I moved to New York 6 months ago, in July from Ohio, but moving isn’t really the right word. I fled to New York to escape from persecution from the religious fundamentalists that considered my transgendered identity a transgression against God.
The town that I grew up in was very small, 3000 people in total, and religion permeate every facet of life. A Christian college was directly across the street from my school and the flavor of Christianity that the town ascribed to was strict Puranical Baptism. Several of my friends were not allowed to dance at prom for religious reasons, our sex education was abstinence only, and doubt or questions about the veracity of Christianity were viewed as blasphemy. So, as you can imagine, in this atmosphere, anything that deviated from the Herto-normative worldview was condemned. The preacher at the most popular church in my town regularly maintained that gays were going to hell, and I never met anyone that identified as homosexual until I was 17.
To make this atmosphere worse, my parents were emotionally abusive, thought the nature of the abuse makes it hard to describe. My mother regularly used religion as a weapon, threatening me with hell whenever I trespassed her rules or regulation, and occasional for no reason I could discern. I grew up never knowing what abusive situation I was going to face when I woke up, and knowing that culture that I lived in not only approved everything my parents did, but in fact encouraged it. When I did go to someone for help, a counselor at my school, nothing was done, although my parents were informed of my complaint, which made the situation worse.
As I got older, I was able to see what my parents were doing as abuse, though it was difficult considering their constant reassurances that I was spoiled and had no reason to feel sorry for myself. I started thinking for myself. Unfortunately, a series of events occurred that pulled my supposed hertosexuality into doubt. This triggered a series of interrogations by my mother, during which I had to assure her that I was straight or face conversion therapy. I was 17 at the time. My mother took to regularly invading my room to force me to read the bible for 4 or 5 hours at a time. She searched my room and watched my every move for signs of “gayness”.
Another series of events led to me accepting my trans-identity, which I had been aware of for many years, but had known that there was nothing I could do about it considering my family and the culture that I lived in. I wanted to be able to live as a man, to be truly comfortable in my body and life, and this was never going to be ok where I lived. While my mother was planning which local college I was going to go to (so I could live at home, where she could keep an eye on me, of course), I was planning my escape. I graduated, and at 18 with diploma in hand, I left on a grey hound bus to New York.
When I arrived, I slept on the floor of a church for 3 weeks. While I was finding out what life was like in New York when you’re homeless and transgender, my parents were attempting to have me arrested, making death threats to my friends, and hiring a private investigator to track me down. 3 and a half weeks after I came to New York, I moved into the Ali Forney’s Emergency Housing Program and tried to move on with my life. I’ve obtained employment and stable, supportive housing as well as medical services. I am also pursuing my transition. It hasn’t been easy. I don’t have a support system other than that which is provide by social workers. I don’t have a family, not that I had much of one to begin with, and that has been one of the most devastating things about taking this path, thought it was the only option I had if I every wanted to be myself.
The faith community has an enormous responsibility in the matter of homeless LGBT youth, as often times it is a faith community that causes homeless LGBT youth. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard similar stories to mine, teens and young adults that were kicked out or fled from religious homes and had no where to go. A family is supposed to support its children, and give them a safe place to grow up to be themselves. But that doesn’t always happen, and when it doesn’t there needs to be a place for us to go.