You’re 14. Happy birthday! Listen, quit fiddling around with your sneakers for a second and let me talk. I know you’ve just come out to your parents, and that hasn’t been much fun, has it? It’s been rough, and knowing your attitude, you probably haven’t exactly made it easy on yourself.
I don’t have much time with which to tell you what the future will look like, so I’ve culled it down to 14 points. That shouldn’t be hard to remember: 14 years, 14 points.
1. Labels are just labels.
If you need labels to help you navigate a world where you’ve never fit, then label yourself. If you need to reject labels to better define your nature, then reject those labels. But don’t denigrate another’s option to choose or eschew labeling. You’re going to live past this crush on this girl – hey, you’re 14 – and you’re going to go on continuing to find out what it means to be you in this body.
2. Enemies aren’t always what they seem.
You’re going to draw lines out of self-defense around people that you think could love you and the people that you think could not. But you’re going to be surprised one day by the people who climb over that line and prove you wrong.
3. Ditch the masks.
Beware the temptation to re-enter the closet. You may find yourself making compromising decisions that backfire on your well-being for the comfort of others – like your parents and your community. Know that the masks you wear can eventually suffocate you.
4. Embrace identity and duty.
Right now, you’re being asked to trade in who you are for the veneer of what you do. It sure feels like the only way to demonstrate your love for your family is to give up on being wholeheartedly you. But you can still be a good member of your family and honor the sacrifices of your parents without having to change who you are.
5. Say “thank you” when someone tells you that you “look gay.”
Look, I’m going to cut to the chase here: you have internalized homophobia. (It’s not fatal if caught early.) This includes feeling slighted when someone tells you that you “look gay” because you associate queerness with ugliness. But queer aesthetics are varied and beautiful.
Soon, lesbian aesthetics will be co-opted by straight folks – mainly hipsters – anyway. (What are hipsters, you ask? Stay on topic.) Chin up. When you “look gay,” you look excellent.
6. If you can avoid it, don’t go it alone.
You’ve learned a knack for losing people. It sure can be helpful at times, like when you have to leave town. I know that a friendship lost doesn’t faze you. But it’s helpful to do this “coming out” bit with others if you can: when you’re weak, lean on others, and when you’re strong, dance.
7. Give more of yourself.
You aren’t the only one who’s insecure or hurting. Helping others will help you too. Recognize where you have power and privilege, and put those to work. Make use of that loud mouth. Make use of your time. Start dreaming and building today the kind of world you want to live in 14 years from now.
8. Tell your advocates that you love them.
Remember, you’ve got a great brother, and you aren’t short on love. When you can, remind your advocates that they matter, that their patience and understanding and their willingness to walk with you don’t go unnoticed. They deserve to know.
9. Leave breadcrumbs for the next generation.
Don’t just live through this. Remember this. Put it down on paper, in sketchbooks, and in your mediocre songs. Leave the sap to harden, and don’t erase the edges. One day, you’ll use these as kindling to light the way forward and to give direction about where to/not to tread.
10. Sit under the trees that your elders planted.
Countless gay thinkers and artists have come before you. Read their stories, understand their research, and hear their songs. To deprive yourself of this lifeline would be to subsist only on the moisture in the air around you and never venture to the reservoir that eons of movement have provided for you. Look around, and you’ll see the landscape dotted with wells. Go deep and drink your fill.
Learn about the fights waged by generations past so that, when you grow older, you can plug in to the work that remains to be done. And don’t just read the works of white gay men. Absorb the wisdom of women like you, of people of color, of non-Americans. These will better inform you about the rainbow of humanity to which you belong, and they’ll illuminate your way.
11. Make way for the Spirit of surprise.
You’ve always been a kid with big questions – where we come from, where we all go, what it all means – even while you call yourself an irreverent child. One day, you’re going to be surprised to find that all the noise is music – was always music.
12. Don’t daydream your days away.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s something really good about this time. Someday, you’re going to call this the gift of waiting, and I think you may already have an idea about what that means.
13. It gets better.
This one’s for you to ponder until the time comes. What I will say is that “better” looks different for everyone, and “better” looks different at different times. You’re going to judge “better” by the density of foliage, but I encourage you to judge “better” by the depth and spread of your roots. And trust that your growth is going to happen in fits and starts; it won’t be linear.
14. Work to forgive yourself.
If you get unmoored, you’re going to say and do things that you’ll regret. It’s going to be hard finding the vocabulary to say that you’re okay with yourself because, up until now, that hasn’t been a priority for you. Out of that can come self-destruction and misdirected anger. Let’s face it: you’re gonna mess this up.
But then you’re going to start messing up less and less. Someday you’re going to trip and fall and you won’t cry anymore; you’ll take it in stride with a laugh. You’ll get up.
What’s more, this is a Year of Release. You may have learned about this in your history class by now – the Judeo-Christian notion that all debts are forgiven every seven years. You’ve got debts to forgive, and you’ve got debts that need forgiving. And this is your Year of Release. Doesn’t it get heavy carrying all that debt, kid? Go on now – if not for your sake, then for the fact that you’re going to need a couple open hands to help pull yourself up and reach for those behind you and raise over your head to receive what will come. So go on and put it all down.
Now, I’ve lived twice as long as you have. You aren’t as smart as you think you are, but you’re also not as terrible as you think you are. Buck up, kid. The next half is going to get wild, and I hope you’ll bring your sense of humor.
Don’t stop practicing the piano, either. One day, your wife is going to love it.
You heard me right: your wife. And she’s good-looking, too.
Ada, circa 2017
Photographs from Life Magazine and PinIMG.com