Editor’s Note: Tyler Thom and Eddie Fernandez are subjects in episode five of the new Selena Gomez-produced docuseries, Living Undocumented, now streaming on Netflix. The series follows eight undocumented families who allowed film crews to document their lives as they faced potential deportation throughout 2018. As shown in the show, husbands Thom and Fernandez had only one option to solve their problems and prevent Fernandez from being deported — to leave the country.
Thom wrote the following editorial about their experience, with the help of his husband, exclusively for Out.
My name is Tyler, and my husband Eddie and I are featured in the Netflix docuseries Living Undocumented. First, let me say that I identify as a white, gay, cisgender male. I was born in the United States, but now live in Toronto with Eddie as legal permanent residents of Canada. While I was born into U.S. citizenship, Eddie was living as an undocumented person for more than 15 years, since he was 14 years old. For the past four and a half years of our marriage, Eddie’s fears and struggles have become my fears and struggles. While I write this, he stands over my shoulder, whispering his thoughts and feelings, all while pondering what we should make for dinner tonight.
This is our story.
Reflecting back on my own experience of coming out, I remember the extreme, crippling fear that I had. I remember debating how friends, family, coworkers, and members of groups that I belonged to would react if they knew my secret. Staying closeted as a gay man consumed every waking moment of my life; my secret even followed me into my dreams, creating nightmares and sleepless nights. It took all of high school and college to face those fears and become comfortable as an openly gay man, but it was the best decision of my life. After I married Eddie several years later, I was finally able to close that closet door completely.
However, I discovered that I was inside yet another closet, one that is sometimes called “the shadows.” Media outlets frequently use that term when referring to undocumented individuals and how they live their lives in the U.S. The phrase is used to create a visualization of individuals having to hide aspects of their lives where they cannot live openly among society. So while Eddie and I were a happily married, openly gay couple, we were still concealing a part of our lives.
I outright lied about Eddie’s immigration status to my closest friends and family, the exact same people I initially came out to nearly a decade before. I had returned to the exact same state of fear — not knowing who I could trust and worrying how loved ones would react to the news. That terror was ever-present, so much so that whenever Eddie and I would travel somewhere, I always drove the car. Our rationale was that in the unlikely event of being pulled over, it was safer for me to talk with the police versus Eddie; even though he had a valid driver’s license and DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration policy that allows some people without legal status to apply for work permits], which in theory would prevent him from being deported. But we knew living in this constant state of fear was not sustainable. Our mental health was suffering and the only way to step out of this closet was to physically leave the United States.
While the LGBTQ+ and undocumented communities are not directly linked, there are significant similarities to the struggles that each community faces. Each community has a strong opposition party that continues to force individuals into their respective closeted spaces. If you watch the series on Netflix, you can watch the blood, sweat, and tears that our journey took.
But for now, we are extremely happy, healthy, and loving our new lives in Toronto. Both Eddie and I work in the heart of downtown, have found amazing queer friends through Toronto’s Gay Dodgeball League, and have never felt so safe and so welcomed by society as a whole. While we were sad to leave our home in Milwaukee, Toronto has quickly become the home that we always dreamed of. Now all that’s left to do is to invite Antoni Porowski, our fellow Canadian and Netflix star of Queer Eye, to come visit us and help figure out what to cook for dinner tonight! We’ve been able to figure out how to survive the U.S’s immigration systems, but somehow the kitchen is still our biggest battle.