I appreciate you taking the time to read this letter. I know we haven’t communicated in any meaningful way in a long time. I’ve changed a lot. But then, you knew that. I guess it’s why we’re not talking now.
A wise woman, one who reminds me of you in her demeanor and is a black mother herself, suggested that I get this out, or it will consume me. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m not writing these things to hurt you, though the thoughts and emotions expressed may cause you some pain. I imagine that you, like me, are already aching for someone who once meant the world to you. For me, you still do.
Sometimes, when I’m walking from place to place, my body gets suddenly exhausted with the interminable strain of becoming. The trauma of losing you, of feeling like an orphan with a living parent, lives in my bones. Even when I should keep moving, when I have somewhere to be, my legs will give and force me down toward the earth. Often my face is damp with tears before I even reach the ground. All aspects of my life, from my time as a Witness to my autonomous adulthood now, have focused on continuous movement. For so many of the people I’ve admired in my life, you included, stopping or slowing down means death. But inertia and purpose are not the same, and humans are not perpetual motion machines. And in the absence of real self-care, in the presence of deep self-denial, I began to fall apart.
In my reinstatement letter–the first one, the only one that I was genuine about–I wrote about feeling as though “Jehovah was putting me back together.” At the time, I really believed it. Two years removed from that situation, from the shunning and the near-constant suicidal ideation and the nonstop denigration of my worth, I’m still falling apart, but I don’t labor under the delusion of some organization and its laundry list of rules coming to save me. What would help, I realize, is your love and support. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve felt like a little child adrift in the world, sometimes brave, mostly petrified, often angry. I’ve wanted to punch walls just to feel the synovial fluid in my knuckles give, despite the way the all-or-nothing thinking Jehovah’s Witnesses taught me inclines me toward two options: kill yourself or do nothing at all.
Last week, I went to a rally in North Carolina protesting a hateful piece of transphobic (but also generally terrible) legislation passed in that state. One of the activists, chained to four others in the middle of Blount Street in Raleigh, shouted into the megaphone, “WE HAVE TO LIVE!” And that, I suppose, is the central conflict between you and me. I know your intentions because they were once mine. You feel that I, a chunk of your heart walking around outside of your body, am going to die–and soon–if I don’t change. You can’t bear the thought of losing me forever, so you are choosing to lose me now in the hope that I will “come to my senses.” And me? I believe that this is all there is, that losing me now is losing me forever, and I cannot survive in any real way pretending like I don’t have a panic attack when I attempt to have sex with cismen, pretending like the deepest love I’ve ever felt is for someone who doesn’t even fit the gender binary. Their dimples are deep and full of wisdom, just like yours.
There are things about me I’ve never told you because I fear that they will confirm your belief in my inevitable failure outside of the faith, that they will provide further proof that without a carefully engineered system of dogma, I cannot survive, let alone succeed. But now is as good a time as any, I suppose. I’ve been diagnosed with the same depression that plagued your mother, and if we’re being honest, you and my deceased father. I’ve been on meds for almost a year with varying degrees of success. I’ve nearly been homeless two separate times now, and at times sex work has been the only way to narrowly avoid being out on my ass and avoid compromising who I am just to come back home. I have two tattoos, one to remind me of who I am, and the other to celebrate that I’m still alive. I drink and I smoke and I’ve been in crisis that required professional intervention at least three separate times. But out of all that, what has been most painful is coming out on the other side of major life upheavals and knowing you wouldn’t be there to hug me, to say you’re proud of me, to offer assistance or to just say, like you used to, sans strings, “I love you, Nat.”
Nearly ten years ago, when you found out I had sex for the first time, you said in this disappointed but somehow understanding way, “All we really want out of this life is love.” And you know as well as I do that that desire never disappears, whether you’re 23 or 46. So I’m just saying, I still love you. I always will. Never believe for a moment, no matter what the Witnesses tell you, no matter what rationalizations you feel inclined to believe about why I left, that I don’t. Because you are still the person I love most in the world, too.