Tyler Ford is a writer, activist and social media personality with 86,100 followers on Instagram. Known on the platform as @tywrent, Ford’s biography also states that they use the pronouns they and them. Tyler Ford is an agender person of color (POC), who openly advocates for trans and gender non-conforming people. But, how? How has a person of color, whose identity is constructed as fictive in the mainstream, garnered this much fame and power?
I did some research to find out. Apparently, Ford is best friends with Ariana Grande. Upon seeing this, I thought: Okay, well, now their fame makes more sense. Generally, though, it’s not POC who have those sort of high-up connections, unless their family is deep within an industry already. After some more digging, I found that Ford and Grande both grew up in Boca Raton, Florida. Though this fact is not accessible online, I speculate that they also grew close as kids in Boca Raton, before Grande moved to Los Angeles at around age thirteen.
Ariana Grande introduced Ford to Miley Cyrus in 2015. Cyrus brought Ford as her date to the amFAR Inspiration Gala and posted photos on her Instagram of them on her arm and of her kissing them on the cheek at the event. Cyrus’ public display of their relationship is complicated. On one hand, Ford speaks about Cyrus as a truly supportive friend who “really wants to share our stories” with “such a huge audience.” She posted on Instagram about Ford being “a queer, biracial, agender person, whose pronouns are they/them/theirs,” and even includes a quote by Ford discussing their experience with feeling restricted by the gender binary (of male and female).
At the same time, though, Cyrus has been critiqued by large swaths of people for appropriating Black culture on numerous occasions and for using Black people as accessories for her own public image. Ford knew what they were doing by accepting Cyrus’ invitation for a date and Instagram feature, by explicitly acknowledging the exposure that they would gain from Cyrus sharing her platform. Their decision was their own, and entirely valid without me or anybody else having anything to say about it.
So, more than that, I am interested in the matter of how people with what I call “inherent politicism”–meaning, having identities that are inextricable from politics, confrontation, and disruption–achieve different degrees of mobility. My main question is: do we have to compromise? In order for us to exist, we are often expected to deny ourselves by what a friend of mine, who is also trans, calls “going rogue.” In her context, this means hiding our most comfortable, truest expression and self in order to ensure personal safety. If we want to wear dresses, we wear pants. If we like looking gender non-conforming, we take hormones or cover parts of ourselves to appear cis-passing.
In a world where we are always expected to hide some part of ourselves, for physical or emotional security, should we expect ourselves to do this in in-person interactions that permit us mobility as well? When do we allow ourselves to exist without the immediacy of our own expectations for ourselves to survive? How much should we expect this of ourselves, when we are already expected to grow desensitized to the discomfort of restrictions placed on our humanity?
These are the reasons why trans community is vital: so that we can assure one another that these choices are tricky, but they’re also our own.