The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend is My Girlfriend: Advice on Queer Dating, Love, and Friendship, is helpful, funny, aesthetically pleasing, and very very queer. In short? This book is a goddamn delight!
Written by Maddy Court and illustrated by Kelsey Wroten, the book is a combination of generous honesty, tough love, and laugh out loud candor that any queer will appreciate, whether the questions inside are relevant to your life at this very moment in time or whether they simply provide a window to look back at your youth and think whew, I’m so glad that’s not my problem anymore.
Long time fans of Maddy’s work will know the writer from her Ex-Girlfriend advice zine series — the precursor to and inspiration for this book — and from her absolutely prolific lesbian memes over at @xenaworrierprincess on Instagram. Meanwhile Kelsey has been writing and illustrating comics for years, with work published in major outlets like The New Yorker, the New York Times, and NPR, to name a few, and 2019 she published a graphic novel, Cannonball, which was named a Lambda Literary Best LGBTQ Novel in 2020.
Maddy and Kelsey are “long-time internet friends,” and when Kelsey was asked to pitch a non-fiction illustrated book, a mutual friend suggested she might ask Maddy to collaborate. Maddy was thrilled and immediately said yes. That’s the power of queer community, baby!
“We talked on the phone for hours and psyched ourselves up about what a hi-fi version of a zine would look like,” Maddy told me when I asked how the book came to be. “We’ve both spent a lot of time at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn, and really admired lesbian humor books of the 80s and 90s. We wanted to make something for queer people that was fun and not clinical. We wanted to bring in a range of questions and guest contributors, so as many readers as possible could see themselves in the book.”
It’s clear when speaking with both Maddy and Kelsey that they each really admire the others’ work, and that shines through in the book. The pairing of the words and illustrations feels seamless, and the joy both creator has around their and each other’s work is evident on the page.
“As far as the process goes, I followed along as Maddy answered questions and drew whatever I felt encapsulated the narrative of the question or the mood,” Kelsey said. “Some were really easy with clear imagery, like a questioner who invoked the iconic lascivious Tex Avery wolf while waxing poetic about side-boob. That was a fun one to draw. I think the end result is really poppy, cartoony and fun.”
“I’m used to making black and white, photocopied zines,” Maddy said, “so it’s very cool that the book is so beautiful. I love Kelsey’s work, so I was happy to stand back and let her work her magic.”
I was particularly interested in Maddy’s assertion that both she and Kelsey wanted to create an advice book for queers that was “fun and not clinical,” and in Kelsey’s assessment that the illustrated nature of the book is one that is both “cartoony and fun,” because if this book could talk, I think the first thing it would say is, “I am fun!” With a bright hot pink cover, edgy bold font, a neon color palette, and the most inclusive dedication I can imagine — “This book is dedicated to everyone who has ever Googled the words am I gay?” — it’s clear as soon as this book lands in front of a reader that we’re all going to be having a good time.
Which is not to say that the book is all lighthearted easy breezy advice; far from it. Divided into six sections (each with a catchy name that I won’t entirely spoil for you here), the advice begins with “Firsts & Thirsts,” covering crushes and first dates, then wades through the choppier waters of relationships, heartbreak, coming out, support systems, and tough conversations. Through all of these twists and turns, Maddy’s signature firm and skeptical, but also romantic and kind voice guides the way. In the intro to the opening chapter about firsts, she writes: “When you’re in love for the first time, everything is THE MOST. Your love is the most profound. The sex you’re having is the BEST. No relationship will ever compare. Not to be a cynical dyke who has walked this earth for a hundred years, but these feelings will pass. They will dissipate like dust in the wind, and you will be free.” And in the final section (okay I will spoil one more catchy title for you here, this section is called “There Are No Shortcuts”), all about tough conversations, she levels with us: “It’s our official position that saying something over text or email is better than not saying it at all. Ask yourself, Why am I struggling to speak freely? Am I feeling ashamed right now or is there something about this relationship that’s preventing me from being honest? Tough conversations are a part of every relationship, especially your relationship with yourself.” It’s this kind of real talk that has always made Maddy’s advice so useful and accessible, and the book lives up to that expectation.
