I’m 25 in half an hour. Dear 15 y/o me…

Painting of me from a mural at Art Central, HK, 2016

In little under 3 hours, it will be my 25th birthday. I’m living in Hong Kong, so I won’t be 25 to anyone back home in the UK until a little after that. And I wasn’t actually born until 12:00 (though the nurse told my mother 12:01) noon, so it’ll be even further. That I’m turning 25 hadn’t really crossed my mind until the last few days, when someone pointed out, quite without malicious intent, that I could no longer refer to myself as being in my “early twenties”.

25 always seemed the generic age of a “grown-up” to me as a child. Perhaps from the comics and sci-fi I devoured, in which 25 seemed to be the age given to the majority of male superheroes; an age that suggested enough experience and earned (learned?) authority to be respected, but young enough to be at the peak of their strength, wit and attractiveness. In other words, ideal. But that’s what superhero stories are about; ideals, the strive to maintain them and then their deconstruction. Often the most powerful part of any superhero tale isn’t in the earth-shattering battles between good and evil, but in the reality of what it means to be human in contrast. A civilian character in Superman stories can be an avatar for a civilian human being in a reality governed by power-mad, blood-splattered leaders and blindly-worshipped gods, both unknowable and untouchable in their own eerie ways.

Superman & Supergirl, DC Comics

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve achieved in 25 years, and what I haven’t. The people I’ve touched and who’ve touched me. Sometimes out of nowhere I’m overwhelmed with an unstoppable influx of worries about my place in the world, relating very much to my age, and to my peers’ perceived success. But mostly I’m happy. Mostly I’m content. Mostly I’m someone who can call themselves an optimist.

Today some colleagues gathered for lunch to celebrate several close birthdays, mine included. We talked a bit about how nobody writes letters anymore. Instead of writing about what could be scary, I’m writing to my 15 year-old self, in 2006.

Dear Henry,

It’s September 2006, and you’re about to turn 15. You’ve never been drunk. You’re kinda pudgy. Your GCSE’s are after Christmas, and it feels like an overwhelming responsibility — your first proper exams. You hear your teachers tell you that you’ll never be in an environment more conducive to learning than in school, learning 9, 10 subjects at a time. They were right. You’ll look back in just a few years and wish somehow you’d been more interested in Chemistry at the time. More determined in French, despite struggling. Though you won’t have lived in France in the next ten years, you will have made close French friends, visited the country multiple times, and moved to Hong Kong, where French is arguably more useful than English in certain social situations. I can’t recall what the exam is, but you’ll trot along from home to school one day, walking to hype yourself up rather than taking the bus, as the sun shines, and Knees Of My Bees by Alanis Morissette plays from your iPod. It’s a saccharine song about a love you have no concept of, but…watch this space.

Keep listening to that damn iPod, battered as it may get. Walk streets, walk all over wherever you go. There are snapshots your brain will take of moments in time, as you stroll seemingly inconspicuous streets listening to a song that comes on via shuffle and it will be imprinted forever, like a “save point” in the video game of your life in the next ten years. In 2014 you will be spinning in the streets of Berlin at 4am with Solanne, who you haven’t yet met, singing Old Money by Lana Del Rey at the top of your voices, tipsy. You don’t yet know what it means to be singing a song as full of longing as that whilst gleefully drunk with a friend in a city that seems to be a living, breathing and feeling organism of its own, but you will, and you won’t forget.

“The power of youth is on my mind. Sunsets, small towns, I’m out of time. Will you still love me when I shine?”

In late 2006 you will take suninmymouth as a username on a website that feels alien and unattainable but also and familiar and likely at the same time. It’s a Björk song, but it reads as sexual, which you won’t have intended. But it is a gay chat room of some description. Stop talking to the man from Jordan, you’re too young and he’s over 30. Or maybe you already have stopped at this point, I can’t remember. It’s been 10 years. Sometimes even now I wonder what his life was and is like. In 2016 you won’t recall his name.

In 2008 you will go after school to buy Alanis Morissette’s Flavors Of Entanglement album, and then walk, cheeks burning red, to a public toilet known for cruising. You will sit in a cubicle for 10 minutes, certainly not terrified of the men staring at the boy who just marched through in his school uniform, but certainly feeling foolish. “Sub will suck you” reads a message in marker pen in front you, one of hundreds. The scratched off message nearest it has the date “9.9.97” and a phone number and you will wonder how many people have come here before and how many will come after you. You will make a swift exit. Please make a swift exit. You can debase yourself in inappropriate places later on in life.

