No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions

by Ryan Berg


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No House to Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions by Ryan Berg

In this lyrical debut, Ryan Berg immerses readers in the gritty, dangerous, and shockingly underreported world of homeless LGBTQ teens in New York. As a caseworker in a group home for disowned LGBTQ teenagers, Berg witnessed the struggles, fears, and ambitions of these disconnected youth as they resisted the pull of the street, tottering between destruction and survival.

Focusing on the lives and loves of eight unforgettable youth, No House to Call My Home traces their efforts to break away from dangerous sex work and cycles of drug and alcohol abuse, and, in the process, to heal from years of trauma. From Bella's fervent desire for stability to Christina's irrepressible dreams of stardom to Benny's continuing efforts to find someone to love him, Berg uncovers the real lives behind the harrowing statistics: over 4,000 youth are homeless in New York City—43 percent of them identify as LGBTQ.

Through these stories, Berg compels us to rethink the way we define privilege, identity, love, and family. Beyond the tears, bluster, and bravado, he reveals the force that allows them to carry on—the irrepressible hope of youth.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781568585093
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication date: 08/25/2015
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Ryan Berg is a Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging Writers Fellow and received the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Nonfiction Literature. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, Local Knowledge and the Sun. Berg has been awarded artist residencies from the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo.

Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Preface xiii

Introduction: Lady Fingers 1

Part I The 401

Chapter 1 A Member of the Family 31

Chapter 2 Drastic Escapes 71

Chapter 3 Tick Tick Boom 95

Chapter 4 The Color of Leaves 119

Part II Keap Street

Chapter 5 No After-School Special 151

Chapter 6 Things Families Do 175

Chapter 7 Fire Starter 209

Chapter 8 Disappear 227

Part III Aftercare

Chapter 9 Going Home 249

Epilogue 263

Acknowledgments 267

LGBTQ Homeless Youth Resource Guide 269

Notes 277

Index 281


Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Ryan Berg

Of the nearly 2 million youth experiencing homelessness in the United States, over 40 percent identify as LGBTQ, even though LGBTQ youth make up only 8 percent of the total population. Though they make up such a large percentage of homeless youth, LGBTQ youth are significantly more likely to experience victimization and harassment than their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. One in five transgender women report having experienced homelessness at one time or another in their lives, and many would prefer to sleep on the streets than face the discrimination and violence found in some shelters. Ryan Berg, author of No House to Call My Home, is all too aware of these staggering numbers. His 2015 book chronicles the years he spent as a caseworker in two group homes for LGTBQ youth in New York City. The memoir revolves around the stories of eight youth who whose struggle to make ends meet is compounded by the trauma and abuse they experienced at the hands of their families and communities. It also demonstrates, on a heartbreakingly intimate level, how systemic racism, economic injustice and the failures of the government and the foster care system intertwine to make mobility, safety and financial stability nearly impossible to attain for homeless youth. —Amy Gall In 2015, No House to Call My Home won the Minnesota Book Award for General Nonfiction, and the ALA listed it as one of their Top 10 LGBTQ books of the year. However, Berg says he continues to be surprised by how little news coverage and mobilization he's seen around LGBTQ youth homelessness in general.

"Where's the community outrage?" he wondered. "People often don't want to read about tragedy unless there is redemption in the end? Then we need to create that redemption. If we mobilized half as much and showed half the ingenuity as we did in the fight for marriage equality, the LGBTQ community, and their allies, could make a real impact on LGBTQ youth homelessness. These young people have had to face enough indignities. They shouldn't have to face erasure and neglect from their own community."

Despite the lack of media attention, Berg continues to receive requests to speak nationally about the book and about youth homelessness. He uses these opportunities to do stage something very different than the traditional literary reading.

"In each city I visit I invite community organizers, service providers and youth to join me. I encourage a community conversation about the unique challenges that that city is facing in relation to LGBTQ youth homelessness. I find that people are typically wanting to engage. They have questions about how communities can begin to fill the gaps in services for young people." The readings also give young people who have had experiences similar to those of the book's protagonists the chance to speak with Berg and share their stories. It is this kind of intimate connection that makes Berg feel like the work he's doing is worthwhile. "Recently, a high school student came up to me after the reading. She told me her parents refused to accept her identity. She came home one day to find that they had moved away without telling her, leaving her homeless. She said she saw herself reflected in the story I read. Not only in the family rejection, but in the resiliency . . . She said, 'I just wanted to thank you. I feel so invisible in my life. Listening to you felt like being seen.' If this book touches one young person and helps them rediscover their value, I feel it has done its job."

The release of Berg's book has also changed his relationship to writing in ways that he didn't expect. Initially, he says, he had no interest in journalism, but, after No House to Call My Home, he found himself writing more op-eds and short essays about the LGBTQ homeless youth crisis. "I learned over time that the work I do in direct service and my writing life are not mutually exclusive. In fact they've become intrinsically intertwined. Each influences the other. Both are done through the lens of social justice. My youth work is about taking actionable steps to evoke change in my community; my writing (hopefully) is about how the power of stories can become transformational and build empathy and understanding for those of us who have historically been marginalized."

Since the book's publication, there have been some positive strides in training child welfare professionals to pay attention to the "unique needs and challenges faced by LGBTQ youth," and more data is being collected on the dangers that LGBTQ homeless youth experience. But, Berg cautions, there is much that remains to be done. The Runaway Homeless Youth Act, for instance, which would have provided crucial government funding for street outreach, shelters and transitional housing and "is designed with LGBTQ cultural competency in mind," was introduced in January of 2015 but never passed the Senate.

Berg now works at Avenues for Homeless Youth in Minneapolis. Their GLBT Host Home Program is a unique, nationally recognized model because it remains small and volunteer run, circumventing many of the systems that created such dysfunction for the youth in his book. The host home program matches GLBT- identified and ally adult hosts with GLBT-identified homeless youth. Unlike traditional foster care, the hosts are not paid to house youth and youth choose the host they would like to be paired with based on an application the host fills out, not the other way around. One of the young people Berg works with at Avenues is a writer and was excited to connect with a published author. "I'm trying to help her find creative writing classes that suit her needs. She blogs and writes beautifully. The fact that we have writing in common seems to strengthen our bond a bit. We can talk about the craft of writing, and I don't think she has anyone else she shares that with."

Ultimately, Berg hopes that No House to Call My Home will continue to carve out a space for homeless youth in which they feel safe enough to write their own memoirs. "Personal narrative is a corrective to history, a way for marginalized populations to resist erasure. We tell our stories and collectively we reshape the narrative."

August 31, 2016

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