Y’All Need Help #15: With a Face as Deadpan as the Aubrey Plaza Sea

Q:

Whenever friends and strangers (or worst of all, first dates) ask how my love life is going, it turns into a long sad story that even *I* don’t want to hear myself give!! It’s been over a year but I haven’t broken out of sad saga mode… is there a way I can
a) move on, STAT
while b) taking my own time to heal
and c) not diving into patterns of destruction or phunking with someone else’s heart?

A:

Yiiiiikes!! Stop telling the story! Craft a public statement and stick with that. Rehearse it, write it down. That’s your story now. Save the actual story for your journal or your therapist or five years from now. Above all else, absolutely do not ever tell your story on a first date! When you tell your breakup story on a first date, it’s not a date anymore. It’s an awkward beginning to what might be, at best, an awkward friendship built on commiseration which, while with its extremely occasional and situational merits, is not what you really need right now. You need strong healthy happy foundations that will go on to support the eventual commiserations and admissions of blargh and all that jazz that come later. But you can’t start with that jazz. You start with F-U-N, baby!

Unfortunately there’s no such thing as Moving On, STAT. Doesn’t exist. There’s a thing that looks like it — we call it Compartmentalizing, and it’s fine but not great! But! You can sure as hell shake yourself out of a thing, if temporarily! Like fake it ’til you make it. Couple that up with your public statement and LOOK OUT, WORLD!

As for taking your own time to heal, absolutely take it, but also recognize that you’ve already made progress on that front. Look back on the last year and make a list of the ways you have broken out of the sad saga mode and found healing. Like you definitely got dressed and went for coffee after at least a day or two of not showering or leaving your house, right? That counts. What else have you done? What are some ways you’ve put distance between yourself and that explosion of grief? Be proud of what you’ve done and be gentle with yourself. You’re doing GREAT. Every day you live is a day you’ve gotten further away from that time and a day closer to another time.

The way you don’t dive into patterns of destruction or fuck with someone else’s heart is to make the active decision 24-hours a day to not do those things! You stop at stop signs, whisper in libraries, turn your phone off at the movies, resist patters of destruction, lock the door behind you when you leave, etc. You just do it!


Q:

So, I figured out I was gay at 16 and, due to some unfortunate and shitty reactions at that time, had a lot of shame and guilt about it and have been in the closet ever since. I’m 32 now, so I’ve been in the closet half my life. I have dated women, I’m in a queer book club, and I’ve seen Tegan and Sara live five times, so I am not hiding 100%, but I straddle this really weird place of not being out at work, not being out to my friends on my soccer league, monitoring myself so that I don’t “look too gay” when I go grocery shopping, etc etc.

I am SO SICK of all of it. I’m done. The problem is, I have been hiding for 16 years and it’s like I literally do not know how to stop. I am trying so hard to change but I freak out or I don’t have the words. Like, I’m single now so how do I communicate to my teammates that I’m gay? And won’t they wonder why it hasn’t come up in the 5 years I’ve been on the team? (It’s *possible* they know or have guessed but it’s NEVER been talked about. Really, it’s that the thought of having to actually be honest and talk about my personal life in any way freaks me out.) Basically, I guess the issue is, how do I change this muscle memory of 16 years of hiding?

I would love any advice or to hear from others in the comments if they’ve been through something similar.

A:

I AM SO HAPPY THAT YOU’RE SO SICK OF IT !!! I’m also excited to hear what readers will say! If I were you, I’d just come the fuck on out — flatly and with a face as deadpan as the Aubrey Plaza sea. Who gives a shit about what they wonder or think? Like who’s world is this, theirs? Nope! It belongs to you, too, and coming out after five years of knowing them is perfectly fine. You make your choices around here and it sounds like you’re choosing to do something different. Do it!

image of Sam as a kitten generously donated by Kristin Russo

Internalized homophobia is a mother. fucker. No one deserves the anguish it causes and I’m truly sorry you’ve had to deal with it for so long. It’s fucked up that you’ve been stuffing down this fundamental part of who you are because of how other people have reacted to it. 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.


Q:

I broke up with my girlfriend earlier in the year and she’s had significant mental health issues since. It didn’t end well between us and I’m worried about her but also worried contacting her will make things worse. Should I contact her to check she’s ok?

A:

Nope! You could try reaching out to friends who might know other friends who would know how she is, but don’t insert yourself back into her life like that. I understand that you’re worried about her and that this is coming from a genuine place, but it would be profoundly fucked up to put your curiosity above her health. If you’re the praying type — or the type who sends energy out into the universe — do that instead.


Q:

Should I come out about my toxic biological family at work?

On the one hand, I am already feeling isolated and awkward at my very cishet workplace. On the other hand, the holidays are hard enough without people asking what my parents are doing for Christmas. Help?

A:

On one hand, it is very difficult to constantly be reminded of a thing you’d rather not think about, especially when it’s so deeply personal and painful. On the other hand, life is a series of exchanges, some comfortable and some uncomfortable, some are a mix of both, and it keeps going on and on like this until we die. You get to decide which type of discomfort is the one worth living through — is it the discomfort of lying to your cishet coworkers about your holiday plans and, by extension, your personal life? Or is it the discomfort of being blunt about something that your cishet coworkers might not* relate to and the possibility of follow-up questions and/or awkwardness? Who knows??! You do!

