This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. If you look around the internet, you will find a good few people who write and share letters to their younger selves. And a lot of these leave me in tears. The pieces are often reflective, emotive, deeply intimate, and with a unique vulnerability to them, but also an incredible strength and hopefulness. I find the ones penned by LGBT folk, and trans people in particular, to be especially poignant.
It’s a difficult task to approach. On the one hand, I feel like younger-me could have benefited so much from the comfort and reassurance that this kind of letter could provide. Maybe she’d find hope in times of despair, or maybe it would bolster her confidence during bouts of insecurity.
On the other hand… there are just so many unexpected turns that life has taken.
How could I ever prepare her for that?
Of course, she will never have the chance to read it, because my flux capacitor is broken, so the letter will remain stuck here in the present. But it’s an exercise in introspection, reflection, and reconnection with a younger self, one with whom I had a very complicated relationship.
Well, I have my box of tissues next to me, so I guess this is as good a time as any to talk to fifteen-year-old Anastacia…
(I’m not addressing you by your name because, you don’t know this yet, but you’re going to change it. You know how it always felt a little bit foreign, that it didn’t really fit? How you used to hear it and have to spend a moment thinking, “Is that me?” How it never quite felt right when it rolled off your tongue, like it stuck in all the wrong places? Turns out there was a pretty good reason for all that… I can’t spoil the surprise… but more on that later)
There are two things I want to do, two things I want to say to you, before anything else. The first is that it will get better. The loneliness, and the confusion, and all of the conflict that permeates your young life. And it will take time, and you will have to endure, and you will spend so much energy trying to do your best and being frustrated at feeling that it just isn’t good enough. But it will get better. The road is not an easy one, I know. And it isn’t fair. In fact, it will turn out to feel a lot less fair even as time goes by… but still, it will get better.
And secondly… I owe you an apology. For all the self-doubt, and all the blame laid at your feet, and for the times that you were treated without the love or the respect or the compassion that you deserved. For when you were treated badly, and you just sat there and took it. And you even convinced yourself that you deserved it. I can never make it up to you, as much as I wish I could. The best I can offer, by way of compensation, is to tell you that, in time, you will learn how to be better. You will learn how to question yourself less and respect yourself more. You will learn how to replace the loathing with love. You will learn how to take care of yourself. You probably don’t believe me, but it’s true. You will find sides to yourself that you admire, and of which you are proud. And you will start to understand that the bad bits are more projections of other people’s expectations than they are parts of yourself. And you will figure out, though it won’t be easy, how to be the person you want to be, instead of the one that everyone expects you to be.
So, right now, at the tender age of fifteen, I’m sure you’re all caught up with what’s going on at school. I know that this a confusing time for you, and that you have so much on your hands to balance. And there are a lot of reasons for you to feel like an outsider. Ever since your co-ed class was split, you’ve felt less and less like you fit in. Most of your classmates are religious, and your family is staunchly secular. All of your peers seem to be high on testosterone, sex-obsessed, and frankly disgusting, and you find it hard to pretend that you feel the same way they do. You live far away from your school, and you’re never included in any of the social events that your classmates are involved in. Maybe you don’t want to be – I can understand that. But it would be nice to be invited.
So the good news is that you’ll survive it, though it will never really become any more comfortable. You’ll make it through by virtue of your wits and intelligence, and you’ll even make it out of there a year earlier than expected. You’ll grow self-sufficient, more so than any child your age should have to be. You’ll get pretty good at solving your own problems, and the ones you can’t, you’ll sweep under the rug. Every so often you’ll see a stark reminder of just how different you are from everyone else. You’ll make excuses for it, trivialise it, do your best to ignore it. And it will work pretty well, for the next fifteen or so years.
After you leave school, you’ll spend some time at a loss for what to do. Don’t worry, the answer will become clear, soon enough. You’ll find yourself in medical school, claiming that you pursued it for the challenge, but knowing deep inside that, as corny as it might sound, you did have a calling. You’ll spend a good deal of your early days superbly playing the part of the lone wolf, just in the way you’ve been so well conditioned to. Eventually, when you need to start working in a group, you’ll be less uncomfortable with it than you’d anticipated. It will help that the group you’re assigned to is one full of girls. One day you’ll look back and it will all make more sense.
Somehow, you’ll find yourself in a romantic relationship with one of your classmates. This relationship will last seven and a half years, though you’ll realise once it ends that it was about seven and a half years too long. You’re too soft and she’s too whimsical. She’ll cheat on you in the first few days, and naively you’ll forgive her. You’ll make her a promise that if she cheats again, you’ll walk away, and she will hold you to it. You’ll find out later that she cheated more often than you thought. I’ll tell you not to blame yourself, but you will anyway. You’ll spend so much time and energy wondering what you did wrong and why you weren’t good enough. She will move on much faster than you do, and you’ll wonder if you ever meant anything to her at all. Try not to fixate on it too much. Part of your journey and your growth and your development will be to learn how to stop defining yourself and your worth in terms of other people. I know I can’t make you realise this any sooner – it will happen in its own time, because that is the only way that it can.
