Activist & Public Health & HIV Specialist in Africa: Cary Alan Johnson

Cary Alan Johnson. Welcome to Queer. We are.

Cary Alan Johnson

Thank you. Good to be here.

Brad Shreve

Great to have you. Now, Cary, in your own words, the 1980s was a period of hysteria and pain, but sex, sex, sex. And you said it was good and we enjoyed it.

Cary Alan Johnson

I own those words. Yes.

Brad Shreve 00:00:23

You said you gave us life, and it brought us together. Together, right. Now, that was your life as a young man in Brooklyn, and you wrote an excellent book about it. But since then, you worked as a public health and HIV specialist, and you’ve lived in numerous countries, mostly in Africa, and you’re currently doing good work in the poorest country of the world where homosexuality is illegal. Now, I had you on my previous podcast, Queer Writes of Crime and of that shows 150 episodes you hold the distinction of being the only guest who didn’t write a mystery, suspense and thriller novel. And do you know why?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:01:01


Brad Shreve 00:01:01

I read your novel, and I had to have you on it’s. That simple.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:01:04

Okay. Good reason.

Brad Shreve 00:01:06

I want to discuss your novel further because it may be fiction, but you captured an important piece of history based on your experience. But I want to learn about your humanitarian works you’ve accomplished over the years. So, are you ready?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:01:18

Of course. Yes.

Brad Shreve 00:01:19

I’m your host, Brad shreve.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:01:21

And I’m Cary Alan Johnson.

Brad Shreve 00:01:23

And queer we are. 

Welcome to Queer We Are where you’ll hear practical tools for living through entertaining stories by LGBTQ entertainers, athletes, politicians, activists, or maybe someone right there in your neighborhood. I’m Brad, and I’ll discuss with queer individuals about their successes, challenges, and what they learned along the way.

Cary Alan Johnson is an author, activist, and Africanist. Raised in Brooklyn and currently living in Central Africa. He was a founder of several organizations, including the Black Heart Collective, gay Men of African Descent, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. A public health and HIV specialist with experienced living and working in Guinea, Haiti, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. And Cary is currently the country director for Population Services International in Burundi. Cary. Let’s start talking about Population Services International or PSI. And also I want to talk about Burundi. I got to tell you, I did research on the country. I was absolutely shocked by what I read. I didn’t know the conditions were as poor. Not only is it the poorest country in the world, state Department says it’s not safe to travel to, at least for tourists. So over these years, you’ve seen some horrible conditions and lived in dangerous environments. Why?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:02:30

Well, I guess there’s the top level answer, which is that I studied International Affairs and African Studies, particularly in graduate school and in Colombia. In the early ninety s, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire, which is currently the Democratic Republic of Congo in the mid eighty s. And as an African American I developed a strong connection with Africa and what I feel is the responsibility to give back to those of us to whom much is given, much is expected in return. I hold that as a credo for living, and it’s how I sleep at night by feeling like I am making a contribution. And a contribution can, you know, everyone doesn’t have to go to Africa or go to a poor country. There’s tons and tons of critical work to be done right in one’s own community, often in one’s family. So I just think that it hasn’t been always conscious, but the notion of service is kind of critical to who I am and my ability to hold my head up in the world. But I guess the deeper level is when one describes those awful conditions. I’ve learned a lot about poverty over the years, and I think growing up, I had an idea. I think we associate poverty with the Sally Struthers for those who remember those commercials of Sally Struthers as genuine as one could, as maybe she could be but in really poor places with starving children and in the development world, we call that fly in the eye. This idea that the children with big heads and flies in their eyes now, that exists. But poverty doesn’t usually always look like that. I mean, that in a famine or at a refugee camp or something like that. Even in a refugee camp, kids play and go to school and enjoy. But there are those awful, awful moments in human history. But poverty also just has like, it can kind of look like everyday life, but the impact of it is unseen a lot. The fact that people don’t they may not be starving, but they don’t have enough to eat or what they do eat is not nutritious. And so, as a result, children have less opportunities, less capacity, even before they’re born. So the day to day life in many of the places I’ve lived can probably look not very different than it looks in other more developed parts of the world. You get up, you go to work, you do your job, you come home. The things you do with friends and family. So for me, I draw this distinction between, like, humanitarian work, which I’ve done, like, in refugee camps, in droughts, in the middle of crises, and sort of development work in countries that are very poor and doing the work, hopefully, to build better economies. But I do it because I care, because I can sleep at night, because I think I’ve gotten a lot from society and I need to get back.

