December 24, 2014KR BlogBlog

Home, words

When I was very young, I was obsessed with the Arnold Lobel book Owl at Home, in which the main character (Owl) makes tear-water tea. I read this many days in a row. I remember sitting with it one afternoon, after my mother had shared a “daily vocabulary word” with me. The word had been cumulus, and I remember that I had the book and that there were clouds above me.

I wonder what role writing and reading might have had in my life were they not such an integral part of my childhood home. I know many writers who did not grow up in a family of readers, of course, and many people who wrote often while young and eventually stopped. But still, I recognize the privilege I received, that the time I spent with books and paper was nothing but encouraged.

Thinking back, I realize that a heavy portion of the people who ate their lunch in the library of my high school were queer. I remember first understanding this when an adult friend, also queer, told me that this is where he ate his lunch in high school. Books as a safe place, even (or maybe especially) when they challenge you. They let you know you can write, which lets you know you have a voice.

There is no time of year that is better than any other time of year for one person to fight on behalf of another. Yet today in particular, writing comfortably in my childhood bedroom as I visit family, a place where I have written comfortably my entire life, I realize how lucky I am. Lucky for home and lucky for words, but lucky in particular that they came together.

40% of the youth who live on the street identify as queer or trans, the majority having been driven out of their homes because of this. There are many organizations fighting to help these youth. One is the Ali Forney Center, which provides, outreach, housing, health services, and a range of other supports. Another is New York Writers Coalition, a group that provides free creative writing workshops for people who often lack access to writing, reading, or publishing resources. The two organizations collaborate to provide workshops for the queer youth of Ali Forney, and have even published some of the work from those workshops in Once You Were Set Free.

I remain humbled by the awareness of my privilege, that I could sit beneath a tree reading my favorite book, look at the sky and think “cumulus,” and with all my other cares begin to write.

Another privilege: to read the words of Once You Were Set Free.

I don’t want to forget that writing can change things. It can change things for the individual and for the group, which means it can change everything. It does this, daily. But it cannot do this if we pretend it exists independently of the world’s mechanisms, of the economics and violences that shape our lives. Writing must be understood as a part of the greater thing, and so we must make space for more people to write and to read and to publish, too.

You can donate to Ali Forney here, and to New York Writers Coalition here. Many major urban centers also have programs targeting homeless queer youth, which can be easily found through an internet search.

They sound cheesy, all the things about reading that I want to say, but occasionally it’s okay to sound cheesy. That reading can be a place that is safe when other places are not. That books can provide friends. That knowing love can allow many of us to write bravely. That in reading and in writing we can come to know ourselves, and just as importantly, that we can come to better know others. And that if we have found our way to a place where we write, it is our responsibility to help others arriving here, also.