Sept. 6, 2022

Taylor Brorby gets outed by a family member before he's ready

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My guest, Taylor Brorby, got outed to his parents, in his mid 20s, by an aunt.  It came very unexpected and caught Taylor completely off guard.  His parents were not amused. Taylor went through about 3 years of torment until he finally severed contact with his parents, admitting that they had become abusive.  His journey is that of triumph in the wake of a very painful experience.  Taylor's story is very inspiring, filled with strength, courage, and eventually thriving.  Although we didn't talk about this during the episode, I think the moral to the story is... the longer you wait to come out, the greater the chance that someone or something could blindside you before you are prepared.

Taylor is an essayist and poet.

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Coach Maddox  0:03  
Hello, Taylor Brorby and welcome to The Authentic Gay Man Podcast. I am excited to have you here and eager to get into our conversation.

Taylor Brorby  0:13  
It's so great to be here, Maddox.

Coach Maddox  0:15  
Thank you for taking time out of your busy life to be with us today. I feel honored to have you here. So to tell the listeners a little bit about us, we're complete strangers, we've never spoken until this very moment, the way we came to this moment was Taylor's PR person stumbled across the podcast, the authentic gay men podcast and reached out to me and put in, you know, a bid for him to be a guest. And so here we are. And I guess what I want you guys to know about Taylor is he is an essayist, and a poet. And they'll be, of course, some things in the links in the show notes where you can find him. So with that said, you have anything you'd like to add before we go forward.

Taylor Brorby  1:10  
Now, it's just a pleasure to be here, Maddox, I'm looking forward to the ground, we're going to cover in our conversation together,

Coach Maddox  1:16  
I just know a teeny little bit about your story. So I'm excited to hear a lot more. But before we jump into your story, I'd like to know what what does it mean to you to be an authentic gay man?

Taylor Brorby  1:34  
I think for me, what it means to be an authentic gay man is to understand the deep well that I come from that I'm pulling from in my identity, who I am that it doesn't just mean that I'm interested in other men or that I have stereotypical interests that we might say, are predispositions of other gay men, I think it's an orientation towards the world of thinking about how things are queer, where queerness lives. And for me how I occupy space in the fullest sense of who I am, that to be gay means, for better or for worse, your political because politics are at work on your body and your identity. And for me, it's to lean into those moments rather than away from them. That makes me feel like I'm an authentic gay man.

Coach Maddox  2:33  
I love that. I gotta say, that's one of the more unusual responses that I've gotten. And the one thing that you said, that really like, got me was the take up space. You know, we as kids, we weren't really able to do that, you know, we hid because we didn't want to be seen, we didn't take up space because it wasn't safe.

Taylor Brorby  2:58  
I think that's exactly it. And I think that, for me, that's a personal revelation at this point in my life in my mid 30s, is to realize, as a child and adolescent and young adult, how closeted I was, even if I was out to friends in my demeanor and my personality, in what I chose to share or didn't share. I mean, in a, just by example, Maddox, I was asked in an interview a few weeks ago, you know, since you weren't out your whole life, is it safe to say that for part of your life, you were a liar? And I thought, that was an interesting way to frame it. And I thought, well, we're literally talking about life and death matters here. And also personal revelation. You know, some people don't come out until later in life, because they, they're not fully out to themselves, yet. They they've fully understood who they are in the fullest, authentic self. And so I think for me, that's what that means is that having done deep introspection, I now can step out more fully into the light of who I am as a as a adult man.

Coach Maddox  4:17  
Yes, yes, absolutely. What came up for me when you said that the question that they ask, does it mean you're a liar? When what people that ask that question, don't realize is that the most important part of that equation was we were lying to ourselves, right? And if you can't tell yourself the truth, and how can you tell others? Right? The truth,

Taylor Brorby  4:43  
right, and I think for me, you know, for me, a big turning point in my own life was puberty. You know, there'll be some gay men who say, Oh, I've known since I was four or things like that, and that isn't my experience. It can be true for their experience of it. identifying as queer or gay. For me, it really happened when I hit puberty and all of a sudden found, I wasn't feeling what the other boys were feeling around girls. But I was feeling that sensation around other men or guys instance, no one talked about that. I kept it to myself. Because if no one's talking about that, how do you know that's valid, or that that's not, you know, in certain ways of viewing the world, sinful or wrong, or there's something that you need to fix for some reason, because you're not like the other boys. And so part of that I love what you're saying is that you have to be honest to yourself, you have to acknowledge who you are, and that, in fact, there's nothing wrong with you.

Coach Maddox  5:50  
Yes, beautiful. And you said something a minute ago, too, about being out to some friends or family, and yet still being in the closet. And it really struck me because I'd never really thought of it quite like that. But in that moment, I realized there's like this nuance in there where, yes, you'd come to the point where you could say to close people that you trusted, I'm gay, and the subtle, nuanced part of that is, there was still a whole part of your personality and way of being that was still in the closet. And that's the first time I've ever heard it languished quite like that. And I really relate to that. And I know that there's probably listeners that do too. So what a what a beautiful, that nuance that you just brought into focus. I thank you for that. That's, thank you. That's a powerful thing to realize that you can be out and still not be out. That sounds really contradictory, but I completely get it. So Alright, with that said, let's launch into, you know, the the main question of why why we're here. Tell me what is the most challenging thing that you have gone through or continued to go through in this lifetime? And I'm going to say what put a little bit of disclaimer on that or a special request. I would love for you to tell this story in a manner that me and my listeners don't just hear it, but we feel it.

