How do I support my awful coworker’s daughter?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I work in a small office of only a few people. My least-favorite coworker (I’ll call her Susan) has a teenage daughter (Hannah), who is queer, but is not out to her family. (It’s complicated how I came to know this.) And, while I have met Hannah a few times, we don’t have a close relationship. My coworker frequently laments her daughter’s rejection of boys (chalking it up to immaturity) and tells us her plans for “socializing” her daughter (with or without her consent). Hannah is involved in drama club at school, which seems pretty social to me, but Susan is dismissive, saying Hannah is too introverted to be good at it (which is not necessarily true).

Most recently, Susan told us about Hannah bringing a boy home. Susan was glad that Hannah is making friends with boys, but disappointed that her interest in him is only friendly. On top of that, her husband freaked out and went full-on patriarchal. He insisted on meeting the boy first to see if he “looked scary,” imposing time limits on visits, making sure she keeps her door open, etc. Susan told this in a smiling dads-will-be-dads kind of way. I wasn’t sure if she wanted me to laugh or what, but it was all I could do to contain my horror.

Susan always sounds exasperated when she mentions her daughter. I hate to hear Susan sound so down on her daughter all the time and I am never sure how to react. I don’t want to accidentally out Hannah, or make it sound like I’m telling Susan how to raise her children. But they way she talks about her daughter, queer or not, is appalling to me.

I should mention that I am also queer and quite out about it. My wife and I have casually offered to spend time with Hannah after she and my wife bonded a little bit over a shared enthusiasm for YA fiction. Hannah is very shy about reaching out and when we have made tentative plans, Susan tends to make it inconvenient so that Hannah cancels. We have not persisted, afraid it will look like “recruitment.”

I really want to be an ally to this girl, but I don’t like her mother at all. How should I respond to my coworker’s stories and comments about her daughter? Do you think we should try contacting Hannah again?

–Coworker Didn’t Get the Memo

What a heartbreaking letter.

It’s so incredibly hard to watch a parent pull this crap when you are helpless to intervene.

Well, mostly helpless.

I think you have done what you can with Hannah. You have made it clear you’d be willing to hang out. Her mother has made it clear that she is going to passively resist this as much as possible, but Hannah will eventually have more mobility and freedom. I imagine she will learn to drive or take public transportation, for instance. If her father allows it. (I HOPE I am joking about that.)

I assume Hannah knows you are a couple. She knows who to turn to if she needs to, when the time comes. And that is so, so important.

Now, the next stuff I’m going to say is fully optional. You are hereby cleared by me, as a queer and a parent of a queer, from any other responsibility. You can back away quickly when she talks about her daughter. You can change the subject or put your fingers in your ears and hum. She sounds like a very irritating person, on top of everything else.

But.

As a parent, I’m feeling like I need to at least give this damn lady a sliver of the benefit of the doubt.

To be clear: I think she is just a thoughtless parent who believes its her job to control her kid’s life and that there is only one way to be happy and she knows what it is, so she’s going to try to force her daughter into the shape she thinks is best.

Oh and that she thinks her husband believing that he owns his daughter’s sexuality and body is funny.

But.

On the off chance she is sharing this with people because it was a bit unsettling to her and she wants to see a reaction to gauge how weird some of this is, responding naturally might be just what she needs.

And she might be deeply frustrated with her daughter’s refusal to fit into the shape she’s trying to jam her into, and talking a little might help her see how ridiculous she is being.

You don’t have much to lose — she is already passively-aggressively keeping you from her daughter, so it’s not like you have a connection to her that will be in jeopardy.

So there are two ways to go, and this probably depends on how comfortable you are with confrontation.

One: I think she needs to see that some people are horrified by her husband’s behavior. I think she needs to see you recoil and say something like: “Actually, some of the best actors are introverts.” I think she needs to see you narrow your eyes over her bemoaning over her daughter not having a boyfriend already and looking skeptical. And if you can have a natural, honest reaction to what she says without telling her off, you will probably empower others around you to do the same.

Two: you can be empathetic. Or mime it. When she starts talking about her daughter in that antagonistic tone, you can say in a warm and kind tone: “It sounds like you’re pretty frustrated with her.” If she is, and wants to talk, she can — and increased intimacy might give you a chance to offer her other insights. If she isn’t, and hadn’t realized she’d taken on this tone — well, that’s information for her, as well.

I get it. I want to save all the queerbabies with parents like this (and worse, of course), too. But you have truly done what you can right now for the girl, and you’re continuing to be. And for her mom . . . showing her that it’s possible to have a happy life and a stable relationship even if you’re queer might help her to stop frantically attempting to force heterosexuality on Hannah. 

Good luck. And remember it’s always an option to just change the subject or walk away, for your own mental health.

Yet another woman thinks everything’s her fault.

