By Tray T., 17
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Illustration by Brian Lopez-Santos, 15, Marshall HS

Looking back on my life, I see myself as two people because anger has always been inside me. The old me was something that came out of the pit of hell—evil, powerful and strong. I’d fight people and I didn’t care if I hurt them. The new me is someone coming out of the clouds—sweet, charming and loveable, with a sparkle to him. It’s been hell getting to where I am now, but I’m proud to be here.

My angry ways began when I was a child. My mother did drugs and couldn’t take care of me and my younger brother and sister. She never kept a job but she wasn’t home to take care of us either. She would leave us alone in the house or take us to my aunt’s house. When my aunt went to work, my older male cousins sexually abused me. They told me not to tell anyone and if I did, they would do it again.

When I was 7, the police took us away from our mom and we went into foster care. From my mom not being a mom and that horrible thing my cousins did to me, for a long time I felt no one loved me and that everyone was out to hurt me. I kept it in me for a long time, which was a way to be angry about it.

But even though I was safe from my cousins, when I went into foster care I still had problems. In my first foster home, I got into an argument with my foster mom over my hair being so long it came to my lower back. She said that it was feminine and I said I didn’t give a damn. Later that night she came into my room while I was asleep and cut my hair. The next morning, when I woke up and saw my hair on my pillow and bed, I went off. I got a broom, went to her room and hit her in her sleep. Then I went to the living room and destroyed the room.

I moved to another foster home. For the next five years, I never lived in a foster home longer than three to four months. They’d kick me out because I was fighting at school and getting suspended, arguing and cursing them out. I got moved to group homes where I lived with 50 other foster youth. Because of what my cousins did to me, I could not trust the male staff members.

Fighting pumped me up

At one facility, the other boys found out I was gay. My new name became Cup Cakes. That just added to my anger. They took my things and threw water at my face. Once when I was asleep a boy urinated in a cup and threw it on my covers. Another time a boy set my bed on fire when I wasn’t there, then he and four other kids jumped me. I beat them up and thrashed their rooms.

The staff felt I was in danger so they moved me to another group home, where I got restrained several times a month for fighting. At almost 300 pounds and especially with my anger, it took five or six staff to pin me. But there was a female staff named Nina who didn’t give up on me. It was a slow process, but we started talking and getting to know each other. She encouraged me go to bowling and skating with the other kids. As I got to know the staff and kids, I got in less fights. For the first time, I started to get along with male staff.

But one day Nina got a better job and she left. I got so angry that I cursed her out and hit a wall. I thought “F*** everything and everybody!” because if she could leave, everyone could. For a few weeks I went back to fighting, yelling and throwing things, until I got over her leaving.

Soon I started secretly going out with this guy I liked. A kid told and it got around to the staff. My therapist told me about GLASS (Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services), which is for gay and lesbian foster kids. I agreed to go because I didn’t want the kids at my group home to call me names and try to fight me because I was gay. I was feeling a lot better and didn’t want to go backwards. I thought I was going to do good. But I didn’t realize I would have to get used to a new environment and new people all over again.

At GLASS, I was the old Tray. Kids knew not to mess with me when I gave my look—rolling my eyes and raising my lip. The whole room would clear when I was going to get into a fight. The staff would have to pull me off. I’d be punished for a week. I couldn’t use the phone or TV or go on day outings. Sometimes I liked being that person people were scared of. I had control.

I was going down the wrong path when one day after I’d been at GLASS about six months, a staff person who fills in when the usual staff calls in sick showed up at my group home. She was like a guardian angel. She told us a story about how when she was younger she imagined herself doing different jobs, like being a prostitute, robbing people or picking up trash. Then she imagined herself working with kids and realized that was what she wanted to do with her life. It made me imagine my own future. I imagined myself hurting somebody and ending up in jail. I imagined myself on the streets.

Around the same time, my social worker was getting fed up. He told the staff that if something else happened, to call the police and take me to jail. I was pissed off, but I was also scared. It was time to straighten up.

But it was hard to change because being angry was all I knew how to be. I took baby steps. I went to therapy. One time I got in an argument with Isabelle, one of the staff at my group home. She wouldn’t back down. She said, “I can see something in you. I know you can go far and I’m going to help you.” If I was angry because the staff wrote me up for something stupid, I would go to her about it.

