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What does/did it feel like to be young, queer and YOU?
In honor of Queer Youth Empowerment Month in October 2011, Coalition for Queer Youth launched Testimony, a creative exhibition of LGBTQ voices from all around the world.
Testimony invites LGBTQ-identified young people AND adults to submit creative projects (photo, poetry, song, video, etc.) that represent what it's like to be young and queer from YOUR unique perspective. It is a space to tell our stories in our voices, to connect with others, to document our history, to spark dialogue and to create change. Be a part of it!
This exhibition is:
An opportunity to be Heard
a chance to create
a documentation of past and present
a place to connect
a vehicle for healing
a platform for education
a love letter to those we've lost
a way to build support
An act of Unity
*There is no deadline to submit your
Testimony! We're always accepting new
*If you want Coalition for Queer Youth to come do a FREE Testimony arts workshop with your group or organization or give you ideas on how to run your own, click on "Questions or Comments" and ask!
*Testimony includes pieces from queer ADULTS, speaking about their youth, too! Intergenerational communication is so important, so share!
*Submissions DO NOT need to be unique
to this project. If you've created something
before that truly represents 'queer youth' to
you, we'd love to see it shine here too!
*To have your work included, click on 'Submit Your Testimony!'
All submissions will be reviewed by members of the Coalition prior to approval for exhibition.
*For more information, questions, interest in collaboration or offerings of support please contact us by clicking on 'Questions/Comments' or email us at email@example.com ☺
Look out for Testimony in NYC at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art July 2012!
Coalition for Queer Youth is a partnership between young people, service providers, activists and allies dedicated to using creative forms of education, advocacy and empowerment to increase community support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth.
Testimony by VIVIAN TAYLOR, Boston, MA
A month or two after I started living full time out as woman, one of my friends suggested I talk to an acquaintance of his, an older trans woman who had been out for years.
My friend thought his acquaintance might be able to give me some tips on surviving as a trans woman. I was thrilled. Here, I though, was someone who had the answers. Surely she would be able to point me in the right direction. We had arranged to meet in a coffee shop. In my excitement I arrived an hour early. It was going to be awesome.
But no, I was informed, I wasn’t being a woman right.
She was neither the first nor the last person to inform me that I’m doing it wrong. There was I woman I met soon after moving back up to Boston in 2011. She had transitioned in her teens and most folks wouldn’t know she was trans unless she wanted to tell them. She had a real heart for women who were just starting transition, but she had expectations for those people. She couldn’t stand ‘bricks.’ She explained that bricks were women who looked “like a man in a dress.” A cinderblock was even worse. A trans guy who was too femme was feathery.
There’s another side too. In college I asked the instructor of a Women’s Studies course I took if she could recommend any reading on trans issues. She suggested Sheila Jeffreys’ 2005 book ‘Beauty and Misogyny,’ which contains a delightful chapter in which Jeffreys uses pornography depicting young trans women of color to explain why there’s no such thing as trans and how trans women(no mention of trans men or non-binary folks for some reason) are actually evil, essentially pornographic simulacra reinforcing harmful gender tropes.
It’s a great double bind. If you present in a traditionally feminine way, you’re just being a misogynistic parody of a woman, and if you fail to present in a traditionally feminine way, well ha! There’s the proof that you’re not really a woman right there.
And even if you are “really a woman,” that might not be enough. At a Christmas party last December a Smith alumna defended Smith’s decision not to accept trans feminine students by explaining that even if trans women were women, they had still been socialized as boys and men, and that Smith, as a safe space for women and trans men, had a right to defend their students from such people, from the inexorcisable specter of their privilege.
I know women who identify as “heterosexual with a transgender history.” They’re trying so hard to get away.
But you know what’s worse than being somebody’s idea of a bad tranny? Being somebody’s idea of a good tranny, an acceptable tranny.
Last fall I was at an event in a room full of professional acquaintances. A musician who I’ve done some good work with came over to talk to me. This guy is a kind, thoughtful man who I trust. I’ve known him for about two years.
“Vivian,” he said, “it’s so nice to have you here. You always seem to happy and relaxed, and you’re always so open about being trans.”
At this point I’m smiling, enjoying a nice compliment. Then the horror began.
“All the other trans people I’ve known are always so stressed out and unhappy, and are just so difficult. You do an amazing job of making people comfortable.”
