Growing up in a black Christian church, Aaron Anson continually struggled to reconcile his homosexuality and his religion. In his efforts to become the man he thought he should be, he married a woman, had two kids and tried to suppress his true self. It wasn't until he was in his late 30s that he left his marriage and finally came to terms with his sexuality. Today, he is happily married to a new partner and living in Washington, D.C., as an openly gay man.
See also: Words from the wise.
Anson documents his difficult journey in his new book, "Mind Your Own Life", which began as a memoir and evolved into a book about self-acceptance. Here, he talks to AARP about his life experience:
When you were growing up, what were you taught about being gay?
My earliest memory was being taught that acting like girls or playing with girls' toys was bad and unmanly. Later I learned to label "fag" or "sissy" anyone who displayed anything but typical "male" behavior. From there, my church and my religion took over to teach me that my non-attraction to girls made me "gay" and that was sinful and that I'd go to hell for it.
I believed the only way for me to be acceptable to God and to other Chistians was by denying my sexuality. Those years of living a closeted gay eventually caused a lot of irreparable harm to those I loved the most through no fault of their own.
Did you feel you had to choose between your faith and a loving relationship?
Yes. I was conflicted about that for the early part of my life. I became a deacon and joined several churches all in my attempt to be loved and be a Christian. Because being gay to me was so real, I assumed that all guys felt perplexed as I did, and the purpose of religion was to scare you straight or into not thinking about your intimate attraction to other men.
Do you still consider yourself a Christian?
I get asked that a lot, and the short answer is no. I consider myself spiritual, but I am not affiliated with any church. The principle I most closely identify with is enlightenment and spiritual awareness through courage and self-thinking.
How have you balanced your religion and being gay?
This is my favorite question. I have come to accept that religion, self-hate and the hating of others were all introduced to me by other people subjected to their own bigotries and prejudices. I learned those beliefs and habits from others who had basically hijacked my life for 35 years because I had accepted their beliefs as my own.
I know now, that in the beginning of our life, we totally submit to God, who teaches us to love and not hate. That's how I've found the balance between religion and love.
What is the overall message that you would like your readers to gain from your book?
My book is about engaging our own minds to seek and reconcile our own truths with God, or the source that created us all. It is not as important as we've been taught to give names to the unnamable, but more important to recognize that we came into existence instinctively knowing only love, and our beliefs and inherited prejudices were taught to us by others who in turn had those beliefs instilled and taught to them as well.
In your lifetime, do you think gay marriage will be legalized nationwide?
Yes, and here is why. The religious right has been fighting to preserve the sanctity of marriage as they view marriage. However the way to preserve something is to strengthen it or be pro marriage. This is not accomplished by disenfranchising or weakening others. Long before gay marriage made the historic strides it has, the divorce rate in this country was nearing 50 percent. The emphasis should have been on improving the divorce numbers or strengthen the institution. Now they have been asking those opposed to marriage equality to basically support and preserve what is a broken institution to begin with and the support has been half-hearted at best. The misguided strategy of disenfranchising gays as inferior to make others appear superior is doomed. We've seen that failed strategy with slavery, women rights, voting rights and interracial marriage. National acceptance of gay marriage is no exception.
What can people 50 and over learn from "Mind Your Own Life"?
This journey back to love is one we can begin at any point in our lives. We cannot be held captive to the truths of others. We should reconcile for ourselves, and when we know a truth is inherently ours and agrees with us we should hold steadfast to our own knowing. We can acknowledge how we have passed down our own taught beliefs to others after us and how our inherited beliefs has affected our relationship with those we profess to love. If we can see where we came from, we can better understand where we are going and perhaps objectively encourage others more positively. More families, marriages and relationships have been destroyed in the name of religion then we care to admit.