Huffington Post, Gay Voices, November 2011
Read the Original Story
When I was little I wanted to be a boy, and I would call myself Sam. I’d go to Sunday school and people would be like, “Is that a little boy or a little girl?” My mom would be like, “Why does it matter?”
My older sister Genny told me, “Mom and Dad didn’t think you’d be a lesbian. They thought you were going to be transgender.”
As I got older I realized I was comfortable being a female. While researching the gay community, I realized what I was feeling was the butchness of being a lesbian. I like short hair and hate dresses. It’s more of a masculine appearance than a masculine action. If I’m anything, I’m a soft butch. It’s more common here for lesbians to be more feminine. I don’t know if it’s societal or what.
I never try to do anything just to be weird or individual, but people have come up to me and told me I’m brave for dying my hair. I’m like, “Soldiers are brave. Firefighters are brave. I just dye my hair funny colors.” But so many people are scared to do strange things with their appearances.
I started dyeing my hair when I went to high school at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (AFSA). I felt so pent up at middle school. It was all a football culture, and everyone was wearing Abercrombie. It was like the University of Alabama but it didn’t have the small, artsy community to be part of.
I had wanted to be out in middle school, but I was scared because when my girlfriend Brittany first came out teachers had to walk her to class. Brittany and I dated for, like, a month, but I wanted to keep it a secret. I started hearing rumors about us, got ticked about it and broke up with her.
But my high school was such an open place it was easy to be out. You were seen as uncool if you were discriminatory to gay people or if you were really religious. Anything seen as cool in Alabama is seen as weird at ASFA. It was awesome.
When I started high school, I was 14 and shouting that I was a lesbian from the rooftop. I became the big lesbian on campus and the big activist. I helped found the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and started my school’s participation in National Day of Silence.
I realized I was gay when I was in fourth grade. I had seen a music video for the band t.A.T.u. I looked them up on the Internet. It was the first time I had seen the word “lesbian.” Then I went to a Girl Scout sleepover at the Birmingham Museum of Art, and I had t.A.T.u. written on my hand because I thought writing on my knuckles was really cool. This girl said she really liked them. Then I started staring at her all night. I realized, “I don’t just want to be friends with her. I think I have a crush on her. I think I’m gay.” People say that t.A.T.u. are fake lesbians, but hey, they helped a lot of people!
I came out to my parents and my sister when I was 13, and they have been incredibly supportive. My mom is very active in the community, and she went to Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) meetings. My dad wants to be more of an activist than me. He goes off on anyone who says anything anti-gay. My parents are liberal for Alabama. They met on a Democratic political campaign.
I’m part of the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition, so when I came to the University of Alabama everyone kind of expected me to take a leadership role. And I’m like, “I just got here. Chill.” But I found gay people very quickly. I marched in the homecoming parade with the gay group, Spectrum. We were holding hands so we wouldn’t get separated, and someone wrote a letter to the school paper saying, “I’m a fan of free speech but I don’t want to see guys kissing and holding hands.” And no one was kissing! You can’t kiss and walk at the same time.
But the environment here is surprisingly alright. I haven’t walked around holding a girl’s hand yet, but I’ve had my “Legalize Gay” shirt on. I know there are homophobes because I hear about them, but I think it’s a generally accepting campus.
I’m excited to be here and take courses that will help me have a career in zoo education. My mom forced me to volunteer somewhere in high school since I spent all summer watching TV. My friend volunteered at the zoo, then quit, and I ended up volunteering there for five years. I love pretty much any animal. Except sharks.
When I was in high school, usually when I was with a large group of people my age, we were there to talk about diversity. It was nice that at the zoo, instead of talking about how different we are and how much we loved each other, we were there to talk about the animals.
So many people in my senior class of high school had this drive to get out of Alabama. But I feel like if all the liberal-minded people leave, it’s a haven for bigotry. But I don’t know if I’ll stay in-state after I graduate from college. I want to work in zoo education, and when it comes down to what I want to do, the Montgomery or Birmingham zoos are my only options. Surprisingly, my dream zoo is in San Francisco.
