Read A F*cking Book: Win A Copy of ‘The Letter Q’

What would Eileen Myles say to her 14 year-old self about life, the world, and what it’s like to be her? Well, she’d say this:

“This 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) […]”

 Among other really fantastic and beautiful things.

The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes To Their Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon and James Lecesne, is an anthology of letters about life getting better in Adult Land, but it’s also a tiny peek into the histories of some of your favorite queer authors. Eileen Myles, Malinda Lo, Jasika Nicole, Ali Liegbegott, Julie Anne Peters are all here, plus so so many more. Some stories are sad, some hilarious, some are even illustrated graphic novel-type things! But every last one of them ends well, because they end here, in the present, usually with happy careers, significant others, pets and cool houses. Yay!

From the publisher:

In this anthology, sixty-four award-winning authors and illustrators such as Michael Cunningham, Amy Bloom, Jacqueline, Woodson, Terrence McNally, Gregory Maguire, David Levithan, and Armistead Maupin, make imaginative journeys into their pasts, telling their younger selves what they would have liked to know then about their lives as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. Through stories, in pictures, with bracing honesty, these are words of love, messages of understanding, reasons to hold on for the better future ahead. They will tell you things about your favorite authors that you never knew before. And they will tell you about yourself.

The It Gets Better Campaign, and similar projects like this book, have taken some heat for a couple of problematic things, like the fact that for some people it isn’t about ‘it’ getting better, so much as it is about them getting better at dealing with it. On the surface, The Letter Q might seem to hover around the unfortunate space of genuinely wanting to help while not being able to speak directly to everyone’s — or even the average — experiences, because not everyone will grow up to be successful writers in liberal-leaning neighborhoods, of course.

But wait! The great thing about this anthology is that the focus isn’t necessarily on who these people became; it’s really truly about where they came from, thanks to everyone’s honest discussions of their shitty, awkward childhood / teen years. There’s no romanticizing here, which keeps The Letter Q from being precious or cheesy.

“Some people, like your sixth-grade teacher, Sister Maura, might understand this impulse to love everybody, but just like you she has difficulty making it happen 100 percent of the time. Remember when she called you out in front of the classroom and accused you of being a daydreaming sissy? You weren’t able to stand up to her at the time, but here is what I’m suggesting — if you should see her again, explain to her that you were dreaming of the day when your idea catches on and when she, a Catholic nun, can love and cherish every one of her students — even the gay ones.”

– James Lecesne, whose Academy Award winning short film, TREVOR, inspired The Trevor Project.

Every author — and arguably just the existence of this book — makes a really important and beautiful point: that it took living through all of those things to become the people they are today, and that it was worth it.

You know you want your very own copy, so here’s what you need to do — leave a comment for your teen-self below! Tell them what they have to look forward to, or how the difficult things have shaped you. There’s no word requirement or limit, so you can feel as many or as few feelings as you’d like. Two winners will be chosen at random on Friday, May 25, and will receive a copy of The Letter Q and an official It Gets Better t-shirt! I can’t wait to read what you write.

Be a fan of The Letter Q on the book of face!

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Laneia is the Director of Operations and founding member of Autostraddle, and you're the reason she's here.

Laneia has written 917 articles for us.


  1. Dearest Jules,

    DO NOT donate the collection of high heels you’ve been cultivating since you were sixteen. A day’s gonna come when you weep over the loss of nigh a hundred pairs of stilted goodness. Seriously. You loved those shoes more than your first girlfriend.

    Eventually your pissy attitude will start paying off. You’ll learn how to make space for yourself, your thoughts, emotions, and aesthetic style like a champ. A fucking pro.

    You’re going to be fat and happy! You’re going to be sparkly and genderqueer and you’ll trade in all the fucks you give now in for some good good sex. So like, don’t get a side cut mmkay? Don’t throw out your fancy underwear, and don’t give away those shoes. 25 year old you really wants them back.


  2. Dear 13 year old Ido,
    Girls can be gay, too. Embrace your inner nerd. Run screaming with your fingers in your ears from anyone who tells you that you’re wrong and sick, or that you need to look/act a certain way. Cut your hair off. Ask her out. It’s okay if you don’t- you’ll always have her as a wonderful, beautiful, supportive friend. But maybe she would have been something you’d have been good at. Maybe shower a bit more often. Shaving is optional.
    Ido present

  3. Dear high school you,

    Stop hiding behind academics as an excuse for a lack of boyfriend. You’re not going to figure out you’re gay until one hot, hazy summer where you’re living completely on your own and you have a lot of time to think.

    I know you don’t want to go to an instate public school for college, but you’re going to because financial aid sucks. So do yourself a favor and stop working so hard (the valedictorian thing was cool and all but means nothing when you get to college). Think of all the girls you could be kissing if you’d figure out your sexuality before halfway through college. (And as a bonus, your college ends up being in one of the most liberal towns in the entire country. This means your friends are going to be the most awesome people ever when you actually come out).

    Also your hair has more volume when it isn’t hitting your boobs.


  4. Dear Nissi,

    I know you are excited that you have become a Christian, and think it will solve every problem you’ve ever had. And you don’t realize it now, but agreeing with and repeating anything other Christians say isn’t going to make you like girls any less. Soon you will go to that University that you dreamed of going to, and while there, you will read the Bible for yourself. And you will find the fullest, most complete love in a God that does not hate who you are.
    You’ll even fall in love.
    That one hurts a lot. And I’m so sorry for how she’ll hurt you. But even in that, you will find a strength and a beauty you never new you had within you, little bird.

    You will find, in the next few years, that it is increasingly difficult to love yourself. Be strong. I love you. I won’t lie, you’ll want to give up. And you will dread leaving bed and facing the world.

    But, I’m here. And we are headed to England in a few months to start graduate school. We did it! And it’s only because we finally accepted that there was a reason for who and what we are. And it is beautiful. :p
    I love you.


  5. Dear younger me,

    That scared feeling you get when thinking about the effects of puberty on your body? It’s not normal, and everyone else isn’t experiencing the same thing. That feeling of not being a boy? It’s real and true, it doesn’t mean you’re just a really weird boy, it actually means that you’re *not a boy*. All those teachers who told you you march to the beat of a different drummer and the kids who call you “gay” and worse, that’s what they’re noticing. Don’t be so oblivious, please.

