Raciel, 19, Brooklyn, NY
I wasn’t scared to move to New York. I’d been sneaking away to the city since I was 11. My friends and I would skip school and ask people how to get to the Village. My dad wasn’t a parent who was overprotective. I never gave my parents reason to disbelieve me.
I’ve been happy since moving to New York. Not as happy as I was in the beginning, but that was during the summertime when everything was great.
I was on the beach last summer, and guys would just hit on me. It was a lot easier for me to meet people in New York. It was on the beach that I met a 42-year-old guy who was a social worker at NYU. We only dated for two months, but I really got to know him. I really fell in love with him. It was so cosmic, I guess. It was one of the greatest times of my life.
But I had to get rid of him. He didn’t know what he wanted. It was so unstable. One minute he didn’t want me, and the next minute he did.
I couldn’t possibly date someone my age. Even if they’re only a year older, they’ve always been older. I tried to date younger guys and it did not work out. Kids my age usually jump into relationships, which I think is reckless.
But my mind is so stuck on school and work now, I don’t want to date. I was always the kind of person who needed to be with someone, but I want to party and be free. A boy would take too much away.
I’m smart and very creative, but academically I have my moments. I dropped out of high school in ninth grade.
The biggest problem was my mother’s instability. She had a boyfriend and it was all about him. We were constantly arguing. I was going to move in with my dad, but then he called me up and said, “I don’t want your gayness in my house.” So I got in contact with my aunt and uncle in Pennsylvania. If I had my own car I’d probably still be there, but I don’t like depending on people.
So I told my dad I couldn’t stay with my aunt and uncle and he said, “You are my son and you are coming to stay with me.” When he said I could stay with him in Newark, New Jersey, I couldn’t believe it. But I didn’t find myself going anywhere there. That’s where my homelessness started. I could go home if I told my parents I was done with this struggling, but then I would be at step one. I didn’t come this far to go back now.
I was never on-the-street homeless. I did my research. I wasn’t going to stay at a regular men’s shelter. It’s very dangerous. I stayed at the Covenant House for 40 days. That’s when a bed opened up at Ali Forney. There are only so many beds. There are 4,000 homeless kids who identify as LGBT. If you don’t know about the services, you’re out of luck.
I got my GED at Hetrick Martin Institute. My teachers helped me out so much. I totally felt comfortable being around so many gay kids, and it helped me accept myself even more. I never say that out loud, but it’s true. Growing up with my parents throwing it in my face all the time, it was really hard for me to accept being gay.
But since moving to New York, I act how I want to act. I have an internship in PR and am going to school at Kingsborough Community College. I’m so proud of myself. I’m kind of surviving. It’s not New York City unless you struggle.
As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2011
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Kat, 17, Brooklyn, NY
I love me some comedy. I’ve always loved watching comedy, but I didn’t discover how much I love performing it until I went to the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. My very first experience with long-form improv was a show called Death By Roo-Roo: Your F’d Up Family. It was really screwed up and morbid. I was like, “Sign me up for a class!” When I started taking classes, I became funnier, more quick-witted, but most importantly, more confident. I finally had an outlet in which I could truly be myself.
I definitely want to go into comedic acting. I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was five years old. If we pretend that my GPA hasn’t been completely screwed over by my not being able to go to school most of this year, I’d like to major in drama in college.
I’ve missed so much school that I have to make up four months of work over the summer. I was in an acute psychiatric hospital — in layman’s terms, the wacky shack. I have major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. I’ve attempted suicide before. This time I knew I didn’t want to die, but I was just in so much pain that I couldn’t find any other way to escape. I was in danger and didn’t want to hurt the people around me, so I checked myself in. Much of it is chemical imbalance rather than environmental. Actually, none of my mental issues come from the fact that I’m queer, so maybe that’s a somewhat screwed-up sign of progress? I’m very comfortable with my sexuality.
Parts of my anxiety were exacerbated by some religious indoctrination that I underwent when I was young. Religion comforted me and made me feel a little better, even though it was harmful in the long term. As I grew older, I realized that I cared more about truth than I did about comfort. My faith slowly began to fade as I learned more and more about the real world. Eventually I realized that I was an agnostic atheist. Some people get confused when I say that, because they assume that the terms “agnostic” and “atheist” are mutually exclusive, but they aren’t. Gnosticism deals with knowledge. Theism deals with belief. I can’t “know” that there is no god, the same way I can’t “know” that there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster. That’s why I am agnostic. But I don’t “believe” in a god. That’s why I’m an atheist.
I’m really into queer politics, too. I’ve recently become interested in gender politics as well. I call myself queer rather than lesbian or gay because not everyone I’m involved with identifies exclusively as female, if at all. Sometimes people don’t expect to hear something like that from me, because I’m very feminine. I like frilly dresses, makeup, heels and all that jazz. I love to cook, I love to look after little kids and pretty much every other stereotypically “feminine” thing. That’s me. I’m more or less comfortable in this gender role that society has assigned for me, but I know so many people who aren’t. The idea of a gender binary, sexism and cissexism just makes me want to throw up.
When I came out to my mom, it was a storm of awfulness. I feel like she’s slowly come around to it, though. It’s been exactly two years since I’ve come out to her, and I think she’s finally accepted it, even though she may not be happy about it. Every now and then she’ll say something sexist and passive-aggressive. For example, if we can’t fix a shelf, she’ll say, “See, this is why you need a man in the house.” But she’s a really good person at heart, and I love her so much. We all have our bigotries; we just need to be aware of them and try to educate ourselves as much as possible.
Aside from Staten Island, Bay Ridge is probably one of the most conservative areas of New York City. People aren’t exactly gungho about Pride. My school, however, has been absolutely awesome. In the last couple years, my friends and I organized the Day of Silence and held a bake sale to benefit the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). I’m starting a Gay-Straight Alliance, or a Q&A — Queers & Allies — as I like to call it, because I don’t want to limit the club to gay and straight people. My school has been really supportive of our activism. My school is an amazing place overall. I really don’t know where I would be without it. Of course, you’re going to find homophobia almost everywhere. In my school, though, it’s addressed. If someone gets bullied, my school does something about it.
I’m trying to change things. Right now, it’s little things like bake sales and school clubs, but I’m branching out more as I’m growing older and gaining more independence. I went to the Dyke March for the first time this year, and was really blown away. I definitely want to volunteer next year. We all have the power to change the world, even if it’s one step at a time.
As told to Diana Scholl.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Brooklyn, NY, 2012
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