And by then I was ready to leap on him to get him to be quiet. The only other trans person he knew, as far as I was aware, was standing a few yards away. I don’t know if she heard that or not, but I really hope not.
That’s not a unique example. I’ve had a lesbian in her 60s tell me that I was the first trans woman who ever got along with, that I’m cool and queer instead of “uncomfortably trying too hard to be a straight woman.”
But I’m done with it. You can be trans or cis. You can be super femme, you can be ultra butch. You can be straight or queer. You can have people saying you’re a transcendent beauty who just stepped off a Renaissance canvas, you can have people saying you’re a stomach turning monster. You can be a light in the world who every person you meet loves and devotes themselves to, you can be an awkward storm cloud who drives everyone away.
I don’t care. Sun shines and rain falls on the just and unjust alike. I don’t want to know who the Real Good Ones and the Real Bad Ones are. We’re all people. We all deserve to be treated as valued members of humanity. That’s all.
About the Author:
Vivian Taylor is a writer, activist, avid Sung Compline promoter, and proud (if occasionally troubled) North Carolinian currently living in Boston, MA. She served in the War in Iraq from 2009-2010 and is currently process of Discernment for the Priesthood in the Episcopal Church. She writes about her experiences in war, being a peacenik veteran, and being a transgender Christian.
Published by Autostraddle, 5/15/13. All images copyrighted by IVY DALEY.
Testimony by ROB VASSILARAKIS, Bronx, NY
Video titled: ‘Simply Rob-Short Film’
Simply Rob (2011) is a portrait of Bronx based Poet and Activist Rob Vassilarakis. Estranged from his family when he was just a teenager because of his sexuality, Rob fell into a world of self hatred and drug abuse. In 1993 he was diagnosed with HIV, he was 22 years old. After years of rehabilitation Rob now uses his eloquence and honesty to inspire and educate others. Told through his poetry the film weaves lyrical imagery with Rob’s resonating words to tell a personal journey of a man coming to terms with his sexuality and living with HIV.
**CONGRATULATIONS, YOU WON!**
Your stories, your voices, your art, YOU!
‘TESTIMONY: A Living Exhibition of Queer Youth’ at Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, shared the experiences of LGBTQ young people from all over the world through photography, writing, video and YOUR submitted work. And the show received an award from Fresh Fruit Festival for Outstanding Event of the Year!
Sharing our stories with each other and the community is powerful and we’re so glad you chose to BE HEARD. Coalition for Queer Youth is proud TESTIMONY was honored. You deserve it! ♥
Testimony by LEILANI, New York
Video titled: ‘My Address: Episode 4’
In this video, one of a five part series by The L Word Actress, Katherine Moenning and young people from The Hetrick-Martin Institute in NYC, Leilani shares her history and talks about life on the street for LGBTQ homeless youth and the importance of chosen family.
Testimony by RYAN O’CONNELL, New York
Here’s something everybody should know about gay men: We like to disappear. We like to numb the feelings. We like to be anywhere that’s not here. We like to, quite simply, get fucked up. And you know what? We’re damn good at it. We’re the best. It’s estimated that about 20 to 30 percent of the gay and transgender population abuse substances, compared with only 9 percent of the general population. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. A lot of the LGBT community may be out and proud, but most of us still got issues. Last night, as I was drinking a Skinnygirl margarita in bed, I started to think about all the boys I’ve been friends with and/or dated who clearly had drug and alcohol problems. It might not have seemed like it at the time because we were all having so much fun getting lost in the haze of gay mistakes, but it’s obvious to me now what was really going on there. Some boys, even with their cheerful dances to Beyoncé songs and their vodka sodas, were quietly coming undone, while the rest of us were simply trying to come together. **** I was a sophomore in college the first time I ever accompanied a gay friend to an NA meeting. My best friend at the time had just told me he had an addiction to cocaine, which was shocking because I didn’t even know he did coke. “Are you on it all the time?” I asked him in his San Francisco apartment. “Mostly.” “What about last Sunday afternoon when we were just at my house watching TV? Were you on it then?” He nodded. We sat there and cried a little bit. Then we hugged each other and set off to an NA meeting. It would be my first but certainly not my last. Fast-forward a few years later: I stage an intervention for a close gay friend who has a drinking problem, and it actually works. He gets clean. Never takes another drop again. I accompany him to AA meetings for moral