"If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say in only two words?"
One of my mentors asked me this recently, and as she waited patiently for an answer, all I could think about was a letter I'd written in sixth grade to my future self. The letter was mostly filled with inconsequential questions about my future self's favorite classes, his best friends, and his tastes in music, but what stood out were five words meticulously aligned on a vertical crease and carefully folded into the stationery itself, hidden. They read:
Recalling this anxious question, so carefully concealed, really made me realize how much of my adolescent life was paralyzed by my fear of coming out. I suffered from stress-related insomnia and spent many of my sleepless nights quietly watching gay-themed movies after my family had gone to bed. Though these films reassured me that what I was going through was normal, they almost always painted coming out as the protagonist's "happily ever after" and implied that only out and proud gay people could be happy and loved. I wanted so much to join their ranks, but at 12 I was by no means ready to leave my little closet. So when the movies ended, I would scour blogs and message boards, desperately searching for any sort of validation that my closeted existence was normal and lovable as well.
I remember how dark and destructive that mental space was for me, filled with self-hatred and loathing, yet I don't regret my time there. Though I hope to never regress, I realize now that it was a necessary step in my larger coming-out process. I had to fully and completely understand what it felt like to be in the closet before I could begin to understand what it would take to leave it.
But not everyone has to leave. For me, the closet was just a stop in a larger journey, but for some it is a final destination. While I believe that coming out is an inherently beautiful and empowering process, one that I was lucky enough to have experienced, I understand that it is not for everyone. For some, the world outside is not the right place or time. However, that is not to say that self-discovery ends in the closet. For me, the closet was the space where I learned, grew, and came to love my identity. Thus, the closet and self-love are not mutually exclusive.
So to my sixth-grade self, writing letters to seek solace through sleepless nights, my two words would be, "Fear not." Fear not the depth of the closet or the amount of time you spend there. Fear not the darkness or the loneliness. And fear not the closet itself, because only through spending time in your closet will you understand its boundaries, limitations, and exits.
Take your time and realize that what you are going through is part of a longer journey of self-discovery. Fear not this process, because you are worthy, and you are lovable, and when you are ready, if ever, you will realize that the closet door opens from the inside.