In celebration of Pride, the San Francisco Bay Guardian asked Angel, Brian, Dennis and Huitzi to share their thoughts on pride, family, acceptance, love and what life is like for LGBTQ youth in San Francisco. This is Angel’s story.
How a Gay Homeless Teen Became His High School's Valedictorian
Testimony by MARQUISE BROWN, Chicago, IL
Going to college has always been a dream of mine—but it almost became a dream deferred. As a 16-year-old sophomore I came out as gay to my aunt, who was my guardian, and she kicked me out of the house. I didn’t get to take my belongings, and I wasn’t wearing anything but my underwear. But thanks to the support I’ve received from other family members and the community at my high school, I’ve continued to pursue my goal. This fall, I’ll be heading to California to start my freshman year at Pomona College.
I didn’t always live with my aunt. My biological mother is a cocaine addict who abandoned my siblings and me to my grandmother’s care. As a child, my grandmother talked to me about going to college. Although I didn’t fully understand what college was and how could I get there, she instilled in me the understanding that it would make me a better person and provide lifelong benefits. Even though she had never gone to college herself, she was determined that I would have the opportunity. Unfortunately, in February 2005 my grandmother got really sick after fighting lung disease for years and had to be hospitalized. Before she left in the ambulance, she assured my siblings and me and told us not to worry, that everything was going to be okay. She never returned.
After my grandmother passed, at first I wanted to give up on everything. Then I realized that doing so would disappoint her, so I decided to focus my grief and use it to motivate me to achieve. My siblings and I were left in the care of my aunt, who filled out my application for GCCP. Everything was going well for me at home and at school until I began to find my identity and gained the courage to express myself as a homosexual male. I refused to accept my aunt’s religious beliefs about homosexuality as my own, so she evicted me from her home, calling me vicious names like “freak of nature” and “faggot” as she put me out early one summer morning.
I knew there were consequences for standing up for your beliefs, but I never thought I’d lose the place I’d known as home since sixth grade because of who I am. Full of anger and despair, I walked a few blocks across our neighborhood to my sister’s house. Despite having two children of her own and another baby on the way, my sister welcomed me into her home. It was a relief to finally be able to be myself, but I also had to grow up fast.
Living with my sister came with unlimited amounts of freedom—I was allowed to hang out with friends and attend parties whenever I was invited, and I didn’t have a curfew—but for the first time in my life I had to support myself financially. Although I wanted to stay out, shop, and party with friends, it was up to me to pay for my clothes, shoes, and phone bills, and maintain my grades without someone telling me to do my homework or get up and go to school.
The support of my teachers, school, and peers also helped me stay on track. GCCP supported me not just as an occasionally homeless LGBTQ teen, but as a person and as a student. The school has always been a safe place where my peers and I don’t have to hide who we are. I’ve been able to focus on my academics, and I’ll proudly graduate as the valedictorian. I’m also a senior class representative for student council, a member of my school’s National Honor Society, and one of my school’s first male cheerleaders. In addition to actively recruiting boys for the cheerleading team, this year I helped create GCCP’s student-led Gay Straight Alliance, which organized our first annual National Day of Silence. Both students and staff members chose to remain silent for the day in recognition of LGBTQ individuals who are continuing to live without the ability to express themselves.
I’m ecstatic about attending Pomona, and I plan to major in biology and focus on genetics. I’m also glad I can set an example for my younger siblings and other GCCP students: You can be proud of your identity, overcome life’s challenges, and make your dream of going to college come true.
My journey began as a small child. I have always known I was different and felt I was living in the wrong body. In the first grade, I was taking karate classes and remember feeling awkward changing in the boys’ dressing room because I felt I didn’t belong in there. I remember also feeling awkward in the boys’ gymnastics class.