support and feel completely overjoyed to have my friend back. Then something happens that I didn’t expect: we start to drift apart. The friend who I got back is not the same. We’re not the same. And despite the damage his substance abuse did to our friendship, a sick part of me misses getting fucked up with him. Sometimes we would take these white oval pills and lie in his studio apartment wearing kimonos, all blissed out and googly-eyed, while listening to Fleetwood Mac. I missed that. It’s embarrassing to admit such a thing—shameful even—but it also helps me realize something very important, which is this: Even the most present of the gay boys likes to disappear sometimes. No one is above it. *** It’s difficult, especially living in New York—a city that encourages you to burn the candle at both ends—to call out a person for drinking and doing drugs. After all, you like to do those things, too, right? Hell, I remember once greeting a date by feeding him three Vicodin and whisking him away to a midnight showing of The Shining. (Ah, the stuff of gay romance!) But it’s different; it’s always different when you’re dealing with someone who has an addiction. Maybe I’m sensitive to it because my mom was or is an alcoholic (she’s been sober for five years), so whenever I see someone ordering that extra unnecessary drink, my radar goes off, and I immediately put myself at a distance. In my experience, though, I’ve noticed that there’s a general lack of judgment among gay men regarding our drug and alcohol use. I think it’s because we understand that there’s an undercurrent of sadness running through every gay man’s life and, at the end of the day, we’re all just doing what we have to do to make it through. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because we’ve spent our whole lives being judged by other people, and now we feel like it’s our time to be left alone. A few years ago, one of my best gay friends and I stopped hanging out so much because we were both going through shit and whenever we saw each other, it felt like we were looking into a cracked mirror. He was unhappy, I was unhappy, and we were dealing with it in unhealthy ways. One day I finally just texted him: “We’re both doing a lot of drugs, aren’t we?” He more or less copped to it and eventually I got better and he got better. Still, I look around today and see plenty of gay men who are in some sort of pain and ready to disappear. Once you’ve been in that place yourself, you can see it in everyone. I have a lot of problems with gay culture, with how others treat us, and how we treat one another. It might come across as annoying and critical, but I promise I have the best of intentions. I guess all I’m trying to do here is understand why it can be so hard for someone to make it through. I’m trying to understand why this underlying depression is so present in gay life and if it’s possible for us to ever stop getting swept away. I’d like to think that it is, but then I remember being stoned in a kimono and holding my friend’s hand in a church basement full of gay addicts, and I realize that we have a long way to go. We might be here, we might be queer, but some of us just aren’t getting used to it.
Published by Vice, 4/23/13
Testimony by AUSTIN, Age 23, NATALIJA, Age 21, CHARLIE, Age 23, Georgia
Titled: “‘We Exist’: Collective Memories of Trangender Youth in Georgia High Schools”
Three awesome young people talk about defining their gender identities, becoming comfortable in their own skin and their experiences being trans in Georgia High Schools.
A Georgia Safe Schools Coalition Documentary (2010)
Testimony by SILAS HANSEN, Columbus, OH (www.silashansen.net)
Titled: ‘Blank Slate: How I Chose My New Name’
The first person to call me Silas out loud was my friend Meg. I almost cried, but not from happiness. We were sitting at my friend Heather’s dining room table and my friends were all painting their nails and I was sitting there, drinking a margarita and trying to concentrate on the conversation and not think about the email I’d sent asking them all to refer to me by my new name. They had all sent me texts or emails in response, telling me I had their support, but it had only been 12 hours and no one had said anything in person yet. Everyone was acting like everything was normal.
“Silas,” Meg said. “Can you pass me the Kleenex?”
I don’t know if the others heard her or—if they did hear—if it was weird for them, too, but I suddenly couldn’t breathe. It felt so not normal to be calledSilas instead of Lindsay. I immediately regretted my decision. What if this meant I was wrong about being transgender and I never should have asked people to call me something else? What if I was right, but had chosen the wrong name? Was it too late to send another email, beg everyone to call me Andrew, or Charlie, or Sam? I hadn’t expected it to be so hard—not for me at least, since I had wanted a new name—a male name—for so long, and since Silas felt so perfect in theory.