That said, Maddy is not the only person giving advice in this book. A panel of guest experts including Ellen Kempner, JD Samson, Kalyn Rose Hefferman, Lola Pellegrino, Mey Rude (!), Samantha Irby, and Tyler Ford all stepped in to answer questions, too. “Kelsey and I are both white and cis,” Maddy said. “We saw this as a weakness from the very beginning and were able to negotiate a small budget to pay guest contributors. The book is way, way more interesting because it includes [our guest experts].” I asked how she and Kelsey chose the guest experts, and Maddy shared that the task was “super overwhelming… [because] I feel like most people, especially queer women and people of marginalized genders, give amazing advice. We made a list of queer artists, activists, and writers we admired. Then we just started emailing people. We really wanted to include an older queer person, but everyone we asked said no.” It’s notable that Maddy mentioned that behind-the-scenes tidbit because if I were to give the book one criticism, I would say I wish there had been some perspectives from queer elders, and some questions that skewed more toward life circumstances that might affect older folks (though to be fair, perhaps by the time one takes on the title of elder, they’re not looking for advice so much anymore!).
I was curious how the questions that did make it into the book were chosen, and Kelsey and Maddy both described an intense spreadsheet process. “We sorted through hundreds of questions given to us through social media… We wanted a book that was sincere, and humorous, without being overly focused on nitty gritty sex stuff which can happen a lot when writing about queer life,” Kelsey explained. “We wanted to talk more about navigating non-romantic relationships and finding love for ourselves and others as well as families and communities at large.”
When I asked if there were any questions they really wanted to include but ultimately didn’t have room for, or any questions that they simply couldn’t include for some reason, Maddy made me laugh out loud: “There were a lot of questions detailing dyke drama so long-lasting and complex, we didn’t understand what was happening.”
Even though this book is chock full of wisdom and evergreen advice, once I started chatting with Maddy and Kelsey I couldn’t help but ask for a little more.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, I wanted to know.
“I’m lucky because my mom gives really great advice,” Maddy said. “She’s always reminding me to stop texting people and go to bed.”
“I’m almost 30 and I feel like I know less than I ever have,” Kelsey said. “Which is humbling, but scary too. When I talked to my therapist about this, I was advised to try meditating daily. Muddy waters clear when they are allowed to become still. Daily meditation lead to journaling daily. Journaling lead to other healthier habits that lead to improvements in my mood and relationships. A small positive change if done consistently dominos into larger positive changes without any effort really. You can start with anything and it will work itself out.”
And what about a piece of evergreen advice for queer people that didn’t make it into the book?
“Log off sometimes! I need to take that advice myself,” Kelsey said. “Being dipped into an endless stream of consciousness ten hours a day is not healthy! You forget who you are and get caught up in a toxic comparative loop of ‘who you should be.'”
Maddy sums it up succinctly: “The internet is important, but it’s not the only thing that’s real.”
Taking that expert and extremely true advice into account, if you need an excuse to get offline for a minute, hold something gorgeous and brilliant and tangible in your hands, and immerse yourself in other people’s problems in a way that will bring you both guidance and clarity, I cannot recommend The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend is My Girlfriend enough.
When it comes to hopes and dreams for their fun, pink, book baby, Kelsey said she hopes even more people discover and enjoy Maddy’s writing, and that “many more friends, girlfriends, exes, read this book aloud to one and other and bond over the relatable bits, laugh at the inside jokes, and groan at the shared troubles while feeling a bit lighter having been seen.”
“I want to make things for queer people are joyful and fun,” Maddy said. “If one person had a chill afternoon reading it and passed it along to a friend, I would be content.”