Photo of Junior Avalos next to a river and city skyline.

My name is Junior Avalos.

From a young age, as a kid, I was aware that the love and affection that I displayed was different from what was expected from me. I was vibrant, warm, maternal, and tender.

I grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, and I was taught that there were many different ways that I could express love and different ways love could be manifested and offered in return, and that I was eternally loved by my creator, my family, and my community, shaped into the image that God intended me to be, I was born the way I was supposed to be.

However, when I shared what I was feeling and when my curiosity peeked at 10, what I experienced was constant hate and abuse from people. I was told that the feelings that I had where perverse, wrong, and that I was monster. My friends and community had found out.

I was told that the feelings that I had where perverse, wrong, and that I was monster.

I grew up trying to make myself straight, because everybody saw me as an outsider and ostracized me. I tried everything to fix myself, I even forced myself to loose my virginity at 12 because I thought that by having sex with women, I could become straight. I was pressured into reckless behavior because I wanted the community and family that I loved, to reciprocate and love me back.

One day, when I was 15, I had a physical altercation with a family member due to my sexual orientation. This was the final straw, I was told that if I didn’t change I was going to be disowned by my faith community and my family. The cops were called and I was arrested and put in the back seat of the cop car. When I told the cop what happened, when he was asking for my statement, he replied by telling me “You know there are camps that can fix you, right?” He let me go and the weeks following, I felt like a stranger in my own home and I knew I was not wanted.

I felt like a stranger in my own home and I knew I was not wanted.

Because of all that pressure, harassment, and fear of abandonment I looked up ways to “cure” my “sickness”.

At 16, I ended up finding a camp on the Internet. It was advertised as a 2-week military boot camp for "troubled" men that could “help” us. I got a job to pay for the $600 fee to attend, took a greyhound all by myself from Houston, TX to Austin, got picked up at the bus station, and taken to a camp somewhere in North Texas. When I got there, it all gave the appearance of a nice welcoming environment, but that was only the tactic they used to manipulate us into lowering our guards and catching us in a vulnerable state.

Those two weeks were filled with constant gaslighting, making us think we were literally crazy and using barbaric tactics and lies to try to make us "change". One of the things that they would make us do would be to make us practice how to act like a man, and if we displayed any feminine mannerisms then we risked getting physically assaulted.

The people who where running this program, had no medical experience, had no degree in psychology, they had no background or knowledge to counsel or even help me, they weren’t even clergy that had a basis in spiritual teachings. But they thought they could condition us with manipulation, verbal, and physical assault. I left that camp physically and emotionally drained, I felt worse than how I had entered. I came out with suicidal thoughts and depression. I was thinking of ways I could end my life, different tactics I could use that would feel painless for me while still being thoughtful of my family.

[They would] make us practice how to act like a man, and if we displayed any feminine mannerisms then we risked getting physically assaulted.

Following a few weeks after, I attended a dance intensive in Philly. By some miracle I was staying in a dorm room that was right in the heart of Gayborhood and during their Pride. For the first time in my life I saw that queer and trans people could live happy and healthy lives. Their smiles taught me that I could go out and also be happy, that I didn’t have to live in hiding, that I could live out and bold.

I wanted to live like that, so when I applied to colleges, I made sure I got far away from where I was raised and somewhere where I could live happily. I ended up finding a small liberal arts college in southern Minnesota, and when I talked to one of the people in charge of GLOW!, the GSA at that school, they told me I could come there and be the person I was and be happy in Minnesota. I found a home, a chosen family, and a welcoming community here in Minnesota.

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