As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we commissioned 12 writers from Australia and the UK to write a letter to their past or future selves. In response to the question “Who are we now?”, these writers consider what conversations and stories need to be had and created for us to reimagine, rethink and rebuild the world around us.
Writer Alice Boyle writes to her past self:
“Dear 16-year-old Alice,
We need to talk. I know you’re doing your best right now. It’s not easy having glasses, braces, frizzy hair, and a really big nose. That’s a lot for one head to pull off. It wasn’t easy getting 7% on your latest maths test, either – I think Mum’s still pissed about that, 16 years later, but she’ll calm down eventually. The hardest thing, though, is being one of the only openly gay kids at school, especially when people all around you are using the word “gay” as a synonym for “shit”.
I know that you’re starved for representation and recognition. The last book you read with a queer female protagonist featured parental rejection, social isolation, an eating disorder, and a near-fatal car crash – and it won a bunch of awards. It’s either that or The L Word, where everybody’s too busy cheating on each other to actually go to their jobs. Plus, you have to sneak into the study to watch it at 11:30pm because Netflix doesn’t exist yet. I get it. It’s a desert out there.
Luckily, I’m here like the Angel Gabriel (was it Gabriel? I don’t remember. Wait, are we failing Religious Education too?) to bring tidings of great joy: things are about to get so, so much better. First of all, you’re about to land your first girlfriend (I know, spoiler alert! Try to look surprised when it happens). You’re going to find a haircut that works for you. The braces will come off and you’ll grow into your nose eventually. The best thing, though, is the wealth of queer life, community, and representation that’s about to unfurl before you.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but there’ll be a time not too far from now when being queer isn’t just tolerated – it’s celebrated. You’re going to find people who see the world like you, who love like you, and who are keen to explore queerness in all its messy, blazing beauty.
We’ll have out and proud athletes, celebrities, politicians, and so, so many authors. You’ll go to the library and be spoilt for choice. In these books, you’ll read about people who are like you, who are falling in love and finding their community, and – the biggest thrill of all – nobody’s going to die at the end. Keep writing, pal, because one day your book will be on that library shelf, too.
I’m so excited for you, because you don’t yet realise how much change is coming – a tidal wave of it. You’re going to belong to one of the last generations to cop shit for being gay. Queer people, trans people, BIPOC, disabled people – we’re going to step into the sunlight and celebrate the wonder of each other, because we really are wonderful. We’re bloody fantastic.
It’ll be hard work. I’m not going to lie to you: there’s a lot of ugliness out here, and still a lot of shit to be done. We’re not finished yet – far from it – but at the end of the day, you’ll have your beautiful, sprawling clan of family and friends who’ll love you for your distractible, overly verbal, very gay self.
See you soon. You’re going to have a great time.
P.S. By the way, when the orthodontist gives you your plate, keep it out of reach of the dog. Please, just trust me on this one.”
Alice Boyle is an LGBTQIA+ writer, English teacher, and sometimes-photographer. She won the 2021 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing with her YA romantic comedy, Dancing Barefoot, and her short story ‘The Exchange’ was published in the Black Inc. anthology Growing Up Queer in Australia. Alice has written for outlets including SBS Voices and The Stella Prize, has been highly commended for the Wheeler Centre’s Next Chapter initiative, and has worked on projects like Andrew Denton’s podcast Better Off Dead. Alice’s debut novel, Dancing Barefoot, is coming out in 2022 with Text Publishing. She lives with her partner on Wurundjeri land.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a partnership between Spread the Word, The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne, City of Literature. It is part of the UK/Australia Season; a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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