Meet Riley, a Philly Youth on We Are The Youth
We Are The Youth is a national photojournalism project that aims to share stories of LGBTQ youth across the nation. Photographers for the project were in Philadelphia over the summer, where they snapped three out-of-towners attending the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, Phoenix, Blake and Jazz. One of the latest profiles is Riley, a 21-year old who identifies as non-gender, who shares his story about leaving home when he was 16, navigating homeless shelters as a genderqueer person, and eventually finding a thriving life in Philadelphia. Read his story below:
There’s a quote that I like: “Life serves the risktaker.” Last year my brother and I train-hopped in Florida. It was dangerous and illegal, and we were both in it together. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. My mom was terrified, but I’ve been living on my own since I was 16, so she felt more confident in me than in my brother.
I left home when I was 16 because I had a really tumultuous relationship with my dad. He was always physically and verbally abusive. I did get the brunt of it, and I’m not sure why. I went to a friend’s house and was house-hopping until I was 18. School was a big source of solace for me. My senior year Advanced Placement English teacher really liked me, and knew about my family situation. She helped me apply to college at Hollins in Roanoke, Virginia. I was awarded one of their higher scholarships, and I got emergency financial aid for anything that wasn’t covered.
But I was very dependent on my financial aid going through. After a year-and-a-half, I was like, “Fuck this. Why am I spending $40,000 for an education?”
I left university to move to New York with my then-girlfriend who also hated college. We’d spend our days looking around for food. We’d spend the evenings looking for a place to sleep. It wasn’t too difficult for me because I knew how to get food, and I can sleep pretty much in any situation or surface. It was rough for her since she was never exposed to living outdoors before. I accepted it as a necessary part of my life.
We were only in New York for a month or so. Then we stayed in Pennsylvania with her mom. After a little bit, her mom kicked us out, mainly because we were two female-bodied people who were together, even though I didn’t really identify as a female, and still don’t regard gender as anything. I was always very removed from the female and male genders. People ask me if I’m trans and I just say “Trans as in I’m transcending gender.” Or they ask me “Are you a boy or girl?’” I say “both!”’ or sometimes “neither!” and laugh. Recently a little kid came up to me and said “You look like a boy but sound like a girl’ and I asked “How do boys look and how do girls sound?” because really I don’t know the answer to those questions. I don’t think any sort of answer truly exists. The kid couldn’t give me one, either.
After her mom kicked us out, my girlfriend went to school in Philadelphia. I went and I tried to stay in a homeless shelter and hated it. It was really difficult with my gender or lack-there-of expression. The shelter wasn’t individualized for different gender expressions. And in order to apply for a job you had to go to these job classes, and I already knew how to do those skills. They wouldn’t see me at the place I was at. I was like, this is dumb. I wanted to go back on the streets.
Now I’m living at my current girlfriend’s house in Philadelphia. I planned to just come to Philadelphia to get my passport, and train-hop to L.A. but I derailed my plan. I really enjoy it here. Philadelphia has amazing resources so I’m getting therapy for free and yoga for free. It’s part of being able to continue to develop myself.
Since the second time I ate acid I have been becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be, which is super-positive and meaningful. It was a terrible, bad trip, but was the best thing that ever happened to me. It brought up profound feelings of peace and meditation and consciousness.
Read more stories on We Are The Youth here, and consider purchasing the print version, a compilation of stories that would look great on your coffee table or in the stocking of your gay bestie this holiday season.