Paperback edition release: 27 April 2021
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren’t Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson’s emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
CWs & TWs
Physical harm, mention of racism, transphobia and homophobia. Mention and depiction of trauma. Rape, sexual assault and trauma related to it, incest. Death of a relative, grief, illness. Bullying. Deadnaming.
The author is black and queer, mention of various LGBTQIAP+ people.
I am honestly stunned by this book. I am not used to reading memoirs or manifesto or anything that is not fiction. Even if I try to read more of them this year. This one really did surprise me in a lot of ways. The way the author has to organize their thoughts and part of life under peculiar subjects, while keeping a timeline we can navigate through. This way, it is really easy to get into George M.’s life, into their trauma, their past and how it shapes the person they are while writing this. You can feel the impact of every word on the person who wrote them, which is one of the most powerful things to tell a story when you think about it. And well, even if it is non-fiction, it is still a person’s story. And the fact all of it was real deliver much stronger messages. As I see it, the following: live your life right here, right now. Your life is going to be shaped by your decisions, do not let anyone else decide anything for you. And finally: you are not alone.
« People being allowed to be called by their chosen names and their gender pronouns is the rule. »
Okay, I need to tell you something before going on why this review: I am queer, not cis, and I am white. So, of course, the story didn’t have the same power it certainly has on black queer people that it had on me, in the way my life will never be bothered by the colour of my skin. This gave a whole new perspective to my reading, it made it all more informative and touching because one can never know what someone is living through, at least their walk in their shoes. I think this is a memoir to put in every young person’s hand who might question their sexuality, gender identity, or what it means to be a black person and also be queer. Not only because it is a powerful take on traumas and how they shape our existence, but also because as the author tell us themselves, maybe by telling their story and what went wrong in their queer experience they can help young queer and black people not to have the same traumas.
« To go years without smiling in pictures, rarely being questioned why, leaves me to wonder how many signs of trauma we miss or ignore in Black children. »
There is a kind of trauma, though, that no one can really escape: death, and grief. There is a whole chapter about it in this book, about death and seeing death and acknowledging death and dealing with the grief. Not that the author really gives any key – it is not the point, and no one has keys to go through this – but they share their experience. It is not really about death, but more about what happens before that: the moment the child becomes the parent, the moment it is our turn to take care like we’ve been cared for. And I think it was a fantastic take on the subject, because some people – especially us, young peeps – are afraid of death, of dying, of things changing and of people around us getting old. But we sometimes forget how long and important this chapter of our lives can be, and how taking care of our elder can be the most beautiful thing ever. This whole part of the book touched me deeply for some personal reasons, like it will for a lot of people I think, and that’s how I know reading this book was the greatest of ideas.
« I’ve never thought about immortality before. I always assumed that my mortality would be linked to my inability to survive as a Black queer person. »
Also, the whole becoming adult part of the memoir is simply amazing. Because, hey people, we are going to make mistakes on our way to adulthood. Many mistakes. We are going to get lost, on our own, like it happens to a lot of young adults as they leave their parents’ place for university. And this is something we don’t talk enough about, how the university can be a lonely place and how you can easily get lost when there is no one around to support you and walk along your path. You need to find yourself a new family, far from your own, and this family you will find in people who look like you, in people who you will be able to find yourselves into. Because those people will truly see you. Not the idea of you. Not who they wish you are. And this is the most important thing ever. I dropped out of college because I was alone, and it took me a whole year to find myself. For some, it takes more time. And George M. lived something very similar, the loneliness, the feeling to be lost and the need to be found. I would have loved to read this before entering my college, it would have been amazing to know about someone else, somewhere, living something similar
« There is truly something to be said about the fact that you sometimes can’t see yourself if you can’t see other people like you existing, thriving, working. «
Wow, I am sorry, I think it is my longest review so far, but I have so much to say! I loved the way masculinity is treated in this memoir, the impact of it, the importance it takes in our society and therefore, in our minds. Little boys will grow, either queer or not, under very masculine expectations. And if they don’t reach all of them, they will feel less, not worth it, not truly legitimate. And it is a part of George M. story, how trying to gain this masculinity led to traumas but also to the greatest things in his life. Because that’s all it is about in the end: the path you take in your life does not have to be the most perfect one – and it won’t be – but what is important is to keep on walking. Because as unperfect it sounds, you will always find ways to make it worth it, that you notice it or not. That you are aware of it yet, or not. You will always learn something, about yourself, about the world, about how you can make things better. And don’t forget…
« Be bold and brave and queer. I know that’s easy to say and much harder to do. »
- have you read this one?
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