Brad Shreve 00:05:52

I’ve seen the pictures of the refugee camps in Tanzania, and I was like, wow, I wouldn’t want to live there. They were nicely lined up, and parts of it look nice and neat. The Red Cross Hospital? Not so much. But I’m happy to hear what you said because I did think in my head, they must smile sometime, right? They must play sometime. I heard Trevor Noah saying when he was growing up and they were playing with bricks, to them, that was normal. They thought every kid played with bricks.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:06:19

Right? Yeah. No, that’s it. You work with what you’ve got. I remember when I was doing humanitarian work during the Burundi refugee crisis in 1994. This was before the genocide, actually, in in Rwanda. I was working in a series of refugee camps and the kids didn’t have a brick, they didn’t have anything to play with and kids need stimulation. And so I remember, you know, the, the immature development worker that I was, you know, I thought I’d do something really cool. And it was a refugee camp of, I forget how many thousands, maybe 5000 people. And I brought a ball, one ball, one soccer ball into the camp for the kids and sort of gave it to them. And I remember I almost started a riot because it was crazy. The kids loved it and they’re rallying. But you do not bring one soccer ball into a camp with maybe like a couple of thousand kids. It was well intentioned, but it was poorly thought through on my part. So you learn as you go along, hey, you’re there.

Brad Shreve 00:07:36

And you took a soccer ball. That many of us are like, wow, that’s pretty cool. I was actually surprised. I looked at the website and it said PSI has 5000 people working for them in 40 countries. Bigger than I imagined. And maybe it’s just me, but what does PSI do?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:07:51

Yeah. Well, we’re a public health organization that focuses on family planning and choice around access to abortion, access to safe abortion, access to the range of family planning services that should be available to all women and men in the world, but so often aren’t. In Burundi, we work with about 200 family planning clinics around the country. We also provide HIV treatment services in different parts of the country, specifically focusing on the Burundian military, which has a higher serial prevalence rate than the general population. And then we also focus on malaria. Malaria is the leading killer, the leading cause of mortality in Burundi and in many countries in the Southern Hemisphere. So we provide malaria nets, bed nets, treated bed nets to women and their families and promote malaria treatment during peak periods of malaria illness, which happened a couple of times during the course of every year. So that’s sort of the range of the services that we do. Family planning, malaria, and HIV treatment.

Brad Shreve 00:09:13

So we covered the problems with Burundi and of which there are many. But you can’t attack everything at once. So where would you say your primary focus is at this particular moment?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:09:24

Capacity building for government and for local actors. Because PSI, ultimately these kinds of development work, it goes on and on and on. And you wonder at the heart of it all is the problems of inequality. The fact that the United States and Europe built their economies on a system of theft of resources from the global south, from Africa, from Asia. So that inequality, that imbalance, is still in place. And so until that imbalance is somehow rectified, we do this thing that we call development, which is giving a tiny, tiny slice of the US gross national product in the form of development aid to countries that we were involved in colonizing or abusing in one way or another. And it’s a messed up system. I participate in it because I hope that little by little, I can help to sort of bring tiny way, some balance back to the situation. And that balance happens in my mind through building capacity of local institutions, so that one day an organization like PSI will no longer need to be in a country like Burundi, and there are many countries where that’s already happening. There needs to be no PSI in South Africa. There needs to be probably very soon, no PSI in Nigeria, in countries like Thailand, and countries that have economies that are churning at this point. So what I mean when I say building local capacity, I mean working with local organizations so that they’re strong and can manage funds and have credibility and can implement projects effectively. In the same way that organizations in the United States, american organizations, provide social services. We don’t always expect the government to do everything in the United States with their so social service organizations that help build society, keep families strong, generate employment beyond the private sector. So that’s what I’m committed to in Brada, is building local institutions, including building the government’s capacity to manage its own development.

