This letter is part of our inaugural editorial series, "Letter to Myself," in which we asked 40 remarkable queer people to write a note to their younger selves.
Young Joshua (my parents still call me this),
There are so many things that I want to tell you, but let me start with the one that is most urgent: LOVE.
This powerful, four-letter word will transcend every facet of your life, and as long as you resist showing that love—which comes hand in hand with being vulnerable—the more the clouds will darken the light you are meant to shine.
Acceptance. As you sit there staring at those older teenage gymnasts that matured way before you ever would show any signs of puberty, don’t belittle yourself, appreciate that it will force you to perfect the technical aspects of gymnastics. Understand your body because it will give you the longevity so many covet in a sport where you happen to be really good. Embrace that struggle and know that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. As you are brought to tears on a cold bike ride home from college practice, know that it’s okay to not have all the answers. That strength truly comes in the struggle. Despite whatever you see going on around you, most everybody is in the same state of confusion. You don’t need to win a Nobel prize at the age of 19, not every practice is going to be perfect, you aren’t going to win every competition, you’re going to fall A LOT, you aren’t always going to get eight hours of sleep, that paper isn’t going to be perfect on the first go around, or even the tenth, this crystal ball of perfection doesn’t actually exist. Rather, take something positive from every experience and apply it in a constructive way to the experience that is right around the corner. Don’t be afraid to explore what you’re actually curious in, not what you think people expect you to be good at.
When your friends are having relationships and experiencing love for girlfriends or boyfriends, it’s okay to have that conversation with yourself about being attracted to guys. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Do it sooner than later. Explore. Confide in those with whom you are close with despite feeling like you have everything to lose. The subsequent richness of friendship fills your life, prevents you from rash behavior, and simplifies the seemingly treacherous waters. It’s okay to tell that swimmer that you love him, for he will forever change the trajectory of your life. It’s okay to express yourself despite homophobic language you hear in the practice arena. It’s okay to open your personal life to your coaches, they really do understand what it means to be a coach in and out of the confines of the gymnastics arena.
Be vulnerable. When you guard so much of who you are you end up hurting others. Emotions are part of the game of life and it takes more strength to show them than to suppress them. Regardless of the programming of sports, you don’t have to live in that headspace in every arena. Vulnerability is not weakness, rather the mark of wisdom. It brings truth and integrity. You’ll bring much more joy than pain to the love of your life and that person will really know that you want to be in it for the long haul.
You really are good enough. Never underestimate your worth in any scenario. You are special and bring joy to many people. When you look back at it all, you’ll cherish the journey and the moments more than the destination.
Josh Dixon is a Team USA gymnast.
Read more letters here.
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