That was the beginning of June, at the end of my first year of graduate school, but by the time I went to visit my family for the Fourth of July, I had gotten used to hearing it, and it felt different—better—than being called Lindsay ever had, even before I started to wonder about my gender identity. Suddenly I had a hard time remembering to answer when my parents (who I still didn’t know how to tell) called me Lindsay.
I knew what she meant. I have always disliked my birth name—Lindsay Rebecca. I disliked it even in preschool, long before I understood why it didn’t feel like it fit. In elementary school I would wish my name was something different, something more interesting. I imagine a lot of kids feel that way, especially those of us with too-common names. There were too many Lindsays in the ’80s and ’90s, just as there were too many Jessicas and Sarahs. But by the time Nicole and I talked, the feeling had only gotten worse for me: Over the past two years, I had started to question my gender identity, and though I hadn’t yet admitted what I feared—that I might be transgender—I still hated telling people my name. I wished it was something more androgynous, like Alex, so it wouldn’t give me away so easily, so it didn’t sound quite so feminine. I wished it were something that felt like it belonged to me.
But Nicole and I had only been friends for a couple of months and were still getting to know each other; I felt weird steering the conversation in a direction she hadn’t intended, so I didn’t say this. Instead, I made a joke: “Well, when I write my memoir someday and you’re a character in it, I’ll call you Maddy to protect your identity. Deal?”
She sighed. She looked dejected. “I didn’t live the life of a Maddy, though. I’ve lived the life of a Nicole.”
How would my life be different if my mom hadn’t vetoed Erin Karen because of the near-rhyme? Who would Erin Karen have been? What would her childhood have been like? What if there hadn’t been some prenatal mistake, some sort of cosmic event—I don’t know what I believe caused the incongruence between mind and body—and I had been born a boy, and been called Scott? Would I still be here, the person I am now, or would my male body, and the name that I carried, have taken me in a completely different direction?
And then I wonder: have I lived the life of a Lindsay? Or did I live the life of a Silas for 24 years without even knowing?
In September, four months after I asked my friends to start calling me Silas, I told my family that I am transgender. It was a shock to them, though my mom insists it wasn’t that much of a shock—I had been embracing my masculine side for years already. They simply thought I was a lesbian, even though I had never confirmed nor denied my family’s assumptions. By the time they started to ask questions, I had started to realize that being a butch lesbian wasn’t the life I was meant to live, and I didn’t know how to tell them that while I did date women, I wasn’t gay.
While my family’s reaction was positive—my parents told me they loved me no matter what, and my grandmother said, “I don’t care. Why would I care?” and changed the subject to tell me about the ongoing saga of her kitchen remodel—things weren’t easy for them, or for me. Part of me thought that, in telling them, a weight would be lifted—and it was, but then it was replaced with the burden of relearning our family dynamics, how were are supposed to interact with each other. My mom and my grandmother started calling me Silas just before I went to visit for the holidays a couple months later, but my dad and my brother took longer to get used to the change. Because I hadn’t started hormones yet, and because I’d had short hair and worn men’s clothing for a few years already, the name-change was, for them, the biggest difference. It’s the only one they could see. And they hated it.
Silas Hansen lives in Columbus, Ohio and will earn his MFA from Ohio State University this spring. His essays have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Puerto del Sol, and Redactions.
Published by Slate.com, 4/10/13
Testimony by ANDREI, Moldova
Video titled: ‘Live a Free Life’
The Egali project in Moldova is an online initiative in which gays and lesbians speak openly about the challenges of coming out — and about their successes in finding acceptance among friends and family. Their stories are intended to offer support to young LGBT people who might face harassment or discrimination. The initiative has been so successful that Egali has been selected to host Eastern Europe’s first official affiliate of ‘It Gets Better’, the prominent U.S.-based campaign aimed at preventing suicide among LGBT youth.
Testimony by JANANI BALASUBRAMANIAN, ALOK VAID-MENON and CAM AWKWARD-RICH, California
Poem titled: ‘Queer Rage’
This poem, “Marriage”, also known as “Queer Rage”, is a critique of gay marriage politics as a strategy of liberation. Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage (or anyone else’s) is not where the struggle ends, or even begins, really. In the piece we call for a consideration of race, class, and other systems of control that complicate and intersect with queerness. We also point to the increasing corporatization and overwhelming whiteness of gay marriage politics. Overall, we point to a more critical consideration of violence and material oppression that is linked to queerness, and how insufficient marriage equality is in this regard. This piece was performed by the Stanford Slam Poetry team at the 2012 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. Transcript below.
