There are a large percentage of LGBT youth who are homeless. In fact about 40% is the current estimate of LGBT youth between the ages of 18-25. That’s a lot of homeless vulnerable young adults. My wife lived this. Here’s her story.
She was raised religiously conservative. Meaning she regularly heard sermons about how all homosexuals will go to hell. Her family was very encapsulated because they did not associate with anyone outside the church. That included her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. She was dependent on her family and her church for everything. She was also in college full time, and worked as an EMT part time making minimal money. Everything belonged to her parents: her car, cell phone, car insurance, college tuition payments, etc. When she was 20 her parents confronted her about being gay. She told them that she was. They told her she had two hours to pack her things, to leave her car keys, cell phone, house key, and everything else there. They told her there was a homeless shelter in the nearby city. The only way she would be accepted back is if she said she is not gay, would never have sexual relations with a woman, and basically was a good little girl again. My wife packed a bag, texted a friend to pick her up, and then went outside literally to the curb and waited. Her friend came, and thus began a period of homelessness.
Prior to that day her relationship with her family was positive. She loved her parents and sisters, and though she did not agree with the church’s teachings she loved the community it provided. She felt safe and secure in her family and never expected to actually be put to the street.
She was very lucky to have a friend let her sleep in her living room for a couple weeks. In the mean time at work a nurse who was also a lesbian, and married with children, found out about her situation. She told my wife she was welcome to stay with them as long as she needed to. My wife bought a car, obtained car insurance, bought a cell phone, clothes, toiletries, sheets…the list goes on. She did not have a lot of money, and she built up some credit card debt, but she survived. She was extremely lucky to be surrounded by good people. To that nurse- I thank you from the bottom of my heart, because you truly took her in when you didn’t have to. Your generosity and compassion saved her.
The fear she lived with during her weeks on someone’s couch was crushing. She did not know how long she could stay there, she didn’t want to impose on them because they didn’t seem like they really wanted her there. And because she was recently kicked out of her families home she was also in shock. She barely ate for weeks, and she actually broke out in eczema. She never had that before any of this happened, but since then has never been able to get rid of it. I think it was her body’s response to extreme stress. When she moved in with the nurse and her wife she also didn’t want to impose and the nurse had to sit her down and tell her to stop tiptoeing around them, that she was welcome there as long as she needed.
About six months after this whole ordeal I met her. A few months after that we started dating, and she essentially moved in with me. The first couple years of our relationship was rough. It was beautiful but stormy. She was adjusting to this whole new life without her family and her church. She was finding herself. She had to learn adult things that I just assumed every one knew. We had to also struggle with her college because in filling out a FAFSA for people under 22 you have to report your parents income unless you prove that you are an independent young adult. She had to tell her parents not to claim her as a dependent on their taxes. She ended up taking a semester off to get all of this straightened out.
She also grieved. The days and nights I remember vividly and try to forget are those when she would give herself over to grief and sob or rage and become the living essence of pain. When some people lose their families they are maybe okay with it on some level, because maybe their families were bad for them. But my wife was not one of those people. She loved her family and still does. She loved them deeply and the pain at being rejected by them and not just rejected but forced to the street with nothing- that betrayal just consumed her in some moments. It was extremely painful to witness. I eventually got her to agree to go to therapy, which over the course of a few years, did help her tremendously.
The worst parts were when her family would reach out. She would receive an email or card from her mom or dad. I would see her hope. Then I would see her read it, and watch her cry or sometimes just say nothing and hand it to me to read. It would usually be about bible verses. Verses telling her that her parents were right and she was wrong. Verses telling us both that we would go to hell because of our choices. In phone conversations she had with them she would cry and tell them how much this sucked, and they would agree, but neither side would back down.
My natural inclination is to get angry about this. In my eyes it’s black and white. They caused her pain needlessly and it makes me angry. My wife would rarely become angry. She would feel sad and blame herself. She never questioned her identity as a lesbian though. Because she knew in her soul that is who she was. On the rare occasion we talked about her being homeless for that period of time she never got mad about it. I told her how fucked up that was of her parents, how their love is supposed to be unconditional. But it was super conditional. She would try and defend their decision in the first couple years. It left me totally flabbergasted. I would look at her in those moments like she was an alien. Because her kindness and her enduring love for her family after they caused her so much heartache left me in awe. And honestly, I just didn’t get it. To some degree I still don’t.
After a decade with someone though I do understand a few things. She loves her family. She regrets that they are not in our life. She wishes they still were. She wishes they could meet our sons. Her only breakdown about her parents in the past few years was after they were born. In our tired state that only twins can get you to I remember she cried one night and said how much she wanted her parents to meet the boys, and how she knew that would never happen. She would forgive them in a heartbeat for kicking her out if they would only ever ask.
I have never been disowned by my parents. They are in my life. They love our sons, they love my wife, and as my dad said, “You graduated from college! I don’t care if your gay.” My mom’s response to me coming out to them was, “Been there done that with your sister.” They are both so proud of my life and my family. To lose that would surely leave a gaping wound in my heart.
I think a few years of therapy helped my wife so much. I think she will never be the person she was before her parents kicked her out. I didn’t know that person, before, but I would have liked to. Many people ask us if we have family support, we respond that my family is around, my wife’s is not. Many people have no concept what it’s like to be disowned. I can tell you from my observations, that it is possibly the most painful and scarring experiences one can have. Sometimes I forget. Because life happens. But then she will say something or we will talk about my parents, or anything, and then this lingering sadness creeps into her eyes and I know she is thinking of them. They are the ghosts that we walk with even though they are not dead.
I think we have both worried how this will affect our sons, and how we will explain it to them. My wife does not want her family seen as villains. Because they are not. They are following the teachings they choose to follow. In doing so though my wife got hurt. Our sons will not know any different. They will not have them and then suddenly not have them. They won’t even know they are missing until they are older. But for that to be their first lesson in discrimination will suck. Because though they preach under the guise of their religious beliefs I still believe at the core of this is discrimination. They have chosen to discriminate against my wife because she is gay. Whether the bible tells them to or not the end result is the same.
I can’t end on such a negative though. The light that came out of this darkness is my family. I would not have my wife as she is, or my sons with her if not for her walk down this path. Writing this reminds me how strong she is and how lucky I am to have her in my life. She had come through and continues to go through such pain to be who she is. She makes a choice every day to wake up and be true to herself at a deep cost. I’d rather my sons see and learn that than anything else. Love you babe.