Taylor Brorby  7:34  
Yeah, and thank you for that question and for bringing us all into that deep space. For me. My answer to that is three months after I graduated college, was the first in my family to finish college I was back home in Bismarck, North Dakota working my summer job driving forklift at a food supply warehouse before going out east to go to seminary. It's not so much that I wanted to be a pastor, but I wanted to continue a liberal arts education and to be in circles where people were talking about ethics or morals. And then the dream was to go and get a PhD and to become a college professor eventually. And in August,

August 4, my oldest nephew's fifth birthday. My aunt had reached out to my parents earlier that summer, I had been posting articles on Facebook and things like this about the Lutheran church I had grown up in the ELCA Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had recently started ordaining gay clergy. And that was a national, you know, celebratory moment for many of us, and in my family what you say you must believe. So you would never argue against your own viewpoint. So for instance, my whole family we're all Scandinavian, Germans white. Why would you ever be involved with Black Lives Matter? You're not black things like this. It from a conservative background doesn't quite make sense in in my family's way of thinking. So only gay people would post articles about being gay. The logic would go when, of course, no, this isn't true. But my aunt thought that this was an indication and in this example, it's true that I must be gay. But instead of coming to me, my aunt called my mother. Later at night after my nephew's birthday party, I'd gone home early because I had to be to work at 5am slinging 50 pound blocks and mozzarella cheese 30 feet up in the air and things like this. And I was in my bedroom getting ready for bed and the phone rang and my mom went silent on the phone and hung it up. I heard her whisper my dad's name. And then a second or two later, I heard a knock at my door. And now keep in mind, I'm 22 about to move out east far away from home. My parents had never knocked on my door after I'd gone to bed. I mean, as a child, they'd come in if I were sick, but once I'd gone to bed, it was never they never came into my room once I shut my door. And so I said, come in. I sat up in bed, and my mom came over and sat on the edge of my bed while my dad who kind of looks certifiably like Hulk Hogan, drives Harley Davidsons, folded his arms and stayed very quiet against the doorframe. My mother had said, Taylor, you're on just called. And she's been seeing some of the articles you've been posting on Facebook, and she's worried, you might be gay. And in that moment, I had thought I was out to my sister, I was out at college, I was out to different friends elsewhere. And I, I had been fearing this much of my life, that I would be at home. And I wouldn't be able to come out on my own terms or something, my parents would confront me about their worries that I wasn't dating girls or things like this. And I thought in that moment very seriously about lying, I thought you're about to go out east, you can deny it. Once you get a serious partner, because coming from conservative America, you have to wait until you're basically ready to marry is what I thought. You can wait until you have a serious boyfriend. And then you can come out from the safety of, you know, 1500 or 2000 miles away. But I didn't do that. I came out in that moment to my parents. They said, Yes, I am gay. And I told them about how long I had known or how I thought I had known from a certain age. I even went into biblical passages. We weren't really Christian a going growing up, we'd go to church on Easter and Christmas. But it was one of these things. I had no clue how my parents would react. I had studied religion in college, I thought I needed to give them every opportunity to understand who I am, is who they love. You know. And at one point in that conversation, my mother never, or primary. My father never spoke during the whole story in inquiry. But my mother said, and I was glad I was quick witted, she said, but we don't know any gay people. And I said, you lived with one for 18 years. And I think in some ways, it wasn't my intention. But that comment dissolved my mother, that this son she raised whom she loved to, she had paid for saxophone lessons and took on vacations and was proud of him finishing college that bowl A of hers couldn't be gay, in her mind that that that just seemed separate that those two things couldn't go together. And I think that comment of saying you lived with what in fact, why you loved me, is because you raised me in a house where largely I was able to be who I wanted to be. I grew up in a very supportive household Maddix. And then, from that moment, the next night, I came home after a long 12 hour shift of unloading, you know, liquefied smoke and things like this. And I could just feel tension in the house just I mean, people know this, you walk into a room, you can just feel something in the energy. And I took off my work boots, I walked upstairs, they sat me up the head of the table, which was not my traditional dining spot, the television wasn't on, which was not normal. And then they came at me. You know, my father had said, you know, I don't read the Bible. And just for listeners, this, this isn't a put down. I literally can say I have never seen my father read a book. He reads the newspaper, or, you know, in fisherman magazine. But my father said, but I know in the Bible, it says God created man, He created a woman and he said, Be together. And I thought in that moment, my father must be so afraid. If he's going to say that in front of his son who's going to seminary

to use that I said, Well, I don't think it quite says that. You know, my mother had said I think it's that liberal college and all those liberal ideas and put in your head and I had said, I don't think being gay as liberal or conservative, it's who I am. And that barrage kept coming throughout the evening. And my whole goal was to finish my dinner, and then walk over to my sisters. And my sister saved me that night, she drove me to a state park south of town, left her two sons, with their father in their home, and she's a month away from having twins. And we yelled and cried and screamed for three hours. And, and that's the moment I'm still dealing with my that was 12 years ago, I've seen my parents a handful of times, I haven't spoken or seen them in five years at this point. So it is a continuance in my life since both parents are still alive. But the way I've handled that my own way is not only to go to therapy, but to put up boundaries. And when those boundaries haven't been respected, to put up more firm boundaries, and it's, it's brought me to this moment in my life.

Coach Maddox  16:21  
Yes, and I want to acknowledge and celebrate you, Taylor, because you are describing something that is, so few people have really a strong ability to do and that is claim that space, set those boundaries, you know, we have a lot, I see a lot of this, they'll they'll set a boundary, and then they don't enforce the boundary. And all that does is just teach the person that they can walk all over you. That's right, you know, it's like don't set a boundary that you can't enforce, because that's worse than not setting the boundary at all.

Taylor Brorby  17:00  
Right? Right. And this is a hard thing. And I will say it, it was not easy, especially early on. And that was through having supportive friends and some supportive family and good therapists, honestly, to learn, you know, Taylor, if this is a problem for you, then you need to set a boundary. And if that boundary is crossed, then you have to not only reinforce but maybe heighten. And part of that I can remember a serious conversation with a therapist where she had said, Taylor, because you're giving your parents access to you. They use this as opportunities for abuse. And you need to understand that that's what you're doing now. It's fine, I'm saying this to listeners in quotation marks, it's fine if you want to leave that communication line open. But then you need to be willing to accept that you're going to be abused through leaving it open in that way. And that is hard. And it's it's hard because it's ongoing now, because my parents and I are in communication. I want listeners to understand that. Because you put up a boundary because it might, in my case, eliminate communication. That doesn't mean that part of life is easy. But I have a very full and rich life and I am hell bent on moving forward with my life. And part of being able to do that is to have boundaries where I am respected and affirmed and, and not abused.

