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Coming Out In A Conservative Midwest Family

February 13, 2021

I'm Ty Z. Wilson. You can refer to me as he/him, but if you're not sure what that means, Ty works just fine.

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Growing up in a conservative Christian family in the Midwest, coming out as a gay man wasn’t an easy decision to make. On one hand, I knew my family and friends loved me. On the other hand, I knew I would be seen as an abomination for being part of the LGBTQ community.

The coming out conversation

It was a summer day in late August. I was driving home from my first “big boy” job at Microsoft. My parents lived four hours away, so I settled for a phone call. It was already going to be hard enough, I didn’t want to see the judgement as well. My mom answered the phone.

“Mom, I’m dating someone. His name is….”

His. Name. Is. I can still feel the physical mix of emotions that left my body with those words. Fear, sadness, excitement, nervousness, joy, timidness, but mostly relief. I had spent over twenty years of my life hiding who I was from the people around me. I was ready to be me.

“You know that’s a sin, right?” I immediately wanted to crawl back inside myself and die, but the lid had already been released and there was no turning back. There was no desire to, either. The relief I had originally felt was replaced with terror and a slight shaking of my hands, then eventually by resolve.

The conversation that followed was the first of many excruciatingly painful conversations. I was almost banned from ever coming home again. I was told to never speak about “that part of my life.” I was told my family would never meet a partner of mine.

How I made it through

Prior to coming out to my family, I had actually been living my life as an out gay man for the past year or more. When I had started working my first corporate job, I had decided I was done hiding. I was ready for a fresh start living my life true to who I am. Surprisingly enough, my coworkers accepted me. I was very fortunate for this. It gave me the strength and courage to understand that I could choose who to surround myself with and that sometimes Chosen Family takes on a more meaningful role in life.

Because of this support system I had built, and perhaps a touch of the German stubbornness coursing through my veins, I knew I could face whatever was to come. In those moments, I chose to be true to myself and live my life to the fullest regardless of what others thought. It was not easy, but it was worth it.

Through every difficult conversation that followed, I’ve grown stronger. Through all the tears shed, I’ve found more joy.

Another vulnerable conversation

One night, after months of silence, I had another conversation with my mother. Towards the end of it, she paused and said, “I feel like I’ve hurt you or made you think I don’t love you.”

“Mom, I know you love me. What hurts is knowing how much of my life you’re going to miss out on because of your choice, not mine.”

I had never once asked anyone to change their religious beliefs. I simply wanted my family to continue loving me.

How I was affected as an LGBTQ photographer

Looking back on my work, I realized for the past 5 years as a wedding photographer, I had been telling one story. It was a love story, but it wasn’t my love story. The people were of faith, but not a faith that included me.

In those moments, I realized it was my responsibility as a photographer and as a human, to celebrate people from all walks of life. Whomever they loved, however they identified, whatever their complexion, regardless their ability. From that moment on, my photography took a turn.

I now choose to photograph couples who celebrate equality. I choose to highlight diversity and make a commitment to have others see themselves represented in my work. When I work with couples, I know that I am now part of the family they have chosen to be by their side, and they can rest assured that they are welcomed and loved unconditionally.

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