Dear Gentle Butch,

There was a guy, “Joel,” who I had some feelings for and ended up sleeping with once (we were both single at the time).

After that happened, we never actually spoke about it, which was occasionally awkward since we both did a lot of work for the same small organization and had some of the same social circle.

Less than a year later, I was having serious roommate problems that made me feel unsafe at home. I brought up the situation with many people, including Joel. He said that he had been looking for a roommate, and that I could consider that as a possibility. I pursued that, although I sensed he had reservations about the idea, and ended up moving in with Joel and his other roommates.

Joel had recently entered a relationship. I was glad about that, thinking it would be clear boundary. Although I still had some feelings for him, I didn’t want to act on them in any circumstances. We were simply cordial roommates the entire time I lived there.

However, a few months after I had moved in, a friend of mine brought up the subject of Joel’s girlfriend. She was unaware of the fact that Joel and I had slept together. My friend thought it was unethical to live there if the girlfriend was in the dark. She argued that while Joel was the one keeping this information private and I was not responsible for that, I was condoning it by staying, and had created the situation in the first place– Joel’s random sexual history would not be relevant to disclose to his girlfriend, until he was living with a former hookup. I hadn’t considered it in that light and wasn’t sure what to think. After some agonizing, I brought up the subject to Joel, and as I suspected, his girlfriend did not know about our history. I ended up staying at the place a while longer, before leaving just a month or two earlier than I had planned.

So was it morally wrong — or at the least suspect — for me to live there, knowing his girlfriend was unaware of our past? I’ve never been able to really decide. Did Joel’s girlfriend have a right to that information? Was my behavior irrelevant to the entire situation, and the responsibility to act/disclose or not on Joel? Does the issue lie in a different area, in the fact that I did not discuss these issues with Joel before moving in? Or that I suspected Joel had misgivings about me living there, and I ignored that and moved in anyway? I feel that I was in the wrong somewhere, but I have had a hard time putting my finger on it. How can I go about evaluating and coming to a decision about right and wrong in this, or in future dilemmas I might face?

–Rueful Roommate

 

oh my GOD RR staaaaaaaahp.

Stop taking on everyone else’s feelings, real or imagined. Stop being so certain you did something wrong.

I know that our society has taught you that as a woman it is your job to take care of everyone’s feelings and to stay out in front of everything and to read people’s body language and react in ways that are best for them regardless of your needs and to take on everything everything everything, but STOP.

You were not wrong. Anywhere.

Lots of people have a one-night stand and then go back to their lives without ever mentioning it. It’s a little awkward, but lots of people do it. Unless you wanted to talk about it but didn’t because he never brought it up, you did nothing wrong in this instance. And if you did, the person you wronged was yourself.

Moving in with him in a whole house full of roommates wasn’t wrong, either. You were in fear for your safety. That is a seriously awful situation. You needed a place to stay, and you needed it fast, and he had an open room at his place that needed filling. Not wrong.

As far as your ‘sense’ that he had reservations about the idea: he was the one who told you he needed a roommate. He didn’t have to do that. He could have said: ‘bummer if I hear of a place I’ll let you know,’ or simply remained silent — which seems like his style. If he had second thoughts during the process, it was on him to say something. (FWIW, he sounds like an absolutely terrible, selfish communicator and I don’t like him.) It’s not on you to read people’s minds. Many men will do that: say something with their mouths and then use reluctant body language, to try to make you do all the hard emotional work and read between the lines. Fuck that.

Your ‘friend’ laying all of the responsibility for communication at your feet . . .  she’s just plain wrong about so many things.

First, I see no reason why you need to tell someone you slept with her boyfriend, once, a YEAR AGO, because you are one of his many housemates. What would be the purpose? This information says nothing about you, her stupid boyfriend, or her situation in regards to him. One. Time. Around a year ago.

Second, I don’t really see a reason he should tell her, either.

These two facts make all of your friend’s arguments moot, but I just HAD to address this little mindfuck she was doing: blaming you for ‘putting him in the position’ of having to tell his girlfriend about you two by moving in with him.

He knew he had a girlfriend and that you two had fucked a year ago. Knowing this, he invited you to move in.

Imagine believing that a friend of yours who was IN DANGER should have, instead of getting the fuck out of an awful situation in the fastest way possible, bent herself into a zillion pretzels to think about the POSSIBILITY that she might put her male roommate into a position where he might have to OPEN HIS GODDAMNED MOUTH AND SAY SOMETHING.

To recap:

  1. You did nothing wrong.
  2. Your friend was engaging in patriarchal blame-the-woman-ing and protect-the-man-at- all cost-even-when-the-issue-is-imaginary and was full of shit.
  3. I don’t like this guy.

Stick to your guns. Don’t let these assholes push you around. Believe that you are allowed to take care of yourself instead of all of the grownup people around you who should be looking after themselves and interrogating their OWN lives instead of yours.

