Sunday, October 22, 2017

A Review of 'No House To Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions' by Ryan Berg

Image result for no house to call my home ryan berg"Underemployed and directionless, Ryan Berg took a job in a group home for disowned and homeless LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) teenagers.  His job was to help these teens discover their self-worth, get them back on their feet, earn high school degrees, and find jobs.  But he had no idea how difficult it would be, and the complexities that were involved with coaxing them away from dangerous sex work and cycles of drug and alcohol abuse, and helping them heal from years of abandonment and abuse.

In No House to Call My Home, Ryan Berg tells profoundly moving, intimate, and raw stories from the frontlines of LGBTQ homelessness and foster care.  In the United States, 43% of homeless youth were forced out by their parents because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Berg faced young people who have battled extreme poverty, experienced unbalanced opportunities, structural racism, and homophobia.  He found himself ill-equipped to help, in part because they are working within a system that paints in broad strokes, focused on warehousing young people, rather than helping them build healthy relationships with adults that could lead to a successful life once they age out of foster care.

By digging deep and asking the hard questions, and by haltingly opening himself up to his charges, Berg gained their trust.  Focusing on a handful of memorable characters and their entourage, he illustrates the key issues and recurring patterns in the suffering, psychology, and recovery of these neglected teens.

No House to Call My Home will provoke readers into thinking in new ways about how we define privilege, identity, love, and family.  Because beyond the tears and abuse, the bluster and bravado, what emerges here is a love song to that irrepressible life force of youth: hope."

Over the summer, I got a couple of friends together and we started a book club so we could talk about books together!  This was one of the first books we read.  One of the women in my group happens to know the author of this book (and I think was roommates with him at one point) and so we got a little bit of an extra insight into this book.

I think in this day and age, and especially if you live in the part of the world I do or others like it, it's easy to feel complacent about LGBTQ+ issues.  Things are looking up for many people in the community as they gain more rights and are becoming more widely accepted by more families.  But the work is far from done, especially if you're a transgender individual and especially if you're in one of those families that just can't accept you for who you are and/or who you love.  So even though this is set in New York at a slightly different time, it still serves as a good illustration that we shouldn't be complacent and that there are still hundreds of thousands of individuals in need of support and change.

One of the women in my group graduated with a degree in social work, so it was really interesting to speak with her about this book.  One thing we both noticed is that Ryan Berg generally left out his experience from this story.  He mentioned that he was a gay white man who came from a family who accepted this part of him and that's where it ended.  He told us where he positioned himself but this book is very much about the people he served.  Upon further discussion of this book, we figured out that it was because (and I'm very much paraphrasing here) Ryan Berg has a voice.  He has the ability to meet his day to day needs and focus time and energy to write and talk about his own story.  The youth he served (and I believe continues to serve, although not in New York, but Minneapolis) don't have that luxury.  If your focus is on surviving and meeting your day-to-day needs... even if writing down your story is helpful and a good healing exercise, it's not necessarily going to be your first priority.  Not only that, but if you experienced trauma around this part of your life, if you haven't unpacked what happened to you, that's very difficult to ask someone to share their whole story without having some kind of a support network to help them process what happened to them in a healthy way and work toward recovery.  So Ryan choosing to remain quiet about his thoughts on the youth he served was strategic because he could give them a voice, even if they couldn't talk about their experiences on their own just yet.

This was a hard read, but it's another important one that everyone should take time to read-- LGBTQ+ allies and those who struggle to muster support.

I give 'No House to Call My Home':
Thanks for Reading!


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