Kicked Out Author Tenzin

What has being kicked out meant for you?

Living on the streets has altered me as a person. The fear of being homeless again persists, as does a sense of otherness. Because I have seen things that others have difficulty imagining, I have difficulty relating to other people and anticipate violence in even benign environments. Being visibly discarded and living as a member of the most disposable group of people marked me and made me more empathetic towards others. I doubt I would be a Buddhist monk now if it wasn’t for seeing people beaten, raped, shot, and stabbed. I think I gravitated towards a spiritual vocation that was antithetical to what I lived on the streets because of a deep understanding of personal and vicarious suffering.

What role has art and writing played in your life, and how do you see that as part of community building?

Writing helped me explore salient topics from my life and those I care about such as PTSD, LGBTQ issues, the AIDS epidemic, hate crimes, and the psychology of neo-nazis. Creating disturbing (and untalented) art depicting dismembered organs with eyes and faces, skeletal parts, and ghosts was cathartic and symbolized the ways in which the bodies and psyches of those I grew up with were eviscerated, pulverized and rearranged into interesting new configurations. Both creating and consuming works of art and literature helped me feel a sense of community with people who had also seen a different side of existence. It was comforting to know others were out there even if they were deceased. I recognized survivors of trauma by what they created. The works of Dickens, Palahniuk, and Bosch resonated deeply.

What has being part of the Kicked Out anthology meant to you?

Being part of the Kicked Out anthology has been an invaluable experience because it provided the opportunity to write about experiences that I normally expend much energy suppressing. I felt a sense of solidarity and affinity with the other queer people involved in Kicked Out even though I never met them. I was heartened by their strength and courage to come out in such a public way as both queer and former homeless people. Knowing that others also survived was inspiring. The plight of homeless youth had largely left the public consciousness and I am grateful that I participated in such a wonderful project that tells our stories and raises awareness of homelessness among queer youth.

What are three things people don’t realize about being kicked out?

  1. If you are young, queer and homeless, you are frequently invisible to others or blamed for being where you are. Those who do see you often want to exploit, assault, or kill you. You are the ultimate disposable person if your parents didn’t even care enough to safeguard your life and society denies civil rights to even affluent queer people.
  2. You have to change who you are to survive on the street. My heroes were Gandhi, St. Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. before I was on the streets. I considered myself a pacifist until I encountered neo-nazi skinheads and others who would harm us just for being alive and different. Certain ideals become luxuries in volatile environments. I relinquished my pacifism and much of my faith in people to survive. Engaging even in justified violence changed who I am.
  3. You always remember the kindness of those who took the time to show they cared about you when you were in a desperate situation. I always remember the food, love, and shelter provided by friends and strangers.

What is one message about homeless LGBTQ youth you hope people take away from reading Kicked Out?

While much of the public discussion of LGBTQ rights is focused on the debate around gay marriage, other issues that profoundly affect LGBTQ people are often ignored. The elevated rate of homelessness, suicide, homicide and hate crimes against LGBTQ people is still largely unknown. The Kicked Out Anthology will illuminate the ways in which LGBTQ youth are often discarded, disenfranchised, and literally disposed of by their parents and the larger dominant culture. Many of these LGBTQ kids never even get the chance to grow up, fall in love, and be deprived of their right to marry and adopt children.

It is strange that the right of LGBTQ people to fully participate as equal citizens is challenged in a democratic nation founded on the principles of equality, liberty, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. It is even stranger that so much antipathy is directed towards queer people based on religious beliefs derived from a tradition that tells its followers to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

One thing I would like people to remember is that the same forces who seek to deprive LGBTQ citizens of their right to marry and be protected from discrimination also foment an antipathy towards queer people so profound that parents often literally throw their kids away when they come out as queer. This same antipathy encourages hate crimes directed against those even perceived to be queer. The intersection of queer identity and homelessness can be a psyche-shattering experience and a death sentence. Queer kids are still out there on the streets. Please don’t forget to include them in the struggle for equality.