She is not your friend. She is a sadistic little mindfucker. And he ain’t no prize, either.

Your last question was how to evaluate situations and decide on what is right and what is wrong in the future. You don’t need the answer to that question: you know what is right and wrong, and you acted accordingly.

You just need to believe that you are a smart, capable grownup who knows what to do and when, who has a sense of self preservation and privacy, who perhaps doesn’t need to burden random girlfriends with weird ‘fun facts’ about their boyfriends, and doesn’t need busybodies picking apart your decisions.

I will tell you what I think you might need to look at more closely: perhaps pay more attention to picking better friends and crushes.

Friends should be supportive, not cut you down and accuse you of nebulous and ridiculous ethical crimes. Friends of all types — the ones you’ve hooked up with and the ones you haven’t — should communicate clearly, without any manipulative bullshit. They certainly shouldn’t just skulk around silently expecting you to do all of the emotional work.

So what do I think you should do?

I would start by noticing a few things about people you’re with now: how do they make you feel? Do you feel stupid and second-guess yourself after you were with them for a few hours? Are you anxious around them, never feeling like you’re doing or saying the right thing? Do you feel judged? Do you fear bringing up topics with them because you don’t want to seem uncool or vulnerable and their reactions and the way they talk leave you feeling unbalanced and unsure?

RUN.

Can I still make a woman orgasm?

Dear Gentle Butch,

I’m a fairly well adjusted single lesbian. I’ve had female lovers since I was a teenager, and have had a fairly fun and active sex life.

However.

My last two major relationships were with women who could not orgasm. So, it’s literally been more than 8 years since I’ve gotten a woman off.

And now I’m nervous.  What if I’ve forgotten how?

Signed,
Stone Butch’s Bottom Blues

 

Dear SBBB,

The wonderful thing about sex is that every woman’s orgasm is different. I’m not going to say that’s also the awful thing about sex, because if we were all just coded creatures that all orgasmed the same way, would sitting around pushing each other’s buttons be as fun? (I said AS fun.)

So the thing is this: you DON’T know how to make ‘a woman’ orgasm. You know how to make the women you have slept with orgasm, except for the two who don’t. And neither does anyone else.

There. All better, now?

No, really.

One of the many terrific things about sex is that you are getting to know how someone’s body not only looks, feels, tastes, and smells — but how their body (and their sexy sexy brain) works. One of the specific joys of sleeping with someone you don’t already know how to get off is the journey getting there!

It’s unlikely you’re going to just quickly get each other off in a rote fashion. You have to pay attention. You have to explore.

No. You GET to pay attention. You GET to explore. And you get to listen.

One of the things I’ve heard a lot of women say is that sex between women has fewer expectations than sex between a man and a woman. There isn’t a generally-accepted definition even of what sex IS.

How freeing, right? To have no expectations? No definitions?

And how terrifying.

If you lean into that fear and let it make your pulse race, if you let feeling a bit out of your element add excitement instead of panic, you’re going to at the very least have a great time.

And if she’s good at knowing what she wants and using her words? All the better.

You can’t forget what you don’t already know. So go get ’em. Get yourself some knowledge, and take your time learning it.

 

How do I interpret my partner’s messages?

My long-term partner and I have been bouncing around the general thoughts that long-term partners have sometimes, about wanting the excitement that comes with the start of a relationship and how kids drain the energy from being together and so forth. 

Sometimes, in these conversations, she brings the topic around to open relationships, but in a really equivocating way.

My romantic fantasy when I was younger was to be part of a triad or a couple of couples. We talked about it when we were first getting together and she very clearly ruled it out as unrealistic. A few times recently, though, she’s brought up the idea of dating other people and left it hanging out there. If I ask her what she wants, she points out again how it wouldn’t work, for example talking about how, for the few people we know who seem to be pulling it off, we know many more whose situations are kind of a hot mess.

Should I interpret this as her testing the waters while keeping deniability, or should I be concerned that she’s trying to convey some other message indirectly?

— Does She Mean It?

Dear DSMI,

I think she’s testing the waters while keeping deniability. It’s a very common practice among people who are a little afraid of what they want, or who fear their partner will run screaming.

Then again, she also sounds like someone who sort of knows what she wants, but doesn’t know if she wants to actually GET what she wants, if that makes sense. Like, second-guessing herself as soon as she begins speaking.

That said, I could be dead wrong about either of these things.

The only person who knows is her.  And you need to ask her this question outright: “Are you testing the waters on dating other people while keeping plausible deniability?”

And then don’t equivocate. Don’t back down. Don’t let her change the subject. Just wait. Do not break eye contact while you slowly eat a raw onion to show her how much you mean it.

But first.

What do YOU want?

Do you still have the same fantasy as you did as a young adult: of a triad or a few linked couples? Is it something that you want?

