Family Portraits: Tyler Vaughn

Our recent record-breaking snowfalls must have really made Tyler Vaughn feel at home. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Vaughn has been through a few rough winters, though he prefers balmy weather. I talked to the ex-Air Force man about life in Philadelphia and what makes him one of Woody’s most popular bartenders.

PGN: I get cold just thinking about Buffalo. What was the worst thing about the weather there? TV: Waiting for the school bus in snow up to your thighs with a wind-chill factor of minus-15 degrees. You’d try to wait in the house for as long as you could before running outside.

PGN: When did you get out of there for warmer weather? TV: At 18, I enlisted in the Air Force where I ended up in Dover, Del. After the Air Force, I went back and attended the University of Buffalo for a bit before transferring to Temple and moving back down here. I’m going to graduate in May.

PGN: Family? TV: I have a sister who’s a year older and a brother who’s a year younger.

PGN: What do your parents do? TV: My dad’s a fireman and my mother does administrative work for a defense contractor: I’m not sure exactly what she does, but I know she works with secret documents.

PGN: That’s pretty cool, a dad who is a firefighter and a mother who keeps government secrets! TV: Yeah, I really looked up to them. I always thought of my father as a hero. Anyone who’s willing to run into a burning building to help someone is pretty special. For a while I wanted to be a fireman and even thought about it again recently, but figured I should put my degree to work after all I’ve put into it.

PGN: Yeah, the idea of running into a burning building while being hosed with water in Buffalo in the winter doesn’t seem too appealing. TV: I know. It’s definitely not something most people could or would want to do, which is what makes me admire my dad even more. You need heart for that.

PGN: What’s your ethnic background? TV: My mom is German, French and English. She’s blond-haired with green eyes and freckles head to toe. My dad is African American. I always joke because my dad’s really dark and my mom’s really pale, so I guess I fell somewhere in between.

PGN: I’m mixed too, but apparently got the paler side of the gene pool. TV: That’s funny. My sister just married a white guy with blond hair and blue eyes and she’s had three kids. The first one is a little lighter than me with brown eyes and brown hair, the second child is pale with blue eyes and blond hair and her third child is like the first one, brown eyes and brown hair.

PGN: [Laughs.] Yeah, my older brother is darker than you and used to have a huge ’fro and my younger brother is light with blue eyes, so people would always ask if we were from the same family. Or they would tell me my brother had an awfully good tan for the winter. TV: That happens to my sister all the time. She had one woman question that her son belonged to her!

PGN: And what did you like to do as a kid? TV: Play sports. Sports and video games.

PGN: Was your sister a good big sister? TV: Yeah, she took on a lot of the mothering duties since my parents both worked. She’d fix us snacks after school and tried to keep us in line.

PGN: What was the worst thing you boys did to your sister? TV: Probably not minding her. She’d tell us to do something and we’d ignore her when she threatened to tell our mother.

PGN: Were you and your brother close? TV: Yeah, the Vaughn brothers. We both played a lot of sports and shared a lot of the same friends. Sometimes people thought we were twins or would get us mixed up.

PGN: What sports did you play? TV: I ran track and wrestled and I was a running back and a linebacker on the football team.

PGN: Those are two distinctly different positions. TV: Almost opposites. I loved playing running back — it’s a fun position.

PGN: Any sports now? TV: I’m on the Philadelphia gay rugby team, the Gryphons. I still like to run; I’ve been doing the Broad Street Run for the past two years and I’m going to do it again.

PGN: What’s your best time? TV: The first year I ran the race in about one hour, seven minutes. Last year, I went slower because a friend of mine was running for the first time and I slowed to keep pace with him and help him finish. My goal is to do it in under an hour.

PGN: What books do you like to read? TV: Well, now it’s mostly textbooks for school, but when I can, I enjoy reading Greek mythology. As soon as I graduate, I’ll probably go back and reread the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.”

PGN: Most dangerous stunt? TV: I went on vacation a while ago to Costa Rica and we went white-water rafting. I’m a little bit of an adrenaline junkie so when the rapids weren’t that big, we got a little bored. We went under a bridge and our guide pulled the raft over and said, “Let’s go jump off the bridge.” I’m weird about jumping into water I don’t know, but I let him talk me into jumping.

PGN: Didn’t your mother teach you the lesson about what not to do if your friends jumped off a bridge? TV: I know! But I’m here today, so all’s well that ends well.

PGN: Any pets? TV: Yes, an English bulldog named Tank. I love him to death.

