CONTENT WARNING: SUBSTANCE ABUSE + SEXUAL ABUSE
I was born in a small town in Alabama. My mother, 17 years old, and my father, 18 years old, were loving but oblivious to differences in gender and sexuality. My childhood brought with it a full range of emotional ups and downs, from sexual abuse to drug abuse, all somewhat complicated by the fact that I’m transgender.
At various points in my life, my primary “issue” has vacillated wildly. At 22, when I got sober for the first time, the sexual abuse was paramount. Now, I would say it’s more of an afterthought, but healing that wound was torturous. At this point in my life, my focus is on reconciling my physical body, which I am starting to love, with the residual hate and fear left over from a Freewill Baptist upbringing. I’ll start from the beginning, and I’ll try to be mindful of the love and acceptance my parents and grandparents have shown me along the way.
“Be still and quiet, or I will shove this stick inside you,” he said. We were tucked away in the woods behind his house. I was afraid and alone, but for the first time in my life, I was able to completely lose myself in nature. I looked up at the canopy of tree limbs, branches, and leaves and I was somewhere else, somewhere safe. The abuse started when I was around 5 or 6, I think. Sometimes I am an unreliable time keeper. I do, however, remember when it stopped. I was 10. I had just returned from a trip with him and his mom and I was terrified. So terrified that, although I thought it was my fault, I had to tell my mother.
I’d kept the abuse from my mother for a variety of reasons. One was that I was aware of her own horrific childhood, which was filled with abuse and degradation. The other was that, from the time I was very small, I remember her asking me to tell her if anyone ever touched me “there.” The problem was that the first time I was touched “there,” it didn’t hurt. It was pleasant and I felt special. Of course, that didn’t last long. Just long enough to keep me from feeling free enough to ask for help. That dragged me through hell for a long time. Later, it would cause me to question my entire existence. The day I told my mother was the last day that I saw him for many years. However, it was also the last day it was addressed in our home for many years.
It was only later that I discovered he was being brutally abused by both of his parents regularly. He may have really thought that he was showing me love. Life can be a real bitch that way.
At age 7 or 8, I got high for the first time. One of my cousins taught me the spectacular art of huffing. I loved it, but I loved God more, so my high adventures didn’t last very long. I would eventually return to them, but much later.
Church. I loved church. I loved singing bluegrass gospel (I still do). I loved preachers who got so excited that they jumped and yelled and told everyone that the fire of hell was waiting. I loved altar calls and praying out loud. I loved the roller coaster of emotions that I felt every single time I went to church. Thinking about it now, it might have been my first addiction. Unfortunately, a little girl who “walked like a boy,” “spit like a boy,” “played like a boy,” and “fought like a boy,” wasn’t warmly welcomed at the altar. One of the first times I realized I was “different” was when a girl in elementary school asked me why I walked like a boy, why I was always dirty. That was the first time I remember feeling ashamed, like I was broken. That was when I started praying, begging, for God to change me. I spent a lot of time on my tire swing, praying to a God who couldn’t hear me. Years later, when I was 12 years old, I received the advice that would change my life forever.
I was preparing for a Bible study with my Grandfather when I started to cry. He looked up, and—without asking any questions—he said “Little one, you are going have to find another way to God. Our church is good for me, but it won’t be good for you. You are different and that’s okay. There are a lot of ways to God.” I am still finding my own way to God, but I have an honest connection today with something/someone that is kind, loving, and full of grace. It took 20 years for me to find peace. I can say today that the struggle has been worth it.
As a teenager, I was an athletic powerhouse. The only thing that I loved more than sports was sex, and that got me into a fair amount of trouble. My first girlfriend was my softball coach. Yes, that’s technically statutory rape. I was 14 or 15 and she was 24. I don’t remember all of the details, but a few weeks after I started dating someone my own age, she was fired. My best guess is that one of my friends told her parents and that was the end. No one ever said anything to me about the relationship.
