Last month, the American Library Association’s Over the Rainbow Committee published its list of the best LGBTQ books of 2010. Among the top nonfiction books, beating out even Edmund White and Augusten Burroughs, was Kicked Out, a book of essays by homeless and formerly homeless and/or runaway LGBTQ teens.
Edited by 26-year-old Sassafras Lowrey, Kicked Out includes a foreword by Matthew Shepard’s mother Judy Shepard, who calls for more direct services and compassionate support for LGBTQ youth, and an afterword by Karen Staller, PhD (Associate Professor, University of Michigan, School of Social Work), who says of Kicked Out:
I have been working with, and writing about, runaway and homeless youth for over twenty years, and never have I seen gathered in one place such a compelling chorus of voices from those who have experienced being "kicked out" of their homes.
Kicked Out is the fulfillment of the vision that Sassafras Lowrey sustained throughout her salad days as a gay street kid, when she dreamed of compiling a first-of-its-kind book of stories that would help ensure "that never again would a queer kid feel alone after losing family."
Kicked Out is a must-read for anyone concerned with making the world a better place for homeless and homed, LGBTQ and straight alike. But, first, take a deep breath. And know that you’ll have to take many more such breaths before, during and after each one of these unflinching portraits of outcast living. Better to let the stories pierce us to the heart than to shelf the book and turn away from a crisis that is all too pervasive and painful.
Among the hardest hitting essays are those by Tenzin, a transgendered (FTM) Buddhist monastic and one-time kicked-out street kid, who vividly recounts how every minute of his time on the streets of San Francisco and other cities was marked by either assault or the anticipation of assault. Often it was hard to tell which was worse for him and his gutter-compatriots: actual rape and murder from pimps, Nazi skinheads and other lowlifes or the pestilence brought on by survival prostitution and scavenging for food and places to sleep. "The psychic legacy of my time on the streets persists to this day," says Tenzin, "A sense of contamination and alien defectiveness...has made it difficult to relate to others lacking similar life experiences." Yet he counsels those enduring similar experiences to "remember that you have value and that anyone who judges you for being queer and homeless wouldn’t last a day in your situation."
"The streets steal stories," writes Sassafras in the introduction, "Crush the bodies of boys and girls with molars of jagged concrete." And yet, in the survival stories that comprise Kicked Out, the streets do not have the last word. Some of these formerly homeless LGBTQ teens have gone on to not only finish college but against all odds, earn doctorates in their chosen fields, which are invariably in the helping professions.
Let’s keep in mind, however, that these success stories are more the exception than the norm. Which is why Kicked Out also comes equipped with policy papers by Richard Hooks Wayman (Senior Youth Policy Analyst, National Alliance to End Homelessness) and Nick Ray (Executive Director, 1n10) that not only call for more and better resources for at-risk LGBTQ youth, but also a transformation of the structures that maintain the epidemics of homelessness, suicidality, mental illness and addiction in this marginalized population.
Finally, especially now that the American Library Association has taken notice, kicked-out queer kids can find the guidebook that Sassafras herself wished she’d had. With Kicked Out, Sassafras Lowrey has put together a gritty manifesto of hope that has been all too absent in the public discourse on youth and LGBTQ issues.