The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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A Place to Belong
I finally found friends who accept me
Lavell Pride

In 12th grade, I was at the prom, dancing with one of my female friends. She and I were grinding, wining, and touching on each other’s skin. We were having so much fun.

“Look at those two, they’re both gay,” someone said. I turned and saw a group of guys laughing at us. They asked, “Why are they dancing so close, touching up on each other’s bodies?” and “How come they’re not dancing with guys?”

We didn’t care what they said. But then a girl I didn’t know called my name out, came over to where I was dancing, and said, “You homosexual bitch.” I ignored her, but she came closer and went on about how she did not like gays and did not like me. She said I was “fake” for saying that I was bisexual, since she’d overheard me talking about guys. That’s when she yelled out, “I want to fight you,” three times.

I told myself to relax and remember that I was just there to have fun. But as I walked away, she came behind me and grabbed my hair. Then I was so full of rage that I forgot the prom and we started to fight. Someone finally separated us and we cooled off. I saw her again later in the parking lot and approached her. I told her I was hurt that she was judging me unfairly and that I was being honest about being bisexual. And I told her I forgave her.

Hurt and Alone

The sad thing is, this is something I’ve become used to. I’ve been harassed, teased, and even threatened because I am bisexual—by kids at school and by strangers on the street.

People don’t understand the impact of their actions. Just like every other teenager, I’m trying to figure out who I am. I try to shrug off people’s jokes and harassment, but it still hurts and makes me feel alone.

Despite other people’s negativity, I’ve always loved who I am. By 7, I was already experimenting with what it felt like to be male by dressing up in boy’s clothes and pretending I was a boy.

When I was 14, I started going to school dressing up in different ways on different days. Sometimes I would dress in baggy jeans and big T-shirts like a boy; other times I would dress like a girl, in tight jeans and dress shirts.

Acting and dressing as a boy, I felt more attracted to girls. I also preferred dressing like a boy in comfortable jeans and shirts. As a girl, I felt uncomfortable. Wearing skirts and dresses felt like I was trying to attract boys and show others, like my family, that I was a woman. It was like I had to show them I could be beautiful.

Some of my friends and other kids would ask why I would dress up in different ways and if I was gay or bi. I told my friends I was bi because I like to be with both males and females.

The Way You Are Is ‘Wrong’

I felt happy with myself, but other people didn’t feel that way. My aunt, who was my guardian, told me when I was 14 that being bisexual was wrong. I was just coming out of my shell in telling my family and friends who I was and how I felt about it. I didn’t listen to her. I felt that I was doing something good for me, something that felt right from a very young age.

When I tried to explain this to my friends, they’d say, “Well, you’re stupid and confused.” I would get mad and try to fight them but sometimes I would stop because I knew if I fought I would be in trouble.

Other times I just wanted to cry. Ever since I’d gone into foster care, I’d felt alone. I wasn’t getting love or support from my own family, including my three brothers and my father. I felt I’d missed out not having my mother around for help while I was growing up.

Let People in Slowly

Most of the time when I was feeling alone at school, I would go talk to my science teacher, Ms. Francis. I would tell her how I felt with the other students picking on me. She would just say I shouldn’t let people get to me because if kids see that I don’t like them picking on me they will continue doing it.

She also told me that I couldn’t be telling everyone about my lifestyle, that I had to start by finding a close friend I truly trust and someone who I can see as a kind of family to me, someone I can share my feelings and my thoughts with.

She was right. I realized that I was trusting everyone with my personal business. I was looking for love, and trying to find support from those who did care. But I was being judged by the people I was telling my deepest secret to.

image by Jessica Deng

At the time I didn’t have a lot of popularity. I was in special ed and most of the kids didn’t like me. I realized I was hanging out with negative people with no good thoughts in their minds. After talking to Ms. Francis, I saw that I had to choose what kind of friends would be right for me, people who wouldn’t judge me for my sexuality.

When I had some time to myself to think it over, I realized that there was only one person who was truly and deeply my best friend, and that was Jamell. He and I had been friends before we were in high school. Our friendship started at my family’s church when I was 13 and Jamell was 12, so it was not so hard for me to figure out that he was my true friend.

Jamell and I are like brother and sister. We look out and keep each other safe from people who try to hurt us and put us down. But I still wanted to be around other people who were just like me. I wanted to find a place where I felt like I belonged.

Giving It a Try

After high school, I found out about a LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning) program through one of my workers from my foster care agency. When she mentioned it, I thought it might help me find my true self and let me know that being gay, bi, or les was cool. I thought it would help me be more social and communicate more with other young adults so I could gain friends and trust more.

The first time I went to one of their meetings I was nervous. I was going to be in a group with people I didn’t know, and I had to speak about myself.

But when I walked into the meeting room, I knew this place was for me. I saw some people sitting in a group in a circle all just laughing and having a great time. As I entered the center where the group was meeting, I saw drawings that had been made by teens and photos of trips and parties they’d had. It was so cool. I thought to myself, “This would be a great place for me to socialize, speak my mind about anything, and just have fun.”

When I sat down I said, “Hi, my name is Lavell, and I’m 19 years old. I came here to see how this program works, to see if I can learn new things from it, and also gain friends I can trust.”

After I introduced myself, everyone said, “Hi Lavell,” “It’s nice to meet you,” and “Nice to have you join our group today.” They all looked at me and gave a smile. I told everyone what I was all about. I said that I was bisexual and that I didn’t know if it was OK or if it was wrong to be having sex with two different genders.

At first I felt scared about telling the people in the group these things. But I did it anyway because I felt that the teens here were all the same in their own way and they all had questions and things they wanted to know about. That thought helped me loosen up more as I listened to others’ stories.

‘Go With Your Heart’

During the group, the counselor asked me who was I attracted to the most and why I felt that way. I said that I was attracted to females more because whenever I was with a female I felt so comfortable around them and with myself. After I spoke, everyone clapped and thanked me for sharing my deepest feelings.

The counselor asked everyone else what they thought about what I had said and if they had any advice for me. One person said that she was going through the same thing. She said she’d made a choice to be with people who made her feel good inside, and for her that was females. She said she felt passion when she was with them and she didn’t want that feeling to go away by being with a guy she didn’t really care for.

She said to me, “You should go with whatever your heart is feeling. I followed my feelings because otherwise I would have stayed confused and felt unhappy stuck in a place I didn’t really want to be.” I was shocked by what she said, because I felt the same way.

I Could Be Honest Here

After the group session, they gave me a tour of the center. There were several groups offered, like how to start your own business, arts and crafts, writing clubs, music classes, and dance classes, including African and hip-hop.

I also made a friend. We began talking and she told me how she felt the same as I did about being attracted to females more than the guys. I felt happy that I had come. It was a relief to find out that there were teens here who had stories similar to mine. I felt that it was a great place for me, a place where I could make friends and have people around that I could call family. I started going regularly.

Here, I can be honest about myself and still be accepted. Within this group, we get to take a chance to speak our feelings about what people say to us and how it affects us. I don’t have to worry about someone going around talking about me and making me feel down.

Now that I’ve found a supportive place that motivates me, I want to reach out to other LBGTQ people. I want to let them know that they don’t have to listen to what judgmental people say about them.

Joining groups like mine would help them to get out the emotions that they have locked up inside and gain friends who are going through similar problems. Our group can’t change the world, and what negative people say will still hurt. But finding a supportive place can give us the strength and courage to be who we were made to be and discover the things that make us feel good about ourselves.

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