As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Tuscaloosa, AL, 2010
To tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m lucky I already had my kids before I got HIV. I became HIV-positive June 16, 2011, in Florida. It was with a real female and the condom popped. She knew she was HIV-positive but didn’t tell me. I was so angry.
Then I came to New York in August, because it was too slow with the medicine in Tampa. My homeboy said he’d get me one of his private doctors, but then someone told me in New York they have a program to help with benefits.
When I came to New York, my girlfriend Honesty and I were looking for a shelter. I stopped at Housing Works because I heard there was a shelter on Pitkin. I met Johnny and I asked if it was a homeless shelter. He said it was for people with HIV and AIDS, and asked if I was HIV-positive. I said, “Yes, I am.” After my test results came back, he got me signed up for HASA — a program in New York City that provides housing for people with AIDS — to get me into housing and offered me a job. He said I can do outreach to the youth.
My goal is to be an outreach specialist. My Plan B is to drive trucks. My other Plan C is to be a good daddy to my kids. I came a long way from where I was when I was a little boy. My life story is a whole different thing. When you live without a mother and your father passes away when you’re five, staying in the city of Tampa is rough.
I ran away from foster care at the age of 10. I didn’t like my foster care people. They didn’t treat me right. I stayed on the streets, sleeping on benches. How I survived was stealing from Wal-Mart to get clothes and soap to wash my body.
I learned how to sell dope at the age of 11. I didn’t want to sell at the time, but I had to do what I had to do to get my money. After that, I started getting in trouble. I got my first gun, a 9-mm, and started using my gun to break into people’s houses. We used to take the TVs and take them to the pawnshops.
I didn’t care about my life. I didn’t have no family. I didn’t have no brother, I didn’t have a mom, I didn’t have a dad. I kept on going to jail. I went to a juvenile program in Tallahassee at the age of 12.
When I went to jail, my first day in Orlando I got stabbed on the side of the ribs. I did the five years, but it felt like I was doing 20 to 25. I didn’t have nobody to talk to, nobody to send me canteen. It was like gang banging.
I got my GED in prison, because when I was a youngin’ I wasn’t attending school like I was supposed to. But I didn’t want to get locked up again. I didn’t want to be the type of person who keeps coming back.
As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2011
To tell your story, email email@example.com
If you haven’t been to the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art to check out the Window Gallery, man, do we have GOOD news for you! Leslie-Lohman has extended our stay and the eight We Are the Youth portraits and accompanying quotes will now be on view until June 22, 2012!
So hop on the subway, board the Metro North, jump on your bike, take a stroll (the weather is getting nicer, no excuses for taking cabs, New Yorkers), and go check out the Window Gallery! If you do make it over to Wooster Street, be sure to check out The Piers exhibit, on view inside Leslie-Lohman until July 7, 2012.
*Above photo by Stanley Stellar
My mom said, “All artists are male and female. To be an artist you have to be psychologically hermaphrodite.” I don’t know if I agree with that. A lot of artists are really boring. I don’t necessarily think everyone who painted a ceramic mug on Etsy is a hermaphrodite.
But I really just want to use myself in my work.When I came to New York for my freshman year of college, I knew I wanted to do drag. In my early performances I played banjo. All the other drag kings were trying to be the cute boy, and I was the creepy uncle. I was more like Pete Seeger than ‘N Sync.
It’s great being in New York, just being able to be in drag and not get questioned. There’s so much freedom in being anonymous. There are times when I want to be passing as a guy, and times where I want to stop people a bit and slow ‘em down.
Thanks to everyone who came, danced, performed, volunteered, helped with clean up, tabled, installed, and in general, supported We Are the Youth! MC-ed by (ever-charming) We Are the Youth participant, Kaden and with DJ AngelBoi spinning some hot jams, the Brooklyn Museum Teen Night Event was an enormous success! With 150+ teens in attendance, Archie Burnett kicked off the evening with an amazing Vogue tutorial, followed by 2 great performances by Shadow Lover and Julia Weldon.
