Advice Columns Were My Guilty Pleasure Until They Became My Connection to Community

Growing up, I used to make jokes about Dear Abby and roll my eyes at the notion of advice columns.

And then, somewhere in my twenties, I became obsessed with them. I devoured Dear Prudence, waiting with great anticipation every Tuesday and Thursday until it published, clicking endlessly through the archives, re-reading Danny Lavery’s responses to tide me over until the next post was up.

Danny Lavery’s writing is, of course, amazing, but what always hooked me into reading an advice column was the question. Sometimes, the questions were insights into the lives of Other People, who I wanted so badly to fit in with but fundamentally couldn’t understand. People in love, people falling out of love, people having affairs, people fighting with their in-laws. So parched for love myself, reading advice columns helped me temper my own understanding of relationships and expectations of romance beyond the little experience I had of both through watching romcoms.

Sometimes, the columns tapped into problems ancillary to my own, like how to deal with conflicts at work or navigating difficult conversations with friends. Isolation was a big part of my childhood experience, and so I’ve struggled a lot with “social norms.” Advice columns filled in the gaps I never learned growing up.

And then, on very rare occasions, the questions went right to my heart. Like the time Lori Gottlieb very kindly, very gently helped a single person acknowledge her own grief. Or a column I read earlier this year about a fraught parent-child relationship with a few phrases I still remember by heart all these months later.

two spinning spacey pyramids

Autostraddle took a risk on me, a person with no professional writing experience. I still remember the call for applications from back in July 2019: “looking to hire 2-4 new writers.” The editors ended up bringing on a team of over a dozen writers, instead. I know that reader support during the July 2019 fundraiser is entirely the reason I am here today.

Help us out?

Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into or where to start. Overwhelmed by information and writing opportunities, I browsed the Slack channel for You Need Help and stumbled on a comfortingly familiar question I’ve spent years of my life considering: How to pay your bills while trying to make the world a better place? I can do this, I thought.

The first thing I ever published for Autostraddle was advice. And from there, bit by bit, I started to find my voice.

a space worm kind of shape

I haven’t written very much for You Need Help because, most of the time, I feel entirely unqualified to answer the questions, and there’s something incredibly vulnerable about publishing a piece you feel uncertain of on the internet, especially in the context of offering guidance to others. But I’ve always loved talking to people about their problems.

One of many, many changes Nicole implemented when they took over fundraising and A+ was making Into the A+ Advice Box a regular, biweekly column with a mission to answer every question that’s submitted. For a year, I sat on the sidelines, occasionally reading the questions but still hesitating to venture into the conversation. At the start of this year, though, I challenged myself to contribute to A+ content by trying to answer at least four questions in each post because I know that A+ subscriptions really and truly are the lifeblood that keeps Autostraddle alive.

Join A+!

But over the course of the last ten months, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with the A+ Advice Box. What started as a personal mission to participate in fundraising activities has morphed into joining a collective goal to help as many people feel seen and less alone as possible. And as a writer, writing for this column has been incredibly freeing. I can be more bare, more vulnerable, more honest, more raw, more real because I don’t have to worry about my employer, my professional colleagues or other acquaintances finding this content.

two spinning pyramids that form a kind of diamond shape

The questions we get really and truly run the gamut, and I have learned so, so much from my fellow writers and from so many of you who share your thoughts, knowledge and experiences in the comments. That’s what makes these posts so special, really, is that they’re not about a singular person bestowing their wisdom onto faceless readers but rather a coming together of a community to help each other sort through their shit in confidence. The confidentiality and community of the A+ Advice Box affords people the space to come to terms with their identities again and again and again, and it’s beautiful. That same confidentiality allows others to start facing their biases.

And then there’s all the people who are just trying to make sense of the hellscape of a world that we live in. A few months ago, we heard from an A+ member who had always wanted to be a parent and was struggling with grief over their personal decision to not have kids because of climate change. Though I’ve never wanted kids, this member’s pain was so deep and so clear and that really resonated with me. Answering the A+ Advice Box has really pushed me to see beyond myself, to try to hold other people’s struggles and challenges and offer them whatever comfort I can for their feelings. My response, which was grounded in the article by Lori Gottlieb I mentioned earlier, encouraged this member to acknowledge the reality of their own sadness and loss for the future that’s been closed to them. “That pain is real,” I wrote. This struggle resonated very strongly with many A+ members.

In addition to all the sex and dating content you’d expect from an advice column, Into the A+ Advice Box has covered a range of different issues:
+ Working through internalized biophobia
+ Coming to terms with one’s asexuality
+ Unpacking complicated feelings around gender identity that arise from putting pronouns in an email signature
+ Unlearning fatphobia
+ Facing a negative, knee-jerk reaction to other cis people sharing their pronouns in meetings
+ Discussing bras with one’s child in a way that is affirming and not body-shaming
+ Resources for teachers on creating space for kids to explore their genders and sexualities
+ Grappling with being chronically single
+ Growing up evangelical and struggling with an unshakeable fear of the apocalypse
+ Balancing full-time employment and creative pursuits
+ Two entire posts about divorce
+ All the queer fashion questions you could imagine
+ Making a place feel like home

And so, so, so much more! There really is a little something for everyone who goes Into the A+ Advice Box!

If you have the means, I really hope you’ll join us by becoming an A+ member. And we also have our A+ Gift Membership Pool where you can donate or put in to receive a free one-year membership.

Join A+!

Cobalt memberships start at $4 per month or $30 for the year. Not only will you be supporting independent queer media, but you’ll also become part of this community of LGBTQ+ readers and writers who just want to hold each other up in these hard times. And if you sign up today, you can join us for an A+ Ask Me Anything tomorrow 12 to 4 pm Pacific to ask your most burning questions. (And if you’re not available at that time, the A+ Advice Box is open 24/7 for A+ members!)

At Autostraddle, we don’t always have answers, but we have a lot of heart, a lot of commiseration, and it’s almost always the case that someone in this community will shed some light on what you’re struggling with.

I hope to see you at the A+ AMA tomorrow!


Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And A+ members keep the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers are not members. A+ membership starts at just $4/month. If you're able to, will you join A+ and keep Autostraddle here and working for everyone?

Join A+

himani

Himani is a dabbler of a writer. Her work includes reviews of media centering Asian stories, news and politics, advice and the occasional personal essay. A stickler for privacy, the best way to reach her is by email: himani[at]autostraddle[dot]com.

Himani has written 35 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. i ADORE the a+ advice box. there were a lot of reasons i joined a+ and access to all the wisdom y’all lovingly yet firmly dispense there definitely constitutes one of them. so grateful you do that work, himani :)

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