Brad Shreve 00:11:57

So what you do is you go in, do the best work you can, and as short as you can, so that you can feel good when you leave and your job is to get out of there.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:12:06

Yes, I mean, I think that it’s not a quick fix and system is kind of not working in the favor of global equality. So I try. When I think about what success means for me in this job or any other It’s individuals, it’s making an impact. Systems are hard to change. Global systems, family systems, they’re hard to change. But what I think I can help to do is help to help individuals to find their feet and to feel empowered, either through helping somebody to get some education, some training that they need, helping them to just feel better about themselves, to feel more capable. And I feel that when I feel the best in my life, it’s when I’ve had some impact on an individual. And I feel that in terms of my professional life, but I also feel that in terms of my personal life, when I’ve been in relationships, particularly now, as an older person, I feel like the thing I can contribute. Is by making a younger person feel stronger, more capable. Give them some reach that they didn’t have before. Expose them to something they weren’t, they thought that they might never have access to. So that’s how I sort of measure my contribution, is have I been able to use what I’ve been given to lift someone else up.

Brad Shreve 00:13:50

You started this volunteering with the Peace Corps. And since then, you’ve had leadership roles in Amnesty International, outright Action International, the UN. High Commissions for Refugees. When you were young in Brooklyn, did you have any idea that this would be your life?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:14:06

No, I did not. I’m not one of those people who always wanted to be a vet, or always wanted to be a nurse, or always wanted to be a lawyer. I mean, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Still don’t. I just kind of follow at a certain point, you make some choices, and one choice leads you to the next choice. So no, I think what really kind of sealed it for me was that after Undergrad, as Undergrad was ending, and I’m like, I got no clue, zero clue. And then, as you have mentioned, I think it’s not very different than my narrator and my novel Desire Lines that came out in September, and it’s available on Amazon. Undergrad ends, and unless you’re driven around a career, you’re kind of like, what, what do I do now? And then, of course, that that was 1982, when I graduated from undergraduate school. And, you know, the AIDS crisis, you know, was just kind of beginning. And so there was also this interrogation. Why plan for a future that seems highly unlikely? I did all of the same things that other people who were dying did, and so I had a strong sense of, I’m not long for this world. And so trying to figure out how you plan a life, it took me ten years after Undergrad to go to grad school because I just really wasn’t expecting to be alive. And that’s a very odd and traumatized way to end adolescence and enter into young adulthood. But I did. Those of us who survived, we did kind of pick up 1ft and put it in front of the other. And I was the first in my family to go to college, and I knew that I could not waste that. So I went into the Peace Corps because I had done a junior semester abroad in Nairobi and just fell in love with Africa and with blackness in a sort of a global context. And so the Peace Corps was a great option for me. It was a free way to go to Africa, get experience. After being in the Peace Corps, it sort of led me down a specific path, and then that path was international development. So no had no idea sitting in Brooklyn, you know, or even finishing college. But you know, you make one choice, like joining the Peace Corps, and then that leads you to another choice, like going to graduate school for international development, and then that leads you into another choice, like getting a job with an international development organization, and things just kind of flow from there. And then you’re in your mid thirty s and you’re on a particular path, and deviating from that path seems kind of risky. And plus, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, enjoying the lifestyle, meeting wonderful people, having this life that other people seem to envy and feel like that the contributions I’m making are laudable. So, yeah, you keep moving.

Brad Shreve 00:17:45

Well, given the nature of our audience, I want to ask about homosexuality. I know Burundi made it illegal in 2009, and the folks aren’t real welcoming there. What is life like for those that are LGBTQ?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:17:56

Yeah, I laugh when you say Burundi made it illegal in 2009 because I didn’t even know that. And I want your audience to know that I am an expert on LGBT issues in Africa. So it’s not that I’m just ignorant of, like, they made it illegal in 2009. My point being that these kind of legal regimes around same sex sexuality or identity or gender identity in general, they’re important, but in some ways they’re arbitrary. Because Brad making same sex sex illegal probably didn’t change very much how queer people were treated in the society. It’s a very good question to answer. Well, it’s got so many layers to it, and I think it’s just really easy to think, okay, homosexuality is illegal in this country, therefore life is always dangerous, or always risky for queer people. There is a place where gay people hang out in Burundi, a bar.

