A story of courage, struggle, and self discovery.
I first met Tyler at Moda apartments in Seattle, Wa. It was during my wild party days. I was stumbling into the lobby, carrying my heels, after another night of bar hopping when I saw a man and a young boy on the couch. My mind was foggy and the room was spinning, yet I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right with what I was seeing. The man was at least twice the boys age. The man was playing on his phone and the boy was passed out and curled up next to him. The boy’s long skinny legs were curled so tightly, trying to keep heat flowing to his thin body. He had scrapes and bruises everywhere. He was wearing a tank top and daisy duke jean shorts. He had multi-colored bracelets on and was wearing dirty beat up sneakers. His skin was pale and colorless. His soft brown hair was neatly cut around his face. He looked barely 16 years old. I stopped my drunken swagger toward the elevators and turned around to face them.
What was I doing!? It is none of your business! Stay out of it! My mind screamed. No! I can’t! Something is not right! I must say something!
I looked at the man and said hello. I asked him about his night and how he was doing. He was pleasant enough. Then, I asked him about the boy. I was sincerely hoping he would tell me that it was his brother or nephew or even his son so I could go on my way with a clear conscience and sleep off my latest binge in the city. He did not say any of those. The man told me it was “his friend” and they were “partying together”. My heart sank. My gut did a cart wheel.
Ugh. Nope. No sleep for me tonight. I couldn’t leave this be. I wouldn’t let this unconscious kid go off with this strange man.
I probed the man a bit longer about where they had been, how he knew the boy and where they were sleeping tonight? The man answered my questions. He explained that they were going to stay at Moda tonight, but they locked him out of his apartment due to non-payment and subletting illegally.
Whew! I had my in. Hopefully this would be a way to take the boy without drama ensuing.
I empathized with the man about his situation and suggested the boy stay with me until he regained access to his apartment. If he did regain access I would call the police before allowing the boy to go with him to his place. The man resisted and started to get angry. I started to get nervous. I almost tucked tail and ran for fear of drama or violence, but I glanced down at this cold, skinny, young boy again and my maternal instincts took over. I didn’t care what I had to do, that boy WAS NOT going anywhere with this man.
I stood my ground and scolded the man in a shrill motherly voice. “This boy is going with me to my place tonight. If you have a problem with that, then go ahead and call the police!” I stared him down, challenging him to make his next move. He stared back at me angry and enraged. He backed down eventually and submitted. He made a face at me, called me a bitch and went back to his phone. I gathered myself and walked over to the boy triumphantly. The boy was out cold. I checked his pulse. He was alive just very knocked out. “What did he take!?” I barked at the man. He grunted at me and waved me off. I decided I would evaluate the boy upstairs in my apartment. I pulled the boy’s arm around my neck and lifted him up. He was taller than he looked on the couch. The boy awoke a bit, enough for him to partially walk as I partially dragged him to the elevators. The boy didn’t smell badly, but I knew the smell of the streets and he had it. My heart broke for him.
We stumbled into my small studio apartment. I put him on my couch. He instantly curled into a ball protecting his chilled body. I grabbed a blanket and laid it on top of him. The boy relaxed and wrapped himself in the warm, safe place that his body was now given. I smiled and watched him sleep. My mind raced with questions all night.
Where was he from? What was his story? What do I do now? How can I help this kid? Is it ok for me to be helping him like this? Could I get in trouble? How old is he? Where are his parents?
I fell into waves of sleep off and on throughout the night as I watched this mystery child in my home.
In the morning he awoke confused and a bit nervous. I explained to him who I was and what happened. The boy seemed to calm down and began to trust me. I told him he could take a shower and I would make him some breakfast. I didn’t want to bombard the boy with questions and have him get spooked and run before he at least got some creature comforts. I made him an egg sandwich. I was very poor at the time and rarely had anything in my fridge other than eggs, cheese, bread, and old pizza. It was all I had to give though so it would have to do.
The boy came out of the shower and ravished the egg sandwich. I decided to make him another as we talked. “So, what is your name?” I asked him. “Barbie” he responded. “Oh, OK. My name is Tashina.” I replied. The boy came over to me and presented his wrists. There were tattooed words on them. “Barbie” was written on one wrist and “Bitch” on the other. “That’s me!” He chirped in delight. “Barbie bitch baby!” He instantly dropped down into a crazy dance move in his cute daisy duke shorts. I laughed and complimented him. He began to talk about his dancing and the “rave scene”. He said his rave friend’s gave him the name Barbie. “I love EDM!” I exclaimed! We laughed and exchanged dance moves. He was adorable and so full of life. His eyes were so bright and blue that they could disappear into a lagoon in Iceland. His smile was contagious! My heart melted. What was a young boy filled with this much joy and life doing on the streets?