    I know you want to know, sometimes, what it’s like to be a girl. I know you want to do things that only girls are allowed to do, like carry a purse and wear jewelry. There’s nothing wrong with exploring those things. Be careful, but you probably don’t need to be as afraid of other people as you are, even your parents. Speaking of your parents, don’t let them intimidate you about your personal appearance so much. Stand up to them, grow your hair out, and don’t let them force you to be someone you aren’t. Don’t try to hide.

    You’re probably thinking that you can’t be a girl because you don’t like pink, you don’t like frilly princess dresses, you like science, you were really interested in bugs and dinosaurs as a kid, and you’re starting to realize you’re attracted to girls. Sorry, but that’s kind of dumb: lots and lots of girls like and don’t like those same things and they’re still girls. You were just a tomboy as a kid, that’s not so strange, is it? I know you’ve never met or even read about a girl like you, but they exist, and eventually you’ll meet them, other girls and women born with mismatched brains and bodies who aren’t maximally feminine.

    I don’t know what your parents, schools, and doctors will let you do about your situation. Things will get better for people like you, but you may just have been born too early to avoid the horrible damage that male puberty will do to your body. Even if you can’t stop that, though, I promise that if you start thinking about it now, maybe you can work past all the fear and confusion and doubt so that once you’re an adult and can make your own decisions, you’ll be ready to tell the truth about yourself, and you’ll still be able to have a lot of experiences you’d miss out on while pretending to be something you aren’t.

    Oh, and study CS in college. Trust me, you don’t want to go to grad school in anything.

  6. dear teenage me,

    don’t skip school, kid. 90 percent of life is just showing up! and please take your schoolwork more seriously….turn off that goddamn tv! don’t cry over christian, he’s just not that into you. and you aren’t that into him either, you’ll figure that out sooner or later. read more books. learn french, spanish, russian…..hell…japanese! be active. write application letters, do some internships so you’ll find out what you’re really good at. there’s professors who adore you, they’ll write recommendation letters if you ask them! you’ll need help to get a foot in the door! learn to accept help from others. there’s only a bunch of people who really know you and are willing to support you. always be kind.

    don’t be so scared of everything. you’ll make it through ALL OF THE SHIT, i promise. work a lot so you can afford to travel….you’ll meet so many great people. don’t ever lose touch with them.

    regarding girls…don’t crush on the straight ones..that won’t do anyone good….and when you’re going through your first breakup just know that your heart won’t be broken forever…..always trust your intuition…and don’t ever cheat for fucks sake!! you’d fuck shit up big time! learn how to play drums so you can play in a band. chicks dig that! and please learn microsoft excel. life is filled with spreadsheets.

  7. Dear Past(Present) Jake,
    You’ll get to a point when everyone calls you Jake and he/him. You’ll find the people that see, even if you haven’t asked them to respect your name/pronoun preference yet, that you are hurt when they don’t. Your mom will see you are not a woman called Jake, but a man. Just hold in there and make it through high school.

  8. Hi there you crazy wee thing,

    I know it seems like everyone on earth hates you and you think it’s totally justified but calm down.
    You’re actually a really awesome art-making, feminist homo (surprise!) and you don’t take shit from anyone.
    You still have anxiety because these people ruined you a bit but turns out that with all the struggles you face, everyday you get more evidence of just how strong you really are.

    Also, you get to play roller derby and you’re pretty good actually. Also, don’t choose the name Wheelasaurus, people will just make confused faces at you.

    K BYE!

  9. Dear me of circa 2008,

    You have the right to be happy.

    You have the right to be loved. And you will be, and you are.

    Please, for my sake, stop trying to be normal. Stay friends with the weird kids, and not just [redacted] because in a few years he’s going to be possessive and manipulative, and make you a little crazy. You should think about why you like him so much – it’s a little too convenient to have a long-distance pseudo-boyfriend with a girly voice. Don’t you think? Maybe you should find a real girlfriend. Like M., she really liked you.

    Also you need to find friends at school, so going to school doesn’t feel like arming yourself for battle. You don’t have to be popular, even though you will be. Trust me, it wasn’t a good choice. You should’ve found the people that really loved you, and stayed with them. Stop caring what everyone else thinks. It doesn’t matter. In a few years, you can leave, and never see them again. Instead of trying to be perfect for ‘them,’ just try trusting people for once. You’re not so different from anyone else; if you take off your mask, you might find some real friends.

    I know you won’t do it for you, so do it for me. You have this problem where you give everyone else what they want, and you should really stop that. It’s okay to be a little selfish sometimes. If you don’t, you’re going to lose yourself altogether.

    In fact, you’ll definitely lose yourself altogether. I know because I’ve been there, remember? In a few years you’ll start feeling claustrophobic, like your whole life is a black box and the lid’s closing in on you. Like there’s nothing else. You’re such a perfectionist; nothing’s ever good enough for you. You’ll run away from yourself.

    You’ll run away from how much you love her, and you’ll push her away. You probably don’t know who I’m talking about now, but in a year, you will. Please, please remember the possibility of being loved; if someone looks at you like you’re her birthday and Christmas combined, she probably thinks you’re kinda special. Yeah, you’re going to fuck that one up. But there will be other girls who love you, girls that you’ll hold instead of pushing away from you. It’ll be okay in the end.

    And back to that one, terrible year you’ll have to go through? It’ll end. You’ll cry and then you’ll come back. You have a heart, I promise. You have a soul. You’re not broken. Suddenly a door will open and you’ll realize you have a beautiful future. You’re gay, and you’re brave and strong and so damn beautiful. You’re going to make it. You’re going to change the world. Promise me you will.



  10. Dear almost-twenty-year-old Rachel,

    It has been almost three years. Sometimes I think back to that moment, that fateful Freudian slip of the mind when we first started to suspect, and I want to wrap my arms around you and speak a post-emptive (is that a word?) prayer for you. Yes, my precious, vulnerable one: a prayer to our God, the same God you’ve known but never really felt since childhood. We know Him now, *and* feel Him: that is one thing that will make the hell you’re about to go through worth it.

    Yes, it’s going to be a hell of self-doubt and religious doubt.

