On Friday, May 13, JP Davis posted a photo of an assignment from the Christian Academy of Louisville, asking students to write a letter to a hypothetical friend “struggling with homosexuality” to persuade them of “the goodness of God’s design” in a way “that does not approve of any sin.” The Academy has confirmed the assignment’s authenticity and said that it is reviewing it, although the school also reaffirmed its belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman and sex should only occur within marriage.
Davis responded by writing an inspirational and encouraging letter to a young JP, which LEO Weekly republished on our website. But, for the Pride Issue, we wanted to expand the idea, so we asked several other members of the LGBTQ community to write letters to their younger selves. Here are the responses.
Letter to my younger self.
Yes you are fat.
Yes you are asthmatic.
No you are not athletic, because… see above.
However, your heart is huge. You cry a lot, yes but this means you will be incredibly sympathetic.
You had to figure out what would tick people off all the time, which made you a really good student of psychology.
Because you were all these things you can reach kids you teach in ways other people cannot.
You are smart when it isn’t that cool, but it will be, so stay smart. You learned to read early because it is a solitary activity and it means nobody will bug you. Because you read early you are the narrator in a lot of plays. Which means you’ll be an actor, and eventually an acting teacher. And now you get to do cool stuff like Shakespeare with prisoners, which touches your soul. Now you teach kids who would never speak up how valuable they are whether or not they speak up which gives them the opportunity to speak up.
Also remember this stuff.
Nobody’s paying as much attention to you as you are paying to you, so when it’s detrimental, pay less attention to yourself. When it comes to standing up for yourself, pay more attention to yourself.
It’s okay to say no. There will be a little guilt. There will be some hurt feelings, but ultimately you will be more relaxed and less resentful. Also, the fact that you remember everyone’s birthdays will prove invaluable for the rest of your life. Facebook notwithstanding.
To the girl with the lilac hair,
I love you and you deserve safety, love, peace and it’s gonna be ok. I know it doesn’t feel like it now. I know you feel you are always one step from the carpet being pulled out. I know that you aren’t sure whether you feel ok in the “straight” world or the “gay” world. You feel like you don’t fit, and like an outsider if you claim bisexuality. It gets so much better. You find your people that accept you no matter what. You find your love and a circle of friends so awesome, safe, and loving that it’s hard to even remember the girl with the lilac hair. I promise it gets better and now you have a queer family and three wonderful kids, one of whom has these same questions and now you have the honor of holding their hand on their journey.
All my love, Dortha
It has been quite a while since we spent time together. The truth is, going back to where you are right now is still painful. You are different than most boys your age. You know that. And so do they. It’s why you regularly endure jokes, harsh words and sometimes even worse treatment from them.
But what you don’t yet realize is that you are gay. You were gay when you came into existence, and the time you will spend wishing, praying and trying to force yourself to be different cannot and will not change that reality.
You are a small-town middle school kid growing up in the Bible Belt in the 1980s. You don’t know anyone who is out, and the only thing you see in the media about homosexuality relates to panic and death from the AIDS epidemic. So the thought of being gay is not only foreign to you, it seems like a certain end to any hope you have for a happy future. It is simply NOT an option.
But I want to fast forward nearly 30 years. You will not only survive, but will thrive. While the path will not be easy, and there will be hurt and pain along the way, you will eventually accept your identity and even love yourself as an out, gay man.
Well I would never want anyone to experience the fear and pain you are enduring, and will endure for years, those experiences also bring good things along the way (the most wonderful of which are your two daughters and eventual grandchildren). So I cannot regret those years for you. Even still, there are things I wish you had known all those years ago.
I wish you knew that the things which make you “different“ are actually strengths. The books you love to read as an escape are broadening your horizons. The gentle spirit which some say make you soft is the foundation of love, compassion and empathy that will serve you well in your relationships as an adult. Your love of learning, which earns you the label of “teacher’s pet,” will propel you out of that small town and on to experiences and success that you cannot fathom. And your love of music, fashion and the arts isn’t weird, but simply another facet of a colorful and full life.
I wish you knew that your very existence is not a sin or an abomination. The handful of verses in the Bible which are cited against you are misinterpreted and used in ways that go against the Gospel itself. God will not change you, because you were created and you are loved just as you are.
And finally, I wish you knew that you will find true joy in life when you accept yourself. As difficult as it will be to come out, the weight you will feel lifted when that decision is made, and the ensuing peace and happiness you will find for the first time in your life, cannot be adequately described in words.
So, hang in there, kid! There is nothing wrong with who you are, and it all gets better. I promise.
