Yesterday I had the amazing surprise opportunity to meet CeCe McDonald!! It was a tremendous honor to have the chance to meet her, and then something truly unexpected happened. Jac Gares the filmmaker who is working with Laverne Cox and CeCe McDonald on their upcoming documentary just so happens to be the filmmaker who I worked when when Kicked Out and I were featured on In The Life a couple of years ago – tiny tiny queer world!!!
As we were talking I couldn’t believe it but CeCe recognized who I was!!! While she was locked up, CeCe had been sent a copy of Kicked Out (huge thanks to the Kicked Out reader who sent it her way!) and she loved the book!!!! I was completely in shock – lets be real, I still am in shock. Kicked Out began as such a tiny dream, and I’m still completely blown away by the tremendous community mobilization and energy that has and continues to surround this anthology.
HOLY SHIT CECE MCDONALD READ AND LOVED KICKED OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This time of year I talk a lot about my own experiences with chosen family and reclaimed holiday magic, in so many ways this is my most favorite time of the year, but it’s also not always easy. I have never regretted my decision to runaway, to save myself, but I’ve also never forgotten that first thanksgiving when I had no family, when my beloved queer family hadn’t yet solidified into something I knew I could depend on. I know what it’s like to have nowhere to go, and what it’s like to be someone’s pity invite. Sitting with someone else’s family, trying not to take up too much space, and trying to disassociate into the gravy bowl. For me being a queer writer means capturing those hard moments with as much intensity as I write about the beautiful moments of us coming together and creating queer families. For me this is true in both my fiction and nonfiction writing and in my novel Roving Pack that meant I wanted to capture that feeling of chaos, rejection, abandonment, and anger that Click experiences when ze grapples with Thanksgiving:
From Roving Pack
“Date: November 28, 2002
I called Mrs. Snow back after all the crazy shit at the hotel. I had to apologize because when I hung up the phone I said I would be calling right back, and then of course I didn’t. She said it was ok and that since she had heard a bunch of yelling in the background she was just glad to hear I was ok. It was only a couple days ago that I called her, and when I filled her in a little bit on where I’ve been the last year or so, she asked if I had thanksgiving plans. I said no. She said I had to come to her house and have thanksgiving with her family. I didn’t really want to go, but I said ok after she told me I should bring Orbit.
I woke up late this morning, it was hard to sleep knowing this stupid holiday was going to be there in the morning. Billy was gone. He spent the night with Hope at her squat because they had agreed to try to see their parents together today. I didn’t even want to come over to Mrs. Snow’s place but I’d said I would, so I had to. I asked if I should bring anything and she said no so I didn’t have to do any cooking, just get myself cleaned up. I took a shower and re-shaved my mohawk. I thought about dying it again but I was out of green dye and of course everything was fucking closed today for the holiday. My work pants were mostly clean and I put on a black button down that I snagged for fifty cents at the thrift store a couple days ago.
Dinner was awkward. Orbit and I got there right as everyone was sitting down to eat. It was Mrs. Snow and her husband, their two little kids, and another grownup couple with their three kids. I sat at a table with all these parents and little kids and I realized that there was pretty much nothing about my life that was safe to talk about. I ate turkey. The kids couldn’t sit still for very long and kept running around the room trying to get Orbit to play with them. They asked a lot of questions about my hair, piercings and tattoos but then their parents would shush them. I wonder what Mrs. Snow told her friends about me. After dinner they were all going to wander around looking at Christmas lights.
Mrs. Snow’s youngest kid was cold and had to go to bed so I came back to the house with them. On the way back, Mrs. Snow said she’d run into my birth mom again and mentioned that I’d be coming for Thanksgiving. I know Mrs. Snow probably meant well but I was really angry that she’d say anything about me to my birth mom! She said my mom got really weird and told her to be careful because I was a drug addict. I was so mad. Orbit came and sat in my lap, and I tried to explain to Mrs. Snow what XXX means but she said she had to put the baby to bed. I saw a computer in the living room. I asked if I could check my email before I left and she said of course which is how I’m online right now. I’m getting out of here in a few minutes. I don’t know why I tried to get back in touch with her in the first place. I really hope that Billy’s around when I get back to the apartment.”
This is a complicated time of year for so many of us. I’m so blessed with my chosen queer family and the way our connection has turned the holidays from something that I dreaded into my most favorite time of year. That said, I would be lying if I said I didn’t cringe every time someone asks/assumes I’m going “home” for the holidays. This is probably my biggest pet peeve this time of year made more frustrating because it’s such a blanket assumption that seems to permeate every area of our society from television commercials and casual checkout line conversations, and even all to often our own LGBT community. One really easy way to be an ally is to strike that line from your conversations and replace it with a more open question like asking what someone’s plans are.