    No, there’s not going to be anyone praying you through it but yourself. I’m sorry. I was too afraid of being shaped by others’ opinions to reach for their help. But God is there with you, the whole time. He’s not offended by your questions. This idea that, unlike angels and mountains, humans can question God rather than jumping when He says jump and that it’s a virtue, a blessing–it may not be orthodox, but it has served us well. Question. Seek the God of love, not the god of rules. I know you want to cling to the rules to be safe, but dear one, that’s poor theology: Jesus made us safe, and the ultimate rule He left to us is to love.

    So back to what has you shaking as you read this, Rachel:

    Yes, you are bisexual.

    Yes, I believe this is how God made us and how He plans for us to live our life. It’s a burden–in this society, in this religion–but it’s not a sin. I know I can’t convince you of this. I know because I remember reading narratives like the one I’ve grown into and wanting to believe but being too afraid of selfish self-deception. These words would ring the same to you.

    But as much as you don’t want to fall under the umbrella of these words, I promise you: It Gets Better.

    There are going to be good days when you believe in God’s love over all and that he made you like this for a reason and that reason is certainly NOT to suffer all your life. And there are going to be bad days when you lump homosexuality with any sexual sin, like Paul does, and you don’t see how it’s hurting anyone but if it’s a sin then it must be avoided Because God Said So and you are probably panicking, reading this, but trust me when I say that little by little the good days come to outweigh the bad.

    One day, a switch will flip in your head and the mass of tension will go away. You will relax into the idea that God made you this way to prosper you, not to harm you, and that he is not about aimless rules: He is about love. (By the way, make note of it when that happens, would you? I can’t remember the lightbulb moment myself.) This is not wimpy theology. This is a very strong theology, and it will drive you to dig deeper and be a better Christian, a better person.

    There will still be bad days, here and there. I’m sorry. I’m not strong enough yet. But God has our back, and guess what? So does our family. And so does the church I’m in now. I wish I could send these pillars of support to you right now, but you’ll find them and you’ll treasure them. In the meantime, your heart will expand. You will suffer, but you will grow, and I promise you it will be worth it.

    Almost-23-year-old Rachel

    P.S. When that person you love says they’d be interested if it weren’t for X, Y, and Z… focus on part I of the statement, not part II! No, really. Pursue that. It is a good choice.

  11. Querida joven Ana,

    En todo el espectro de posibilidades, existen más opciones que ‘bueno’ y ‘malo’. Porque para vos las cosas pueden ser de una forma, y para el resto de las personas que te rodean, otra.
    Está bien sentir diferente, emocionarse diferente. Nada malo va a pasar.
    Sólo recordá que nadie tiene derecho a decirte que tu vida no puede ser como querés que sea.
    Estos sentimientos que te confunden van a durar muchos años más. Pero cada año que pase te enseñará alguna cosa que te ayudará a no caer en los momentos más pesados. Porque siento decirte que habrán ratos más oscuros, y que no sabrás qué hacer.
    Pero al final tomarás la vida en tus manos, y todo lo que hagás de ella será una decisión.
    Aprendé a dejar ir las cosas, las personas y la energía que cargás y no te hace bien. El mejor viaje es el más liviano.

    Con cariño,

    Vos misma 13 años después

  12. Dear Younger Self,

    Remember when you were twelve and thought maybe you were a lesbian but then you had a crush on Legolas from “Lord of the Rings” so you couldn’t be gay?

    Remember when you had a huge fight with your best friend because she got a boyfriend and you thought she was ignoring you and you didn’t talk to her for months?

    Remember when you kissed a boy for the first time and you didn’t understand why anyone would do anything so boring?

    You are going to look back on all of things and laugh very soon. You’re going to kiss a girl and explode with feelings, and you’re going to be Queer and feel beautiful and have a lot of friends.


    Your Future Self.

  13. Dear teenage Sabrina (well you’re still technically teenage Sabrina but that’s just schematics),
    Guess what? You’re okay. Stuff sucks right now, but changing your attitude will change the problem. Stop letting your best friends relationship get to you, even though a lot of shit went down with that. They liked each other for a looooong time, and it’s good that they’re together. You’re their friend, you want them to be happy, and they are happy. That’s what counts. You will be happy. I pinky promise. The only thing holding you back from being happy is feeling like you must be in a relationship to be happy. I am here to tell you that it’s not true. Even though we’re both still waiting for that relationship to come along, I’m happy, and you can be too. Other people’s happiness does not dictate your happiness. As I lamely say to myself every day, you can hold your own hand! So get out there and be happy! People will like you a lot more and want to be around you if you are happy. Someone out the is looking for you too, we’ve just gotta find ’em!
    Chin up, kiddo.
    Current Sabrina

  14. Dear Teen Gabby,

    The reason it doesn’t work out with those jerks is because the love of your life is right in front of you. You guys are best friends for a reason. Regardless of what you both go through with your parents, working as a team will make everything at least 5 times more bearable. Chill out and hang on, you’ll get through this~

    Future Gabby

  15. Dear High School Band Geek,

    You know Chris? That extremely cool girl you admire who sits behind you in band and plays sweet trumpet solos? She’s gay. Very very gay. And one day you’re going to figure that out, years and years later, but you should really figure that out right now. Really.

    You know how sophomore year she suddenly started talking to you and laughing at your jokes and hanging out after class with just you and ditching her older friends? And you were so confused but pleased and flattered? She liked you. And remember how that one time at band camp, she started saying vague things about looking at girls differently? She was feeling you out, man! WHY WERE YOU SO CONFUSED? And you liked her! But you didn’t realise that, or didn’t want to think about it, or were confused (you are so confused so much of the time, aren’t you?), so you just laughed. And then she stopped talking to you and things were back to normal. And you didn’t really question it because it seemed so bizarre that cool Chris had ever been your friend anyway.

    I’m going to tell you to do something scary. Ask her if she’d like to hang out sometime after school. MAKE OVERTURES. Tell her you know what she means about looking at girls “differently”. This is a part of you, and one day you won’t be able to understand how you went so many years without acknowledging it. You’re going to understand why you always felt so out of place, like something was missing, but you didn’t know what. But I don’t want you to have to wait for years.

