Fabulous Friends - Tyler Milton

Our next Fab Friend we'd like to introduce you to is Tyler Milton. Jaime met Tyler through mutual friends, and bonded through shared experiences with the church and faith deconstruction. When Joey moved to Virginia, this friendship grew with a mutual love of margaritas, board games, and deep conversations that last late into the night.

Where did you grow up? What was that like for you?

I grew up in the rural Buies Creek, North Carolina. My community was predominantly conservative, and evangelical Christianity had a strong hold on the cultural narrative. It all overlapped - Right-wing politics bled into the church services, white Christianity bled into the education system, and classist elitism bled into local politics.

How do you think where you grew up shaped your worldview?

That evangelical worldview was the primary guiding force in the way I was raised. My family – made up of my mom, my dad, my younger brother, and myself – followed the standard patriarchal system proclaimed by many evangelicals. My dad was the “leader of the household” while my mother, brother, and I were expected to submit to his authority. These sexist ideologies were accompanied by white supremacy, heteronormativity, cisnormativity and more, all reinforced through family gatherings, classes, and church services.

How old were you when you came out? What was that experience like for you?

I internalized from a very young age that my queerness was sinful, so much so that I claimed the title of “same-sex-attracted” until I was 24 years old. My childhood saw absolutely no space to explore anything beyond heterosexual and cis-male, and any thought otherwise was quite literally beaten out of me. This pervasive ideology in my childhood home was mixed with a lovingness that I still carry to this day, and while I endured deeply painful treatment because of my queerness, I still experienced warmth within my family system.

Coming out began internally over the summer of 2018. Up until that point, I had attempted every method that I was told would turn me straight. This included reading books written by “ex-gay” folks, begging God to change me, confessing sexual “sins” to people in power, studying the Bible, participating in conversion “therapy”, masturbating to straight porn, and dating women. My final attempt at conversion was revealing my sexual struggles to the woman I was dating at the time, in hopes that this would be the missing piece to become straight. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t shift my attractions, leading me to end the relationship. The day following my break-up, I came out to myself for the first time, and experienced an incredible relief in my soul.

How was the coming out experience for your family and friends?

The night I came out to my parents was both painful and numbing. After disclosing my sexuality with them, they projected their fear and pain onto me for the next two hours. My mom read all of the Bible’s “clobber passages” to me, asking “Do you believe God’s word is true?” after each one. My dad suggested that me being queer was God was punishing him for his infidelity against my mom years prior. At some point during the monologue, I dissociated from the experience – I was floating above the room watching this unfold. And I distinctly remember feeling empowered and proud of myself.

What are some things you learned about yourself during the coming out process?

My coming out process was a concentrated training in vulnerability, self-discovery, and resilience. I found that I had the ability to stand up for myself while also leaning into the support given from my chosen family. The folks that have unconditional love for me came alongside me during this turbulent period, and lent me the strength that I have been able to don on my own over time. Prior to coming out publicly, I see how I used coming out as an attempt to validate my humanity. Though I didn’t have the language for it at the time, I would share my sexual orientation with folks in hopes that they would approve of me. However, through developing my individual identity, I have begun shifting away from the approval of others that I have instead had within myself all along. Now, coming out to new people I meet is more of a shameless depiction of who I am, and a contribution to the cultural narrative of queer representation.

What advice do you have for LGBTQ youth and/or those in mixed-orientation marriages today?

My advice to LGBTQ+ youth is to never forget our queer ancestors who tread the path we walk today. We stand upon the backs of so many who endured incredible suffering and oppression for bravely being themselves. Their choice to stand up for their right to exist has led to the freedoms and protections that we as queer people enjoy today. Though we have a long way to go in having our dignity reflected in legislature and culture, we as an LGBTQ+ community have our queer ancestors to thank for the infrastructure to continue doing that work.

What’s your greatest attribute?

Stories. Human capacity for resilience and growth. The need for connection and empathy. And chocolate.

Who inspires you and why?

One of my greatest idols at this time is Laverne Cox. She is a model for bravery and vulnerability. She is not brave in the sense that she doesn’t have fear, but instead she moves forward in spite of her fear with absolute grace. Laverne inspires me to continuously fight for queer joy and representation.

What does your future look like?

That’s tough to say! I’ve got some ideas for what I’d like to do: I am currently in grad school pursuing my counseling license. I want to work with queer folks through a trauma-focused perspective. As a yoga instructor, I also desire to integrate mindfulness and embodiment into my future work. On top of all that, I will always be fighting for the rights of oppressed folks, particularly in the realm of race, sexuality, and gender.

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