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It's Actually Not A Binary World

The letter below is part of our series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. Today's guest is Kelly Vincent, whose newest book Ugliest comes out later this summer and is now available for pre-order.


Dear teenage me,

Everything sucks right now, I know. The way people treat you is crap, and you will eventually find a way to stop caring so much. But here’s something that will surprise you—the reason you’re different is not because you’re fundamentally a freak—it’s because you’re on the autism spectrum and because gender is way more complex than everyone assumes. We say autism is on a spectrum now because we understand that there are different levels of it, and you’re on the mild end. But that’s why you have such a hard time understanding how to interact with people. It gets easier with more years of observation.

As to gender—let me just blow your mind and tell you it’s not a binary. You already know you’re not a boy, but I’ve got news: you’re not a girl, either, and that’s totally fine. That’s one reason you have trouble with connecting with other girls, and why ‘girl’ just feels so wrong on you. You don’t need to torture yourself by trying to be feminine in any way. Just stick with your jeans and t-shirts. There’s no reason not to be comfortable in your clothes all the time. You will never lose your conviction that makeup is stupid and having to modify your body just to be acceptable to people around you is wrong.

But the thing about understanding that you are neither a girl nor a boy is that it will relieve you of the constant sense that there’s something fundamentally wrong with who you are, since apparently you can’t even simply exist as a girl in the correct way. You don’t have to tell anybody now that you know. If you did, very few people around you would understand, or even try to understand—and it would fuel more bullying. But know in your heart that there is nothing inherently wrong with you—there’s just something different about your body because it doesn’t match who you are. It’s a little like having a birthmark or a visible disability—it’s obvious to other people and they fixate on those things and draw all sorts of conclusions about you, but it doesn’t actually impact who you are as a person. And I know you know this with your logical brain, but you are the exact person you should be—just try to convince your emotional brain, too.

Socially, keep doing what you’re doing. Despite all the pain social interaction causes, you’re absolutely right to refuse to conform. You were marked as a target early on, and nothing you do is going to change those kids’ minds—all you have to do is wait it out. You’ll never stop knowing the answer to the question, Why should you have to try to be like everybody else, anyway? Conforming for the sake of conforming is for chumps. And I do know that four years is a million and one years in teen time, but you absolutely can survive it and you will find a way to escape to better places, where people don’t police your gender expression so much.

Kelly as a teen

And you know that conviction you’ve always had that you’re going to accomplish something big in your life? It turns out that not everybody has that conviction. A lot of people are willing to sit around and watch TV while the world passes them by. But your habit of constantly having projects in play is going to pay off. That writing you like to dabble in? That’s going to be your thing. You’re going to write novels that win awards.

Here’s something even cooler. One of the books you write is going to finally give you the understanding and courage to share who you are with the world, which is going to be a big weight off your shoulders. One day, you’ll find yourself strutting out the doors of the hardware store because you just feel good for no reason whatsoever. I know, right? Seems crazy.

I do want to mention a few things you could do that will make your life easier. There’s no need to stay on the softball team. It’s not in your head—they really don’t like you and that isn’t going to change, and it’s fine. You won’t need an athletic scholarship to go to college, and quitting will just give you more time to draw dragons. And keep your hair blue, despite the freak-outs you leave in your wake as you walk down the hall. You aren’t going to get that library job, and black hair really does not suit you. Finally, maybe chill out a bit on the music snobbery thing. It’s okay for people to like different kinds of tunes, and grunge and rock aren’t the only good music.

Just remember, everything’s going to be fine. Just stock up on double A batteries, put your earbuds in, and listen to your mix tapes for the few years it will take before you get out of there. You’re going to like your life—you can buy all the books you want, people won’t judge you harshly just for existing and some will actually be your friends, and you’ll find that cats are not as scary as you think, and are, in fact, the absolute best.


Me now


About The Author: Kelly Vincent wrangles data weekdays and spends the rest of their time playing with words. They grew up in Oklahoma but have moved around quite a bit, with Glasgow, Scotland being their favorite stop. They now live near Seattle with several cats who help them write their stories by strategically walking across the keyboard. Their newest book, Ugliest, comes out later this summer.


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