    So do this thing for me. Talk to Chris.

    Your Future Self

  16. Hey An,

    Let yourself feel things. Logic doesn’t explain everything, so don’t feel guilty over your emotions.

    Coming out isn’t just about dating, it’s about community and family too. When you finally make that leap you’ll find the people who get you, and love you without question. The people you can spend hours wandering around your city lost in conversation. The ones you can gush about a maybe date to, and not feel ashamed afterward, when you had misread the signs and it was definitely not a date.

    Also, enjoy your city! You live somewhere cool, explore it before you tell everyone how much you can’t wait to get away.

    xoxo, An

  17. Dear Me-at-age-18,

    Your mother is a freak. I say this with all honesty: it is not okay that she hits you and calls you a dyke just because you’re being yourself.

    She throws you out of the house for just being you, even though you’re the un-wildest person on earth. I know you just want to read a book or draw or just hide somewhere quiet. Your dad doesn’t stand up for you, and sadly, he never will.

    Everything kind of sucks.

    But there’s hope on the horizon, coming this year! When you go to the prom in that dingy dress with the boy that you’re only dating because you must, you’ll meet a girl.

    She’ll be there at the dance, a curvy girl with long dark hair and a wicked smile, wearing a red dress that’s just perfect, and when people make fun of your inability to dance, she’ll spend the rest of the night teaching you how. Your heart will roar in your chest, and you’ll walk her home because you absolutely have to, and she’ll be all you can think about for weeks, even though she’s from a school somewhere impossibly else.

    She is the future. You’ll wrestle with your sexuality, date a bunch of unsatisfying-but-necessary boys, work crappy jobs to put yourself through school, and even live abroad. And eventually, you’ll meet another curvy girl with long dark hair and a wicked smile (apparently there’s more of them in the world than you knew), and she’ll fall for you as hard as you do for her.

    She’ll make you soup when you’re sick, give you her tuxedo jacket because she thinks it looks better on you than on her, and sneak into bed early so she can wait for you naked under the covers. You’ll make her soup when she’s sick, edit her essays, let her mess with your hair, and do whatever she wants in bed.

    So hang in there. The crappy jobs won’t last forever, your parents will cease to matter with time, and know that the girl of your dreams will be there on the first day of school when you start your second university degree. (She’ll be standing on your right when you walk through the classroom door.) Trust me, the wait will be worth it.

  18. Hey, kiddo.

    I’ve been struggling with what to tell you, knowing how well you take advice and wondering what I could possibly say. I need you to prepare yourself for the fact that your life is not going to look anything like you’ve imagined it. Maybe you’re already reeling from this, or maybe you’re about to figure it out. You are going to tumble into an enormous hole, if you aren’t down there in the dirt already. The bad news is that it’s going to take a really fucking long time to climb out. I’m still climbing, buddy. Can’t even see out of the hole yet.

    The good news is that we have what we need to get out. I still have faith. This life is not what we expected, but at times it is pretty awesome. There are people in it you will love from the ends of your hair to the tips of your toenails. Amazingly, they will love you too, but only as much as you’ll let them. That’s the thing, sweet girl. You have to let yourself off the hook sometimes. That’s going to help. You have to learn how to be kind to yourself. I am, admittedly, still figuring this out. It’s worth practicing.

    The people you’re comparing yourself to right now, those are not your people. They are perfectly fine and good, but they don’t have anything for you. You’ll find the ones who do. You’ll get lucky. You’re going to learn what it’s like to have someone to look up to you can trust. You’re going to learn what it’s like to be exactly the person that someone needs, exactly the right thing, and to be treated as such. It’s not going to be in the context that you think it is, but it’ll be incredible all the same. A girl you love will touch the small of your back in the corner of a sweaty, beer-soaked room and lean in close to whisper in your ear. Months later you will watch the sun inch up over the lake while you listen to her breathe. There will be all these perfect moments, all these songs to sing.

    I do things now that you honestly never believed you were capable of. I have a car now, kiddo; I’ve driven twenty-two thousand miles. I drive around at dusk listening to my favorite band, feeling beautiful and powerful and tragic. I have my own address, play peek-a-boo with the west side of the skyline every day. You’re going to start to learn that you have to give yourself the things you need to get where you want to go. None of the people who hurt you are ever going to say that they’re sorry. You’re going to lose years being angry at them, but they don’t even remember you. You’re going to have to learn to do what serves you.

    I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that things are a million times better now–they’re not. There are still a lot of hard days, hours spent in agony thinking about the kinds of things you’re thinking about now. But I wanted to tell you that on those days when I don’t have any faith left, when I’ve totally lost the point and I don’t know how to get back to being whoever the hell I am, you are the one I look to to remind me. Seventeen-year-old self, you show me what I can do. I know you spend a lot of time assessing the value of your life. I want you to know you don’t have to be dead to make an impact on somebody. You’re doing it right now, still breathing. Keep breathing.

    Be strong, eat better, forgive yourself. I love you.

    Me, age 24.

  19. Dear Younger Self,
    You’ll find this amazing website that will make you cry over how beautiful it is. There are so many beautiful amazing people on this website that it will blow your mind. It will write articles that are VERY relevant to your interests. Autostraddle will change your life.

  20. Dear 14-year-old me,

    Okay, so here’s a little hint: when your friend gave you a birthday card and you slept with it under your pillow? When you kept staring at that girl in your English class? And that other girl in your Spanish class? And that other girl in your Bio class? This all means something, and what it means is nnnoooottttttt heterosexuality if you get my drift.

    And no, liking boys too doesn’t mean you’re straight. Sorry. I know that’s what you want it to mean, but that’s not really how it works.

    Here’s another hint, though: I know right now you feel scared and lost and alone because you can’t picture a future that’s anything other than frightening and lonely. But I’m from the future, and I can tell you it’s anything but. I can tell you there will come a day when you wouldn’t change your sexual orientation for the world. I can tell you that the first time you go to Pride, you’ll get on the train in your knee-high rainbow socks, and a group of girls who are similarly berainbowed will catch your eye and grin at you even though you are total strangers, and there will be nowhere and no one else you’d rather be. I can tell you one day you will live on a floor entirely populated with fellow queers, and it will be pretty fucking awesome.

