In the past couple of years I’ve been lucky enough to experience many aspects of my life coming full circle. Call it Saturn return, or fate, or luck, or plain ol’ coincidence but it’s been really profound to have connections and experiences that circle back to my past. Writing and then releasing both Kicked Out and more recently and in some ways especially Roving Pack played huge roles in having the opportunity to witness things coming full circle in my life. I have just accepted the invitation to deliver the Keynote at the 2013 Oregon Queer Youth Summit, which is organized by SMYRC – the youth center where I grew up.
When I was 17, newly out, and newly homeless I heard about SMYRC for the first time. I was the acting president of my semi-rural high school’s first GSA and I was desperate for any kind of queer community. I had been attending meetings of COSMYC, which was the rural outreach program that came into my county to create a safe-ish place for us to meet. Mostly we met in downtown Milwaukie by the bus depot. We’d sit in a coffee shop and talk, work on zines, there was one time that a group of skinheads chased us away, but on the whole we were pretty safe. The small handful of other youth who went to these meetings were TERRIFIED of ever coming out in our county, I didn’t blame them – I was the living example of what happens when you did. I felt even more alone, even more stuck and hopeless in that county and I had to get out. I knew that there must be out queer people in Portland (I had no idea how right I was about to be). I’d been staying with a friend from school and his supportive parents since being kicked out the last time, but I couldn’t stand being in Clackamas anymore.
I looked at ad listings for rooms in the newspaper and started calling anything and asking if they would rent to a minor, who had a retraining order against their parents. I figured I better put it all right on the table. Finally I found a hippy couple with gay upstairs neighbors willing to rent the basement room to me. It didn’t have a door, just a steep unfinished stairwell, and tiny windows right at ground level. It was a horrible little room, but they didn’t care I was 17, and it was walking distance to SMYRC. SMYRC- the sexual minority youth recreation center, which funded COSMYC but where I’d never been for drop-in programming, but I knew from everything I’d been told was the only place that might find others folks a little bit like me. I had no way have knowing I would find what would become my first loving and accepting home.
SMYRC literally raised me, and saved me up. I’m where I am today because of the connections and relationships I made at SMYRC, and because of the skills I developed there as a member of the youth steering committee, and as a bridge 13 community trainer. SMYRC is where I learned how to be a community organizer and an activist, not in any classroom. SMYRC is where I gained the confidence to call myself a writer and created the space for me to seriously begin the journey to where I am today. Whenever I meet people who start talking about the great friendships/relationships/experiences they had in high school or college, I think of SMYRC. While I had those educational experiences, neither of them defined me in the way that SMYRC did, and still does. It was the first place where I met other homeless youth, and together we built families that exist to this day. SMYRC was not your average youth center, it is where I learned about BDSM/Leather and learned about the kind of relationship dynamics that were possible.
In 2003 I was part of the organizing of the very first Oregon Queer Youth Summit. I’d been living on my own for over a year and felt solid as a youth organizer and leader in that space. I remember that I co-led a zine making workshop for other youth, and remembering how alone and isolated I’d felt out in Clackamas County, was thrilled at the idea the summit could be bringing youth together from across Oregon. This photo was actually taken in that workshop at the very first OQYS.
SMYRC has changed a lot over the years, they’ve physically moved twice and all the staff that were there have moved on (to other incredible projects- I feel so blessed to call most of them friends now). I haven’t done a lot with SMYRC, and had no idea that anyone there would have any clue who I was, or that I’d ever been a SMYRCer. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago I got an email from current staff inviting me to deliver the KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT THE 2013 OREGON QUEER YOUTH SUMMIT! There were travel and scheduling issues, but thanks to the magic of the internet and SKYPE technology I was able to accept the invitation and will be digitally delivering the keynote, and doing a Q&A with the youth in attendance.
Writing has given me so many opportunities that as a SMYRC youth I never imagined were possible – I’ve toured the country, won awards, toured Europe and had the chance everywhere I’ve been to connect with queers of all ages and yet I cannot even begin to explain how excited I am to be going back home, and to be invited to deliver the keynote, for a conference that in a small part I helped to start.
Equally exciting – and incredibly nerve wracking I’ve learned that the SMYRC writing group is going to be having a book club, and they are READING ROVING PACK!!!!! I’ve been in touch with one of the youth organizers and it sounds like folks are all really excited to read the novel. I’m going to be using SKYPE to visit with them, answer questions, and be part of their conversation when they finish reading!!! Roving Pack is fiction, but in many ways it is inspired by experiences that I had growing up at a punk and youth led queer youth center, the experiences that I had at the SMYRC that I came out into. I’m nervous and cannot wait to visit with the first book group (that I know of) to be reading Roving Pack, and to have it be a youth group at SMYRC? Wow. I don’t even know how to put into words how amazing this is— cannot wait to hear what they think of it.