PGN: Favorite season? TV: Summer by far. I love the summer. If I could live on the beach, I would.

PGN: Favorite cartoon as a kid? TV: “Transformers.”

PGN: Any tattoos? TV: I have one on my shoulder of a tiger. It’s my favorite animal.

PGN: What actor would you want to do a love scene with? TV: Gerard Butler, from “300” and “Bounty Hunter.”

PGN: I’m so gay … TV: I love Tina Turner!

PGN: What made you decide to join the Air Force? TV: My family has a history of military service. Both of my grandparents were in the service, my mother was in the Air Force, my dad was in the Navy, my brother was in the Air Force, my sister’s still in the Air Force. On my mom’s side, all of her uncles were in the Air Force and some of them died in WWII.

PGN: What did you like most about the military? TV: It was the best job in the world. I was a loadmaster, so I was in charge of loading up and balancing the cargo planes and then flying around the world to drop stuff off. So I literally got to see the world. I’ve been to about 29 different countries. I love traveling and flying, so it was a great experience.

PGN: A favorite place? TV: Tokyo, Japan. I love the Japanese culture. It’s so rooted in history and tradition. People are respectful and calm and very peaceful. Also, when I first went there, the biggest city I’d ever seen was New York. I’ll never forget riding the train in and going past never-ending tall buildings with flashing lights. It looked like one giant Times Square.

PGN: What was the worst part of the military? TV: “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It’s a shame: It’s one of the reasons I got out. I got tired of leading two lives.

PGN: Did you ever have a scary moment when you thought you might be discovered? TV: Oh, all the time. In the military, you mostly hang out with your buddies in the military. I used to come up to Philly or D.C. to hang out and meet people. If I started dating someone and they were at my house when my buddies from the Air Force came around, it was tough trying to explain how I knew them or where we met. And it was hard to not slip when someone caught you off-guard just asking what you did for the weekend. It was difficult.

PGN: How old were you when you first figured out you were gay? TV: I’d say when I was about 15 or 16, as I hit puberty. Once I got away from home, I started exploring it.

PGN: That was right when you entered the Air Force; how did you find yourself? TV: I used the Internet. It was a good way to talk to people and ask questions and find out places where I could later go to meet other gay people. Also, a good friend went to basic training with me in Texas. We both ended up getting different jobs and going to different tech schools, but we then both ended up back together at Dover. It turned out that he was gay as well and we became best buddies.

PGN: So you’re an ex-football player, ex-Air Force guy … You must get hit on a lot at Woody’s. TV: [Laughs.] Uh, I do. It comes with the job. I just go home and tell my boyfriend the crazy stories of the day.

PGN: How long have you been at Woody’s? TV: I have been working at Woody’s for about a year.

PGN: Do you think being racially mixed makes you more open to all different types of people? TV: I think so, and it’s a good conversation starter. People will see my freckles and ask about my background. It intrigues people and starts a dialogue.

PGN: What is one thing that you would really like to learn to do? TV: I want to learn how to play the piano. That’s one of my goals for this year. That and I’d like to learn a second language.

PGN: What are you studying at Temple? TV: I’m a biochemistry major.

PGN: Why biochemistry? TV: I love the idea of discovering how we function — plants, animals, people — it’s all very interesting. Learning about things that are so small you can’t see them with the naked eye, like different enzymes that are microscopic, but without them you wouldn’t survive. Just learning how things work, I guess that’s my real drive. It gives you a better understanding of all living things.

PGN: What’s the worst job you’ve had? TV: Waiting tables in a restaurant. Some people get really ugly. People are generally happy when they come to a bar; not so much in restaurants.

PGN: What’s the most difficult thing about being gay? TV: To be honest, I don’t find anything difficult about being gay. I think it’s easy. The hard part was when I was trying to keep it secret, but now that it’s out, nothing is hard.

PGN: How was your family with it? TV: They are very accepting. They’re very loving parents. And two of my mother’s sisters are lesbians, so we’re a pretty open family.

PGN: My first kiss was with … TV: Michelle Bonds. She was my first girlfriend in high school.

PGN: Favorite poem? TV: Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

PGN: What makes you a good bartender? TV: I’m friendly. I think the key is to smile and be kind to every customer. Some people are coming in to have fun, or some people because they’re not having the greatest day, and it’s your job to cheer them up and make sure they have a good time.

To suggest a community member for “Family Portraits,” write to: Family Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected].