George M. Johnson is an award-winning journalist (having written for Teen Vogue, Entertainment Tonight, The Root, THEM and other national media publications) and HIV and LGBTQ+ activist located in the NYC area. Their young adult memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue was released today. They stopped by to talk about coping with quarantine, violence as a valid form of resistance, and “Moonlight.”
Elephant in the room: how are you doing at the moment? Any special coping strategies?
Luckily I am an introvert so it hasn’t been as bad a struggle for me. There are certainly moments where I find myself just pacing around the apartment in disbelief that we are really in a pandemic. I have my book release and some other projects that keep most of my time occupied.
My strategies for coping are to be kind with myself. On days that I feel good about producing content I do really well. Then there are days I just don’t have it in me so I allow myself to just rest and not feel bad for not being able to produce anything. I also do a lot of prayer, using sage, and having my candles lit while I work helps keep my mood good.
inQluded was created for queer people of color because it’s so rare that we see ourselves represented wholly, accurately, or with nuance. What are the difficulties of living as someone with an intersectional identity?
I never enter the room as just one thing. So often times in white spaces my “othering” starts at my Blackness and in heterosexual dominated Black spaces my othering starts at my queerness. I don’t exist in pieces so I show up fully as I am which to some can be a problem. Safety is always at the forefront of my mind because even those who “tolerate” us only do so to a point. The goal for me isn’t acceptance as much as it is acknowledgment of my existence and understanding that I deserve everything any other human has access too. So it can be hard to navigate the world when you are often left outside of communities fighting for your survival.
Because YA books are for teens and usually try to point them on the right path to live, many writers promote non-violent resistance to oppression, which I, personally, am adverse to, so I was happy to see that your memoir didn’t condemn violence as a way of dealing with oppression. Can you talk a bit about that?
Sometimes you gotta fight. Point blank. It’s one thing to not condone violence but another to think it isn’t an option when my life is under attack by so many. To pretend that in many circumstances violence isn’t the only option people have is to disregard so many who experience direct violence at the hands of their oppressor. Furthermore, when you have ancestors who fought their way out with the use of violence, riot, protest, etc, it’s part of history and legacy. So it’s not lost on me that although some methods of non-violence have been valuable to any type of oppression, so has the use of violence against the oppressor. As a Black queer person it is sometimes fight or flight. And in some cases it’s fighting for your literal life.
I was also happy to see that All Boys Aren’t Blue is a story about a queer person of color who comes from a loving, supportive, protective family. Obviously you couldn’t change that because it’s life and you’re writing nonfiction, but you very well could have emphasized the difficulties associated with your family. What made you highlight their acceptance?
I wanted to highlight the Black family that did the best it could with the tools it had. And for me it wasn’t hard to write about them in a positive light because they are truly amazing people. Many of the people in the book who are my family I still talk with regularly, some of them daily. So I did touch on the difficulty that was there as much as I felt it was necessary to the story. But I also feel like I have a duty to treat even the worst Black person with care. This world doesn’t often have empathy even for the best of us. I felt telling this story with transparency and beauty was necessary to change the narrative and tell a story from the other side of the equation.
Have you received any feedback from gay Black youth that has particularly impacted you?
Absolutely. I had a Black gay kid reach out to me to answer questions as he wanted to do his senior project on me. I was shocked that my work was reaching kids in high school. Sometimes kids just need to be able to see someone like them out in the world making moves for them to know they can do the same. I’m always getting messages from young adults about something I tweeted or did or said that inspired them, especially those in college. It really keeps me going and reminds me of how important and impactful my work is in the world and why it is important that I keep going.
The theme for inQluded’s next issue just so happens to be “Blue,” in all possible interpretations. That color seems to have a unique meaning to the Black community. In addition to “Moonlight,” I think of Beyoncé saying “You can’t put blue lights on Black girls!” You talk about this in the Afterword of the book, but I’m wondering if you could tell us how you came up with the title All Boys Aren’t Blue and its meaning.
Yeah, there are a few reasons for the title. The first is the play on the gender reveal. We all know that traditionally pink is for girls and blue is boys. So in saying “all boys aren’t blue” I am saying that if my parents had a gender reveal, I’m sure blue balloons or smoke or something would come out, yet in reality I am far from the typical “boy”. My dad was a cop and they are referred to as “men in blue” so growing up in a cop household was like growing up in a blue family so to speak. The third is a reference to the character Blue from queen sugar. I connected with him having the girl doll that his father allowed him to play with and everyone thinking it was a phase. Then as he got older and still wanted the doll, the questioning started to come about if he might be gay or not. I think that character is so important to see and the relationships of his aunts and parents in raising him not knowing what Blue may be. And the fourth reference is to Moonlight which is a movie I love so much and a nod to Tarell’s intention around how he depicts Black people and tells Black stories. He is certainly one of the best storytellers of our generation and it inspired me in many ways to handle my characters with care and empathy.
Interviewed by Aaron H. Aceves
Photo credit: Sean Howard