I did not fully understand the idea of home until I stepped foot into the Pride House, my school’s official queer student housing, when I was 19. I dragged my suitcase into a small room under the stairs. I’ve lived in places longer — my house in New York was “home” for 18 years until I left for college. But until I got to the Pride House, I felt fragmented. Parts of me lived in my house in New York; serenity sat with me when my mom and I chatted over cups of tea at the kitchen table, and laughter echoed when my brothers tied my Barbies to the fan with shoelaces and we watched them spin around like they were aerial dancers in the circus; butterflies rented space in my stomach when the girl I liked told me she liked me back in high school, but anxiety gulped when voices got too loud and held its breath when I sat at the same kitchen table with another cup of tea.
I was unsure how I’d get to college at all, until I found out about Point Foundation and was filled with hope at the idea of becoming a Point Scholar. In 2017, that hope became a reality.
The Pride House is not perfect. Its brick skin makes summers full of sweat and winters ice-cold. The heaters take hours to turn on and the oven makes sporadic decisions about how fast it’ll cook what’s inside, no matter what the recipe says. I’m awoken most mornings by squirrels running back and forth in our ceiling. But it’s also magic, with a rainbow, bisexual, and transgender flag greeting me when I walk into the dining room and a cardboard cutout of Meryl Streep locking eyes with me when I read by the fireplace. Some days, the house is so quiet that my own thoughts echo throughout it, and some days it is so full that I wonder how it can hold so many people I love in one place, gathered around the table for a potluck dinner or jumping up and down to the lullabies of “Mamma Mia” and Lizzo for a themed event so specific and niche that I am in awe people showed up.
It is an eerie and incredible experience to constantly be in the same space where so much growth has taken place … and still I am growing. If I am an exhibit, the Pride House is a museum where the past versions of me, the present me, and the one who has yet to be all reside. There’s a sophomore-year version of me in the room under the stairs crying over a breakup she will later learn was a blessing, and another version who teaches herself to cook to avoid the dining hall because she’s in a rough spot. After many burnt baked goods and dinners, food becomes her way to heal. She bonds with a group of five people through cooking, and three years later, present me calls them my best friends.
There’s a junior-year version who dyes her hair way too blonde and starts interning at the local high school. A passion for higher education access adds a layer to her life she never expected, fueled by the support the Point Foundation provided her through funding, mentorship and friendships that she was determined to provide for other low-income students. The idea of speaking Spanish for five months terrifies her, but she sits in the living room and squeezes her eyes shut as she clicks “purchase” on a flight to Seville, Spain for a semester abroad anyway. There’s an August version who moves into a room on the second floor, absolutely exhausted after eight months of constant travel. She can’t believe she doesn’t have to live out of a suitcase anymore. When she unpacks, she realizes she owns so many pieces of clothing that she never wears. She vows to remind herself every morning that there is no special occasion needed to wear bright colors or funky pants or big earrings; every day is a damn occasion.
There’s a September version who has 25 friends over to watch “Booksmart” in the backyard. She makes so much chicken parmesan that the smoke alarm goes off and everyone talks about queerness and friendship in the living room after the movie. For the first time, she’s confident enough in herself to approach the people she wants in her life. And because of that, her life is full of people she didn’t even know she was looking for. The October version waves goodbye to the house as she drives seven hours to meet her newborn nephew. And there’s me, right here, right now, writing this at my dining room table. Queer joy is erupting in so many parts of me. The map of my life has so many thumbtacks in it that it’s tearing a little bit. There are so many places I can pinpoint as home and so many that were meant to be home but ended up just being pit stops to get there.
I don’t hold my breath in this house. The voice in my head that says “You can’t be you here” goes silent every time I open the door. I feel pride in its broken heaters and prancing squirrels and angry oven and icy walls. Three years later, I still gasp each time I approach the door and realize I have the key to enter. I know there are so many versions of me yet to exist in this space and so many other queer spaces I have yet to exist in. And I know that soon, there will be old and existing and soon-to-be versions of another queer kid in this house. I can’t wait for them to come home.
This post was written by Point Scholar Val Weisler.
Val is currently studying Education Advocacy at Muhlenberg College. She is the Founder and CEO of The Validation Project, a program that helps other teens gain confidence, believe in themselves more deeply, and develop the skills to address social justice issues. Read more about Val here.