"UNFORTUNATELY, A LITTLE GIRL WHO 'WALKED LIKE A BOY,' 'SPIT LIKE A BOY,' 'PLAYED LIKE A BOY,' AND 'FOUGHT LIKE A BOY,' WASN’T WARMLY WELCOMED AT THE ALTAR."
My first love was a beautiful, blue-eyed girl. We were inseparable until her parents found out we were having sex during our sleepovers. Her parents told my parents, and they confronted me with a Bible sitting on the table. We had a long discussion. After a few weeks of severe depression, I was lying on my bed and mom asked to come in my room. She laid down next to me and held me while I cried. The only thing she asked me that day was, “Do you love her?” I whispered, “Yes,” and that was the last time she tried to stop me from being with women. However, in the future, she would do her fair share of suggesting I hadn’t given men a fair shot.
I had another girlfriend in high school and earned a basketball scholarship to a Division-I university. I played ball for 4 years. My college experience included a fair amount of drug use, sex, and alcohol, and I finished without a degree. I had played out my eligibility and moved to Atlanta for the first time with my girlfriend. I got a job at a daycare, got drunk a lot, and had started sleeping with one of my coworkers. It wasn’t long before I packed my bag and went back to Alabama. This is when my addiction spiraled out of control.
I started delivering pizza for a local pizza shop. I was smoking a lot of marijuana and drinking, but nothing too extreme. One day, I delivered a pizza to someone who asked if I had anything to smoke and I seized the opportunity. I became the local pizza and drug delivery person. If I got a call, I would just slip a baggie in with the garlic butter and ask for an extra tip on delivery. This kept my drug habit in full swing, but didn’t help much for paying the bills. I made pretty good friends with one of the guys I worked with. He introduced me to meth. The first time I smoked it, I fell in love. I would watch in awe as the crystals formed along the bottom and the smoke swirled around the glass pipe. But meth is an unforgiving and relentless lover, always needing more and more attention.
One night, around 2 a.m., I loaded everything that I owned into the back of my brother in law’s pickup truck and moved back in with my parents. I left the apartment I was living in just the way you would expect a meth addict to leave it—covered in aluminum foil and with freshly vacuumed carpets. The great thing about having codependent parents is that they don’t ask very many questions when you move back in at 2 a.m., they just hug you in the morning and say they’re glad you're home. Not long after that, I started to have little encounters with the police. Because my grandfather was such an important part of the community, they let me go with warnings. After one of my last “warnings,” I decided to switch to cocaine. It seemed like meth houses were drawing too much attention. Cocaine was fast, easy, and always accessible.
Cocaine took me to new dimensions psychologically. I started having flashbacks and hallucinations. The sexual abuse was bubbling up from the pit in which I had buried it and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop it. I slept with a knife and a pit bull, when I slept at all. I kept the windows and doors shut and locked. I was going insane. I started to make early morning phone calls to rehabs. It didn’t seem like anyone could help me, so I decided to end it myself. I took all the coke I had and washed it down with a bottle of vodka and hoped for the best, or worst, depending on how you look at it. It didn’t work. The next day, I talked to my parents, who talked to my aunt, who got me into treatment.
At my healthiest, I weigh around 150-160 pounds. When I checked into treatment, I weighed 105. I loved it there. I drank about 50 gallons of chocolate milk a day and flirted relentlessly with straight women. I found a sponsor with the guidance of my lesbian counselor and started working a twelve-step program. My first year flew by. I went back to school, finished my degree, met someone, and moved back to Atlanta. After my first year, I plunged into therapy and started to heal from the sexual abuse. I also learned to learn to navigate some of my unhealthy boundary issues. My new relationship was my life. She was sensual and seductive. We talked for hours, fucked for hours, and fought for hours. We brought out the best and the worst in each other, and I learned more about myself during that relationship than I ever thought possible.
I learned that I wasn’t this free, peace-loving person. I had a lot of demons. I discovered a bottomless pit of rage that I’d never accessed before. I stayed in therapy and in sobriety through our first three years. I learned how to forgive and how to become a survivor. I learned how to stop the cycle of abuse and how to truly heal. I visited a healer who told me it would take ten years to fully heal, but I would eventually find peace. At that time, that was all I needed—a little hope. Right around the time I started to discover who I was, I made a new friend who would change my life forever. He introduced me to the word transgender.