Or are you trying to suss out what you think she wants instead? Not your job, and certainly not your job to ascertain if she is trying to convey another message indirectly/psychically/through pheromones.

FWIW, her arguments (that it’s not realistic, that the people you know doing this are mainly hot messes) are crap.

The vast majority of people who are married are monogamous. And in the US., according to the American Psychological Association, the divorce rate still hovers at 40-50%.

Sounds like almost half of all monogamists are definitely hot messes to me!

Remaining monogamous does not, clearly, guarantee a lifelong relationship. It doesn’t guarantee happiness. It isn’t better than non monogamy. It’s just more COMMON. Which means it’s less examined. And with only two people involved (I mean except for the person one cheats with), you can hide issues more easily. Doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Monogamy doesn’t keep your relationship from being a hot mess.

Listen. We’re ALL hot messes. That’s what human beings are. Our evolution looks like this:

At no point in this evolution do we develop the ability to read minds.

And you know what’s not realistic? Everything. Love isn’t realistic. Having kids isn’t realistic. Working a 40-50 hour week all the goddamned time with only two weeks of vacation isn’t realistic.

But people do it every day.

So, have a conversation about what you WANT. Ask her what she WANTS. Tell her the details aren’t at issue right now; pie in the sky, what do you both WANT?

Don’t let her squirm away. Take your chances.

Then you can start chipping away at the dream with realism and taxes and stuff.

How do I break up with my massage therapist?

How do I break up with my massage therapist? I have been seeing a massage therapist for almost a year, and I have recently developed very strong feelings for him.

There is no chance of me pursuing a relationship with him — aside from his professional obligation to not date clients, he is straight and we are both married. But my feelings are causing me enough distress that I need to stop seeing him.

Do I owe him an explanation, or should I just ghost on him? I have a session booked that I set up before realizing I need to stop seeing him, and am not sure what to say when I cancel the appointment. 

— Wondering

 

Dear Wondering,

Right now, your feelings are just in your head. And you need to keep them there.

Clients getting crushes is one of the hazards of bodywork professions. And unless you think he’s done something to cause this over and above just doing his job and being attractive to you, you need to just cancel the appointment. As quickly as possible, so as not to hold up his schedule, of course. By email. Just cancelling. Nothing else.

Offering him an explanation only gives you the chance to confess your very strong feelings, which would really just be for you. Maybe you even have the tiniest eentsyest squeentsiest fleeting fantasy that he will say: “I am in love with you; I’m leaving my wife and I already know your husband is fine with this!”

Or even that you think perhaps he has a secret crush on you, too, and then you can be secretly in love forever even if he never tells you and you can quietly swoon for each other for eternity — or you can imagine he’s doing that.

I’m sorry if I’m being harsh on you. I could be completely off-base on this.

But you did word changing massage therapists as ‘breaking up,’ and you described clinical visits as ‘seeing him for almost a year.’ Sounds like there was a capital R Relationship in your mind already. Our minds do SO MANY DAMN THINGS to tell us what we want to hear.

Whether I’m correct about any secret or subconscious motivations you may or may not have in telling him why you are switching massage therapists, I am correct in one thing: telling him why is going to cause him a lot of discomfort and possibly anguish.

Most bodyworkers are worried about this happening with a client. If you tell him why, you have just lobbed your attraction at him, leaving him with knowledge that will help him exactly not at all. And then he’ll have to deal with it.

While I’m pretty certain that straight men have less baggage around this than women do, unwelcome sexual attention is just that: unwelcome. I promise you he will not feel a secret thrill at your confession, nor will he go home with a little smile on his face or anything that the “I should say this” part of your brain is telling you.

He will feel uncomfortable. He might go through your interactions wondering: did I cause this? Was I not professional enough? Is this happening with anyone else?

All of which could very much get in the way of him doing his job effectively, and just in general make him very anxious.

Please don’t burden this guy with your feelings. You can’t help feeling them, but you can help making them anyone else’s problem.

Quietly cancel. Find another massage therapist. I suggest hiring a nice lady.

 

Why Can’t He Take Teasing?

I’m a lucky woman in many ways. I’ve been married for 12 years to a great guy who earns well, is a great dad to our two boys and is mostly fun to be around.Trouble is he can’t seem to tolerate any teasing from me. I always back it up, apologize honestly because I don’t want to cause pain but this is getting really old.Teasing and ribbing is supposed to be fun for each other. I welcome his jesting and laugh uproariously when he gets a good jab in but he can’t seem to accept it from me. We’ve talked about it in therapy but we don’t seem to get anywhere with it.How can we get past this?

– Bored in Baltimore

Dear Bored,

You want to get past this? Then stop. You’re bored, but he’s hurting.

Then, get different help from just couple’s therapy: He needs individual therapy to pull apart why he can dish it out, but he can’t take appropriate teasing and ribbing from his spouse (if that’s what’s going on). Or maybe you need individual therapy to pull apart why you confuse cruelty for humor (if that’s what’s going on). I’m guessing both would help.