Coach Maddox  18:40  
Well, and I think it's important to call out, you know, when you give somebody access, and they abuse you, that is a toxic relationship in a way you slice it. Right. And it's important, I think, acknowledge that for all of us. And, you know, we when we say the word abusive, I think most people the first thing that comes to their mind, is this physically beating you, right? No, but there are so many forms of abuse. And truthfully, in the truest respect, if you set a boundary and others don't honor your boundary that is a form of abuse. And honestly, sometimes that can be worse than the more obvious forms of abuse because it's subtle and it flies under the radar. And we'll put up with it longer because we don't really get that it's toxic. And that's why it's so important to call out that. That subtle stuff that flies under the radar. That's that's the legal stuff.

Taylor Brorby  19:53  
It is because it's bruises can heal. things that get inside your head that are insidious, can last a lifetime and provoke unhealthy habits, you know, over exercising over eating, drinking too much self loathing, and that is where psychological damage. And I think to to what we were saying earlier, Maddox is why it is hard. Sometimes the hardest thing is to come out to ourselves as we were discussing earlier. And it is, because we have seen because my narrative is one that affirms coming out, is there are hundreds of people I've come out to where it's not even as controversial as saying you like pistachio ice cream over rocky road, you know, it's not that it's the least interesting thing about me, it's just more information about me. And yet there are people we know, mine, my life story proves this who have been very dear to us at different points in our lives, who can really create spaces for psychological damage? That's long lasting?

Coach Maddox  21:11  
Yes. Absolutely. Wow. Well, you have definitely been through a lot. And it sounds like you have taken a stand. You know, I tell a story periodically about my parents. When I came out. I gave him about three years, you know, I just, they just didn't like compartmentalised every time I saw him they wanted to know how's business? Yeah, they didn't show any interest in my personal life at all in about three years. And I sat him down. And I said, you know, I've always been able to talk to you about anything and everything. And for three years now, I haven't been able to talk to you about anything but business. And in my heart, in my mind, I've lost you as my beloved parents. You're already gone. Yeah. And I said, so I'm in a place where I don't really have a lot to lose. Yeah. And I sat with him. And I said, you know, I've made a decision, this is not working for me. And I've made a decision. And my decision is, you can either accept all of me, right? Or if you can't do that, that's cool. I'm gonna walk through that door over there. And you're never gonna see or hear from me again. But you get to choose which one it is. Yeah. Yeah.

Taylor Brorby  22:31  
That is hard. That is,

Coach Maddox  22:33  
and it wasn't an ultimatum, it was a choice. And that's what I always like to stress is, you know, that ultimatums kind of like if you don't do this, I'm gonna miss was more of you get to choose, right? You know, you can accept me and we can have a relationship where you can not accept me and I'll walk through the doors, right?

Taylor Brorby  22:55  
Right. And there's power in both of those choices.

Coach Maddox  22:59  
They looked at each other. And they looked back at me there was this pause, and then they said, okay, and in that moment, they got over it. They got over it, they started taking an interest in my personal life. And it wasn't too long after that. I met somebody that I really liked. And I brought him home and introduced him and they introduced they invited him into the family as a family member. But I don't think that would have happened if I hadn't taken that really hard stand.

Taylor Brorby  23:33  
I mean, that also acknowledges what I hear in what you're sharing is your own knowledge of self worth and what was important to you because I do think and this I guess, can work for some people but I love how your story narrates this of you weren't willing to have a it doesn't sound to me like a compromise really relationship of only being half Maddox, you know, only the business Maddox. It's, it's the fullness of who you are. And that's, that's Well, isn't that what we want in every relationship we have, we want to be our full selves. We we want to be able to share how the workdays going how our love life is or isn't going, what vacations were planning what meal we just learned to cook for the first time.

Coach Maddox  24:23  
You know what's coming up for me right now, in the moment that I don't think I've ever thought of it like this, but the pain of being in a relationship with two people that didn't want to know anything about my life except for business was greater than the pain of not having them in my life at all. I would rather be able to be myself fully and not have them in my life than have them in my life and only get to be the part of me that they wanted to see and be around

Taylor Brorby  25:00  
It's a type of censorship is what I'm hearing that as of having to say I have to censor who I am, I have to always think before I speak because I have to be on edge to guard against someone else's lack of ability to understand and embrace the person that I am.

Coach Maddox  25:24  
Well, and that's not our responsibility. No, no, no. And and it's exhausting.

Taylor Brorby  25:32  
It's, it's why I have so many white hair is you?

Coach Maddox  25:35  
You know, you said something else a minute ago that I want to reflect back to we were talking about the subtle digs, the subtle abuse, the stuff that flies under the radar, and what the image that was coming into my mind in that moment was an iceberg. And I saw this iceberg and the iceberg represents your self esteem, my self esteem. And when we allow people to do that subtle abuse thing, it's like taking an ice pick, and chipping pieces, that iceberg away and the iceberg gets smaller, and smaller, and smaller, until there isn't any iceberg anymore. And once again, the iceberg represents your self worth or self esteem. Yeah,

Taylor Brorby  26:24  
yeah. And I think that has to come from that deep well, of understanding of who we are, authentically, and that we get to be who we are and celebrated for that. And if it makes sense to me, I do we all do it. And it's probably because we're social animals. But there are ways where the people in our lives, their opinions of us do matter. And if we're talking about foundational relationships, if that can be a hotbed for abuse, that that has to be altered, or boundaries have to be put up because like you said, I'm I'm for keeping that iceberg full to its full size, rather than have it chipped away.

Coach Maddox  27:10  
Absolutely. You know, and I really want the the listeners to really pick up here on just how strong and courageous you are, in putting you first taking care of you. You have not had contact with your family for well, your parents, you probably had contact with your sister, because she's so supportive, but no contact with your parents for five years now. And that is a very strong and courageous thing to do. How many people do we know that can't do that? They don't have the courage and the strength to do that. And when we step into that strength and that courage, what that does is it's like adding girth and size onto our iceberg. Yeah, yeah.

