LWI Lives - December 2021
Joshua Aaron Jones: Writing His Own Story DOWNLOAD PDFDecember 1, 2021
By Tiffany Atkins
Joshua Aaron Jones has always been a writer, penning his first short story when he was in the second grade. And while Joshua initially didn’t recall writing much as a child, discovering his childhood zombie stories among his mother’s sheet music as an adult helped him recognize the power of his own words and lived experiences.
The gay son of hard-working, deeply religious parents from Boaz, Alabama, Joshua’s story has its share of twists and de-tours, but his story is one of discovery, courage, and creativity.
Boaz, Alabama, a small town near the northern border of the state, close to Chattanooga, Tennessee, was Joshua’s home for seventeen years. Like much of the rest of Alabama, Boaz is deeply religious, plagued by racism and a history of intolerance toward people who are different or nontraditional. Joshua’s grandfather was a Southern Baptist pastor at the First Baptist Church in Boaz, where Joshua’s parents were faithful parishioners. And it was in this setting—one more likely to stifle one’s individuality and difference, than encourage it—that Joshua discovered his own sexuality and knew that he was gay. Given his church’s teaching on homosexuality, Joshua decided to keep this part of his story to himself. Then, exhausted by the bullying in high school and encouraged by an older cousin who had recently come out to his family and was ex-communicated from their church, young-Joshua decided it was time to live his truth and publicly embrace his sexuality.
At school, the revelation of Joshua’s identity gained Joshua more acceptance with his peers and put an end to the bullying; at home, Joshua’s coming out led to much “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” His parents, confused and concerned for their son, whom they assumed had endured some trauma, forced Joshua to attend therapy. During the last session, the counse-lor met with his parents and explained that their teenaged son was wise beyond his years; Joshua wasn’t abused, he had the maturity and assurance of who he was. The therapist recommended that Joshua’s parents develop within themselves as they dealt with Joshua’s sexuality. Following this final encounter with Joshua’s therapist, his mother tried to understand and accept her son, but Joshua’s father worried that living life as an openly gay man would ruin his chances for success. Joshua, determined to live life on his own terms and only with-in those limits he set for himself, set out to prove his father wrong and to become bigger than Boaz, Alabama.
With this newfound-assurance, Joshua left Boaz to attend college at the University of Montavello, where he studied music education. Describing college as a “liberal, blue bubble,” within Alabama, Joshua found acceptance among his classmates and met the love of his life, his husband of now twenty-five years, Wes. In college, Joshua wrote musicals which were produced at the college; he also wrote more short stories. In college, a music theory professor posted a new article about the high acceptance rate of music education majors to law school, and so entertainment law sparked his interest. He and Wes set off to New Hamp-shire for the next chapter in Joshua’s story: law school.
Joshua attended the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, where he earned both a J.D. and a Master of Education Law. As a first-generation law student, Joshua couldn’t look to his family for advice on the ins and outs of law school, but he found his stride, nonetheless, attributing his work ethic and attention to detail to his grandfather and father who were talented carpenters and craftsmen. His family owned one of the first saw mills in north east Alabama.
In law school, Joshua was a teaching and research assistant, and later became an adjunct law professor. “I always wanted to teach,” Joshua recalled during our chat, but like many other “accidental law professors,” his road to the legal academy was winding and circuitous. After law school, Joshua practiced for six years before earning an L.L.M. in government and policy from McGeorge School of Law where he was the Downey Brand Fellow for Public Service and Leadership. As Downey Fellow, Joshua worked on a K-12 pipeline project, which connected law students to children of working-class households in Sacramento. Law students met regularly with their mentees from grades 4-12, bringing them to campus for tours, meals, and otherwise introducing them to a collegiate atmosphere. After McGeorge, Joshua was a solo practitioner for eight years in Pensacola, Florida, where he worked with the ACLU on issues related to gay rights and taught part-time as an adjunct. When asked about his passion for teaching and why he always came back to it, Joshua says he really wanted to help nontraditional students—students who, like him, entered law school without connections, financial resources, or much family support—to remove barriers to their success in the profession.
What’s next in the story for Joshua? Full-time law teaching, children, and top sailing! Joshua and husband, Wes, who were married in 2001, 2012, and 2014 in a combination of civil ceremonies, domestic partnerships, and a marriage ceremony (they wanted to "cover all the bases," he jokes) now reside in San Diego, California. Josh-a is a full-time faculty member at California Western School of Law, where he teaches legal writing, family law, and other subjects. Wes is a well-known social media influencer and star of Highfalutin' Low Carb, a popular YouTube series that tests keto and low carb recipes (he has a low carb pumpkin bread, y’all!). He and Wes are considering adding children to their family, and Joshua contemplates be-coming certified for sailing future charters with his family and friends.
The moral of Joshua’s story: barriers are meant to be broken; adversity and diversi-ty are part of his lived experience as a gay man; and while being mislabeled and misunderstood is never easy, it helped him find himself. Joshua shares these lessons with his students, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds, who are navi-gating their own adversity and uncertainty. Helping students find their place is part of his role as their professor, one that he carries with PRIDE.
To get in touch with Joshua, you can email him at JJones@cwsl.edu.