I’m With the Banned is a series that aims to promote books that have been recently challenged as unsuitable for young readers, giving parents and readers a deeper understanding of the themes involved. All Boys Aren't Blue is a "memoir-manifesto" by George M. Johnson.
All Boys Aren’t Blue is described by author George M. Johnson as a “memoir-manifesto,” a series of autobiographical, non-chronological essays which relate numerous issues faced by Johnson growing up in small town New Jersey. The themes involve the intersection of Black and LGBTQIAP+ identities simultaneouly.
Please note: This review contains discussion of trauma, specifically sexual, as it pertains to the memoir in question.
This young adult book has been challenged due to the fact it contains descriptions of sex between the author and other people in two chapters. The first is when the author was molested by a relative who was a few years older than themself. The second describes in detail the first times the author engaged in consensual sex. Critics have accused this book of being criminally sexual.
When Johnson is pressured into participating in unwilling sexual exploration, the feelings this situation evokes are complex. Anger, humiliation, and betrayal grapple with a need for closure regarding a beloved family member who had been a protector and friend before and even after the event. People who suffer trauma often experience it from a trusted figure and can be burdened with similar conflicts. Johnson makes this conflict clear in the first line, “I contemplated whether I would write about you now that you are dead.” The chapter is titled, “Boys Will Be Boys...” and contains a description of a less intimate assault in a high school bathroom by a schoolmate which turned Johnson off to sex for years. The chapter’s title refers to the way “boys” are socialized to chase sex with little or no regard for their partner’s feelings or desires.
The chapter dealing with consensual sex is titled “Losing My Virginity Twice.” The reader is given a step-by-step description of what happened when Johnson first gave and received anal sex and the feelings surrounding it. While "Boys Will Be Boys…” deals with the trauma they suffered, this chapter is hopeful. It is about the importance of consent in sexual encounters. Johnson gives a thorough account of what happened, giving the reader an honest look at what informed and active consent looks like, with two partners moving forward together, keeping each other’s health and pleasure in mind.
But is it “pornography?”
Famously, pornography is a hard definition to pin down. The original meaning is “recorded sex work” (porneía, prostitution, grápheinto record). Legally, the definition varies, but according to Cornell Law, “the presence of nudity or sexual acts in piece of media does not necessarily make that media pornographic if the purpose of that media form is something other than sexual stimulation.”
The question is, what is the purpose of these chapters and this level of detail?
Johnson grew up in an era when sex education was ubiquitous but inadequate. Many young adults were left without adequate knowledge of subjects such as:
This absence is dangerous. HIV transmission blossoms in places where open discussion is suppressed. Without the knowledge to keep themselves safe, people are more likely to engage in risky behavior. LGBTQIAP+ young adults who receive heteronormative, abstinence-only sex education will be left ill-equipped when faced with these situations for the first time. These chapters, with their detail and from a lens of a Black queer person trying to exist in various contexts, give a different view of the risks and rewards involved in sex. Absent a model such as this, young adults who do not conform to traditional identities will be left with the models Johnson had: a pathetic excuse for education and the vast archives of actual pornography that is the internet.
Critics maintain young adults should not have access to materials which discuss sex in any capacity, that doing so is encouraging sexuality in youths.
Putting a book on a shelf isn’t talking to anyone about sex. It isn’t guiding the discussion or determining the outcome. Johnson’s recollections, which read like court reporting rather than erotica, do not guide the reader to a conclusion. We are given a situation, and then we are given reflections on that situation, how to cope now that it has happened, how to find closure after trauma, and how to seek active and enthusiastic consent.
Young adults whose parents and schools provide resources may grow up understanding these issues, but the aggressive defense of “my right” to curate others’reading becomes “my right” to deprive young adults of autonomous exploration, youths who are being abused and told it’s normal, whose abuser is still in the family, a family that may be hesitant to address abuse.
Youths like George Matthew Johnson.
As the author notes in defending the work:
“…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 had to navigate these same experiences in their own lives.”
When critics say Johnson’s story is inappropriate for young adults, they are saying their childhood was inappropriate. Ignorance only empowers exploiters. There are numerous people who have been abused as young adultsand told it was “what people do.” These people may have accepted the abuse because no one told them it was wrong or they deserve help. Many of these youths would be able to speak up if only they had a model for doing so. Depriving them of solidarity will only make them more vulnerable to their abusers, and more vulnerable to a lifetime of poor coping skills and shame as their pain pushes them deeper into isolation.
We cannot solve problems we refuse to confront.
Sensitive readers should be prepared for:
Detailed description of child-on-child sexual abuse
Detailed description of consensual sex
Violence against a young child by older children
Gender identity issues, struggle against social conditioning