Taylor Brorby  27:59  
Yeah, it's it is not to romanticize that this was easy or a quick decision, either. It's not that I woke up one day, in my experience and put up this very firm boundary, it was gradual, boundaries were being crossed. And it, it finally just happened at one point that I just thought I don't need to explain myself. I've given dozens of opportunities here to refocus behavior to have conversations, and we could never go there. And it is hard, I will say, I mean, we are told stories over and over how foundational a parent child relationship is, or that parents will love you no matter what. And I think that's one of the hard things. My book that came out earlier this summer boys in oil reveals is I've gotten emails from so many readers saying, I thought your parents were going to come back around at the end. And isn't that the story we want? We want this happily ever after or I was wrong, and now it's full. I mean, maybe that will happen. At some point. I do not know. But to live my life, I've had to sort of acknowledge to myself, just because you begin your life's journey with someone doesn't mean they stay your whole life's journey. And I think we, we accept that and understand that about friends, maybe even cousins, we were close to growing up that we don't really stay in touch with or maybe you see them every 10 years at a family reunion. But we're told that love from parents is unconditional. And I think in my own story, that's one of the hard things is I've learned for me that love is actually conditional.

Coach Maddox  29:56  
In most cases, it is a rare thing. And for it to be unconditional. I feel super blessed and fortunate in that my mother. She did give me unconditional love. Yeah, there were times when she struggled with it a little bit, even though when they they didn't want to know anything about my my personal life though. I never doubted her love for me. Yeah, like I there. It was just she had always, all through my life said there's not anything you could do to make me stop loving you. You could be, you could be a murderer. You could be a rapist, you could be in prison. And I might not agree with what you've done. But I would love you and I would come see you.

Taylor Brorby  30:41  
Yeah, yeah.

Coach Maddox  30:42  
So can I dig into some particulars about the story a little bit, please. You talked about this slow, gradual process of boundaries being crossed and not honored. And it built up to this point, when it came to this point. What did that look like? I mean, what did it look like when you stopped having contact with him? Did you have to say I'm no willing and not willing to be in contact with any longer? Or did they just call one day and you just didn't answer the phone? And five years have passed? And do they still reach out to you from time to time and try or I'd love for you to unpack that with a little more granular detail. Because I think, I think that will be valuable to the listener to hear.

Taylor Brorby  31:35  
I think early on the first few years after I was outed, you know, I would call or we would be in some loose form of communication. And I, I want to say to just backtracking a bit when I was in college, my mother and I talked every day. I mean, even if it was just me walking to classes, it'd be a two or three minute Hi, how's your day doing going? You know, things like this. Very, very close. And my parents are married, they've not been divorced. They're still together. And so that relationship changed. Once I got out did that there was more distance in frequent conversation, more tense. I had dropped out of seminary and then moved 500 miles away to Minneapolis, St. Paul. And comments would be Oh, when are you going to get a real job, things like this, I would do temporary work while going to grad school. And, and things like this in St. Paul, Minnesota. And those things I found I couldn't go deeper because it was all focused around money, and job and security. But it was a way of sort of asking me a question while simultaneously putting me down. That what I was doing wasn't valuable that I was trying to work towards being a college professor, which takes a long, a lot of school a good turns out. And, and that didn't quite compute, because the whole thought in my parents mind was going to college means you should earn more money. That's why you go to college and their way of thinking. And so there were seats like that, where I started to distance myself and think, got to always only being asked about my job, never what I was really up to or doing. That kind of hurt. I started going to a therapist, I had reapplied for seminary had gotten into some other prestigious schools. And I was in therapy when this had happened. I told my mother where I've gotten into, and she would say things like, I just don't understand why someone would ever want to go there, which was a dig, you know, I mean, I don't need to name places, but super common known institutions that people would know. And that to me just sort of smothered who I was or or that also, man, this is an opportunity for us to come together for me to be excited. And for you to say I'm so proud of you. That's incredible. And that was when my therapists had started saying, Taylor, you might want to rethink how you're communicating with them and in what frequency even though I felt you know, I was maybe calling them every other week or every three weeks that that even seem too frequent, in some ways from the feedback I was getting. And it trailed off from there. There was never like a big explosion. It was always around money or business or I was never in a line of work that made sense to them. I was always going to school. And you know when my grandfather died five years ago and 2017 The last time I saw my parents, I was very close I, I have one living grandfather and I came out to both of my grandpa's who were incredible. And they, they were incredible it was it was not even. Okay, great. Good to know that. Thank you. No, you're still my grandson. I love you because of who you are. I mean, just easy, easy as anything felt as good as a deep tissue massage. And I didn't signal to my parents that I was cutting off communication. I just one night, I thought I don't want to get into it with them. I've tried to steer the conversation elsewhere. I would reframe things and try to ask them questions about your, you know, what are you up to and stuff and it would be pivoted back on me in these weird ways of while you're probably not coming home for Christmas this year, anyway, these weird, these things that I knew were being said, because there was deep hurt and pain. But it couldn't be acknowledged as that. And so then it had to be reciprocated as some as a weapon towards me. And I thought there needs to be a lot more work here. I had said to them at one point, I'm happy to work through a relationship and move to healing. If I see you're going to therapy, if you're doing some of that self work, and they said there's nothing wrong with us. We don't have to do anything like that. And I thought, okay, that's showing me a level of investment here. That doesn't quite work for me. And so after I saw them when my grandfather died, I just privately one night, blocked their phone numbers. And that's where things are, I guess.

Coach Maddox  37:00  
Well, you're describing real, pretty intense family dysfunction. mean, if we're going to just call a spade a spade, you know, it's, there's nothing wrong with us. We're crossing your boundaries and abusing you on a daily basis. But there's nothing wrong with us. That's just incredible dysfunction, and to be in contact with that on a regular basis. Once again, it's just it's going to be detrimental to your health and well being.

