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| Sunday, April 29, 2012

Darian Aaron on black gay couples, coming out Christian, and in-flight shenanigans

By Laura Douglas Brown, Editor-In-Chief of The GA Voice

The May 2012 issue of Ebony Magazine features First Lady Michelle Obama smiling on the cover. The motherhood-themed interview offers interesting insight into the daily lives of the First Family, but in some ways is not as ground-breaking for the mainstream African-American monthly as a story from April's issue: "Black, gay and Christian: Where spirituality and sexuality converge."

The first-person account describes Atlanta writer Darian Aaron's journey from realizing he was gay around age 7, to fearing being shunned by the Southern Baptist church where he was raised, to finding acceptance in a new church home. 

"Spirituality shouldn't hurt," Aaron says in the piece. "When we go to church to worship God as gay Christians, we shouldn't walk away feeling bruised and battered." 

The Ebony article is by no means Aaron's first effort to bring a voice to those often invisible in the media. Last year, he published "When Love Takes Over," a coffee table book of black gay male couples that grew out of a series of profiles on his blog, Living Out Loud with Darian.

Aaron, 32, currently works as a flight attendant while also studying journalism at Georgia Perimeter College. 

GA Voice caught up with him to hear more about his writing, advice to couples, and the weirdest things he puts up with from airline passengers. 

GA Voice: Though updated less frequently now, your blog Living Out Loud with Darian, has been very successful. Why did you decide to write personally from a black gay male perspective? Did you expect the blog to strike a chord the way it did? 

I started Living Out Loud with Darian in 2006 for several reasons, but mainly it was born out of my frustration with the lack of diversity in the blogosphere. There were only a handful of blogs at the time
that focused specifically on the lives and experiences of LGBT people of color. 

In hindsight, it was also an answer to an incessant need that I had to utilize my voice to speak out on issues that were important to me as a black man who unapologetically identified as gay. 

So often the experiences of LGBT people of color are excluded and rendered invisible by the broader gay community along with the media. I wanted to provide a platform that pushed these stories into the forefront. I had no idea that the blog would take off the way it did as I had no idea what I was doing when it first began. But I quickly found my voice and a loyal audience that flocked to the site from all across the country and from overseas. 

GA Voice: Your book, "When Love Takes Over," grew from couples' profiles on your blog. Do you think there are enough role models or media visibility for black gay couples? 

I don't think there are nearly enough role models of black gay couples in committed relationships in the media. I honestly can't remember the last time I saw a black gay couple in print or on television and there's been ample opportunities to diversify the images we see of gay couples with the advancement of marriage equality in several states...

I wanted to do what I could to change the unfortunate narrative that exists among some in the black gay community that it's impossible for two black men to maintain a committed relationship. There are couples in my book who have been together for over 20 years and have achieved the American dream with a home, children, and successful careers. The 18 couples in my book merely serve as examples to single gay men and even those in relationships that they can have a successful relationship if they so desire. 

GA Voice: What advice did you glean from those interviews that has helped your own life, or that can help other couples now? 

A common thread woven through all of the couples I interviewed was date nights. All of the couples continued to date each other as their relationships matured. This is something that is also very important to my partner and me. 

Great communication was also another take-away from the couples in my book. Many of the guys noted that their communication style was a work in progress but without solid communication failure could be imminent. 

GA Voice: Your Ebony essay about being black, gay and Christian has gotten widespread attention. Have you gotten any backlash? 

Believe it or not, I've only heard one negative reaction about the piece via a phone call from a friend in Los Angeles. His grandmother read the article and almost had a heart attack! I found her reaction to be quite amusing. 

I stopped caring about the negative reaction of homophobes a long time ago. I was actually kind of relieved to hear about that single negative reaction since all of the feedback leading up to that moment had been overwhelmingly positive. 

I grew up reading Ebony and can't recall ever seeing an openly gay black person with a positive story about their experience on its pages. The idea that a closeted young gay person of color will have access to my story of overcoming "church hurt" and reclaiming my rightful place in the world as a black, gay, child of God makes nay piece of criticism worth it. 

I have the full support of my family and my partner and at the end of the day that's all that matters. 

GA Voice: Do you plan to write another book?