I began probing and asking him questions about his life. He didn’t appear afraid or uncomfortable at all. He told me his parents lived in Tacoma and he came out to party in Seattle sometimes. I began to ponder if what he was saying was true or a recited response for adults. I chose to believe him for the moment. He told me his real name was Tyler. I did only what I knew I could do. I gave him a few dollars and said, “Use this to get home to your parents ok and if you come out here to party again, don’t sleep on the streets or go home with strangers. You come here to my place.” He nodded enthusiastically and hugged me. Then I sent him on his way.
Throughout the next year Tyler would call or text me, show up at my place and I would do my best to feed him and learn more about him. My biggest regret to this day was that I didn’t do more. There were times that due to my own social life I would turn him away. There were days I felt like giving and days that my mind would say:“this isn’t your problem, leave it alone.” Tyler never held that against me and he never gave up on me as I never gave up on him. Years went by and I did my best to keep in contact with Tyler through facebook and encourage him however I could.
In that time I learned more about Tyler. Tyler was battling addiction and trying to get sober, diagnosed with HIV, and fighting a daily battle of being transgender. I was slowly learning about transgender and the LGBT community myself while I was living in Seattle. Finding this out about Tyler really helped me to understand the battle she had been fighting for so many years.
One of my favorite quotes by Allen Watts is: “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.” The more I learned about the transgender and LGBT world the more I understood that quote. The constant fear and insecurity it can bring. The debilitating loneliness, seclusion, the ridicule or bullying that may happen, lack of understanding and self loathing that it can cause, all from trying to define themselves and be free to do so. Many people who don’t take the time to learn or understand this path of self discovery scoff at it and tend to add to the obstacles they must fight to just be who they truly are.
Many of our youth today are bullied, out casted, and lost to the streets because of ignorance and lack of support. Their agony of feeling forced to live a lie can drive them to a world that no child should have to live.
When I moved to Seattle I was heart broken by the amount of “street kids” that I would see on a daily basis. Seattle offers an enormous amount of support for homeless kids, LGBT kids, and more, but even with all that support it is not enough to help them all. We need to do more. We all need to do so much more. An encouraging word goes a long way. All I had to give was a warm couch, an egg sandwich and a hug, but I gave it and I am so glad I did.
I didn’t know if I would ever see Tyler again, but I listened, loved, and didn’t judge. I stared into those big vibrant blue eyes and made sure she felt love. I wanted Tyler to feel so loved that she would know she was worth more than the streets, more than the drugs, the partying, and more than what her mind told her she was worth. I wanted her to know she was worth everything to me and life was only just beginning for her. The world was her oyster and all she had to do was go out and fight for it.
In the time I have kept in touch with Tyler she has blown me away with each new post and each new step in her life. Her courage and strength inspire me. She has risen from the ashes and will now be able to help so many that are living her past struggle. I wanted to write about Tyler today because I wanted the world to hear her story. I wanted the world to see how she rose above it all. I did a short interview with Tyler so more of her story could be heard and in her own words.
:Where are you from? What was your childhood like? Were you close to your parents?
Tyler: I moved around a lot as I was growing up. We moved back and forth from North Carolina to Arkansas a lot. I openly came out gay when I was in the first grade. My parents were very supportive and accepting of me. I told my Dad first. By age 9 I had attempted suicide twice. I was picked on and bullied a lot in elementary school. My parents put me in hospitals and facilities to help me with what I was going through. I was diagnosed as bipolar and having clinical depression. It helped, but by the time I got to high school I was bullied so much that I had to be placed in an alternative learning environment that had about 17 kids in it other than myself. The many years of bullying added up over time and I dove into the world of drinking and drugs by age 15/16 to numb the pain. I ended up running away and became homeless. Then things got really bad, I started shooting up meth and heroin.
:What brought you to seattle?
Tyler: I was first homeless in Tacoma. Wa/ I heard about the youth care in Seattle so I moved there.
: Did you have a group of friends that you lived on the streets with or were you a loner?
Tyler: I was a loner. I stayed under the freeway close to the youth center.
