“Walking in Truth: Fatherhood.” An Interview With Author Tony Christon-Walker

By Staff

What inspired you to write your book?

I initially started the book because I was angry, so it started out as a journal. I had a lot of emotions surrounding the death of my son. That anger took a few different forms before it decided to reside in the form of this book. I wanted to start advocacy groups for young fathers to advocate for fair treatment in the domestic court setting. There were many other iterations of what this should look like, but I landed on writing my story. I started seeing a therapist a few years ago, and was able to reconcile most of my anger, and the book flowed out of me.

What was your experience like raising a son being a gay man?

 I’ve raised young boys twice as a Black gay man. I raised my two sons who are featured in the book. I had sole custody of them for about seven years in the late nineties. I do have the ability to “pass” in straight environments. I hate that term but it’s the only way to explain it. I think it was mostly because of the way I presented, I didn’t get a lot of flack from the schools. I was an active parent and was deeply respected from all indications. My second go at it was a bit different. This time I had a whole husband and that gave us some level of anxiety when we adopted our son, Maurice. For me there was almost a twenty-year time jump with these two instances. That’s twenty years of change and twenty years of social evolvement. This time it was even easier. Bobby and I were very well received by the faculty and staff. We were surprised at the lack of judgement we received. Being gay was only a problem for me when I was in high school. After high school, it was smooth sailing.

What would you like for someone to walk away with from reading your book?

I want people to walk away from reading my book knowing what it means to make peace with your past and that you have a choice in how you deal with bad things that happen to you. One of my friends, who read the book and knew the intimate details said, “You had so many chances to vilify people, and you didn’t, why?” The easy answer is that every villain in every story sees themselves as the hero. Our fortunes rise and fall based on the decisions we make. I didn’t intentionally vilify the villain in this story because I think she thought she was the hero and made bad decisions. But, I made some bad decisions, too.

How has being gay impacted you?

I can’t say that being gay has impacted my life in a big way. I don’t think being gay has made me special in any remarkable way. The way I’ve lived my life is to show people that other than who I choose to date or marry, the lives of straight and gay people of equal socioeconomic standing is pretty much the same. Being gay did not impact my life as much as living with HIV. Being a Black gay man over the age of 50 is a remarkable feat, itself. When I contracted HIV, a lot of my friends were dying. HIV was a death sentence. I was told to get my affairs in order. I thought I was going to die; I was told I was going to die. Fortunately, I’m still here but it wasn’t always easy. In 2013, I started working for an agency called AIDS Alabama. It was there that I started telling my story and opening up about this disease I had lived with in shame for many years. It was also there when I realized that I didn’t have to live in shame and that my story could impact people in a positive way. That began my journey to being an advocate, and not just for Black, gay, men living with HIV, but for anyone who needs a hand in their fight.

What is the difference with the white gay community oppose to the black gay community?

Simply put, it’s the same difference between white and black straight communities…racism. You know, I think it’s laughable that some may white gay people, men in particular, think just because they’re gay that they can’t be racist. The two mutually exist all the time. They use the same code words, and benefit from racism and act as if racism doesn’t exist.

What advice would you give a young gay person to help them thrive?

My advice to a young gay person would be to find your tribe. Many of us have experienced being an outcast at some point in our lives. Instead of looking at these periods as periods of rejection, you should look at them as periods of realignment. When you encounter people, who don’t want you to bring your whole self, those are not your people. Use the free time you have from not surrounding yourself with bigots to find a community that truly accepts and values you.

How has writing this book changed your life?

This book forced me to live in discomfort for a time. While planning and writing this book, I had to deal with things that I had pushed aside or compartmentalized. All of those things were difficult to reconcile, but when I did I gained new insight on life, love, and death. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their kids. It goes against the natural order of how we see things. If you read the book, you realize I lost my son twice. That was a hard reality to square, however when I did, it opened up a new world to me. I will never be one of those “glass half-full” people, but I am no longer a “glass half-empty” person either. I’m somewhere in the middle: optimistic, but also dealing with the reality that exists. I’m still struggling with forgiveness, but I no longer harbor hate.

Tony Christon-Walker

Today, you are an author.  What is next for you?

Honestly, I don’t know. I have plans to write two more books in the Walking in Truth Trilogy. Books 2&3 will be called Walking in Truth: HIV and Life, respectively. Book 2 would explore more of my life living with HIV, which wasn’t a huge factor in the first book. Contracting HIV has set my life on a path that I didn’t want but has benefitted me in ways I have yet to count. Book 3 will be more of a collection of anecdotal stories, and all three books will cover the same time period. After that, I don’t know. I have a CNN short documentary that will be aired on September 27, 2021, National Gay Men’s HIV Awareness Day (NGMHAD). The short film follows me in a “day in the life” type format and centers the mentoring I do with young people living with HIV. The film also features my mentee, Carlton “CJ” Bell, founder of the Birmingham Black Repertory Theatre Company (BBRTC), and the awesome work he’s doing in the Black Theater scene in Birmingham.

My life has a life of its on and most of the time, I’m just here for the ride.

About Tony D. Christon-Walker

My name is Tony Christon-Walker and I am a life-long resident of Birmingham, Alabama. I grew up in the Dolomite neighborhood in the 70’s and 80’s. As a young, Black gay boy, I didn’t have a lot of role models or people to pattern my life after, so I did what everyone else did. I tried until I figured it out. Figuring out meant that I learned by trial and error.

The results of my trials and errors are pretty amazing. I raised two straight Black boys into manhood. As a result of that I have three beautiful granddaughters: India, Lauren, and Carman. My mom was very young when she had me, but back then, children were the responsibility of the entire house. My grandparents and my mom played an active part in my upbringing.

Of all the jobs I’ve had, the hardest was being a father. I didn’t know what it meant to be a father since mine was not active in my life. However, I did know what kind of father I didn’t want to be. Despite the pitfalls of life, I lived a fairly normal life. In 2011, my youngest son died from complications of Chrohn’s Disease. It was at that moment that my entire life turned upside down, but started to make sense. I was consumed with grief at the time because as you will discover in the book, I felt like I lost him twice.

The next few years, I let my rage consume me. It was only after I found a good therapist was I able to reconcile my past and move forward with my life. In 2020, I self-published a fictionalized memoir of my life entitled, “Walking in Truth: Fatherhood.” The book follows the life of Marvin Waller and the path he takes to becoming an adult. This was my first attempt at writing. The book is transparent, honest, and thought-provoking. Human beings struggle with many things. Forgiveness is the one thing that if we master, we become the masters of our destiny.

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