He also didn’t feel safe being himself, even within his own family, who had told him not to be gay, that homosexuality was a sin. “I had no role model to tell me what’s next for a boy like me,” he says.
His mother, Joan Jones, was “considered the black sheep of the family because she had resisted all patriarchal norms,” he said, and “asserted atheism early on.” But his father, Alfred Benjamin, raised in Hell’s Kitchen during the Depression by parents who had immigrated from St. Kitts, later joined the Nation of Islam and, in Jones’ words, “had very strict about what a man is supposed to be. Jones and his grandfather never said they loved each other; they were only “as close as patriarchal masculinity allows men,” said the author.
But eventually, something about him surpassed his self-doubt. “There were those voices,” he said, “that I attribute to the ancestral voice, that made me uncomfortable with this fear, and that kept waking me up in the middle of the night. to do it. And so I wrote it.
Karen Maeda Allman, a bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle who identifies as multiracial and lesbian, called the result “the book we’ve been waiting for” – and she’s been in the industry for over 30 years. “People like me knew being gay isn’t a new thing,” she says. “And yet, where are the stories?”
There will be people, Allman says, who “don’t want to go.” She hopes they pick it up anyway. After all, as Laymon said, “this is one of those books that can change the world.”
Jones knows this kind of change is possible because he’s seen it. One day in 2002, when he hadn’t seen Benjamin for over a decade, he received an unexpected call from his 85-year-old grandfather. “He said, ‘Look,’ Jones remembers. “‘I don’t quite understand your lifestyle, but you are my grandson and I love you.”
“People can change,” Jones said. “That’s what he told me. It may take a lifetime, but people can change. “
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