I know that this time of year is really hard for a lot of us. If you’re someone whose struggling with the holidays a lot right now.
You are not alone. Let me repeat that again. You are not alone. If you are in the states you know that tomorrow is a rough day for many of us. It’s a day when society tells us that we should feel ashamed of who we are because our family doesn’t look this iconic image of what family “should” be. Take care of yourself. If you’re struggling, I suggest staying away from television and radio (they will just be full of ads that will make you feel worse), go to a park, take yourself to a movie, take a bath, write a story, talk to a friend, or counselor, or hotline, eat cupcakes, draw pictures, workout. Essentially make time even if it’s just five or ten minutes to honor that this is a rough day and that you deserve to do something that makes you feel good about who you are. There are thousands of us for whom to varying degrees today is rough. Take care of yourself, and each other, and remember that you’re not alone.
Here’s the thing- if you are lonely or struggling with family rejection this thanksgiving weekend I’m not going to try to minimize how you’re feeling, but what I can tell you is that you’re not alone. To help you feel less alone, email me at KickedOutAnthology AT gmail.com and I will send you a ebook copy of Kicked Out. The whole point of that anthology was to build community, to foster kicked out families. This time of year can be hard, and sometimes reading the stories of other folks who have had similar experiences.
For the past couple of months I’ve been writing a weekly column over at Dogster. The content of the column is mostly little stories about life with my dogs interspersed with training advice . This past week though I focused on my oldest dog Mercury and our experience of coming together shortly after I had been kicked out, and the past 11 years that we’ve spent together (his birthday was last week). The piece has been successful, and much to my surprise late last night I saw that it has been pickedup and reposted by Huffington Post!
This week has been pretty exciting on the policy front for LGBTQ homeless youth. Re. Gwen Moore (D-Wis) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis)- who is one of six openly gay members of the US House, have have introduced a beill into the House to support LGBTQ homeless youth! The bill hopes to amend the Reconnecting Homeless Youth Act known as the Runaway & Homeless Youth Act. The Act is up for reauthorization this year and these two representatives want to make it LGBTQ inclusive.
If the act passes with the inclusive amendments, it will require that any homeless shelters that receive federal funds will not be able to discriminate against LGBT youth! The bill will also mandate that the Family & Youth Service Bureau at the Department of Health & Human Services would compile comprehensive data on the pervasiveness of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
It’s been quite a weekend! As I reminded folks on Facebook and Twitter this weekend, for many queers, Mother’s Day is filled with lots of pain and longing and anger and fear and just about any other emotion far from happiness you can come up with. It’s a tricky time for many queer folks and each year to varying degrees I consider myself among them. This year, much to my own surprise was for whatever reason, one of the harder years. I spent a lot of the day practicing self care and staying far away from the onslaught of messaging about the wonder and beauty and love of mothers hat not only has been permitting the mass media but even my really really queer Facebook feed. Early in the morning I ended up posting “Stopped looking @ FB this morning because it’s all Mother’s Day. if today is a good day for you, then I’m happy for that. But please, remember that for MUCH of your Queer community, today is not something to celebrate. #KickedOut #FamlyViolence” For me creating distance from everyone celebrating was a really great form of self care, and enabled me to move on with my day doing other things, things that made me feel good about myself, my life, and the family that I’ve built. Its “holidays” like this, the ones that unlike Christmas and Easter and Halloween etc. (which y’all know I’m bananas about) I haven’t reclaimed and made part of my family, are the trickiest ones for me to personally navigate, but they also make me think most of Kicked Out. The contributors to Kicked Out remain some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with, and I’ll never be anything less than shocked and impressed by the work that all the contributes did to create space within our communities to talk, for the first time in a book about what it meant to not have family- to have been kicked out, thrown out, or ran away.
here we were!
The highlight of my weekend was having the chance to speak at the Oregon Queer Youth Summit! I wrote a little about the event when I first was invited, specifically about what queer youth organizing in Oregon had meant to me, how I’d been involved in planning the very first OQYS, and what a tremendous honor it was to have been asked to return now ten years later and deliver the keynote!!! There were over 200 youth registered to attend this year, and even via SKYPE (we all live in the future! How cool is that?!) I could feel what a warm, excited, and enthusiastic group of youth I was getting the chance to meet!
My keynote address was a spinoff of the speech I give called “Nobody loves you. Now What?” which while a bit about the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness, is more than anything about building chosen queer families, and the importance of telling your story, whatever story that is. Supporting the creation of chosen family, is a topic that is central to not only my own life, but also all the work and one of the constant themes that runs through my three books, as well as the future books that I’ve started working on. It was such a tremendous honor to have the chance to go back to Oregon and SMYRC, the places where I first learned to build family, and talk about these themes with the youth of today!