There are so many reasons that a person might be too touchy to accept ribbing but might dish it out: he might have some childhood issues from having been emotionally abused by someone who was supposed to love him and he might hate teasing, and he might dish it out to you just because he thinks that’s what you want. Or he might not really understand that sort of humor at all.

Or he might be abusive himself and using his hurt feelings to prevent you from getting back at him when he says truly nasty things. (You said ‘when he gets in a good jab,’ which could mean something sinister or funny or neither or both.) Or, he might suffer from fragile masculinity and feel that a woman cutting him down is ‘ball busting’ but when he does it, it’s all in good fun. I dunno. But he needs to figure that shit out. HE does.

As for you, there’s something that jumped out at me in your letter that I want to address: you didn’t sign it ‘baffled’ or ‘hurt’ or ‘worried’ or any number of ways you could have signed it. You signed it ‘bored.’

Your description of him is astoundingly boring. He is a ‘great’ (very very vague modifier) guy who earns well, (yawn), is a ‘great’ (there’s that vague description again) dad to our two boys (yawn) and is mostly fun to be around. (mooooostly. yaaaawwwwwwwwwwwn.)

I don’t think you’re just bored with the lack of clever repartee. I think you’re bored with HIM, and possibly covering up resentment toward him for being so goddamned boring to you that your jabs have far more barb and venom in them than you realize, because you are feeling stifled and bored— and maybe even a little angry.

Did the two of you tease each other before you married, or before you had kids? Did you both enjoy it? Is this something that used to be there and no longer is? It sounds like this was never part of your relationship, but you have some idea that marriages are ‘supposed to’ contain this sort of humor.

Your marriage is not what you felt it was ‘supposed to’ be. Maybe you feel a little swindled, as you checked off everything you thought you wanted, but it’s not satisfying.

  • In our society, you’re ‘supposed to’ get married. Check.
  • You’re ‘supposed to’ have two kids. Check, check.
  • He’s ‘supposed to’ ‘earn well.’ Check.
  • “Teasing and ribbing is supposed to be fun for each other.” NOPE.

Perhaps being married to the same ‘great’ guy for 12 years is not satisfying to you. Perhaps parenting isn’t what you thought it would be. Perhaps the job he has that earns the paycheck you like keeps him away too much, or the money doesn’t satisfy you like you thought it would. But you are focusing on the lack of teasing and ribbing, because that seems like the most obvious issue.

I think you might be miserable, and I think your boredom might be part of that misery, and I think THAT is what you should focus on instead.

The letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on January 5, 2017.

How Do I Handle a Possibly Disabled Bicyclist After an Accident?

The other day in my van, when exiting a parking lot and joining traffic, I struck a cyclist whom I didn’t see because he was coming at me against traffic from behind a relatively blind corner. (Everybody is fine.) My issue is that the fellow, who was alone, seemed to have a disability of some kind, but which of course I was unfit to identify–perhaps it was only some deafness or a speech impediment, but perhaps he had a major developmental disability or past head trauma. Whatever it is, it seemed relevant to the accident in a couple of ways. First, it was a little difficult to communicate with him and understand him (ordinarily I would call that MY problem, but when collecting information and accounts of an incident, accuracy is critical). Second, I don’t know if his condition(s) was a factor in the accident itself, which seems like it could affect legal and insurance liability. And finally, I was unsure that he was even able to be a competent legal advocate for himself in that moment–for example, he wanted to leave the scene and forget about the incident, but was persuaded to stay.

With everything that needs to be coped with on the spot during such a stressful and confusing moment, how should one navigate these issues? Should I have inquired about his disability status either on the spot or later? Should I have asked whether he had a guardian or the ability to make legal decisions on his own? If he insisted on leaving the scene and I had sensed that he was unfit to make the decision or answer the question, should I have essentially DETAINED him until emergency help arrived? These scenarios are horrifying to imagine, potentially intrusive and insulting, and potentially VERY inflammatory if I ended up being mistaken. But I want to be a decent person and make sure I’m looking out for everybody involved, including protecting someone who may be vulnerable.

– Panic at the Citgo

Dear Panic,

First things first: you did the right thing. You did not physically restrain him, someone talked him into staying, and you did not ask intrusive questions regarding his competence.

In general, it’s probably best to assume that anyone who has just been in a terrifying accident (and regardless of fault, being hit by a van when you are on a bicycle is terrifying) that may or may not have included head trauma is not really competent to make the decision to leave the scene.

Beyond that, I am glad you didn’t ask him any questions about competence.

Those of us with obvious disabilities (whether it is an accent related to cerebral palsy or a hearing impairment, mobility equipment, or obvious limb differences, etc) so often have to deal with other people’s preconceived notions of what our brains must be like.