Brad Shreve 00:19:07


Cary Alan Johnson 00:19:08

Looks pretty safe to me. I go there and don’t want to expose anyone. But also, I know that three years ago in Burundi, newspapers and online news sources started publishing names of people who were presumed or who were accused, identified as being queer, and it ruined lives. So I think that in Burundi is a very small country. So human rights are still very much at a very early stage of enshrinement in individual and sort of people’s consciousness and sense of what they should expect from their government and from their families. So it’s hard to compare it to a country like Nigeria or Ghana. Of course, South Africa is a whole different situation because it has a very progressive legal regime, including one of the earliest countries to enshrine gay marriage, same sex marriage. So it’s hard to make those comparisons. What I find is that people make space for themselves, queer people make space for themselves. And that space can increase and shrink and increase and shrink. It can get safer and it can get riskier. And there are many things that influence how that sizing of safe space happens. Governments change, economies change. Gay people are often the scapegoats for disease in society. We become scapegoats. A society is in a state of unrest, and government leaders will say, oh, it’s because of moral decline in our society. It’s because of ugly influence of the west bringing homosexuality here. Now, nothing has changed. There are no more queer people than there were before. But gay people are easy targets, and we can become targets of physical violence, and we’re always targets of economic violence in that it’s very hard for people who are identifiably gay or openly gay to be defined employment in many, many parts of the world, particularly in Africa. So economic disempowerment is our biggest problem. I keep saying we, and so I want to be specific what I mean, because when I was a younger man working in African countries, countries around the continent worked in many places Senegal, Guinea, South Africa, Zimbabwe, a few more. And I was an active participant in LGBT life. There was risk for me because as a Westerner, there’s safety and there’s risk. And I describe it. There’s a scene in my book chapter called The Dictator where the narrator is blackmailed when his relationship with a young, you know well, their peers, they’re the same age Zairean becomes public, he’s blackmailed, then he has to pay money. And it’s a humiliating experience for him, frightening and humiliating. But I make the point, and I think this is critical, that the risk that he faces or that I faced as a gay man who was active in the gay scene in different African countries is nothing compared to the risk that his Zairean partner faced. Okay, you pay some money, and you continue on about your life. It feels ugly and awful and humiliating. But for an African man, and I hope it’s okay for me to this is based on my experience of friends. I just want to always make sure that I’m not speaking in anyone’s voice other than my own. But what I see is that the biggest risk is ostracism. Like, I don’t ostracize me as much as you want. I ostracized myself from my family, you know. You know, when I came out at age 16, and then there was Rap, Roche, Mall. But for for an African, I think, you know, ostracism from family and clan, when there’s clan and culture and that’s death, that can be like social death, and I think it can destroy someone. As I mentioned, when there was this public outing in Burundi about three years ago, people’s lives were destroyed, and some people had to leave the country not just for fear of physical violence. There was some of that, but just for the shame, the deep, deep shame and sense of no longer being part of a family system. Even as I talk about it. I mean, sometimes I minimize just how awful that must be and how the risk and the fear of that can keep someone in the closet or create tremendous kind of stress about being queer in Africa.

Brad Shreve 00:24:33

I don’t feel like you dismiss it or minimize.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:24:36

Okay, well, I guess the sort of final part of what I was trying to express a minute ago was I’m not a young man anymore, so I don’t participate in queer life the way I used to. I’m not on the prowl. I’m not dating like that. So what a big relief. I think that’s probably true for a man. I’m 62. I think that would probably be true if I were in the States as well. Not that I don’t date or that I’m not interested in meeting someone, but like the way I was a young gay man, being part of the life, going to bars, going to, you know, bath houses when they existed, you know, going to, you know, queer parties and stuff like that. Like, I wouldn’t I don’t think I’d be doing that with the same gusto if I were in New York, but I’m sure not doing it here. My life is the life of a 62 year old. I’ve matured, so I do the things which is I work. I’m very committed to my work, and I get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. I think at my age, my job is not to be the one anymore. My job is to empower other people to be the one and thrilled that I get to work with this group of mainly Burundians, smart Burundians. Many of my staff are medical doctors or other health professionals. And I get to be the one who creates the platform for them to do their wonderful work. And, you know, I’ve got some Americans on my staff, too. Young, younger folks. I get to be the one who create, who platforms for them.