For you, it is 1997 and you are fighting to be who you are against so many others telling you who to be. Your parents not only don’t accept you, and worse: they are actively fighting to change you. Most of your friends are gone and you are trapped in a very small, very religious town in Tennessee. You feel the pull of everyone’s expectations and never feel like you will be enough. But you are in love with a girl and she loves you, too. You fight to be together. You don’t know this now, but you and that girl spend 24 beautiful years together. You both, along with other brave couples, fight Indiana for the right to be married to each other – and you win! You have a child together and he is a bright light in your life. Right now, you feel so scared, so trapped, and like you have only hard choices. You choose yourself and you choose love, and you will look back and be so proud of yourself. And the evolution of who you are continues every day. You learn about pansexuality in your 30s and decide that shoe fits better than any other. You feel safe in your identity. Your son will never know a parent who won’t love him for whoever he becomes and whoever he loves. As a parent, you continue to break generational traumas passed down to give your son a freedom you did not have. You will never stop fighting for those like you and those who need your help. You have so much pride. Life is a roller coaster, and you will ride the ups and downs all while choosing yourself along the way, just as you bravely did at 17 when you left home and forged your own path. Thank you for being so brave and thank you for choosing us. I love you.
Dear younger me,
It’s year 2022 and nope, there are no flying cars yet, you have not saved enough money to escape this planet. And unfortunately you are in fact human, not even a drop of extraterrestrial courses through your veins. You feel alienated, yes, you are a little bit different than the folks around you, but that is one of your best super powers.
You are queer! A very flamboyant, non-binary, gender bending force to be reckoned with, and I am so proud of how far you have come.
This queer identity you will grow into is much different than the ways you’ve been shown a person can exist. The good news is that by the time you reach your 30s, you will finally begin to own it. You will flourish in both your identity and expression. You no longer feel the constraints of dressing feminine. You no longer wait until you get home to sneak on the clothes you “borrowed” from your boyfriend.
I know the world feels intimidating, but wear the things that bring you joy. Cut your hair while you’re young. Express yourself and put yourself out there! You’re afraid to tell your mom understandably how pretty you actually think women are, but treat yourself with grace. You just want her to feel some peace that you’ll be safe in a world that you’re already other’d in. And that’s valid.
Eventually you will find an entire community of folks who have similar likes and dislikes as you. There will be obstacles. While you’ll meet lots of cool, eccentric people just like you, after a while you will realize that no community is without its flaws.
You are queer, even within queer spaces.
And as you become more familiar with yourself and more labels that can describe you… gender queer, non-binary, autistic, big terms that cohere to form your intersectionality, you will begin to have more understanding of why and just how queer you actually are. Become familiar with bell hooks definition of queer… “…not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.” Queerness is expansive. It means questioning and exploring all facets of life. It’s more than your sexuality it means forming your own definition of what it means to exist, and doing so free from prescribed constraints. One day you won’t have to hide that you don’t feel like a girl or boy. You will be able to dance freely in-between. You’re a work of art, a symphony of the most affectionate, nurturing divine feminine, and lead by the strength, courage, and purposeful drive to overcome challenges, divine masculine. Own that, play with that, and do so unapologetically.
You only have this one life.
You at 32,
You want to be using some sculpting clay on your hair. I know you already know gel isn’t quite right, old school pomade is too greasy, and hairspray can’t stand up to the constant motion, the energy, vibration, the whole youness of you. You want the matte finish. Matte means “not shiny.”
We’re the kind of person who learns through pain, or slow osmotical repetition, neither of which I can offer you today. But just in case, just in case a word or two here can save a little pain down the road by trimming the amount of time it takes to learn from each mistake…
First, it’s not too late. Go do the thing. Whatever it is, go try it, go do it. It’s not too late when you’re 18, or 22, or 35. Go do the thing. Second, cut down on dreaming, and up your planning. Don’t worry, you’ll still dream, but the universe will not do anything for you, nothing will magically happen. Plan, take the first step, take the second step and just keep taking steps. Third, fail. Fail hard, fail often. Fail and love yourself for failing. Yes I know it’s hard. But, I promise it’s not impossible. Fourth, hope is not linked to probability. Hope is not even linked to outcome. Hope won’t necessarily change the world, but hope will change you, and that is worth hoping. And for the record, I do believe that mathematically speaking, walking and living in hope will alter the odds of the world becoming a better place, but the change will be so small you won’t see it. But other people will feel it.
I guess I should add — there IS room for you inside the queer community. Actually you. How you already are. It IS where you belong, even if you’re kind of queerness isn’t always recognized, even if the queer community sometimes exiles it’s own members for having complex identities.
(Yeah, we change our name to something very cool eventually. But I don’t want to spoil the surprise.)
I hope you aren’t worrying about what you are wearing to appease the other kids. Twenty-five years from now, your clothes will be more form fitting because you will accept your body for what it is. There will be kinder words to identify you better, instead of “tomboy” or “butch.” You will continue to express yourself in what you wear to please yourself instead of the other kids, because you eventually figure out that you are who you are and people love you. You will eventually have that family you dreamed of because you learn to get rid of the people in your life that think same-sex couples shouldn’t raise children. Then you will find yourself telling your child that they are perfectly beautiful as they are, no matter what the other kids think. And someday, they will learn what I am teaching you now. You don’t have to change that you are queer or non-binary or that you are gay, but you can choose who you want to be in your circle. You can choose who your family will be. Those will be the ones who love you for who you truly are. And living this example will nurture your child where you weren’t.
You be you, sincerely,
Dear Younger Nick,
At 11, you knew you were gay before you knew the word for it. When Walmart and Kroger celebrate gay pride, you will see progress — but grimace all the same.
