We believe in the power of storytelling and the importance of investing in the future by sharing those stories – whether they are stories of successful community ventures or lessons learned from stories of things you wish happened just a little bit differently. These are the stories of communities working together for the common good. This article is part of “We Are Here: Housing Insecurity in Cincinnati,” a series produced by Women of Cincy and originally published at womenofcincy.org/housing.
Interview by Courtney Reynolds. Photography by Angie Lipscomb. |
It’s a Saturday morning at Coffee Emporium in Hyde Park, a sea of ordinary where neither of us would typically be. As I set up for our interview, I glance up, expecting Stevie, the insecure, 19-year-old sophomore I met at the U.C. L.G.B.T.Q. Center; the Stevie I’d insisted celebrate holidays with us and crash on my couch anytime they wanted to.
While the mother in me still wants to give them baked goods and a hug, the 22-year-old Stevie who walks through the door this Saturday morning is confident, striding toward me with a smile.
Some studies find that as many as 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ. With just 7 percent of the youth population identifying as L.G.B.T.Q., the 40 percent statistic is heartbreaking, to say the least.
“I left [home] the summer after my freshman year,” Stevie begins. “Prior to that, I was living in the dorms and had financial support from my parents. I felt like things were all right.” It took a year at college for Stevie to realize their relationship with their parents wasn’t okay. “It wasn’t just the rules, but the verbal and emotional abuse I was receiving from them, and I felt really drained, like there was no way out, which is how I felt in high school.”
Stevie came out to their family as queer in their junior year of high school, narrowly broaching the subject of being transgender. “I remember having the conversations with them about maybe being trans*, but they weren’t believing me.” Their parents reacted aggressively at the possibility of Stevie being transgender, going so far as stealing Stevie’s binder, cutting it up, and throwing it away, all while continuing to use Stevie’s dead name. “During freshman winter break, after asking them once to use ‘Stevie,’ I just kind of stopped asking. I didn’t know how to stick up for myself.”
The summer after their freshman year while living at home, Stevie knew they needed to get away from such a toxic situation. With help from their partner, Ashton, and good friend J., they slowly moved Stevie’s things out of their parents’ home and into J.’s apartment where they all stayed. The move was a covert effort, avoiding their family’s attention.
Once they were out of the house, Ashton and J. supported Stevie so they could get back on their feet and attend school fall semester of their sophomore year. Ashton and Stevie found a cheap, albeit tiny, studio in Clifton via a friend. All the while, Ashton supported Stevie going to school full-time their sophomore and junior years while he worked at U.C. as a janitor. Stevie reiterates throughout our interview how they do not know where they would be without Ashton.
Attending U.C. is what helped Stevie realize there was a different life for them, full of support and acceptance. “I know I was spending a lot of time at the U.C. L.G.B.T.Q. Center, working with Tristan Vaught [the interim director at the time], helping me process this.” Stevie learned how to apply for different grants and financial aid while confiding in a supportive elder. Stevie also regularly attended a local support group for transgender folks, finding people in similar situations.
“I remember being in this weird limbo state for a very long time, having no family to talk to and no other adults. Sometimes I still feel like I am still recovering from that.” After leaving freshman year, Stevie was cut off not just financially from their parents, but essentially banned altogether. Stevie shares that upon returning once during their college sophomore year to collect a jacket, their brother wouldn’t even let them into the house per the parents’ request. “The most painful part about this time period was not having an adult to really look up to or take me in as a stand-in or adoptive parent. I’m still searching to find the safest person to talk to [in my family], but that was also when I realized I needed to network in my community to survive.”
Ashton continues to thread throughout Stevie’s story, the one supportive constant through the rejection of Stevie’s family and home community. “I don’t know what I would have done without Ashton through this,” Stevie shares. “The fall semester of my junior year, we actually got married” – not sharing the news with their parents, of course. Stevie admits they had it “pretty good before this,” growing up with their family in Mason and never struggling. “It’s different when you are actually in that situation; like, I get it now.”
Ashton and Stevie now live in their own apartment on the West Side, enjoying the motley crew of neighbors who accept them the way they are as they walk their dog and cook together. Family doesn’t have to be a shared bloodline. It can simply be those who offer support. “I’m in a much better place now than before I left, but it was so hard to know I was doing the right thing.” Their advice to other folks in toxic situations or experiencing homelessness is to reach out to the community first, learn to ask for help, and know people you can fall back on. “Find your community and know they are there for you.”