It’s a small world, being gay in Indiana. You know everybody because there’s not a lot of gays out here in the wild. To survive, you have to be resilient and self-reliant, which I am, but if I could have an additional tool—a superpower—it would be to always have the words that I need in any given moment.
Words have power to hurt, to educate, to change systems. I have been labeled and categorized as many things. Currently, I am a homeless, displaced, activist, LGBT youth. These five words reveal realities of my life, like other words do, too:
childhood — volatile, hostile environment
daughter — reality-check for unstable mother
being gay — “We’ll take you to Pastor and get you fixed”
Christian mental health therapy — weekly trauma to get me right with God
a reason to wonder if God exists — finding an unlocked shed to sleep in as a runaway
coming out to friends — fear of rejection or half-way acceptance
homeless — necessary label to have a legal right to be an independent student
financial aid — selling my soul and story to pay for textbooks
displaced — legally declared “neither here nor there”
injustice — my rape kit waits to be sent to the lab for three years and counting
safety — tenuous peace with my surroundings
trust — a pact with myself
purpose, faith — collective liberation
church, sanctuary — pulling weeds in community gardens to combat food deserts
home — not a place, but a feeling
My story is as much about being gay as it is about being homeless. As a child, I didn’t have much supervision. My dad worked constantly to feed seven people, and my mom was just trying to survive. I read a lot and was home-schooled in second grade. There was a box in the dining room with my textbooks, and I’d look at a section in each book every day. I didn’t know school was supposed to be more than me and textbooks at the dining room table. Once I started public school, I got by on natural gifts and good test-taking skills and even skipped a grade. I ended up moving from one school to the next, attending four schools over six years. Growing up in schools with mostly Black students, I knew my teachers were easier on me because I was the smart white girl. If I was being a distraction, they’d warn me or place me in the back of class and let it slide as long as I wasn’t too loud.
Aside from being in the care of my friends, school guidance counselors, or teachers, pretty much every other aspect of my growing up contributed to my now C-PTSD:
My dad died when I was 12 . . .
I first tried to commit suicide at 16 and was forced into conversion therapy . . .
I was a run-away for 9 months . . .
I lost my hearing in one ear . . .
I was in a traumatic car accident . . .
I went through six weeks of inpatient treatment for anorexia . . .
I was sexually assaulted . . .
Social workers branded me a troubled child who just didn’t like her mom. As a runaway, I didn’t use my real name or go outside much during the day. I wouldn’t sleep unless I heard people moving around in the house to know that I’d be safe. My eating disorder came from internalizing this idea that I was flawed, that something in me needed to be fixed, starved out, or suffocated in prayer. I was led to believe that I’d brought all this onto myself by insisting on a “sinful lifestyle.”
I am gay. I didn’t choose this. Up until a few years ago, I would have told you that I’d never choose this. Look how much trouble it’s brought me.
I’m happy to say I have grown and healed some, and I’m a little more comfortable in my own skin. Engaging in activism in Indianapolis with Black Lives Matter led me to my community, my chosen family, my “home,” my place of rest, a state of mind where my soul can be fed. I feel closer to my purpose when I am actively fighting for collective liberation. It is what inspired me to change my major to pre-law, and I am determined to make a real difference, to advocate for myself and my community until the very end.
If it were a choice, I’d choose this life over and over again because it is real and beautiful, and the people I have loved are real and beautiful. Those who loved me through the process of learning to love myself, I’d choose them and this real, beautiful, gay life again. Every time.
There is more understanding out there for being gay than there is for being gay, transient, and broke, which is reality for too many of us. There’s no pride keychain to let others know that financial aid is a nightmare as an independent student, that I won’t have my textbook for one more class session than what’s acceptable, and that I’m always a bit scattered because I’ve moved 11 times in the past five and a half years. Do my professors know this? Do they care? Should I have to tell them in order for them to care.
In the end, it’s not about one box, category, or group. I think about the fact that there is someone out there who has experienced all the homophobic trauma that I have and they are Black. I fight for collective liberation. I feel it is my duty to my community, to my past self, to my future self, and to every gay kid currently growing up in a toxic environment. This is my responsibility to my society. What is yours?
– Hannah Aletheia’s Story As Told By Lisa Kuriscak
Lisa Kuriscak is a faculty member in the Department of Modern Languages and Classics at Ball State University who teaches Spanish language and linguistics in Muncie and in Spain with study abroad programs. She is a New York State native who enjoys writing, language learning, and connecting with others through the sharing of stories.
This story originally appeared in Facing LGBTQ+ Pride in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Muncie OUTreach in Muncie, Indiana.