Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus is more than a book. Taken over the course of a decade, Rachelle Lee Smith’s photographs capture the faces of a generation of queer, trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning young people, ages 14 to 24. Each participant adds personal handwritten thoughts to their portrait, telling of their passions, confusions, joys and sorrows. Order Speaking OUT today by making a donation to Truthout!
In this excerpt from Speaking OUT, Tiffany, one of the dozens of young people featured in the project, reflects on her personal journey in the years since her photograph was taken in 2006.
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When I first participated in the project, I barely made the age cutoff. But I truly believed in the project and felt that I still had a voice as a youth that needed to be heard. I am now 30. The most significant change is that the blond hair is gone, but the afro remains. People still remember that crazy blond hair that I sported, and it still remains a topic of conversation for those who knew me at that time.
At the time of the photo I was working in the sexual health field, helping youth make healthier decisions about sex. Now, I remain in that field, but I focus more on homeless youth at an organization called the Youth Health Empowerment Project as their communication and operations supervisor. I am only a couple of months away from getting my masters in communication from Temple University.
I have been very lucky in my life and career as a butch-identified lesbian with a masculine gender presentation, but I have to give some credit to feeling confident in my own skin. The time that photo was taken, I was still trying to find myself and had a lot of unanswered questions about how I could fit in this world when I wasn’t engulfed by the comfort of the queer community. When I read what I wrote, I sometimes think that I could have said so much more about who I was as a person but my hair was such a visible piece of my identity.
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In these photographs by Rachelle Lee Smith, taken over the course of a decade, young LGBTQ people tell their own stories.
I do not feel that I would change a word of what I wrote. It was who I was at the time and part of my character building. This photo reminds me of a time when I was young and ready to take over the world, and that is a feeling that I hope to not lose as I grow older.
If I was to write on that photo now, I would write that “the freedom and courage to live up to the identity that is most comfortable for you, despite what society may think of you, is the biggest gift you can give yourself. As I walk through this world being completely true to myself, both inside and outside, I can fear nothing, because nothing can break me if I feel that I am as strong as I need to be.”
I am prouder now of being a lesbian than I was back then, and more importantly a black butch-identified lesbian. My openness will hopefully inspire the next young person I come across to live up to whatever they desire to be in life.
Copyright Rachelle Lee Smith. Not to be reposted without permission of the publisher, PM Press.