    Also, I’m sorry that high school kind of sucks, but college is GLORIOUS. You will do ALL THE QUEER THINGS that you were too scared and closeted to do in high school, like club meetings and field trips to the Castro and gay movies and talks by gay politicians, and it will be like finally being able to breathe. You will also get to study all the things you adore, and discover new things you didn’t know you adored, and you will have professors you adore and who are wonderfully anti-heteronormative and it will make you kind of want to cry because you are happy. Rock on with your bad babyqueer self; I’m proud of you and one day you’ll look back and you will be too.

    A note of caution: don’t get your hopes up over Prop 8. Please; trust me; you’re in for a rude awakening and it will hurt like a motherfucker. One day, though, I know it’ll happen and you’re going to be around to see it, and I’m sure, when it does, it will be wonderful.

  21. Dear ‘Richard’, You know that thing your doing, where you’re feeling every night like you just want to wake up in the morning, have that sheet wrapped around you be a real dress and to have a nice female body, well that’s because you’re transsexual, no it’s not just an insult for guys who wear dresses, it actually fucking exists, it’s a strange feeling that a lot of people won’t understand, especially because you like girls. That’s also why you feel you’re gay but don’t like guys.

    You’re going to grow to hate living in such a conservative, sheltered town. Well you’re already starting to, and that’s gonna end badly. Real badly, have fun over summer when you’ve made yourself isolated from everyone, if you could, you’d do yourself a favour stop being ashamed of this shit and find out if people were going to react badly. Turns out yeah it’s hard for them but you’ve not yet come up against someone who’s objecting to the point of not speaking to you.

    Stop trying to be edgy and dark too, that’s fucking stupid, it’s not you and there’s no reason to renounce your faith so you can feel like you’re not a sheep. You’re actually being a sheep by doing that, dumbass.

    Now for good things. Firstly, it might be better in the long run you didn’t realise because now you’ve got in to a pretty uni, got yourself a stable long term relationship with a girl who didn’t give a fuck about you changing, met loads of awesome people you may not have if history didn’t go exactly as it did. If there’s anything you should change, when Mr Lockton suggests doing graphics rather than product design near the start of AS level, maybe ask about getting it changed, you’re only going to fall out with the other teacher and drawing is fun. Also start learning to cook, it’s really quite fun.

    So yeah, in a lot of ways i despise you, you’re an arrogant know it all, oblivious to yourself and how everyone else sees you but on the other hand, right now, don’t change that for the world because the world is looking brighter every day. Almost.

    From yourself, Ellie x

  22. Dear Ashley,
    Right now I know life seems both so good and so bad at the same time. You love your friends, love school and sports, and you hate yourself and some of the stuff going on in your life right now. Keep loving what you’re doing- it’ll take you far, and to unexpected places. Hating the stuff that’s happening is totally fine- it’s out of your control, and it will take you a few years to totally process it and make your peace. That’s okay. It’ll help keep you able to roll with the punches. You do that so well already, but you’re going to need it even more over the next ten years.

    You’re also hate yourself. Please stop hurting yourself this way. You’re also confused, and part of that is contributing to your self-hatred. Your confusion is actually you living in fear that someone will discover what you already know but won’t admit to yourself. You know…that thing where you’re checking out girls in the locker room, get overly attached to your best friends, and don’t really understand why everyone makes such a big deal about Tom Brady. That isn’t going away anytime soon, so you might just want to start accepting it now. You’re too sheltered to have words for it now, but here’s a hint- look up what lesbian and queer mean. If you’re too scared to do it now, that’s okay- you’ll figure it out eventually.

    Something else you should know- asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, and it doesn’t mean that you’re not independent. Learning to ask for help takes a lot of strength, and it’ll take you far. It’s also okay to say that you’re not okay once in a while. People are there to help, and they DO care, even though you don’t think so.

  23. Hey you,

    So here’s the thing: it’s gonna hurt. Its going to hurt so bad that one day you’ll find yourself driving in traffic praying, begging for a truck to hit you just so that the pain can stop (because yes, even then you couldn’t bare the thought of hurting your family – an accident would be better).

    Your life is going to be nothing like you thought it would be.

    Hang in there, because you’re going to get through it. Some of your biggest fears will be realised, but will survive. There’s something truly freeing about being on the other side of that fear. Let go of relationships that are bad sooner – here’s another thing: sometimes love isn’t enough. Stop being so afraid of letting yourself THINK, you can’t hide from it forever. Get therapy sooner. Don’t waste that decade on trying to be a good Christian girl. You’re right, most of your family is going to reject you. You will loose their love and your faith, the two things that were supposed to keep you safe. It’s terrifying, but you’re going to leave it all behind anyway and discover worlds you never even dreamt of.

    Even though you don’t ever feel like it, you are so fucking brave. You are worthwile and gutsy and all this is going to make you a better person.

    Hang in there, because 33yr old you is engaged (yes, you really aren’t going to be alone for the rest of your life). And she’s the best thing that ever happened to you. You own your own home – your fortress of awesome – and you’re not stupid (you finally got that degree, it just took you a little longer because there was so much other stuff to deal with). You’re independent and you think for yourself. You have people in your life that love and cherish and value you, just as you are. You right now can’t even imagine that life gets this good. You finally have no regrets, because everything you survived made you this incredible, strong, forgiving, compassionate and kind woman. You know who you are now, and that’s priceless.

    You’re gonna be ok. You’re gonna be better than ok.

  24. Dear 14 year old me,

    For the love of all that is holy, stop straightening the crap out of your hair. That side fringe looks ridiculous. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t make other people like My Chemical Romance, so stop trying, because they will tease you about it later.

    I know you’re in love with a girl right now, and it’s awful and it makes you sick because you have this boy that you love too. Be kind to him. Don’t be so scared of doing what you need to do. I know that you can’t admit it to yourself, because loving a girl doesn’t seem like a thing that you can do. I know that when the other girls call each other dyke as an insult or a joke it gets under your skin for reasons you can’t explain. I know this obsession you have makes you so sad that you want to lie down on the road and wait to get hit, but wait it out. Your friends don’t know, and they might never understand, but don’t hate them for that. It doesn’t mean they love you any less. Someday you’ll be free from all this. Someday you’ll see her on the street and feel almost nothing. And that will be so freeing.