Sex will be weird. You’ll be scared of it, even repulsed by it. Eventually you’ll overcome that, but it will still be weird. You won’t know why, but it will never really feel as though it fits for you. There are some things that you’ll hate doing, but you’ll endure them for the sake of your partner. You’ll wonder why everyone else seems to like it so much more than you do, and you’ll feel insecure about that. You’ll wonder what’s wrong with you. I’ll tell you right now that nothing is. I’ll tell you that it’s okay. Try not to get so hung up over it all. Like so many other confusing things in life, you will one day look back, and it will make sense. You’ll see, in retrospect, that sex always had to be weird. And one day, a long time from now, it won’t be weird anymore, and you’ll feel very grateful for that.
You’ll know, even now, that you aren’t comfortable with your body, with the way it looks, the way it behaves. You don’t like looking in the mirror, and you don’t like being in photographs. You think that it’s probably just a remnant from having been a fat kid, and you’ll believe that still for a long time to come. You’ll get a lot of compliments on how you look, but you’ll never know how to deal with them. Somehow, they will never feel authentic. You’ll spend hours in the gym, hoping that with enough blood, sweat and tears, you’ll find yourself comfortable in your own skin. It won’t work, but you’ll keep doing it anyway. You’ll feel self-conscious about your short stature, and your delicate hands, and your slight frame. I promise you that it will be okay. I promise you that one day you’ll understand that, all along, the faults were not with your body, but rather with the expectations that were placed on it. It’s going to take some time to dismantle those expectations and what they did to you. But once you do, you’ll feel more comfortable in yourself than you ever thought possible. You’ll learn to love your body. You’ll find that, all along, it fit better than you ever realised. And eventually you will go from a size S to a size M, though maybe not exactly in the way you expect to. And I know you will never believe me when I tell you this, but you will find jeans that fit you. And they will fit you amazingly well. You will find them, when you learn to start looking in the right places.
Your relationships with the rest of your family are going to get worse before they get better. Your mom and your brother, who love you very deeply, you will keep always at a distance. You won’t really have much choice about this – your father will see to it that you’re too scared of his wrath to ever be able to let them in. Eventually, many years from now, you will have a beautiful opportunity to rebuild your relationships with them. They will learn to see you for who you really are, and to separate that reality from all the self-preservation that you were forced into. It won’t be easy, though. It will take all of your courage and all of your strength and all of your vulnerability to take that leap, and begin to let them in. And at first, they will be confused. It’s going to hurt and upset you for a while, as they come to terms with what you have to say to them. Try not to blame yourself. There was never any better way to do it. Remember that their reactions are their own – you might find yourself exposed to them, but they aren’t your fault. After the storm blows over, you’ll be proud of yourself, and they will be proud of you too.
On the subject of your father, I wish that I could say things will get better, but the sad truth is that they never will. Eventually, you will have had enough of his abuse, of the constant belittling, of the overbearing and domineering control that he exerts over everyone in his life, of the cold manipulation, and of the overwhelming and all-encompassing hatred that fills his heart. For years and years, you will have entertained the idea of standing up to him, but you will always have found a reason not to. Sometimes out of fear for the consequences, somehow out of hope that he would get better. But the day will come where enough is enough. You will face up to him, and though you will be angry when you do it, it will come from a place of integrity rather than vendetta. You will confront him, not because of your own resentment towards him, but because you are someone who stands up for what they know to be right. You will stand up not just for yourself, but for everyone else whom he has derided and abused.
And when you do, you will find that you stand alone. There will be no support, and no companionship for you. The exchange will be heated and it will be bitter. And it will be the last time you ever see the man. And still, the world will not end. You will be able to sleep at night, knowing that you did what was right. The aftermath of the confrontation will be unpleasant and disjointed. You’ll have to make so many adjustments in your life. Eventually, you’ll try to reconcile with your father; but he will hear nothing of it. One day, you will say Kaddish for him, when no one else does.
