"We started We Are the Youth so young queers around the country might see stories similar to their own and feel a bit less isolated," photographer Laurel Golio says of her portrait series of trans, gay, and bisexual youth. When Golio began the ongoing project with journalist Diana Scholl in 2010, trans role models like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock weren't in the mainstream media. "We were frustrated by the lack of diverse coverage of the queer youth population," she says. So Golio and Scholl set out to change that, beginning their project at Gay Prom in Yonkers, New York.
Now, six years later, the two have made work across 14 states. "One of the most amazing things about working on this project has been watching the queer landscape shift over the years," Golio says, noting the legalization of same-sex marriage, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the 51 gender identity options on Facebook. But even with these social and political strides, the pair will continue making their series, helping shape the next generation: "Diana and I still feel that stories can connect people, allowing them to see past their own experiences."
Here, meet 10 of the individuals from We Are the Youth, who shared their stories with Golio and Scholl.
"People ask me if I'm trans and I just say, 'Trans as in transcending gender.' Or they ask me 'Are you a boy or girl?' I say, 'Both!' or sometimes, 'Neither!' and laugh. Recently a little kid came up to me and said 'You look like a boy, but sound like a girl,' and I asked, 'How do boys look and how do girls sound?' because really I don't know the answer to those questions. I don't think any answer truly exists. The kid couldn't give me one, either."
"Life's kind of bittersweet right now. I feel like this has been a year of survival…. Going to Creating Change [an annual LGBTQ conference] has helped. I felt like I was in heaven. I got to meet a lot of queer black trans people that I had idolized on Tumblr. I had to pinch myself that I wasn't dreaming. I'd never been in a space where I could look around and everyone is trans or a person of color. Even the way I walked was different. When I'm in school I'm either puffing out my chest or breathing in. I get bumped a lot in the hallway, especially by the white cis boys. Because of that I'm always tense. Now I walk strong, but don't puff up my chest like I have something to prove. It helps my health, physically."
"I'm lucky I already had my kids before I got HIV. I became HIV-positive on June 16, 2011, in Florida. It was with a real female and the condom popped. She knew she was HIV-positive but didn't tell me. I was so angry. Then I came to New York in August, because it was too slow with the medicine in Tampa. My homeboy said he'd get me one of his private doctors, but then someone told me in New York they have a program to help with benefits."
"For a while I was just identifying as queer because I didn't want to have to define a term, but then I went through the entire complication of having to explain it to every single person. Then for a while I was kind of saying that I was bi. For a while I was saying that I was a lesbian who occasionally liked guys, but now I'm kind of back to queer. The point is: I'm mostly into girls but sometimes like guys."
"I identify as bisexual. When I was younger I didn't really understand sexuality. I would just identify as straight because there were no females I strongly wanted to have a relationship with. So I would tell myself to stop thinking things. I would have the same emotions if I saw a really cute boy or cute girl. For females I'd think, 'It's probably just because I want to look like her.' In my senior year of high school, I realized I didn't want to be them; I just really felt attracted to them. My family and friends are really accepting people. But my family reacted really well, I think, because I wasn't telling them I was going to be in a relationship. My father doesn't want me to tell people. He thinks I'll regret it, or someone's going to end up hurting me."
"Myself, I'm definitely transgender of some variety. I'm not sure where I will stick. There are so many labels. The terminology is always shifting… When I was younger, I first identified as gay. But I'd been feeling a little bit off in my gender identity. I went to a Catholic girls' school in Halifax. I wore knee socks, kilt, the whole works. When they added a separate boys' school, a few girls asked if they could wear the boys' uniform and the administration said no. So I wasn't exposed to different gender expressions in high school, apart from my own research. I was reading some things online like GenderFork and Original Plumbing. It's strange being in New York now and everyone is suddenly genderqueer."
"My family's always been very supportive of me. I came out to my family when I was 14, but I wouldn't really consider it a coming out; I just confirmed it. I've been a feminine boy forever. It was good they had already realized it. I was just like, 'Oh, that makes it even better. We don't have to talk about it. Onto the next subject then.'"
"I highly hold onto my evangelical roots even though they sort of slapped me in the face a little bit. But I grew up believing certain things, and just because I'm gay doesn't mean they don't make sense to me anymore. There are some things I have to rethink and put different spins on. And people will say, 'Well, you didn't think homosexuality was right until you came out of the closet.' Well, I wasn't open to discovering new things, and this puts the Scripture into a different light."
"I'm closer with my twin brother than anyone else in the world. When he came out to me as gay after high school, I had already been out since I was 16. He had seen what I had gone through but he never told me he was going through the same thing that I was. At the time I felt like it was a betrayal, but it was harder for him to accept he was gay than it was for me. He realized one day and didn't know what to do. For me, I had realized for so long, so I was ready for it."
"It's been really hard for me to find a solid community. I always felt like I fell in the middle with all these identities. I'm always not enough or too much. Being mixed, I might not be gay enough, I might not be straight enough. I might not be Latina enough, or white enough. I felt alone, until I found my group of friends and these multi-racial spaces. The best thing that has ever happened to me is finding people who have loved me and supported me."
For more on Golio's work, see laurelgolio.com.