We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) 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 LGBTQ youth population.
Below is the story of Riley, whose portrait is featured in the book We Are the Youth.
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By Riley, as told to Diana Scholl
There's a quote that I like: "Life serves the risk taker." Last year my brother and I train-hopped in Florida. It was dangerous and illegal, and we were both in it together. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. My mom was terrified, but I've been living on my own since I was 16, so she felt more confident in me than in my brother.
I left home when I was 16 because I had a really tumultuous relationship with my dad. He was always physically and verbally abusive. I did get the brunt of it, and I'm not sure why. I went to a friend's house and was house-hopping until I was 18. School was a big source of solace for me. My senior year Advanced Placement English teacher really liked me and knew about my family situation. She helped me apply to college at Hollins in Roanoke, Virginia. I was awarded one of their higher scholarships, and I got emergency financial aid for anything that wasn't covered.
But I was very dependent on if my financial aid went through. After a year and a half, I was like, "Fuck this. Why am I spending $40,000 for an education?"
I left university to move to New York with my then-girlfriend, who also hated college. We'd spend our days looking around for food. We'd spend the evenings looking for a place to sleep. It wasn't too difficult for me because I knew how to get food, and I can sleep pretty much in any situation or surface. It was rough for her since she was never exposed to living outdoors before. I accepted it as a necessary part of my life.
We were only in New York for a month or so. Then we stayed in Pennsylvania with her mom. After a little bit, her mom kicked us out, mainly because we were two female-bodied people who were together, even though I didn't really identify as a female, and still don't regard gender as anything. I was always very removed from the female and male genders. People ask me if I'm trans, and I just say, "'Trans' as in 'transcending gender.'" Or they ask me, "Are you a boy or girl?'" I say, "Both!" or sometimes, "Neither!" and laugh. Recently a little kid came up to me and said, "You look like a boy but sound like a girl," and I asked, "How do boys look, and how do girls sound?" because really, I don't know the answer to those questions. I don't think any sort of answer truly exists. The kid couldn't give me one, either.
After her mom kicked us out, my girlfriend went to school in Philadelphia. I went, and I tried to stay in a homeless shelter and hated it. It was really difficult with my gender -- or lack thereof -- expression. The shelter wasn't individualized for different gender expressions. And in order to apply for a job, you had to go to these job classes, and I already knew how to do those skills. They wouldn't see me at the place I was at. I was like, "This is dumb." I wanted to go back on the streets.
Now I'm living at my current girlfriend's house in Philadelphia. I planned to just come to Philadelphia to get my passport and train-hop to L.A., but I derailed my plan. I really enjoy it here. Philadelphia has amazing resources, so I'm getting therapy for free and yoga for free. It's part of being able to continue to develop myself.
Since the second time I ate acid, I have been becoming the person I've always wanted to be, which is super-positive and meaningful. It was a terrible, bad trip, but was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought up profound feelings of peace and meditation and consciousness.
Photo by Laurel Golio, taken in Philadelphia, 2013