One month after the release of Honeypot: Black Southern Women Who Love Women, Andersonville bookstore Women & Children First hosted a launch party and conversation with author E. Patrick Johnson Dec. 5.
Johnson is also Northwestern University's Performance Studies and African American Studies Carlos Montezuma Professor. He previously wrote Black. Queer. Southern. Women.: An Oral History, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity and Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the SouthAn Oral History.
Honeypot combines oral history with magical realism and poetry to tell the story of the trickster Miss B., who takes Dr. EPJ to the women-only world of Hymen; there, she instructs him to gather and share the real-life stories of queer Black women in the U.S. South. Throughout the process, Dr. EPJ interrogates his privilege as a man and academic due to what the women tell him about patriarchy, class, sex and gender.
Affinity Community Services Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon moderated the event.
Women & Children First Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck kicked off the event with a couple little-known facts: that the bookstore is on by indigenous land and that Women & Children First is one of only 10 feminist bookstores left in North America.
Rupert-Gordon asked Johnson how the book came to fruition and specifically who Miss B. is to him and what she represents.
Johnson explained that the word "honeypot" also means a woman's vagina; when he found that out, it led him to do research on honey, what it is used for and why it is so important and how honeybees interact with each other. His goal with this book was to allegorize his academic journey of collecting the stories of queer Black women in the South. Johnson said Honeypot is an offshoot of Black. Queer. Southern. Women.
"Miss B. is a metaphor for what it means for me to be a man doing this work," said Johnson. "This allowed me to play with some of the tensions I experienced … and to deal with my own internalized misogyny. … Dr. EPJ is me and is not me. I had to make him unlikeable in the book because I am not like that."
In addition, Johnson spoke about how forming personal relationships with the women made him constantly learn new things about himself and the world around him. He said that he always wanted to be an academic and that meant not putting his own story into his work but conducting oral histories changed that for him.
When Rupert-Gordon brought up the subject of rape and sexual assault that permeates many of the women's stories, she wanted to know how Johnson got there and why he wanted to include it in the book.
Johnson responded that out of the 79 women he interviewed, 66 of them shared incidents of sexual trauma at the hands of a male relativeso he could not ignore it or omit these stories from the women's narrative.
Other topics included Johnson's writing process, how art is activism and the way intersectionality showed up in the book.
A Q&A session followed.
Johnson invited guests to nosh on celebratory cake and in homage of the book, organic dandelion tea and, naturally, honey to close the festivities.