Taylor Brorby  37:34  
Yeah, there was a oh, sorry, go ahead. No, no, go ahead. I was gonna just share a earlier moment to about four years after being outed I was living I do all these crazy things. I, I go to places where there are a lot of extractive economies like oil booms, or logging places to do some of my research and writing. And so one summer I was living in the Bakken oil boom in western North Dakota 2014. And my parents and I had scheduled to have a lunch. This is after probably a serious year, a very limited conversation. I remember they came in to the place where we were eating, and was very tense. We were some of the limited number of people dining in this establishment. And I just remember, my mom just wept. She didn't even talk, you know, and we had ordered our food and she would just sit there and cry. And I would just say, you know, why are you crying? And I mean, because part of it was I just needed them to acknowledge things that they were, I mean, this is very stoic, repressed, Midwestern mentality that I grew up with, and I've moved beyond I think, when people can acknowledge what they're feeling, even if it's complicated, I don't even know why I'm feeling this or I'm feeling this and I know I shouldn't feel that, but not being able to verbalize her process. She just, you know, you don't want to be in our life and it was all you you you language. And as if you know, it create a chasm, I guess is what I want to say is that it was never i It's, it wasn't I language. And I always think as an adult, if we're not using eye language, we're not seeing ourselves in relationship, or the other person is seeing themselves as the victim. Not that they might also have been complicit in bringing a relationship to that moment. And I it's probably the most dramatic I've been I mean, I didn't scream, I didn't slam things. I just quietly folded my menu and I said, you don't get to do this to me. We're supposed to be in this together and if you can't articulate that, this is also coming from you Look, I'm not saying I'm perfect here then we can't we can't do this, you know, just more tears and my father had said something to the extent of your mother doesn't don't you speak to your mom like that and I just quietly said, Okay, lunches, lunches over and just quietly walked out. I mean, it felt really dramatic to me and sounds a little pre Madonna II in some ways, it just felt to stay at that table to continue to not only witness my mother crying, but to have sort of these daggers hurled at me that it was me me me. Which is, you know, being gay we it's always the victims fault. You know, it's it's Matthew Shepard's fault that he got murdered because he flirted with those two homophobe, you know, things like this that just aren't true. And so when that is being used against you that it's a huge thing, when so many of us have grown up feeling there is something wrong with us. But you have evidence that this is patently not true. That's just what we call gaslighting. And in that moment, I wasn't willing to be gaslit. Yes, it is. And I don't think you're

Coach Maddox  41:21  
walking out of there. I mean, you. You were calling me with respect. Will you left the premises? I don't think it's prima donna at all. I mean, personally, I think when we sit through and allow people to continue to do that, it becomes self abuse. That's right. We're now promoting it. And it's becomes a form of self abuse. I'm reminded of a story with my mom. Not too long after I came out, they were still in the stage of house business, you know, and one day I said something and dad was not present. I said something and she gets this quivery you know, voice where she says, Well, you just don't know how hard this has been for your father and I. And I mean, I literally I'd my eyes got wide. I backed up. And I said, Excuse me. And my next statement was, how dare you? How dare you? I said, this didn't happen to you. This happened to me. I didn't ask for this. Right. This happened to me. And frankly, I don't want to hear how hard it's been for you and my father. Yeah. And she she backed off. Her eyes got big as saucers. And she backed off. And she said, Oh, my God, I'm so sorry. She got it. You know, I don't know. I was a little older than you. When I came out. I was 24, I think. And I look back and don't know, how I where it even came from her. I had been a very timid child. You don't know where it came from that I had the hutzpah to take the stand that I did with them. But I took several stands with them like that, where I just called them out. Yeah. You know, and just said, no, no, no, no, you don't you don't get to talk to me like that. Right. Right. And I don't know where that came from. to be real honest. I look back now. And I'm almost like, amazed, like, I'm looking back at that younger part of myself and thinking, WTF yeah,

Taylor Brorby  43:44  
thank God. I mean, thank God that was in you. But I think that's part of that earlier thing that's being authentic. You knew your self worth, even if that comes at the expense of pushing back on people. We're told not to push back on to say, Dad, you need

Coach Maddox  44:01  
to respect me. They learned very quickly to respect me, you know, and Mom, mom caught on way faster than dad did. Dad, I had to remind throughout his life, he passed about late a couple of months and from now 10 years ago, and he had to be reminded on a fairly regular basis, that disrespect was not acceptable. Right. Right. So tell us, where are you now? You haven't spoken to your parents in five years. And you blocked them. So you don't even know whether or not they're trying to reach out?

Taylor Brorby  44:42  
Right? Right. Right. We we have my sister in common my sister lives 10 minutes from where my parents do. And part of the hard reality of that is not so much that Tanya gets put in the middle Oh, I don't think that continues to happen as often. But my parents have sort of re centered and targeted their toxic qualities on my sister. Quite recently, I mean, within the last year or two, some very big blow ups and my sister whom I love dearly lives in that toxic environment with close physical access to my parents, they have four grandsons, my sister has four sons and in North Dakota, grandparents have legal rights to their grandchildren is part of the complexity of this too. So, for instance, if my sister would withhold them being able to see my nephews, for instance, they could take my sister to court over that in the state of North Dakota. And because of some of what Tonya has been put through by my parents, it has reinforced why that road to communication needs to stay closed. And part of the difficulty, I think, with this Maddix is that I can't advocate for my sister to them. Because to open up that communication, not only gives access to me, but could actually harm my sister further. And so about the best I can do for my sister is to politely encourage her to seek her own therapy, to learn how to because I don't, since I have the benefit of physical distance, it's a lot harder when you live close by to someone or when someone has legal rights to seeing your children. That's a level of complexity that in my therapy, I haven't had to go through or haven't had to learn the right skills, because there's no kids involved. So there's no kids. And even if I lived in a separate state, that negates that, you know, and so there, there have been these sort of hints that it is still dangerous to open up lines of communication with them.

Coach Maddox  47:10  
Well, then it sounds like they have transferred their hostility for you to her.

