Resilience

Resilience
Stories, Poems, Essays, Words for LGBT Teens About Growing Up, Surviving, Living and Thriving

edited by Eric Nguyen

© 2012. Eric Nguyen.

“A Letter To LGBTQ Young People” (previously published in LGBTPOV.com) © Keiko Lane. “Rebel Yell” © Dan Stone. “A Walk Through the Neighborhood” (previously published in The Q Review) © Samuel Autman. “Billy Michaels” © Sarah McConnaughey. “You Don't Know What It's Like” (previously published in Sojourn Volume 19) © Christopher Stephen Soden. “Angry as Regret” (previously published in Danse Macabre: Stonewall Edition) © Colin Gilbert. “Eleven” © Jarrett Neal. “Sculptor of Skin” © Amy Gerstin Coombs. “Letters to a Young Aberration” © Carolyn Agee. “Where the Children Play” (previously published in BlazeVOX Online Journal) © Emma Eden Ramos. “When the Bully Apologizes” © J.J. Sheen. “You Are A Runner” © Bill Elenbark. “Memories of Coming Out” (previously published in EurOut.org in a slightly different form) © Natascha de Hoog. “Every Mother Should Have a Gay Son” © Elizabeth Brahy. “Whatever Happened to Mona Shalesky?” © James R. Silvestri. “Family Letters” © Jen Sammons and Ames Hawkins. “Origins Stories” © Kathleen Jercich. “Braids” © Anne E. Johnson. “The Straight Boys Kiss” © Rene Cardona. “The Dykeutante” © Allison Fradkin. “Letter to Myself as a Child” © Keiko Lane. “To A Young Person Who Has Not Yet Realized She is Embarking on a Fairy Tale” © Rebecca Lynne Fullan. “Born Again” © Dan Stone. “Only I Saw How” © Benjamin Klas. “Apples and Oranges” (previously published in Smart Tart #1) © Liz Green. “After I Told Her” © Benjamin Klas. Cover images © Istockphoto.com

To Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Zach Harrington, Aiyisha Hassa, Jamey Rodemeyer and everyone else who had to live in such a cruel world.

Table of Contents
9 |A Letter To LGBTQ Young People |Keiko Lane A 15 |Rebel Yell |Dan Stone Rebel 17 |A Walk Through the Neighborhood |Samuel Autman A 20 |Billy Michaels |Sarah McConnaughey Billy 23 |You Don't Know What It's Like |Christopher Stephen You Soden 31 |Angry As Regret |Colin Gilbert Angry 32 |Eleven |Jarrett Neal Eleven 34 |Sculptor of Skin |Amy Gerstin Coombs Sculptor 43 |Letters to a Young Aberration |Carolyn Agee Letters 45 |Where the Children Play |Emma Eden Ramos Where 78|When 78 When the Bully Apologizes |J.J. Sheen 84 |You Are A Runner |Bill Elenbark You 97 |Memories of Coming Out |Natascha de Hoog Memories 99 |Every Mother Should Have A Gay Son |Elizabeth Every Brahy 102 |What Happened to Mona Shalesky |James R. Silvestri What 112 |Family Letters |Jen Sammons and Ames Hawkins Family

122 |Origin Stories |Kathleen Jercich Origin 127 |Braids |Anne E. Johnson Braids 136 |The Straight Boys Kiss |Rene Cardona The 137 |The Dykeutante The Dykeutante|Allison Fradkin 144 |Letter To Myself As A Child |Keiko Lane Letter 146 |To A Young Person Who Has Not Yet Realized To She is Embarking on a Fairy Tale |Rebecca Lynne Fullan 151 |Born Again |Dan Stone Born 153 |Only I Saw How |Benjamin Klas Only 154 |Apples and Oranges |Liz Green Apples 157 |After I Told Her |Benjamin Klas After

