I’ve changed your name to protect your interests in case you were not ready for the entire world to know something so private and difficult to discuss even at home. Thank you for sharing with me, a woman you just met while visiting your school as a guest author. The time you spent speaking with me about your appreciation for books like this, the kind which appeal to the LGBTQ demographic, made the entire trip worth the effort. “Books like this,” you said, “help parents know how to talk to kids like me.” You hadn’t read my book yet, but you had heard there was a character who had been afraid to share with his dad that he was questioning his sexuality. You came to the library at night to listen to me read from my book. You brought your friend who shared with me that she was bisexual and no one at home would listen to her talk about her feelings either. You bought a book and promised you would read it. I wanted to just give you a copy, but your earnest sharing distracted me from realizing you had already paid for it. You outed a friend also in the audience who had come with his mom, and you were genuinely happy he had a parent who would attend this event with him.
In the few minutes we spoke together, I learned enough to know you were a nice boy who liked good books and probably had just a few really close friends you trusted enough with your secrets. You asked me politely to sign your copy of True North, I wanted to write in the cover, “John, you will be okay in this world.” I wanted to write, “Trust in the love your mom has for you.” I wanted to write, “I’m so proud of you for being true to yourself and supporting your friend.” I wanted to write, “John, don’t give up on people even when their edges seem hard, or their love inflexible.” I wanted to write, “John, any person would be lucky to deserve your love.” But I didn’t write any of those things; instead, I wrote, “Dear John (but I used your real name obviously), thank you so much for coming tonight and for reading my book.” This was not enough for me to say, and I’m sorry I did not take the time to write more. For, you see, your words caught me off guard. When students trickled in finding seats among the older crowd, mostly former teachers and parents of friends of mine, I was surprised, honored, and inspired.
And then you told me that, no, you had not been able to hear my talk at school that day, and so you came now. You told me True North would help parents talk to their kids more easily about tough subjects because what kid-straight or gay or questioning- wants to discuss any aspect of sexuality with a parent. I knew this the entire year I spent writing, but hearing your words felt like a revelation. Here you were encouraging me in my endeavor to keep speaking and to keep reading from my book to audiences like these because you believed, truly, it would help kids like you because it would help your parents to listen when you spoke to them. I heard you. I heard you loud and clear. I hear you even now three days later, and I’ll hear you for years to come.
John, your words kept me company on my drive home. They kept me awake despite the exhaustion from talking all day, and they guided the words I wrote for you in a card, which I sent directly to the English Department Head to deliver to you at school. We met for a reason, and I’ll be forever grateful.
PS. If John’s mom or dad, or step-mother or step-father, or crazy Uncle Al or best friend’s mother reads this letter, thank you for listening to John– to his hopes and fears and questions. You do not have to have all the answers John needs; parents rarely do. But you do need to be present for him and accessible and show that you love him every day. John just wants to feel your love, and he can figure out the rest pretty well on his own.