With his debut novel, TV writer and producer Rasheed Newson (“Bel-Air,” “Narcos”) breathes life into an important pocket of LGBTQ+ history: the political revolution that occurred in 1980s New York City.
My Government Means to Kill Me follows Trey, a young gay Black man who escapes his suffocating “bougie” life in Indianapolis to find personal freedom in New York City. At first blush, Trey seems like another naive dreamer who will learn all his lessons the hard way, but it’s soon clear that he’s complex and adaptable, and his first-person perspective strikes a perfect mix of witty and vulnerable. He’s running as fast and far as he can from the tragedy of his home life, including his brother’s death and his family’s cruel rejection of his sexuality. He’s well aware of the responsibility of taking control of his own destiny, and he earns his stripes, figuring out how to survive while making friends and enemies along the way.
Newson’s prose is engaging and entertaining, and he captures the dynamics of found families through supporting characters such as Angie, a ferocious and bighearted lesbian who runs a home for AIDS patients, and Gregory, Trey’s troubled friend and potential lover with whom readers will undoubtedly form a love-hate relationship. Their world is a heart-wrenching tableau that offers no easy answers or easy feelings, reflecting the harsh reality of life during the AIDS crisis and the continuing fight for civil rights.
The most notable aspect of My Government Means to Kill Me is the presence of historical figures at key points in the story. Newson weaves important civil rights and LGBTQ+ activists such as Dorothy Cotton and Larry Kramer into the narrative to bolster Trey’s development. As Trey becomes a founding member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), readers get a glimpse into the rich and boisterous political environment of the ’80s. Newsom balances these moments of representation and recognition with appearances from more nefarious figures like “racist slumlord” Fred Trump, who tries to evict Trey and his friends from their home.
Newson capitalizes on the many powers of historical fiction while ensuring that Trey’s story never becomes stuffy or predictable. My Government Means to Kill Me is proof that writers can revere and play with history at the same time.