After you complete your studies, you’ll move away to a small town in the middle of nowhere. You’ll love it, just as much as you expected. The job that you’re doing, on the other hand, will be taxing and draining and often very painful. You will give too much of yourself to it, as you are prone to do, and it will leave you on the brink of burnout. I wish you’d been better at self-care, but I understand why you weren’t, and I don’t blame you for it. Eventually you will move back to the big city, and you’ll sit in a nice office, and you’ll have for your patients the community that you never felt like you were a part of. Your relationship with the community now will not be any less tenuous. You’ll feel like you’re on the fringes, caught in some twisted flirtation with Judaism and with Jewish people. As you grow more self-aware, you’ll become ever less comfortable with its dogma. You’ll question more and accept less. Again, don’t blame yourself for not doing it sooner. You were ignorant, you didn’t know any better, and you trusted too easily because of your nature. What matters is that you’ve grown, and you’ve become better, and the discomfort that you feel with this institution is testament to that change. And don’t worry – soon they will tell you exactly where you stand with them. It will hurt for a while, but you will be better for it. Despite what they tell you, there is nothing wrong with you. You’re not a mistake, you’re not an affront to anyone, you’re not immoral or evil or perverted. They might not understand what you are going through, but don’t listen when they try to blame you for that. It’s not your responsibility.
You will eventually find a way to reconcile your faith with your identity. You will find people who welcome you, who cherish you, who value you for who you are. A community that does not pass judgment, that will not indict you, that will make you feel at home. And they will help restore your faith, and help you to heal from your wounds. They will remind you that your faith is one of love and acceptance, rather than hate and ignorance.
You will learn so much about yourself. Things that you used to ignore because they didn’t make sense, things you wrote off as coincidental, so many feelings and emotions and experiences that you never had the tools to process. One day, many years from now, they will begin to fall into place. It will happen slowly at first, but the pace and the intensity will build until it becomes unstoppable, brutal, almost violent. And it will scare you, but for the first time in your life, you will not be facing up to this alone. You’ll be overwhelmed, and terrified, and confused and, for a time, you will struggle against the truth. You will struggle to let go of everything you had been taught to think was true because, although it was never comfortable, it was at least familiar. And in familiarity, there is safety.
I’m being cryptic, I know. But if I spelled it out for you, I doubt that you would even believe it. It is something you will have to experience, and you will do so when the time is right. But what I can tell you is that this experience and this journey will teach you so much, and you will find strength you never knew you had. And it will lead you to a place where you can not just be comfortable with yourself, but where you can love yourself. Where you can be proud of yourself. Where you can give of yourself, and let other people give to you. Where you can make some change in the world, and give hope to those who need it.
You’re going to write a book, and it’s going to be great. You’re going to find yourself on radio shows and TV, being open and candid and vulnerable. You’ll be featured in magazine spreads and you’re going to speak at conferences. It sounds unbelievable, I know. Even when it’s happening, you’ll find it hard to believe. And it will all happen so quickly that it will feel overwhelming sometimes. It’s not to say your life will be without hardship – in fact, the challenges you’re going to face as all of this starts happening will be so much bigger than anything you’ve ever faced before. But you’ll be stronger than you’ve ever been before. And you’ll be less alone.
One day, when you’re aren’t even expecting it, you’ll find love again. You’ll find the strength to trust, to let someone in, to allow yourself to be vulnerable in the arms of another. It won’t be easy – it will be impractical and difficult, heart-wrenchingly so. But you’ll throw yourself in, knowing the risks you take in doing so, and harbouring no regret over it. It will surprise you that, for the first time in your life, you don’t feel like you are, or like you have to be, an enigma. The relief will be palpable and wonderful and amazing and worthwhile. And you’ll be proud of yourself for giving yourself another chance.
Most of all, more than anything, you will come to understand the value that you hold within yourself. You’ll realise that you are special, and unique, and wonderful. You’ll see that you have things to give back to the world that are precious, and you’ll have a story that people will want to hear. You’ll find that after all the adversity and all the struggles that you’ve endured, that there is actually a pretty amazing person underneath it all. You’ll be proud of that, but more than that, you’ll be okay with being proud of it.
So for now, I just want to ask you not to lose hope. Even when things seem bleak and despair threatens to overcome you… please hang in there. Please try, just a little bit more, to look after yourself. And please try to remember that although it might not be immediately clear what it is, you do have a purpose, and it’s a pretty darn important one at that.
There are going to be bad days. Even now, there still are. Days when it all seems like it’s too much, like it’s too unfair, like there isn’t any way for it to all work out in the end. I haven’t kept track, but I think that they get fewer and farther between. I’ll let you in on a secret – I still don’t know if I’m going to make it. I still don’t know if one day, I won’t be able to carry on, if the burden will just be too great. But, what I can say, is… that day has not come yet. You will make it this far, at least. It’s further than you probably ever would have thought. And I hope that this is just the beginning.
There are lots of people who love you, and they will continue to, no matter how hard you try to stop them. And one day, you will be one of them too.
I love you, always. Even when I have been bad at showing it.