Have more tolerance for those not as open or “public.” You will find enough grace to realize everyone has their own journey. But you are correct. Had more been true to themselves, it would have been easier for all.
Continue to work for LGBTQ+ rights (you will learn what that means through its various evolutions). Keep focusing on employment, housing, etc. You will see advances, but not as soon, as much, or as easily as you expect.
Keep your INTJ personality and distrust of emotions in check. Remember, progress is not a straight line, and justice arrives in God’s time, not yours. But keep toiling.
When gay marriage arrives (I know, not your fight), be kind when people ask if you ever thought you would see it in your lifetime. Bite your lip and graciously say no. Mentally you will scream, ‘Hell yes, but a lot earlier and a ton of other stuff besides.’
You and the world will endure a virus and disease no one knows now. You are unscathed physically, but altered by it nonetheless. Celebrate your gay male friends, especially those in grad school. Many — most? — do not see 35.
Your personal life will not always be what you imagine or hope. Ok, most of the time. When charitable, remind yourself all those awkward experiences in your 20s your straight peers dealt with in middle school. Other times, you will be convinced you are a fool. The truth is somewhere in between. Life is gray. And, complicated.
I close with my promise I made you decades ago. I’ll never be “that old guy at the bar.”
Hey Doug! I’m you when you’re much older. I know so much more about you and about God than you do now. Your determination to love God and love others gets you through this. I promise. Keep on keeping on! You already know what scripture says about almost everything, even preaching the main Sunday sermon as youth pastor. You’re sure God loves all of everyone else even when you aren’t sure God loves all of you!
You kissed a girl. She kissed you back, but in your heart, you know it’s wrong. You want to one day be a dad but realize honest dating, marriage, pastoring and parenting seems impossible for a Baptist guy.
I’m sorry how tough it’s been living without a mother who died unexpectedly. Could she have been the one person to tell? A terrible secret is tough to bear. I’m sorry you can’t be honest with anyone but God.
Not even your twin brother knows. You two were born on the same day, ‘born again’ on the same day and even baptized together on the same day.
Ironically, you’re bullied, teased and even assaulted by people who call you gay, when you can’t admit even to yourself that you might be! As you read everything you can get your hands on, asking God change you, it makes you wince. Deep down you love you but that’s hard to believe. I’m sorry you were told what might possibly be the absolute best part of who you are is evil. You’ve even considered taking an easy way out to avoid all this pain. It’s tougher than anyone knows. But you’re admirably resilient.
Hang in there, not just for the people who need you and love you, but for that future Doug who admires you for not giving up.
Dear JP in seventh grade,
Hey. I’m you when you’re 39. I’ve learned and grown a lot since seventh grade, and I have something to say to you.
I understand why you’re staying in the closet. I’m sorry. I’m sorry your parents live in fear and swim with insecurities. I’m sorry you’re surrounded by a world of people who don’t accept you as yourself. I’m sorry you’re taught you’re going to hell and are a sinner. No matter when you choose to come out, it’s going to be tough, not going to lie. It will not go well with the parents and some of your friends. In fact, it will change your mom forever; it will never be the same between you two. So take the time you need. Soak up all the quality time you need with your mom before you decide to finally live your truth.
All the girls that say you’re gay, they actually really love you and just wish you were straight so they can have you. They will be lifelong friends.
For a few of the guys who bully you, I’m sorry. Stay strong.They do eventually come around and apologize. The world is a big place; unfortunately, your world right now is small. You’re all being taught the same bullshit, but as you all grow older, travel, learn, expose yourself to others, you see the world more clearly. I’m sorry it sucks for you now.
I’m sorry you can’t experience dating, love and sex normally as a young person. I’m sorry you can’t flirt. I’m sorry you can’t hold hands or show affection with a boy. I’m sorry you can’t take your guy crush to dances. I’m sorry you can’t be yourself. I’m sorry adults teach that something is wrong with you. Stay strong. You’ll find out by being yourself and staying strong, things really work out for you. People respect and love you.
I’ve learned that many adults live in fear and insecurity. Many adults don’t know how to think and speak for themselves. Many adults are victims and tools to power and control. You’re a strong spirit, just like Mom. Never change.
It won’t be easy. You’ll never understand, at least at 39 years old, some aspects of the world or humans. Still today I walk around most days feeling like I live in a parallel universe. I simply don’t understand humanity sometimes. A lot of folks not living their truth.
Keep having empathy. Keep seeking understanding. Keep loving.
Trust yourself, your values and your soul. It’s going to be OK, and one day you’ll have the influence to change hearts and minds. Maybe help save a life.
I’m sorry you can’t be you right now. Hang in there; you’ve got lots of people who will need you and will love you. You will make a big difference one day in our world.
Hi young Erica, it’s me, your older self. I just wanted to tell you to keep being open about yourself. Eventually people will start to come around. Not everyone will and it will be extremely tough. But eventually you will get to a place where you are finally comfortable with your body and mind.
The best part is there will be friends that make you their family. They will love you for who you are and you will love them in return.
Life is hard but good. If you want freedom to be who you are it’s up to you to make it happen. There are others like you. Be visible and a good example so others feel safe to also be themselves.