The Queer Corner | The perks of taking your time

The Queer Corner is a biweekly blog exploring LGBTQ+ community and culture.

By Rachel Bachy, Staff Writer

Dear friend,

I read “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” on the night of my thirteenth birthday. I read it all in one night. Charlie, the main character, felt so old to me. So mature. He, a shining first-year high school student, lived with veracity. He lived in the moment. I couldn’t wait to live there, too.

Charlie, like me, grew up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. He was a wallflower. He was different. I felt different, too, but I couldn’t tell you why. He started every letter with “Dear friend,” and he never left a return address. His friend could never write him back, but he hoped that someone, somewhere, would read his letters and show him kindness. That someone, somewhere, would understand.

Adolescence sucks for everyone. Any coming of age movie will tell you that. Most of us feel like we’re different. Most of us struggle to fit in. Our stories, as opposed to those of Charlie or Holden from “The Catcher in the Rye” or Scout from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” aren’t confined to a page-marker. We keep going. Sometimes, we come of age one way just to find out we did it all wrong. What happens when everyone else has their coming-of-age story and you don’t? What happens if you come of age all wrong?

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Well, if you or a loved one has suffered from a coming-of-age crisis, you might not be entitled to financial compensation, but you’re definitely not alone, either. If it’s any consolation, I don’t think I did my coming-of-age story right. There was no big “Booksmart” party that ended in a friendship decimating dramatic speech. I never bonded with a group of ragtag delinquents in a “The Breakfast Club” detention. And my prom was completely devoid of pig blood — which, when you think about it, was probably for the best.

I still like a good coming-of-age story, though. Even if mine didn’t turn out right, I see bits of myself in these stories. I saw myself in Charlie’s awkwardness and Holden’s angst. In a lot of ways, coming-of-age stories show us breaking free from societal expectations. Becoming a free thinker. An adult. The problem is you can only break free so much. There are certain norms you can question and others you shouldn’t dare. It’s like “High School Musical.” Sure, Troy can play basketball and sing, but Chad and Ryan can never have an on-screen kiss. That’s pushing too many limits.

I pushed too many limits. My teenage years swung wildly from the overwhelming desire to be myself and the unyielding pressure to fit in. I spent each year praying for normalcy. Begging myself for restraint. The script was kind to others. Why couldn’t it be kind to me? In the end, it didn’t matter. You can only bend into so many different people before you break. And I didn’t break free. I broke down.

But maybe I can rebuild. Try again. Queer people often experience adolescence twice — once before coming out and once after. The first adolescence follows the “script” — that is, the socially constructed guidelines established for youth to reach heterosexual adulthood. The second one does it all over again, but this time as a queer person. Free from the shackles of high school and hometowns, queer adults often have their first kisses and relationships later in life than cisgender and heterosexual people.

Hooray for second adolescence, right? Don’t get me wrong — a do-over is better than nothing, but meeting milestones later in life presents certain problems. Like the inescapable feeling time has passed you by, which every 20-something ever has probably felt. That feeling, the slipping through the sands of time feeling, isn’t new, but our shifting social norms aren’t exactly helping the problem. There’s a reason why “Tick, tick … BOOM!” with all of its agonizing over turning 30, is so popular right now.

I’m not sure if you heard, but we’re approaching year three of an ongoing pandemic. Being trapped inside with social media facilitating friendships — well, just ask Bo Burnham’s “Inside” how that turned out. Hint — it’s not good. Society is telling us we’re old way too soon. Sometimes literally, like in this scary InStyle article about how Zoom is giving me wrinkles. It feels like I’m running from the heartbreak of my youth to Hades’ eternal slumber. Is there nothing to hold on to? Nothing to put me back together?

There is one thing. There’s me.

We’re not always ourselves in our youth. We’re not always fully formed people with lives and dreams outside of the narrative. Society teaches us all how to be straight. For queer kids, repression shapes our childhoods and adolescence, and in turn, it creates an image of youth that looks very different than a straight person’s. The act of unlearning takes a long time. Time that it feels like we don’t have. But I’m here to say aging is not a punishment. It is a gift that shows that we survived. We owe our younger selves, the self that survived, kindness. We owe ourselves, all of us, kindness.

When I first read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Dear friend,” felt like an afterthought. A way to move the story along. Now I see the importance of imagining a friend when there isn’t one. Sometimes, that friend is you. Not you in the moment, but you in a little while. I see this now because I want to be that friend to my younger self. I am the recipient of all the letters I didn’t write, and like Charlie’s friend, I can never write back. I can only write this, and maybe someone, somewhere, will understand.

Love,

Rachel

Rachel writes about queer culture, the queer community and navigating life beyond the binary. Talk to them at [email protected].