Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Preston Gannaway began documenting the life of Tavaris “Teddy Ebony” Edwards when they met during Pride week at Norfolk State University last year. Teddy is young gay man living in Chesapeake, Virginia, who came out at 16 years old and dropped out of school. Today he’s attending college part-time and hoping to better his life. The following piece is by Edwards, along with excerpts from interviews by Gannaway.
My name is Tavaris “Teddy Ebony” Edwards and I’m a gay black man. I’m a 23-year-old college student at Norfolk State University and Tidewater Community College .
I’m in the Spartan Legion Marching Band at Norfolk State as a Spartan Guard and I’m also involved in the LGBT organization “Legasi” at Norfolk State.
I grew up in the hood. When you’re staying in a rough neighborhood, you always gotta keep your guard up.
I’m the first openly gay person in my family. As a young boy, I was always feminine. I always liked boys. I had to hide it, because people expected me to be who I wasn’t. Before I came out, I was the captain of the football team. I was living a dream that everybody wanted me to live. I came out when I was sixteen. I guess I got tired of hiding who I really wanted to be.
School was always tough on me. I was always teased about being gay. I didn’t wanna be around that. So I just left. [In my family] nobody’s got their high school diploma. But me and my mom got our GEDs.
My mom was both my parents. … My dad died when I was two years old and my stepfather was sent to prison when I was seven so my mom did her best at raising me. Growing up gay and without a father was very hard for me. Because there’s nothing like the support of your dad.
When I turned 16 I accepted myself as being gay. It was very hard because I didn’t know if I would be accepted by my family, how friends would feel. But I couldn’t keep hiding who I was anymore. It was becoming too stressful. When people called me names like gay or faggie, I used to be so sad. Because I was more than just gay or a faggie. It really bothered me, though, because before I came out I was cool with everyone. I had gay tendencies but I was a funny, so I always had everyone laughing. … But the hardest thing about coming out was telling my mom. I knew it was gonna crush her. But she took it better than I thought. She still loved me as her son. So once I had her approval, being gay became easier because I didn’t care what others thought anymore. My mom knew, and that’s all that mattered.
I believe in God. I go to church. God had been blessing me so much. I want a baby. I may be gay, but I want a baby. I plan to get married one day. Hopefully I can get married to a man.
Being gay, that’s the easy part. I’m happy being gay. You have no choice but to accept being gay, baby, because if you stress about it, you’re gonna hurt yourself.
I’ve been in the ballroom scene for almost six years now and I can honestly say the ballroom scene made me who I am today. Six years ago I was a 17-year-old high school drop-out, always fighting, doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing, trying to fit in and be somebody I wasn’t. As the years went past and I started to get older I realized there is so much out there in life. Like school, dancing, traveling, marching band. I started off by getting my GED in 2012 and joining my church, Enoch Baptist church, where I’m accepted for who I am.
One thing I can say [is that] over the years, being gay has changed completely. It’s more accepted and respected by some. Nowadays I see gays wear short shorts, girl shirts, tights, girl shoes and they walk around comfortable. Back in ’06, ’07, you would have been jumped or joked. Yes, that’s still around, but I don’t see to much of it anymore. I think that within the next five years being gay will be even more accepted. And I can’t wait to see it!
It’s gotten so much better over the years. It’s comfortable now. I walk through the hood like it’s nothing. Everybody knows me now. This is me. I’m gay and I accept that.