Notes From A Queer Engineer: Let’s Get Handy

Notes From A Queer Engineer_Rory Midhani_640Header by Rory Midhani
Feature image via Shutterstock

I’m going to confess something to you today. Even though I’m an engineer, I know little to nothing about household repair and other handyperson tasks. It’s bad. Like, really bad.

When my girlfriend and I moved in together, we got her sister’s boyfriend to build the bed from Ikea for us. When we attempted to put our bookcase together, my girlfriend poked fun at me for being so unbelievably terrible at following instructions. (For a little while, I forgot that there was a third dimension I could rotate things in.) When it was time to install our hanging pot rack, I hired a handyperson off of NYC Queer Exchange, so that it wouldn’t come crashing down on our heads weeks later. That went well, so I called them back to mount our TV, hang the curtains, secure our shoe bins to the wall, put up a wine rack, and even put up the paper towel holder.

I’m fine with that. I’ve mastered plenty of other skills, and we can’t all be Cee. I feel good about spending money within our queer community, and it’s okay if home repair just isn’t my thing, you know? In this and all other areas of my life, I give myself permission to ask for help where I need it. Great. That having been said… there comes a point, I think, where a person really does need to suck it up and learn some basic life skills! Several weeks ago, when it took me 15+ minutes to hang a wall-mounted bottle opener, I realized: that time has now come for me.

A dramatic reenactment of me installing the bottle opener. Via shutterstock.

Dramatic reenactment of me doing handywork. Via Shutterstock.

This past year has been a dark time in my life, and I don’t mean that figuratively. I expect there are vaginal walls that saw more light than the interior of my apartment did last year. You follow? Apartment 2R was basically a bat cave last month.

As I’ve detailed above, I’m not a very a handy person. The thing is, neither is my girlfriend. So when the lightbulbs in our shared apartment began burning out, neither of us rushed to replace them. In fact much in the same way we handle our laundry  what we actually did was put off dealing with it for as long as humanly possible. This turned out to be a really, really long time. For months, M and I stumbled around in an increasing level of darkness as each of our overhead lights successively went out. Kitchen, entryway, living room, bedroom. When our bathroom light went out, we wedged a floor lamp in next to the shower. I felt nervous every time I stepped out of the shower with dripping hair, anxiously eyeing the cord that snaked dangerously past our bath mat and through our massive stash of hair products like Satan in the Garden of Eden.

Lo, it was not good.

When I finally decided to rectify this situation last weekend, neither God nor our regular handyperson was around, so I decided to take action myself. Let there be light! I boomed. Nothing. So I walked to the hardware store, picked up two packs of lightbulbs, climbed atop my bed, and started fiddling with the overhead light fixture. It didn’t come off. I searched “how do you get the freaking cover off of a dome light” on YouTube and learned that the only thing holding it in place is bottom-most knob thing. I twisted the cover off, swapped out the light bulb, wiped everything clean, and gave a triple encore performance in the other rooms that needed it. By the time evening fell, every inch of my apartment was beautifully lit. Today, I bask in the glow of both a job well done and eight newly installed compact fluorescent bulbs.

Another reenactment. But it went down pretty much exactly like this. Via Shutterstock.

Another reenactment. Yep, it went down pretty much like this. Via Shutterstock.

In this case, I had 95% of the required knowledge to perform this task. The main thing lacking was motivation. Happily, there are wiser and more motivated handywomen out there than me, and many of them have taken to YouTube to share their knowledge! With their help, I’m going to finally learn how to do basic home repair and maintenance for myself.

From detailed instructions teaching how to use a drill, to gal pals patching holes in the ceiling and shirtless women soldering copper pipes, there’s something out there for everyone. My favorites are the straightforward “how to” videos aimed at the [generally assumed to be female] “DIY” crowd. Watching those women clearly lay out all the steps really makes me want to get in the action and fix all the things that are broken in my house/life. Last week I unclogged my bathtub and installed a nicer showerhead. Next week I’m planning to fix the tear in my loveseat’s upholstery. Who knows what I’ll tackle next?

Want to learn some home repair skills from YouTube handywomen? Yeah you do. Let’s watch together!

How to unclog your sink

How to replace a bathroom faucet

How to install a USB electrical outlet

How to change a light fixture

How to check for lead

How to paint a wall

Via the No Man’s Land series, which was truly a thing of beauty.

How to patch a hole in the wall

How to use a caulk gun

Bonus: Lez Renovate shares their feelings on caulk.

How to cut molding with a coping saw

How to replace sliding windows

How to build a brick patio

Notes From A Queer Engineer is a recurring column with an expected periodicity of one month. The subject matter may not be explicitly queer, but the industrial engineer writing it sure is. This is a peek at the notes she’s been doodling in the margins.

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Laura Mandanas

Laura Mandanas is a Filipina American living in Boston. By day, she works as an industrial engineer. By night, she is beautiful and terrible as the morn, treacherous as the seas, stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love her and despair. Follow her: @LauraMWrites.

Laura has written 210 articles for us.


  1. i love this so much, especially because learning to do these things would, in fact, make us all more like cee.

  2. I LOVE THIS MORE THAN I LOVE MOST THINGS which is saying a lot, like do i love this more than grilled cheese? maybe i do honestly! i care so much about home repair/maintenance stuff and not having to call your weird landlord because you can do it yourself, and as someone who unclogged her own sink this month let me tell you dear readers it feels GREAT. (still haven’t figured out how to replace the lightbulbs in my dome-covered ceiling light, though.)

  3. I love this. And I need you to know how reassuring your tale of the ever-darkening apartment was. That was also my life for two years.

  4. This is awesome and I haven’t even read it / watched the videos yet! Such a great idea for a column thank you!

  5. I’m glad I’m not the only person on the planet who still thinks “Lo” is a good way to start a sentence. *raises her vodka and tonic in salute*

  6. This is all so useful! I was once made fun of for not knowing how to replace a door handle, so your lightbulb story makes me feel less inadequate.

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