Today we have Sassafras Lowrey, the editor of an anthology that touched me so deeply, Kicked Out. Sassafras is a wonderful and brave person, as well as an advocate for LGBTQ youth.
“In the U.S., 40% of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ). Kicked Out published by Homofactus Press brings together the voices of current and former homeless LGBTQ youth and tells these forgotten stories of some of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Diverse contributors share stories of survival and abuse with poignant accounts of the sanctuary of community and the power of creating chosen families. Kicked Out highlights the nuanced perspectives of national organizations such as The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and The National Alliance Against Homelessness and regional agencies, including Sylvia’s Place, The Circus Project and Family Builders. This anthology introduced by Judy Shepard, gives voice to the voiceless and challenges the stereotypical face of homelessness. “
B: Can you briefly summarize your experience as an LGBTQ homeless teen?
S: I think the best quick summary for my experience of homelessness is in the first paragraph of my story in Kicked Out:
"If I were going to tell my story to you simply, it would go like this: when I was seventeen, I left my mother's house. She drank too much. My stepfather raped me. My mother beat me up. The police weren't much help. I moved in with friends. They kicked me out because I was gay. I lost everything Important to me."
B: When I read Kicked Out, I saw that the central theme was that LGBT teens are constantly outed--some cases worse than others--yet LGBT teens are the ones that have the most drive to pull through it. They're the ones who seem to turn around this negative energy into something positive. I mean, look at you. You took your experiences and, instead of moping, you set out to make sure that teens in your former position never felt worthless or alone. How important did you think it was to include this theme in Kicked Out?
S: You're absolutely right, being outed ended up being a really solid theme that comes up in different ways through Kicked Out, which hadn't been one of my initial intentions. When I went into working on the book I tried to not have any goals about themes I wanted to strongly have in the book. I was really looking to represent as much diversity as I could in terms of the ways the epidemic plays out and the things people go through--- which looking at the finished book I feel like ended up being a successful goal. It's really in retrospect that now I can see these larger themes - like the experience of being outed that run through so many of the stories within the book.
With regards to turning around the negative energy and channeling it into something positive- I don't really have an answer. Every day I'm inspired and in awe at the strength of the current and former homeless LGBTQ youth who have been able to survive and thrive after experiencing immense pain and trauma. I can only speak from my own experience and say it wasn't easy to get to a place where I could turn what I experienced into something positive, and it's something that absolutely wouldn't have been possible for me to do without the support of the community and chosen family that I began creating within weeks of being kicked out the last time. It was support from that community/family that was instrumental to getting me through those first very dark days/weeks/months.
B: Yeah, I'm constantly inspired by the great members of the LGBTQ community. Was Kicked Out an idea that had been with you for a long time, or had you one day just felt the need to start such a project?
S: Kicked Out was definitely something that has been with me for a long time. Three days after I was kicked out I went to the public library in the semi-rural area of Oregon where I lived and looked at every book they had about "homosexuality." I'd always been a pretty nerdy kid and was convinced that there was going to be a book that would exist that would help me figure out how to get through this. I was shocked that there was nothing. The only books I found that talked about LGBTQ youth were positive stories about parents who got upset for a little bit, but swiftly recovered and were inviting their daughters girlfriend to dinner, and baking cupcakes for their son's GSA meetings. These stories are of course really important, and I'm excited to see them being published but they couldn't have been further from my experience and the experiences of the kids that were swiftly becoming my community. This was the first time that a library had failed me. Sitting there surrounded by the books I made a promise to myself that if I made it I was going to create a book and that never again would another queer kid feel alone for loosing family.
B: What did it feel like to not find any books with stories of how LGBTQ youth struggle? Did it make you feel like the only kid who went through the hardships you went through?
S: I was devastated. Books had always had the answers for me, or at least had given me hope and possibility. I remember buying my first gay YA novel one of the few times I was able to go somewhere without my mother and I hid it under my mattress and read it again and again after she'd gone to bed. I took it with me when I left, and still have it on my bookshelf, broken spine and all. Books were a really important part of how I learned about queerness, and the world outside the conservative county I grew up in. To have books fail me when I was most in need of the sort of guidance and companionship that only a book can provide was intense. I was already feeling pretty alone (this was before I became connected with a larger community of queer kids). I was one of three kids out at my high school. The administration hadn't really known what to do with me before I was kicked out, and once that happened they actually told me they had never "had to deal with a kid like me before."
