To My 14-Year-Old Self: 14 Things to Make You Get Better

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Dear 14-year-old me,

I am the ‘ten years from now’ of whom you refused to conceive for an assignment for your favorite class. You wrote that to fit yourself in a mold or to root yourself anywhere at any time is a death sentence that neither you nor any future self will issue –and that, you maintained, is the only certainty you have. Well, let me start with a phrase that you don’t like to hear: you are wrong.  You do fit in a mold. It has the six colors of the rainbow with a tacky embossed cedar tree (I am still dealing with it). And, though you have refused with your typical false pride to acknowledge who you knew you will become, I am writing with my typical sense of urgency to ask you to take that dildo out of your ass and to start dealing with what matters.

Because one thing we have in common is this need to make sense in the most superficial ways, these are my words to you in 14 sections.

(I forgot how you like your food for thought. But here it is cold and without a grain of salt –but cooked with love.)

1.Stop intellectualizing your sexuality. Be Gay instead. You know that you like boys. And really, that is all you need to know.  At 14 you’ve already had a 5 year gay relationship/puppy love and in two years you will have started another one. One would think that this will make you embrace yourself fully. However, this has set you on a track that is not typical of others like you –a track of avoidance, complacency, and detachment. You think that it is perfectly okay to segregate your romantic life from your social one. You feel that you have outsmarted everyone –friends and bullies– by leading what is unquestionably a double life –a double life that you intellectualize and explain erroneously by reducing your sexuality to the sexual act. I need you to realize how those relationships are alleviating your struggle. And I need you to stop intellectualizing, and to struggle, rebel, fight, and be gay instead.

2.Lose your virginity and your ego. Your notions of love and sex are being shaped by your fascination with Victorian literature. You might find this disheartening, but luckily life is not a Bronte novel. And, really, what’s the point of being anal about anal sex? That you have done it all without being penetrated makes you feel inviolate, and that feeds into your romanticized notions of love. Any of the guys you’ve been with would have done really. And, hopefully, the next one will dispel, if not destroy, any remnants of what I like to call ‘the gay-cha complex’. Oh, speaking of that, never think that ‘a story like yours has never been told’. Actually, what you are undergoing can’t be blander in its predictability. Yours, even with its peculiarities, is a life that follows the archetypical pattern of that of a modern gay man. It is not worth retelling. The bullying; the suicide; the coming out; the discovery that an accomplished relative has died of AIDS; the skipping with a boyfriend to a foreign country for months; the holding on to your virginity. All of those things don’t make you a man with a story or render you a Victorian hero. You are worth more than those accounts, you will discover. And it’s not time to write stories yet, anyway.

3.You are not a Panda. If anything you’re akin to a unicorn. What I am trying to say is that you are not alone and you don’t belong to some rare breed. Scholars maintain that at least 10% of the population is homosexual. The operative word here is ‘at least’. This means that there are so many people who are gay like you, some just like you. What it also means is that the majority of people, including some homosexuals, have a problem assessing or valuing the gay population. Hence, the analogy with a unicorn. You are like a unicorn in the sense that some people (for instance, a wannabe badass called Ahmadinejad) fail to realize that you actually exist –and in the sense that you are fabulous.

4.You are Queer. But that doesn’t mean you are not singular. There was a time when homosexuals couldn’t foster communities or cultures that are their own. Worse yet, for some, homosexuality was a demon than inhabited only their person. They thought that they were singular that way. Now that the queer people of the world are fully aware of each other’s existence there is a sense of slight anxiety of finding someone who is a carbon/glitter copy of oneself. Don’t waste your time nursing this anxiety, which probably stems from your need to evade any mold. Chances are there is someone who likes your favorite diva more than you do, has your same brand of humor only sharper, and maybe has your same unfortunate hairstyle (which, by the way, is still a fucking mess). You should realize that stereotyping homosexuals –and ultimately yourself– starts with such thinking. You are not your hair, despite what Lady Gaga wants you to believe. Take note from Glee’s Kurt and Rachel processing the existence of people who seem to be just like them. Ultimately, they get over the fact and realize that they are singular in every way. You are singular in every way. You belong to a mold, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean you are a stereotype. Besides, among your friends, there is no one remotely like you.

5.Come out purposely. I will not push you on this one. And you shouldn’t let anyone push you on doing it either. Take a day, take a decade, take a lifetime. This is the ‘no pressure state of mind’ that I ask you to maintain. But should you ever decide to come out, do it purposely.  If I may purposely misconstrue Dr. Seuss’s words, not all those who don’t mind matter. Don’t come out to people just because they are ‘open minded’. Come out to people who matter, even if you have reason to believe that they do in fact mind. You will discover that your coming out will challenge them and render them more beautiful. This is because people around you love you. They find value in your person. Wait until you get addicted to that schmaltzy coming out hug you will be receiving. Wait until you see your friends become your brothers and sisters, the family you choose. Wait until your brothers become your friends. Wait until your uncle gives you the words that will mark you when you think getting marked is impossible past a certain age. Wait until you see how life-changing moments are at their most palpable when they are about sharing your truth with others. Wait for those moments. Don’t rush them. They will each serve a purpose.