    I know it sounds incredible, but queer people exist. And one day you will be able to publicly use the word ‘queer’. It’s ok to want to love women. It’s fantastic. It doesn’t make you a man-hater, it doesn’t make you a filthy dyke, it doesn’t make you the under-the-breath whispers in the corridor. It doesn’t even make you a lesbian (they’re real, too, not just jokes that come from America). You can love boys and girls. It’s not freakish. It’s awesome. Oh yeah, people will still be douchebags, but most will be on your side. Just learn to surround yourself with the awesome people and not the dickwads.

    One day you’re going to write a play about all this shit and people will laugh and nobody will hate you for it. I know that right now putting your heart onstage like that seems like the most painful thing possible, and it is, but it’s also the most rewarding. One day you’re going to make out with your girlfriend (GIRLFRIEND!) on the street and make jokes in pubs about cunnilingus (Google it) and your friends and Grandma will still love you. Your grandma is the best. Appreciate that. One day you will be able to say (OUT LOUD LIKE A BOSS) ‘I MAKE OUT WITH LADIES. AND IT IS AWESOME.’ And your parents and even your sister will be cool. You guys will actually agree on something (but she will never learn to clean up her shit. Don’t hold out for that).

    So hold out, little one. One day you’ll have no braces and you’ll have the confidence to get PAID to be naked and do public speaking (not at the same time. Yet).

    19 year old me.


  25. Dear me five years ago.

    Please for once in our life, listen to your own advice. We’ve been through the first 15 years of our life together, but I’ve got five more years experience on you so just stop doing whatever you’re doing that you’re really not meant to be doing and read.

    Before you do anything, I want you to do me one favour, go and see Ben. You know where he is, even if you don’t want to admit it, and you know why he’s there. You’ve only got three months. That’s it. And please just do us one favour, go to the funeral, and take Jo with you. We need Jo, and she needs is. I know funerals are shit. But you’ve got three coming up before Christmas but listen to me when I say, only go to Bens. You celebrate the life of the other two people in much more fitting ways, I promise.

    Keep working hard at your GCSE’s, you’ll ace them.

    We go to the sixth form, after all, why wouldn’t we? Don’t focus on the academic stuff though, you won’t stay the year and you will move on to bigger and better things. But you’re going to learn some really important lessons when you’re there, I can promise you that. You have to stick it out as long as you’re allowed. Quitting is easier, but please don’t. And Mel. Yes, we hate her, she hates us, she learns to love us and we love her back (in a purely platonic way).

    You’re going to meet a girl. Actually, you’ll meet two and get back in touch with one. The one you meet first, treat her right, you’re going to be very happy with her, but please be honest with her about our feelings, if you have doubts tell her, if you don’t want to lose her, tell her, if you don’t want to be with her, tell her. If you don’t know what we want, which we don’t for a very long time, talk to her. She’s a good person.

    You’ll meet someone else too, but you won’t realise you meet her. She’s an amazing person. She becomes our rock, our best friend. Don’t look for her, she’ll appear when she’s meant to and she’ll save you from yourself, but there’s years away from now.

    You’ll get back in touch with someone you’re crushing on right now. Yes, i know about her. She’s just a crush right now, remember that. There are amazing things to come.. sort of. It’ll be hard and she’ll break your heart, but she’ll come back and put the pieces back together.

    Oh, and when you’re 19, just remember one thing, if she’s older than your mother, please don’t go there. I know we do it anyway, but we regret it. A lot. She’s old. And a mess. Yes, I know she’s hot, but just don’t! You’ll realise afterwards that beer goggles are a real thing. She’s not that hot.

    Right now, things are shit. If this letter was on paper you’d be rolling it up to do a few lines off that little tin. I know dad’s gone, and I know you know it’s for the best. But Mum needs you so much. And I know we’re there for her through thick and thin, and she learns to accept who you are because she sees what a good person you are and you’ll become really close. I know it’s so hard seeing her in a mess like this but she really does get better, I promise. She does.

    I could write for hours, but I’m going to stop now and say one last thing. I’m glad you can’t ever read this letter and even if you could, I’m glad I know you well enough to ignore it anyway. Because honestly, you’re about to seriously fuck up your life. More than you ever thought possible. Even now I can’t get my head round what a mess we make. Funerals are about to become a common occurrence in your life. And the drugs only get worse. You’re homeless right now and you will be for a while. But you know what, every mistake you make and every little thing you do, you have to do. Otherwise i’d never be here now, I’d never be sat in this house typing away. You learn so much from the fuck ups you make, and you really need to learn those things because it’s the only way you can deal with the next thing thats about to happen. You do become a better person, you do get to university, you’ve got some great friends and a beautiful little girl to look after and before you know it her mum comes back for her and you get to live your life. And you get to do it, with so much experience and so much knowledge that you get to help other people. And that’s what makes you happy. Because one day you realise you were meant to make all those mistakes, because if you didn’t i’d really be screwed right now.

    The next few years will be the worst of your life. I know that’s hard to believe considering how bad things have been. But you really need to go through it all, otherwise I don’t exist and I never wrote this letter. And by making all those mistakes you’ll be sat here just like me, wondering how the fuck you’re not buried alongside the rest of them, wondering how you managed to make so many mistakes, wondering were it all went wrong, and then you’ll realise, it was all meant to be.

    I really hope you never read this letter, if you do, thank you for being such a fuck up. It makes us.

    From you.

  26. dear rachel,

    i’m not going to tell you to change anything you’re doing. how could i, when the sum of your actions is the reason i’m in a position to write you this letter at all? no, keep fumbling, little rachel. it’ll make it that much more dazzling when you finally hit on the things that work.

    i’m not going to reveal any secrets about your future beyond the triumph and heartbreak you’re too clever not to expect. nothing except this: your teeth get better.

    your teeth right now are terrible. it’s a fact. your teeth are worse than any of your classmates’, and because you’re such a little one, they’re not going to start helping you out with that until eighth grade. yup, eighth grade – when most of your classmates are getting their braces off and posting celebratory pictures online, you’ll just be starting your journey through the wild world of orthodontia. and i know this irrationally terrifies you.

    just be aware, little rachel. it’s okay that you’re using this time to keep your mouth closed and your eyes open. it’s okay to be a little stuck in your head and under the radar. it’s okay to justify your apparent invisibility with the physical juxtaposition of metal and teeth and the spaces between even though you know, deep down, that it has a lot more to do with the development of your tongue. it’s okay because the time you spend thinking instead of talking and laughing will lead to a much more complete picture of yourself in the world than many of your peers will have until college or later.

    and on the day you get your braces off (beginning of senior year, in case you want a countdown), you will finally be able to meet your eyes in the mirror – not because your teeth are aligned, but because you will finally know and accept the person beaming back at you.

    your smile these days is also looking good, kid. don’t lose hope before you get to see it.


