Comedian Rhea Butcher On Helping Yourself Before Helping Others

"You have to know yourself and be strong in yourself before you can be a part of the world."

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 Rhea,

What’s up, dude? Yes, we still say dude in the future. Actually, everything you’re into now is still popular in the future, so hang on to everything — don’t donate it! Well, donate some of it but not those good button-ups.

Anyways, I wanted to write you and let you know that everything turns out fine. Well, not everything. The president is definitely not okay, so maybe get more politically active if possible? All the things you’re worried about now, like school and feeling lost and alone? They turn out okay. I know you don’t believe me, but you should, because I am you.

Here’s the thing I’ve learned and want you to know: Everything happens for a reason. Everyone says that and it sounds like total bullshit, but it’s true. You learn something from every problem and also every positive thing in your life. You’re going to be really stressed for a really long time about your student loans that you took out in college. I want you to try to not be because you’ll learn, eventually, that there’s really no such thing as “bad decisions” (at least when no one is being physically or emotionally hurt), only decisions and lessons to be learned from those decisions. It’s kinda like how everyone says there are no stupid questions.

Open yourself up to learning from your life experiences, and try to block out everyone who is making you feel like you’re doing everything wrong. They’re just mad about the decisions that they made, and trying to help, but never let them make you feel like you are wrong.

Also! YOU are the place. Another cliché. Clichés are clichés for a reason. It really is true though. Find yourself through yourself first. Other people can help you experience new things like different languages or foods or families, but learning to understand yourself is invaluable.

You haven’t ridden on a plane yet, but when you do I want you to pay close attention to the safety demonstration. Obviously for safety, however, pay close attention when they show you how to use an oxygen mask. Something they emphasize is putting the mask on yourself before you help anyone else. Seems kinda counterintuitive, right? Like, if you’re okay enough to want to help someone else, like a child or something, you’d want to do that, right? But you’re not equipped to help them yet because you need to stay strong. See? See how that is important? Make sure you can breathe and continue to breathe before you run off to help others. You have to know yourself and be strong in yourself before you can be a part of the world.

Lastly, the answer is yes. Yes, you are gay. Yes, you are a lesbian. Yes, you are nonbinary. Yes, you are all of these things. Sorry, I should’ve said “spoiler alert.” But you already knew this, right? You just haven’t had anyone around to help you figure it out. They’ll be there. It might take a while but we’re all here for you.

This all takes so long, but once you get to the good stuff, it goes really, really fast. So try to pay attention and appreciate what you have when you have it. Anything can change at any moment. That’s another hard lesson you’re going to learn eventually. Just breathe. Feel the air and the sun and smell the flowers and hear the animals. Yeah, you do kinda become a hippie in your 30s. Take photographs. Save all the digital ones. And talk to everyone in your family. Like, really talk to them. Write it down. Write everything down.

Oh, and go easy on yourself. It’s not like you set fire to the living room rug or anything.

Rhea (you)

Rhea Butcher is on a bus tour with her wife, Cameron Esposito, throughout North America.

Read more letters here.

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