Taylor Brorby  47:16  
I think in some way, and I think part of that is probably because that my sister and I talk five days a week, you know, I mean, we all miss calls from each other. If two days go by, I'll be SAS and say, Oh, my God, I thought you were dead or something. You know, we're very boundary and lovely. And that I think has to be hard because I my parents know that. I mean, they know we love each other. And we're we're not up on that.

Coach Maddox  47:48  
That's part of their hostility towards her. They are punishing her. Yeah. Or loving and supporting you. Yeah. What I mean, this is kind of a little bit off topic. But I'm just curious, I have to ask, in the state of South Dakota, is that what you said North Dakota, South Dakota? What did the laws say? If she just picked her children up and moved out of state?

Taylor Brorby  48:12  
I doubt that I. I mean, then you're in a different state. So then it doesn't matter, you know, and that's,

Coach Maddox  48:19  
like, you know, the state of North Dakota can't come in,

Taylor Brorby  48:22  
right. Take your children or things like that, you know. So, I mean, that has been the question that I know you might be about to ask is, why don't they move? And that has been on my mind for a long time?

Coach Maddox  48:36  
Well, have you considered initiating that conversation with your sister?

Taylor Brorby  48:42  
That's a great question. I haven't not explicitly. I mean,

Coach Maddox  48:46  
maybe she could move closer to you and have a healthy influence for her children, and have a supporting loving relationship with you and get away from all that toxicity?

Taylor Brorby  49:00  
Yeah, it's it's a big concern. I mean, especially the North Dakota was not an easy place for me to grow up. It's in fact, the least visited state in the country. And it's increasingly more hostile in terms of its politics to anyone who's different and to your observation. Maddix it's been my deeper concern about what does it mean to have my four nephews growing up in that culture? You know, what sort of men come out of that place, if everyone is sort of taught to be a strong male who's on the edge of being hostile rather than strength and kindness and open mindedness? You know, it's a it's a hard place to be when you're told the only narrative is to fit in. Well, and you're, you're describing a bigger issue. I

Coach Maddox  49:58  
mean, I I know that there, depending on where you are in the country, there's areas where it's stronger, and where areas where it's not as strong. But quite frankly, what I'm hearing you describe is, and I'm not afraid to say it, the patriarchy is. I mean, I've studied this just enough that I now believe that the as men, the patriarchy is killing, it's killing us. Our suicide rate is men take the guy equation out of it, just as men, the suicide rate is something like 40% higher than it is for women. And how many of these mass shootings have been by the hands of a woman? Right? big fat zero,

Taylor Brorby  50:45  
right? Exactly. What

Coach Maddox  50:47  
does that tell you? It tells me that the way we socialize men, you know, man up, hook up, you know, be a man to Boys Don't Cry all this crap. And I was having a conversation of the day and realizing how somebody said, you know, we're boys, police, other boys at a very, very early age, right? If you show even the least little signs of anything, that's not that masculine thing. They will badger you beat you pick on you, to put you back in line, right? It's a form of self policing that boys do. And for those of us that can't conform? Well, for me, it was like the like the worst part of my life. The worst thing I've had to endure was that policing and that bullying and that things were the the boys were continually trying to force me back into line. Yeah,

Taylor Brorby  51:49  
yeah, into a narrow existence. I mean, in what that mean, it's back to your iceberg image of chipping you down, you know, of making you just a body instead of a fully complex human who has emotions that can be anger, or joy or sadness or confusion. It's to say, like, you're you've said, Boys Don't Cry. It's to say, you've got to be strong, because weakness is what? And that's a, we see that like, you're saying it doesn't work. North Dakota is always ranked number one as the drunkest state in the country. And it's not because North Dakotans are fun drunks. I think it's because the existence there is so hard the industries that state promotes hurt people. Well, and I bet the biggest portion of the drugs are men. I'd be willing to bet money, too. So this is interesting. But let's kind of let's circle back here.

Coach Maddox  52:56  
I want to hear a little bit about Taylor's life now. Yeah. And how you have. I mean, I know that it's kind of an ongoing thing. And it may be an ongoing thing on some level, for the rest of your life until they pass. But there's some aspects of that story that you've gotten beyond? Yeah, because you publish the book. And you you know, you are pursuing your life. Aside from that, and I'd love for myself to know more about what's life like now, how might my listeners as well? And also I, yeah, let's do that. And then and then we'll follow that with I'm going to ask you, because you and I both know that there's a percentage of men out there that can so relate to they've lived what you're talking about, on some level, right? And so I would like after you share, update us on like, what life is like now, I would love for us then to kind of move into I call them wisdom bombs. Perfect. What wisdom bombs do you have for that you believe had been the thing that has gotten you through that might help a listener that is experiencing something similar to what you've experienced?

Taylor Brorby  54:21  
Perfect, perfect. life right now, for me is a little crazy. I just moved, like just moved the other week from South Carolina to Utah to work at the University of Utah on projects related to environmental justice. So I'm going to be researching. I'm a type one diabetic. I'm gonna be researching diabetes and disability and how it relates to climate change. I've been to things that feel very separate. But life for me, especially since publishing this book, there is so much more Are ballast in my bow because I hear from people I've never met every day, usually multiple times a day, the youngest person I've heard from is 16. And the oldest is 85. Talking about how they've read my book and feel that it's their life story, or even if they're unfortunately straight, they'll say there are things that resonate. And so life for me right now has actually continued to open. I mean, after that big event that we, we began our conversation with, I think there's been so much self work in me about who am I, what do I want in my life, and I, I've been working, and I think I'll continue to work towards being even more myself and having loving social justice, ambitious driven people, as very close friends who are working on really important issues today. And I can still say, with what happened to me, with my family, life has only gotten better. I mean, now being in my mid 30s, I don't want to be in my 20s ever again, there are certain questions that are settled in a healthy way about who I am what I want. And each year I get to meet new people, I get to have new friendships, I get to expand the resources of what not only benefit me in terms of mental health and deep relationships, but to bring myself to other people. And so I can still, at the end of the day, Maddox even, you know, hearing from readers about this book about how sad they feel at different points, life has gotten better for me. And I, I, I'm really happy that that continues to be true. It doesn't mean there aren't speed bumps, or that there weren't crossroads, and I had to make decisions, or everything's just fell from the sky. But I, I think it's because of exactly the work your program promotes through being authentically who I am. And acknowledging that and supporting that in myself that I now can give myself to environmental causes, or to talk about disability in the workplace, or to create safe spaces for my queer students to come and talk to me about what they're going through. And to know that they will be listened to and heard. And I think I can have only been able to do that, through processing my own trauma, understanding it setting some boundaries,

