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Darian Aaron on Black Love, the White Gaze, and ‘The Reckoning’

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Gay Life, Living with HIV/AIDS, My Fabulous Disease, News, Prevention and Policy | 0 comments

Darian Aaron, editor of The Reckoning (Lee Jones Photography)

The Reckoning, a blog site devoted to Black LGBTQ+ voices, has been producing kick-ass content for the last few years. It is also riding high these days, with the recent announcement of its second consecutive GLAAD Media Award nomination, joining previous winners Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, Mombian, My Fabulous Disease, and Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents among the 2022 nominees.

I’m a fan of great writing and new perspectives, so I tracked down the editor of The Reckoning, noted journalist Darian Aaron, for a virtual chat about his site. What followed was a lively conversation about lifting up Black love and community, sex of course, the tricky topic of queer masculinity, the absence of “the white gaze” at The Reckoning, and why so much great work by and for Black gay men in happening in Atlanta.

Here is that conversation, gently edited for length and clarity:

Mark S. King: Hello from chilly Baltimore, Darian. I’m missing the ATL today.

Darian Aaron: There’s no place like Atlanta. We like to say we’re full, but there’s always room for two more gays. You and the hubby are always welcome to join us.

We’re retiring there in a few years, so hang on! And before I go any further, congrats on the second straight GLAAD Award nomination for The Reckoning in the category of Outstanding Blog. Welcome to the repeat nominee club!

Thank you so much! We’re really proud of the work we’ve been doing on The Reckoning. And to have GLAAD acknowledge our work with two nominations is the icing on the cake for us.

It’s well deserved. I’m a fan.

Mark, your support means the world to me.

A few years ago, my husband and I hosted a few LGBT journalists, including you, for dinner at our home here in Baltimore during a conference. I only knew you as a ferociously smart and confident talent. And then you gave me shit all night. I loved it.

I’m screaming! Did I really? I do recall you pretending to be shy and refusing to talk about sex. You, of all people.

My husband wishes to God I would stop writing so personally about sexuality, most especially ours. So maybe I was keeping my mouth shut around him. I wrote a piece once that took place during our afterglow on “date night,” and he was mortified.

Maybe you’re more comfortable writing about sex than you are talking about it in a room full of people?

Well, my writing persona is way more sexual, and caustic, and snarky, than I am in person, that’s for sure. I want people to like me and then I write the most inflammatory things!

You’re too much! And I’m here for it.

But back to you. Tell me about the name of the site, The Reckoning. It sounds ominous but powerful. What’s the story there?

Our executive director, Charles Stephens, came up with the name for the site. It was just a familiar phrase that he’d heard throughout the course of his time in social justice movements that resonated with him.

It sounds like something’s coming.

Oh, something is always coming on The Reckoning. Stay tuned.

And The Reckoning site is an outgrowth of Counter Narrative Project (CNP), which is a Black community building organization in Atlanta, do I have that right?

Yes, that’s correct. CNP is a nonprofit organization rooted in Atlanta’s Black LGBTQ+ community. It’s unique because our work is centered around using the power of storytelling to shift narratives about the lives of Black gay men, which we believe can influence policy and change lives. The Reckoning is one of the platforms that we utilize to do this narrative shifting work.

The Reckoning has a lot of content on mental health and emotional well being. Is that deliberate and addressing a particular need you see? I don’t see other LGBT outlets going there nearly as often.

Yes, that is deliberate. We believe every person in our community has value. We create content for real people experiencing the challenges of navigating racism, homophobia, and transphobia, sometimes from external forces, and often within their own familial spaces. This takes a toll on a person’s mental and emotional health.

The recent profile of Black gay bodybuilders on your site was fascinating. The struggle over masculine identity – the tension inside us between embracing ourselves as gay men and wanting to project whatever it means to be “manly” – is something a lot of gay men can relate to.

Most definitely. I’m glad the queer bodybuilding piece resonated with you. Ryan Lee penned that piece. He’s one of five very talented contributing writers on our team. Masculinity and fitness happen to be two topics that always seem to be up for discussion. We did something similar with an amazing piece last year by Craig Washington that tackled bottoming and masculinity.

I had an “aha!” moment while reading the bodybuilder piece. I found myself wondering why the article didn’t mention the objectification of the Black body by white gay men. Then the answer to my own question struck me: your platform isn’t concerned with the white gaze! It wasn’t “about” me.