  27. Dear younger me,

    So, remember how you spent a week that one time cutting up magazines and plastering your wall with images of women? And how when you were looking at them (for hours) it wasn’t about the clothes they were wearing or inspiration for something, it was just that they were so lovely? That one girl who had these legs that were just so long, and you just wanted to be there so you could trace the curves of her body?

    And you know how all your friends are obsessed with various male celebrities, and you just. don’t. get. it.? Who cares about Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt or Orlando Bloom? (You will never understand this– it’s really ok.)

    Or, you know how you couldn’t explain it, but you felt inexplicably drawn to, and a little intimidated by, the openly queer kids at school? (All four of them…) And you didn’t know why, couldn’t articulate it, but it felt really important that you participate in the National Day of Silence your senior year?

    Or that time you finally had a proper first kiss and felt a little disappointed? Because weren’t kisses supposed to be exciting and fireworks and magic? And you didn’t feel much of anything when your lips met his.

    Or how your mom told you quietly over breakfast when you were visiting Smith for the first time that “it would be OK if you dated women,” and you assured her that you didn’t, but actually felt a small thrill at the thought?

    After two years, you’re going to finally end the relationship that isn’t working with your high school boyfriend, and soon after you’re going to get together with this amazing girl. Kissing her is going to leave you breathless and make the room spin. And not just the first time. Every time. And you’re finally going to understand what everyone’s been talking about. And it’s going to feel so natural and easy that it’s going to scare you a little.

    Things are going to fall apart with her, and you’re going to let them. And this will be your biggest regret. But it’s ok. Because this is just the beginning. And your failure here is going to be a lesson you take with you, and you won’t make that mistake again. And, even though it’s going to be another three years before you finally have the moment where it just hits you, that you are just the gayest, once it does, life is going to get so good.

    Slowly you’re going to find the other queers and fill that void in your life, and you’re going to want to cry from the relief of it all and the absolute fucking joy it brings you.

    And when you’re 23, you’re going to come out to your mom (unplanned) and she’s not even going to miss a beat. And you will realize that the weight that had been sitting on your chest is finally gone, because she knows and your world is still whole.

    Things get hard and confusing sometimes, but mostly you’re doing a good job. Just hang in there. I promise it’s all going to make so much sense soon.

  28. Dear Kaitlin,

    You know how you freak out any time a guy expresses interest in you and you totally, instinctively shut him down without really knowing why? It’s because you’re gay. Yep. I know you just keep thinking the feelings will go away, but they won’t. Do wait until college, because that is where you are going to meet the most amazing friends you have ever had. It won’t happen until junior year, but it’s worth the wait. You know when your guy friends joke and call you “The Thespian Lesbian” and you get really mad because you’re afraid people will think you are gay? It’s because you ARE gay.

    Heads up, Mom will be in complete, utter denial when you first tell her and she’s gonna FREAK OUT. It will be okay though. She is going to tell you not to go to Ball State because she’s afraid you’ll “turn into” a lesbian. Follow this advice. Not because if means you won’t be gay, because you totes are, but if you go to Ball State you know you’ll just drink way too much and flunk out.

    Care a little more about school than you do, because it means less debt in the future. Keep loving what you have always loved and you’re gonna be happy.

    Oh, and go see Les Mis on Broadway in 2007 because you will stalk the cast on myspace and find Haviland Stillwell and realize that it’s okay to be girly and gay. Just because you love show choir and tea and not softball and beer doesn’t mean you aren’t a lesbian. After this, you’ll find Autostraddle and girls just like you. You’re gonna LOVE it.


    P.S. You’ve been smart in the best ways to be smart and I’m proud of you.


  29. Dearest 2003 era Nicole,

    You’re about to leave high school and enter the big wide world, it’s a pretty scary thing really, you’ve lived a naive and sheltered life with many privileges. You really should be very thankful for everything you have.

    Take the risks that are presented to you – move far away, meet new people, embrace the challenge of something new – trust me when I say if you go down the easy route, you’ll end up stuck, and have to start from the beginning again in eight years after you’ve healed enough to contemplate it.

    But here’s the kicker: it’s okay if you don’t take that advice, whichever path you go down will be fine. The real advice is bigger than this, and while it’s going to sound harsh, you need to hear it. The sooner you admit you’re fucked up and broken, the better.

    You need the help. You really need it, and while you think you’ve got it all together at the moment, you’re one straw short of breaking. You’ve got scars, they run really deep, and they are perfectly valid. Just because you’ve been sheltered and privileged, doesn’t mean they are any less real. I know it feels like you’re all alone and no-one cares. That you don’t want to bother anyone anyway. That you’ll get through it alone, you just need to finger it out. I know it all. I’ve lived it.

    I’m sorry that you can’t, but asking for help isn’t failing. Asking for help will be the most freeing thing you’ll ever do. Do it on your terms, do it when you’re comfortable, but you’ll be offered many opportunities over the years. Please take one of them.

    Telling mum will be the hardest part, you’ll wait six months and it’ll be harder than coming out to her, but she won’t be upset. She’ll be glad you’ve finally accepted it because she’s known for longer than you have. You’re far too stubborn sometimes Nicole.

    Just know this: The amount you hate yourself isn’t normal. It isn’t just higher on a bell curve. It’s dangerous and scary and while you hide it well, that doesn’t erase it: it makes it harder to leave behind. This is what will hold you back when you realize you’re a lesbian, this is why you don’t want people seeing you as anything other than asexual, this is what will make you cry with fear when a girl tells you she loves you, this is why you’ll stop being around people and spend your life trying to hide unnoticed.