B: "Deal with a kid like you before"? So, they were stereotyping! Has being LGBTQ and homeless sort of... branded something unto you, in other people's perspectives? Like, have people drew conclusions and judged you because of it? Ever?
S: There was a lot of judgment in the statements they were making about me but it also really spoke to the overall silencing of LGBTQ youth homelessness in general - let alone outside of urban areas. They honestly had no idea what to do with me. Beyond those early days though, for years I was very nervous about talking with people in the community (outside of my circle of homeless queer youth) because there is a lot of stigma associated with having been kicked out. This was something that I've heard other formerly homeless LGBTQ folks grapple with as well, and something many of the contributors were concerned about prior to the books release. There remains a lot of stigma in society at large, and even within the LGBTQ community around not having this idyllic family background or experience and all the stereotypes that exist about who homeless youth are, why they are homeless etc.
B: One of my favorite things about Kicked Out is that there's a diverse group of contributors, as well as a diverse group of voices. How important did you think it was to represent all members of the LGBTQ community?
S: I think that being very conscious of the diversity of writers is important for any anthology, but especially for a book like Kicked Out. LGBTQ youth homelessness is an epidemic, it impacts youth in ever community from the biggest city to the smallest town. It occurs across lines of race, class, religion, ability, and geographic region. I knew that it would be impossible for me to put together a book that would include every experience, but I wanted to do everything within my power to ensure that when finished Kicked Out represented the diversity of this epidemic as much as possible. I wanted Kicked Out to be a wake up call for readers, and in order to do that I felt like I needed to ensure that people could see themselves- their communities and families somewhere within this book. I wanted people to see themselves so that they couldn't dismiss our stories as something that happened to other people, somewhere else but instead would be forced to contend with the reality that this is the kid who lives next door.
Sassafras along with some of the contributors of Kicked Out.
B: So, with this diversity, was it really, really hard to edit Kicked Out? Like, every LGBTQ teen have an individual story to tell, so was it hard to choose which stories to publish?
S: When the call for submissions went out I was overwhelmed with the response I received back. I come from a space where one my core beliefs is that everyone has a story to tell and the telling of stories is essential in the creation of social change so it was really hard. I had numerous people (both those whose stories made it into the book and those whose didn't) talk about how this was the first time they were going to be open about their experience. I had an incredible number of stories to choose from so what I ended up going for was a representative sample that in my opinion best conveyed the diversity of the epidemic.
B: What's your favorite story in Kicked Out? One that touched you the most...
I couldn't possibly pick a favorite, I think the closest comparison I can come up with would be like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. Each and every story in Kicked Out touched me on a different deep and personal level.
B: Yeah, I don't think I could either...
B: Are you working on anything else right now? Like, any anthologies?
S: Kicked Out came out in January so I've made a promise to my family that I won't even begin working on another book until at least January 2011 in order to give myself a bit of a break. Kicked Out was a full time job for the 2.5 years it was in production, and it really still is.
This year I'm focusing on promoting the book and raising awareness about it. I've been up in Boston in the late spring and this summer I'll be in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and San Francisco. I'm working on finalizing some fall bookings to other cities in different regions so keep checking back at http://www.kickedoutanthology.com as more bookings get confirmed.
B: Do you see yourself continuing working to raise awareness on LGBTQ homelessness, or are there other topics and issues calling to you?
S: LGBTQ youth homelessness is absolutely something that I have dedicated my life to raising awareness around, and I can't imagine that changing. There are lots of issues that speak to me, and this isn't the only thing that I work on and feel passionately about but it's something always at the forefront of my mind.
B: What would you sat to parents struggling to accept their child’s sexuality and identity?
S: If I were talking to parents who are struggling to accept their child I would first and foremost encourage them to find their local PFLAG chapter where they can get guidance and support from parents and families who have also struggled to come to terms with who their child is.
B: What would you say to teens whose parents have kicked Them out because of their sexuality?
S: I get asked variations of this question a lot. Unfortunately I don't have a generic answer because each situation is so unique and I feel like only the youth in question will know what's right for them.
What I can and do tell youth is to find community whenever possible and begin building a chosen family of people who support and believe in you. Also I suggest youth try and get in touch with an LGBTQ drop in center if there's one near them.
Thanks, Sassafras, so much for raising awareness on such a great topic! And agreeing to answer my questions. ;) Continue fighting the good fight, girl!
Okay, so you totally want to go out and buy Kicked Out, right?
Check it out!