We spend a lot of time giving advice here on Autostraddle dot com. All of our writers give it in our You Need Help column. Laneia gave it three-at-a-time (sometimes more!) in her Y’all Need Help column. We were giving so much advice in our A+ Some Answers to Some Things You’ve Been Asking Us column that we had to make it into its own A+ Advice Box column. We even have a dedicated advice video series by Kristin Russo that that airs on our Facebook live and is then published on our website.
It makes sense that people ask us so many questions, of course: we’re the only dedicated queer website giving advice written by queer people to queer people about queer-specific topics. What’s interesting and also heartbreaking about the questions people send in most is that they’re obviously feeling a real sense of isolation when they write to us; yet the questions they’re asking are often being asked by so many other readers. So, I thought, “Hey, why not compile a list of the eight most asked You Need Help questions, so people can feel less alone in their worries and also because it will be a great resource!” And this is that!
How do I deal with internalized homophobia?
Internalized homophobia is the great equalizer in the LGBTQ community. It strikes across demographics with impunity. Age, gender, race, nationality, socioeconomic status, religious upbringing, mental health, physical health — there’s no barrier it doesn’t cross. And heavens to mergatroid, how it manifests itself! The way we feel about how we dress, how we choose to label ourselves, the masks we wear in various social settings, it even follows us to bed and informs what we do and don’t do in our sex lives. Internalized homophobia is a relentless motherfucker, and just when you think you’ve conquered it, it pops its little head up like an evil game of whack-a-mole in the place you were least expecting.
Which is probably why internalized homophobia is the thing people ask us about the most. Is this internalized homophobia? (Yes, probably.) Is that internalized homophobia. (Yes, probably that too.) One of our most commented on A+ posts last year was a roundtable in which our staff talked about what internalized homophobia looks like to them. Some of us have been working as professional gays for over a decade and internalized homophobia still shows up in our brains and hearts and actions.
So how do you deal with it? Well, first you identify it. Internalized homophobia a kind of self-hatred of certain parts of yourself that comes from homophobic things you’ve heard other people say, or tropes you’ve seen on TV or in movies, or beliefs held by your religious or political institutions, or even just general culturally murmurings. Once you’ve pegged something as internalized homophobia, you can start unpacking it: Who said the homophobic thing that, to this day, makes you dislike a part of yourself? Why did that person saying it affect you so profoundly? Does their opinion matter, all these years later, more than your own health and happiness (no!).
Once you’ve held that internalized homophobia up to the light and examined it, you hurl it into the sun and keep living your life.
If it helps to know someone’s livid on your behalf, Laneia is here: “Whatever other people think about you is on them. It reveals who they are, not you — it has nothing to even do with you! And yet you’ve been doing all the contorting and making all the adjustments in an effort to prevent them from possibly having a reaction. FUCK THAT. I am furious on your behalf. Be who you are, and be loud about it. Take up the fucking space.”
I’m in love with my best friend. Help!
Three years ago, when there were only about 15 total queer women on TV, Riese was still able to make a list of Lesbian Falls For Her Best Friend storylines. It’s a tale older than time itself. It’s what we, as a people, do. Your foremothers did it and in a hundred years the gays out here continuing to watch The L Word for some reason will do it. We were born into this world falling in love with our best friends and we will exit this mortal plane doing the same. That’s the first thing you need to know: You are not alone!
Friendships between women are often really intimate situations, so when you’re inclined to smooch the same people you share your deepest, darkest secrets and most true and whole self with, things get complicated. Ask yourself these questions:
+ Is your friend queer, too? (If not, skip ahead to the next question.)
+ Is your friend single? (If they’re in a relationship, nope right out of that confession you’re thinking about making.)
+ Are you ready to do the work to not make it weird if they’re not interested? Oftentimes, when we confess our crushes, if they’re not reciprocated, our friend just wants things to go back to normal, but we’re the ones who make it awkward because the rejection does a number on us. Can you be chill if she says no?
+ If it’s a yes on all three of those things, go for it! You get one life on this planet and you’ve made a connection with someone and now you want to deepen it. Avoid elaborate promposal-style confessions and expensive love notes written in the sky. Save that for your anniversary. Tell them; make sure they know that if they’re not feeling it, your friendship is still a-okay; take the next step based on whatever they say. Because this is a tale as old as time, there’s probably no way you’re going to escape being in this situation at least once, and there’s probably no way your friend is going to escape it either.
How do I deal with this crush on this straight girl?
