Trapped in the bathroom with a frantic, passionately crying tall teenage blonde girl holding the door to imprison me. Not sure what to do, wide eyed over the very new drama of it all, I just sat there, feeling helpless. Screaming at the injustice of life, she paced back and forth in front of the door as I tried to come up with a plan to escape back to the side of my aunt who was outside the door probably wondering what happened to me. It was 1979, and we were at Under 21/Covenant House on 42nd street and 8th avenue. We had run away from home together, and after an eventful two weeks on the street in Greenpoint Brooklyn ended up here, surrounded by battered teenagers of all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientations. We all had one thing in common. Pain. Lots of pain.
I didn’t know it then but I was to hear many stories over the next seven years. Tales of neglect, molestation, rape, physical abuse. Such sadness and despair. I always listened, held space for and was open for free hugs always. From group and foster homes to runaway shelters, family court houses, a hospital program, to the handball courts and pools across Manhattan and the Bronx. I met so many beautifully hearted young people with stories equal too and much worse than my own.
The Phoenix was on 18th street and 8th Avenue. It was a drag queen performance night club. My best friend Traci was the girlfriend of one the guys who hung out with the gay clientele who frequented the Phoenix. It was kind of confusing to be honest. We hung out with the guys who were ‘not’ gay but hung out in a gay club and we often went with one of the wealthy customers, sleeping over their houses, getting cleaned up and fed. I met many gay, bisexual, transgendered etc… none of the labels ever mattered to me. Who gave a shit? We were all hurting. We were family, those ‘things’ didn’t matter to us.
Hanging in the all-night donut shop on the corner of 18th and 8th, across from the Phoenix, at around 3am in the morning, playing tempest (what do you know about tempest?) I met a young man who needed an ear. He told me how he was molested, and how his father beat him upon learning he was gay. He shared with me that he would have chosen any life but this one. That he hated himself. My heart was there with him, holding space while he told his story.
I have been privy and witness to so many similar tales, from the transgendered booster who got us food when we cohabited in an abandoned house in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (S)He showed me how (s)he tucked his penis to feel more feminine. He also fed me while I was starving. He could walk into the supermarket with a trench coat and come out with food for us. Then there was the drag queen/prostitute that taught me how to apply eyeshadow. She/he was GORGEOUS, I still use that look when I want to look my best. They thought of me as a little sister, never asked me for ANYTHING, just gave of themselves, teaching and protecting me.
I stand. I stand for my gay uncle who died of AIDs. I stand for the LGBTQ community. I don’t give a shit what the world calls you, by what label makes them feel comfortable. You have been some of the most generous loving people I have EVER had the PRIVLEDGE of meeting and I am so grateful for your existence! I am proud to have been your witness and to hold your stories close to my heart. They have enriched my life. Who would choose a life full of confusion, recriminations, and stigma? Why?
We all equally deserve love. All of us, even on the dark days when we make asinine choices. We are all worthy. I stand for all of us.