book, you do write about the abuse you suffered at the hands of some of your relatives, which made me wonder if you were aware of whether any of them have read the book, and, if so, what they think of it?

There are a couple of relatives that will read the book and I am sure they will not be happy to hear me tell the truth of the abuse I suffered because of their actions. I am really not concerned or care what they think after they read it because it's the truth and maybe it's time they look at the part they played in my upbringing.

Keith Butler with his partner Ron Schnorbus  (Source: Facebook)

Each chapter of the book concludes with a "For Little Black Boys Who Want to..." mantra followed by advice that you offer the reader. Would it be fair to say that Little Black Gay Boy is as much a memoir as it is a self-help/advice book?
My publisher wanted that piece added at the end of each chapter because even though the story, in some cases, could be universal, he wanted me to have a moment that I speak directly to "Little Black Gay Boys."

So, I guess you could say that. I feel it's a brief conversation I get to have with them directly and a self-help book would have some numbered questions to reflect or write on that would be about them taking action to look at their lives.

Who do you consider to be some of your favorite writers, both non-fiction and fiction?
E. Lynn Harris, Essex Hemphill, Anne Rice, and Armistead Maupin.

Also included in your personal journey is your role in the 2001 movie Kevin's Room. With that in mind, if there was a movie version of Little Black Gay Boy, who would you like to see portray you?
[Laughs] that question was also asked at my book launch. I am not sure who I would want to play me. I mean, we would have to look at (my life) both as a child and as an adult. No matter how far this book goes I have said to my Higher Power I just want to be part of the process.

But since that night I have given it some thought and I would love to see Miles Brown from Black-ish to play me as a child and Wayne Brady as me as an adult because we are almost the exact age just off by a month and a few days. I have also been mistaken for him a few times in airports. But I don't see it [laughs].

Beginning with the chapter "Chicago, My Kind of Town" you write about your relationship with your adopted hometown, where, in 2017, you were inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame. What does such a distinction mean to you?
When I was told I was being inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame, I broke down crying because I was being recognized and put in a category with some amazing people that had done so much for our community.

To be told, "We see the work you have done to elevate our community," meant my life and work really has meant something in the lives of others. I am so grateful that this is part of my legacy, and it motivates me to keep doing the work.

Have you started thinking about or working on another book project?
Yes. My next book will actually be a self-help book with the target audience being people in recovery or figuring out how to recover from drug addiction. In sharing my stories of recovery, I only touched on a little in this book. I feel again I can help those struggling with addiction to know they are not alone, and they don't have to go the journey alone.

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