Here is one of the bravest quotes in all of literature: “I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet. I am plain and tall.” The speaker of those words is, of course, Sarah of Sarah Plain and Tall, who is preparing to travel from Maine to the Midwestern prairies and meet the people who are to become her new family. They’ve exchanged letters, so they know her a bit from her writing, but her final words to them before they meet is that they should prepare themselves for her ugliness.
I’ve been thinking about that quote a great deal as I pack my bags for Clexacon, an event celebrating queer representation in media, a subject to which I have devoted the last six years of my life.
I’m nervous partly because Clexacon is being held in Las Vegas, a place I have always studiously striven to avoid, which is not usually difficult, given that it is in the middle of the desert and not on the way to or from anything. My aversion to Las Vegas stems largely from my ADHD-ridden brain, which makes me unpleasantly unable to tune out lights, colors, or sounds. In my experience, the places where I am most overwhelmed by these things are casinos, which comprise one half of my personal idea of hell (the other half being a line dance). But I survived high school and I didn’t even have alcohol then, so I’m sure I can soldier through the city of plaster palaces.
What I’m more anxious about, really, is meeting some people I already know. Or rather, I am anxious about you meeting me.
Crossing the boundary from a text-and-gif-based relationship to a flesh-and-blood one is always a little strange. I’ve done it with varying degrees of success over the years, and the experience usually goes one of three ways:
- The person is not what you expect, and the gap between expectation and reality proves to be unbridgeably wide. This happens. There are some people with whom you feel a digital connection which simply does not translate to the world of restaurants and conversations one does not have the opportunity to edit before pressing “send.” This may be the case with me; you should prepare yourself. It doesn’t mean that whatever was meaningful in our online knowing of each other isn’t “real,” but it will probably feel a little different, and a little disappointing.
- The person is exactly what you expect. This has only happened to me once, and as time went on I came to realize that it was not as true as it first appeared.
- The person is not what you expect, but within a short time the discord resolves itself. This is the usual and happiest course of events, and the one which I hope you will find with me. I hope I don’t fall too short of expectations, but nevertheless, I will cease to be constructed solely of carefully curated words and images, which are both more and less true than the rest of myself.
It still makes me nervous and vaguely guilty that I can’t be whatever me you are expecting. But by way of preparation, here is what I’m like:
I won’t call myself plain, but neither am I tall. I always expected to be taller and am still sometimes surprised when I am not.
Similarly, my voice is neither husky nor mellifluous. It’s higher than you’d expect, and always straining with eagerness. It is not cool.
I am less polished in conversation than in writing, but more guarded.
Some people have told me that I am much nicer in person. (Some people have not.)
As I mentioned before, loud, strange places make me anxious, which sometimes looks more like standoffishness.
I am not a clumsy drunk. People think I am, but they are wrong. I am clumsy all the time.
Here is how I imagine everyone that I follow on the internet and care enough about to meet in the walking world:
You all have compelling eyes and smiles and manners.
You all have husky, beautiful, mellifluous voices, which I read in my head with horrible approximations of your actual accents.
You have never been nervous to meet new people. This is a feeling exclusive to me.
I hope we like each other when we meet in person. I hope that even when we are not what we expect ourselves or each other to be, we are still what we need.