The Letter Q: Eileen Myles
This letter is reprinted from The Letter Q (Scholastic, 2012), a collection of notes written by queer writers to their younger selves. Inspired by the anthology, Poets.org asked several poets to respond with their own letters to their younger selves, including Ching-In Chen, Dawn Lundy Martin, Ely Shipley, Stacy Szymaszek, and Timothy Liu.
I saw you standing there today in the cafeteria looking quite frozen and I wanted to tell you that we in the future understand your insides and are here now to tell you that miraculously you will be ok, um, even by the time you are in your twenties, which I know seems like quite a ways off. I promise you won't always be standing there stuck in your horrible Catholic school all your life, feeling like if you sit with your friends there will only be more abuse unless you agree to be funny and mock yourself all the time. And all the time knowing the cruelty will come again as soon as Janet has her next horrible idea. Notice that you and Janet bond around one thing—self-mockery—and so at school dances, the two of you go out of your way to do the most obscene ludicrous moves to let everyone know that you think THEY are gross and the only way it can be expressed is by becoming gross yourselves. You and Janet take part in your mutual pain in these dances and from where I sit I can't say for sure that Janet was also a lesbian—but whatever she is or was she just didn't have the good fortune you ultimately do have to find yourself in a culture that HAS room for you to explore who you might be outside of the Arlington Catholic High School bastion of mean suburban conventionality. Ugh. Know that WE in the future all hate that place. Know that when you are older no one from there will still even care that you are now a writer and a poet and sometimes most important, a lesbian. They are that dumb. In fact in the future your selfhood will only continue to weird them out. But by then you'll have found a world of people even weirder than you, just better than the past, simply loving, open and confident, angry sometimes but welcoming. You'll meet people all over the world in person and through your work who will make it abundantly clear that what sails through your mind delights them, and the adventure of that encounter will bring you love and friendship and even some success but mostly it will bring you this crazy smiling part of yourself that will look back at you at thirteen or fifteen and even twelve (Hi!) and say honestly, You will be blown away by who you will grow up into. So I would like to urge you to lighten up on the self-mockery and let Janet find someone else to do the ugly dancing with because you might just want to dance—not so anyone else sees you and gets the twisted message of turned inside-out anger and fear, but so YOU can feel the music and be part of the whole room swaying and bouncing inside and out and not be having to send a message at all to anyone. Just dance, get out there and swim. 'Cause right now you are in the dancing years of your life and if you like dancing at all—and I know you do—you should be doing it for yourself, feverishly and exhaustively. Same with singing. You know those mock-up girl bands you do for the high school talent shows. You love doing that and should not just do mock-ups. Girls can do bands. You know those drums you saw one day gleaming in the basement of one of those boys in Lexington. You wanted to sit down and play even though you don't know how. You should do it. Don’t be afraid of making a fool of yourself, do what you want. All those things you are good at: drawing and painting, writing funny shit that everyone in school likes you to read out loud in class, those songs you write for the girl band, the plays you write so you won't flunk history. That is art. It's the work you will be doing for the rest of your life so be proud of these things that are easy for you. If something is easy for you, it means that big parts of you are being used and you should begin to do that thing with your eyes open and do it until it gets hard. Move something around and it will get easy again. You should look for other kids who are into what you are into and stick with them. The kids who are mean to you are a waste of time. Don't let them talk you into quitting ballet class because it’s "queer." Do you know what queer means? Obviously you are secretly a boy in a way that is turning you inside out, which is part of why you are standing there stuck in the cafeteria today, but you know—so many people are mixes of male and female—and despite the fact of your secret boy, you probably also have secret female parts you don’t even know about yet. Gender is the great mystery of the world (like love) and all the ways you let yourself be terrorized by your friends who think your discomfort, your tomboyishness, your awkward energy is something you should be shamed for is a giant waste of time. They are suffering and they have YOU to pick on. If you just walk away from them and remain the mystery you are, the mystery will draw other kinds of people to you. Some you already know, some you will meet in a few years. By the way, most of the people in your family are queer and that's part of the silence you feel around the house and part of the creepiness you feel in your family from one person to the next. Everyone's afraid of what queer means and you will be the first to find out. You can be the first person in your family who lived frankly. So don't give up. Write in your diary, go where it's warm, i.e.., toward people who act like they like you, and bear in mind that some of them will also seem weird. Pay attention to how the person FEELS when you spend time with them, not how you will look when you show up with them in your world. The world you are in today is really small. Think of the kids you meet on the bus to Harvard Square. Think of how good it feels to be one of them, getting out of town to go hear music. Do not, above all, let your family ever convince you to stay home when it's time to go. That thing in you that feels like you are ready to leave them—for college or after or even just at a family party—feeling trapped there—always know that you have the right to go. Just as you have the right to be yourself here (and everywhere). The fact that you might not have the means to go AT THIS MOMENT is hard but know that you are ready and that your destiny is to live your life, not theirs, and though it hurts to leave home you will always find a bigger better one that is your own. The world is open to you, unbelievably. You are great, funny, beautiful, and completely wild. And you are already big enough and strong enough and wise enough to make a go in it and become part of its story. So start talking now. Meet yourself. Meet the people. And if they can't listen to you and can't hold your attention, then go talk to someone else. And someone else again. You'll find the right ones. We of the future are waiting for you to make us laugh at the secrets you've been holding inside for so long. It's your joy and we urge you not to be selfish and keep it all to yourself. Your joy, like a dog, wants to go for a walk. And by the way, in the future you will have many dogs, so don't regret that part of your past. The painful unanimalness of your childhood and teens. Dogs are in your future. Great ones—who are waiting to meet you—so go ahead. Say hello, move toward them. Welcome! WOOF!
Copyright © 2012 by Eileen Myles, reprinted from the anthology The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to their Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon with James Lecesne, published by Arthur A. Levine Books, An Imprint of Scholastic Inc. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.