6.Define who you are. ‘There is only fight’, as Hillary Clinton says. Your comfort zone will never contain you or your excess of energy. And so it is inevitable that you will drift away to strange territories. Your fight will be to make a choice, as if you are forever facing Sylvia Plath’s fig tree, wanting to choose mutually exclusive things at once, the country and the city, like her Ether –a career in the sciences and one in literature.  Know that this struggle stems from your double life and the fact that you are hyperactive. You have the need to express yourself and yet you are afraid of doing that. This is the source of tension that will only be relieved if you were to resolve your personal and social identity. Be gay and proud, at least with those who matter. This will be the only line of immunity needed against those who will try to define who you are on your behalf –by ruling off your gayness as just a phase, or trying to project their hatred/ugly on you. This is the only way you will reclaim your definition of self. And, even having reclaimed it, there will still be fights, even cosmic episodes, in which you will find yourself in strange battlefields with the wrong weapon. Those, too, you will weather.

7.Deal with homophobia.  You not only intellectualize homosexuality, you also rule off homophobia as a predictable reaction that you would rather overlook than face. You think that being detached allows you to drop anchor with any group of kids and to avoid splashes of homophobia. In a couple of years you will iron out this fallacy, and you will seize the opportunity to educate your friends on homosexuality in a seminar you will give in your favorite class. You will title it ‘Voyage to the Closet’ (yeah, our typical brand of cheese), and it will be the first of its kind in your school. Valiant as this effort may seem, it still fits your quest to intellectualize your issues.  At graduate school, you will meet a homophobic bully and, this time, you will bring him down by making it a public and administrative issue. At work, you will meet another homophobic bully. She will be kicked out because you will do the right thing by reporting her. Just last week I saw that one boy in middle school who used to call you the uninspired and predictable ‘faggy’. I let you confront him in a room full of people watching a football game. You told him that what he did to you never took away from your positive experience at school, but that it was stupid and hateful and potentially damaging to you, other gay kids, and society. He apologized. There are effective ways to deal with homophobia –silence and internalization are not one of them. You will also learn that one of the great things about being a homosexual is that you have the legitimacy and influence to create beautiful and tolerant spaces. Make sure you do everywhere you go.

8.Know your LGBTQ history. You know why the caged bird sings. You know Miss Celie’s speech by heart. You know your feminists –both Sontag and Paglia. In two years you will read A Room of One’s Own in one sitting, skipping two classes and getting a warning for it. You have read on the Holocaust, the Harlem Renaissance, Palestine, trafficking, blood diamonds, etc. You are familiar with civil rights, women’s rights, all types of rights except your gay rights. Please know that African American literature is not a substitute for filling this huge lack of true understanding of LGBTQ rights and history. You will get a taste of this in high school researching for that seminar. Know that there is a lot more to find out –and I’m not talking about Cher, Madonna, and Kathy Griffin –gay icons and divas. Start with Wikipedia and then hit the library. And everywhere you travel, learn about the local LGBTQ community and buy a LGBTQ book.

9.Don’t self-marginalize. You are a behaviorist. You see personality types, patterns, and power relations. That type of thinking will accentuate your feelings of detachment. You often claim to be on the outside looking in. But can’t you see that you are already standing on a margin narrow enough? It is time to fall off this margin and into place. The place I am referring to is one where you can find people pushing for those same causes for which you want to advocate. This place is called Nasawiya (for others, it is called Helem). You will learn a number of things there. Mainly, you will learn that feeling violated being on Helem’s mailing list in high school is unfounded and risible. BTW, you will be on that list because –take a deep breath – there is another gay with your same name. You will laugh about this. Oh, boy, you will fall off the margin laughing about this :)

10.‘Dive into the wreck’. Everything you thought you knew about the gay community in Lebanon is true. It is small in number. Everyone knows everyone. Relationships are what you think they will be. And, yes, it is a construct. It is what it is. And if you choose to stay here, even if for ‘one more year’, you better take the plunge –Adrienne Rich’s dive into the wreck. By all means, make mistakes. But make friends too. I will let you in on a little secret: there are people that you will like supermuch here –and I’m not talking in a romantic way.  You know what else? These people –okay, at this point these three guys– will like you supermuch too and they will give you invaluable insight.  You will learn that indeed everything you thought you knew about the gay community is true. But that it is also the tip of the iceberg. There are so many things and people to discover. Dive!

