A couple weeks ago, I finished reading The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon, and it wasn't until I put together all the quotes I wanted to keep from the book that one of the consistent messages emerged.
I could have used that advice over and over again, when I was the age of the young people these writers wrote to. Although, if I'm honest, I doubt I would have listened to it. I grew up an overly-sensitive kid, and everything that went on around me–never mind that I had no control over any of it–made me worry.
In particular, I worried about the possibility I might be exactly what my bullies at school told me I was. And I worried about having any kind of a life, if I was something everyone said was wrong and unacceptable. Yet I knew I could never be straight, seemingly like everyone else was at the time. What was I supposed to do?
Well, let me tell you, dear reader. It turns out you really don't need to worry after all, about anything, and especially not about your sexual orientation.
The world is moving fast on this issue. In some places, like Europe and North America, for example, being gay has never been easier. (Unfortunately, in other places, like Russia, Jamaica, the Middle East, and many countries in Africa, being gay is worse than ever. But there's still no reason to worry, because, as I suggested above, it's out of your control; there's nothing you can do about it. Instead, bide your time, remain hopeful, be vigilant, and play your part, whatever that looks like, in bringing about a better day–whether that's in your country or elsewhere.)
How much time and energy did I waste worrying? How miserable did I make myself throughout my important, and fleeting, youth, because I worried constantly? How many regrets do I have that I didn't let it all go and allow myself to be more exuberant and joyful?
If you don't believe me that you shouldn't worry, then maybe a few quotes from writers in The Letter Q will convince you.
Your time is precious here. Don't squander it by worrying. Everything will be all right.
Michael Cunningham writes:
I should tell you that I recently received a letter like this from myself at the age of eighty-five. He told me essentially the same thing. Worry less. Love being exactly who and what you are…. Don't fret about aging, don't worry about your career, just do what you were meant to do.
As he tells me, I'm only fifty-eight. Lap it up, he says. When I'm eighty-five, I'll look back and wonder why I worried the way I did.
So lap it up, young-un. Worry less. Have faith in the fact that your sexual identity, which sometimes seems to you like an impediment, is one of your greatest gifts (p. 11).
Adam Haslett writes:
If anything, I do wish I could tell you to enjoy yourself. Your worry doesn't help those you worry about, least of all yourself. It's a toothless clock wheel. You can let it stop and you'll be fine without it. You won't do this, I realize. After all, who's to say I've put it entirely aside myself? I just wish you knew it can be put aside. Worries will only multiple, but your attachment to them can loosen. And that can make all the difference (p. 59).
Christopher Rice writes:
Don't worry so much. Bad things will happen, but not the ones you've chosen to worry about in advance.
Your way in the world will be determined by how you respond to what happens to you, not by what happens to you, or your thoughts or feelings about it. This is the measure of a human being, and this will build self-esteem, enough self-esteem to overcome all the moments when jocks coughed the word faggot into their fists as you walked past, just because you loved theater and you turned in English assignments on bright red printer paper (p. 142-143).
And Bill Clegg writes:
I won't spoil anything–you'll have to go through it all, every last minute of it, because as a friend of yours will tell you gently one particularly difficult day–we can only learn at the speed of pain. What I can say is that there will be some magnificent moments and there will also be some that don't seem survivable. But don't spend so much time thinking about the future. It's going to happen no matter how much you worry about it. And it won't be anything like you imagine. It will be harder, easier, more bewildering, and a million times more joyful than you expect. And, eventually, beyond your wildest dreams (p. 148-149).
If these quotes have piqued your curiosity, I hope you'll check out The Letter Q: Queer Writers' Notes to Their Younger Selves. I know you'll find something in it to help you get through whatever is going on in your life right now.
You have the experience, courage, and strength of all these great writers behind you. Use it.