It’s Pride Weekend in Toronto and we’re celebrating with friends all over the world. Pride has had me thinking about a childhood friend I’ve sort of lost touch with. We grew up around the corner from each other. We were in so many classes together from Grade 2 on.
This friend recently posted about an incident on the TTC where he was attacked for the clothing he wore proudly, just being himself. He was subject to a bunch of gay and racist slurs and it broke my heart.
I stumbled across this video of LGBTTIQQ2SA elders reading letters to their younger selves in my feed today and it made me wonder…what would he say to a younger version of himself?
I shared the video with him, hoping to inspire a letter to his 18-year-old self.
I think back to 18 and prom, getting my first summer job, house parties, and applying for university/college. Those things were hard for me and I was a pretty confident teenager. What I can’t imagine, though, is being 18 and navigating those milestones while worrying about my sexuality and how I might be judged for it. I know my childhood friend Kai is happy and comfortable in his own skin now, but that was a long journey. I admire his courage over the years, especially in sharing his words with a radio host.
You’re in your final semester of high school. You’ve been wanting to escape for a long time, and according to all the TV shows and books you’ve read, University is where it all gets better for a gay teen in the burbs. And while coming out was difficult, it wasn’t as scary as you imagined it to be. You have supportive friends, your teachers have always known, and your family, well, they’ll find out in a few years and it’ll be really awkward for a while, but it turns out OK.
What you need most though is something you’re not going to get for a long time. Because despite everyone around you accepting you for all that you are, you still have not. It also won’t help that the first few times you find the courage to ask boys out, they turn you down because of something you can’t change. And you’re going to internalize that racism, resent it, and be angry for a long time. It’s going to suck.
So here is what I want to say to you, 18-year-old Kai: You’ve got a big heart, and people are going to tell you that it’s a weakness. And for a few years you’re going to ruthlessly carve it out to ease the pain — but please, don’t do it. Embrace your heart, embrace everything that allows you to feel, because it’s going to be the one thing that separates you from the rest. The sooner you realize this, the better. Love connects you to everything good in this world, and you are so deserving, and eventually, you’ll learn to love yourself.
Thank you to Kai for sharing and…just for being him. If you’re celebrating Pride Weekend and you’re open to it, I’d love for you to share a letter to 18-year-old YOU, too.
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Photo via Yannis Papanastasopoulos/Unsplash