Needing money to escape to New York City, eighteen-year-old Vincent went to a blood donation centre. “I gave plasma to get some dollars,” he said.
On 17 June last year, he got on a bus, leaving his small hometown in Ohio (population 3,000) with no plans to return.
He left a note for his family, entrusting it to a friend. When the friend delivered the note, “they took her to the bus station to make her tell them where I was (she refused), and harassed her for several weeks.
“My father tried to kill her.”
* * * * *
“A very conservative, mostly Baptist town,” was how Vincent described the place where he grew up. “The pastor would say things like ‘Muslims are going to hell, gay people are going to hell.’”
Until he was 17, he never saw another LGBT person, though since middle school, he had some difficulty identifying as heterosexual.
The first LGBT one he met (at 17) identified as lesbian, but even so, Vincent admitted he had prejudices, mostly on account of his religious upbringing, he said. Nevertheless, they became good friends, and it would soon lead to Vincent questioning his own beliefs – and his own identity.
“My father was physically abusive; my mother emotionally abusive,” he said. “I wasn’t able to come out at school. It was not even OK to voice doubts.”
His mother had a habit of checking Vincent’s phone messages, which soon led to the discovery of conversations with the lesbian girl.
“When my mother confronted me with what she had found, I basically threw this person under the bus,” he said metaphorically. “I said my lesbian friend was manipulating me.”
His mother threatened to send him for ‘conversion therapy’ – it was something he had read about before, so he knew that he didn’t want any part of it – “and I had to lie to save myself.”
‘Conversion therapy’ is a form of indoctrination involving psychologically breaking a gay person until he succumbs to self-hate. It is much beloved of fundamentalist Christianity.
With Vincent refusing to go, his mother then insisted on reading the Bible every night to him.
Yet, right after this incident, he met someone who identified as a male-to-female transgender, who had just begun to transition. “I said to myself, if I can support her transitioning, why can’t I support myself doing the same?”
But Vincent knew that he couldn’t do so while still in the straitjacket his family imposed, so he went onto the internet to look for options. But his mother soon found out about that too.
“She discovered me talking to her on trans-related issues, and tried again to get me into ‘conversation therapy’. She even called the police.”
The nightly ritual changed. Instead of the mother reading from the Bible, Vincent had to read it himself and regurgitate the selected passages. But despite the supposed ‘power’ of the ‘Word’, Vincent remained Vincent. He didn’t change.
Vincent is apparently an academic achiever. Even while in high school, he was doing some college courses, in the course of which he researched options and programs available for female-to-male transgenders. Once past his eighteenth birthday, he felt he was ready to leave. His family was suffocating him. “They are dangerous people, kind of toxic,” he said of his parents. “They are not capable of caring about anyone other than themselves.”
If he wanted to live his own life, he had to get out. “There are some people in this world that have lost the ability to learn,” said Vincent. “My father, maybe; my mother, never.”
Nor was staying on in the small town an option. “I’ve never gotten any support from the community.”
And so he went to the blood bank and gave a pint.