“Never mind ya’ll, I’m really a dude”. Tyler Agee has used a small handful of terms to describe his gender identity throughout the years while he was coming out. A large part of his coming out process was having to “unlearn a lot of internalized homophobia”. For him, it took finding like-minded people to talk with and learn that it is totally normal to be feeling the things he was.
Tyler grew up in a small town with very religious parents and after he came out, the only thing they allowed him to do outside of school was choir and theater.
“I was no longer allowed to speak to anybody. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over, wasn’t really allowed to have friends.” He said, “The only thing I was able to do outside of school extracurricular wise was choir class and somehow I was allowed to still do my theater class.”
He was loaded up with chores the minute he walked in the house from school every day and was forced to go to the church that was bussing people in every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning.
“It was a super Baptist church like the girls couldn’t cut their hair and they had to wear long jean skirts.” The only difference between this church and a Pentecostal church was the lack of speaking in tongues.
In the process of trying to figure out who he is and find a little leeway and support groups outside of school, Tyler got baptized into a different church. This one was Pentecostal.
“That was a whole experience,” Tyler said.
Most LGBTQ+ people can use their imagination, or past experiences to understand what his time in the church was like. Phrases like “giving into the devil” and “Going to hell” or even “want to cast demons out of you” are all too familiar to LGBTQ+ identifying people and Tyler is no exception. “As you can imagine, that is very damaging to a developing psyche,” Tyler said.
Even though his relationship with the church was rough, to say the least, he did make a friend who helped him through a lot of the issues.
Tyler met a really good friend of his (we will call her Edna) with whom he is unfortunately not in contact with, partially because he left the church and Edna could not at the time. It is common for Pentecostal folks to cut ties with people who leave the church, regardless of relationship.
The two bonded over music taste which is somewhat strange for Pentecostals because “they are essentially Amish people with the allowance of cameras” and have very strict rules about the types of music they are allowed to listen to. They bonded over hard rock music like Metallica, Papa Roach, Montley Crew and, as Tyler describes, “anything screaming and angry”
Edna found very small ways to rebel against the church. “She would find very subtle places in her hair where she could cut off a small piece of it that would be hidden from her parents, Tyler said. It was really all about control. The church controlled every aspect of their lives, so the subtle hair cutting was an act of taking just a small piece of control back from the church.
After a while in the church, Tyler reconnected with is mother’s ex-girlfriend whom he invited to a church service. The ex-girlfriend’s (whom we will call Rose) response was, halfway jokingly, “honey, they would raise me up on a pitchfork.” In that moment, Rose had helped Tyler to open his eyes and see that the church he was in really did have issues with LGBTQ+ people and thought they needed to be cured, maybe even worse. After talking with Rose and hearing her say, “they don’t vibe with that”, Tyler came to a realization.
“There’s no sense in being around people that aren’t going to love me for who I am. I cannot continue to be around people that are going to continuously frown upon what I’m trying to do and make myself a happier person when all they are trying to do is the exact opposite,” he said.
Throughout the entire process, music was vitally important for Tyler. Music helped him create a community of people who, if nothing else, liked the same kind of music and in a way, because an island of misfit toys. He was able to find a community of pure “I don’t give a f*ck”. That was solidified when, in 2018, he went to a Metallica concert in Louisville and he came out to the older woman sitting next to him and her response was “I don’t care. But this music slaps, though right?”
After Tyler left the church completely, he felt free and able to live the way he needed and wanted to live. He still listens to music, reads and plays video games. He has two romantic partners and is planning on having a non-religious hand fasting, or “wedding”, of sorts, later this year. He spent some time working on a degree at Indiana University Kokomo but is currently working as a non-medical assistant for elderly people who need help with grocery shopping, cleaning up in the house or just someone to spend time with them.
Tyler, his partners and their roommate have an open-door policy and have a “habit of adopting strays.” They are willing and able to help out anyone at any time who may need a bed or a couch to sleep on or just someone to put some tea on and talk with.
Tyler has been through the wringer and has had quite the long list of challenges in his life but now, is an open, out, and proud trans man who is always doing what he can to help others and his community.