It’s no secret that growing up in foster care can be challenging. In my case, those challenges were intensified by the fact that I’m a bi-racial lesbian. Finding a place where I felt I belonged was difficult. I often imagined whenever I was brought into a new home that I was just an unwanted accessory to my white sister. I was adopted from foster care early in my childhood, but later re-entered the system at age 13 once my adoptive placement dissolved. It was around this age that I finally felt comfortable enough to come out as gay.
The first person I trusted with this vulnerable aspect of my identity was my foster mother. Her reaction was far from ideal. Aside from refusing to believe that I was genuinely attracted to the same sex, she also punished me by removing the few meaningful outlets I had for self-expression and community. Ironically, I would later find out that her actions were not fueled by hate at all and that she herself was also gay. Fearing that the state would remove her foster parent license for influencing my sexuality, she adamantly discouraged me from being vocal or honest about whom I was attracted to.
Fortunately, I had gone through too much in my life at that point to let someone else’s negativity decide the person that I was going to be. I chose, in spite of this incident, to be clear and upfront with the other people in my life and — to my surprise — it paid off. Both my social worker and mentor were incredibly supportive and I began to feel a new sense of confidence in my sexual identity. This sense of acceptance has gone a long way in building my self-esteem, but I still struggle to maintain balanced relationships as a product of the rejection I felt in those early foster homes.
Sometimes I still feel powerless to the judgment of adults. It can be incredibly challenging to face their ignorance and disrespect in regards to your sexuality, especially when you feel you have no one to vouch for you.
When it comes to relationships, I definitely feel that I have a lot to give; often times more than I receive. While most people divide their time amongst friends and family, when you don’t have much of either, it can be hard not to put everything you have into romantic relationships.
These are issues I’m still working on – to find balance in my relationships. I believe the foster care system should do a better job at helping all youth – whether LGBTQ or straight – recover from the relationship loss we’ve experienced in our lives so that we can form healthy relationships as young adults.
Julia Schaffer spent 17 years in Florida’s foster care system, was a 2014 FosterClub All-Star Intern and 2015 #FosterEquality spokesperson. Her experience in care has inspired her to share her story with other foster youth through local conferences and advocacy efforts. Through these efforts, she hopes that her voice can shine for other youth who feel silenced. She is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice at Florida State University with hopes to attend law school.
Julia Wants Her Story Heard.
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