11.You are not a single man. You are a free spirit. You are unconventional in the sense that you are very well versed in everything mainstream and pop culture but you reject prepackaged notions such as that of the eternally single gay man. This is due to the fact that you happen to have a happy disposition. Tom Ford, the epitome of gorgeous and everything beautiful, will direct this movie, A Single Man, that some of your heterosexual friends will recommend to you –and that you will actually enjoy. By all means, tell them that you think it’s insulting how they presuppose your life to be bleak.  You are singular for life, not single for life. You know better than to pigeonhole yourself. Besides, the only man you need is yourself –and Tolstoy. The nights on which you will take him to bed will be sleepless with hundreds of flips and then some.

12.Take Care. Your health is a priority. I can’t stress this enough. No one is worth you catching the most benign of STIs. Granted, the risk of contracting something is high. But that doesn’t give you a free pass to be reckless and naïve. Get to know the person before you get to know their pants. Ask about them. Don’t forget that you have your right hand and your left brain (don’t forget to use the former when you’re uncontrollably horny, and the latter when you’re about to fool around with just anyone).

13.Being gay is never an excuse. There is no value in dwelling on your oppression, unless it is in an effort to break it. You are not a victim or a demon. You are a person whose happy fortune lies in being gay with a decent head on his shoulder. You have your priorities in order and a vision of what you want to be. So, if you want to come out, come out on top. And if you don’t want to come out, come out on top too. Disregard the fact that at the bottom of the Lebanese gay pyramid security is a stone made of thin air.  Your self-actualization starts when you become blinded by it. Imagine the following words, center stage, headlights reflecting on them as confetti and glitter come to rest on each and every letter:  Be gay, be successful.

14.Smile. Always.

For that assignment, you also wrote that no matter who your future self is you hope that he will be reacquainted with you through the diaries that you have just started writing, and from the nose that you have only started noticing to be slightly, and so annoyingly, asymmetrical.

I haven’t had time to read the diaries. I am still too busy writing them. But I do remember this insecurity we share every time someone wants to snap a picture of me and I tilt my head to the left to hide the asymmetry. I remember the 14-year-old me that you are: beautiful, adamant on being happy –even when all the shit of the world happens at once–, and with the most ridiculous insecurities.  Like fearing to recognize his ‘ten years from now’ as gay in all what this word entails –as better.

But at 14 you DO recognize me.

You will never verbalize your fixed belief that you will shine brighter in the light, brighter with the years: simply brighter in the gayest sense of the word, ten years from now. You think that this is all too good to be true.

Well, guess what? It is too good. It is also true.

 

Contributed by f.

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13 Responses to “To My 14-Year-Old Self: 14 Things to Make You Get Better”

  1. Illy

    Jan 17. 2013

    Wow Fady! amazing so much to say yet I feel speechless

    Reply to this comment
  2. Georges Azzi

    Jan 16. 2013

    Beautiful F. , thank you for being so honest, straight to the point, clear and not trying to intellectualize your emotions :)

    Reply to this comment
    • Fady

      Jan 18. 2013

      X’s many and O’s big. And for all your ongoing support and good advice, many big thanks.

      Reply to this comment
  3. Teenage Dirtbag

    Jul 16. 2012

    “You are like a unicorn in the sense that some people (for instance, a wannabe badass called Ahmadinejad) fail to realize that you actually exist –and in the sense that you are fabulous.”

    That part definitely made my day! Amazing letter, I would’ve loved to have a 14 year old you as a friend when I was 14.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Patrick H.H.

    Jul 09. 2012

    I loved every bit of it. I’ll be reading it more closely a few times this week, and will try to follow it as well :)
    thanks man, awesome piece

    Reply to this comment
  5. m/m

    Jul 08. 2012

    hmm . . . interesting that hillary clinton is being quoted without irony. also, the point about 10% of the population being homosexual is extremely flawed. I don’t understand why people find comfort in this recycled myth.

    Reply to this comment
    • f.

      Jul 13. 2012

      That you have sensed comfort in the 10% reference when it is clearly used for other purposes is excusable.
      That you haven’t looked into the Hillary Clinton reference before commenting is ironic.

      Reply to this comment
  6. keeks

    Jul 05. 2012

    that was very beautifully written.. thank you for sharing.. certainly something all our 14 year old selves could have benefited from (some older ones still can :s), and hope many more teenagers read it.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Karim N.

    Jul 04. 2012

    I love you. From all my heart, I love you.
    Everything you said to your 14-year old self, you said to the world, you said to every single teenager out there, looking for a friend and for support, looking for something to look forward to. And that thing is the future. The bright beautiful future.

    Your story is our story, thank you for sharing it.
    I will be taking your advice and I will be reading this again and again and again.

    Reply to this comment
    • f.

      Jul 04. 2012

      Hello Karim:

      Read this once and get out there. It’s a beautiful day.

      Reply to this comment
      • Karim N.

        Jul 09. 2012

        Don’t worry about me! :-) )

        Reply to this comment
        • f.

          Jul 17. 2012

          You mean that I shouldn’t worry you might print this out and use it as a fan -or, worse yet, a substitute for toilet paper? :)

          Thank you for reading.

          Reply to this comment

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