This letter is part of our inaugural editorial series, “Letter to Myself,” in which we asked 40 remarkable queer people to write a note to their younger selves.
Dear Ashlee Marie,
You’re a precious, unique, and enigmatic soul. The bloody lip you just received while waiting in line after kickball doesn’t represent your value as much as it does the feeling of lack within the kid who punched you. As team captain, he didn’t want the effeminate black kid with the big ears and lips to be on his team. But you were the last one standing.
While you were last to be picked, you were the first to make it to home base. He was angry because he believed you were inferior to him, and because he was the primary reason the team lost—his blunt blow to your face was an attempt to fight his own perceptions of self.
You’re already ahead of the pack, sweet child. You understand that the game is never about winning, but about being present, being a part of something much larger and giving it the best you have. Continue to give life the best you have, even when people don’t give you their best.
I wish the kid who punched you didn’t ruin such a positive moment for you. I know that it’s one of the rare moments within the day that you don’t have to think about the drunken, senseless beatings you may have to endure at home tonight, the confusion of inhabiting a male body that isn’t in alignment with your female brain, and the uncomfortable “naked games” you’re woken up by and forced to play in the middle of night. Unlike those “games,” kickball doesn’t carry the residual shame.
Throughout your lifetime, you will discover a host of outlets to help you navigate challenging situations such as those. And while I wish there was another adult there to protect you, you are such a strong, resilient being. I’m so proud of you for attempting self-care at an age where most other kids aren’t forced into practicing survival.
While that kid meant to hurt you, you are so much stronger than he knows. You have to be because deep down you know that your swollen lip and the copper-like, bitter taste of blood on your tongue, are only the first taste of the intolerance you will encounter in your life.
Know that “recess” is always around the corner to help you get through those challenges. I know it makes you feel worthless when you’re picked last, especially when they make it about your appearance, but that’s only because they have no words to describe your light. To be a carrier of light is a beautiful gift. Never let them make you ashamed of it.
Light promotes strength and yields growth—not just for plants, but for our spirits as well. Someday the lives of others will bloom because of the warm light you emit. There will also be those negatively impacted by your light because it forces them to see themselves.
You’re too young to thoroughly understand what racism, homophobia, and transphobia are, but just know that there will always be people who don’t want you on their team. They won’t care about how well of a kicker you are and how many bases you score.
They won’t welcome you into their professional spaces, establishments, churches, social circles, and most certainly not their hearts. Never let that deter you from stepping onto the field. You are a valuable player and you are perfect just the way you are. As the kickball enthusiast who loves Disney princesses and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you don’t have to conform to gender norms.
Don’t let that stop you from shining bright, sugar. You can’t live your life hiding under a rock for fear of your light blinding others. Your purpose is not to fit in. In fact, you were born to stand out.
Your capacity to dream should go beyond the credits of your favorite Disney film. Like every other fairytale, rough beginnings can and do lead to happy endings. Never buy into the lie that as an adult you will have to give up your dreams for more realistic pursuits.
I give you full permission to reject the social construct of “reality,” as it’s the number one destroyer of imagination, inspiration, and hope. Reality is what you make it. One day, doll, you will become a team captain. Promise me you will always select the people whom society chooses last as your first picks.
May you see the same value and limitless possibilities in them as you see in yourself. No matter what ball life rolls your way, kick it with everything you’ve got and don’t stop until you make it all the way to home base. Know that there are so many who are rooting for you, and they want to see you win.
Purpose, potential, and promise
Ashlee Marie Preston is a trans activist and media advocate.
Read more letters here.