Coach Maddox  57:51  
there's a couple of things I want to call out. One is, you talked about how life continues to get better. And I just want to reflect that back to you, Tyler in a manner that life continues to get better, because you stepped up and you took responsibility for your life. Thank you. And I want you to receive that. But I also want the listeners to hear that we can't expect our lives to get better if we don't step up and take responsibility. And you have done such a beautiful job and exam presented such a beautiful example of that. The other thing I want to call out is when you started talking about the move to Utah, the new project at the university. You were beaming, I don't want that listening to him. And maybe you guys heard that in his voice. But you don't have the visual I'm on a video right now with him. We're on Zoom. And so I got to see that this this bright light just he just beamed as you were beaming, as you were telling about your, your new project and, and obviously what you feel a great deal of passion about and that is in spite of or maybe even in light of what you've been through as a result of maybe what you've been through. You know, I there was a point when I looked back on all that trauma and it came full circle and I went Wow, gratitude like intense gratitude like this, this knowledge of I wouldn't be the man that I am right now if I hadn't experienced that really tough shit. Really deep stuff. And it's made me it's forged me to demand that I am now and I'm at a place in my life where I'm not just the like the man that I am. I love the man that I am. That's right. And I don't know that I'd be able to say that if it wasn't for all of those really harsh, right experiences.

Taylor Brorby  59:55  
Well, and I don't think either of us are saying oh please go through hardship. experiences I think it's it's part of, for you, it sounds like I'll certainly say for me, having known I've gone through what I've gone through, and I'm continuing to survive that, in a hostile culture also has shown that I am a strong man. Like, that's what being strong means to me. It's not this patriarchal toughness that I was raised with it was to say, the world can throw a lot at me. And I'm going to try to find the resources, the people the stories that I need to keep me going. Because I mean, as you're saying, I mean, the Trevor Project, just this may have said, you know, 45% of queer youth last year contemplated killing themselves had suicidal ideation. That means if you know, to queer kids, nearly one out of two of them had thoughts of suicidal ideation or thought this might be a valid option. And I think part of going through all at least say what I have gone through as part of my message is to save

Coach Maddox  1:01:13  
stay. We, we need you. Yes, I and I can feel that right now. Or I can feel that now. Thank

Taylor Brorby  1:01:24  
you for helping me go there.

Coach Maddox  1:01:27  
I have lost count on how many guests on the podcast have talked about either contemplating suicide, and many of them actually attempted it. One of my guests attempted it more than 10 times. Yeah. You said something a minute ago, couple of things you were talking about. giving yourself credit for strong being strong. I also see resilience. And you said, I'm surviving. And I want to I want to suggest that no, you're not surviving. You're thriving. Thank you. That's what it looks like to me. I mean, does that resonate with you?

Taylor Brorby  1:02:12  
It does. And I think it's, it's not so much that I need to, you know, a book out there readers writing to me, but it's just knowing that when you asked me about what does life look like, and I get to sort of tell you about what's next and to feel again, Joy well up in me and excitement that having known that there were periods in my life, where that wasn't happening. It was sort of like when you're trying to start a lighter and it's doing the flick and you know, there's very little oil in there. And to now feel like I get to fully Ignite and be passionate again, and complicated and having more textured emotions than just sadness or depression. That's how I know I'm thriving.

Coach Maddox  1:03:04  
Well, it's hard to move in that thriving space when somebody has got the icepick in their hand, and they're chipping away at our iceberg.

Taylor Brorby  1:03:11  
That's right. That's exactly right.

Coach Maddox  1:03:13  
So what a what a beautiful, I love your story about where you are. And I love I literally as an impact feel your passion for what you're doing right now. And what a beautiful thing that I got to feel. So how about some wisdom bombs,

Taylor Brorby  1:03:29  
that's perfect. I think some wisdom bombs that I would recommend is probably three things. Know when you need to go to a therapist, that was a hard realization. For me it was very taboo in the culture I grew up in, and knowing that there's someone who's there to listen, to track your thinking, who is not your friend and biased. That was so instructive and helpful and affirming. To me, it helped me look more soberly at myself. And then to say, Do I want to change? And in what ways do I want? That's one wisdom bomb, too. I think boundaries are essential, whether that's friendships that siblings that's family of any kind, to start articulating yourself worth, what you're willing to compromise on, and what's not negotiable. And then I think the other thing, just because I'm an environmental thinker is find some quiet space outside and spend some time there. Hopefully regularly, it might be a community garden, it might just be staring at a tree outside your window, but someplace where you get to hear birds and you get to be reminded that there are other lives out there. Because I think sometimes when we're struggling with who we are, it is so self focused. And for me, it's nice to see a hummingbird. It's nice to see a Robin fly by it's nice to see plants growing or to listen to water.

Coach Maddox  1:05:12  
I love that you added that third one and I'm not even remotely exaggerating. I, there's a nature trail in my area that I walk on every morning. Now I'm having a little bit of trouble with my right knee right now. So I'm limited in how much I can walk and I pivoted and so I walk a little bit, and then I just spend time in the park. I have a little folding lawn chairs, find a little place in the end of the trees in the shade. I take my shoes and socks off and I put my bare feet in the grass and I got nicked with Mother Earth. Yeah, I do it every morning. Yeah, I haven't missed a morning. I do it every morning. Because my day is just not not. It's not good when I don't do that. Right. So it's like a form of meditation or it's I go very early in the morning this morning. I was in the park before the sun even came up. Yeah.

