By GLAAD | June 16, 2022
GLAAD has teamed up with audio entertainment leader Audible to co-curate and produce a written interview series featuring LGBTQIA+ talent from the Audible family.
Our first interview features Aaron Foley, the founding director of the Black Media Initiative at the Center for Community Media at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY and author of Boys Come First. He was interviewed by GLAAD’s own Anthony Allen Ramos.
Check out GLAAD’s interview with Foley below:
AR: Aaron, thank you so much for joining us today. First off, happy pride to you!
AF: Happy pride, happy pride! So excited!
AR: Congrats on the story! I’ve just started it. I think so many people are gonna love it and identify with it. With Boys Come First – before we get into some of the other questions, set it up for us because I love this whole premise, I love the message, and I love this journey that you’re taking us on!
AF: It’s about three gay Black best friends from Detroit. And two of them live in Detroit and one of them is from Detroit and lives in New York, right? And he has the total breakdown – he catches his boyfriend cheating on him the same day he gets laid off from his job! And then he just kind of has this mental break and decides to drive back home and move in with his mom, and he’s in his 30s and he’s feeling very self-conscious about that. But his other two friends who are from Detroit and never left the city, they kinda help him through it – but the three of them kinda help each other through all of these weird things that are going on in their 30s, right?
So some of them have trash boyfriends, some of them: “dating is trash” – like all of that. Their careers are not quite where they want them to be. And then it’s all happening in Detroit where the city is changing a lot. I am from Detroit originally. And they’re kind of experiencing all these personal and professional challenges as the city changes around them. And “Will their friendship stand the test?” is the question here.
AR: Well, let me tell you I’ve started this and I’m all in! It is so great! And I can’t wait for the rest of the world to start listening to it as well! But thinking about this story – which I love that it’s, you know, very much based on your personal experiences. Like you said you’re from Detroit. Thinking back, I think for so many LGBTQ people inspiration often comes from role models and people within our community who changed the way that we’re seen, the way that we’re heard, and just overall represented in society. So I’m curious who are some of the people in the community, in our community, that have inspired you or your work? As I said, this is your big debut!
AF: Yes, so definitely as a queer Black author you can’t talk about writing without talking about James Baldwin, E. Lynn Harris. I also admire some more contemporary writers like Brian Washington and Rashid Newson. He’s got a book coming out pretty soon.
On a more personal level, I’m sitting here in my mom’s house right? So like one of the characters right? I think often of how I was blessed and fortunate to be exposed to queer people at a very early stage in my life because my mother, and even my grandparents, were friendly and working with queer people at various stages of their lives. I knew a trans woman when I was like six or seven because my mom worked with one. I knew a very proud openly gay man that’s still to this day one of my mom’s really good friends. And it was one of those things where I saw them so often, because my mom was very close with these people, that I just kind of grew up not really thinking twice about it.
Obviously, growing up you do have to have your own internal things about being queer and what not. But for me, to compare it to like many people I know who didn’t meet a gay man or whatever until they were like in their teens or their twenties. I’m seeing this when I’m five or six. I’ve been surrounded by queer role models almost my entire life.
AR: That’s amazing. I love that. I wish more people had that experience.
You talked about being surrounded by so many different queer people early on. And I think obviously with the story the queer Black experience is so important. Thanks to services like Audible, access to so many different LGBTQ stories and content is easier now more than ever.
What are some of the other LGBTQ stories that you think still need to be heard and told?
AF: I definitely think we need more queer stories about Black people and people of color. Right now, Fire Island – my friend and I, we’re going to have a watch party for that one.
AR: Let me tell you, IT IS EVERYTHING and more! I got to see it early. Literally so excited. I’m gonna watch it over and over again. So yes!
AF: I’m so jealous! I work in the media and I did not get an early preview! Like, “Hey, Bowen let me know – I’m part of the media too! I work for a national outlet….”
Anyway, we’re starting to see some strides. Right? We are starting to see some strides for people of color in the lead roles. But for Black characters specifically, we have a very limited amount of stories that center Black queer characters. I think of Moonlight. I think of Noah’s Arc. I think of Empire. The list kinda you know…the well starts to run a little bit dry. But what we do see a lot, unfortunately though, are Black characters either fetishized or mocked or in these sideline roles – often by straight creators. What kind of perceptions does that convey for real life gay Black people in terms of how we were perceived and all of that? I definitely want to see more things that have fully realized Black characters at the front of the story.
AR: I couldn’t agree more! Today we’re talking about these queer movies like Fire Island. Have you even wrapped your head around the thought of “What if this story, what if your book – WHAT IF SOMEONE WANTS TO MAKE IT INTO A MOVIE?! Or a series?” Have you ever thought about that?
AF: Uhm… I try not to think of this! You don’t want to jinx it, right? I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I’m totally a writer first. I love the written word. I just love to see people flipping through their pages and things like that. If it goes any further, I’m sure a lot of people would be happy for it. But I think there is something to be said again about the lack of Black characters on screen – TV or otherwise. I hope at some point, we do get to see more of that. Now have I thought about who would play each of the characters if there was a show or a series on HBO Max or something like that? Like a limited series like Big Little Lies or something? Yes, I have thought about that. But I’m not gonna jinx it. Not gonna jinx it.
AR: Do you care to share? I have some thoughts too but we could save that for another time!
AF: You know who I love? I love the actor that did the audiobook. He’s on Broadway. His name is Jelani Alladin.