2012 is practically here. The end of the world is upon us. Have you checked out our Upcoming Events Page!? If you haven’t, you probably should, like right now. Really, stop reading this post, move your pretty little eyes over to the right hand side of the screen and click on Brooklyn Museum FREE Teen Night Event January 12, 2012 (you owe it to yourself, this could be your last year on Earth). There you will find exciting updates about, you guessed it, the Brooklyn Museum Free Teen Night Event on January 12, 2012! Installation artist Erika Sabel as well as Brooklyn-based design studio Hot-Sundae have been added to the roster! This means cool things will be happening at the Teen Night Event and cool people will be attending (like you!).
If you have a short attention span, you hate reading or you’re really just too lazy to move your pretty little eyes to the right hand side of the screen and click on our Upcoming Events, just remember this: BROOKLYN MUSEUM. JANUARY 12. All the cool kids are doing it.
In honor of this holiday, some thoughts on coming out from We Are the Youth participants:
“I was kind of scared to tell my dad. But he was like, “Whatever tricks your trigger. Just don’t be tricking it too early.” Then we’d be checking out girls at Wal-Mart.”—Audri, 15, Laurel, MS
“I just officially came out to my sister yesterday. On Twitter. My sister told my mom “Marina’s never actually come out to me. I know, or I think I know.” But it seemed to my mom like she wanted me to tell her. So last night I sent her a Twitter direct message being like, “Hey, mom said you wanted me to tell you this but you probably already know, so yeah…” She wrote “Haha. Thanks, I guess.”–Marina, 21, Atlanta, GA
“For a few weeks I wanted to go to the LGBT club at school. But I can’t. I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want to be out. I feel like if I come out, there will be stigma attached to me. Like, ‘Oh, there’s Chase. The guy that used to be a girl.’”—Chase, 19, Brooklyn, NY
“I definitely want to come out to my parents, but I want to wait until I get a better foothold and can support myself. I’ve mentally dealt with it and made peace with how it is with my parents. But sometimes it’s hard. My home life feels like it’s a lie.”—Dohyun, 19, Atlanta, GA
“In a way, I was pissed off to even have to come out. I think it’s stupid. Heterosexual people don’t have to come out as straight.”–Ana, 18, Blauvelt, NY
To share your thoughts on coming out, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll post responses on this here blog.
We constantly receive emails from youth around the country looking to get involved in the project. Although we’d love to profile every one of you, (and we really do hope to visit your town in the near future!), lack of funding sometimes prohibits us from immediately meeting you face-to-face. In the meantime, here’s a few ways you can get involved:
- Spreading the word about We Are the Youth = always awesome. Friend us on Facebook, follow us on Tumblr, join our mailing list, you get the idea.
- Since the launch of our new site, we’re looking for more youth-write ups. This means if you go to a LGBT-youth related event, you can submit a short write up about it and we’ll post it on this blog. Here’s a good example.
- We’ll be looking for guest bloggers in the near future. This is a new idea for us so we’re still working out the kinks, but send us an email if you have a cool idea for a guest blog post, we’re open to all sorts of ideas.
- If you’re involved with an LGBT-youth related organization we’d love to publicize the group on our Resource Page. Let us know.
We love to hear from youth around the country, so don’t be shy, shoot us an email!
The big day has arrived. After months of hard work (and loads of help from James Dodd, web-coder extraordinaire), We Are the Youth has launched its newly redesigned website!
New features include a Resource page showing a map of area-specific groups and organizations for LGBT youth. Our resource list is constantly expanding, so if you’d like us to include your organization, contact us and we’ll put it on the map. We are also expanding this blog to include more youth write-ups, posts by guest bloggers, and more LGBT youth-related news items, so email email@example.com if you’d like to share your story, contribute a write-up, or just say hello.
In other news, we’ve recently opened a We Are the Youth Etsy shop, where you (generous supporter!), can buy a custom print. In addition, although we’ll still be posting profiles to the blog portion of the website, you can now view all We Are the Youth profiles in our archive.
Other business is continuing as usual — stay tuned for more profiles and exciting news!
As always, thanks for all the support,
Laurel & Diana