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Letter to S.

by Kit Stookey


"Can I kiss you?"

I missed what you said—too engrossed in Love, Actually. This was the part where Colin Firth made his proposal in broken Portuguese.

"Can I kiss you?"

Flushed, I answered, "yes."

And so, you kissed me. My first kiss, ever. But I couldn't help but still keep watching the movie playing over your shoulder until you noticed and turned it off.

I thought I was kissing a boy. You thought you were kissing a girl. It turns out we were both wrong.

Black and white silhouette image of two people about to kiss.
Image credit: Klara Kulikova on Unsplash

*


Although we were in a "situationship" for just over a year, I don't think you really know much about me, or I about you. So, you don't know about my mom's all-consuming love of old movies, and how those movies and those who followed them were my instruction book for adulthood.

The house I grew up in was large enough that my family of introverts would find ourselves in separate rooms, doing entirely separate things in our free time. For my mom, that meant sitting on the living room couch and either thumbing through a Nora Roberts or Patrick O'Brien novel or watching Turner Classic Movies. Sometimes, I would approach her and she would look over, bemused, and start explaining the movie: the plot, who the actors were and whether she thought they were beautiful or handsome or too skinny or overrated or a great "character actor." She favored musicals and romantic comedies with snappy dialogue and was turned off by movies that wanted to do weird things with camera angles or any form of non-linear storytelling. A lot of people might consider her tastes a little bit basic, but I felt proud to be one of the few kids I know who regularly watched movies made before the '90s, a kid who knew more about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

These stories my mom devoured-- rife with spoiled socialites falling for grouchy newspaper reporters or bespectacled paleontologists or another spoiled socialite masquerading as a homeless person (It Happened One Night, Bringing up Baby, and My Man Godfrey, respectively) did not at all reflect the life she made for herself. A lawyer for a multinational company, she made no attempt to act like most of my friends' moms-- she couldn't even begin to feign an interest in modern pop culture, preferred to purchase nylon pants you could zip off to shorts en masse rather than buying the latest jeans at Banana Republic, and was completely clueless over what to with my long hair, since she had kept hers short her entire life. She stuck out in a sea of bottle-blonde heads and tiny purses; I was too nervous to sharpen my pencils in front of the class, much less completely ignore the social norms of my peers.

Instead of turning to her for advice, I watched her movies. Even in later decades, every movie reinforced that the most important thing for a woman to do was to find romantic love. Toula doesn't even dream of quitting pouring coffee for her father until she runs into Ian in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In You've Got Mail, it ultimately doesn't matter that Joe Fox lies to Kathleen Kelly and ruthlessly destroys her family business because he once said that he would get her a bouquet of pencils. The only way to succeed, to be normal and good and happy, was to find a boyfriend.

The trouble was, no boys liked me-- and, even worse-- I couldn't bring myself to like any boys. I was always the one at sleepovers who had to pick a boy at random when asked about crushes, who could never picture what my wedding dress would look like or the face of the person on the other side of the altar. Even though I had friends and was in honors classes, by the time I reached my freshman year of high school, I felt that something was deeply wrong with me. This feeling of brokenness was only reinforced when I first watched Never Been Kissed at a friend's birthday party. I lay awake that night, thinking about how easily that could be me, that I could go another decade without being kissed. Another decade of failing at being a girl.

A year and a half later, at a summer program at the University of Chicago designed for high school students, I met you. You seemed so comfortable with yourself and so smart, offering opinions about Hemingway and Romantic poetry with the sureness of someone much older than yourself. All the clichés finally rang true for me. My palms sweat. My chest felt like it enclosed a flutter of butterflies rather than a human heart. All evidence that I was a normal, human girl instead of a freak of nature, incapable of romantic love.

I know that you wanted to play by the romantic comedy playbook, too. You changed your story for class from a high-fantasy epic to a sweetly awkward story about a first date. It was you who suggested we watch Love, Actually. 

Did you look at Hugh Grant, and Colin Firth for guidelines on how to be, how to live happily and right and correctly as the gender you were assigned at birth? 

You once texted me that you liked my hair. I have no idea if you were just trying to be nice or were actually passionate about my stick-straight, mud-colored hair, but for the entirety of our situationship, I kept my hair long, even though I had no idea what to do with or how to take care of it, even as I built Pinterest boards around Emma Watson's pixie cuts. You couldn't see my split ends on Skype.

I had started to get up early—around 5:30 AM—to beat my brothers to the shower and put on my makeup before school—foundation to hide my acne, blush to add some life, eyeliner, mascara, and eye shadow to make my eyes pop without wearing glasses. When you met me, I only owned two dresses and had just moved past kicking anyone in the shins who dared to call me cute. Now, I went to the mall with my friends, fighting through panic and disassociation I now recognize as gender dysphoria, to emerge with A-line dresses with heart-shaped cutouts in the back and heeled boots with fringe on the sides. You never told me or even insinuated that I should do any of this. When we were still on campus, you favorably compared me to Arya Stark in your recommendation of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. My frame of reference was still The Breakfast Club, where the "Basket Case" only gets the guy after putting a pink ribbon in her hair. I wonder if our connection wasn't based on our aptitude for matching every beat of a (cis, straight, white) romantic comedy, but on one closeted trans person recognizing another: I've always thought that you were beautiful, rather than handsome.


Image of a person looking in a mirror applying lipstick.
Image credit: Jakub Chlouba on Unsplash

*

I still love all those movies that I mentioned and frequently go back to them. Like my mom, however, I finally realized that I can't bring myself to live like them. I don't wear any makeup, that dress with the heart-shaped cutout is out of my closet. I finally figured out long hair—for me, it means a slicked-back mullet (think David Bowie's Thin White Duke). And I do have a boyfriend, but he's not exactly a rom-com protagonist, either.

I know you're a very private person—it looks like you're off all social media, and you should know I only found out you're going by a different name and grew your hair out by scrolling through Venmo. Still, I hope that we'll have the opportunity to have a conversation where we're not trying to follow beats for films never written for us in mind.


***

Black and white image of the author, Kit Stookey.
Kit Stookey


Kit Stookey (they/them) is a writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their work has appeared in Across the Margin and wig-wag magazine. In their spare time, they like to re-watch their favorite movies, drink too much coffee, and bother their cat, Moira. You can find them on all social media platforms @kstookley.

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