Brad Shreve 00:26:22

Right now, do yourself a favor, it’s quick, easy, and you won’t miss one second of this show. Whether you’re on the phone or computer, look at the app you’re on and find the button that says follow or subscribe and click. Now you’ll be notified when a new episode publishes and you won’t miss a single one.

Desire lines available on Amazon. When you wrote that book, you said that you felt it was important to write about the age crisis in the experience of a black man.  Explain that.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:26:36

I think that there are some wonderful novels and memoirs written about the films produced about the experiences of gay men at large, which tends to mean white gay men. They tend to be viewed as the universal. I think of books like And The Band Played on the Hours. The Film Philadelphia. But I think that very little has been written about the experiences of black gay men.

Brad Shreve 00:27:16

I think it was yesterday I was looking at a website that listed the best LGT movies, LGBT movies, and the best love stories and the best this and that. And one of them was the best stories about the AIDS crisis.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:27:26


Brad Shreve 00:27:26

And as you scrolled down and you looked at the covers of all those movies, every single one of them was a white person.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:27:32

Sure. Right. And statistically, we know that the black community suffered at an exponentially higher rate from HIV and from COVID Poor people and people of color tend to have health indicators that are lower. And so the epidemics like this have a greater impact on us. We have less access to services, organizations that were developed to respond to the needs of African American people like the Black AIDS Institute. Thank you. Phil Wilson out in La. And people of color in crisis in New York. And the Minority Age Task Force. Those came later, a bit later in the epidemic. And then early on, there’s a scene in the book where the narrator and his buddies are sitting around at a bar, and it’s the early it’s 1983, I think, and, you know, they’re they’re talking about this gay cancer, this GRID, this, you know, whatever it was. And, you know, one of them says, you know, don’t worry about that shit. That’s a white boy thing. As long as you’re not sleeping with white boys, you don’t have to worry about it. Now, truth of the matter is, it was clearly not a white boy thing, as we found out relatively soon. And two, we were sleeping with white boys. We didn’t always talk about it, but we were. So it was just lies and lies and probably some more lies. And those lies killed us. Killed many of us. Killed us. One, because we contracted a virus for which there was no treatment and no cure, but two, just killed us. In terms of the stigma, about even once we were diagnosed or we’re pretty sure we had a diagnosis, we kept it quiet. We weren’t willing to talk about it and get whatever help there was available, and there was very little. But it killed us with silence because of the shameless stigma. Everybody’s families in the my book is about the 80s, but in many ways, the 90s were even worse because I think I mean, there were antiretroviral well, at least the beginning of sort of antiretroviral kind of treatment by then. But still there was just this by then we’d been we’d been, like, burdened by this illness for, you know, 5,6,7,8,9 years and just a cycle of dying and dying, sickness and dying. And so the hysteria had sort of given way to kind of this fatigue that was in some ways even more debilitating early in the epidemic. You’re like, what’s this? Are we all going to die? And then, okay, we’re not going to all die. Maybe. But then there’s this slogging through that happened in the was just like, oh, will this never end?

Brad Shreve 00:30:39

I know when I think of the AIDS crisis, I think of the I’m sure many others do, but 1994 was the highest rate of age related death in the United States.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:30:48


Brad Shreve 00:30:49

So it sounds like almost like you were, for lack of a better word, used to it, but not really. But as used to it as you can.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:30:56

