My name’s Tyler and I’m 23 years old. I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico where I grew up with my mom, dad and two younger brothers, in our close-knit, conservative, Christian household. Reaching back to some of my first memories, I can tell you my family has always been extremely charismatic. My father – the former lead singer of an 80’s rock band, and my mother – a small town girl turned groupie; it was, in my opinion, a recipe for the next Hollywood motion picture.

My parents always instilled this energy in us to excel in life in a way that didn’t compromise who we were, or our faith. This, in turn, allowed me to express myself fully from the start. Singing, acting, drawing… really any form of artistic expression I could get my hands on, I seemed to do well at.

Throughout kindergarten and early elementary school, life was good. It was easy and just came naturally. Friends were easy to come by and kids hadn’t made up their minds yet that anything in the world mattered, aside from playing make believe. But I knew the energy between myself and others was outside the norm. Sexual orientation just translates differently in young minds. It is obviously not a sexual attraction, but more of an eccentric curiosity because it manifests from a part of the mind you don’t yet have access to, making it all the more confusing.

As early as first grade, I can recall getting along with the girls much easier; it’s true what they say, that girls mature must faster, which is most likely why I never had trouble being so expressive and abstract (this would later lead to my demise). And although I enjoyed my time with the girls, I craved acceptance from the boys, who, at the time, had no interests beyond Pokémon and football. No matter how hard I tried, they could sniff me out from a mile away, and seemed to want nothing to do with me.

Fast forward to middle school, where the girls now have breasts and the boys have deep voices, and everyone just smells. Arguably the most self-conflicting time in anyone’s life.

The torment was constant. The words “faggot” and “queer” torpedoed through just about every undesired conversation that took place. My nickname was “Quinn the queer”. I never understood the obsession middle school boys had with being gay, but it seemed everything was gay. You’re gay, that’s gay, don’t be gay, I’m not gay, bro.

Individuality was frowned upon and blending in was the status-quo – something I was never good at. In hindsight, I was the perfect target. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t the tormenting at school that nearly destroyed who I was, it was the place I thought was my safe space.

My parents were caring; they hugged me when I cried, told me I was special, and reassured me that the others were just insecure.
“You’re not gay, don’t listen to them, they’re just being kids.”

It hadn’t occurred to me at the time, but this was actually a very destructive sentence. Here’s the dilemma: at school I was a faggot, but at home I wasn’t – except, I was… but I shouldn’t be, because that’s an abomination… so, at school I’m a faggot, and at home I’m an abomination. I asked my four, less-than-talkative walls many nights, on my hands and knees, why it didn’t feel wrong, but apparently was. Rudely enough, the walls never answered back. With that, I had determined that I was going to go to hell.

Suicide crossed my mind many times, because if my fate was already sealed, why put up with the pain? It was a dark place to be. I never actually attempted to take my own life, but subliminally, I always waited for the day that I might get the courage.

Fast forwarding yet again, I surprisingly had little to no issues in high school. I had great friends, and people, for the most part, had matured beyond everything being “gay”. Some were out of the closet, some were very obviously standing just behind the doors, and others, such as myself, were still hiding behind the jackets. I dated girls, convincing myself that by the time I entered college and really started getting serious about a relationship and a family, God would have changed my heart. I mean after all, wasn’t 18 years of praying enough? What’s God’s price on turning from gay to straight? Must be expensive.

By the time I started college, I had fully accepted that I was gay. I began telling my closest friends, and to my relief, not a single person was against me. When I met my first boyfriend, I decided it was time to tell my dad. At this point, my parents were divorced, and my mom lived in a separate state with my two younger brothers. From middle school on, it was just me and my dad, and we were extremely close. I had the luxury of knowing that coming out to my dad wouldn’t be a big deal.

I was on a 12-hour train ride to go visit my mom, so I had nothing but time. I typed out message after message, usually deleting them and reverting back to a pondering gaze out the window. When I finally hit send on the message I felt conveyed what I wanted to say, the world opened up. I wasn’t afraid, and I didn’t have to hide anymore. I knew he supported me, and wanted me to be happy, and that’s exactly the response I received.

From there, I began surrounding myself with other gay people, and educating myself about the community. It was amazing to learn that some people just did not want to conform. People loved who they wanted to, regardless of gender, and for the first time in my life, I saw gay people love themselves.

Had it been on my own terms, I still don’t know exactly when I would have chosen to tell my mom. After all, this was the final barrier to get through – the boss level, if you will. Needless to say, the phone call I received from her was one I had been preparing for, for 22 years; yet, when it came time to form a sentence, I went blank. At the end of the day, she was the only person close to me who thought I should be different, with her only explanation being ‘because religion said.’ So, against my nature, I combated her biblical jargon, and expressed my differing beliefs (or lack thereof). I promised myself, and her, that I would never compromise my happiness again.

I still have a great relationship with my mother. We don’t talk about relationships, or my sexuality, which I prefer, as I’d rather not endure an ever-lasting back and forth battle. I’m still young, and I still have a lot to learn, but my sexuality is no longer a conflicting factor in my developing story.

As strange as it sounds, I have a hidden sense of power over those who disagree with my way of life. I feel bad for them. To rejects one’s reality simply because it exists to be something you cannot comprehend yourself is a blatant product of ignorance and naivety, and to me, closed minds can’t truly succeed. Moreover, to hold another human being to a set of standards that are of a deity that you only believe exists through faith but can’t physically interact with, is quite frankly, an incredibly oxymoronic way of oppression. Without seeming to be sacrilegious, I’ve learned that my own spirituality starts on Earth, and ends elsewhere, rather than the other way around. Love is a powerful thing, and it’s curious to me that despite the fact that we all experience it, it yields different definitions and personalities.

Although my story thus far has a happy ending, that isn’t the case for many. I’m beyond blessed to have my parents, my friends, to feel loved, and to be at peace with who I am, but acknowledging the privileges in my life that have led me to this, is something that too many neglect to do.

Within the community, there are still layers of differing oppression. People disregard others in the name of “personal preference” without admitting where these so-called preferences actually stem from. There’s a lack of acceptance of those who don’t fit the ideal form portrayed through social media (arguably one of the biggest toxicities in the community).

Racism, transphobia, xenophobia, and so on still hold a place in a community supposedly motto’d after loving everyone. It’s justifiable to speculate on the direction that the community is taking and will continue to take in the coming years as social media holds an ever-increasing presence in our lives, and as the fight for progression leads onward. It’s crucial that we subsist in keeping ourselves educated and in holding one another to higher standards.

The sooner we learn to empathize with those we may not understand, the sooner love will take over the world.

-Tyler Mason