Every year on November 5, I post “Valerie’s Letter” from V for Vendetta somewhere. I first came upon it in the graphic novel my sophomore year in college (1991/1992) because of someone I was dating. Its cadence awed me, and it’s stayed with me all these years because of the way it’s become a direct emotional shortcut to the anxieties of being a teenager during the Reagan and Thatcher years and their aftermath. I mean, I first read this thing when I was going to ACT-UP protests in DC, and the police all wore latex gloves.
Of course, since I’m writing about “Valerie’s Letter” here, I should probably talk about it in the context of queer romance. Because “Valerie’s Letter” is definitively from the department of dead tragic queers. And as much as I am grateful that we have stories beyond those tropes and that we no longer required to exercise those tropes to tell our stories, I am also grateful for this piece of text.
Because it didn’t tell me queer was going to get me dead. It taught me, at 18, that being queer was going to be — and had always been — the mechanism by which I’d survive the world. That was true for me at 18. And it’s true for me now, 25 years later. Many of us live in a better world now, but my desperate hope is that we don’t lose these stories.
I don’t know who you are. Please believe. There is no way I can convince you that this is not one of their tricks, but I don’t care. I am me, and I don’t know who you are but I love you. I have a pencil. A little one they did not find. I am a woman. I hid it inside me. Perhaps I won’t be able to write again, so this is a long letter about my life. It is the only autobiography I will ever write and oh god I’m writing it on toilet paper.
I was born in Nottingham in 1957, and it rained a lot. I passed my eleven plus and went to girl’s grammar. I wanted to be an actress. I met my first girlfriend at school. Her name was Sara. She was fourteen and I was fifteen but we were both in Miss Watson’s class.
Her wrists. Her wrists were beautiful.
I sat in biology class, staring at the pickled rabbit foetus in its jar, listening while Mr. Hird said it was an adolescent phase that people outgrew… Sara did. I didn’t.
In 1976 I stopped pretending and took a girl called Christine home to meet my parents. A week later I moved to London, enrolling at drama college. My mother said I broke her heart, but it was my integrity that was important. Is that so selfish? It sells for so little, but it’s all we have left in this place. It is the very last inch of us…
… But within that inch we are free.
London: I was happy in London. In 1981 I played Dandini in Cinderella. My first rep work. The world was strange and rustling and busy, with invisible crowds behind the hot lights and all the breathless glamour. It was exciting and it was lonely. At nights I’d go to Gateways or one of the other clubs, but I was stand-offish and didn’t mix easily. I saw a lot of the scene, but I never felt comfortable there. So many of them just wanted to be gay. It was their life, their ambition, all they talked about… And I wanted more than that.
Work improved. I got small film roles, then bigger ones. In 1986 I starred in ‘The Salt Flats.’ It pulled in the awards but not the crowds. I met Ruth working on that. We loved each other. We lived together, and on Valentine’s Day she sent me roses, and oh god, we had so much. Those were the best three years of my life.
In 1988 there was the war…
… And after that there were no more roses. Not for anybody.
In 1992, after the take-over, they started rounding up the gays. They took Ruth while she was out looking for food. Why are they so frightened of us? They burned her with cigarette ends and made her give them my name. She signed a statement saying I seduced her. I didn’t blame her. God I loved her. I didn’t blame her… But she did. She killed herself in her cell. She couldn’t live with betraying me, with giving up that last inch.
They came for me. They told me that all my films would be burned. They shaved off my hair. They held my head down a toilet bowl and told jokes about lesbians. They brought me here and gave me drugs. I can’t feel my tongue anymore. I can’t speak. The other gay woman here, Rita, died two weeks ago. I imagine I’ll die quite soon.
It is strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and I apologized to nobody. I shall die here. Every inch of me shall perish…
… Except one.
An inch. It’s small and it’s fragile and it’s the only thing in the world that’s worth having. We must never lose it, or sell it, or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.
I don’t know who you are, or whether you’re a man or a woman. I may never see you. I may never hug you or cry with you or get drunk with you. But I love you. I hope you escape this place. I hope that the world turns and that things get better, and that one day people have roses again. I wish I could kiss you.