As early as I can remember I was drawn to girl things. I wanted to wear girl’s clothing starting in the 3rd grade. I had a pair of white capris that I wanted to wear all the time. In the 4th grade, I began to tell people that I wanted to live as a girl, and by 5th grade I was obsessed with shoes and Lady Gaga. My family saw Lady Gaga in concert in Las Vegas last year, and my parents let me wear feminine clothing and make-up. I wore a great pair of high heels that I spent all of my savings on!!
Growing up, there were problems within my family, mainly because my dad felt like I needed to be a boy. He blamed my mom, my grandma, my aunt, and my cousin for my gender differences. When I wanted to wear nail polish at 4 or 5 years old, my mom would always defend me when my dad got upset. I felt confused, angry, sad, and overwhelmed because I wasn’t able to be who I was without causing arguments and hard feelings in my family. My mom finally made an appointment with a family counselor in February 2011, and we have been going to counseling as a family ever since. The counselor told my parents that I am “gender non-conforming,” and that is the place we began working from.
Last year, when I was 11, the counselor suggested my family attend a conference in Seattle for families with transgender and gender non-conforming kids called Gender Odyssey. I attended several teen workshops with my mom. My dad went to mostly dads’ groups. That weekend I decided to transition and began living as a girl full time. My dad was transformed at Gender Odyssey by the information he learned and the other parents. He was so affected that now he is one of my greatest supporters. My mom, who has always supported me, had a more difficult time because we were so close. She had a more difficult time than my dad did grieving the loss of her son. My mom remains one of my best friends and greatest supporters.
When we returned home from the conference, we had a lot to do to organize my new life in terms of school, my acting class, and telling family, friends, and others about my decision to transition. We had a gathering at our house of family and friends to discuss my decision and ask them to call me by my new name and gender pronouns. My parents met with my school, and the staff was worried but supportive. The bullying I have experienced has been difficult, overwhelming, and hard. I try to focus on school work instead of what people are saying about me.
On the bright side, I have a wonderful group of friends who are very supportive and defend me. I have one friend who is bullied just as much as me, but for other differences like her weight. We try to be there for each other and it is nice to have a good friend in the same class.
I frequently find myself thinking ‘If only you were born now,’ while working with middle-aged people. The few times I actually say it out loud, it’s painfully clear how unhelpful it is. A few days ago I found myself trying to explain the concept “genderqueer” to a married, middle-aged natal male who identifies as transgender. He was saying he feels part male and part female, not female enough to have re-assignment surgery and transition, but not male enough to continue to pass as male. He continues to identify as male for lack of a better option. I recall saying something along the lines of “all the college kids are doing it.”
To at least a certain subset of 20-year-olds, this man’s problem wouldn’t be perceived as a problem at all. Identities including “both male and female,” “neither male nor female,” “third gender,” “non-gendered,” and “androgynous” have become increasingly easy for young people to conceptualize. “Oh, you’re just genderqueer,” I can imagine them saying. But how does one come out as genderqueer at 50? How does one explain to spouses, colleagues, children, and other relatives who have never considered identities outside the gender binary? There would be very real and potentially serious cultural consequences to coming out for this person.
Even if I could bring him on a field trip down to a local gender studies department or campus LGBT alliance to see firsthand what a genderqueer identity might look like, his peers would still lack any exposure to this concept. Many adults are still struggling with the idea of homosexuality, and most would have a difficult time really understanding transgender identity. But at least the “one-gender-trapped-in-the-body-of-the-other” idea fits into the gender binary most people are used do, as does attraction to the opposite gender. Genderqueer is an identity that demands thinking way outside the box, calling into question the very concept of gender as we know it.
Even for those transgender folks who have transitioned, there is a level of generational envy. I have often heard transgender individuals fantasizing about how things might have been different if they were born now, with the availability of hormones, surgical advancements, and the increased awareness of transgender children and teens. Kids now have the option of intervening early enough that puberty never steals their chances of passing as their identified gender.
College is, after all, the perfect time to formulate one’s identity. Had this middle-aged man experimented with transgender and genderqueer identities in college and chosen/begun his career and long-term partnership already identifying as such, his life would be very different. College is a safe place and time in which one’s peers are also, in their own ways, testing out different identities. But, as a wise supervisor of mine frequently says, one can only choose from among the culturally available identities. For most of the middle-aged people I work with, transgender and genderqueer were not a part of the cultural landscape yet when they were adolescents.
A few months ago I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City. A beautiful, confidant young woman took her place at the “human microphone” in order to speak. She began by saying, “I am a black, pansexual woman.” I remember distinctly the pang of envy I felt. Fifteen years ago I was a gender studies major (back when it was still called women’s studies). I lived in the gay dorm and hung out with the least gender conforming kids on campus. But I had never heard of “pansexual” until a few years ago. It might not have taken me until my 30s to solidify my queer identity if I had.
For me, the labels that existed when I was in college didn’t quite fit. In retrospect, this was because they all fit into that traditional gender binary. Lucky for me, dating men and passing as straight fit my identity well enough. I had the privilege of putting the knowledge I was queer on the back burner until an identity that fit me better was imagined by our culture.
For others, the feelings of not being gender variant are so profound and all-encompassing that life simply cannot go on. I believe this is why so many parents are working to open up space for their children to explore minority sexual and gender identities. Once that stage in life when our identities are naturally in flux has passed, there is no way to get that time back.
I often wonder what my life would look like right now if I had had pansexual identity on my radar in college. It might look exactly the same, but simply feel more authentic. Despite my envy, I am deeply encouraged by and utterly respectful of the kids who are coming up now. They are fundamentally re-thinking gender and opening up space for fuller and richer lives for those who don’t fit easily within the gender binary (and really, for everyone).
That said, we always need to be looking forward, making more space, thinking further outside the box. There are children growing up right now who will live their whole lives in silent desperation because they fit identity categories the culture has yet to offer.
About the author:
Lyla Cicero has a doctorate in clinical psychology, and focuses on relationships, sexual minorities, and sex therapy. Lyla is a feminist, LGBTQIAPK-affirmative, sex-positive blogger, where she writes about expanding cultural notions of identity, especially those surrounding gender, sexual orientation, motherhood, and sexuality.
When my nana died unexpectedly of a heart-attack, my world was shaken to its very core. We were connected in that special way that only comes with a skipped generation. She was me, in my future. I was her, in her past. But her death didn’t cause in me a sense of engulfing disconnectedness. Her death made me recognise the already untouchable and unknowable existence of ‘me’.
Almost two years later another woman shook the very foundations of my life. I fell in love. I fell in life. I was no longer a member of the walking dead, trying desperately to seek out the places where risk or thrill or pain jolted me into some kind of felt existence. I found my existence in a woman.
I often wonder what my nana would have said had she seen me sitting comfortably in my queer body. She was no stranger to the experiences of the marginalised. After marrying a seemingly charming Army Officer who eventually ran away with her best friend she felt the wrath of the Army who had just the day before housed and cared for her. She felt the shame fired at her from the church who’d only just been praying, cooking and gossiping with her. She became a scorned woman. She knew that pain. But still, she was a product of post World War One conservative New Zealand. Men fixed fences, houses, tools and anything they could get their hands on with number 8 wire before coming home to the colonial facade of the white picket fenced villa and a hot Sunday roast that came straight from the ovens of woman-hood.
It torments me that I will never know what she might have said about my love and my life. I need to know if she would have simply “accepted” me or if she would have known and understood. In the last years of her life she began to become more and more eccentric. She became obsessed with a fragment of a poem from an earlier life. “When I’m an old woman, I shall wear purple”. She’d say this line over and over, like a mantra that would grant her immortality.
I think now that, had I told her I was queer and her response had been less than ideal, then all I would have needed to say was that I don’t want to wait until I’m an old woman to wear purple. I think then, she would have understood.
Poetry titled:"Let Me Be" from his series "Poems by My 18-Year Old Self in Egypt"
Look at yourself - Yes, reflect upon you. Reflect upon me. Can you see me now? Am I there? All of me and not who you wish to be there? This is me. I am not you. I am not society. Nor am I religion. I am me. You may not like what you see. You may even be revolted - Or think I am perverted. But at least you are looking. At least you are seeing me. What you choose to do now is entirely up to you. I am tired. I am run down. Love me or leave me - Just pick one and let me be.
About the Author:
Assem Al Tawdi founded Arabs for Tolerance and happens to be gay, Egyptian and a lot of other things…
About the Organization:
It is Arabs for Tolerance’s mission to address and eradicate the deep rooted ignorance and false inaccurate misconceptions about LGBT folk that are usually extremely negative. Ignorance is what leads to the intolerance, hatred and irrational thoughts & feelings towards people who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Increased visibility of Arab LGBT folk will also help address and eradicate ignorance. We of course hope that our efforts will lead to tolerance and acceptance of LGBT Arabs especially within the Arab world. We encourage other LGBT Arabs to ‘come out’ if possible via the internet or any other form to show our society that we are typical people just trying to live life.
I’m a 16-year-old closeted gay boy. I live in Southern Lebanon. The moment I realized who I was was at age 12. I knew it’d be something I’d have to deal with in the future. The attraction I felt to the same sex came from my own body and not some drama I dealt with when I was young. The liquids flowing through my organs were as natural as anything else in my body. As I grew up, I saw many positive gay role models from Glee to people who created this site.
I log in into my secret MSN account that has countless email addresses of gay people inside and outside Lebanon.
In hope that one day I’ll find that person who walks down the street with me not caring for anyone.
I hope that one day someone will hold my hand and make me feel as if the people who are staring are the outsiders.
I hope that one day the Lebanese LGBT community would be much more then a number of sites with members hiding behind pictures of sexual organs and intercourse.
One day I’ll find that person. One day, Lebanon will change, and accept who I am. But until then, I strive to be who I am. I will not hide behind shadows anymore, not even if it’s safer. I won’t be silenced for the sake of other people’s comfort. Guess why? Because my comfort comes first and no one will take that away from me. I never chose to fight this fight, and most of the time it feels like it’s not worth it, and that I’ll never win, but when I see a person on television who fights for me gay, straight, or transgender, everything changes and a brighter future starts glowing at the end of a dark tunnel.
I am a 16-year-old who wishes to be who he is, to walk with the person he loves while ignoring the staring eyes. That’s why I beg Lebanese homosexuals to reconsider their life styles of loveless one night stands. I beg you, seek love and not pleasure. I beg you to consider another better way of living. Even if it means struggling more, or weird looks from people and most unfortunately parents, even if it means risking arrest. Do it, do it in the name of love, if not then in the name of who you are.
We all have some sort of pain to deal with. Take my life for example… I was neglected for who i am ever since i was a kid because it’s not what everyone saw on the outside. For years, no family support, just constant bullying at school AND at home. My entire family, relatives and everything, calling me the exact opposite of who i am, saying that what i want is wrong, who i am isn’t and that i’ll never be with a girl cuz no girl would like me because of it. And holy fuck, did I ever feel beside myself for a long ass time. shit goes on in life, sometimes it’s freaking terrible, but it’s so worth it to be here. Suicide should never even be an option, even though i, myself, thought about it for a long time. there are SO many people that care, but sometimes are misunderstanding. i wasn’t accepted until 18. honestly, i went my whole childhood and most of my teen years feeling like i was looking thru somebody else’s eyes. i’d even go thru times where my mom would accept me for a few days then BAM back to telling me “who i am”. it fucking tore me apart for damn years. I basically felt dead while alive. i never thought i’d ever have a good relationship with my mom. y’know it was pretty much set in my mind that once i left home, i’d never talk to my family or anyone i knew again. I remember telling my girlfriend at the time when i was 15 that i didn’t want to see my 16th birthday. That was in early 2007, months before i joined YouTube. But with due time, i now have a great relationship with mom, my brother doesn’t bully me to shit anymore, i’m able to spend time with my family without feeling like i’m dying inside and the people i went to school with who bullied me are completely irrelevant. I never see or have to deal with them anymore. EVERYONE has a struggle and there’s LOTS of people dealing with the same kind of pain you are. it helps loads to find someone with similar experiences to relate to. Life gets better, maybe it’s not right away but each day is a step toward happiness. You may not always see the good that comes out of life experiences right away, but one day when you’re 80 you’ll look back on your life at all the crazy stuff you’ve gone through, you’ll see how worth it it really is. I’m already amazed at everything i have and i’m only 20. I know someone who has a big influence in my life who didn’t really have parents since they were a kid… was thrown to different foster homes, and then leaving an abusive one at 16 to work a fulltime job, manage school and do it all on their own. That was way before the internet or cellphones were around so they couldn’t even reach out to different people. The internet is a HUGE outlet for people now. Many you can reach out to. Man, when you think about it… there’s tons of people in hospitals dying of illness who would give anything to have a chance at life, just to experience the good and bad. No matter how good or bad it would be at times… Because nothing could be worse than being told you don’t even get a shot. You have a shot at a great life. I couldn’t imagine laying there with everything slowly being taken away from me and there’s nothing i could do about it. Those people would give anything to have a shot at life like you do. They’d give anything to fight a few bad days than not have days at all… Everyone has a different struggle but you’re never alone it. Never. At a certain point i just realized i wanted to die happy, so dying while everything was messed up was not the answer. I realized that not everyone has a fair shot at life like the one I’m given. I’ve come to be extremely grateful for even the health i have that provides me the opportunity to live and be who i am. Whatever you’re going through is going to be okay. There’s so much great to still come into your life. If i had ended my life back in the 7th grade, i wouldnt have any of this and i wouldn’t be writing this to you. I wouldn’t have made any videos, any friends, wouldn’t have found the girl who loves me immensely for who i am and definitely wouldn’t see to be as happy as i am today. There will always be the good and bad, but hold onto the good, all the good feelings. Even if it’s simple little things that make you feel good. Nobody was promised a perfect life but within time, you’ll realize that life is worth living. I said it before and I’ll say it again; Life gives it’s toughest battles to the strongest soldiers. Stay beautiful and stay strong<3
**If you are in crisis, please reach out to The Trevor Project's hotline: 1-866-488-7386. There is someone available to provide support 24-hours a day.**
Jeydon Wale is what many fans like to call a “YouTube Legend”. He just calls himself a whale with internet connection. With over 60,000,000 total video views aside from 290,000+ subscribers, he is one entertainer loved by thousands. From his very own Hip Hop music and video blogs – to a crazy YouTube character named Hunter, you’ll surely be amused. He also tends to write about himself in third person.
If someone asks me if I’m out as pan, I’ll say “sure!”. I’ve had a girlfriend. My first kiss was a guy. I’m comfortable existing in both the heteronormative world of school and the lesbian media. I wear my Stonewall t-shirt out and I’ve never had any hassle over it. So, in most ways, I am out of the closet.
The big difference is with my family. I love them, and I know they love me, but they just aren’t supportive of gay issues. They see them as somehow unimportant. I talk to them about gay marriage and they just look at me blankly. Mum has said she’ll love me whatever, but what if she doesn’t mean it? What if it changes everything and she can no longer look at me without thinking, “my daughter might not end up with a man?”.
And that’s not starting on my father, who turns off the television whenever someone mentions being gay. He is disparaging of LGBTQ in all its permutations and though he is a very kind man, he is a die-hard Conservative. I don’t want to lose my parents. And yet, I don’t want to lose myself either.
As it is, my parents know nothing of my love life. I doubt they even know I’ve had my first kiss. Maybe I could keep them in the dark forever, but even in the closet you’ve gotta have a torch.
OutCasting: An LGBTQ Youth Radio Show by students from the Lower Hudson River Valley
About the Episode:
On this fifth edition of OutCasting, we observe and discuss the importance of World AIDS Day, December 1. Joining us are Twanna Hines, the coordinator of the Comprehensive of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program and co-chair of the Youth Outreach Committee at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, and Santo Barbagiovanni, CHAPS program supervisor with AIDS-Related Community Services.
About Travis and OutCasting:
My name is Travis, I’m 16 and gay. I work on a radio show for my local public radio station that is produced by LGBTQ youth and their straight allies. It focuses on LGBTQ youth issues, such as bullying, ex-gay therapy, AIDS, and other issues facing the LGBTQ youth community.
It might sound cliche, but I think I knew all along there was something different about the way I looked at people. When I was around 5 to 7 years old I generally didn’t discriminate as to whether I’d play with the girls or boys, but when I turned 8 it so happened I started to spend a lot of time with a small group of typical boys, one of whom is still a close friend. We ran around playing Star Wars and Call of Duty roleplaying games at break, and I nor anybody else ever questioned it, we were too young. A Deputy Principal at the school seemed to have a problem with it however, and tried to force me into a group of preppy girls, and it was just awkward for all involved. After one painful lunchbreak, I was back to the boys. That marked the first time I ever thought that I was subconsciously wrong, having someone try and ‘guide’ me to what is ‘correct’.
In the next few years, through no conscious effort of mine or anybody else’s, I soon moved away from the boys and ended up leaving primary school with a close group of mostly female friends. In the final year of primary school, around the time of a close friend’s birthday, I dreamt that I kissed her at her upcoming party. Upon waking up, I didn’t remember, but once I saw her at school it triggered the memory. I freaked out, and brushed it to the back of my mind, writing it off as a weird dream.
Once we had settled into high school in the next year though, the dreams started again. I had no choice but to confront them, and I came to terms with my bisexuality relatively easily. The only concern of mine was coming out, not to friends or even randoms, but my parents. Reasonably swiftly in that first year of high school (age 13) I came out to friends, but word spread easily enough to others. Most didn’t care, but I got some harsh words on occasion. I didn’t let it get to me, though. The concern was always coming out to my parents.
In 2009 I had my first and second girlfriends, after an on-and-off boyfriend for most of 2008. Obviously people made a big deal of the girlfriends, not so much the boyfriend. We all got some torment; even some friends did just for associating with me. We were all able to move past it, but it doesn’t change the fact that it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
In 2010 I moved schools, not because of bullying, but to follow my passion for music. It hurt to leave my friends behind like that, but those who truly mattered are still in touch with me. I thought I might be able to have some reprieve from people discussing my sexuality, but within a few weeks the word was around. People from my previous school had friends at my new school (which is not surprising as they’re quite close), so I had to deal with that again. I came out to my new friends, and everyone was fine with it, as I expected. This time I was immune to the nervousness, and knew that if someone disagreed they weren’t worth my time. Again, I had a few tormentors but with age and maturity that has faded.
In late 2011, long after settling into my new school, I was arguing with my parents over my choice of attire for the school Semi Formal. Mum decided I was dressing too ‘queer’ and asked, “Are you gay?”. I answered, “Not really.” Mum continued with “Well you’re either gay or straight, which is it?” to which I answered “Mum, I’m bisexual.”
"No, you’re not!" she said sternly, though laughing. She went on to explain that bisexuality was a thing of the show business to allow performers to appear ‘edgy’ and ‘alternative’ without having to come out as gay; or worse, because someone who is gay is hiding their true orientation in shame. Dad supported this sentiment, saying "Every kid these days thinks they’re all queer and special, bullshit!"
Now, I don’t even care. It’s off my chest and it’s on them if they want to be immature and deny it. They can’t say I didn’t warn them! :D