How Do I Increase My Queer Visibility?

I really want to know how to be perceived as queer in public. I am a femme-presenting queer, and I find myself exhausted lately by the constant coming out that I’ve been doing, even in places where I think I’ve dropped every hint except tattooing a rainbow across my forehead. I spent last Thursday night defining the word queer and defending my identity to a co-worker in a workplace where he should really know better. There has to be a better way than a face tattoo. What should I do?

Signed,
Lipstick Femme

Dear Lipstick,

This letter is so frustrating to me that I started writing blithe, jocular responses like: ‘instead of applying lipstick to your mouth, apply a hot chick; I volunteer,’ or “hand out little cards that say: ‘Lipstick Femme: Queer as Fuck.’”

And the reason it’s frustrating to me and the reason I wrote these non-answers is that I feel like there just IS no answer. While I can complain plenty about what it’s been like when I’ve looked very dykey (harassment in high school and demands that I look more appropriately feminine from random strangers on the street, for instance), being invisible is much, much worse.

The only answer is: change society so that we do not make assumptions about peoples’ sexuality or gender based on what they are wearing. Change society so that no one feels entitled to explanations of other peoples’ sexual identity (the guy who required a ‘defense’ from you needs a sock in the eye).

But how the hell are we supposed to live in the shadows until all that is done?

I don’t know. All I can do is run your letter to make this issue more visible and suggest that you do what I’ve done in times I’ve been invisible for various reasons: be confident in who you are. Do not feel as if you owe anyone explanations for anything. If someone makes an assumption about your ‘boyfriend’ or something, you can laugh and say: ‘um, I’m queer,’ and refuse to answer any other questions.

You can speak up when people make incorrect assumptions. You can wear a t-shirt (a pretty, feminine one with bell-capped sleeves and a plunging, lace-lined neckline) with big rhinestones on it that spell out “Not her straight friend” when you go out to the gay bar.

But mainly, there is only so much you can do, by yourself. And I’m sorry, and I hate it.

This letter originally appeared at bitterempire.com on January 27, 2015.

Someone Is Being Mean To My Kid

My eight-year-old child is on-again, off-again friends with a kid, L., in his/her school. They have a lot in common and sometimes they are very close, but sometimes L. hurts my child’s feelings intentionally. I feel like L. is a bad friend and I want to tell my child to just DTMFA, (Dump The Motherfucker Already) but am I just being a busybody? Should I get involved? What advice should I give?

Uuuuuugh. When other kids intentionally hurt mine, my first instinct is to wade in there, roaring, swinging verbal fists. Okay fist-fists, to be honest.And what I want to tell you is to sit your daughter down and gently explain that she can never be friends with L. ever again and that you are all moving to Patagonia.

But then I remember that the other kid is an eight-year-old, not a mini-teenager in disguise, and she is trying to figure out relationships, too, and that the next friend in Patagonia may very well be worse.

I think, in all seriousness, that it is our job as parents of kids that age to help them learn some life lessons. To explain some nuances in human relationships, even if we think they are beyond them. They need to learn for themselves how it feels when a friend does that, but can we help them to know how to react, and how to deconstruct what happened?

So much of the power of emotional pain is when a child feels at sea and doesn’t understand what just happened. She feels stupid, maybe, or just plain unprepared. I don’t see any reason why we can’t explain what being manipulative is to a kid without demonizing their friends — why we can’t arm them with knowledge and then let them decide what to do with that knowledge.

As most children do not fold their hands eagerly under their chins to sit down and listen to lectures, I always start with questions, such as: what just happened there? Or: how did you feel when L. told you that you wouldn’t be invited to her party?

First, your daughter might say: she’s trying to manipulate me, except in kid language, and you can sigh with relief at her emotional intelligence and reflect back what she said. Second, she might be really confused and you two can talk about how sometimes urges to be cruel come up out of the blue and some kids learn how to repress those urges earlier than others.

I’d also ask her to tell me what a friend is and what a friend does, and listen.That might be a good way to start finding out exactly what this kid means to her, and why she is putting up with this shit. She might be interested in knowing your opinion as to how to deal with it, or she might just want to talk about how she feels and then go climb something.

When all else fails, I sit down and start re-enacting troublesome exchanges with stuffed animals and see if the kid joins in. They might see what you’re doing and think it’s funny but do it anyway. They might just dive in. This is probably insane and maybe I’m not recommending it.

This letter originally ran at bitterempire.com on January 20, 2015.

I Just Got Married And It Isn’t Going Well

My wedding was a month ago, and things aren’t going very well. My husband is withholding sex. He has done this before, and I know you are probably going to say I shouldn’t have married someone so childish and selfish. But, I did, and now I just need to figure out what to do going forward.

I’ve given him a deadline to decide to have a sexual relationship with me, or to decide not to. I’ve told him to go to the doctor to see if he has a problem and he refuses, so he must be withholding sex for some reason that he won’t tell me. All I hear are the excuses: too tired, too stressed, etc.

Do you have any ideas for what I should do?

Dear Married for a Month,

I’m going to say this as gently and lovingly as I can, and I want you to imagine me saying it with the compassionate tone that I really do feel for you: he’s not the only one who is being childish here.

You say you’ve told him to go to the doctor to see if he has a problem and he refuses, so he “must be withholding sex for some reason that he won’t tell me.”

That’s quite a jump you just made, there. I don’t see how one leads to the other at all.

You also don’t give me a lot of information to go on. You don’t tell me how long it’s been since you two had sex. A month? If so, that’s not withholding sex. Maybe he’s just really tired and stressed out. A year? This sounds like a genuine, long-lasting problem. You don’t tell me what sex was like when you two first started your relationship, and if that has changed, and how long you two have been together. Is this an enormous change? Did you have sex seven times a day before and then suddenly it stopped? Or was there a gradual slowing down, as is fairly natural in long-term relationships?

Have you talked with him about what is making him tired and stressed out?Have you been a good friend to him? Have you made sex with you seem like an appealing way to connect, or is it just pressure on him to perform?

I use the word ‘pressure’ because of your arbitrary deadline for what is basically a useless outcome. You’re telling him: “You have until February 1 to tell me what I want to hear.”

You say he’s done this before. Did he, after the freeze-out was over, confess that he was actively withholding it? What was the issue? Or did he just go through a period of not being in the mood and you labeled it “withholding sex?”

I think the main problem here, if it’s only been a month, is not sex but communication. You are making assumptions about what is going on in his head, and he’s telling you he is tired and stressed and you are not taking these things for a real answer. Maybe you have good reasons for this. Maybe he’s hidden his real feelings behind vague excuses before. I don’t know.

Marriage is really hard. The first year, in particular. My advice to you is to drop your silly deadline and ask him to start couples counseling.

You need to learn how to fight fair. It sounds to me, from what little you’ve given me, that you are like me: a charge-into-things, making accusations sort of fighter, and he is like the people I tend to be attracted to: avoidant of conflict and turning away. While this is a particularly difficult combination, it is not insurmountable.

You two need to learn how to communicate and deal with conflict. He needs to learn how to speak up about what is really bothering him, and you need to make it safe for him to do so. You need to learn how to listen and he needs to learn how to be honest with you.

If you can get those things down, you can have a good foundation for a decent relationship. Otherwise? Go find someone who wants to screw you already, and cut him loose.

But I warn you: if you can’t figure out how to listen, communicate, and fight fair, you’ll find yourself in the same situation with someone else in a year or two.

This letter originally appeared at bitterempire.com on January 6, 2015.