Taking It Back – RECLAIM Takes Possession of Queer and Trans Youth Oppression

Photo by Min Enterprises Photography
Photo by Min Enterprises Photography

As she trudges from the station to the bus, the slate-colored sky clears its throat, begins whispering to her in a cold, polka-dot voice. She rubs her nose, then catches herself: she promised she wasn’t going to cry. No problem, there’s nothing to cry about—the crushing, tear-inducing void is gone now, her home, her school, her crummy, part-time job, gone…and good riddance to all of it. She knows she’s a she, regardless of which public bathroom she’s been forced to use.  

Now that it’s almost over, the taunts are what stick with her the most, worse than the shoving and the falling and the landing and the kicks and the grown-up shoulder shrugs. Her mother tried to understand; her father did not. And what happened next made the taunting feel like a walk in the park. She knew what she had to do. As the bus doors hiss closed behind her, it’s the rain that she wipes from her cheeks, only the rain, because she made a promise, and she’s keeping it. Her life is hers; today she reclaims it. She takes her seat, and the bus begins its journey. If only there had been another way, she thinks, and sleeps…

RECLAIM is another way.  

Photo by Ryan Balderas

“RECLAIM’s mission is to increase access to mental health support so queer and trans youth may reclaim their lives from oppression in all its forms,” says Executive Director Ryan Fouts. “RECLAIM is one of the region’s only options for queer and trans youth to get financially accessible, specialized mental health care. We offer individual, group, and family/couples therapy for queer and trans youth ages 13 through 25.”

That therapy begins to take shape with a simple but profound reckoning that might be taken for granted by those not facing a particular strain of oppression. “We have chosen to use the term ‘queer and trans youth’ because this is how the youth we work with overwhelmingly self-identify and prefer to be named,” the organization’s website explains. “Self-determination—including the power to define oneself—is a heavy source of both historical oppression and survival/resistance/healing. For many youth in our communities, the term LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) is a label that has been put on them, while the terms ‘queer’ and ‘trans’ are chosen and preferred.”

RECLAIM’s purpose can expand beyond countervailing oppression in its Protean forms. Testifies Fouts: “I believe deeply in the mission of RECLAIM, and do this work because I want to create a world where queer and trans youth are celebrated, accepted and loved as unique and beautiful people.”

Photo courtesy of RECLAIM

That uniqueness serves as the foundation for a sense of community. “RECLAIM’s magic is in the deep and healing relationships that are fostered between youth and staff,” the website elaborates. “Each month we serve 80 individual youth, many of whom come weekly for both individual and group therapy and social support.”

Everyone has suffered from the alienation imposed by a ceaseless global pandemic, but this isolation can serve as a catalyst to the unique problems already plaguing queer and trans youth. “Social isolation, coupled with the possibility of being isolated in an unsupportive home, have created significant challenges for queer and trans youth,” Fouts says.  

Fouts himself finds that sense of supercharged solitude all too familiar. “I grew up in a small town in Kansas,” he recalls. “When I started questioning my sexuality as a teenager I felt isolated because it didn’t feel safe to talk to anyone, and therapy services were not accessible. As a result I struggled with depression for several years.”

Photo courtesy of RECLAIM

RECLAIM’s Executive Director turned that cavernous sadness into motivation to improve the lives of queer and trans youth struggling through the same black valley. “As a queer adult,” he says, “I am passionate about creating opportunities for queer and trans youth to have access to healing spaces.”

Those spaces, and the healing that transpires within them, allow queer and trans youth to reclaim their lives from oppression in its myriad forms. “We’re currently accepting referrals for our therapy services,” Fouts concludes. “More information can be found at our website: www.reclaim.care/therapy.”

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