FLINT, Michigan — “Nothing in life is promised to you,” says Tyonna McIntyre
, forty-five minutes into our conversation, when I ask about her pain and lessons learned throughout her life. Instead, it’s going “with the ebb and flow” of life that’s now given her peace, maintaining her inner “little girl,” and playing with her great-grandchildren who enjoy watching Boss Baby
Peace wasn’t always present growing up in Flint as McIntyre's journey is ripe with abuse, failed marriages, drug addiction, a dishonorable discharge, and queer identity.
“I was born and raised in a dysfunctional home. At the age of 12, I had to take over the household and learn how to pay the bills, grocery shop, and cook [because] my mom was often absent due to her alcoholism. [Then] I had my first child at 16,” she says with a serious look. “That was not my intention at all. My mom had a fit, put me out of the house, and I went and stayed with my godparents, who are now deceased. I [married] a man I didn’t want to because I was pregnant at 18, and he became possessive, domestic, and controlling.”
Today, McIntyre sits in front of me dressed in a short-sleeved button-up and black slacks, with two small hoop earrings dangling in each ear and a thick gold watch as her choice accessories. What stands out are the many tattoos — one of them being the date America legalized same-sex marriage. There’s also a soft look in her eyes and a big smile noting, “I might be getting a little older, but I don’t act my age at all.”
It stems from her finding “serenity” and understanding that “there’s still some things God wants me to do.” Flintside sat down with the business owner and activist to discuss the turbulent times of her life and an understanding that all are in accord with the divine.
"I started to advocate for all the things that happened as a child. It became my passion to fight against that stuff.” - Tyonna McIntyreFlintside
: Having experienced everything you did at a young age, I imagine it warped your sense of reality. Did you ever ask, 'why me?'
: “At twenty-four, I finally ended up getting my high school diploma, and I went into the military. At twenty-nine, I became addicted to drugs and thought that was my safe haven. I tried to find some normalcy and [uncover] all the unanswered questions like why my dad wasn’t around. I never could get the answers that I needed, wanted, or thought I was able to handle. So, I [ended] up choosing to use drugs which led me into a ten-year addiction, homelessness, two felonies, and overdosing three times.”
: This trauma seemed to continue to follow you for decades. How did you shift the narrative of yourself and what you wanted to do?
: “Well, I had a praying grandmother and great-grandmother — there was favor in my life. Things happen for a reason, and your steps are predestined. Going through that was a push to catapult me into building a better relationship with God. I got my felonies expunged, and I’m coming up on nineteen years of sobriety. I don’t drink or smoke. My biggest vices are coffee and tea.”
: You were asking questions about your life and suddenly came face to face with your sexuality. How was that process of unpacking not only trauma, abuse, drug addiction, and family but also your sexual identity?
: “The sexuality piece was a gamete to fight with. By thirteen, I realized I was attracted to women and came out to my stepfather at eighteen. I was raised in a religious home under that 'you’re going straight to hell, don’t kiss a boy,' and all that stuff. It didn’t make sense, and I had questions [about] religion. So between thirteen and eighteen, I thought they were phases [because] I would like a girl and a boy, but I wasn’t attracted to boys. I saw myself in the male image. It wasn’t that I wanted to be in a relationship, [it was] ‘oh, I want to dress like them.’ So I identified with men and tried to find out who I was.”
: I think about Jenee Price, Dia Noble, and others overcoming particular events in our lives. Was there a moment that stood out?
: “Once I got clean in 2003, I had to start dealing with those same demons and unanswered questions. I had to understand that my mom did the best she could with what she had. I had to accept that that had to be enough. I was in my late forties, and my mom has a baby sister who said you have to learn to accept what is because you can’t change it. So, I started to advocate for all the things that happened as a child. It became my passion to fight against that stuff.”
Tyonna McIntyre explains to Xzavier Simon the rollercoaster of life at Sarvis Park. Flintside
: Talk to me about your activism. You’re advocating for sexual awareness, domestic and violence. Then at our Editorial Advisory, you mentioned that you started a business.
: “Last year, God gave me this vision of taking back Flint. It was a vision built on the premises of the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I started this initiative based on those premises. I had my first gun violence vigil and rally on September 3rd last year. It was pretty awesome. Getting involved in the community and partnering with Dr. Ladel and other organizations have afforded me a spot with the City of Flint. Now I’ll get paid to do the things I want to.”
: How does an experience like that change you?
: “I have always believed in God. [At one point] I was in the shelter for six months. During that six months, I had the chance to be with me and learn how to find out what Tyonna likes to do and what God wants me to do. It was beneficial to me. Sometimes you have to stay disciplined and be in position. But, I wanted more, and I wanted to start embracing my passion. So, I had to step out on blind faith and trust.
: Your life is the definition of things always working out for the good. What do you take away from it when you look back on it all?
: “Nothing in life is promised to you. You have to go with the ebb and flow, and if you can’t change it, you have to move on. So my serenity prayer that keeps me in the ebb and flow [of] living is ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can, the courage to change the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ I live off that because every day, I would wake up, and it’s going to be something that didn’t go my way.”
“So trust whatever on the backend that God will provide. If you spend all your time trying to fight, fix, figure out, you’ll be in the grave.”