As you go through your life, my darling broken monarch, you will fly from closets with less and less assurance. There will be times much darker than others.
There is a marvelous project afloat in the world right now, friends. A project that takes confessionalism and perspective-with-age to a whole new level of devastation: The Letter Q features letters written by queer writers to their younger selves—to explain, to console, to gently scold. What brilliance shines through the earnestness of Tony Valenzuela’s letter to his younger “Toto.” What shrewd honesty comes through in each letter about hating math, not having any friends, being in love with the boy in a history class, scoring a thrift-store leather jacket.
When I read these letters, out loud with a friend on a dock in Michigan this summer, I felt as though I was participating in some sacred reality in which everyone got to absolve themselves of the treacheries of their youth. So, inspired and awed and humbled, I decided to write my own, as well as ask writers I know and admire to write letters and allow me to publish them. So, friends and lovers, behold! Hello, Typewriter will have special features of these letters throughout the year. Additionally, should you feel compelled to write your own Dear Younger Self letter, feel free to send it in!
I am happy to kick the project off. When I sat down on that same dock in Michigan this summer to write my letter, I imagined I would write to my 13 year old self; after all, it was thirteen-year-old me who spent most nights exiled from home, sleeping in town parks and vernal pools, listening to thrasher music, and smoking cigarettes on the roof of our house in the low-income section of town. It was my thirteen year old self who had figured out that it took anger to survive. It was my thirteen year old self who kept a constant written record of everything happening around her.
But instead, when I sat down to write, I found myself thinking about a moment when I was three and living in Arizona, right before everything in my life shifted and turned into some kind of melty funhouse. A moment I am now starting to refer to as The Only Time In My Life I Knew Myself. A moment that now, at 26, I find myself coming closer and closer to embodying:
In Buckeye, Arizona in 1989, on a morning that feels to you like the possibility of a carousel, you are hiding in the hall closet wearing your stepfather’s penny loafers and a particularly stately U.S. Marines navy polyester jacket with big gold buttons and mandarin collar (yes, I can see you very clearly).
Pay attention to this—it will serve as a legend to the rest of your roadmap. Think now. Remember. Remember the anticipation wrapped in the tiny dark space as it burns into combustible light. The knob on the door shines like a copper scepter. You touch it and your hands go away, smelling of coins. The clothes that hang on the tension rod curl shelteringly like the folded bodies of women: linen women, rain slicker women who cover puddles with their coats for you, wool women who sing like Frank Sinatra and walk confidently through glistening rooms, booming baritone brass instruments of themselves.
Remember now, the excitement and nervousness—how it turns now, becomes a gaseous cloud of heat and excess, unbearable, the feeling of having spent a lifetime or ten minutes in the claustrophobic tomb of the entrapment, waiting for the signal of feet on the other side, when suddenly! Like a shot you ring from the closet and into the hallway, arms magnificently affecting a gymnast’s landing, proudly bedazzled in decorated military attire and formal footwear, hair piled into a mess resembling rigatoni, finished with your mother’s lipstick “Queenie” slathered all over your mouth, a la Joan Crawford.
You are exquisite, like a tomboy Faberge egg in a perfect velvet box. Your green eyes glitter with due, forthcoming admiration. Your mother will clap and cry at your beauty. She will pull you to her breast with all of the intensity of the Madonna and kiss you and tell her how much you are hers, after she has exhausted all of the recording equipment in the small suburban tract home. Your stepfather will bow his head because it hurts to look at you, as one would do in reverence of the sun, or a quieting volcano. This surely will be glory, defined.
Throughout your magnificent life, Queenie, you will stumble and jump into the world like this—decorated, hidden, and then impatient! Insatiable! You will throw your mouth open, fairly unhinge your jaw, and expect the universe to jump right in. You are daring, and bossy, and extremely over the top. There are so many doors in your microcosm, so many moments of sparkling determination, so many restless birds in your belly that will keep you flying and flitting and free. Remember this, above all else.
In that 1989 Southwestern dusty spectacle the silence hits you like cold water in sleep. After a profound moment, your mother laughs the width of the hallway, and claps, and kisses you, and promises a trip to the carousel in your chosen garb. She reaches high above her head, surely hundreds of feet, into a jar above the refrigerator and gathers a small handful of coconut flakes, which she throws like sequins as you march like an overinflated peacock. You are a hot air balloon of love with a banner bearing her name. You are a skywriter expelling and triumphant over the sky with praise of her. The small whiteness falls around you like marvelous fog, through which nothing else is visible.
Then, the horn of an incoming ship, a cargo barge storming the small ocean of your gelatinous love, an angry whale bleating through the parade. Your stepfather, furious in a ball of indignant red dirt heat, moves his mouth loudly. You don’t understand, Queenie. I want so much to hold you in this moment as your lipstick runs into the clean jacket and the world goes red with noise.
As you go through your life, my darling broken monarch, you will fly from closets with less and less assurance. There will be times much darker than others. Your parade co-chair succumbs to something unthinkable two years after adorning you with dried fruit. Your stepfather will be a lengthy appearance until the advent of the tea party, after which he will deny you for coming out. Your tiara will be self-constructed, scavenged for in the shattered peonage of rummage sales and fabric shops and embellished truths. You will learn to be furious, to feel helpless rage, to kick in walls (and learn to drywall). You will sleep in city parks shaped like palaces. You will spend a lot of time feeling inferior and awkward and unappreciated and people will never stop telling you that you are too much.
There is a light, Queenie, and it will begin to glow and stutter like a firefly’s ass as soon as you enter your early twenties. Your anger will have taught you to survive, and you will discover agency again, packed up in strikes and therapy and writing and thigh-high boots. You will keep knives in your stockings and Tasers in your hips. You will discover poetry—the ball of rainbow and brilliance and resistance it is. You will find queer community for whom you will never be too flamboyant, from whom you can expect wonderful gifts of generosity, like meals for you and your partner when you are sick, or solace when the world storms at your for the multiplicity of your gender, or the salvation of phrases like “What?! A white leopard-print cheetah pantsuit is totally appropriate for your interview.” Coupled with your amazing abilities to break necks and cash checks, these will save your life.
You will spend your days forever after feeling beautiful and smart and fierce. You will perfect the art of irrevocable discernment when choosing family, and you will never, ever have to borrow anyone else’s decorations ever again.