At best, people will do something like what they often do to be when they see my forearm crutches: Speak. Very. Slowly. And. Loudly. Using a ‘Special Voice’ generally reserved for children, and when I answer quickly and fluently they take a huge sigh of relief. At worst, people will do something like what a woman did to my friend Johanna a few years ago while she was trying to go holiday shopping alone: the manager of the store took one look at her and started SCREAMING about people who abandoned their charges and who left this poor girl alone and then she called the cops, so busy screaming and flailing at my friend’s clearly disabled aspect (Johanna has cerebral palsy) that she did not even notice the communication device or that my friend was trying to respond to her.

By the way, unlike me, Johanna is a Stanford graduate.

I understand that you were looking out for the man and that you had real concerns, but you have no idea what was going on with him. Maybe he was high. Maybe he was deaf. Maybe he had CP. Maybe he WAS cognitively disabled. Either way, all of those questions about being competent to represent himself legally can be worked out later if and when there are legal procedures — by himself if he does make his own life decisions in legal matters or by whomever is assigned this duty.

Your job is to do exactly what you did: look out for other people’s welfare, and try to talk them into staying until help arrives. regardless of his intellectual state, age, or possible brain damage. These are not things you needed to know; these are things that might have come out later if it were necessary for anyone to know. If he had left anyway, providing a detailed description of him to the police/ambulance when they arrived would have sufficed.

So: it’s good not to make all of these demands of information from him not just because it might be rude, but mainly because it’s not your business and it’s not actually particularly relevant to the situation for you to know this information.

This letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on December 15, 2016.

How Do I Cope After the Election?

The fallout from this election is causing personal emotions similar to those I felt when the family rallied to support a sexual predator and to turn me out. Any advice?

– Triggered

*

I have neighbors in my very rural, agricultural little neck of the woods, who work on farms and who are Hispanic. I’m not totally sure where they’re from. I’ve heard Guatemala, but not from any reliable source, and it’s not that relevant anyway.I’ve met one of the families. Mom doesn’t speak any English, but Dad does. They have a daughter my son’s age and a newborn son.

I have no idea what their status is, or what the status is of the other family on my street. I am worried that they may be undocumented. But I also don’t want to make any obnoxious assumptions. So I’m trying to figure out the best thing to do for/say to them. I want to see if they’re ok and let them know they have my support. But since there’s going to be a huge language barrier if I ever actually get the guts to talk to them, my chances of saying the exact wrong thing are multiplied. We live in a very Trumpy area. I just want them to know they have my family’s support.

So I guess my question is, what can I say that won’t make offensive assumptions (or, more accurately I suppose, belie my offensive suspicions) that will show them I am an ally?

– Wants to help

*

How do I explain these election results to my kids? I feel like the schoolyard bully has just been made principal.

– Worried Mom

*

How do I fix the world?

– Wondering

Dear Fellow Citizens,

For the majority of us who are not white supremacists eager to keep this country safe for the white man but absolutely no one else, this election has brought up a lot of old trauma.

Our country is rallying around a sexual predator, ‘Triggered.’ Of course this is going to remind you of that dynamic. And we DID elect (or, the electoral college system, engineered to protect slavery, is going to elect) a schoolyard bully to rule over us all.

His appointment of a white supremacist as his chief strategist as well as the rest of his horrifying cabinet of bullies, haters, hypocrites, fascists and liars quite rightly fills all of us with fear, as do many of his stated goals: which quite correctly put your neighbors in danger from him, ‘Wants to help,’ regardless of their status as documented or undocumented.

I’m sorry to state all of this so baldly, but I want to first tell you all that your worries and your trauma, your anxieties and your fears, are extremely well-founded. Let’s not all add the sneaking suspicion that your right-wing coworker is right when he says we’re all paranoid about what is likely to come.

We are right. A bully has won, and will continue to bully us. What we are facing is extremely distressing. For many of us it’s also completely shocking that nearly half of the voting populace didn’t find abject misogyny, repellent racism, horrifying xenophobia, and a complete disregard for the constitution a dealbreaker in voting for this man.

It is easy to feel that we are surrounded by bullies and monsters.

But we are not.

And the way we fix the world, ‘Wondering,’ and the way we help, ‘Wants to help,’ and the way we explain this inexplicable thing to our kids, ‘Worried Mom,’ and the way we handle the trauma, ‘Triggered,’ is all the same: honor yourself for who you are and what you need, and reach out.