Friend, you must trust me when I say: Stop, immediately! Get off the train tracks! For every one queer person who ends up happy with a formerly “straight” girl, there are nine hundred and fifty-eleven bazillion-quadrillion queer people who get their hearts shredded by falling in love and chasing after straight girls! You deserve more than this crush on a person who will not and honestly cannot reciprocate your feelings and desires!
Laneia once dedicated an entire Y’all Need Help column to this eternal lesbian quandary, and in it you will find all the firm but gentle truth you need on this subject:
I’m truly honestly sorry to say that you’ll have to bleed this out for a while. It’s been six months and where has this pining gotten you? NOWHERE, FRIEND. The energy you’re putting into this situation is the same energy you could be putting into literally anything else, and the energy you’re receiving from this situation is tepid and ultimately destructive. Straight women who’ll never date their queer friends that have crushes on them still manage to receive the positive energy of a queer relationship without having to reciprocate any of it. Think about that. You’re giving her your dating/loving energy and she’s giving you pal energy, and she loves it — not because she’s a selfish asshole, but because that energy is GLORIOUS and AMAZING and she’s probably never received anything like it before… This is not the person for you. She is not for you. She is your friend.
Laneia is so for real about this very correct advice, and so committed to making sure that you follow it and find the inner strength to look out for number one (that’s you), that she’s crafted a newsletter you can receive every single week to remind you that you deserve more, better, an actual real shot at a relationship with an actual real queer person. You can (and should) sign up for it right here.
Is she The One/The One who got away?
The good news, sweet friend, is that there’s no way The One got away because there’s no such thing as The One. Which also means you’re off the hook on trying to figure out if she’s The One because that’s an imaginary thing made up by greeting card companies and ad agencies and Hollywood. I have written about this extensively, so forgive me, but I’m just going to quote myself:
So many movies and books and TV shows and commercials and songs and poems tell the tale that there’s one single person in the world who’s gonna fill up our hearts with joy and when we find them — snap! — life’s a breeze. There’s a kind of comfort in that, maybe, but it’s just not true. Every day we make a zillion small choices that change the shape of ourselves and the course of our lives in a zillion small ways, and every other person is out here doing the same thing. How cruel that the universe or some deity contained within it would make a single match for us, give us both free will, and then sit back in apathy while we go about our lives hoping to make the one correct series of choices that will allow us to brush up against one exact person who has also made one correct series of choices, in a sea of seven billion people making eleventy kazillion choices. The odds that anyone would find their One are nearly impossible!
And believing in The One can actually do way more harm than good to us and to our relationships. It can cause existential crises when things inevitably get hard with our person: “Well, maybe they’re not The One. If they were The One, this would be much easier.” It can make us call our relationships into question if we have a connection with a different person than our person: “There’s no way I could have a feeling for someone else if my current person was The One. Maybe the person giving me the new feeling is The One.” It can cause us to believe there’s one single person in the world who can (and should) meet all of our sexual, social, emotional, intellectual, and pragmatic needs — and without conflict or compromise. It can cause us to believe that being happy together just happens. After all, we were made for each other.
The truth, actually, is that there are a zillion things that factor into longterm compatibility and the success two people will have when they commit themselves to each other for a lifetime. Feelings about money, feelings about sex, feelings about religion, feelings about kids, feelings about careers, feelings about downtime and feelings about bedtime, sense of humor, schedules, the ability to communicate, the ability to sacrifice, the ability to grow, the ability to let someone else grow, the way you argue, the way you heal, the willingness of both people to work, work, work.
Yes! It’s scary as heck to commit yourself to another person with all those variables (and more!) in play when it comes to having a healthy, successful relationship — but isn’t it way more daunting to imagine your one shot at happiness in life comes from finding the one person (out of seven billion people!!!!!) the universe created for you?
How do I make queer friends?
We get almost as many questions about how to make friends as we do about how to make relationships work. That’s because making friends as an adult is hard, and even more so if you’re queer. When you’re in school, you drift toward people with similar interests who show up in the same place at the same time as you every single weekday for years and years. You have the same tasks to complete, the same authority figures to bemoan, the same sports teams to rally around, the same academic goalposts to reach in the same timeframe. When you’re a grown-up, unless you belong to a church or a club, the people with built-in proximity to you are usually your co-workers, most of whom are probably straight and many of whom are partnered up with a person they spend most of their time with.
