A Haven Over The Rainbow
I was fifteen years old. A sophomore at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Florida. An alcoholic and drug addict when I decided that I should probably change my life around. No, that’s not right, the murder I escaped at the hands of my abusive boyfriend is what let me know that I was on a destructive path heading straight for the grave. I was pretty much aware that I would never end up in jail, not because I’m special or anything, but because my life was too dangerous, the risks I took too great for me to wind up anywhere but as the guest star of my own funeral. It’s sobering to think about that now, at the wonderful age of twenty-eight, having made it four years past the age where doctors told me I would collapse from heart failure, thirteen years past the time when my ex-boyfriend told me I would “wake up dead” and ten years past the time when my biological family thought I would piss off the wrong person, sleep with the wrong people, take a bad hit and wind up dead.
I started being self-destructive at a young age. I can see that I wasn’t out to merely hurt myself, but to make my biological parents suffer as well. Why? Because their ideas and their beliefs had caged me in this impenetrable box of religious morality where being gay sends you to an eternal hell filled with hellfire, brimstone, weeping, gnashing of teeth and indescribable pain. And being transgender? Well, transgenders don’t exist so they’re not even worth talking about. So what do you do when you’re a young gay transgender male who has suffered abuse, trauma, torture, rape, etc. and you’re surrounded by religious fanatics who take great pains to “hate the sin, judge the sin, condemn the sin, but love the sinner”?
You drink. You smoke. You sleep around. You get involved in abusive relationships because hey someone wants you. You become suicidal, depressed. You run away. You become friends with people in gangs. You become violent towards yourself, others. You get as close to the edge as you can possibly get and then you throw yourself over and hope that you crash on the rocks on the way down.
Graphic and harsh? Yes. But then so was my life. So is the life of so many children and teens (and yes, even adults) out there.
Their lives aren’t candy canes and cotton candy. Bright, shiny rainbows in a world full of butterflies and unicorns. They run from the darkness every day, every minute. The screams from their broken spirit haunt them daily and they’re gasping for air, for breath, for life. For someone, anyone to love them enough to hold onto them while they flail around for something to stand on, something to believe in.
Someone to love them enough to stick around.
At fifteen I was one of those people and having left my home in Winter Haven, Florida where my religious mother and her family lived, I moved to Pensacola, Florida, where my even more religious, and even more hypocritical biological father lived. I’m thankful though. For while my life with him was not perfect at all, one night when he’d gone off to another revival church meeting I stayed home and came up with an idea, a group home, a shelter and safe haven in the storm that completely altered my world.
Promise House started off being called The Exodus Project because I come from a very religious family and growing up my biological mother (who is Messianic Jew) took great pains to always tell us the story of the Hebrews escaping slavery and persecution and arriving at the Promised Land, known as an exodus (see the book of Exodus. Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about the Bible or the Torah, whichever you prefer. I’ll wait).
As a kid the story of Moses and the Children of Israel always fascinated me and when I began drafting up the plans for what would later come to be known as the Promise House, it was the story of a people, looked down on and disparaged for being born a certain way that called out to me.
Notice any similarities?
I didn’t know that PH would become what it did, my only thought had been that I wished I’d had somewhere to run to when I felt unsafe, somewhere to go to when I ran away, somewhere to go just in case my parents ever kicked me out. There were shelters for teens who ran away, there always have been. Programs and group homes for teens who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, Teen Challenge is one off the top of my head (I personally know of T.C. having attended it myself). But the problem that I saw with most of them is the fact that there is so much emphasis being put on God curing whatever is broken. I have no problems with God. YHVH is someone I pray to and speak about on an almost daily basis and Jesus is my homeboy. The problem was the fact that sometimes religion just doesn’t cure everything. Sometimes there’s something bigger.
Sometimes you can’t tell a kid to just dress more like a girl and stop wearing boy clothes and then they’ll stop feeling like they were born in the wrong body.
Sometimes you can’t tell a boy to “man up and stop acting like a punk” and a girl to “stop acting like a dude and act like a lady” and they’ll just stop being gay.