158 |About the Authors

Resilience

A Letter to LGBTQ Young People: An Apology and a Promise

Keiko Lane

LET ME TELL YOU a story.
I met them when we were in high school, on Dia de los Muertos. I was sitting on the grassy patch of the small slope in the middle of our urban Los Angeles, locked campus reviewing notes for an afternoon chemistry class. I zipped up my leather jacket against the fall breeze and untangled my hair from the ACT UP Silence = Death stickers plastered to its back. “Cool jacket,” I heard, as two bodies moved to face me. “Thanks,” I said, looking up to see who was talking. Both were Chicana: The petite one had short curly hair, marigolds pinned behind her ear, and wore bright red lipstick. The other, heavier and muscular, wore her long hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Her hand rested on the femme’s lower back. A couple. A butch/femme couple in my high school. I hadn’t seen them in any of my classes—not uncommon on our campus of more than 3,000. We smiled at one another, and they sat down. The next few weeks we got to know one another, sharing stories over lunch. Emma (the femme) and Carla (the butch) had grown up together, their families attending the same church. Their mothers were friends. They had been a couple since middle school, since Emma seduced Carla. (“She only thinks that’s how it went down,” says Carla. “Whatever you need to believe, honey,” laughs Emma.) But their families didn’t know. They thought the Emma was a good influence on Carla, and that story made everyone happy. “Well, she is a good influence on me,” Carla had said to me,

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cradling Emma’s cheek in her hand. Emma wanted to be a doctor. And though she was quiet and a little shy, she laughed easily at the jokes and teasing of her girlfriend. Carla was fierce, smart, and not very interested in a public education system that didn’t reflect her. Emma had made her promise to stay in school, promising in return that they would get out together after graduation. “That’s a long time from now,” Carla would sigh and shake her head. “I just want to be with you.” Emma would smile back, “We will, I promise. We’ll get away as soon as we graduate.” “You’ll go to college,” Carla always told her. “I’ll support you, don’t worry.” Some days they brought their friend Angel. The three had had grown up together keeping one another’s secrets—like hiding Angel’s dresses in Emma’s closet. He got to wear them, along with Emma’s bright red lipstick, when her parents were at work. Angel knew he was trans but was afraid of what would happen if he came out. All of their parents thought that he and Emma were dating, that Carla was their awkward friend. I asked Angel if he wanted me to use female pronouns when I talked to him. He smiled, somewhat sadly. “No,” he sighed. “I don’t want to get used to it yet. I don’t want anyone to slip in front of anyone who knows my family. When I graduate and leave home, then yeah. But not now.” That fall, the first Gulf War was brewing, and I was spending weekends and evenings at anti-war demonstrations with my ACT UP and Queer Nation friends. Very long days and nights of meetings, demonstrations, parties, and hospital bedside vigils. Emma, Carla, and Angel wanted to know all about it, but didn’t dare join me—afraid their families would find out, afraid their picture would end up in the LA Times, the way mine had. After telling them about an especially long ACT UP Women’s Caucus meeting the night before, Emma peppered me with questions about the politics of healthcare access for HIV-infected women and children.

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“Maybe that’s what I want to do if I become a doctor.” “You will become a doctor. I’ll make sure of it,” said Carla. “Can we come to a meeting?” Emma asked. “Oh, I don’t know,” said Carla, looking uneasy. “There’s no media at committee meetings—nothing that exciting happens,” I reassured her. “No, it isn’t that. I don’t know. The Women’s Caucus?” Carla shifted from side to side, nervous. “I just don’t…you know, always feel like a woman.” “Well I do!” Angel was emphatic. “Can I come, too?” “It’s so simple for you,” said Carla. “You always knew, didn’t you —that you’re really a girl?” “Of course,” he said, shrugging. “Not of course,” said Carla. “I just don’t know.” Emma took her hand. A week later, Emma found Angel and me at lunch. She was trembling. A thick, raw welt scarred her cheek. Her mother had come home from work early the day before and caught her in bed with Carla. Her mother had screamed, kicked Carla out of the house, and then called her mother. Emma had fought with her mother, and her mother had slapped her, leaving the welt. Emma, forbidden to leave the house or use the phone, had spent the sleepless night worrying about Carla, frantic and afraid for her. As Emma told us the story, Carla arrived. Her right eye was black and blue, her lips swollen and cut, and her neck was ringed with deep purple bruises. Her father had beaten and repeatedly choked her when he found out. She fought her way out of the house. Angel was shaking. “Did they call my parents?” “I don’t know,” said Emma, looking at him. “I think so. I’m so sorry.” “Let’s leave now,” Carla pleaded with her. “Right now.” I never saw them again. I kept returning to our old spot during lunch, hoping to see them. And then I just got busy: A friend from ACT UP died, someone else was sick. I don’t remember when I stopped thinking about the three of them.

