Prior to September of 2016, I identified as cisgender, heterosexual. I was 20 years young, still hardly “grown”, and silently working through the trauma of being a survivor of sexual assault and rape. And that September, I moved toward openly exploring sex and sexuality while I attended Morehouse College.
Growing up in a Christian home did not make this easy, but in March of this year, I finally acquired the language and the audacity to articulate my queerness to both myself and to my family. While I anticipated the worst, I was not prepared for it. When I told my family, their initial response was shock. Their follow-through left me without a home, not just in the literal sense, but figuratively as well. The foundation on which I built my love and comfortability—my family—had fallen in.
When I opened up to my family, I was away at school. I spent countless nights wondering whether or not I was going to ever tell them. I could not afford to live on campus and was losing my off-campus housing. But I told my family anyway. I prioritized my happiness over my own safety. By doing so my family responded to my queerness with microaggressions and bullying.
It goes without saying that this kind of treatment at home can lead to depression in queer and trans youth of color, who are already having to work through their identities in a cisheterosexist and racist society. Conditions like unemployment, substance abuse, harassment, and murder are our fears. And now I was experiencing another one: homelessness.
After experiencing such a cruel response from my family, I could not stomach returning home. I was forced into homelessness for several months. I couch-hopped and lived off of friends who would allow me to share a space with them. I was forced to sleep in my car or in open areas on campus when someone on the custodial staff forgot to lock a door.
My family did not understand why I would not return home. They thought that their “I love you, but…” and “I love you, I just do not agree with your lifestyle” hymns were welcoming and affirming. As many queer folk know, it was not. I was drowning in a sea of loss, academic pressure, and depression. As so many young queer and trans people do when they leave their homes to escape abuse—or are thrown out due to their families’ cisheterosexism—I turned to sex and alcohol in damaging and destructive ways.
I engaged in undesired sex so that I had a place to lay my head. I drank as often as I could, unintentionally attempting to escape my reality. I suffered in silence. Because, although I was surrounded by a loving and capable community, I had been socialized to never make my in-house concerns public ones. And, as someone who has a bit of visibility on and off campus in Atlanta, I felt unsure of who I could trust with the level of vulnerability required to ask for this type of help.
I had been homeless before. Several times, actually. However, each time I was homeless prior to this instance, I was with family, not alone. And certainly was not homeless due to my sexual orientation. I knew survival from a young age. But in those few months of my life, I struggled. I kept busy, I avoided my thoughts, I never engaged my emotions in hopes that I could escape the inescapable. Here I was, a person who had just barely made it to adulthood, now having to quickly learn how to stand on my own two feet.
However, though I suffered, I am privileged in that I did survive. Many queer folk have suffered greatly at the hand of anti-queer violence. But in a country where, according to True Colors Fund, 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth are queer and/or trans, merely surviving is not enough. Our youth need us to do so much more.
If parents love their children, they must invest holistically in protecting and caring for their child’s whole self. If the world genuinely cares to protect queer and trans youth, they must commit—in more direct and sustainable ways—to creating a world in which queer and trans youth can freely exist. This means investing monetarily, physically, and spiritually in homeless shelters, queer and trans-centered therapy, the art and work of queer and trans youth, and other spaces that prioritize our all-around health and safety.
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