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“Be bold and brave and queer,” George Johnson. –All Boys Aren’t Blue
All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto
by George M. Johnson
AR Test, Diverse Characters, LGBTQ
George Johnson grew up as a queer Black man. In his memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue, Johnson reflects on the ways that the intersection of these two identities influenced his childhood, adolescence, and college experiences. Johnson discusses being jumped as a small child, ridiculed at school for being too feminine, being sexually assaulted, and finally accepting his intersecting identities. He also describes the support his family provided for him through these difficult times. Johnson does not brush over any details in this raw memoir.
All Boys Aren’t Blue is presented as a series of essays about various experiences Johnson faced throughout his life. In the first section of the book, Johnson considers his childhood and how being different made growing up difficult. Johnson writes, “When you are a child that is different, there always seems to be ‘something.’ You can’t switch, you can’t say that, you can’t act this way, there is always something that must be erased – and with it, a piece of you. The fear of being that vulnerable again outweighs the happiness that comes with being who you are, and so you agree to erase that something.”
Next, Johnson describes the important familial relationships that helped him grow into himself. He emphasizes his relationship with his grandmother, who made sure he felt safe being fully himself. Johnson’s collection of essays on his teenage years are painful because he is assaulted. Finally, Johnson concludes with his time in college. Even as he begins to fully embrace his identity as a gay black man, he still faced challenges, such as a friend’s suicide.
Johnson wrote his story as a memoir for young adults because he hoped his story would help others. Johnson stated, “This meant going to places and discussing some subjects that are often kept away from teens for fear of them being ‘too heavy.’ But the truth of the matter is, these things happened to me when I was a child, teenager, and young adult. So, as heavy as these subjects may be, it is necessary that they are not only told but also read by teens who may have to navigate many of these same experiences in their own lives.”
This memoir is powerful and heartbreaking. Johnson not only tells painful stories but also reflects on how the experiences still affect him. This book encourages young readers who face similar situations and lets them know they are not alone. All Boys Aren’t Blue is a must-read for any young adult who has gone through painful experiences. Johnson discusses sexual assault, queerness, existing as a black man, and losing his virginity as a gay man. He shares his coming-out story and the support his family provided. While All Boys Aren’t Blue is difficult to read because of the heavy topics, the book gives a voice to anyone who has been victimized by others and stigmatized by society.
- Johnson started talking to guys his age in middle school, saying, “It was interesting to finally feel like I was one of the boys. Hearing the conversations they had about girls, the cursing, the tough-guy act. They talked about sex, although none had actually had it.”
- Johnson describes his family’s fears about his transgender cousin, Hope, going out to the bars. Johnson says, “I remember my mom used to worry because some of the stories covered a little bit of sex and some of the issues you ran into with men. There was always some story about how men wanted to mess with y’all, but only in secret.”
- When he was a child, Johnson’s older cousin sexually assaulted him. Johnson describes, “You were fully erect at this point . . . You stood fully erect in front of me and said, ‘Taste it’ . . . and You ejaculated in the toilet in front of me.” The scene is described over several pages.
- Johnson details when he was sexually assaulted in the school bathroom. While he was using the urinal, “I felt someone come up behind me. At first, I froze because I didn’t know what was happening. He put both his hands around me and moved down to touch my genitals.” To end the assault, Johnson proceeded to shove the person.
- Johnson said now that he is older, he can empathize with his cousin. Johnson said he wishes he could ask him, “Did anyone ever hurt you? Did anyone explore things with you sexually before you were ready? Who taught you about sex in a way that you weren’t ready to understand – in a way that made you think I needed to get it firsthand from you, so I would know who not to trust?”
- Johnson spends a chapter of the novel discussing losing his virginity “twice.” He discusses in detail his first time penetrating another male. Johnson “eased in, slowly, until I heard him moan.” He also discusses his first time being penetrated by a male saying, “He got on top and slowly inserted himself into me. It was the worst pain I think I have ever felt in my life.”
- When he was five years old, Johnson was jumped. He describes the scene: “The third kid swung his leg and kicked me in the face. Then he pulled his leg back again and kicked even harder. My teeth shattered like glass hitting the concrete.”
- Johnson discusses understanding the world he lives in as a black man. He states, “It wasn’t lost on me how racist the Rodney King beating was.”
- Johnson discusses the violence of hazing for a few pages. He says, “A person trying to join Alpha Phi Alpha (the same frat I was interested in) was killed in a hazing incident gone wrong.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Johnson describes his Aunt Cynthia and his uncle arguing over drugs. He says, “Aunt Cynthia and ‘Uncle’ got into an argument over laundry that I learned much later was really over drugs.”
- When his extended family came to town, Johnson said, “The Jersey City Crew arrived later that afternoon like they usually did: with a case of beer, money to play cards, and a readiness to shit-talk.”
- Johnson’s cousins often caused trouble. “We would sneak and drink liquor from the liquor cart and refill the bottles with water.”
- In college, Johnson frequently drank liquor. For example, when Johnson goes to college, he describes his friends. “They became my crew. We would all get together every night and eat, drink, and do homework. I had a car, so I became the ride for all of us when we needed to get groceries, cigarettes, soda, or something for the munchies.”
- In college, Johnson relied on smoking weed. He states, “I was smoking up to three blunts a day, working, partying, drinking, and not going to class.”
- Johnson is very intentional with his choice of language. He uses the term “nigga” as he grew up “with it used as a term of endearment in his household.” However, he makes a point to state, “never with the ‘-er’ at the end.” Whenever he encounters someone who uses the “-er” he types it as “n*****.”
- Later, Johnson does use the term “nigger.” For example, “I was never called a nigger, but I did deal with weird, racially charged questions.”
- The word “shit” is used occasionally. For example, Johnson discusses healing from trauma. “It’s necessary that we do the work to unpack our shit.”
- The word “ass” is occasionally used. Johnson described the look his grandmother gave his cousin in one scene as, “I’m gonna beat your ass when everyone goes home.”
- “Damn” is used often. Whenever the phone would ring, his grandmother would yell to Johnson and his cousins, “Get the damn phone.”
- The word fuck is never spelled out in the book, rather it is typed as “f***”. For example, when Johnson was called George in his roll call in high school, he said the students all said, “Who the f**** is George?”
- Johnson uses the word “faggot” and “fag” often. He said, “A sissy is what the kids used to call me back then, but before they got older and escalated to the word faggot.”
- Johnson discusses ghosts being in his grandmother’s house. He says, “The house had ghosts, and Grandma liked to bring it up from time to time that she could see them.”
by Paige Smith