Life doesn’t work like that. So as I started to write down my ideas, I wrote about all the things I saw that failed with different group homes and rehabilitation programs designed especially for teens and which ones succeeded. I wrote it from the standpoint of a teen who needed those services. I wrote down what I thought was needed: classrooms so that the kids can still go to school and not miss out on classes, a place to do rehab that’s beyond regular rehab for drugs & alcohol, rehab for the soul and spirit, a place to hang out, a place to grow, to meditate, opportunity for them to talk with parents/guardians/siblings, etc. in order to heal the family rift. Things that I wanted: a specially designed curriculum that will not only help the kids be able to graduate from high school but help them to heal and grow as people, to develop into mature, stable adults, a pool, a stable (horse therapy is good for kids with trauma), buildings to house the kids who live on campus-separating the boys from the girls). Then I started to write out the curriculum.
It took me five years of working on what I wanted before I felt comfortable enough to show T.E.P. to someone else. They were amazed that I came up with the idea at the age of fifteen and impressed by the research I had done.
They’d also told me that it was impossible.
But I’m a man who never thinks anything is impossible and purposefully crosses lines and barriers drawn in the sand, erasing them as I do so, created by a society, a world too afraid of the unknown, too comfortable to really make a difference. I’ve always been that way. I’m that way in my writing (What do you mean no one’s ever written about a gender-fluid character who’s deaf and a wolf shifter and is mated to a black cowboy? What do you mean no one has ever written about a flamboyant, cross-dressing gay man who’s the survivor of abuse who mates a big, overgrown wolf-shifting cowboy? What do you mean no one’s ever written a story about an interracial gay couple where one of the men is a transgender man?) and I’m that way in my life. I spent years going to churches and high schools speaking (in between working and school) and telling them about how I overcame addiction. I don’t hold back because staying silent means not invoking change and I’m a man who has dedicated his life to bringing about change.
That’s why I write. I love to write the stories in my head. Stories of men falling in love with each other, overcoming insurmountable odds, hatred, bigotry, racism, whatever to be together. They demand their time in spotlight. They want their story to be told. But my characters are a lot like me, they know what their main purpose is: to give me a damn good story so that I can make the money I need to start PH. They gladly tell me about their crazy exploits (You had sex in the carriage?!?! With the driver there listening??) and the villains who try to kill them or separate them from their true love(s) (Wait, you’re saying that he’s the head of the Galaxy Planetary Allegiance and he tried to kill you?) and in each story, in each book there’s the small kernel there, a seed that gets planted in the reader to bring change. More than that, with each book, each story, I get a little closer to that dream of my group home for at-risk teenagers and teenagers of the rainbow who have been kicked out, abandoned, those who are homeless, who need families, love, support, encouragement… help.
Because while there’s a bit of myself in every book, in each character, there’s a bit of my story in each teen that I talk to for whom something like this is needed. There’s a bit of my struggle, my life, my heartbreak and triumph in each story I hear of another teen being disowned and kicked out by their parents for being gay or being transgender. That was me. While I was an adult by the time I grew the balls to stand up and actually say “This is me. I’m Vicktor. Transgender man who identifies as gay. Love me or leave me but this is who I am,” there are those out there who did it when they were younger and suffered the consequences. I want to give them a safe haven, a shelter, a home and a family. It’s a big order. It’s daunting, it’s large and I’ve had people, boyfriends and friends who have told me that my life goal is too intimidating for them to be a part of. But I’ve also met people who get it, who understand that for me, helping someone, changing the world, is all that I’ve ever wanted to do. They encourage me. They support me.
They tell me to hurry up and get the shelter started already.
And I’m working on it. Making connections, learning more and more every day.
More than that, I keep on writing, because it’s the characters who get to foot the bill for my dream. It’s Tommy, Tal, Elian, Tabansi, Mickey, Samuei, Michael, Luke, Matthew, Roman, and all the others with their impossible love stories and their triumphs who encourage me to keep going, who tell me to keep writing. To push through the painful memories, the hurt, to never stop fighting, to never stop speaking out against homophobia, transphobia, hatred, bigotry. To never stop being an advocate, to never stop being myself. Because at the end of the day it always comes back to Promise House.
It is the very reason that I write, for that haven over the rainbow.
-Vicktor Aleksandr Bailey