Dance with your heart, and love will follow.
Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
I absolutely adored this story. I’m so glad we get to see Tomás and everything he’s dealing with. Spenser is so wonderful and perfect for Tomás. They compliment each other so well. Their strengths and weaknesses are evenly matched. Both of them have so many hurdles in their path keeping them from being together. But they work hard to overcome them. When they both are finally able to let go and be together, it’s so perfect.
Spenser pulled me in from the beginning. He is quiet and shy but has a steel core that he uses to protect those he deems worthy. I adored the way he took in Duon and made sure he was care for and knew he had family no matter what. Spenser was a great dad doing everything he could to make Duon feel safe. Spenser struggled to let go and I felt for him and how he couldn’t let go of his past. I really liked seeing Spenser stand up for himself and his family. Spenser wound up being a character I couldn’t wait to see get his happy ending.
Tomás was in so much pain when he met Spenser. Though he didn’t realize it at first. It took a while for Tomás to break and realize he deserved more than to just exist to help others. His journey to allowing himself to be happy was amazing to see. The way Tomás loved Spenser and made him the center of his world, his family, was beautiful to see. I adored how devoted Tomás was to Spenser. That level of emotion came pouring out of the page.
It was wonderful getting to see Laurie and Ed again. I liked how Marcus put the notion of doing more than existing with pain into Ed’s ear. I so hope he finds the level of happy he deserves. The rest of the cast of characters in this story really brought the story to life. I adored Tomás’ mama so much. The way she talks with Tomás about Alisa and Spenser was beautiful and completely on point. Renata is amazing. My favorite part of the story is the last chapter. It is the best part where we get to see everything come together and how everyone is happy together. You get to feel the love between Tomás and Spenser. You can see so much hope for everyone for their future. It’s the perfect ending to this story and gets me excited for whatever comes next for them.
Four and a half
Interview By Heidi:
Interviews are a staple of blog tours, but this time I’d like to shake things up, because while I did my homework as best I could to write Enjoy the Dance, I’m by no means an expert. I wanted to let you hear from some people who know a lot more than me about the subjects touched on in the story, and one of those people is Ryan Berg, who I know through the Avenues program in Minneapolis.
You wrote a wonderful book about your experience working with homeless LGBTQ youth, No House To Call My Home: Love, Family, and Other Transgressions. How did this book come about? What compelled you to write it?
I started working with LGBTQ youth in foster care in 2004. I’d been working in theater before that and was feeling the conversations within that community were taking place in silos. I felt a need to do something outside myself, so I applied to work at a group home.
I hadn’t intended to write about the youth, it felt too exploitive. I didn’t want my writing to steer my experiences with them. During the summer of 2005 I went to the University of Iowa for a creative writing workshop for social workers and it was there I put down the first pages. I was encouraged by the instructor to continue writing after the workshop ended. Once I returned to New York I shelved the pages, and focused on working with the youth again. It wasn’t until I left my position and started an MFA at Hunter College that I realized I couldn’t shake these stories. I really felt an urgency in telling them. These stories felt unavoidable. There was nothing being said about the youth experience of homelessness in the media, especially LGBTQ youth. We know the statistics – 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ – but statistics become numbing. People really operate from empathy. My goal was to open a door into an unseen world, to focus on the lives of the young people experiencing the hardships that were addressed in the book.
Reading No House To Call My Home was at times difficult enough, but this is your job. What’s the fuel to your fire? How do you keep yourself going?
This work is really about building relationships, and being present for someone. Our systems fail people time and time again. The fuel to my fire is that I see the beauty, intelligence, and resiliency in these young people. I’m lucky enough to witness their triumphs and share community with them. Whenever I feel burned out and empty, like I have nothing left to give, a young person will do something amazing that blows my mind and reignite my fire and passion.
Self-care is also an important component to doing this work. Find your joy. And make time to cultivate that joy.
What’s your favorite success story in working with LGBT youth? Who’s your lighthouse, the youth who has taught you the most?
There are so many stories. Right now I’d have to say my lighthouse is a person I call Caridad in the book. She’s experienced more obstacles in her few years on this earth than most people do in a lifetime. She’s always persevered, regardless of the trauma and abuse she’s endured. She left New York and started a new life for herself and her young daughter. She met a great man, she was building her career with the hopes of becoming a teacher. She’s always been a caregiver, putting others before herself. Recently she was diagnosed with ALS, and the prognosis is grim. Now she is facing an illness that threatens her ability to function and her ability to provide for her beautiful 4 year old daughter. Despite the abuse, the neglect, and now a disease that threatens her young life, she pushes on. She has such a powerful light about her. She’s now trying to set up support for her daughter so she’ll grow up with resources. She’s such an inspiration to me.
If people are interested in helping youth in crisis, what’s the best thing they can do? What are their options?
People interested in helping the young woman I just mentioned can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/pyrielals?r=71105
If people are wanting to become involved in their own communities I’d suggest finding out who does community organizing in your area with a focus on LGBTQ youth homelessness and see what their needs are.
In the back of No House to Call My Home there is a state-by-state LGBTQ Homeless Youth Resource Guide. I created it not only for youth who need services but also for people who want to help organizations in their own communities.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks, Heidi, for creating the opportunity to talk about this subject. Too often people don’t want to discuss difficult subjects like this. Some LGBTQ advocates seem to believe the fight ended with marriage equality. The tight focus on marriage equality over the past decade has allowed us to overlook other pressing issues that face members of our communities; to forget that fight has many fronts. Those causes now need to be given the attention they deserve.