Triggered, take some time to think about and discuss these parallels with a competent therapist (my therapist has been talking All Trump All The Time, she says), or find a support group for survivors of sexual assault to share stories and solidarity. After you have taken care of your own re-traumatization, perhaps you can move on to other things. Anyone else reading this, this goes for you, too: take the time you need to do what you need to do before you do anything else. Drink a little too much, or zonk out in front of the TV, or curl up into a ball under the covers and call in sick, or cry, or hug someone you love, or pet a dog, or have some hot tea. Spend some time taking care of yourself and do not feel bad about doing so. Do it. It matters. As Audre Lorde says: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” She spoke for herself as a black woman, but this applies to the rest of us Trump would have die or go away or simply be subjugated: Queers. Immigrants. Any People of Color. Women of all races. Trans people. Muslims. Jews. Care for yourself. Stick it to the man and take a long shower and take a deep breath and take some time and hug your kids.

At some point, though, it’s an act of will to get up and stretch and take a deep breath and ask your neighbor or coworker if they are doing okay. To do the dishes and go for a walk and make a donation to Planned Parenthood or the Anti-Defamation League or the Arab American Institute or your local Black Lives Matter branch or the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center, Standing Rock Legal Defense Fund, or the Trans Lifeline.

If you have money, that is one way to help fix the world, ‘Wondering.’ If you have neighbors you know might feel targeted by others in your community, ‘Wanting to Help,’ reach out. Bring them some cookies and a smile. Whether they are documented or not means nothing to Trump and his supporters — tell them you are glad they are your neighbors and that you are always happy to see them.

But it’s always the same: reach out. Smile at someone who looks unhappy or alone on the bus. Step in when you see someone bullying someone else, no matter what the reason. Find people like you in support groups and political causes and advocacy groups and create solidarity for yourself to help yourself feel less alone and to help further your rights and acceptance in the community. Reach out to your elected officials and let them know how you feel about these things. (Phone calls are the best way to get counted.) Create art that Trump would hate, or support it. Dance. Enjoy life. Refuse to be cowed into stillness and silence.

And, Worried Mom, you tell your kids that sometimes the bullies win. Sometimes they hurt people. But that we will get together and we will get them out of there in four years. And then take steps to do it, show them what you are doing, and let them join you.

There are so many ways to fight the good fight, in our own hearts and homes and out in the greater world. This is a scary time, my friends. It is scary as fuck. But with each connection forged, I think you will feel less and less frightened, more and more powerful, and far more joyful — even in the face of bullies and assholes and clowns.

Take time for yourself. Fight. Connect. Be real. You are not alone.

This letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on November 17, 2016.

How Do I Handle Difficult Conversations No One Else Finds Difficult?

Things were rough for me as a teenager. I was going through some abuse and don’t think I went through developmental stages in the typical way. I stopped getting my hair cut because I couldn’t stand sitting in front of my reflection for so long. I had panic attacks when I tried to buy clothes. I was socially awkward and never had the chance to do sports. My therapist thinks I was a few years developmentally delayed.

This comes up a lot as I’m parenting my teen-aged daughter, or even chatting with other adult women about teen years. We’re having a normal conversation about something that’s generally a shared experience, like doing sports or learning about style, and suddenly I feel like a dork who grew up on another planet. I end up working my butt off to hold up my end of the conversation normally.

I don’t want make things “all about me” when it comes up with my growing daughter (which is all the time). I don’t want to turn a light conversations with friends into needy laments about my childhood. But doing a competent job of these conversations takes so much energy and makes me feel lonely, and it bothers me for a long time.

How would you handle this?

– Dork From Another Planet

Dear Fellow Dork From Another Planet,

When I read that you stopped getting your hair cut because you could not look at your reflection for so long, my heart ached for teenage you. For a child to be that miserable and self-hating is a terrible, terrible thing. And your friends have no idea that they’re making you look hard at this girl and at what she was being forced to endure every time they bring up these conversations. They are dragging you back to a miserable time in your life, in front of your child, (or your child doesn’t realize she is dragging you back there), and you do not want to go back there.

So don’t.

The way I would handle it is this: however you can to take care of yourself and get through it.

I’m going to say this again because it is very important: I want you to do whatever you need to to get through it.

Yes, this conversation is light for them. And so many people assume that certain experiences are universal. In fact, there may be many reasons someone—from this planet—might not be able to easily engage in this conversation: childhood poverty springs to mind. Hopeless nerdery. Or just a plain disinterest in fashion or looks in general. Many topics of conversation come up that other people can’t relate to, find boring, or just have nothing to contribute to. So they make up a polite line and move on.

Even if this topic weren’t bringing up old trauma for you (and make no mistake about it: when they bring this up it reminds you of being abused, which is FUCKING TRAUMATIC) it is not your responsibility to hold up your end of a limping conversation you are not enjoying. It is not your responsibility to make people feel comfortable who have (inadvertently, of course) just made you uncomfortable. The longer you politely keep your end of the conversation going, the longer the torture will continue, and the longer you will be facing that poor girl who could not face herself.