You don’t know you’re gay. I mean, you do, you understand you have an attraction to men, and that’s caused untold turmoil within you, but you will take your time to realise that it’s positive. It will take years. Years. You won’t tell everyone in your life until you’ve lost weight and moved to London, and met your first boyfriend. That will happen for you. And he will aid and abet you in being brave and meeting the world in a way in which you’d never before but were on cusp of learning to do. Oh yes. Go to London. It will be the wildcard choice in the University applications, but do it. You will finally be who you knew you could be. You will hear Starships by Nicki Minaj every bloody weekend at bloody G-A-Y and never venture further afield because you’ve found a place and a little group of people that are like you, in positions similar to yours, but with wildly differently stories. And you will learn from those stories, and continue learning. In 2009 you will write an angst-ridden diatribe about the anxiety of clubbing (with accompanying sketches!) but in 2012 you will finally understand what Madonna is talking about in that song you’ve been hammering since you were 10. You will!

When all else fails and you long to be something better than you are today
I know a place where you can get away — It’s called a dance floor, and here’s what it’s for!
Portrait of The Artist As A Tired Sex Toy Salesman, 2015

The only thing you can do differently, almost-fifteen-Henners, is this; come out to your family. Do it. I didn’t come out until I was truly happy with myself and yes — you cannot love another person fully and honestly until you love yourself, but (!), telling them, or them finding out, might just bring you a little happiness, a little earlier.

Don’t panic if you don’t though. Your mum will be a Stonewall Ambassador and your sister will have walked by your side in multiple gay prides by 2016. You’re good on the family acceptance front, which you are already aware of. Your parent’s absolute acceptance of other people won’t be shaken in the wake of you coming out. In fact, it will embolden them both. They will see their son happy.

You will love. And you will be loved. Repeatedly. Differently. You will realise friends around you in the next ten years will not have experienced reciprocal romantic love and you have and you need to know you’re lucky. And you must try to remain friends, or at least respectful. Through mistakes and learning curves, through train rides and plane rides, through closings and openings, through hopes, dreams, fears and failures. There will be times you’re sitting on an unmade bed with tears streaming down your face despite the fact you haven’t cried in years and you’ll think it’s the end of the world, but it won’t be. You will laugh with these men. These are men that came into your life and you into theirs unplanned and for an infinitesimally tiny amount of time in the grand scheme of the universe, you shared something that seems impossible before it happens, something that isn’t grown into existence but rather thrown, out of nothing resembling soil or toil, it hits you — it just comes. And it goes. It goes and there’s a shred of you that will never understand why, something that can’t be logically or medically examined. You will leave people and they will leave you and sometimes it’s gut-wrenchingly hard and sometimes it’s alarmingly easy. You will hurt people you care about in ways that scare you and you will be hurt by people you never thought could hurt you. You won’t tell people you care about them enough.

All of this is ok.

But you need to always feel lucky to have met these people. You’re lucky.

In 10 years the world might look scary. It feels scary. You will be 24, 11 months, and whatever amount of days and the world will seem terrifying. But you’ll have lived in different cities in those ten years and you will know there’s an unbelievable amount more to see. There are mountains to climb (Sidenote: Miley Cyrus will release a song called The Climb. When the album comes out and you’re questioning whether it’s a good idea or not to go to the 24-hour ASDA at 1am to buy it…do it. It is. Miley will be great, just wait and see. You don’t really tell anyone but a few of her songs helped make sense of some things in your head at one point or another) and seas to swim in. You will be sitting beside people in class right now that you will be spending amazing days hiking and swimming and reminiscing with in 10 years time. You will make best friends that last years, you will make best friends that last 10 minutes and a free drink. You’ll think you’ve drifted from people only to catch up one day and realise nothing’s changed and that time and space was just necessary and means nothing. You’ll be 6'1. You’ll dye your hair 100 times. Stop dying your hair. In ten years it’ll be receding and thinner than you’d like. Start eating better, but don’t worry too much, in 2010 you will go into anaphylactic shock, revealing you have a brand-new allergy, but also a fantastic new super-fast metabolism, meaning you can STILL eat all the junk food you want and wear a size small. By 25, you will, however, notice something called love handles.

Oh, and in 2007 you will become obsessed with a singer called Tori Amos. Who, you ask? Just buy her Greatest Hits, you idiot.

“Blossom, Riot Poof. It will all find its way…in time.”

Follow me on Instagram: henners_b_denners

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