Being on The Glee Project had some not-so-happy effects too, though. I’ve always been a really reserved person (when I’m not on stage); I have a hard time showing my feelings externally. Throughout filming, I had to constantly remind myself to have an appropriate visible reaction to every situation. We’re singing “Party Rock Anthem”? I hate that song, but it’s time to smile and laugh and look excited! During my on-camera interviews I would constantly be thinking about the way I held my face and analyze in real time each word that came out of my mouth: Did I sound excited enough? Happy enough? Like I wanted to be there enough? Would they kick me off the show if my “I want to win!” didn’t sound convincing enough? When I watched the episodes later I could tell I was having the “wrong” reactions, particularly when I checked the callback list. I never looked scared or worried enough when I was in the bottom three, nor did I seem excited when I wasn’t. I studied the way the other competitors acted during their interviews and tried to mimic Abraham’s restless energy, Aylin’s laugh, Mario’s jumping up and down. But I just couldn’t pull it off. And this is what got me kicked off the show after four weeks. (I didn’t look sad when I got that news, either. Everyone else cried.)
My last performance was in front of Ryan Murphy himself. He told me that he wouldn’t want to cast me on Glee because it’s hard to write for a character who lives in his head so much—introversion doesn’t translate well to TV.
In June, a few months after filming wrapped, the show began airing on Oxygen, and I started getting some attention from strangers. People were writing about me and my fellow TGP-ers on the internet, and tweeting me about the show. Knowing that people I had never met were analyzing every detail of my every performance on every episode made me even more self-analytical. There were a lot of negative comments about my voice, which really tore me down, because I was going through a “second puberty” and having a hard enough time singing to my own standards. I started to think that no one would ever like my new voice and that I’d never make it as a singer. I analyzed every movement of my body on screen, especially when I was dancing (I am a terrible dancer, which came up a lot on the show). People on the internet pointed out that I said “I’m transgender” a lot, because they didn’t realize that the show is edited and that they had to include at least one “I’m transgender” per episode to catch up any new viewers. I did a performance for Perez Hilton’s website, and the highest-rated comment on YouTube was “This would be so much better if it were Michael instead of Tyler.” I read the comment by accident—I was watching the video over a friend’s shoulder when he scrolled down—but it really got to me. I became convinced that I wasn’t good enough to make it, or good-looking enough, or desirable enough. I believed the people who said my voice was annoying. I wanted to bury myself in a hole and come out when the show stopped airing, but I couldn’t be honest about that at the time—I had to be excited! For interviews! I knew if I didn’t seem happy enough, people would call me ungrateful and unlikeable, and I just couldn’t deal with any more criticism about my emotional responses.
I wasn’t handling fame very well, and I was only on a small Oxygen show—I can’t imagine what it’s like for people with real widespread fame. My adverse reaction to receiving so much attention surprised me—after all, this was a step toward my lifelong dream of becoming a famous singer! I had spent my entire life dreaming of the day I’d have a record contract, dreaming about writing songs with P!nk, dreaming about going on world tours—I couldn’t hate fame! Wasn’t I always asking for people to pay attention to me—to my singing and to my story? I wanted to be a role model for young people who are queer, trans*, biracial, or otherwise gifted. But now all I wanted to become was a recluse—and it’s hard to be a role model if you won’t leave your house or talk to people.
Since The Glee Project ended, I’ve struggled to readjust my life plan. I still love music, and I love to sing on stage. I love feeling connected with an audience. It’s one of the only “living in the present” moments I ever have, because I’m so stuck in my head all the time. I love that music has that effect on me, and on other people. I know I won’t be fulfilled if I give up that dream. And I still want to work for trans* visibility, acceptance, and rights. I still feel those two callings—music and public service—equally strongly, all the time.
But I hate fame. There’s a big part of me that wants to disappear completely from the face of the earth, never to be bothered again. I want to share my story with as many people as possible, so I maintain an online present; yet I hate feeling like I need to constantly please everyone. But then yet again, I’m scared of losing connections and being forgotten about; I’m scared of being deemed “irrelevant.”
I still haven’t figured out how to strike a balance between my desire for fame and my need for privacy. It’s all just a mess of contradictions, and I don’t know where I stand on any of it, or what I should do. (I do know I need to delete my Twitter, or do something drastic that will cause me to stop prioritizing it, and that I need to stop valuing the standards and opinions of others over my own heart and mind.) Right now here’s what I do: I write for you lovely people. I write poems that I post online. I blog about social issues, and I’m thinking of getting some speaking gigs so I can talk to people about trans* and queer issues, and to answer any questions they may have, in person, no cameras. I honestly don’t know what my future holds—whether I’ll pursue music on a grand scale or decide to help people in a more intimate way. But I feel like I’m on my way to figuring something out. And I think I’ll be OK, whether I wind up with a million fans or just my mom. ♦