Hot Sause, 17, Nyack, NY

I got my nickname when my friends and I were taking hot sauce shots one day. It became some craze, and now everyone calls me that. I spell it “Hot Sause” since my name is Keana, but it’s not spelled like other names. People can still refer to me as Keana, but I feel like the name puts me into a box. I like that my nickname is gender-neutral.

I feel like I’m not really a boy or a girl. I don’t think people understand that. I’m performing in Guys and Dolls in my high school musical. I’m playing the character of Big Jule, who is supposed to be a guy. But since I’m playing it, they changed it into a girl’s part and changed the pronouns from “he” to “she.” I wish they had just kept it a guy’s part, though. I don’t know why.

But it’s the director’s decision. I love being in the show. I love practicing and acting. I’m very musical. I’ve been writing music since I was in the third grade. I started rapping recently and I’m actually performing at my school this Sunday. It’s a song I wrote called “Breathe.” It’s a rap inspired by all the things I’ve heard on the news about kids getting bullied and facing violence. In one of my verses, I say, “Stop the violence.” It’s really a radical poem.

I love music and I love helping people. I think I want to be a music therapist. It goes hand in hand. I want to bring joy into the lives of people who feel like they’re forgotten.

At Common Threads, I just grabbed the mic at the dance and started DJing. It was my first year going, and I was nervous when I got there. But then I felt so comfortable. Everyone in the whole place hugged me and I felt that love. At the end I cried because I couldn’t stay there. If it was a town, I’d want to live there. I had to leave all those good people who care about me and go into a world where people are not as nice.

I have friends at school, but not anyone I can relate to. Most of my friends at school are straight. They’ll talk to me about my issues, but they won’t get into detail. We don’t really talk about who I like. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable asking me about it.

I go to Rockland County Day School. I’m not sure if there are any queer-identified people besides me. That’s what a Gay-Straight Alliance should be for. It kind of upsets me that they don’t have one. They should have a queer-safe and friendly place. I’d love to talk to other people like me, and maybe they could introduce me to people. It’s kind of hard for me to date. I’m kind of shy when it comes to talking to other girls. There aren’t a lot of people I can talk and relate to. I can’t just walk up to a girl and know what her preference is.

I was in a relationship that was unhealthy. I met her online, and it’s not really good to do that. We were going back and forth and back and forth. She was confused about her feelings for me. She didn’t like the way I was referring to myself. She hated when I referred to myself as “he” sometimes. She didn’t really understand that. But I stayed with her, on and off for five months, because I had feelings for her.

That relationship took a lot out of me emotionally. Maybe if someone comes along, it would be cool. But now I’m just focusing on school and performing and acting, and just trying to get out of high school.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Stony Point, NY, 2011
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Maddy, 16, New Rochelle, NY

The hardest thing about coming out, for me, was coming out to myself. From there, things got easier. My family is very accepting. I’ve managed to avoid getting picked on about it, for the most part. I have a girlfriend — who is amazing, by the way — and we’re an out couple in school. However, coming out to oneself is very difficult — at least, it certainly was for me. After all, society has built all these expectations up for us to fulfill, and finding out you’re LGBTQ is not one of them.

When I found out that I had feelings I would later describe as pansexual, I was really afraid. If I acknowledged and accepted this part of myself, then I could never be “normal” and I’d be denied rights.

There are people out there who are afraid of me, some of whom even publicly state that they want me dead. Of course, they don’t know me, but that only made them more surreal to me. However, I did come out, and I’m glad I did, because it takes a lot of courage to do so and I think it made me a stronger person.

Now I’m very proud of my identity as pansexual and also, though I discovered this later, my identity as genderqueer. I’ve always been too masculine to feel like one of the girls and too feminine to feel like one of the boys. And, if you think about it, just what is a girl or a boy anyway? If it was really all about what organs you had, then why should so much else be attached?

From the day you are born, and even before nowadays, people start to assume how you’ll act, what you’ll wear, what you’ll like, your skills, your goals and so much more, just from one part of your body. These concepts — man and woman, girl and boy — are so filled with assumptions that who can say what they are? Since I can’t, I’m not going to label myself as one right now, though this is just my opinion and I’m still thinking a lot about it.

While my identity as a queer person is very important to me, that’s not the only part of who I am. I’m a theater geek, an aspiring artist/writer, a lover of graphic novels and manga, a musician, a singer and actor, a total nerd when it comes to school, an optimistic pessimist, a Unitarian Universalist atheist, a liberal and a human. Just like you.

As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in New Rochelle, NY, 2010
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