This Thanksgiving, transgender YouTuber Ryan Cassata gives thanks for his chosen queer family

Trans YouTuber and musician Ryan Cassata on Thanksgiving. (Screen capture via YouTube)

Ryan Cassata is a transgender YouTuber, singer-songwriter and performer

I was 13 years old and had recently started my coming out process.

Members of my extended family would say things to me like: “You don’t have to do this for attention, this whole gay thing.”

My romantic relationships were completely ignored and never discussed.

Shortly after I came out as trans, I’d repetitively be called the wrong pronouns, the wrong name, and given extremely feminine presents.

I felt misunderstood, outcasted and ignored.

There was even a time where I watched my brothers be served their meals and my plate was skipped.

I can still feel my heart sinking into my stomach. Some of the holiday’s I would show up but stay in a room far away from everyone for most of the night.

My dysphoria was so severe that being misgendered would deeply wound me at the time.

Staying away and avoiding the chance to be misgendered was not only a coping mechanism but a survival tactic. I dreaded the Holiday’s.

At the same time, school was not feeling like a safe place either.

I was bullied constantly for being queer. I was called derogatory names, asked inappropriate sexual questions, and was even kicked once in the hallway.

I coped in dangerous ways but as a young teenager, I was already desperate to find my place and to feel a sense of belonging in the world.

How would I survive all this?

After breaking down into a mess of tears in my homeroom before the first bell rang, the school psychologist discovered the cuts and slits on my thighs.

I confessed to feeling so deeply alone. It was one of the darkest, most disappointing feelings of my life.

At 13, I felt true loneliness that made surviving on a day to day basis seem nearly impossible.

It was then that I was finally led in the right direction.

The school psychologist told me about this magical place called the Long Island LGBT+ Center.

The center happened to be in my hometown within walking distance. What a blessing.

Thanksgiving. 2007.

My mom and I ventured to the center together and met it’s founder for the first time, David Kilmnick.

I remember immediately feeling welcomed and affirmed at the sight of a rainbow tiled floor.

The table was long and smiling folks, young and old, sat around and chatted freely with each other while eating Thanksgiving dinner.

For the first time, Ryan Cassata felt like he belonged somewhere.

I felt a part of. I felt included. I finally felt okay. I made friends that night that I still have today, even over a decade later.

The bonds that were formed that night and the nights to follow were evidently strong.

None of us really felt completely welcome in the world, not at school, not with our families, but we welcomed each other wholeheartedly.

These incredible young people at the center became my first chosen family.

They were the ones I called when life took unimaginably upsetting turns, they’d answer the phone as I cried about dysphoria and bullying, and the deaths of people I loved.

They were also the ones I called to go out and have fun with.

We’d meet every Friday night at the LGBT+ Center and we would dance like no one was watching and we would play games and bond.

We’d go get fast food late at night throughout the week. We’d meet up at the diner and laugh ourselves to tears.

We’d watch movies, we’d run around, we’d film funny skits, we would laugh and laugh for hours together.

More importantly, we finally got to be ourselves, completely, truly, ourselves.

I have lived in Los Angeles for several years now, and am lucky enough to spend time with my loving girlfriend and friends over the holiday’s, as well as my mom who will be visiting this year.

We will all gather together. Another beautiful chosen family.

I still keep in touch with many of the folks from my hometown LGBT+ Center.

They will always be a part of my story and part of my survival. They will always feel like family to me because they were the first people to be part of my chosen family.

Some of us have grown in different directions as we have gotten older and some of us don’t talk as frequently anymore, but they still feel close to me and I will always be there for them, as I know they will be there for me.

Chosen family is family.