I also started to accept that I was gay. When I arrived at GLASS I didn’t know there were young people who were openly gay. It was weird seeing gay people who were acting feminine and flamboyant. I always knew I was gay but I didn’t want to admit it. I realized that GLASS was where I belonged, where I could be open and not be made fun of. One day I said, “I’m gay.” The kids said, “Girl, we already knew.” I busted out wearing a rainbow belt.

GLASS gives us a place to be who we want without being discriminated, without being afraid to say “I am gay.” They tell us, “You have to accept yourself before you accept anyone else” and “How can you love someone if you don’t love yourself?”
Being able to be who I am made me happier. I made friends. I started listening to the staff’s suggestions for ways to keep calm. When I was mad, I’d count to 10, dance in my room or sit in a chair and listen to my CD player, bobbing my head to the music. Or I’d ignore the person and talk to staff or my friends. I signed up for art and dancing groups.

Change came slowly

I still had my ups and downs. One time I went off on a staff at my group home because she didn’t know how to cook. Isabelle overheard and pulled me out of the kitchen. We talked about it. I was getting older and I saw I couldn’t do these things anymore.

When I was 15 I moved to another group home at GLASS. I became friends with one of the girls, Tiffany. She’s a little thing but she was the only person to stand up to me, which made me respect her. We talked about relationships and stuff in our lives. One night at 11 p.m. I was crying. I woke her up and told her, “I need to talk.” We stayed up until 2 a.m. just talking. That’s something I really need. I know Tiffany isn’t going to give up on me.

Everything was going real good. Then on my 16th birthday I went to my mother’s house and my cousin tried to molest me again. I told him I wasn’t a child anymore and I was big enough and old enough to defend myself, so he backed off. When I came back, I told my therapist. It was the first time I told someone about what happened to me. I knew that if I wanted to get somewhere that it had to start now. Talking about it made me less angry.

Words not fists

When a new teen named Yvanna came to GLASS, she wrote notes to my close friend Jonathan, who I call my “brother,” saying she liked him. Jonathan told me he didn’t like her so I wrote back saying to leave him alone. She ripped up the letter. I went up to her and said, “Do you have a problem with me?” She said, “I don’t have a problem with you, but if you want to make problems, you can.” I was mad but calm. I wanted to let her know I wasn’t there to fight her, but to settle the situation. I said, “I’m very sorry for how I came at you, but Jonathan is my heart.” We saw eye to eye and from that day on became friends. I’m proud of myself for making another friend.

I was voted president of the Resident Advisory Board, a group that plans fun activities. In June we set up an open mike. Me, Tiffany and another girl in our house did a dance routine to hip hop and R&B. We laughed and played around as we practiced in the living room, each of us throwing our own moves in. I threw in the splits. I love dancing because it makes me feel like I’m not vulnerable. It puts me in a place where I’m far away and free.

I sometimes visit my brother and sister, who got adopted and live in Lancaster. But I have no contact with my mom; it’s too much pain. GLASS is my family. I feel loved. The staff makes me feel like I always have someone to talk to. I know they expect more out of me. It makes me want to do good because I know I will let them down if I mess up.

I still argue and get upset, but I don’t go off. When Isabelle left, I didn’t know she was leaving until the staff told me she was gone. I told one of the staff at my group home, Dorothea, that I was upset. She told me Isabelle got a promotion. I was mad at her because I didn’t get to say good-bye. But this time, I didn’t curse or yell. I kept to myself and wrote in my journal. I have to learn how to deal with it when the staff or kids leave me.

When I see other kids acting like beasts—destroying things, fighting, yelling at staff, not listening and not doing what they’re supposed to do—I see myself. It’s a trip because I think, “Damn, I did that.”

Some days it still gets me mad that I felt that pain from my cousins, two people who were supposed to love me. But I think of all the things I went through and I thank God that He got me through it. What I went through is making me stronger.

These days I think about my future and the things that people say I can’t do, like that gay, black males won’t succeed. People see black males in jail and gangbanging, having babies and not taking care of them. That’s not going to be me. Some people say gays are going to hell. I don’t believe that. I’m going to prove that I will be successful. I’m not going to jail, I’m graduating from high school and going to college. I am a strong, gay, black male and no one can tell me different.