NOTE: Sylvia’s Place is an emergency night shelter and daytime community space for homeless LGBTQ youth, 16-24, in New York City. Every story this week will by someone from Sylvia’s Place. Read my previous “Sylvia’s Place Week” post for more information about the program and stories.
I close my eyes and I see yesterday as clear as I see the present. Streets like Crenshaw, Sunset or Hollywood Boulevard can seem larger than life. It can be said that Los Angeles, the location of these named streets, can be as well. But I grew up in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, yet still the hood and like Los Angeles, small when it comes to the people you know.
The Asian boy at the corner market that would sneak me a piece of candy now is the owner. The mailman is still old with the same mustache. The same Latin woman sweeps the sidewalk all the way up the block. And that one house that’s weird and everyone thinks the inhabitants are witches or some form of children-eating evil people, we later grow up and learn they were just weird pack rats, as my Grams would say.
But like a never-ending high school story, news travels fast in a small town in a big city. I was in the 7th grade when I noticed the difference between innocent fun and stereotypes that grow with us into our adult lives. As far as I could remember I’ve had a high voice and have always been playful and soft. But in my mind I was normal…until after summer vacation.
Graduation from 6th grade to 7th grade was also a graduation into identity. When I arrived for class that early morning, all my guy friends had voices like men, and the girls had stuff they didn’t have a couple months ago and I was still the same 4’11″, 90 pounds, long-haired boy with a high voice. It was how I learned what “fag” meant. You see, my family had been calling me that since before Kindergarten. And it took my people calling me that for me to see negative energy become hurtful and only those who know me understood that lesson. But I didn’t make any excuses or apologies, I just continued. I survived and so can you. That’s life in a small town in a big city.