: Did the youth programs help you at all in Seattle or no?
Tyler: Yes, they helped me tremendously!
: Did you have a favorite facility?
Tyler: I liked the Orion center and New Horizon
: Did you get into the Rave scene in Seattle or have you always liked EDM?
Tyler: I have always loved EDM, even before I got to Seattle.
: What was one of the scariest or hardest things you endured while living on the streets?
Tyler: The hardest thing was when I was hit over the head and stuffed into a suitcase under the East lake bridge. I was raped and left for dead.
: I am so, so sorry Tyler that had to be awful! I hate that you had to go through that.
Was there a happy time or memory from when you were in Seattle?
Tyler: It was when I met you. It was the first good turning point in my life.
: Aw! Thank you Tyler!
(I was incredibly honored by this response and did not expect her to answer that way. I cried when she wrote that.)
When did you know you were transgender?
Tyler: I had no idea I was transgender until I was about 19. I met my first transgender person in Seattle around that time. I saw how differently were treated and how much hate people brought towards them that it made me afraid to come out as transgender. So, I didn’t come out until I was about 20. That was right around the time I discovered I had HIV.
: Do you have advice for someone who may be struggling or living through some of the battles you have had to fight in your life?
Tyler: My advice to someone who is still in the closet about being transgender is: I wasted four years waiting to come out because I was scared and in denial about who I was. I wasn’t happy. I became consumed by drugs and I lost everything. I recently came out publically and have been vocal about being HIV+ and transgender. I felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Knowing that I could be me! Finally, don’t let anyone hold you back from being who you are because God doesn’t make mistakes- you are who you are meant to be! Don’t ever give up!
: You recently got clean and sober. What made you decide to get clean and where did you go to do it?
Tyler: I had over dosed for 15 minutes. That moment made me decide to get sober real quick. I moved to Arkansas to get sober. I did it! I then decided I wanted to get my G.E.D. I also wanted to get a job.
: That is so wonderful! What are some of your hopes, dreams, and goals for the future?
Tyler: After I graduate with my G.E.D. I want to go to school to be a motivational speaker. I want to tell my story. I want to travel the world and show people that you can accomplish anything no matter how bad your past was. You can always have a brighter future. People come into your life and some will stay, some will go. If your not living as who you truly are because of fear than you haven’t learned that people won’t always like you for being your true self. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what they think . There are always a lot of people in the world that like to throw rocks at those that simply shine. Life is never easy, in fact life makes love look hard, but those that love you, will always love you.
When I met Tyler at 17 years old she was lost, homeless, scared, enslaved by drugs, and fighting one of the scariest battles we as humans can fight- the: “Who am I?” battle. Tyler is 24 now. She has survived bullying, rape, being diagnosed with HIV and crippling depression. Her courage and growth inspire me daily. I look back at the person she used to be and see how far she has come.
It gives me hope for all the other kids out there and gives me strength to keep fighting for them. Her story will help to show so many that it is never the end and you are never alone. You can help and heal so many with so little. A hug, a smile, and a listening ear can do more than you can imagine.
I will never forget the day that I met the strong, courageous, and beautiful Tyler (Barbie) Mclaughlin. Her story will hopefully change many lives as she had changed mine.
*I will always love and support you Tyler. We will eat egg sandwiches, dance, and laugh together again one day. I am so proud of you and how far you have gone. Now go change the world with those big majestic blue eyes of yours.
*Special thank you to all of the youth shelters out there that give so much everyday. I hope this story inspires others to volunteer, donate, or even just say thank you for all that you do to save so many. – a special credit to The Orion Center and New Horizon in Seattle, WA–
If you are lost, confused, struggling with who you are please reach out. Call support lines, youth centers, your school guidance counselor even. Don’t allow it to consume you. You are loved and not alone. I promise you.
To those of you who are not struggling with who you are: educate yourselves on how to help those that are. Be supportive, empathetic, and non-judgmental.
Teach your children to love with an open mind and an open heart. Teach them not to bully others. Help those in need in any way that you can.
When you see a homeless child do not assume the worst, rather give what you can and open your heart to them in anyway that you can. They are children and they need us. After all, one snack, one encouraging word, one “hello, are you ok?” could change a life.
The children of this world are our future. If we do not guide them and protect them what does that say of us and our future world?
Sending you all love and light,
*If you want to contact Tyler to ask questions or to reach out you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send her your messages.*