Author George Johnson talks about the struggles of growing up Black and queer

Written by Alam Alidina

Student reporter Emma Hagood talked to George Johnson, author of The New York Times’ bestselling memoir “All Boys Aren’t Blue” at the SXSW EDU conference in Austin, Texas about the struggles of growing up Black and queer—and how that experience feels especially relevant now as those identities come under increasing legislative pressure. 

Their conversation was featured in an episode of our teen mental health podcast, On Our Minds with Matt and Faiza.

Johnson’s goal was to give men an outlet to discuss trauma through their memoir. “There is no place for anyone who identifies as [a] man or male to really say, I’ve been harmed, I’ve been abused,” Johnson said. 

To do so, Johnson had to redefine masculinity itself. It wasn’t just “the thing that said you should have fought back, you should have punched him, you should have killed him, you should have harmed him”—for Johnson, men, too, could be vulnerable. 

So they set out to write “All Boys Aren’t Blue” in an “extremely vulnerable and transparent” way, hoping to prove to queer teens that they “deserve the right to have their stories told.” 

But Johnson was undergoing personal struggles at the time. Their grandmother, whom they’d written about in the memoir, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor that gave her 12 to 18 months to live.

“I had to kind of like really come to terms with the fact that like I needed to heal from a lot of things from my past and also be figuring out what my grieving process would need to look like with her,” Johnson said.

Worse, when the memoir was finally published, their transparency brought immediate—and virulent—feedback. School boards removed “All Boys Aren’t Blue” from libraries in ten states. And in Iowa, legislation was drafted that would make it criminal for teachers to distribute the book at all.

Johnson had expected a response: “​​In being that vulnerable to share my story and being vulnerable to put that messaging out there, I had to go to a place where I knew I was making myself a potential target because these are things that we have always been taught are things that you do not talk about publicly.”

But now that “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is out, they hope it can be a source of comfort to LGBTQ teens, especially those who feel marginalized by the regressive legislation that’s been passed in Texas and Florida and is being proposed across the country.

“Writing this book was a way it was cathartic in a way where telling these stories and putting them out to the world gave me the opportunity to get them out of me,” Johnson said. “And I am now watching other people be healed from my healing.”

Listen to ‘On Our Minds’ wherever you find your podcasts, or click here.