Dear 9th grade Rebekah,
Hey Bex! It’s your senior year – you made it! Honestly, you thought it was never going to happen, and now, you’re about to give your senior speech. Scary, am I right? But first, I’d like to catch you up on a few things.
It’s freshman year, and you just came out as bisexual to your friends and family. Wow, props to you for being honest. It wasn’t easy – that’s for sure – but your parents, brothers, and true friends love you no matter what.
I want to give you a little heads up: You’re going to feel like people discredit who you are, or even try to erase or deny your identities. People will ask you questions that make your skin crawl. There are going to be people who think that you’re greedy, indecisive, or untrustworthy. You’re going to feel as if you don’t belong in certain spaces, that you’re not gay enough because you don’t fit every stereotype in the book, or that there is an “alpa gay” somewhere waiting to judge you.
But Bex, listen, that’s just so not the case. You’re gonna do great things, and people will lean on you for support. Heck, you’re going to be in Teen Vogue! There’s nobody here to check your gay ID, and you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Don’t listen to people who say you’re not gay enough. You just have to be you, and you’re pretty cool.
Lately, you’ve been thinking about those books you read when you were a little girl, Happy to Be Nappy and Shades of Black. Those were some of your favorites, right? The way you would curl up in the corner and flip through pages soaking in their pictures and words. You just loved those illustrations of their curls because they looked so much like yours, and the rainbow of skin tones in Shades of Black represented your family. You read them over and over again because they were beautiful and they made you feel beautiful, too.
Thinking about those books made you wonder why people from the Black community asked, “What are you?” “Are you mixed?” “Why do you talk white?” You didn’t understand why they couldn’t see what you felt. You grew up hearing at home how Black was beautiful and how there was such a rich history to be proud of.
Your parents never let you forget your Black girl magic, and when your educators and peers tried to question it, your parents were quick to have your back. You were Black, and that was that. Feeling this sense of othering from the community that you felt so intrinsically a part of was disorienting and disheartening.
Realizing that you couldn’t feel at home in either the Black community or the gay community felt isolating. Being Black and gay enough constantly weighed on your mind, and you tried to fix it. Well, Bex, it’s hard to fix something that’s not broken. You weren’t doing anything wrong. Generalizations and stereotypes help make some complex things more understandable to people, but they can be damaging. Grouping people together because they’re all supposed to act one way, or talk one way, or like the same things, leaves little room for individuality.
This idea of fitting into a mold has pushed you to challenge people’s assumptions about you. As a senior, you love to push boundaries and keep people on their toes. You don’t have to prove your Blackness or bisexuality to anyone, because you are a Black, bisexual woman, and that’s enough. Period.
Hey Bex, I also want to remind you to be gentle with yourself. Being smart isn’t only determined by how well you do math, or how well you can write a paper, or even how many verb conjugations you have memorized. As a freshman, you always thought you weren’t smart enough to compete with the other girls. But when you keep comparing yourself to others, it’s toxic.
Is it really worth falling asleep in class the next day, just to stay up all night to get that assignment done? Trust me, having actually done that, I know it makes learning that much harder. I know you want to push yourself to succeed, but your health should be a priority, too. Just remember you need enough sleep.
People are going to tell you that it’s okay if you don’t get straight As, and I wish you had actually listened. Mom and Dad stressed that as long as you’re giving your best, that’s all that matters. It’s true. Think about the big picture, and give yourself time to breathe. Just because something doesn’t come easily or naturally does not make you any less of a learner.
This idea of being good enough never stops, Bex. You have to keep fighting that voice inside. Tell it to shut up and prove it wrong. I’d like to say that in your senior year you’re over all of this, you ooze major confidence, and nothing shakes you anymore, but that could not be further from the truth.
You even questioned whether or not you would be good enough, strong enough, or brave enough to write this. It caused you so much stress and many tears because you worried so much about how people would receive your words. In your mind, you have this fixed idea of success, of being accomplished, of being what people want. However, definitions change, and so do people, and so did you.
Black History Month ended in February, but what didn’t end is the need to make young, Black, queer women feel like they’re enough. There are so many ways that students and educators can address the intersections of being a queer, Black woman; GLSEN’s educator guide on supporting LGBTQ students of color and their “Sharing Communities” GSA activity are great places to start. Bex, I’d like to finish this letter by saying you’re going to meet people who share your passion for making others feel like they’re enough, too.
You’ve got this, bud, and I mean it, honestly. It won’t be easy – that’s for sure – but it’ll be okay, and you’ll make it through. After all, I’m here writing to you, aren’t I?
Enough is enough.
Bex Robinson is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. This piece was adapted from her senior speech.