Sunday, February 21, 2010

review by Michel Fitos

Submitted by Michel on Thu, 02/18/2010 - 20:37

Kicked Out
by Sassafras Lowrey

There is no One True Way to raise children, particularly as a queer parent. A large percentage of the time, I feel like the parenting choices I make are a direct reaction to my childhood, an effort to keep my kids from having to live through the same heartbreaks and setbacks. As I creep ever-closer to middle age, the harsh reality of what it was like to live as a queer youth has more or less faded to the dull roar of "it sucked, but I lived through it." This past weekend, I sat down to read Kicked Out by Sassafras Lowrey and was reminded what a long road it was to get here, to this house, these kids, this family, these steadfast and loyal friends.

It's impossible for me to discuss queer youth without talking about the friends of my 20s. There were three in particular, all around the same age. From the moment we met, we knew that we had large things in common: our friends were few, our families didn't know what do with us, and our kids were all around the same age. Although our children lent us a thin veneer of heteronormativity, we were all as queer as the proverbial three dollar bill. We were an undeniably strange quartet. All of us were imprecisely Goth, rail-thin, and right up in your face. Other young mothers could smell our queerness a mile away; other young queers were allergic to our kids. They all circled the wagons at our approach. Whether by choice or by necessity, we kept to ourselves, we became family.

My friends nowadays, earnest people in their 30s, talk about waiting until they're ready to have children. Ready? When they're born, then you start to know what you need to be ready for. We were certainly not ready for children back then, not a single one of us. We just woke up one day, already parents.

I was lucky: I had a husband, a solidly middle class boy who was mostly done with college. We married two days before our daughter was born, just weeks after I turned 21. The relative certainty of financial solvency gave me unheard-of freedom: I was able to explore what kind of person I wanted to be. My friends had no such opportunity. Even with the meager cushion of welfare, their survival depended on their wits and cunning.

They all had their various ways of making ends meet: sex work of various sorts, telemarketing, and other variously soul-sucking occupations. It was exhausting, it was demoralizing, it was utterly unsustainable. It quickly became apparent to each of them in turn that there is always a man out there, somewhere, who will want what you have to offer. They learned that by giving up your identity, sometimes you can ensure your survival.

It's very easy to portray queer youth homelessness solely as a number, because the numbers are, quite frankly, shocking: 40% of the nation's homeless youth are LGBTQ. There are other horrifying numbers, too: this book will tell you sobering numbers like what percentage of gay teens experienced a negative reaction from their families when they came out, what percentage of queer youth attempt suicide, and many more, all carefully and thoroughly footnoted. There are bleak discussions of terminology: runaway vs. throwaway vs. thrownaway. It is full of facts and numbers, and those things are important, especially for people who might not be aware of the enormity and severity of the issue.

From the vantage point of our comfy couches, it's easy to read even such shocking numbers as the ones above and dismiss them as statistics. Often, it takes personal experience to make an issue seem real. If you haven't faced this sort of terrifying uncertainty yourself, it's nearly impossible to grasp. The real strength of Kicked Out is how, by telling survivors' stories in their own voices, the stories feel viscerally real. The contributions all feel very soul-baring and Truthful-with-a-capital-T, particularly the incredible photos by Samantha Box. One photo in particular captures two people embracing, one kissing the other's shoulder, that wordlessly speaks volumes.

In the introduction, editor Sassafras Lowrey writes about being kicked out at the age of seventeen:

I needed a book about how to live through this more than I needed to know I had somewhere to stay, to know I had a way to get to school or to know what I would have for dinner. I needed a book to prove to me that survival was possible.

And this is, very clearly, a book about survival. It isn't a particularly uplifting or cheery book, nor should it be. It's not grammatically flawless (as is unapologetically explained in the publisher's note). It is, quite simply, a very honest and starkly beautiful collection of stories from people who have Been There.

There are so many people that would benefit greatly from reading this book: parents of queer youth, providers and advocates, members of the LGBTQ community-at-large, and most importantly, youth who have been kicked out. I would recommend it, in fact, to anyone who knows, is, has been, or might ever be or know someone who has, in Sassafras' words, "lost their friends, families and homes because of whom they love or how they define their gender."

* Michel's blog

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