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That year we were fighting against HIV immigration laws that 20 years later we’re still fighting. And 20 years later, my queer friends are still dying. Why am I telling you this? Because it does get better, but not the better you’re expected to believe. For those of us not born into the privilege of money or white skin, normative gender presentation, or other signifiers of passing and affluence, what are the possibilities of better? The social and political movement that you see waiting for you may not reflect you, may not reflect what you dream of. The movement talks about marriage, raising families, and serving your country—while you’re trying to make it through another day alive. Maybe you’ve never been able to hold a date’s hand or go on a date. Or maybe you live your life out loud and fabulous making art, dating, fighting for public space, and propelling your proud and visible self through your world alone or with the help of well-chosen or surprising allies. The visible movement says you should fight for the right to join the military because soon there will be no funded public education, and you’ll be able to travel overseas to kill people who look like you. The most visible representatives of the movement are usually the most socially normative and acceptable of us. It was always that way. 20 years ago the visible movement didn’t reflect us either—the trannies, sex workers, HIV+, poor, queers of color, or radicals. But we were visible to each other. This letter is an apology to them—my lost high school friends. And a promise to you. This week in my psychotherapy practice, I sat with a young transperson who did get out, who told me about the “bullying” that they had suffered during high school. Pushed into lockers, shoved, and tripped during track training, anonymous threats of sexual violence left in their locker. Also this week I sat with a mother of a toddler talking about the bullying that toddler experienced on the playground from another toddler who didn’t want to share toys. Maybe when we talk about the experiences of LGBTQ young people, bullying is the wrong word. Do we infantilize you by using the

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same terminology we use when we talk about toddlers not sharing toys? Would people pay closer attention if we used the same language we use for adults having these experiences outside school walls? Hate crimes, hate speech, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in the context of a cultural climate that disavows your humanity. Our humanity. I felt like I had barely escaped from my high school; I was so happy to get out that I didn’t look back. That’s the danger now, isn’t it— what I must atone for. We get so excited when we see our path to escape that we forget we do not survive alone, that our survival is tied to the rest of the tribe. What happened to the couple I went to high school with? What happened to our trans friend? I like to think that they, too, escaped. That they finished school, that Emma is somewhere a doctor, and Carla a genderqueer revolutionary. That Angel is living somewhere as the woman she wanted to grow up to be. I know better than to believe this, but I’d like to. Better may not look like the American Dream. You may not want it to. Better is complicated. Better looks like this: My friends from ACT UP and Queer Nation who modeled honorable, just, and loving queer livelihood are my community now, and we try to take care of one another still. We’ve lost many of our chosen family to AIDS, cancer, and addiction. We’ve nursed one another through police brutality, illness, and overwhelm. We build altars. We pick marigolds on Dia de los Muertos, take the streets on Transgender Day of Remembrance, and light candles on World AIDS Day. We fight for the living. Some of us are married, and some of us refuse all signifiers that would have us blend in with the normative cultural center. We build urban gardens, make art, and believe that revolutionary change is both internal and external. Every year, students in my queer psychology classes remind me that whatever I think I can know or guess about them, I’m only partially correct because the context of their lives and the histories of their bodies moving through this world are never what I expect or imagine. They remind me to ask. When I am lucky, they tell me. Last month a press release was issued from Equality California that a noose was left on the organization’s office door and that the police

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officer they tried to report it to said, “Sometimes you just have to live with being a victim.” And yes, the slightly lowered numbers of hate crimes reported in 2009 from 2008 most likely represents not a drop in actual hate crimes, but a decrease in the capacity of organizations to respond to and document them. But finally, legislation has recently passed in California allowing minors 12 and older to seek mental health treatment without parental consent. My colleagues and I will finally be able to hold space in our agencies and private practices to provide support and mentorship to LGBTQ and other youth at risk of abandonment by the current political and social systems of power. And, though some people I know still argue that we can’t reach into all of the corners of the country where you might be isolated and seeking, videos take flight over the Web with images of you fighting back, standing up for your own fierce selves, and the rights of other LGBTQ community members to whom you lend your voice. You teach us what it means to live out loud now. We are trying to listen. Better looks like this: We keep fighting. We find each other still. There is a revolution rumbling in your name. We are looking for you.