After I spoke we did a Q&A and the youth asked lots of really awesome questions which was exciting, they wanted to know everything from what my chest tattoo says and means — which brought on a story about Portland, and SMYRC and the work we did with Kate Bornstein through “The Language of Paradox” performance/writing group which changed my entire outlook on art, creativity and my place within those worlds (a whole different blog post I probably should write sometime soon : ) ) to how long Kestryl and I have been together (9 years), how to stop LGBTQ youth homelessness, and one of my favorites – am I excited about coming back to SMYRC to be part of the book/writing group? The answer obviously being OMG YES!!!! SMYRC is in the process of purchasing a bulk order of Roving Pack which the youth involved in the book club are going to be reading, discussing, and then I’ll be using SKYPE to visit with them and have a conversation about the novel! I think that’s going to be happening sometime this summer and will definitely be blogging about the experience!
I’m incredibly grateful to Cascade AIDS Project, SMYRC, The Q Center and all the volunteers in Portland that made OQYS posible this year, and who brought the technology together to enable me to participate!
One of the first things that stands out to people about Kicked Out are the hauntingly gorgeous photographs by Samantha Box that are scattered through the anthology. Sam is based in NYC and has continued to photograph LGBTQ homeless youth building a body of work she calls the “Invisible Project.” I am thrilled to announce that she and I in partnership with BGSQD (a new popup queer bookstore) will be joining forces for an event this month!
Sam’s work is up in a gallery show at the bookstore this month, and on February 17th I’ll be there talking about Kicked Out and doing a reading from my new novel Roving Pack which is about homeless queer youth. I’m so thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with Sam, and to help highlight her incredible photography. This event is also a particularly exciting opportunity for me to be able to combine my work with Kicked Out and Roving Pack , to in some ways put them in conversation with eachother, and most importantly utilize them to continue dialogue and awareness raising within queer community about the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness!
I’m sick on my couch with a fever trying to beat this nasty bug that has laid me flat for most of the weekend. I debated if I would write this blog post at all, but I can’t allow myself to let today pass without mentioning what it means to me, especially as outside a cold cold pacific northwest kind of rain is falling. I think most of us kicked out folks, most of us who have runaway, been thrown away, or escaped in someway have a date that sticks in our mind, one that we watch creep closer on the calendar each year. For me it’s February 11th. There are other days, one in September when I left my birth mother’s home, but that one tends to impact me less.
On Monday February 11th 2002 my entire world changed. My dog trainer who was my first attempt at building my own family, and who I had been living with for six months since leaving my birth mother’s home called me at school and told me never to come back to her home. She had read my carefully hidden journal and discovered that I was queer. I never had a chance to explain myself, though really I don’t think there was anything I could have said. She gave me 72 hour to rehome my dogs, I was homeless, no job, no car, 17 years old.
I had no options. Within 24 hours I went from Sunday at an agility trial – the last time I would compete, to Monday where I was
homeless and worst of all dog less. I have a few pictures from those years and amongst the few bits of my past that moved from a leaking storage barn and then with me from punk house to punk house was a VHS tape of some recorded runs – mostly from very early competitions. A couple years ago a dear friend who’s also a filmmaker offered to try to digitize the VHS- and it worked (I’d been afraid it was too damaged to save). Here is a short clip from some early novice runs of Snickers and I – this is the first time I’ve ever publicly shown any of this footage:
“Did you know that a pack will fight to the death to protect one of its own? They will forgo escape routes to stay behind. They do not leave, no matter the pain. The ultimate trust. They will never give up until their bodies fail. Perhaps I was human after all. I’d saved myself, but failed my pack….” – Kicked Out
I have a strange relationship to February 11th. It’s both the day that the rural dog agility trainer girl that I was died, and the day that the queer activist was born. Within days I would find my mission to work in queer communities that I hadn’t even known existed. This year, as every year on this day I take stock of how far I’ve come what I have made of myself and what I hope to accomplish in the year to come. This year has brought the release of Roving Pack which in so many feels like the ideal follow-up to my first book Kicked Out and the perfect book to release as my first solo title, there is of course too the release of Leather Ever After. This year brought touring Roving Pack through Europe-something sitting alone and broken a decade ago I never could have imagined would be something I would have accomplished.
This year has also brought with it some special full circle kinds of growth. In the last few months I have “come out” about the work that I am doing with dogs, owning again that working with them is one of my oldest passions, and that I’m ready to take it back after having it ripped from me a decade ago. Charlotte has been a HUGE inspiration, and I’ve written before how I believe that Snickers brought her into my life for this very purpose, and now as always I’m determined to do that little guy right, to make him proud.
