Who is Dr Cornell Butler Jr?
Technically, I am not Dr. yet (that comes in 2014!) J But, to answer your direct question about who I am, I would say that I am the sum of all of my experiences, bad and good. I am an incomparable music lover. I am a hopeless romantic. I am holding out for that one great guy to sweep me off my feet (or the one guy who creates the feeling for me to sweep him off his). I am a new author. If I had to classify my genre or niche, I would say its lifestyle writing. I dream of being the gay Carrie Bradshaw in more ways than one. And I am a constant learner- I call that being a student of life. The human experience is so varied and complex- lucky for us, we get to see renderings of that artistically through music, literature, visual and performing arts.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was naturally hard. A single mother, who at the time I was home, had five children she worked hard to feed and clothe, raised me. I was also different. From the very beginning, I knew I wasn’t like typical boys. I am not athletic AT ALL. I enjoyed watching the Miss America pageant for the evening gown and question and answer competitions; the swim suit segment bored me to tears. I was also identified as talented and gifted pretty early- which for my peers meant I was a nerd. Growing up wasn’t horrible, but (to reference my favorite poet, Langston Hughes) wasn’t a crystal stair either.
What would you say were some of your main challenges growing up? Why?
Some of my main challenges growing up were growing up in an urban area and being different. I was often the object of ridicule and laughter. My peers regularly called me “gay”, “faggot”, and “sissy” before I even knew what those words meant. At the time it hurt, but that was mostly because I didn’t like being called names. No one does. I didn’t fit in. I often felt like an outsider. The reason why that was such a challenge is because you feel like you are all alone, and there is really no one you can turn to that would understand how you feel. I struggled until early adulthood with image and self-esteem issues as a result of these experiences.
My mother is a strong and resilient woman. She is a major influence in the sense that she taught me to expect and want more from myself than others would give or assign me. She also taught me the value of perseverance, even when it looks like things may not work out. My girl friends (friends who were girls) were also very influential because as I grew up, I learned to be comfortable about being me and learned that true friends accept you and support you.
What morals and values did they instill in you?
I learned self-encouragement, the value of self-investment, the value of genuine friendship, and the most important moral ideal in my opinion: living by a utopian philosophy that asserts that in everything you do, you should seek to make the decision that does the most good for the most people.
At what age did you realize you were gay?
I would say I was probably certain I was gay at 13.
What was the turning point in discovering your sexuality?
The turning point in discovering my sexuality was when I realized that I simply didn’t have a sexual attraction to girls/women. My response to boys/men was completely different and I began to fanaticize about men instead of women. I had “girlfriends” but we were only good friends. At 14, I made the conscious decision to face the fact that girls didn’t interest me that way.
Do you feel like there was a difference in people when you came out?
The biggest difference came from my mother, which was the biggest shock for me. She had always been so supportive, but the revelation of what she said she always knew was too much for her. The other people were inconsequential. They didn’t matter to me very much anyway.
Can you tell me what its like to be the First National Vice President of Delta Phi Upsilon Fraternity?
It is rewarding and challenging. It is like having a 3rd job that you don’t get paid for. LOL I love my fraternity and I love my brothers. With an organization the size of ours, you have to be strategic in how you make decisions because they affect the ability of our organization to share our mission and message, grow and build on our image. You serve in many capacities at this level of the organization, and it takes hard work, dedication, and a categorical imperative to juggle all of the roles and obligations.
What are some of the lessons you try to teach you frat brothers?
I have Three P’s that I impart to my fraternity brothers that I think should guide our lives. These are promptness, professionalism and passion. In everything, you should be prompt. Presence of mind and preparedness are the key components of promptness. The next is professionalism. You are a representative of not only yourself, but also the organizations with which you maintain membership, your job/career, and the people you associate with. You are the definition of a brand. We need to be conscious about the image we project. Keeping professionalism at the forefront of our actions protects that image and brand. Lastly, you need something that motivates you to continue on the journey we call life. You need something that gets your creative juices flowing, and something that is so important to you that you want to see it thrive and flourish. I mentioned a categorical imperative earlier- that is putting passion to work in an elevated sense.
What was the inspiration behind writing your book "Songs in the Key of Heartbreak"?
I’d always dreamed of seeing my name in print. But the biggest inspiration behind the novel is the fact that we often look for love – and even when we think we’ve found it, sometimes it’s only meant to last for a season. Ultimately, I wanted to exhibit the fact that love, in its purest form, is universal. Regardless of the actors (or their sexes or sexualities), we all want love. This is a topic and story with which we can all have a connection.
Can you give us a synopsis of the novel?
The story follows a guy who is essentially looking for companionship. After leaving an unsupportive family environment, he is forced to assert independence, but is desperately seeking someone to love (albeit unconsciously) and for someone to love him back. It’s a comical, drama-filled story that is full of plot twists and interesting characters who impact his life in a variety of ways, and ultimately shape who he is. I should note, this is only part one of what is intended to be a series, so even though it may appear to be a coming of age book, he has not fully arrived at the end of the novel. It is intended to be the beginning of the story of one man’s journey to truth, life and love.
Why do you feel as though songs are a great way to tell a story?
Music is INCREDIBLE. It can change your mood, it can help you through the best and worst times of your life. Music, such that it is, is the story of life. None of us is experiencing something that someone else has not previously experienced. Music helps us cope because the lyrics are artistically coupled with instruments to tell a story that will connect with us – wherever we are – physically and existentially.
Do you think your background story helped create the basis for this book?
Absolutely! I would say I experienced 80 % of the things that happened to the main character in the novel. Of course, this is fiction, so much of it is exaggerated for the purposes of good story telling. But, I am writing from a very personal place.
How do you feel that your story will differ from any other African American gay male?
Each of our stories are different. We each have a voice and we need to use that voice to share our perspectives on life and the human experience. I didn’t set out to be different. I am different as a matter of my being. Even with all that said, we are more alike than we are different. I think the way I share my story and how I will purpose my story to empower myself and others will be the ultimate thing that sets me apart from other African-American gay males.
Do you feel like there are a lot of "ahh ha" moments in the book?
There are several. You will realize that moment when you feel like you aren’t good enough. You will realize that moment when your own self-worth and preservation is what should be the most important thing to you. I personally realized how I’ve fallen for men, who were no good for me; I knew it from the beginning- but I pursued them anyway. I know how to avoid that in the future. That’s the best thing about writing and any kind of self-expression: it’s cathartic. You get an emotional release and clarity that comes from no other source.
What do you hope people take away from your book?
The only thing I want people to take away from my book is the concept of the universality of love- and that no matter who you are or who you love- we all want it.
In about a year and a half I will be completing my PhD. I hope to have released the sequel to Songs in the Key of Heartbreak at some point next year and I hope to have fallen madly in love.
Do you have any last words for your fans and my viewers?
I have two quotes that resonate with me. Find those words that connect with you and turn to them when you need them the most.
“The worst disease in the world is hate and the cure for hate is love.”
“Sometimes I am discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.”
-Zora Neale Hurston