It’s also entirely possible that one or more of these cishetters will actually relate to your experience after all. Life is also a series of opportunities to relate to other people! On and on and on until we croak out. Maybe they’ll relate but won’t share that with you. Maybe they won’t relate but it’ll make them more thankful for their own family and they’ll call the grandparent they’ve been putting off calling. Maybe they won’t relate but ten years from now, while they’re sipping on a soda at Applebee’s and reading the latest from Oprah’s book club, they’ll be reminded that some people’s families are toxic and shitty, like that one queer coworker’s family from a decade ago, and it’ll change the way they interact with strangers from that point on.

It’s your call and I’m really rooting for you over here!


Y’All Need Help is a biweekly advice column in which I pluck out a couple of questions from the You Need Help inbox and answer them right here, round-up style, quick and dirty! (Except sometimes it’s not quick, but that’s my prerogative, OK?) You can chime in with your own advice in the comments and submit your own quick and dirty questions any time.


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Laneia is the Executive Editor and founding member of Autostraddle, and you're the reason she's here. She's 37, has two kids, two dogs, one cat, one Megan, and some personal essays.

Laneia has written 824 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. Fellow 32-year-old in a similar situation. I eventually got pissed off enough that I said fuck it. Why am I letting other people I don’t care about, or know about completely control my life and happiness? It started with baby steps by liking more gay stuff on Facebook, talking about gay stuff around friends and family, to allowing myself to “look gay” in public. I am still in the closet but making a trail out of it that doesn’t feel so scary anymore.

    • Yes! Baby steps are the key and just the feeling of “ugh, I’ve had enough…why are other people controlling my happiness?” And by far, the greatest thing is that there are beautiful fascinating people out here to love and accept us all!

    • Bi woman here, so different kind of experience with the big old closet, but I want to second this SO HARD.

      Start mentioning queer news stories. Drop a “as a queer woman” in the middle of a slightly longer Facebook post every now and then. Get an ambiguous Entry-Level Queer Haircut™. Make your media experience as queer-normative as possible, so that going out into the big wide straight world seems jarring and strange in a way that makes you want to help make it normal again by bringing your queerness into it.

    • Yes to all of this. Plus find queer community and support wherever you can – online or in person.

      That really helped me with my baby steps – I’m terrible at coming out conversations but pretty comfortable mentioning what I’m reading for my queer book group.

    • Yes! The best part about this is that eventually your social media presence/daily life is so queer that you can react with genuine surprise when someone is like “wait, you’re gay?”. You’ll just be like “oh haha weird, you didn’t know? Like all I talk about is queer storylines in kids cartoons but ok” and it’ll come across as totally legit (partly because even to people who’ve been out for ages this still happens! Maybe I’m just a forgetful person, but I totally forget which random coworkers/friends of friends might not know I’m gay).

  2. Today I was like “argh I need the men at my job to realize that flirting with me is pointless and annoying but I don’t know how to bluntly be like I AM A LESBIOID HUMAN”

    And then I realized there is the autostraddle store!!!!!! I bought an it’s great to be gay sticker and various clothing that politely says “behold this lesbian”

  3. Speaking of Aubrey Plaza (whom I adore) anyone seen her new nun movie, The Little Hours? It wasn’t bad, per se, but I felt like it switched genres at least four times as I was watching it. “Ok, satirical comedy, cool… wait, this is getting intense, maybe it’s a drama? Whoa, hello sexy nuns making out… wait, wtf is happening, is this secretly a horror movie?! Oh, no, everything’s fine again.”

    • I haven’t seen it, but to my knowledge it’s based off The Decameron, which involves a whole bunch of different stories told by different people with different moods to them, so that might be contributing to the jumpy-genre feel.

  4. To the fine person who is still kinda in the closet at 32… I came out at 30 and am now 34. I really don’t know why I waited so long other than that whole internal homophobia thing!! But when I did finally tell coworkers and random people most of them said “finally!” I came out to my parents in a text message and my mom said “I can’t wait to have more daughters. Be you”. I realize I’m very lucky but at the same time most people weren’t shocked and I bet your soccer team won’t care at all. Work is harder but you will hopefully find that being honest with you are will make you happier and better at work. Hiding is hard and makes you sad. Give up and be you!! If people really love you they still will. I wish you luck in what seems like an impossible and hard tasks to accomplish. You are destined for the best queer life anyone can live!!!

  5. To the person asking about being open at work about family situations, I was never one for telling anything about myself unless I knew people very well and trusted them. I have started to be more open but I had to be ready and it was part of a larger personal transformation of sorts, so I would say that it doesn’t make sense to push it, but if you want to be the kind of person who is generally more open, this might be a nice opportunity (they ask you directly, you can be as vague as you like, you have a good excuse to leave if it gets too detailed, because you’re at work…).