    I love you, and I hope you can learn to love you too… just like i’m trying to learn how to love me.

  30. Dear even younger me,
    Please don’t freak out–you’re going to anyway–but it’s ok. Not to be corny, but it gets better, much better. There will be a day when you can actually admit that you like, no LOVE women and no one will judge you for it. There is no reason to be ashamed about it because you will be happy. Don’t try so hard to fit somewhere where you don’t, there is no need to lie about liking guys–no one believes you anyway. :) Mommy still loves you, your family still loves you. Your gayness will be something to laugh at,but in a good way. You won’t be taunted, just reminded that it is OK to be you no matter who you are. I guess my last piece of advice to you, younger me, is to love yourself, stop stressing about labels, and don’t feel the need to explain your sexuality to anyone. You are who you are and don’t forget to love the person who you are going to be.

    a slightly more mature version of you

  31. Hey you!

    I know you are having kind of a hard time right now, but you know what soon enough it will get better, I swear. In the meantime, you will do some stuff I wish you wouldn’t and try to stay safe. I know there’s a world out there waiting for you,but you will have way enough time to go through it. Stick to what you believe, I know you will. You will feel lonely sometimes, but you will meet someone great. It may not end as you would have wanted, but you are gonna grow from it and become what I am today.

    Again, stay safe, there’s only want life to live don’t waste it too soon.
    The Person you are Today

  32. Dear Younger Self:
    You’re awesome. But you’re a human, just like your classmates. Forgive yourself and forgive them; you’re all teenagers, struggling with so many feelings, and prejudice. No, you’re not a moral authority. That’s just the mask you use to feel better about yourself because you don’t wanna do the things they do. You don’t wanna date the boys, AND IT’S FINE. It’s fine, because girls are amazing, you know? YES YOU ARE GAY. This will take a bit of time to settle into your brain, but you’ve always known, deep inside. Try not getting too anxious about things; mysteries will unravel naturally as life goes on. You’ll learn so much about yourself and others, just be open. And don’t give your mother a hard time, okay? She tries hard to understand you, and she’s adorable. Also, things will be okay with your best friend. In fact, you’ll grow up and be able to look at each other with different eyes.
    And you will not end up alone, I promise.
    I love you.

    Older Self

  33. I’m only 15, but I’m still going to write as if I’m an adult giving advice to my babyself.

    Dear 15 year old me,
    Well, you’ve made it this far, right? I know you think your life is so hard right now, but you realize later on just how easy you have it compared to other people you encounter. Congrats, you are a lesbian! You’re one of the lucky ones who realizes early on, so you’ve successfully avoided pretending to be heterosexual. Unfortunately, you have also realized that liking girls comes with its own set of even harder issues.

    Look, that girl you’re so heartbroken over? Forget about her. She’s not worth it. You may not believe it now, but you DO find someone else! In fact, life presents you with numerous girlfriend opportunities, some of which you take and others you don’t even notice. These girls will hurt you, too, but in a different way than [person] did. And the straight girls you keep falling for? Those never go away. You WILL make the same mistake you did with [person]; however, what you have to learn is that when a girl says no, she means no. Not “Maybe”. Not “There’s a chance I might like you later on”. Not “I’m secretly a closeted lesbian madly in love with you”. Just no. Don’t worry, though, because the girlfriends you get are a million times better than any of those straight girls! But, despite what books and movies tell you, relationships are hard work. Without a doubt you are going to get your heart broken again, and you will break a few hearts, too.

    The most important thing is that you stay true to yourself. Don’t lose sight of who YOU are for anyone else. You are so beautiful, intelligent, strong, and most of all unique. I know you’re putting a lot of effort into bettering yourself, and you should keep doing that! It will improve every aspect of your life.

    You have a very bright future. But for now, enjoy being young. Have fun, be immature, make lots of mistakes and learn from them, take risks, and please don’t be in such a hurry to grow up!

    P.S. You know how you’re studying Japanese? Don’t give up on that! Because you do end up in Japan, and like so many things in your life, it will be even better than you imagined.

    Your future self

  34. Dear 13 year old me,

    Remember when you fell in love with a girl and your mom walked in on you making out and promptly forbid you from seeing her? Remember how your world seemed crushed and you wondered how you would ever overcome this despair? Well, the despair will continue for years but you will ultimately grow to be a much more stable person. You will exceed everyone’s expectations for you and even your own. Sometimes you will wonder how you ended up pursuing a career in academia (you were such a rebel!), but you remember that you absolutely love this and hope you can have a positive impact on some people like you.

    You will accept yourself as queer or pansexual and cherish the wonderful times you’ve had sexually and emotionally. You will always feel different, but you will strive to do what feels right for you. The mental health battles will be extreme hell and you’ll constantly look for an escape, but you’ll keep going and it will be wonderful.

    p.s.-Reading all your stories has been very inspiring. I’ve often struggled to make sense of all the anguish I encountered when I was struggling with my sexuality around the ages of 11-15, feeling like I was just weird or something. It’s good to know I’m not the only person who felt confused and depressed!

  35. I’ve come back to read all of these letters every day this week :) I don’t even want to win a book anymore, these are a hundred Maddows better than letters by my favourite queer author’s!

    PS. You guys… thank you for helping me make it through a grueling week of undergrad essay marking.

  36. Hey Little J,

    Life will not be at all like you expected, thank goodness.
    Be honest with yourself. Tell a truth every day. Truth will come slowly for you., but it will get easier. Keep kissing girls, and stop asking permission from yourself.
    You need not be concerned with approval. You know why? Spoiler alert: Your mom will approve because she’s a big old homo, just like you. Your dad won’t approve, because your mom will divorce him because, again, she’s homosexual. You should try to be more supportive when she comes out to you. Your boyfriends may approve, but for all the wrong reasons.
    That threesome you had senior year was beautiful.
    Fucking your roommates is always a mistake.
    But just be kind. Be kind to yourself and spread light outwards. If you ever decide you want to get married, NY says that’s OK.

  37. i am reading this book as an ARC & i’m so glad to have it. it’s amazing. i can’t wait to finish it and share it with other peeps. such an affirming piece of work. thank you to all the authors who participated. ~missy

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