All Boys Aren't Blue by George M. Johnson
This is George M. Johnson’s memoir about growing up Black and queer and the way these identities developed in him.
There’s four parts, one about his childhood, then significant family members in his life, then his teenage years, and finally his college years and the friendships he made during them.
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.
This is an often recommended memoir, and I see why. It’s an exploration of the Black queer identity, and how being both Black and queer impacted Johnson. He talks about he wasn’t often comfortable even in Black circles because of his queerness, but queer circles are usually white. It took him a long time to find a place where he was comfortable with both his identities.
One part which I didn’t like was the chapter on his trans cousin. She died before he wrote the chapter, so he didn’t get permission to do the things he did. He deadnames her repeatedly, referring to her by her deadname and by he/him pronouns when he talks about her pre-transition. This felt disrespectful. She wasn’t a boy before transition; she was always a girl, and it was unnecessary to call her the wrong pronouns and name. Most reviews don’t mention this, and I’m not sure why, because it was a pretty significant chapter and the deadnaming was done continuously.
Excepting that chapter, I really loved the memoir and reading about Johnson’s experiences. It was a coming-of-age story, and while Johnson’s experiences are unique, many of his thoughts and circumstances are relatable to others. It’s a memoir manifesto, so Johnson also has quite a bit of direct encouragement and affirmation toward queer boys that I think is very important, especially for those without supportive family members.
Without the deadnaming this would be amazing.