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Rebel Yell

Dan Stone

Where am I from? It's hard to name a location when there’ve been so many departures. The accent's now tamed to the point where I just sound like I'm not from around here or from any of the places I've been. It keeps people guessing, “Somewhere in the South?” and I say close enough or make up an answer from a county in East Tennessee or Virginia . . . someplace that won’t really matter. The worst part is when I remember. I’ll try to pretend that I don't but there are the dreams and flashbacks, the grass baked brown as bread crust and the wind fresh from an oven, the long dry adolescence with Sundays that last till September and the slaves praying for freedom. It could've been Knoxville or Richmond— tradition crosses state lines— it was pride in the region that mattered . . . and knowing Jesus. 15

Resilience Priorities grew tall and tough as tobacco way over my head, so I had to get out just to see what dirt road I was on, what color and condition my uniform was in. I made the decision once and for all. I stopped dropping my r's, held a finger up to the wind to figure out my direction then stepped across the Blue Ridge. I lost some of the battles but I like to think that I’m winning the war and that once it’s all over the South won’t rise again. These days some can't even tell where I was shot or how many times I was wounded. The Old Dominion feels so far way even I can lose track of who made it out and the heroes who’ve fallen. But other exiled or disabled veterans who hold my hand and press their ear to my throat can still hear this rebel yell.

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A Walk Through the Neighborhood
Samuel Autman

Saturday mornings meant waking up to find Mama had placed our
Corn Flakes and Cheerios in plastic bowls. My sister Syrethia and I immediately grabbed them and turned on ABC's "Super Friends." I liked the cartoon because Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman and Aqua Man all worked together. Syrethia liked Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny. Once the cartoons went off at about noon, the neighborhood kids divided up by gender and hit the streets. The boys played Nerf football, the rhythm interrupted every fifteen minutes by cars passing through. We stopped and dispersed onto either side of the street briefly, then regrouped on the black tar street to pick up the game. The girls played Double Dutch jump rope, their orange and red jellybean plastic sandals bouncing rhythmically on the sidewalk. The cheerleading games they played required them to pat their hands, stomp their feet and scream in unison, making up cheers. "My name is Syrethia! Yeah. I am a Virgo! Yeah. I am super bad! With power! All here! Let's cheer!" In those days, the streets of St. Louis felt safe. The only danger at the time was not paying attention and getting hit by oncoming traffic. I was outside riding bikes with neighborhood kids Mikey, Junebug and Tony when we saw Steve, a kid who lived across the alley, resisting as his father, Big Steve, pull him out of their red brick house, down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. "So, you want to be a fucking girl? I'll make you a fucking girl," Big Steve thundered, a belt dangling from his fist. "No, daddy! I'm sorry. Please don't make me do this." Steve was about nine years old, effeminate and petite. He had

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wide cheeks and always seemed more concerned about his eyebrows and clothes than playing on the streets with us. His father, who had to be in his early 30s, was the ideal mustached, goateed muscular man who sat around sucking down Budweiser beer out of the can and watching the St. Louis Cardinals play on TV. During a break, he opened the bathroom door to find Steve, his only son, putting on lipstick. He exploded, making him put on a yellow turban,white high heeled women's shoes and a red dress. To accentuate his point, he smeared makeup and lipstick onto his face in an exaggerated way, making him look more likeclown than a girl. Hoping to drive this tendency out of Steve, he forced him to walk around one big St. Louis block for all of the kids to see him. "Cuz, if you want to be a fucking girl," Big Steve shouted, becoming more menacing with each step. "I'll make you a fucking girl!" "But daddy, I was just playing around," said Steve, tears, makeup and lipstick commingling. "Well, guess what! I ain't raising no goddamned sissies, so just shut up an walk." As boys who were nine, ten and eleven years old, we all thought this was the funniest thing we had seen. We clapped our hands and howled with laughter. Tears of humiliation streamed down his face. We kept jeering. But inwardly I was horrified at what I saw Steve's father doing to him. It made me wonder if this was the kind of treatment I would have had coming if my parents had stayed married. Steve and I had been friends when the other boys weren't around. We play-acted as Wonder Woman and the Bionic Woman early some Saturday mornings. He was far more creative and imaginative than the other kids. I knew if they saw me playing too much with Steve I could be pegged. By then I had an inkling that Steve and I were alike. I knew what the boys in the 63115 called him behind his back. "I always thought he was a punk," Junebug groused. "Yeah, I knew he was a sissy. Look at him," Tony said. Steve walked from his house, westward on Anderson, south on Marcus, east on Bessie, my street, and north back onto Cintra. Like a swarm following the summer ice cream truck, a cluster of kids began to

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