Meet the writers on OUT’s list of the most influential LGBTQ+ people of 2021.
Today OUT began the rollout of their annual OUT 100 list, a list of LGBTQ+ leaders and changemakers who “made us proud . . . in their local communities or on the world stage.” So far, their cover stars include RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Symone, Cassandra Peterson (better known as Elvira), and celebrity stylist and Legendary judge Law Roach, though they have yet to announce their full list. But today, they released their list of “the queer titans of media” on this year’s OUT 100, and it features four writers: New York Times columnist and nonfiction writer Charles M. Blow, memoirist and sex educator Alexander Cheves, memoirist George M. Johnson, and writer and Electric Literature editor-in-chief Denne Michele Norris.
Here is OUT’s citation for Charles M. Blow:
As a New York Times columnist for 13 years, Charles M. Blow has maintained an extraordinary reach and relevance through four presidencies and a stunning degree of social change. Now 51, the bisexual writer, thinker, and father of three has seen his influence grow even wider this year. In January, Blow released The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto. The critically acclaimed book lived up to its bold title, urging Black Americans to move away from northern and western states and return to the South as a way to regain political power and reverse entrenched racism. Blow argues the Great Migration to the North has come full circle—many police killings of Black Americans are in states far from the old Confederacy.
And white power structures in blue and purple states are as harmful to Black lives as the overt anti-Blackness of places like Louisiana, where Blow grew up, impoverished and abused. Blow recounted his painful past and his inspiring ascent in the beloved 2014 memoir Fire Shut Up in My Bones. Just this fall, the Metropolitan Opera in New York premiered an opera based on the book—the work, composed by Terence Blanchard, was the first opera by a Black composer in the Met’s 138-year history.
The writer, who often appears as a commentator on MSNBC and CNN, made the full leap to television personality when his weeknight news show, Prime With Charles Blow, premiered on the Black News Channel in May. The program doesn’t just recap the day’s news but digs deep, exploring issues like the Black gaze and the influence of Christianity on African-American life.
Here is OUT’s citation for Alexander Cheves, in part:
Although barely 30, Cheves has offered advice related to queer sex since his intern days at The Advocate and later through his popular blog, Love, Beastly, where folks of every age can learn about better bottoming and kink culture alike.
Cheves’s life experiences are chronicled in his new memoir, My Love Is a Beast: Confessions, detailing his upbringing on a farm by Christian missionaries alongside his queer sexual awakening. The book—already in its second printing from Unbound Edition Press and promoted by Cheves in venues like the Folsom Street Fair and fisting festivals—is a hit, which surprised Cheves . . .
Cheves credits the “men of previous generations” for their support. “They gave me my identity, my HIV meds, and my ability to live as openly as I do, and so much of queer male culture abandons and isolates these great men, these fighters and survivors. I cannot do that—I was raised by them,” he says. “So this book is my love letter . . . [to them and anyone who] journeys to find where they fit. That’s all my story is, just with more lube.”
Here is OUT’s citation for George M. Johnson, in part:
After establishing a career as an activist and journalist, George M. Johnson made an indelible mark in the literary world with his 2020 “memoir-manifesto,” All Boys Aren’t Blue—a series of essays about growing up Black and queer. The New York Times praised the “wit and unflinching vulnerability” they displayed in the retelling of their life’s darkest times. Actress Gabrielle Union is now developing the book into a TV series with Johnson.
“The work I do as a Black queer storyteller ensures that Black stories, which have always existed but rarely get told, finally get the attention and respect they deserve from our lens,” Johnson says.
The writer follows their successful debut with another memoir this year, We Are Not Broken, which chronicles Johnson’s childhood growing up with his brother and cousins, who were all raised by their grandmother. We Are Not Broken “was a way for me to grieve the loss of my grandmother and center her and how she took care of Black community,” Johnson shares . . . There is more writing on the way: a middle-grade novel called Five Second Violation and a nonfiction YA book, Property of No State.
Here is OUT’s citation for Denne Michele Norris:
Denne Michele Norris made history this year when she became the editor in chief of Electric Literature; she is now the first Black transgender woman to helm a major American literary publication. She is a published writer herself, as her work has appeared in esteemed outlets like McSweeney’s and American Short Fiction. The New Yorker also cohosts the podcast Food 4 Thot, a popular roundtable about sex, identity, and reading.
While Norris wears many hats, she ultimately identifies as a storyteller. “As an editor, I support many writers in helping them craft and refine stories, essays, novels, and memoirs,” she says. “As a writer, I work through the complexities and contradictions of my own life for the sake of better understanding the world and telling the stories I most needed to find and didn’t find during the darkest and most joyous moments in my own life.”
Norris, a former figure skater and “lapsed violist,” cites her embrace of her trans identity to the world as her proudest accomplishment this year. “Every step I’ve taken—whether writing about it or simply stepping out of my apartment in an outfit that helps me feel closest to my authentic self—feels like a small step in reclaiming who I am and doing it in the image of who I’ve always known myself to be,” she attests.
Norris was also surprised to have gotten her EIC post; initially she “almost withdrew my résumé from consideration” due to self-doubt, but she is “working hard to break” that mindset. Look out for her debut novel, which is “finally just about ready.”