The fact that these fellow parents are making you feel so lonely and alienated and weird and awful with this topic combined with your not wanting it to be about you tells me that you need something quick, and you need something that you can memorize and spit out. It needs to be something you can throw out there and then STOP TALKING ABOUT: vague and broad enough to fit many different conversations like this, but very definite in the ‘I’m not going to have anything to say about this’ category. I would suggest something like: “Oh, I was so out of it; I never noticed/did anything like that,” and then refusing to expand on it. And then: I suggest that instead of trying to contribute to the conversation, you listen.

I am so, so glad that it not a universal experience to hate looking at your own reflection for so long. But you know what is nearly universal? Feeling stupid about style. Learning about hair and feeling dumb that you didn’t know before that OF COURSE everyone feathers/wedges/mermaid colors their hair and uses hair spray/angled cuts/vegetable dyes. Trying to do these things on your own and failing miserably. Feeling like you’re the only kid in junior high who doesn’t have on the right t-shirt. Suddenly realizing that you never cared about any of these things but everyone else around you did.

I think if you could listen to these experiences as THEIR experiences, not comparing them to your own, you might find some commonalities, and this might help you to feel less alone.

I feel like I can’t emphasize this enough: they are bringing up old trauma for you. Hitting them quickly with a vague response and refusing to engage any further outside of listening might not work for you; you could also quickly excuse yourself to use the bathroom, tell them you’re not feeling well and walk away, drift off and dissociate, looking out of the window until they are through: anything you need to do to take care of yourself in that moment. Obviously getting therapy and working on your past is also important, but nothing happens overnight and until you can talk about these things without distress, re-traumatizing yourself after all those years of having someone else hurt you is not worth saving your friends face or your child a bit of embarrassment.

Take it seriously. It is important to you. Take care of yourself. Please.

I think with friends you know better than others, later on you can talk with them about it so you don’t feel you are hijacking the conversation. Tell them how you are feeling about reliving those teenage years. Reach out and tell your story. Telling your story to someone who is listening and cares, even if she feathered her hair perfectly in 1984, helps us to feel less alone and more connected.

Protect yourself in the moment. Reach out when you can. And please, please — if you are at all able — tell your teenage self that she is beautiful, and she is strong, and she is someone who deserves to be SEEN.

This letter originally ran in bitterempire.com on November 3, 2016.

Should I Admit My Celebrity Crush?

I have a huge crush on a celebrity. He is simply the most beautiful man I’ve ever laid on eyes on. And I’d like to send him a fan e-mail/message, just saying I think he’s very attractive, nothing more, but there are two problems. First, he’s not a huge celebrity, so there’s a decent chance he’ll interact with my message and/or me online. Second, he’s straight and I’m gay. Let me be clear by saying there’s no chance we’d ever interact beyond a performer/fan context.

I wish I lived in a world where it was okay for a gay man to tell a straight man he’s good-looking without the straight man reading into it any further than that. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. And even though I suspect he wouldn’t take it the wrong way, or mock me for the observation, I also don’t want to make him uncomfortable.

Should I send my fanboy e-mail? Or am I breaching social protocol because of the orientation difference? Should I just swoon in silence when I see him online?

– Crushing on a Cutie

Dear Crushing,

I can see why you might be concerned. Certain straight men — especially more homophobic or more misogynistic men — cannot handle sexual admiration from gay guys.

Homophobic or misogynistic men (and homophobia is often the reverse of the same coin as misogyny) are unable to separate their own desires from fetishizing the objects of their desire or from dehumanizing the objects of their desire. To be desired, in this context, means to be less than human.

Which means if a gay man admires a homophobic/misogynist man’s butt? That somehow makes him an object. Makes him less than human. So men like this become enraged. They attack gay guys or trans women, whom they conflate. They freak out. They get “offended.” And you have maybe had reactions ranging from rage to quiet discomfort from men you appraised in the past.

That’s not the reason to hold off, though — if your celebrity crush is a homophobe or a misogynist, fuck it. Let him be uncomfortable or angry or offended.

But there is a reason to hold off, which I’d tell you no matter your orientation or gender: celebrities, especially minor ones, don’t need to know about your desires for them. They certainly don’t need a personal email that might make them feel pressured to respond when all you said was: “golly I think you’re hot.” How do you even respond to that, anyway? They don’t need someone to reach out to them in the position of interrupting their day to respond to mere ogling — or crushing, as you say, which can have some strange stalkerish undertones depending on the celebrity and what they have dealt with, rabid fan-wise.

If you adored his music/writing/juggling/macramé, you could write him a letter about that. Whatever it is that has made him famous, presumably he’d appreciate hearing about how much you admire his talent and hard work in that area. But a random drooling? I dunno. It seems beside the point and a little intrusive.

So, for completely different reasons from what you are worried about: beyond a tweet that says something like “@MarkRuffalo is soooooooo dreamy,” I’d leave it alone.

This letter originally appeared in bitterempire.com on October 6, 2016.