Bingo! We love and embrace all people at CNP, but The Reckoning unapologetically centers black LGBTQ+ people, our stories, and our experiences, absent of the white gaze.

It reminded me that I was a visitor in a Black space, even virtually. So I should take a seat and listen, I guess. Does that make sense?

I think that’s good advice, especially if you’re not a Black LGBTQ+ or person of color. We encourage dialogue that is grounded in curiosity and a genuine willingness to learn, but it has to be respectful of the experiences of the people who have actual lived experiences with the content on the page.

The Reckoning also approaches HIV from angles we don’t typically see. It’s a fully loving embrace, as befits the spirit of the site, of both prevention and living with HIV.

Wow. That made me teary-eyed because that’s exactly how we like to approach HIV stories on The Reckoning.

I follow the Barbra Walters interview model. I can make you cry even on a virtual chat.

Mission accomplished, Barbara. People living with HIV are worthy of love and respect. They also deserve to have their stories told with sensitivity and care, and through a lens that centers their lived experiences independent of HIV. CNP is fully committed to educating our community and the general public about the harm implemented by archaic HIV criminalization laws. CNP chose journalist Stephen Hicks as our first fellow. He is charged with creating impactful stories about HIV criminalization in the Southeast and across the U.S.

Randi Sylve, Dr. David Malebranche, Darian Aaron, and Anthony Antoine of CNP (photo courtesy of CNP)

There’s something that feels like family on The Reckoning. Y’all are always hugging it out in your photos. It feels aspirational to me, because who doesn’t want to be in the bosom of their friends? It makes me wish I had even more close friends.

Mark, that observation hit me right in the feels. CNP is a family. A tribe. Our work is a love letter to our Black gay ancestors and to those who are actively engaging our work, and to Black gay men everywhere. So often, when we have been rejected by our birth families because of our sexual orientation or gender identity, we have leaned on our chosen family to survive. This connection is necessary and in many cases, life-saving.

I can relate to that, my friend. Between CNP, the Reckoning, and the great work of Thrive SS (an organization that is by and for Black men living with HIV), is Atlanta an oasis of Black gay life and love? That sounds simplistic.

I’d like to think Atlanta is a place of opportunity. We have a reputation of being called the Black Gay Mecca. Now that can be a good or bad thing depending on whom you talk to. But you’re right, Atlanta is ground zero for work involving Black gay men. I don’t care what anyone says, there is no other place like it in the country.

I have an accusation to make. You wrote the sweetest profiles of some Black gay couples for The Reckoning recently, and you even have a coffee table pictorial book you published, When Love Takes Over: A Celebration of SGL Couples of Color. You, Darian Aaron, are a hopeless romantic. Confess!

Honestly, I have spent the majority of my career writing about love between Black gay men. It’s a calling. I feel a responsibility as a Black gay man who is in love with another Black man to showcase other couples who look like us. There is still a lack of representation of Black gay couples in both LGBTQ+ and mainstream media. This type of representation matters. And as long as there’s breath in my body, I will stand in the gap, and elevate stories that show what is possible for Black gay men.

Oh my. That was quite a romantic mission statement.

I’m very passionate about this topic, Mark. I gave you the abbreviated Ted Talk.

So you’re partnered. I guess I didn’t google you enough. I didn’t know. And here I thought if I snuck in your Twitter and Instagram links, I might get you a date. Why should I have all this blog traffic if I don’t put it to good use?

You’re hilarious! Yes, I am partnered. There’s a few pictures on my Instagram. We’re visible but low-key. We’re just over here drinking water and minding our business.

Low-key. I’m trying to comprehend the concept. At any rate, congrats on finding your calling and your meaning. We cannot ask for anything better in our lives, if you ask me.

Thanks, Mark. I’m incredibly grateful. I’ve worked in newsrooms where I had to make a decision if I was going to pay a bill or buy food. No reporter should have to live under those circumstances. Now, I no longer have to sacrifice great lighting or food. It’s an amazing feeling when you land somewhere and you’re valued in every aspect of the work.

Great lighting? You’re singing my song.

Listen, these articles won’t get written in the dark!

(The GLAAD Media Awards ceremonies, which fund GLAAD’s work to accelerate LGBTQ acceptance, are currently scheduled be held in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton on Saturday, April 2, 2022 and in New York at the Hilton Midtown on Friday, May 6, 2022.)


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