Absolutely. And used to it meant it was a sort of a mental death or an emotional death, I think, that happened. Or this hibernation of the spirit. And the big question I remember I met what year was it? I met one of my lovers in the early 90s. Yeah, it was like about 93, and he was HIV positive. And then the whole question at that point was, can you love someone who is should you love someone who is positive? I mean, does that make sense? Can you do that and still remain negative? I mean, yeah, condoms, all that kind of stuff, but really, can you and then when do you disclose if you are positive? When the shame around disclosing and the fear around disclosing to someone who you kind of want and like and does that mean they’re going to run away from you? Do you love someone who you think is probably going to die? Are you willing to agree to be a caretaker for someone in the worst period of their lives? That is on its way. So, yeah, it was a lot of things. And it’s funny because as I went around the country, visited about six cities and did readings from the book, there were plenty of black amen who came and to the readings and found their stories in the book. And we were able to really make connections and commiserate around folks that we lost a lot of black women as well who had brothers and best friends who died. But it was very funny because there were a lot of white gay men of my generation who came and were equally as moved in. So it’s funny because our stories, if they’re truth, are universal. I don’t even know if I like the word universal, but if we’re telling the truth about an experience, about a place, about historical situation, then we can all relate to it, I think, regardless of our race or even our class. But I think what had happened was every story, like you’re describing from the list of those books, every story was about white men. Not that we couldn’t relate to it. I could relate. What else did I have to relate to? But I needed to hear about some black men and how we first talked about the HIV crisis sitting up in a bar right. Or how the issues of being a top or being a bottom, how that played out specifically in the context of a black couple, a black gay couple, which I write about in my book, and how that relates to HIV safety or transmission around HIV. That’s what I hope the book contributes to the HIV.

Brad Shreve 00:34:12

Cary, one of the things that really impacted me about the novel is I was a white guy that was in the closet in the south, and AIDS was something that was going on out there. But when I read your book, I really connected with it because it’s about finding yourself and your place in the world.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:34:31


Brad Shreve 00:34:31

And who can’t connect to that, right?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:34:35

I sure can.

Brad Shreve 00:34:38

I will say this about it’s kind of your attitude that I see today. You don’t dodge the negatives that were going on. I mean, you’ve talked about some of them at one time. You told me that as men were dying, they just kind of vanished. They disappeared, which made me very sad. And you get into that, but you also talk about what a fabulous time at the same. Time it was. You talk about cruising Central Park and there’s a lot of section there. And it wasn’t there to titillate because you were just writing the experience. And actually, I want to make sure people know it is not a memoir. It is a fiction novel, but it is based on Cary’s experience. You didn’t hold back on that. You didn’t hold back on the drugs and how much fun that was. But I also said, well, I don’t know if your idea was titled. It sure did, because I certainly remembered that. So tell me actually about men disappearing.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:35:30

Yeah, sure. I’ll tell you about a couple of things. The difference between the term titillate you asked me was it my intention to titillate? I find a difference between the word titillate and the word excite. To me, titillation just by just the sound of the word, it feels kind of surface and just kind of frivolous and temporary and just kind of like a little bit of dessert as opposed to what I was trying.

Brad Shreve 00:36:04

That’s your definition. That definitely doesn’t apply to what I felt.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:36:07

Well, right.

Brad Shreve 00:36:08

It was much deeper than that.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:36:09

Well, that’s what I hope. And because what I tried I don’t know if I set out to do this but what I want from the scenes is excitement and eroticism orchery Lord said that the erotic is that which is loved. And love can be momentary. It can be lifelong. So I’m working on a new novel and the opening line of the chapter of the first chapter is, “there are good whores and there are bad horse. He was a good whore. He loved every man he had ever had sex with.” I’m genuinely loved. And to me, that’s what the erotic is about. It’s like love in the moment. Is it lifelong? No. It can be, like, five minutes long. But is it pure? Is it real? Are you bringing yourself to it? And so that’s what I hope I bring across in the sections of the book that are sexual or that describe sexual moments for the characters as a sense of eroticism.

Brad Shreve 00:37:20

The protagonist, first time he had sex, immediately thought he was in love.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:37:25

For sure. Right. Well, because what else could he think? I mean, he has sex with some slightly older guy and it’s on a beach. And as a young man, I think, or as an adolescent, the first person that touches you, they ignite if it’s a good experience for you, if it’s not an abusive experience. So they ignite the fire that’s been sort of smoldering in you. They ignite it. And so I think it’s easy to associate that with love. I think that’s why I think our first relationships are often the ones we kind of never get over, we don’t know how to temper or control.