Taylor Brorby  1:06:07  
Yeah. I mean, that is so important to feel grounded, connected. You know, a few weeks ago, another interviewer was talking about middle school and being bullied and not having mental health resources, no counselors in this tiny town of 600. I grew up in and the interviewer she asked, you know, what did you do? And I said, I guess I was so fortunate that I grew up in a landscape large enough to hold what I felt. And so that is part of for me having grown up on the prairie or grown up fishing and having easy access. When I was young and didn't know what therapy was including get to it, I at least felt I could go to nature. And that grounded me. And so that's a little bit of that long term habit that I'm bringing to myself and hopefully reminding your listeners that getting your feet in the dirt around the grasses is really grounding. It really is you know, I look back and realize there is in that same park but in a different area of the park. There is a bench that overlooks the creek.

Coach Maddox  1:07:22  
And throughout the I've lived in Dallas, Texas for soon will be 32 years. Yes. And throughout that 32 years, in times when I have been troubled. You would find me on that bench. Watching the turtles and the ducks in the creek and just being still in quiet and contemplative, contemplative. That's a hard word. Okay. I just love what you've shared. Thank you so much. Wisdom bombs were amazing. Are you ready for some rapid fire questions?

Taylor Brorby  1:08:03  
I'm locked and loaded and strapped in.

Coach Maddox  1:08:06  
All righty. Whoo. Okay. What is the one thing that you most wish you could change about the queer male community

Taylor Brorby  1:08:17  
that we were more accepting of each other and our full complexity?

Coach Maddox  1:08:22  
Wow, okay, cold chills just went from the top of my head down my spine to my toes. I think you just nailed it. I think that would be my number one wishes will that we would learn to treat each other with the love and respect that we all deserve.

Taylor Brorby  1:08:44  
That's right. I think we've been so traumatized as a community that we've recycled that trauma against each other that what we hated happening to ourselves as children we now do to each other

Coach Maddox  1:08:59  
I agree completely. Wow, you really call that out with clarity. Thank you for that. Okay, if you only had moments to live what would be your greatest regret pad I

Taylor Brorby  1:09:19  
know this is supposed to be a rapid fire what would it be? Without moments to live? I'd be dead good to be just silly it a little quiet that I don't have cheesecake in my fridge to at least let cheesecake be the last thing on my palate in mind I guess but my

Coach Maddox  1:09:37  
oh my gosh, I love that IV

Taylor Brorby  1:09:39  
it is just so funny. Because it's like if I were here, it would be like, I need my iced coffee. It just we're going down with cheesecake and iced coffee. It's it's not relational. It's fully selfish. That's what I was. That was a great it's a great answer.

Coach Maddox  1:09:59  
You You pull that out. Wow. You know, you were like, ooh, rapid fire and then it came. I love that. Okay, last question, what matters most to you and why?

Taylor Brorby  1:10:14  
What matters most to me right now at my life in 34 at 34 it is that I continue to write books because books have staying power, that help queer people see themselves in places that we don't often see queer people. So for me, just to explain that a little more, I am getting very tired of the narrative that we have to move away from home, or we have to move to San Francisco or New York City and we live in dangerous times I get this, I don't want to romanticize home. But I am hell bent on writing books of gay men in rural America, who don't get murdered, who maybe aren't romanticized and celebrate, but show that we are there, that these are places where gay men live. And that that is, that is what I'm working on and wanting to do, because I can't teach enough students. I can't reach enough people that way. But I think if I can get books into libraries, I call them queer babies, not to infantilized them, but the, you know, the queer babies who are growing up, they then can see that their lives are going to be dynamic and textured. And that maybe the closet doesn't have to be there as long.

Coach Maddox  1:11:43  
I agree. And I love that you are bringing something in that there's not any of that out there that I'm aware of. You know, you're you're right, all of our stories are at he moved to San Francisco. I mean, I moved out of our not rural but it was a small town to get away from all of that, you know, and I vowed that nothing could ever take me back to that small town. I went to a bigger city and then I went to a yet bigger city. And that's where I am now. Yeah, that's that's that's awesome. I love I you know, I call them baby gays.

Taylor Brorby  1:12:23  
Yeah, the baby gay you can be you know,

Coach Maddox  1:12:25  
I can I say my my I have a friend who's 54 and has only been out for two and a half years. And I tell him he's a baby gay has nothing to do with chronic illogical age and everything to do with your, your process of, you know, kind of settling into. Yeah, that you are who you are. Exactly. That authentic self? Well, Taylor, this has been amazing. I've loved every moment of it, you are quite the conversationalist, and you brought some beautiful points to light. I know that the listeners are going to really get a lot out of this episode. And there's one thing that I want to leave you with and that is to tell you that in in my eyes, you are indeed an authentic gay man. thing or quick queer man, I know. You know, we're still using them and

Taylor Brorby  1:13:21  
yep, yep, we Yeah, I've been even learning about that. I think at 34. I'm learning new tricks. I

Coach Maddox  1:13:28  
am, too. I'm Yes. I'm realizing that there's kind of a the queer word encompasses more than the guy where the gay word is kind of like a little more finite. This is what I'm being told anyway. And learning and picking up in my reading is the queer is a little more overarching and a little more fluid than the term gay.

Taylor Brorby  1:13:51  
Yeah, I yeah, that's just it. We could go down a rabbit hole. I guess I always say normally, Oh, yeah. I'm a gay man. But then more publicly, I'll say, oh, as a queer man or as a as a queer person, because I think it I'm trying to reach beyond just myself in those modes. I don't eat them as well. Yeah, yeah.

Coach Maddox  1:14:11  
We're there retracting. I had Misaki awesome. This has been wonderful. It has been wonderful. And thank you so much. Thank you

Taylor Brorby  1:14:21  
for having me.

Unknown Speaker  1:14:23  

Transcribed by

Taylor BrorbyProfile Photo

Taylor Brorby


Taylor Brorby is an essayist and poet. The coeditor of Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America, his work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Orion, and North American Review, where he is a contributing editor.