AF: He’s gonna be – if it goes through, he’s going to be like the lead on Disney+’s Beauty and The Beast series. And he’s already done some Disney stuff – he was in Hercules the Musical and stuff like that. I love him. I love Jeremy Pope in Hollywood. I love Jerrod Carmichael! His Rothaniel special – that touched me in such a deep way. Those are some people I’ve thought about.
AR: I love that! Throw in maybe DeLon Burnside in there, I think maybe that would be perfect.
AF: Oh, yes! I love POSE. Love POSE!
AR: I love them! With the story, I think the great thing about Audible is so many different people have access to the story now, you know? Anyone can find it and they can listen to it. Who do you want to listen to this? Obviously, our community is gonna listen to it. But who else? Who are some of the listeners? What kind of person do you want to listen to this kind of story?
AF: You know, I think – I don’t want to be like, “everyone should listen to it!” But definitely people who are just looking to learn more about a queer experience that is not their own. I think so often we kind of see a lot of queer characters are kind of like – there’s a lot of challenges like with identity and what not. It’s often very limited to just one person on a singular journey. I’m trying to give you three different people who are interacting with each other and what not. And also three Black characters who don’t live in Atlanta, don’t live in New York, don’t live in LA. They live in a city that has such a negative perception in the media, where it’s like me being from Detroit and hanging out with my friends in Detroit and so on and so forth – we have fun! We have a lot of fun, we have a lot of joy. So I try to put a lot of that in there. So anybody who’s trying to learn more about a different kind of queer Black experience or about Detroit. People who are seeking that out – I think they’ll find that here.
AR: Hey, I think so too. And that brings me to my next question. We’ve talked about the people you hope will listen to it. When they do, what do you want listeners to take away from Boys Come First?
AF: That queer Black men especially, we’re everywhere. We influence so many aspects of the culture like fashion and music and all things like that. But there’s also the everyday guys – teachers and principals. Folks that I know that are real estate agents and flight attendants – which like, I know, every gay guy does that! Right? These are your brothers, your nephews, your sons, your grandsons, and things like that. There’s so many layers to us. There’s so many complexities and living at this intersection between being a racial minority and being queer at the same time. I want people to learn what it’s like to walk in those shoes a little bit, you know?
AR: Absolutely. I was thinking about what you said earlier about growing up with so many different queer people around you. I think it’s still so important to tell these specific queer stories. So why is it so important to you to continue to make these inclusive and important projects for LGBTQ people?
AF: There are writers like me and a few others who are trying to make up for a lack of these things in books and stories and what not. Everyone I know loves A Little Life. Like that is the Mount Rushmore of queer fiction. But is there anything more? That’s a fantastic book. I loved it. It comes up in conversation a lot. And I think a lot of writers like myself are thinking, “Let’s tell another story. And then let’s tell another one after that.” Especially for queer people of color, our experiences are evolving. I see people younger than me coming out earlier. Living in their truth a lot earlier than I did. The coming out process was very long for me and learning to be comfortable with myself. I have friends in their early 20s who are just like, “Oh, yeah. I told people in the ninth grade and they were like, ‘Okay, it’s cool.’” Like what?!
Because that experience for people of color is very much evolving and moving in so many different ways and different experiences – I think there are endless stories to be told.
AR: I could not agree more. I think that telling stories in this way (through the audio format with Audible) is such a strong platform for elevating these diverse voices that you’ve talked about. What about Boys Come First lends itself to an audio production?
AF: There’s a lot of dialogue and conversation there. I was trying to capture, really, how I talk amongst my friends, how my friends talk amongst each other. I really just started listening. I, too, have gone through a painful breakup. It’s a milestone in every gay man’s life. After that break-up, like immediately after, one of my best friends told me, “Hey, We’re going to New York. We’re going on a boys’ trip. We’re going to hang out and do this. Find a new boy or whatever.” And the conversations that me and my friend and our friends were having amongst ourselves, and just the turns of phrases and things like that – I was just so into it! And this was years ago when I just started paying attention more deeply to how we talk amongst ourselves. So in trying to capture some of that, it’s one thing to put it on page but to hear it read out loud? To hear, “Oh! This is honest. This is a little bit vulnerable and transparent too.” I think that’s why it’s important to hear it just as much as it is to read it.
AR: I couldn’t agree more. And listen – what I love so much about Audible is I live in LA and I’m always in traffic and cars for hours at a time. I can take an hour or two and be transported in this book. It’s great. I mean, obviously reading standard books is great but there’s a more accessible way to get this content, thanks to Audible.
AF: Oh, absolutely. Also, I was trying to put in details about Detroit too. I realized a lot of people are not familiar with the city. So trying to add a little bit of flourish and color about this neighborhood over here, this neighborhood over there. Adding just a little bit of that. And I didn’t want to overpower it too much, otherwise it would’ve just been a Detroit history book and we don’t want that. We want fun! We want queer! We want joy!
It was a little bit of a challenge, but I think I liked what I did.
AR: I think it’s going great! And listen, I’ve never been to Detroit and like I said, I just started it. And I feel like I’m excited to go on that journey! So thank you for that!
AF: Oh, yeah! Absolutely! I just hope that listeners really enjoy it! This is my first audiobook and I’ll be honest, I’m a little bit nervous because it is my first one, but I’m happy it’s out there.
AR: Well, we’re so happy you made it and are telling these important stories. And Happy Pride to you! I can’t wait for all our members, followers, and beyond to listen to it on Audible!
AF: Absolutely! Happy Pride!
AR: Thank you so much!