Brad Shreve 00:38:17

What does Cary Alan Johnson do for fun?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:38:21

I love to travel, maybe, because I live in Burundi, which is not a super exciting place. But even if I did live in Burundi. I love to travel. I love different cultures, different sort of ways of looking at life and ways. And the more I travel, the more I realize we all kind of look at life the same way. That can be a little dull. For example, I’m in Thailand right now in Pattaya for the International Age Conference. I also love to travel on other people’s dime. Oh, yeah, I’m here for a conference, the International Family Planning Conference as a work thing and super exciting. Just the things, the food, the music, the culture. So that’s great. So that’s what I do for fun is I love to travel.

Brad Shreve 00:39:21

Have you had your I’ve made it moment yet?

Cary Alan Johnson 00:39:23

Oh, yeah. I just said that instinctively just to say it. But now let me think about it and see if that’s true. You know, what I think I’ve had is I’ve had my this is as good as it gets moment, which is, this is as good as it gets, and this ain’t so bad. I’ve I’ve had that moment, and I don’t think I’ve had it at one particular moment. I think that it’s for me, it has occurred over the course of a few years, maybe in my late, mid to late 50s where I have realized that there are things that you’ve got this vision of where you may get to in life and career wise, I think most of us base it on career. I think many people base it on relationship or family. Right. I want this relationship that is enviable or that is really satisfying or I want kids. A lot of people seem to want kids, so people have these different things that they want this job or this amount of money. And for me, I got to a certain point of life and I said, well, certain percentage of those things are not going to happen. Right? Unlikely. Very unlikely. Well, I know, for example, that I will never be in a long term relationship. I’m not in one now, long term left to go. So I will never have kids. So I will never be an ambassador. Not that that was ever a real goal. I’ve gotten to a point, and I think a lot of people do where I look at my life and I go, this is pretty good. I’m pretty comfortable with the things that I’ve done. There’s still some things I want to do, and I know how to do them now. Like writing the book, for example, taught me. Oh, you know how to write a book. That was something that I didn’t know I knew how to do. I knew it was something I dreamed about. It was something I wanted to do, and I kind of did it. And it was in a huge sense of accomplishment. Now I want to do another one because I think I know how to do that. The book I’ll talk about it for a minute. I worked on that book for a very long time, and intensely. I worked on it for about three or four years. When I ask myself how do I feel? Do I feel like that the book was a huge success? I’m torn because the book it made no bestseller lists. It was not featured by Oprah yet it didn’t have the splash that I wanted it to have. Sales have been consistent. But I asked myself, do you feel it was a success? People who’ve read the book are moved by it. It’s not that they like it. A lot of people say they like it, but more than wanting someone to like it, I want them to be moved by it. Yeah. I want them to have an emotional reaction. And people who read it people write me pretty much every day I get an email from someone saying that they were moved by, and that feels like success. But there’s still some things that I want or wanted, maybe, from the book, and that was more people to read it. I mean, I think we live in a world where it is about scale. It is about hitting those marks that society and really that capitalism lays out you. So it’s not about numbers and it’s about how many people bought it. Did it win any awards? I think I’m still trying to find my happiness, my joy around the book.

Brad Shreve 00:43:45

Well, you got a 4.9 rating on Amazon. I only got a 4.4. You know, this is coming. If you’re a regular listener, you can learn more about Cary and what he does in the show notes with links, and you can go to Queer WE Are dot com and find even more information on him there. Cary, I want to thank you for all that you do.

Cary Alan Johnson 00:44:06

Oh, man. Thank you for all you do. You’re putting us let me tell you, the Queer Writers of Crime podcast. It was the first podcast I did, and boy, oh, boy, did it get a lot of really positive reaction on social media. Friends of mine called me and said I said, do you listen to the whole thing? And they’re like, yeah, they quoted from it. And so you’re a great interviewer, and thank you for what you’ve done to help me put my work into the world.

Brad Shreve 00:44:34

You’re welcome. It’s what I’m here for.

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