Pariahs amid the rainbow | Feature | Chicago Reader

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Pariahs amid the rainbow

Young, queer, and homeless in Boystown

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And it's triggered a backlash from some queer kids there. "I fucking hate the Take Back Boystown people," declares Temara Jazmyn, 24, who grew up religious in a "crappy little hick town in Missouri" and, like Donahoe, is currently in the midst of her gender transition. "I don't identify with the upscale faggotry of the neighborhood, I don't identify with the yuppie ignorance here. I hate this neighborhood. I wish it would burn to the ground. Ninety percent of the people in this neighborhood are garbage to me. I have no tolerance for misogyny, racism, or classism, and that's all that there is in this neighborhood."

Black and slender, with delicately feminine features, Jazmyn says neighborhood people immediately tag her as a prostitute because she's young, trans, and, well, there. She insists that's far from the truth. "Sometimes I steal food because I'm hungry, but I'd sooner sleep outside than submit my body to the disgusting class system."

Her confrontational language stems, at least in part, from trauma. Last fall Jazmyn became homeless and spent six months on the streets. Although she had a few short-term jobs, she found it nearly impossible to save money. "You're eating out every day, and if you're working and don't get into a shelter, you're going to want to get a hotel. And you're paying for hormones." Jazmyn found herself in Boystown by default. "I ended up here because it was difficult for me to find a shelter. I'm not comfortable in men's shelters, and women don't want me in theirs." She says her first experience in Boystown was living with a man who promised to show her the ropes but instead solicited her for sex. The Crib provided an alternative.

Apollo Jones, 23, has been homeless off and on for the past five years. "It's hard enough just being young and LGBTQ," he says. - TODD DIEDERICH
  • Todd Diederich
  • Apollo Jones, 23, has been homeless off and on for the past five years. "It's hard enough just being young and LGBTQ," he says.

"When terrible things happen to someone, it can arrest their development," notes the Night Ministry's Bradley. "Many people we work with might be three, five, 12, and 53 [years old], all at the same time and in different ways. The developmental age brackets change."

To Jones, one of the hardest parts about being homeless "is still having to deal with everything everyone else deals with."

"You still have romantic relationships, you're still encountering people sexually and dealing with them. It's hard enough just being young and LGBTQ." The absence of parents and guardians easily leads street-based kids to unhealthy adulthoods. And while, as Bradley observes, many of them have powerful ways of understanding their own identity, they're still young adults.

"Adolescence is a really complicated time regardless," says Joe Hollendoner, senior vice president of programs at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and founding director of the Broadway Youth Center. "Imagine the complications that homelessness adds to that. It's unfortunate that we as an LGBTQ community haven't come together around that problem. Instead you see the community galvanizing to get the youth out of the neighborhood. And the fact that these youth are developing and surviving really underscores their brilliance."

Even so, some might be willing to exchange brilliance for a little normality. "I've pictured where I'd be if I'd never come to Boystown," Jones remarks. "I'd have a small apartment because I'd be working. I wouldn't have a 'background.' I'd have my coffee in my hand, my trench coat on, and I'd go to work with a smile on my face."

"The streets really change you," Donahoe says. "It feels like I've already led myself down a path, and I can't turn around. My kindergarten teachers used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told them a music teacher. Never in a million fucking years would I have thought, 'Oh, I want to be a transsexual prostitute!'"

Last December Donahoe returned home, for Christmas, for the first time since leaving in 2009. "It was the best Christmas I've ever had," says her adoptive mother, Kathy. "I feel terrible about some of the things Troy has done and experienced. Maybe if things had been different from the start, maybe if I'd been more accepting when I first found out." She trails off. "I don't know. I'm worried he'll do something wrong. I just want him to have a good life."

Donahoe believes that Boystown "gets you trapped." For her as for many LGBTQ kids, the neighborhood that started out representing freedom finished by feeling as constricting as the place she'd fled. "I don't want this life. I don't want to worry about getting enough cash to pay for my hotel room—which I can't even reserve because I'm not 21. I want to work in the day and sleep at night. I just want a normal life."

As Donahoe finishes that thought, her phone buzzes. She thinks it might be a text message from somebody responding to a couples ad she posted online earlier that day. She takes a look, closes her phone, and says, "It's still about survival."

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