We must now dedicate to fight for our youth experiencing homelessness and suffering from suicidal ideation; our transgender siblings targeted with violence; our brothers and sisters of color who face discrimination daily; and our undocumented, impoverished, or incarcerated brothers and sisters living in deplorable conditions. We must fight with the same ingenuity and tenacity that brought us the right to marry. We must build on the momentum this victory has afforded us and learn to care for each other across differences within our communities.
We need to mobilize in solidarity even when the person we’re fighting for doesn’t mirror back our own experience or reflection. Even when — no, especially when — their cries for help seem in conflict with our joy.
There was a sparkle to Tomás’s voice he’d never heard before. Like Duon, dance was where Tomás’s passion lay.
It wasn’t Spenser’s. In fact, he frankly hated to dance. He’d been keenly aware every time he went clubbing that some people had natural rhythm and some people did not. He was one of the latter.
Sometimes he wondered if his failure at dance was the reason he never dated. Hookups only wanted a bed, but dates always seemed to involve a dance floor, which meant whatever charm Spenser had managed up until that part of the evening evaporated in five minutes of awkward gesticulations. So now he only hooked up, never dated, and never danced, full stop. Not even at weddings.
But he had made a bargain with Duon, and though initially he’d planned to weasel out, he decided as a parent now his job was to stick to his word. He could hide under his covers and work through his mortification once he was alone at home.
The bell rang to announce the end of noon recess, and Spenser stopped thinking about dance lessons and how much he didn’t want them. Not until the bell rang again, signaling the end of the day, letting him know it was time to pay the piper.
He half-hoped Duon had forgotten, but he had no such luck. Grinning wide enough to split his face, eyes dancing with anticipation, Duon leaped into the car when Spenser approached the high school. “You ready for your lesson, teach?”
Spenser gave a defeatist salute, and Duon laughed. He then peppered Spenser with questions—did he know this move or that one, and he was incredulous when every question received a “no, I don’t” as the answer. Thankfully, it wasn’t far from Duon’s school to the studio, so Spenser didn’t have to endure this for long. Unfortunately, this also meant it was that much less time until Spenser walked into the boy’s locker room, clutching his duffel and wondering what in the hell he’d gotten himself into.
Tomás was in there already, wearing a tight T-shirt and a pair of shorts barely covering his ass and showcasing his…everything. He was a little taller than Spenser and significantly more muscular, though not like Laurie’s husband. His muscles were lean but well-defined.
They were also highly distracting.
Tomás hugged Duon and wished him congratulations on his new official home, and then he smiled at Spenser, an eager grin making the sparkle in his eyes that much brighter. “You ready for your dancing lesson?”
“Hell yes, he is,” Duon answered for him, tossing his arm around Spenser’s shoulders.
Spenser disentangled himself gently from his charge. “I’m fairly sure I’m about to make a fool of myself, but I made Duon a promise, and I intend to keep it.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll go easy on you.” Tomás winked, and Spenser blushed.
He tried to hide in the back, but both Duon and Tomás insisted he be up front. Duon wanted this because he was in the front, Tomás because he pointed out he could see his instruction from there. There were twelve other students, all of them teenagers, most of them male, exactly one of them white—Spenser. Until Laurie came out of his office to lean on the doorway and watch, Spenser was the only one melanin-challenged in the whole studio.
And yes, he understood dancing ability wasn’t correlated to race—the owner of the studio being exhibit A—but he couldn’t help feeling like everyone else present had come with not only a crib sheet but the teacher’s edition to the lesson Tomás was giving. They didn’t laugh at him when he screwed up every single step, but that was almost worse. And the more badly he performed, the more nervous he became, until he left the floor, red-faced, making a great show of drinking from the fountain on the side of the room until he could get his mortification under control.
This was worse than his failed dates in college. This was a goddamned nightmare.
He wanted to call it quits, but when he saw Duon watching him, smiling and motioning impatiently for him to come back to the dance, he knew he couldn’t. Spenser was almost wooden now as he endured the lesson, no longer trying to keep up, only doing his best to get to the end of this class so he could never, ever offer to do something so awful again.
But when it was over, Tomás and Duon ganged up on him, telling him what a good job he’d done. Spenser couldn’t handle it any longer. “Are you insane? I was awful.”
Tomás held up his hands. “Whoa, whoa. You weren’t awful. And you had a pretty big disadvantage, because we’ve been working on this routine for months now.”
Spenser wasn’t having any of this. His face was red, with exertion, with embarrassment, and with decades-old shame. “I’ve never been able to dance. And it turns out when you don’t try for ten years, you get worse.”
Duon and Tomás exchanged a look. Then Duon scuttled toward the locker room. When Spenser attempted to follow, Tomás caught him gently by the elbow and led him to the floor. “Oh no. You, Mr. Harris, are getting another dancing lesson.”
Spenser broke free of the grip and backed away. “No, thank you.”
Tomás did a fancy step and blocked him. When Spenser went the other direction, Tomás blocked him again. And again. When Spenser sighed in frustration, Tomás winked at him. “See? You’re a natural. You’re dancing right now.”
It had been a long day, the next day would be longer if the amendment passed, and Spenser didn’t need this. “I don’t care if I can dance or not. I want to go home.”
“I can’t let you go, not when you’re this frustrated. I’d be a terrible teacher if I allowed you to leave.”
Oh, this was a low blow, because of course he was right. Spenser went for blunt. “I’m tired.”
But Tomás wasn’t having it. “Fifteen minutes. Give me fifteen minutes.”
“Take an hour.” This came from Laurie, who stood at the door to the studio with Duon, who now wore loose sweats and a winter jacket. “I owe a young man some ice cream, and the next class got cancelled because Susan’s sick.” He waved at Spenser. “Knock ’em dead, tiger.”
And just like that, Spenser had landed himself in the middle of an hour-long private lesson.
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family.
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