In an effort to be a bit more daring and experimental with my columns, I am going to take a break from my usual writing method and present something entirely different: A Conversation With Ty.
While interviews are nothing new within the pages of Oasis, a columnist being interviewed certainly is. I came up with this idea after spending a great deal of time during Thanksgiving break wondering about what I would write next, and it dawned on me that even though I've been writing a column for Oasis on a consistent basis for nearly two years, judging by the e-mail I'm sent there's still quite a bit about me that remains a mystery, beyond things such as where I live and the like.
All of a sudden the answer hit me...have someone interview me! I talked about this idea with a few of the people I've been in touch with since my debut column, but there were no takers for the task. So I went back into deep thinking mode and came up with a better idea: Do an interview based on questions from a number of readers. I e-mailed that idea around and within a short period of time was presented with a large number of questions, many more than the number I had originally hoped for.
With that problem solved, I came across another, much more challenging one: If I wanted a spontaneous interview it wouldn't work if I had the questions ahead of time. To solve that issue, I came up with a simple answer -- have an outside party assemble the questions for me and then I would respond to them in a live interview. After a great deal of searching, one of my father's closest friends agreed to do this for me, on the condition that I only use his initials.
There are no words great enough to express my feelings to all of you for taking the time to come up with such intriguing questions, and while space doesn't permit me to thank all of you by name let me just say now that I thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
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If you had to describe Ty in only one word you would be hard pressed to call him anything other than an enigma. In his columns he is both open and yet elusive, but in person another side of him emerges, the quiet and even sensitive Ty that few people, based on some of the columns he has written, would ever anticipate. In his own words, "If somebody saw me walking down the street and found out who I was they'd just laugh in disbelief. He's Ty? No way!"
Although I have known Ty all of his life it was just recently that I found out that he and his younger brother are both gay, and the news was as much of a shock to me as it was to his parents. Ty and Chris are the last two people on the face of the Earth that I would have ever expected to be gay and yet they are, another example of their ambiguous personalities.
When Ty asked me if I would be willing to interview him I immediately told him "Yes" and by the time the last question had been answered I felt that I had learned more about this young man in a space of two hours than I had known over the previous fifteen years since his birth.
Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and wearing shorts despite the frigid outside temperature, with the first glance of his cherubic face and close-cropped buzz cut you would be hard pressed to imagine him as being older than ten or eleven, but as soon as he speaks he emanates wisdom that easily makes him sound decades older than what his birth certificate states. Then just when you think you've only witnessed the serious side of him he takes a sip from a mug of coffee which he calls "So strong it has a warning label" and then he turns the mug to show that it does indeed carry a boxed warning similar to what appears of a pack of cigarettes.
Our interview began with both of us still grinning from that hilarious moment with his favorite topic, Oasis.
(Due to space considerations the following interview is being presented in three parts.)
How did you find Oasis?
I had discovered Oasis in the early part of 1997 when I stumbled onto a hyperlink for it on a gay site, and when I went and read all the issues and all of the columns I first felt like I could relate to other gays, which wasn't entirely the case before then when the only exposure to anything gay was through chat rooms and some unfortunate personal experiences. Back then Oasis stood out as being very different from all the other gay sites, and in fact it's still unique today.
What made you want to write for Oasis in the first place?
At first the thought of writing a column never crossed my mind because I didn't think I had the ability, and with all the negative encounters I had in gay chat rooms literally fighting with the other people just to be there because of my age I didn't think I had a shot at being an Oasis columnist. When my debut column appeared in June of 1997, it was there only after going through many rewrites. I think that first column took me at least fifty hours to write!
How did you feel when you first saw it posted?
[laughs] I was so excited! It just felt incredible to know that all that hard work and effort had finally paid off, and then I realized that I couldn't tell anyone what I did because Oasis is a gay site. How would I explain that one to my parents? I guess that was my first real encounter with the stigma that often is a part of being gay, and it didn't feel good. Eventually I told my brother and my boyfriend Eric about it, and they gave me the support I needed to keep going.