I plunged into books, videos, and articles. I read and watched anything I could find and I related to everything. It was me. It finally made sense. I was excited and terrified. I couldn't quiet the little voice in my head, but I wasn’t sure whether or not I was strong enough to transition. I sank into a depression. I began to isolate, but (and I attribute this to God) I still talked to my therapist. One day I found myself sitting on the bathroom floor, stone sober, holding a razor blade, and crying. It was in that moment I decided to transition.
Before starting hormone therapy, I decided to go visit my parents. I was scared that they would disown me, but at this point I didn’t have a choice. I walked into my mother’s house, asked her to sit down, and before I could say anything, she said, “You’re transgender, aren’t you?” I thought, What the hell? How does she even know about that? She said she had watched a talk show on television and realized that they were talking about me. She started crying and I was already crying. She didn’t like it, but she knew that I was going to do what I had to do. It took over a year for her to call me by masculine pronouns and my chosen name, but I didn’t care. She had to grieve the loss of her daughter. She had to mourn never hearing my voice again. It was a painful process, but a beautiful one. My father, on the other hand, just didn’t call me anything. He talked to me, but never said “he” or “she.” It’s pretty funny now, but that poor guy just didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t until years later that we would truly reconcile.
" I LEFT THE APARTMENT I WAS LIVING IN JUST THE WAY YOU WOULD EXPECT A METH ADDICT TO LEAVE IT—COVERED IN ALUMINUM FOIL AND WITH FRESHLY VACUUMED CARPETS."
At four years sober, my girlfriend was accepted into a fine arts program in Portland, Oregon, so I decided to go for my Master’s degree. We moved to Portland, baggage and all. I had been on testosterone for nearly a year and had scheduled a consult with a surgeon in Seattle. I was planning to have top surgery in mid-December. I was so excited to finally feel comfortable in my body. I was starting to feel like a complete human, but my relationship with my partner was breaking my heart. I was jealous and she was distant; we were miserable.
I went in for surgery two weeks before Christmas. The day after my surgery, she moved back to Atlanta and I went crazy for a few weeks. I locked myself in the bathroom, painted all over the mirror and walls, and didn’t go to class for two weeks. It was over. I was grieving and alone in a new city a thousand miles away from my family, and in a new body, no less. I decided to stay in Portland and finish my degree. I found a new sponsor and started going to more meetings. I made new friends and studied at coffee shops. I was out and proud in my graduate program. Everyone knew I was trans and I loved it. The people who were in my life were beautiful, open-minded people of all races, religions, sexualities, and backgrounds. It was in Portland that I met my now wife. I have struggled with sobriety over the years, a year here and a year there. Finally, I have three years. I am married to my best friend and she’s the sexiest woman I have ever met. She is kind and loving and we make each other better. We have a two-year-old daughter together, which brings us to my most current struggle.
I want my daughter to be proud of who she is, and in order for that to happen, she has to see me being proud of myself. It is a struggle. A struggle to know how “out” I should be, versus how “out” I want to be. I want her to see everyone through a lens of love and light. I want to introduce her to people who are different, and to show her that different is good. But I also worry about keeping her safe from people who would judge her (and me, her father) if they knew I was trans. For me, this brings guilt. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t hide who I was. My identity was public and noticeable—my high-pitched voice and masculine walk and haircut set me apart.
Today, I pass. And sometimes, that makes me feel ashamed—like I am being deceitful.
I know that this is not true, just a another wound that needs love and healing. In this moment, I am proud of my life. I’m comfortable with who I am. I’m proud to have a loving family and I’m grateful for this opportunity to share a little piece of my story.
My name is Adam Tyus. My priorities are simple: be present and love. I am the father of a beautiful, two-year old girl; the husband to the love of my life, who is pregnant with our second baby; and I am an advocate for people with disabilities. Ah, and yes, I am trans.