This is the question that keeps coming up. I honestly can't answer that right now. I'll never say "never," but right now school, my relationship, and work is my focus. However, I will say the opportunity to display my growth as a writer and improve upon the first book is quite attractive to me. 

GA Voice: Is there any topic you absolutely would not want to write or blog about? 

When I was blogging full-time no topic was off limits. My only requirement was that the information posted served to educate, empower, and entertain my audience. 

I did make a conscious effort not to turn the blog into a shrine for Beyonce (or Janet, my favorite artist). Gay men and our fascination with divas. I've seen so many (black) gay blogs neglect vital stories that needed to be pushed to the forefront of LGBT consciousness for pop idol worship...

If something I've written has started a conversation about homophobia, bullying, the lack of visibility of LGBT people of color in the media, HIV/AIDS, or racism within the gay community, then I'm moving in the right direction. 

GA Voice: In your professional life as a flight attendant, do you think the stereotype that a large proportion of male flight attendants are gay is true?

I absolutely deplore stereotypes. but a large percentage of my male co-workers are indeed gay. Every now and then a few straight guys will make it out of training and onto the line. But at the end of the day,we're all one big happy family of various orientations and gender identities---including trans---working hard to keep our passengers safe. 

GA Voice: What is the weirdest thing you have ever encountered with a passenger? 

This may not necessarily sound weird but it's definitely annoying and it happens often: passengers who like to turn our galley (which would be equivalent to their private office) into their own personal gym. I've had passengers occupy my work space to get their yoga on, complete with a mat! 

And those passengers who think it's perfectly acceptable and hygienic to put their trash on the beverage cart during service. Let me stop...I could go on. Maybe I'll save it for my next book. 

| Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Photo by Derek Blanks

As told to writer Michelle Burford in the April 2012 issue of EBONY.

Thirty-one year old blogger Darian Aaron, author of When Love Takes Over: A Celebration of SGL Couples of Color, says he knew he was gay in elementary school. During his teen years, a serendipitous meeting led him to an experience that clarified his faith-and put him on a path toward his deepest connection with God yet.

I was raised in a Southern Baptist church just outside of Montgomery, Ala.,the kind of congregation that worshipped with traditional hymns. I definitely considered myself a Christian-both then, and even after I came out.

I knew I was gay around age 7, the year I had a crush on a boy who sat behind me in school. Even as I felt the attraction, I knew I couldn't talk about it. In my Bible Belt community, I'd heard plenty of anti-homosexual stories, and I didn't know anyone who was openly gay. If I had mentioned my attraction, I would have been shunned. My feelings were also at odds with what I was taught as a Christian: Being gay is a sin. Whenever I heard that message, I questioned it, because something in my core told me it wasn't true.

At 16, I told my mother and sister that I was gay. We seldom talked about it after that revelation because it was an uncomfortable topic. That same year, I came to a crossroad in my spiritual journey. A music minister from a church in Montgomery visited our congregation; when I heard him play a contemporary style of Christian music on the organ, it made me crave a closer connection with God. So I asked him about his church. After a visit, I discovered that it was progressive and a place that seemed to welcome gay people. After a couple of years of alternating between my home church and this new one, I became a member of the Montgomery church. Attending my new church was like having a weight lifted off my chest. I was free to commune with God as a whole human being. I could bring all of who I was to the altar and really worship Him. The whole experience deepened my relationship with Christ.

Over time, it became clear to me that religion and following every word of the Bible to the letter wouldn't be my gateway to a deeper understanding of who God is. I'd only get that through prayer and spiritual communion with Him.

That means that I'm in a good place with God, and rather than living by dogma, I choose to live by spirit. I've seen how vile Christians can be towards gays, and that's not who Jesus was. We are the very people that Christ would have walked alongside.

In 2005, I finally came out to my father, and when I did, he said he'd always known I was gay. I'd waited so long to tell him because I feared how he would view me as a man, as his son. I was also afraid that he'd reject me in a world that's already hostile toward Black men. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded: My dad and family have been amazing.

Spirituality shouldn't hurt. When we go to church to worship God as gay Christians, we shouldn't walk away feeling bruised and battered. My path has shown me a great alternative: church communities that welcome and even celebrate same-gender loving people.