What was it like getting feedback from you readers for the first time?
It just totally amazed me, because here I was this thirteen-year-old kid writing a column on a gay 'zine and now I was hearing from people all over the world! When I started hearing from readers in South Africa and Australia I was in shock, it just was incomprehensible to me at the time that somebody so far away was reading what I wrote! If fact I still feel that way even though I understand that most of the world is just a few milliseconds away online.
How did you feel when people started to criticize your columns?
I was beyond furious when that happened. To me, it felt like I was being personally attacked because I was different. I had been given the same treatment in gay chat rooms before so I wasn't caught completely off guard but at the same time I expected Oasis readers to be different. I almost gave up after my first few columns...
Why didn't you?
Because it dawned on me that if I just gave up that I would be sending a really bad message to my readers, that giving up when the pressure's high is the way to go. I also had lots of support from some of my readers to keep going and that ultimately was what swayed me to stay, and two columnists even devoted their space to defend me, which still means quite a bit to me.
Are you still mad about how you were treated?
No. I now realize that going through that was a good lesson in what the real world may be like for me if I should become more open about my sexuality, which is something I just don't see happening. Then again, never say never.
Why do you think your columns were controversial?
I suppose a big part of that is because many adults and older teens have this attitude that younger kids are stupid and they expect us to live inside narrow parameters and basically keep out of their way, and if you break that rule they don't know what to do and they panic. I know back when I was actively involved in gay chat rooms that as soon as I typed my age I'd hear all kinds of condescending remarks such as "Get lost little boy!" or "When I was your age I couldn't even get hard!". Those comments often came from people a few years older than me, which hurt even more. Maybe they forgot how it felt to be just starting to accept being gay? Who knows?
How do you write your columns? Is there any specific process you use or do you "just do it"?
As soon as one column is finished and submitted I start thinking about what I want to write about for the next issue, which is how I've written every column. I've found that I need to start with a strong title to be able to make to column come together, which believe me becomes old after a while! I've noticed that I've become more efficient in my writing style, especially since my first anniversary column. I think that's something that takes time to develop?
Your first anniversary column marked a dramatic change in your writing style. Was this intentional or just a coincidence?
It was intentional. I had a very difficult time trying to decide what to write for what I at the time felt was the do or die column for me, and even now if I read it I can see how important that column was. The previous year had been so hard on me that I suppose I needed to get all that anger out and then take the next step in my life, so I just sat down in front of my computer and let all the anger and bitterness flow. To this day that column is the standard that every column I write must be as good as or it just isn't submitted. Period.
Have you ever had writer's block?
Oh yeah! The curse of all writer's! Sometimes I have an idea that I have strong feelings about and then when it comes to actually writing it I just can't make it work, which happens more often than I'd like! [laughs] I have quite a few columns that are halfway finished or are even just a title, but I look at those attempts as part of the learning process, not as failures.
Do you have any favorite columns?
I do but that's something I want to keep to myself...I'd rather have my reader's make up their own minds on that one.
What, if anything, would you like to see changed with Oasis?
I think there's always room for improvement with anything, and I'd love to see more and even younger columnists come aboard, along with more diversity. I know there are ten and eleven-year-olds out there that read Oasis and are being benefited by it so hopefully some of them would be willing to give writing a column a shot. I also think it would be great to hear from some older gays about how life was for them when they first discovered their sexuality, and how they coped.
Wouldn't that seem out of place on a youth site?
Only if you feel that there's nothing to be learned from an older generation. I mean, how many students are older than their teachers? I see quite a bit of ageism among my gay peers and it's disturbing to me because when you start dismissing others because they're a few years older, or younger for that matter, than you are then I think you're cheating yourself. Who knows, you may miss out on a golden opportunity to learn something that could change your life? I've been in chat rooms and had people refuse to talk to me because I wasn't the same age as them which to me seems so stupid.
What do you think is the biggest lesson you've learned since you started writing for Oasis?
Probably that you're never too young to make a difference in the world.
To be continued...