With All Boys Aren’t Blue, George Johnson is the latest at-bat in what is shaping up to be a burgeoning, yet bountiful genre, that of black queer men coming of age. Yet, unlike Darnell Moore’s No Ashes in the Fire or Michael Arceneaux’s I Can’t Date Jesus, or DeRay Mckesson’s On The Other Side of Freedom, Johnson is speaking directly to young adults.
“The ultimate goal of this, in addition to making sure black queer kid literature is out there, is that I wanted to tell a different black story. A story of a black family that may not have always got it right, but they did the best they could with the knowledge that they had,” says Johnson via phone with The Root.
Johnson, a black queer journalist and activist, also said he wanted to tell a story that was not totally steeped in trauma and tragedy, but one where his family and community smothered him in love and affirmation.
“I wanted to show myself and be this vessel of someone who was resilient because anytime you say anything that’s about a black queer person, it’s like, Oh, he must’ve got beat up. Yeah, I had those experiences but I also had this amazing mother and this amazing grandmother who stepped in. And my father who was this black police officer from the South, but he still never made me feel like something was wrong with me. “
In writing All Boys Aren’t Blue, slated to debut in March 2020 (the cover, seen above, debuts today, during Pride 2019, exclusively on TheRoot and Out.com), Johnson says he was forced to delve deeply into his emotions because young people want to know.
While turning in one chapter, in particular—that of having sex for the first time—Johnson said his editor pushed back and urged him to crack himself open. He, on the other hand, said he feared being “salacious.”
“Sometimes with adult memoirs, you have a little bit more control or license over where you want to go. But with young adults … you need to go there; kids are harsher critics than adults, and kids actually understand politics. They want to know the whole story,” Johnson says. “In particular, when I was writing about the first time having sex, I wrote it very technically, And my editor was like, This is boring! You gotta spice this up!”
Johnson said he had to go back to the mind (and ostensibly, the raging hormonal body) of his adolescence, and delve into the ways he was inquisitive about and thought about sex. He notes that this is not encouraging kids to go out and have lots of gay sex. “If you read about it, would it make you go out and do it? No, but it would have been helpful to read about someones’ experience so that … others will know what it’s like to navigate that space.”
When I asked Johnson what else—besides seeing themselves represented—black queer kids might need, he noted that visibility is only the beginning.
“I always say that visibility and representation is a starting point. What happens after you see us? What black queer kids need is they need support; they need policies that speak to them, policies that matter to them,” he says.
“What do black queer kids need? They need people around them to understand that even though they have an additional oppression, even though they identify differently, they’re still connected to blackness. Something as simple as learning black history that includes LGBT people that are black. Who are also Civil Rights pioneers, like Marsha P. Johnson; Sylvia Rivera; Miss Major? And so, the biggest thing black queer kids need is way past visibility and representation; it’s actual structural changes so that they’re being taught about themselves.
In essence, Johnson wants to provide a “blueprint” for the kids themselves, for black families and communities to take the lead in affirming and uplifting our nonbinary, gay, queer, trans, and questioning children.
“That’s what queer kids need—not only love and support at home but also at the barber shop, but also at the church. Any other place where they should have just as much access and right to be in as any other black kid.”
All Boys Aren’t Blue is available for pre-order here.