Review: The Letter Q

The Letter Q edited by Sarah Moon

Obviously, it’s rather tempting to start off this review with a brief note to my younger self, mimicking the entire concept of The Letter Q, but you can’t fit a punch in the face in a letter, even a letter to the past. (Look, between a punch to the face and two years of Debate, I would have sprung for the punch in the face. It would have served the exact same function in my development.) I think I first heard of this collection via Malinda Lo, even though she’s not a contributor (EDIT: she is!), and I knew I wanted to read it—besides being a treasury of good advice, David Levithan, Gregory Maguire, and Erika Moen contributed pieces.

The Letter Q asked sixty-four LGBT authors and illustrators, “What would you say to your younger self?” This anthology is the result—sixty-four letters (a handful of them in comic form) with advice ranging from “it gets better” to “kiss the girl!” to “invest in Google”. (Hey, wouldn’t you let yourself know?) With a broad range of ages and experiences but a universal message of love, acceptance, and celebration, there’s both advice for everyone and anyone along the LGBT spectrums.

I cried reading The Letter Q, somewhere in the first hundred pages. It was just… late in the book is David Ebershoff’s letter to his younger self, where he tells himself that “you are seeing evidence of yourself beyond yourself” (264). This is a phenomenon I experience every once in a while; it might be the reason I’m currently in the throes of one of my worst bouts of Anglophilia. (The irony is not lost on my French-Irish-American self.) But when it comes to the queer community, especially the queer community at my school, I do feel a bit alienated—in failing to follow the script of getting an alternative haircut (I actually grew my hair out) or picking up a cigarette as soon as I hit campus, I appear to have failed some sort of litmus test to qualify as part of the community. (And here I thought it was about the fact I’m equally as fond of ladies as I am of gents as I am of anyone who doesn’t identify as either. Silly me!) So to have an anthology of advice from people who are much more my speed—namely, queer middle-aged creative professionals—who understand the fact that we’re all gorgeous freaks is actually kind of incredible. Sure, there’s the author who makes a snide remark about nail polish (y’all ever have that moment where you go “seriously? I am existing right here”? Because that moment is my life a lot of the time), but there’s also LaShonda Katrice Bennett, who bids her younger self to remember “remember, you’re free to be a femmy-femme girl who also loves femmy-femme girls. How else will you ever really know what other shades of lipstick look good on you?” (162).

There’s a great variety of experience here, from people who grew up in the fifties and sixties to those whose queerness was a source of shame and depression to those who knew they were queer from day one. (However, I frown on the fact that the book advertises it as containing trans* narratives but doesn’t include a single letter from a transgendered person. Boo.) The letter that hit closest to home and will stay with me the longest is, perhaps predictably, David Levithan’s—not just because of his writing, but he, like me, has to deal with the fact that his younger self was hugely problematic. In his letter, he calls his younger self out on using a gay slur to mock a teacher in school, as well as the non-slur insults he hurls at other kids. “The thing is? What you do to Mr. Jones—or the other cutdowns you make about what classmates are wearing, or how stupid other kids are—is not justified by what you yourself are going through” (26). That? That, I think, is a hugely important lesson for everyone, regardless of your particular flavor of gorgeous freak. Just because you’re in pain doesn’t mean you get to hurt other people; to pluck an example from my younger self, just because you’re wracked with anxiety over your gender presentation (as well as everything else) doesn’t mean you get to hate femme girls for being themselves.

Perhaps that would be more kind than the punch in the face, but I think I’d feel better with both, just to make sure the message gets across.

Bottom line: The Letter Q is incredibly touching, with its broad range of experiences and message of love, acceptance, and celebration. Unfortunately, it claims to represent trans* voices when it doesn’t, which is not okay. Still, worth it for any reader for David Levithan’s letter, as well as the simple fact that everyone gets over being young.

I rented this book from the public library.

  • Moon, Sarah, ed. The Letter Q. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012. Print.

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