CBR Bingo – Bodies, because this book is all about how the author came to accept his identity – his life in his queer, Black body – it’s a letter of acceptance for everyone who might need it, which includes all of us.
I loved this memoir – this vulnerable, beating heart of a book – which explores the life of a young, queer Black man growing up in New Jersey. Johnson describes how he came to accept himself even as he struggles with two prominent parts of his identity, as a black man and as a queer person. The book is told in four parts, describing how Johnson grew up in a large, loving family. Even with their acceptance of LGBTQIAP+ folks within his maternal family generally, he still struggled to accept his queerness in his youth. Even within a largely black social structure, he struggled to understand his place (especially as a smart black boy, whose education included a diverse elementary school, a largely black middle school and an largely white high school). He writes openly about what it was like to struggle at the nexus of these two identities, the ways that his understanding of himself blossomed and changed over the years.
Johnson writes openly and vulnerably about tragedy, abuse, and joy in equal measure. He writes very openly about his sexual awakening, which may be the reason why the book is banned – but he made a very deliberate decision to include vivid depictions of his abuse, as well as his initial sexual experiences. He is essentially writing the book that he wished existed for him – a manual to help someone younger and coming to understand themselves see what it might look like to grow up as a black, queer man. He is open about what he does and does not struggle with, so that the reader might find a way to connect with that.
I am not a black, queer man. None of those identities match me – and yet, I understood and connected with what Johnson shares here. That private longing to better understand yourself when you’re accepted and loved and yet you still feel DIFFERENT. So many people will understand that. The empathy for even the people who have hurt him – while maintaining the reality that forgiveness isn’t a requirement, only accountability – that felt so powerful.