If I could share some accumulated wisdom with my younger self, it would sound about like this.
As another year wraps up, I realize that I’ve owed you a letter for way too long.
I know you feel hopelessly awkward and out of sync with people, but you haven’t been around long enough to know how well you’re actually doing. You know how people keep saying, “Be yourself”? And how they don’t seem to give a damn when you do just that? Maybe they’re hypocrites, but try not to take it personally (you’ll see that we all have hypocritical moments). The deal is, they’re right. But they don’t understand — or tell you — how difficult a task being yourself actually is.
I can assure you, though, the only way to get through what seems like an endless wait to grow up is to believe that you are indeed fabulous. Don’t be a self-centered jerk, but someone who appreciates her gifts and doesn’t care about anyone else’s vision of perfection. It’s the only way to get where you want to go.
Along those lines, I cannot emphasize enough how much you should ignore the family’s nattering on about your weight. You’ll learn later on just how bonkers they are and how lovely you are. Instead of pinning all life’s hopes on being 20 pounds lighter, how about giving occasional props to your classically shaped, normal body. Spend that energy getting better at guitar. Or reading. Or picking your toes. Much better use of your energy than starving. You won’t be a rock star, I hate to tell you, but if you’ll also stop believing that you’re too fat to front a band, or make friends or put yourself out there in front of people, you will never regret taking those risks.
You will be loved and appreciated for who you are — which is exactly the same person you are now, only with a lot more confidence and gentle acceptance of your flaws. That’s how the “be yourself” thing pays off. You’ll even have to find delicate ways to let people down who fall for you, which sucks, but you can stop worrying that you’re destined to be alone.
Did I mention you were a lesbian? You knew that already. You’ll go out with boys just to make sure, and because you want to try to be “normal” and because you’re itching to experience everything. That’s fine, I guess — just don’t expect much. The sooner you face your truth, the sooner you can live your life fully, with a big s***-eating grin to boot. I should also give you a heads-up that “normal” is wildly overrated.
Take all those secrets and dump them in the trash. This includes any shame about being gay, your birthmark (everyone has them) or those rock-star dreams. As soon as you speak things out loud and claim your quirks proudly, you transform vulnerability into strength. This is the definition of having balls.
Adults are more confused about life than they let on. As a result, they’ll inevitably underestimate you. Listen to your gut about whether they are being straight up with you. If so, then pay attention. Ask their opinions, and then remember the ones who really look you in the eyes as they share those opinions with you. Remember the ones who care what you have to say, especially if they take the time to challenge your ideas about things. In about 30 years you’ll want to send them a thank-you letter for treating you with real respect.
The future will arrive in due time, and it will be worth all of the struggle to get there. I promise.
Abby Dees is a civil-rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT-rights trenches for 25-plus years. She can be reached at www.queerquestionsstraighttalk.com.