Angel Shapiro, 18
On paper, Shapiro appeared to have it made. From a well-off family with homes in Manhattan and Florida, he was smart and athletic; he even had a $50,000-per-year tennis scholarship to a tony Connecticut boarding school.
But inside, he was suffering. He couldn’t look in the mirror without despising what he saw. He even considered lighting his body on fire to destroy the thing he hated most. He felt that he was a man trapped inside a girl’s body.
After his junior year, Shapiro cut off his hair and began wearing men’s clothes, which didn’t sit well with his religious, traditional aunt (who had taken him in after his mom died). “I adopted a daughter, not a man,” she said, and told Shapiro to leave. With no place to go, he negotiated a deal and started paying rent for the privilege of living in her walk-in closet during the summer, “like Harry Potter,” Shapiro says.
After flunking out of school in the fall, he returned to NYC and took to the streets instead of returning to his aunt’s home. “When it was really cold, I stayed on the D and R platform at the Herald Square subway stop.” Then, on the 2 train, he was accosted by another homeless man. “He was three times my size and lifted me up with one arm, so I was just hanging there, my feet dangling. He shouted into my face, ‘All I wanted was some damn change!’
“When I’m dead broke, I feel so vulnerable,” he adds. “It’s like I’m walking around naked.”
In April, Shapiro moved into the Ali Forney Center, which places homeless LGBT teens in free-of-charge apartments. Now he plans to get his diploma from Harvey Milk High School and pursue a career as an EMT, but he’s still not optimistic about his fellow New Yorkers. “You also see how cruel the world is when you’re homeless. Most people just don’t care.”