As of 2023, the American Library Association has recorded 2,571 unique literary works that are either banned or challenged in the United States. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Matthew Johnson is one of the 2,571 literary works that have been banned by at least one organization in the United States.
A self-proclaimed manifesto memoir, All Boys Aren’t Blue follows the life of queer Black non-binary activist and journalist George M. Johnson. A story of acceptance, of values and a collection of lessons for queer youth and queer youth of colour, Johnson’s manifesto memoir is a game changer within the young adult genre.
Not only telling the story of a non-binary queer Black individual but acting as a an almost guideline or self-help book for youth within similar situations, Johnson and their book takes on the daunting task of addressing and acknowledging communities of youth that are so often ignored by the adult population. A unique perspective that completely ignores the idea that inequality, discrimination and hardship are unique to adult populations that we may label as already “knowing everything about themselves,” and instead highlights that discrimination, inequality and hardship often presents itself at ages so young that they may be unmemorable. It is through works like Johnson’s that it can be so thoroughly emphasized that meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities are just as important for youth as for adults, and that our work to meet these goals should in fact begin with younger populations.
A rather detailed description of Johnson’s entire life as a queer Black non-binary individual growing up in the United States, the manifesto memoir is split into four acts detailing everything from earliest memories of their teeth being kicked in, learning their parents had been calling them by their middle name, their university years and to their first sexual experiences as a gay Black individual.
Although Johnson’s story appears as unique as life stories come, yet, it isn’t distinctive. Their story is simply the story of thousands of young queer youth and youth of colour, but its uniqueness derives from the fact that the story of those thousands of young kids just like Johnson haven’t been told yet.
It’s no secret that the current state of the world and the society that has not been the most conducive to the voices and stories of minorities and discriminated communities. With the utter failures of the entertainment industry to showcase queer and minority stories to rising hate crimes against people of colour and queer individuals and to the attacks on queer educational events like drag queen story hour across North America. Johnson and the publishing of All Boys Aren’t Blue seems to be breaking this trend.
Delving deep into the stories and life lessons that so many have deemed unacceptable, sinful and “predatory,” the novel, at face value, seems only to be telling the stories of individuals that exist across all facets of life, but it is so much more than this, it is the opening of the floodgates. All Boys Aren’t Blue is a gateway to not only tolerance of queerness and Blackness, but a novel that teaches adults and young adults alike that acceptance of yourself and others around you for whatever differences we may have should simply be a given.
Despite the importance of books like Johnson’s and the lessons they teach, All Boys Aren’t Blue has landed itself on lists that seemingly no author wants to see their work on. Becoming one of the most frequently censored books across the United States, All Boys Aren’t Blue has been removed by school boards across at least 10 states and was named the third most banned and challenged book across the country in 2021 and subsequently has been pushed up to the second most challenged book in 2022.
Some may question why is this book, a young adult memoir, is being targeted by so many book bans? Frequent responses to this very question state that the book is censored due to the high frequency of LGBTQIA+ content, profanity and its being considered “sexually explicit.” This response seems to only raise more questions. Although, the book has moments of sexual explicitness, many readers may argue, the explicitness is only mentioned in passing to discuss sexual health in the queer community, a long-overlooked issue additionally so why is this such a large issue when children are taught sexual education throughout elementary, middle and high school in North America?
Other questions that are raised in regards to the appropriateness or profanity at the mere mention of sexual education or health through a queer lens, teaching children to fight typical gender norms imposed by society, etc. Why should the youth not be taught about the dangers that unprotected queer sex may bring? Why is it profane that the topic of being transgender is brought up? Why is it profane that the ravaging effects of the AIDS epidemic on the queer community are brought up?
Johnson isn’t all that surprised that the topics covered in their book has landed the book on so many banned lists. To them “America has always had an issue with anything that tells the truth,” but Johnson and All Boys Aren’t Blue is here to change that. The topics covered in Johnson’s book truly only seem to be a problem within society when looked at through a queer lens, which remains to be part of the problem.
The content of the book is not in any way controversial, rather the book’s topics are so unequivocally necessary for marginalized communities to be able to pick up and read. “I am talking about sexual education. I am talking about consent. I am talking about agency. And I am using my story to teach kids about the mistakes that I made the first time I had sex, so they don’t make those same mistakes. I am teaching kids about not feeling guilty when sexual abuse happens, and how to recognize sexual abuse. And how to fight back against those traumas that you can hold on to for so long,” stated Johnson in an interview.
At the end of the day, All Boys Aren’t Blue and Johnson’s work acts as much needed representation for a young community that has long been neglected by mainstream society. Trying to deny the story from so many like Johnson will not stop them from having experiences that society deems unacceptable, instead removing these works stops them from “being able to know what to do when those experiences happen to them.”