Since the beginning of the year I have been assisting with a local dog agility class, taught by the kind of world-class trainer my agility obsessed teenage self could never have imagined I would ever have the opportunity to meet, let alone work with. I’m beyond thrilled that I had this kind of opportunity come into my life, and am excited to continue this path. Since adopting Charlotte a year and a half ago I’ve been upping my training game, getting really into teaching her tricks, completing Trick Dog Titles and owning to myself, friends, and chosen family that long term I’m interested in training. I’ve also in the past few months taken the first steps to bring that old dream to life. As mentioned above I’m assisting with local classes and I’m also working to complete my Trick Dog Instructor certification. I’m not sure where this path will lead me, but it feels good to be putting effort and energy in the direction and to be recapturing stolen dreams.
A few months after I lost my dogs I tattooed a paw print for each of them onto my right bicep. A few months after that on the back of my left calf I had inked into me an elite level course map surrounded by the words “I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance” a Garth Brooks quote that has taken 11 years to feel completely true. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t still hard, but I also have made peace with the loss. There were years where thinking of training was simply too painful, and as much as I hate to admit it there are some wounds that for me time has been able to if not heal then solidly scar over.
February 11th is a day that I doubt will ever pass without my noticing. It’s a day where I am perhaps a bit more tender, where I am more gentle with myself, where I hold my dogs a little tighter, tell each member of my chosen family that I love them one extra time. It is because of dogs that I learned how to build chosen families in the first place, and a more than a decade later what I know most of all is that I am not alone. It’s been 11 years since I ran at my last trial, 11 years since I lost my boys, 11 years since I sat more alone than I had ever been in the dark on a strange couch too afraid to sleep not knowing if I could survive the night, or the day that would follow without them. 11 years since I promised myself, promised them that if we couldn’t be together that I would tell our story, that I would survive, that I would do whatever I could to do work in the world that would make it right so that others wouldn’t be separated the way we had been. I’m my own biggest critic, but even I believe that I’ve done those dogs proud, that I’m doing right by their memories
Kicked Out will always be my first baby – it’s the book that I cut my teeth on, it will always be the first book that I pushed out into the world. Beyond that it became something so much bigger than me, truly a community project. I wake up everyday and am so grateful that I had the opportunity to help bring this book to life.
This is one of my favorite times of year – royalties time. One of the things that I remain the most proud of about Kicked Out is the way that I was able to work with the books publisher to ensure that all the contributors receive a share of the royalties. The reality is that books don’t make anyone a lot of money, but it’s never been about financial return for me, or any of the contributors. My excitement about the Kicked Out contributors being paid isn’t because I think the small checks are making a dramatic difference in their financial security, but because it’s a symbol of their ownership of this project.
The power of Kicked Out has nothing to do with the awards and honors it has received. Kicked Out is a book that readers have written me letters saying they carried with them as they ran away from abusive parents, it is a book that has helped formerly homeless youth who have hidden their past feel seen for the first time, and it has begun a now international community dialogue about the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness.
This year royalty time also brings an unrelated and exciting announcement. Kicked Out is now available for purchase in Amazon Kindle edition! I am thrilled because although I’m a dinosaur and prefer my books in print form, I know that for many kindle is the most accessible (for many reasons) way to read a book. My hope is that Kicked Out being available in this new format will ensure it gets into even more hands who can learn, grow, or be healed through its pages! Please load Kicked Out on your kindle and then help spread the word about the new format, and about the anthology itself. If you’ve read Kicked Out please consider leaving a review on amazon or good reads – support from readers makes a HUGE difference to small press titles like Kicked Out and help us to get it into the hands of more readers.
I want to put a special message for the current and former homeless LGBTQ youth reading this and struggling today, it’s the same message I’ve sent out before on holidays that are all about “family”
You are not alone. Let me repeat that again. You are not alone. If you are in the states you know that today is a rough day for many of us. It’s a day when society tells us that we should feel ashamed of who we are because our family doesn’t look this iconic image of what family “should” be. Take care of yourself. If you’re struggling, I suggest staying away from television and radio (they will just be full of ads that will make you feel worse), go to a park, take yourself to a movie, take a bath, write a story, talk to a friend, or counselor, or hotline, eat cupcakes, draw pictures, workout. Essentially make time even if it’s just five or ten minutes to honor that this is a rough day and that you deserve to do something that makes you feel good about who you are. There are thousands of us for whom to varying degrees today is rough. Take care of yourself, and eachother, reclaim the holiday with chosen family if you can, and remember that you’re not alone.
I made this video a few years ago and feel the need to repost every year. All the current and former homeless queer youth I know (myself included) get pretty sick of EVERYONE – person at the grocery store, neighbors, co-workers and even other queer folks who should know better asking this question…