Author George M. Johnson shares motivation behind new book ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’
In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Johnson opens up queer identity, race, and the real-life inspiration behind his YA novel.
George M. Johnson‘s book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is out everywhere and examines his life experience from childhood through his young adult years examining topics relevant to societal existence. Through a series of personal essays, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is “both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color,” according to the official details.
The subject matter ranges from gender identity, toxic masculinity, and brotherhood to family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Johnson shares his opinion on the timeliness of the release and the intent behind his words, down to the book’s title. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a result of multiple influences, all impactful to Johnson’s experience.
“I named the book ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ for a myriad of reasons. The first reason is the most obvious. It kind of is a play on my gender reveals and how we know when kids are born. It’s like, oh, girls are pink. Boys are blue. And so in saying like, well, all boys aren’t blue is kind of a statement, like, oh, OK. And let me think about that for a second,” says Johnson.
He continues to describe how growing up in a household where his father served as a member of the police force, and the contemporary fictional character Blue of Queen Sugar, and Tarell McCraney‘s original play Moonlight, which inspired the Academy Award-winning film directed by Barry Jenkins, helped influence his work.
Johnson also recognizes the importance of analyzing race and gender and increasing queer visibility on multiple mediums. Although the representation of queerness continues to grow, so does violence against queer-identifying people. Acknowledging that oftentimes, negative thoughts and attacks against queerness are homegrown, George hopes his book exists as a resource to families who may need help navigating their children’s identity.
“Now that we have more children who are starting to identify at a much younger age, we have to be the community that is a blueprint that starts to put systems in place, and safety mechanisms in place for them, when they do come out,” he explains. “So that they are safe and that they have homes to go to and also resources. We didn’t have a lot of resources when I was growing up and I felt that the book, most importantly, could be a resource guide to families, in particular Black families who were looking for a way to figure out what may be going on with their children.”
Johnson also details recognizing his queerness at a young age in “All Boys Aren’t Blue.” From the time he was small, Johnson recognized that he was different, without being able to put a name or label on his desires. He felt that it is important to highlight that children oftentimes know what is going on within them and need space to express their feelings.
“I think the great thing about the way I wrote the book was the introduction to my queerness comes very early and it comes at the age of 5. And even though I didn’t have the language at the age of 5, the only thing I knew was that I was different and I knew what that difference was,” says Johnson.
He continues, “We are more than capable, especially at that age, of telling you something is different about me, and this is what I like and this is what I’m feeling. Especially around the age of 10, 11, when puberty starts and I was starting to have feelings.”
Johnson says that he made sure to talk about his thoughts and express how “heavy those feelings were towards the same sex, and just towards things that didn’t fit into the box of a hetero[sexual] norm.”
“It’s so important that when people read this book, they understand that children really do have a firm grasp on what’s going on with them,” he stresses. “That we, as adults, haven’t created a space for them safe enough to actually tell us the truth, that they’re living outside of what we’re projecting onto them and what we’re trying to force them to be.”
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a YA adult and Johnson is aware of the pushback and the possibility of the book being banned from schools.
“I think when the vessel is white and queer, there’s a savior effect that happens, kind of like victimhood, that happens in a community. Where it’s like, ‘Oh, this is a disgrace story and we need to champion it, we need to support our kids, we need to do this,'” says Johnson.
He continues, “When the vessel is someone like myself and not only am I talking about homophobia and sexuality and gender, but I’m also talking about racism and anti-Blackness and how those systems intersect.
Johnson explains that the intersectionality of his book could create an environment where parents are upset about the novel’s subject matter, deeming it too mature.
“It’s like, ‘No, my kids don’t need to be learning about this. I know my kids. Why are we learning about this? Why do we need to know about gay sex and why do we need to know about what happened in this Black boy’s life and etc.,'” he says. “So, yes, I do think it would be banned. Yes, I do think there are going to be a lot of school systems that push back.”
He adds, “If it happens, it happens and I’m prepared for it.”