On The Power of Letters

My friend, Miss Keegan, is the bravest person I know. She’s my best friend and someone I truly care about, sometimes even more than family. Two years ago, she wrote me a very long letter. It took her months of writing and re-writing to ultimately tell me she was transgender. Deep down, she was asking for acceptance. She was also worried that if she sent this letter, there would be a slim chance that I wasn’t going to accept her for who she is. Despite being risk-averse, she took that leap of faith, risking our friendship. When I received the letter, I took some time to really read it, then called her. I told her I accepted her for who she is and there would be no way in hell I was going to react negatively.

We had been friends since our freshman year of college. We met at this club event right outside of the university our first weekend before classes started. However, it was only brief, and all we did was introduce ourselves with a handshake. The second time I met her, I stumbled into her dorm room drunk while she was trying to have a good time hanging out with her friends from back home. She held no angst towards me, but showed me out of the room. Despite my rude behavior, she was drawn to me and we started hanging out more often. Eventually, she became one of my first true friends in college.

One of the things we wanted to do was travel up the west coast to Canada. In my car, we drove a thousand miles up and down the coast seeing the beautiful and gorgeous Pacific Ocean. But we also had a lot of time on our hands. We each created a playlist that we thought would reflect our lives. That’s where I learned Miss Keegan was into scream-o music once upon a time ago. Eventually, we ran out of music, and we talked for a long time. I felt comfortable enough talking about myself. I told her about an old High School crush I never got over, of parental expectations, of where I thought my life was headed. She drove, listening to my stories, soaking it in. Miss Keegan only talked briefly about her past, and I could tell she was holding something back. Something deep and dark, and I was worried she didn’t trust me. I didn’t press her on it and felt that if she was ready to tell me, she would.

We took a class together in our junior year on LGBT media studies. In that class, we discussed topical LGBT issues and read one or two books a week. Because of high textbook costs, we decided to split the cost of the books. However, one of the books I bought was incorrect. I bought Kate Bernstein’s “Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation” when I was supposed to buy her first book, “Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us.” Miss Keegan bought the book off my hands and read it religiously for a week.

I didn’t feel surprised when she wrote to me she was transgender. I received the letter on my birthday the year after I graduated college. In addition to coming out, she also told me for the past year, she was taking hormones without prescription. She talked of depression and of finding herself lost and confused, crying in her room. Reading that reminded me of specific incidents where she would just disappear during social events.

Miss Keegan and I were at a party held by a mutual friend about a half a year before I received the letter. She left the party after feeling dismayed because some of the guests talked about gender binary norms. She had taken a walk without telling anyone, and no one noticed until I was finally ready to leave the party. We had drove together, and since we lived together, I assumed I was also driving her home, but Miss Keegan was no where to be found. Another friend accompanied me as I drove around looking for her. After a half an hour without finding her, we decided to swing around my place hoping she found her way back with someone else. I got back and she wasn’t there. I asked my roommates if they had seen her, but they didn’t know. Before I called the police, she came back, safely. She was dumbfounded by my distress and told me she just needed to take a walk to clear her thoughts. I sighed a huge relief, but was worried by Miss Keegan’s need to clear her thoughts.

Shortly after I received the letter, I called her and told her I was totally supportive of her and willing to help her if she ever needed it. I also asked if this was why she had left the party I mentioned in the previous paragraph. She said it was distressing that nobody understood her perspective and scared that if she brought it up, she would be rejected. She felt like she was in a hopeless place, trapped in a dark room when people make such off-handed comments.

One of the first things I did right after college was write to Miss Keegan letters. Snail mail, not email. It was refreshing. I was able to write these longform essays, much like what you’re reading now. Sometimes she would respond. Sometimes she didn’t. It didn’t matter. I was able to get something off my chest because I knew she could read the things that were hard to talk about. After I received her long coming-out letter, the letters meant even more because she was also willing to talk about the hard things as well. When I received one of her letters, I knew they were precious because there is limited space on paper. You have to be extremely thoughtful of what you’re going to put in that space.

Writing these letters reminds me of that time I was writing letters to Miss Keegan. I’m writing about the hard things to talk about, except now, there are more people reading. I feel very vulnerable, scared I’m going to be judged by every set of eyes that read this. But what really helps is when I get responses back. They’re not like a reply on a Youtube video, they’re replies of empathy. I get really cheery when someone responds back with, “I felt the same way” or “This really touched me.” It makes me feel less alone and lights up that dark room within me. I don’t have an intention to write these letters in hopes they will make me famous, because they will certainly not. I write these because it’s the thing keeping me sane and happiest. I love you Miss Keegan. Thanks for being there.