We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth in the United States. Through photographic portraits and "as told to" interviews in the participants' own voices, We Are the Youth captures the incredible diversity and uniqueness among the LGBT youth population. We Are the Youth addresses the lack of visibility of LGBT young people by providing a space to share stories in an honest and respectful way. Below is the story of Hot Sause, age 17, from Nyack, New York.
Portraits of Hot Sause and other We Are the Youth participants are currently on display at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York until May 12. To celebrate this exhibit, we'll be sharing all their profiles on The Huffington Post.
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By Hot Sause, as told to Diana Scholl
I got my nickname when me and my friends were taking hot sauce shots one day. It became some craze, and now everyone calls me that. I spell it "Hot Sause" since my name is Keana, but it's not spelled like other names. People can still refer to me as Keana. But I feel like the name puts me into a box. I like that my nickname is gender-neutral.
I feel like I'm not really a boy or a girl. I don't think people understand that. I'm performing in Guys and Dolls in my high school musical. I'm playing the character of Big Jule, which is supposed to be a guy. But since I'm playing it, they changed it into a girl's part, and changed the pronouns from "he" to "she." I wish they had just kept it a guy's part, though. I don't know why.
But it's the director's decision. I love being in the show. I love practicing and acting. I'm very musical. I've been writing music since I was in the third grade. I started rapping recently, and I'm actually performing at my school this Sunday. It's a song I wrote called "Breathe." It's a rap inspired by all the things I've heard on the news about kids getting bullied and facing violence. One of my verses, I say, "Stop the violence." It's really a radical poem.
I love music, and I love helping people. I think I want to be a music therapist. It goes hand-in-hand. I want to bring joy into the lives of people who feel like they're forgotten.
At Common Threads, I just grabbed the mic at the dance and started DJing. It was my first year going, and I was nervous when I got there. But I felt so comfortable. Everyone in the whole place hugged me, and I felt that love. At the end I cried, because I couldn't stay there. If it was a town, I'd want to live there. I had to leave all those good people who care about me and go into a world where people are not as nice.
I have friends at school, but not anyone I can relate to. Most of my friends at school are straight. They'll talk to me about my issues, but they won't get into detail. We don't really talk about who I like. Maybe they don't feel comfortable asking me about it.
I go to Rockland County Day School. I'm not sure if there's any queer-identified people besides me. That's what a gay-straight alliance should be for. It kind of upsets me that they don't have one. They should have a queer safe and friendly place. I'd love to talk to other people like me, and maybe they could introduce me to people. It's kind of hard for me to date. I'm kind of shy when it comes to talking to other girls. There's not a lot of people I can talk and relate to. I can't just walk up to a girl and know what her preference is.
I was in a relationship that was unhealthy. I met her online, and it's not really good to do that. We were going back and forth and back and forth. She was confused about her feelings for me. She didn't like the way I was referring to myself. She hated when I referred to myself as "he" sometimes. She didn't really understand that. But I stayed with her, on and off for five months, because I had feelings for her.
That relationship took a lot out of me, emotionally. Maybe if someone comes along, it would be cool. But now I'm just focusing on school and performing and acting. And just trying to get out of high school.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Stony Point, New York, 2011.