A letter to my 17-year­-old self

Dear Cath (for that is what you will be called until aged 28 when people finally start calling you Catherine),

By now, you will already know that people sometimes mistrust your sexuality. Not that long ago you will have revealed some feelings for girls to your work friends. Because you’ve had a boyfriend previously, they will have assumed you are just being an attention seeker. They will have responded by getting a (straight) woman friend to phone you up in work to ask you out, for a joke. They will have found your reactions to this highly amusing. They won’t have understood that, to you as a young woman trying to come to terms with yourself, it was excruciating. Try to remember that their cruelty wasn’t intentional; because you weren’t capable of articulating yourself to them, they didn’t know better. Don’t worry; you’ll improve at talking about this over time. (Although, if you’re hoping you’ll grow into a quiet, tactful person, forget it; you’ll always be opinionated, and you’ll put your feet in your mouth so often you might as well just keep your socks there.)

You’ll also probably be beating yourself up about now because you fooled around with a boy and not long after slept with a girl and this freaked you out a bit. Try not to be too hard on yourself, you’ll come to realise it wasn’t to do with them as people, but everything to do with how much it made you feel, and how overwhelming that was when you’re still not sure how to describe yourself. It will be a long time before you come across any positive representations of other bi women, so it’s not at all strange that you feel conflicted right now about being bi. I promise you, it doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to have a trusting and fulfilling relationship with someone (read on, honey).

You’ve got a lot of interesting things ahead of you. Next year you’ll go to Uni. You’ll start to see real representations of women in history, literature, politics, for the first time. You’ll realise you’re a feminist, and will pledge to yourself that you won’t ever be with someone who isn’t. (You’ll keep that promise, by the way). You will fall in love with a woman and get your heart broken. (Time for a plea: immediately after said heartbreak isn’t the best time to experiment with a one-­night stand, so if you could see fit to avoid that, adult me would be very happy to scrub that particular awful experience from memory.) You will also have a couple of short-term relationships with men. At various points, you will wonder if you’re gay or straight because of the assumptions other people make based on the gender of your partner. Do your best to try to hold on to yourself through it all, even though it will feel almost impossible sometimes.

When you’re almost 23, you will start dating a man you meet in work. It will take you some time to be completely honest about yourself, but he will make it easier to do so. He will react honourably and respectfully when propositioned by a man on a night out (he’s straight). He will introduce you to the novels of Sarah Waters. He will describe himself as a feminist before you say it. He will buy you tickets to see Jeanette Winterson at Hay and won’t care that you are so embarrassingly eroticised by her performance that you still can’t actually talk when you get to the front of the book-signing queue (hey, don’t judge me until you’re there hearing her read, okay). He will treat you with kindness, sincerity and caring. When you finally admit you’re bi, he will be the first person you encounter who doesn’t question if you’re confused or going through a phase or attracted to everyone or fundamentally untrustworthy. Because of all these things and more you will marry him.

You will go through some times where you feel you’ve lost touch with the LGBT+ community. A big part of this will be because your friends assume you’ve chosen to be straight by marrying a man. They will say you ‘pass’ as straight. This will at once both hurt you and make you feel guilty about not having the same everyday challenges same­-sex couples have. You will continue to support LGBT+ rights, but it will bother you to feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Living an ostensibly straight life will feel disingenuous because, even though you will have chosen to be monogamous, you will still have feelings of sexual and emotional desire for other men and women.

But I’m writing to you now (aged 40) because I want you to know those feelings get better, that nowadays I don’t feel that way so much anymore. It’s a little early on, but I think I might have found “the ones”; a big, beautiful, sometimes wonderful, sometimes dysfunctional, but always awesome extended LGBT+ family; my choir family, my ‘Songbirds’. I hope it works out with us because it will feel amazing to have a family I don’t constantly have to explain fundamental things to when I want to talk about my romantic and sexual feelings. All I have to do now is tell them that I’m happily in love with a man and hope they accept me… cross your fingers for me, dear Cath.

Sincerely, your future self,

Catherine

[Image above: “Briefoeffner mit kuvert und hand fcm” by Photograph: Frank C. Müller, Baden-Baden – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons]

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