Story Spotlight 6/28/2019: Shift by CathyTea
CathyTea’s Shift…follows the story of a homelesss gender fluid teenager as they navigate the world around them. I particularly love the objective writing style. It makes what would be otherwise quite a traumatic read, safe and it’s a story I would definitely read again.
And read it again I did!
Homeless teen challenges and stories are pretty common and usually about teen pregnancy. Just go on YouTube and dive down that rabbithole. Jazz/Jenny (more on that later, but Jenny is her preferred name at the end of the story) does not get pregnant, and finding a support system is their first and foremost concern instead. Beyond any LGBTQ+ themes, Shift is a subtle way to highlight the very real work that the Youth on Their Own organization does to support homeless teens and keep them in school. Jenny is not even a particularly exceptional example of homeless youth compared to the real world, where up to 43% of American homeless teens are LGBTQ+.
Shift takes an interesting approach to Jenny’s feelings of dysphoria and unease about her situation and identity. Cathy later messaged me with their precise gender and orientation for different reasons (asexual/aromantic and nonbinary) but through Jenny’s perspective, they assign herself few words to label her identity. Perhaps in line with the title, it’s okay with shifting. This is pretty notable in their approach to their own name. They start as wanting to distance themselves from being “Jenny Trevalyn” and adopt the name Jazz Deon, in honor of their pictured friend and mentor, Deon. But as they grow more confident in themselves and escape the trauma of the past (and fill out legal forms for college of course), Jenny becomes their beloved name once more.
And shifting and vagueness is more than okay, Jenny is a teenager for the whole story.
Cathy took a broad and holistic approach to helping Jenny rebuild themselves in the YOTO program. As much or more of the story is focused on Jenny’s hobbies, like working in the woods each summer with Ted the mountain man, running track, and partaking in yoga and other athletics with YOTO. It is a model that can serve as a guide to aiding in many teen problems.
As my submitter said, Jenny’s mind and reality can sometimes veer into dark places. They are essentially an abused orphan who starts off the story sleeping in a park and lying about their age and menstruating. Some of their thoughts are in line with the dark, dissociative parts of dysphoria like truly wanting to be nobody or (even well into the story) weighing the options between wanting to occupy a body and dying. But Jenny also goes through the story with lots of organic, gameplay-driven ups and downs in their life. There is a lot of growth and positivity as Jenny meets the right people.
In all, Shift is a succinct read that reminded me a lot about being a questioning teenager myself. And it can give hope to those who don’t have a place in the world yet.