There’s no place like homo
There’s no place like homo
somewhere over the rainbow
way up high
there’s a land that I heard of
once in a lullaby
Wake up honi
it’s called san francisco
where white bourgie bitches getting gay married
but my ass ain’t got an invite sha hoo~
Somewhere over the rainbow
Blue birds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can’t I?
BECAUSE YOU’RE BROWN HONEY GURL
I’m bout to sassy gay friend this ish ~
Not gay as in happy but queer as in fuck you
Rainbows are just refracted beams of white light,
Gay marriage activism is a temper tantrum:
Mommy I’m going to buy an “I’m a second class citizen” American Apparel v-neck to go with my corporate internship and some ass
I didn’t always think this way
Cuz philadelphia taught me everything i still know about shame
that my queer body was something to “correct”
that looking like “a faggot with a cunt” only meant
I was looking for trouble
So in high school I laced my shoes with rainbows
and preached the gospel of equal rights and pride
That tell us marriage will finally untangle
our love from shame, will legislate us wholly human
But the day same sex marriage was legalized in New York, DC, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa it didn’t get better because “Somewhere over the rainbow” there’s a pot of Goldman Sachs
**DUN DUN DUN DUN**We are gathered here today**for
richer, for poorer
tell that to El’Jai who lost his job last year
His state is one of only 12
where you cannot legally be fired
for having a body that doesn’t sit right with your heart
but his job “could only be done by a man”
and his genitals did not conform to his employers expectations.
[I do not know if he won the court case, only that he has a son,
and that being brown and trans means being 4 times less likely to find work]
but who needs money for bread when you can eat wedding cake!
in good times and in bad
tell that to Temmie Breslauer a transwoman who was arrested for using
her father’s discount subway card.
the NYPD chained her to a wall for 28 hours and called her a he-she
to have and to be held
this is what marriage means for queer people
as we send the government wedding invitations to incarcerate our love
till death do us part,
tell that to asher brown who at thirteen took a gun to his head
as if it was an act of patriotism because in texas
being gay is a death sentence
it is nights spent whispering secrets to open skies
it is the sound of your mother crying because she wonders
how that thing came out of her
and i do, i do, i do
not believe that a marriage certificate
could have stopped the bullet
There is something beautiful about being lied to:
Rainbows are just a trick of light,
They make us forget the storm is still happening,
When walking towards the end of the rainbow, it will always move away.
Testimony by YOUTH LIBERATION OF ANN ARBOR, Michigan
1. We want the power to determine our own destiny.
2. We want the immediate end of adult chauvinism.
3. We want full civil and human rights.
4. We want the right to form our education according to our needs.
5. We want the freedom to form into communal families.
6. We want the end of male chauvinism and sexism.
7. We want the opportunity to create an authentic culture with institutions of our own making.
8. We want sexual self-determination. We believe all people must have the unhindered right to be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or transsexual.
9. We want the end of class antagonism among young people.
10. We want the end of racism and colonialism in the United States and the world.
11. We want freedom for all unjustly imprisoned people.
12. We want the right to be economically independent of adults.
13. We want the right to live in harmony with nature.
14. We want to rehumanize existence.
15. We want to develop communication and solidarity with the young people of the world in our common struggle for freedom and peace.
Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor was an organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan from 1970 to 1979. The organization was founded by fifteen-year-old Keith Hefner and other Ann Arbor teenagers around December 1970, when the first draft of the Youth Liberation platform was written., and served as a principal informational and organizational hub for a host of similar efforts around the country. Its central aims included student control of education, the free development of youth culture, and an end to discrimination against youth, with related emphases on gay rights for young people, environmentalism, and an end to the Vietnam War. Youth Liberation also allied with older radicals in Ann Arbor- and Detroit-area organizations such as the White Panther Party and the Human Rights Party.
Photo: Pamphlet advocating for gay youth rights, published by Youth Liberation Press, 1978.
Posted on Friday, March 29th 2013
Tags Badass Youth History