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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Mariah Lopez

Being transgendered isn’t easy, especially when you’re living in a straight group home and you’re the only one. But first, let me tell you what a transgender is. Yeah, I know, the first thing that pops into your head is a man with a sex change and a dress. Wrong! A transgender is someone who lives his or her life as the opposite sex. It doesn’t mean that they have a sex change (that’s a transsexual).

I’m a guy but I’ve felt like a female my whole life. And when I dress the part, I look a lot like a female, too. I can even get numbers from guys. (But I always tell them right then and there that I’m a guy.)

I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with who I am, but I hope the fact that I’m transgendered doesn’t stop you from reading more. After all, you’re learning, aren’t you? So let me continue. I’m 14 years old. When I was six, my grandmother (who raised me) told me I was a boy. Until then, I didn’t know that. I felt and thought like a girl. I walked with my chest sticking out and I liked to wear my hair in a pony tail. I even liked dressing in girls’ clothes.

When I was growing up everyone knew me and my family, so they didn’t bother me. But when I went into foster care at the age of 8, it was a different story.

The first group home I was in, where I stayed for three years, was terrible. So were a lot of other group homes I’ve been in. But they weren’t terrible at first, because my grandmother was still alive and when anything happened to me, she would report the staff to the social worker and complain.

But after she passed, things got worse and worse. I had at least two fights a day. The boys used to do stupid things because I was gay, like throw rocks at me or put bleach in my food. Once I was thrown down a flight of stairs and I’ve had my nose broken twice. They even ripped up the only picture of my mother that I had.

Often the staff were bad, too. If I had a fight with one of the staff earlier in the day, they would start conversations with the other boys in the group home about the argument just to get them riled up. Then the boys would come up to me, challenging me and calling me a faggot. Sometimes the staff would stand there while the kids jumped me. One time a staff member jumped me with the kids.

image by Gabriel Appleton

My grandmother always told me to be myself and be proud. But when these things were happening I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Most of the time the staff told me the same things.

“You deserve it.”

“Oh well.”

“Fight back.”

“Don’t be gay then.”

One time a staff member asked me, “Don’t you like men beating on you?” Another staff even told me to kill myself to be out of my misery.

When I got to go to my room, I’d just sit there and cry. Or I’d read a book or listen to music to block things out of my head. I slept a lot, too, so that the days would go by faster. I used to get mad and think, “What’s so bad about me?” I’d pray and ask God why He didn’t make me a girl or a straight boy so I wouldn’t have to go through this. Sometimes I would cry all night, asking Him to change me.

image by Gabriel Appleton

But I never really felt I could change. I was who I was and couldn’t change that.

Through all of these things, I had one constant feeling—the feeling of helplessness, that no matter what I did or didn’t do, it would always be the same and that somehow it was all my fault.

I stayed at my first group home for three years. Then one day I went AWOL with only three dollars in my pocket and nothing to lose. I just decided that I had to get off that campus. When I got to the train, I talked the conductor into letting me ride for free. And when I arrived in the city, let me tell you, I hadn’t been so happy since I don’t know when.

I tried to stay at Green Chimneys, a group home for gay and transgendered boys. But they didn’t have room for me and I was too young. Eventually I went back into the foster care system. For the next year I bounced around from group home to group home. I always left because being transgendered was always a problem. I knew I’d be bouncing around until I could get into Green Chimneys or until someone opened another group home for gay kids.

There were a few staff and kids who made me feel really good about myself. At one group home the staff taught the kids that they should respect me, and that helped the kids to be more open-minded. I was even able to date openly. But in most of the group homes people constantly harassed me. After about a year I finally got a phone call from my law guardian telling me that I had a bed at Green Chimneys, so I packed my bags.

When I got there, I still couldn’t believe it. I finally felt content—that I could be myself and unique at the same time.

Sure, there are plenty of things that get me plucked (mad) at Green Chimneys. Just living with a bunch of other teens in foster care can be a nightmare (not that I’m always such a little sweetheart myself). But if it weren’t for a supportive group home, I’d still be in a very uncomfortable position and so would a whole lot of other kids.

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