    I have had this same exact conversation with a few people recently, and can imagine being by the coffee machine, and it being like
    “Hey, how’s it going? Doing anything nice with your family for Christmas?”
    “No, I’ll do something with friends because I don’t have a good relationship with my family.”
    “Oh, why?”
    “I just don’t think they’re a positive influence in my life so I’m better off choosing people who make me feel good. [decision point: do I want to get into this with this person in this place and time?] Okay I’ve got a meeting that I need to prepare for, see you later!” or more details if it feels okay for you.

    I also don’t think there’s any shame in lying about these things if you don’t want to get into it. Nobody will be hurt if you say “Yes, it’s going to be fun. What are your plans?”

    Good luck doing what’s best for you!

    • I’m also super uncomfortable telling things about myself to other people, and it has been a REVELATION to slowly comprehend what’s articulated toward the end of this comment: “I also don’t think there’s any shame in lying about these things if you don’t want to get into it. Nobody will be hurt if you say ‘Yes, it’s going to be fun. What are your plans?'”

      Ultimately there’s no obligation to be 100% bare-bones truthful in this kind of situation because the stakes are so low. Co-workers who inquire about holiday plans, weekend plans, etc. are usually just making conversation and don’t consider that asking what they see as an innocuous and friendly question could actually put someone else in an awkward position.

  6. I guess it should be obvious, but honestly “The way you don’t dive into patterns of destruction or fuck with someone else’s heart is to make the active decision 24-hours a day to not do those things!” is actually really really helpful advice to me! I guess I normally make big life decisions about what I do or don’t want, but in the actual moment I often act rashly and make poor decisions……so, here’s a new year of learnin’, growin’, avoidin’ destructive patterns!!

  7. Hello, 32-year-old who’s been in the closet! I’m Vero, 29-year-old who came out to my deeply conservative parents, uh, 13 months ago, and to my general friends groups 10 months ago. This after firm, deep denial for my whole life, but especially since I was a teen. I came out to my parents first and it was… ok. Then I was like, “Ok, hard part done, I don’t need to come out to EVERYONE, if it comes up I’ll be honest, but like, no need to make a big deal about it.” But then the political climate was so shit that I was like, “Nope, totally done with being quiet about this!” And I made this huge fucking FB post about how I was gay and tired of feeling ashamed. Dramatic? Maybe, but it tore the band-aid off, everyone knew after that. Also, I’m a stand-up comedian in my hometown and after I came out on stage, I went to the bathroom and cried in joy. It was amazing. This year hasn’t been good at large, but I have felt more personal joy because I was more honest about who I am and my experiences.

    I’ve felt all the impulses you’ve felt—“Do I look too gay? Do they already know? What do I have to gain from being, like, out-out? Why is this so hard for me if so many other people can do it? Am I a coward? Am I a liar? What’ll happen to my relationships? Will my friends judge me? Will other queer people judge me?” Here’s the thing: other people’s opinions about this don’t matter. It’s your life. It’s your happiness. Do what makes you feel good. Being closeted is a lead weight on your soul, and you don’t even realize the impact it has on you until it’s gone. If you need to do this in steps, do that. But DO do it, because you feel will so much better afterward, I promise.

    Also, yeah, a lot of your friends already know or correctly suspect you’re gay, and they’ll probably tell you after. I know I felt a little silly when people would be like, “Um, yeah Vero, it was really fucking obvious, who did you think you were fooling.” Just a heads up that if you feel foolish about that, don’t. Everyone progresses at their own pace. Your life is your own, that’s what makes you amazing. Best of luck!

    • that was so interesting to read! I’m bisexual and I really don’t have a problem with saying I like girls as well, but I have the same questions running through my head because I don’t want to come across as a lesbian and ppl be like oh yeah right I knew all along when that isn’t the truth.. but I don’t really know who I am referring to when I say “they”, cause my friends know. Probably former teachers and friends of my mom? It’s weird.

  8. I’m 35. I came out to myself in 2015 after years and years of questioning, denial, and internalized homophobia. (Mother. Fucker. Indeed.) Coming out to myself was probably the hardest part. It was right around the time same sex marriage was legalized. At Pride that year I came out to my sister. She’s been my rock through everything.

    A year later I came out to my two best friends. They were totally not surprised and super supportive.

    This year at Pride, I came out to the rest of my family. Grandma is a little weary. Mom, Dad and Aunt love me no matter what. They just want me to be happy. My brother actually offered to fix me up.

    Finally, I decided I was tired of hiding from the rest of the world too. It’s SO EXHAUSTING. I just wanted to be ME.

    So on National Coming Out Day, I crossposted on all my social media platforms and just came out. This was probably the scariest for me because then EVERYONE would know, including co-workers. I was very much NOT OUT at work. Everyone who bothered to comment on it was absolutely positive and supportive. And thank all the deities, not a single person made any mention of it the next day at work.

    People never react the way you think they will. I cannot describe the heaviness that comes off your chest once you come out. It’s so incredibly freeing.

    Baby steps if that’s what works for you, or rip the band-aid off if that method works too. Just embrace your sparkly bad-ass self. You’ll feel like a million bucks after. You deserve happiness. Everyone does.

    Also, are any of you fellow 30-something baby gays interested in starting a club or something? It’s so great to not be the only one.

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