How do you find the gays who like to do the things you also like to do. You can take two approaches: You can either hang out in group settings doing the things you like to do (pottery classes, cooking seminars, gaming groups, athletic clubs) and keep your eyes open for other queers; or, you can go to queer spaces and find people within those spaces who enjoy similar things as you. Those spaces can be real-life meet-ups, retreats, or things like comic-cons. Or they can be queer websites, social media, or even dating apps. (Almost all of my real-life friends are people I met online at first!)
It takes real courage and vulnerability to try to make a connection with another human being on this planet, but the good news, according to our inbox, is that you’re not wandering around out in the desert alone: Other queer people are out here looking for you too! (See: here and here and here, for just a little bit of proof.)
What if I’m bad at this or that sex thing/sex in general/want to do this sex thing/don’t want to do that sex thing?
The majority of questions we get about sex are really just people seeking reassurance that they’re normal. Are they having sex the same amount as other people, the same way as other people, the same duration as other people? Are they doing it too much? Not enough? Have they waited too long to get started? Is what they want weird? Is what they don’t want weird? What’s the right way to orgasm, what’s the correct amount of orgasms, what’s the correct number of people for orgasms, what’s the correct toys for orgasms?
Friend, what you want is okay! Our desires and our sex lives are so layered and varied and complicated and deeply personal, so informed by our unique life experiences and societal pressures and cultural norms and religious upbringings, so tied together with the way we feel about our bodies and inside our bodies on any given day, so very constantly evolving. There’s no normal. There’s just you and what you want (for whatever reasons!) and another person or people and what they want (for whatever reasons!) and a chance to pursue those wants (if you want).
And Carrie: You Need Help: You Can Want Sex Exactly as Much as You Want (or Don’t)
And Christina: You Need Help: Even Sex Gods Get Anxious Sometimes
And here is an entire archive of Lesbian Sex 101 posts, with advice about everything from sex toys to thirst traps to play parties to positions to cruising to accessibility to polyamory to tops to bottoms to switches to scissoring.
I’m worried I’m too old for [thing]!
Oh my gosh the number of 19-year-olds who are worried that they’re never going to have sex and the number of 23-year-olds who are worried that they’re never going to find true love and the number of 30-year-olds who are worried that they haven’t yet published a best-selling novel and the number of 35-year-olds who “still” aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives. I just want to wrap you all up in a consensual Hufflepuff hug (Huffle-hug) and whisper into your ear that time is an illusion, and you are never too old to do the thing you want to do.
I’ve written a lot about how queer time moves differently than regular time, and about how we’re on our own schedule, outside the rigidity of the patriarchal space-time continuum. And it’s as true as it ever was.
It often takes us longer to figure out what we want than it takes our straight cis peers: “Because our community struggles with higher rates of depression than the general population; because we haven’t historically had role models in books and TV shows and movies to show us the way; because political parties and religions have consistently scapegoated us and tried to take away our civil rights by distorting or erasing our stories; because we didn’t have a chance to test out our futures playing make-believe as kids or a chance to talk out our futures with our parents or pals or guidance counselors, for fear of seeming weird or because we didn’t even know queer adulthood could exist.”
So some of us get a late start, and some of us have to completely start over. And both of those things are okay! You don’t have to prove anything to anybody! You’ve heard the stories about the 80-year-old woman training for a running a marathon, the 75-year-old women who fell in love, the 72-year-old woman who published her first book, the 91-year-old woman who graduated from college. All the moments you’re alive on this earth, every single one of them right up to the very end, you get to choose whether or not to inhabit them fully. Live, friend! Live all the way through!
I want to do this thing, but what if when I do this thing that thing happens and then that leads to this other thing, or what if I do it and this scary thing happens, or what if I do it and this embarrassing thing happens, or what if doing it leads to some kind of butterfly effect where I end up alone and ashamed forever?
Dearest, there are two ways to live your life: You can either be the one making the million decisions every day that affect your health and happiness, or you can sit still and let someone else make those decisions for you. Either way, you’re deciding something. Inaction is as much of a choice as action is. You cannot know every outcome (and that outcome’s outcome and that outcome-outcome’s outcome). There’s not usually a right or wrong way forward. The only thing you can do — the only thing any of us can do — is consciously make the next decision about our next step with the information available to us at the given moment, and then the next, and the next, and the next.
I wrote a three-week series earlier this year about figuring out what it is you really want and going after it with clear eyes and a full heart. You probably will be scared, and you actuallt might end up embarrassed, but those are only temporary emotions and a small price to pay for not allowing your entire life to be a series of guest-starring roles in other people’s movies.
I will end, as I almost always do, with Mary Oliver. This one’s “The Journey.”
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.