While audiences nationwide became acquainted with Sarah Tyler and her family following their appearance on Anderson Cooper’s talk show, I got to know them in a completely different manner: at church. Living in conservative Orange County, CA, and being gay men with children, it was important that my partner and I find a church family where every single person is welcome, which we found at Church of the Foothills. One of our pivotal moments as a congregation occurred when we learned that Danann Tyler would be transitioning from boy to girl, which prompted me to bring in a speaking panel from the Orange County Transgender Coalition to help educate our members.
As would be expected, having a child undergo such a transition caused numerous issues within the Tyler family, at school, in their community, and at work. Sarah Tyler graciously took time to share with me the journey her family has traveled, including not only the many challenges they’ve faced, but also the joyful child the transition from male to female eventually revealed.
Sarah, thanks so much for agreeing to chat.
I’m so honored you even think we’re worth writing about!
I’ve been impressed with how gracefully you and your family have not only handled what would be, for most, a difficult situation, but also how you then took that next step, advocating on behalf of your child and transgendered people on a national level. Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable taking such a public stance.
When it’s your child being mistreated, simply for being different, it’s easy to become an advocate.
Many people may not be aware of your family’s story. First, tell me a little about your family, and what it was like prior to discovering that Danann was transgender.
Well, I’m a yoga instructor, and a bit on the liberal side, and my husband, Bill, is a police officer, definitely more conservative, and we have two children. I was always told I couldn’t have kids, but I’m the kind of person who, when told I can’t do something, immediately wants to do it. I knew that, somehow, we’d have them.
So your eldest, James, how did he come about?
He was a total fluke! (laughing) But Danann was planned.
Tell me about your pregnancy with Danann.
I was absolutely positive, when I was pregnant, that I was going to have a girl. I just knew it. But, in all honesty, I was rather hoping for a boy. You know, already having one, there were some benefits to having another, such as not having to buy any extra clothes, etc. Still, when they told me I was actually having a boy, I felt that they were wrong. The pregnancy with Danann felt entirely different than with James. With James I had no morning sickness, but with Danann, I was sick for the first six months. I kept thinking the doctors had it wrong, but then, at delivery, they told me that I’d had a boy, and I was like–cool!
What was Danann like as a baby?
I’ll use the male pronoun, because pronouns for transgender people can be tricky. But when Danann was a he, he was a really happy, calm baby. He was serene, loving, content–we called him our little Buddha.
When did you first notice that all was not as it seemed?
My husband and I took James on a trip, when Danann was two, and left Danann with a friend for the weekend, who had a young girl. When I went to pick Danann up, he was standing there in a dress, with nails painted and everything, and just looked so happy–the happiest I’d ever seen him. I was sure my husband was going to freak out, so I asked Danann to change. He started crying and got very angry. And from that day on, things were different. (more…)
Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi has been captivating audiences and drawing detractors ever since its debut, 14 years ago. By resetting the familiar tale of the life of Jesus in the town of his youth, Corpus Christi, Texas, McNally created a work which meditates on the life, love, and passion of Christ, but in a modern and relatable way.
I first met actor James Brandon, who for six years has been playing the character of Jesus (renamed Joshua in the play), when he and Nic Arzen, the play’s director, met with my pastor and I about the possibility of bringing their show to Church of the Foothills, our progressive church in the middle of conservative Orange County, California.
In addition to touring, the play has been the inspiration for a documentary as well, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, which is showing at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre on Sunday April 29, with performances of the play itself occurring over that weekend.
James took time to speak with me about his life, love, faith, and his experience of playing a “Gay Jesus.”
Kergan Edwards-Stout: I’ll never forget, walking up to unlock the sanctuary on the day of your first performance at our church, and finding a can on the front steps, labeled “Spray Away the Gay”–which turns out to be remarkably like Glade air freshener. Who knew it was so easy, right?–Or that you’d even want to?!? But you and your entire team deal with things like that all the time.
James Brandon: I just recently found a picture of you holding that can! But, yes, we deal with that all the time. There is no choice except to embrace one’s inner happiness. Some people think, just like that spray, it’s as easy as just saying “I’m not gay anymore” and being gay simply disappears. I always say that it’s as easy as wiping the color of your skin off your face.
Edwards-Stout: We also had a bomb threat. How, as actors, do you calm yourselves and be fully present, with all that tumult? Because the play doesn’t work if you aren’t… (more…)