After a short summer break, Y’All Need Help is back and ready to boss you around town. Just a quick content note for you: the last question in this batch deals directly with sexual assault in detail. There’s another note above the actual question and I’m asking that anyone responding to that question in their comment please preface that portion of your comment with “Q4” so everyone can take the best care of their mental health on this gorgeous Saturday. Thank you!
Q: Moving on after ruining a friendship
I recently had a falling out with my best friend months ago which has probably left our relationship irreparable. It turns out that I was the friend who was constantly confiding in a friend about mental health problems when I should have just seen a therapist. Along with that I always said and did some bad things that made her think I didn’t respect her. She was my best friend in the whole world and now we hardly even talk to each other.
She blames some of this on her not communicating with me which is partly true. But I can’t help but feeling I ruined this relationship. I feel incredibly guilty all the time and the initial split really sent me spiraling. I’m not sure if there is anything left to save? And I don’t know how to prevent this from happening in future relationships. I’m seeing a therapist now but how do I know when sharing is too much?
This is such a tough and sad and lonely position to be in, and I’m so sorry! I really related to you constantly being the one confiding in her — I had a similar relationship dynamic with my best friend in my early 20s and it wasn’t great. Every single time we’d be in the same room together, I’d need to tell her about whatever my most recent issue was, and she’d kindly try to process with me, only to have to do it all over again the next time she saw me! HOW AWFUL. I’m squirmy right now just remembering it aaaahhhhh!
But back to YOU. Try not to be too super hard on yourself — we are imperfect and we will absolutely fuck things up, several times over the course of our lives! You’ll do or say so many things that you’ll need to learn from and actively forgive yourself for, and this is for sure one of those things. Obviously I can’t speak to whether or not this particular friendship is salvageable, but! It’s so great that you’re seeing a therapist! Hopefully it’s one you like and you’re having a hell of a useful time when you’re there, and talking with them is helping you parse out if there’s anything left to save with this person.
When you’re thinking about how to avoid this in future relationships, maybe focus less on ‘not sharing too much’ and more on balancing your own concerns about yourself and your problems with the concerns and interests you have for the other person and their life. Show your genuine interest in them frequently, especially when you won’t immediately be asking for anything in return.
Another thoughtful thing I try to do is ask the other person if they actually have the time or emotional bandwidth to help me with something, before I tell them anything about it. This is just a little heads up that I hope shows them that I don’t take them or their own mental health for granted, and that they shouldn’t feel obligated to be my emotional support at the drop of a hat. Life isn’t a neat little series of steps though, so sometimes I definitely offload my worries without checking in first. Again, we are imperfect angel beasts!
I bet the readers will also have some tips for practicing good boundaries and being a good friend!
Q: Working this body hair at work
Hello Autostraddle! I’m a femme queer who works a desk job at a university. My office is very liberal, I’m out at work, and even though it’s a pretty small office, I’m not even the only queer! Now that it’s getting warmer out, I’ve started wearing my spring/summer dresses, which I love and make me very happy. Here’s the thing, though–I don’t love shaving my legs. This isn’t an issue in the winter, since tights exist, but now it’s the season of bare legs. My supervisor, though very cool, is a sharp, professional, and feminine dresser (she’s also super-straight). Nobody has ever said anything when I wear dresses and am a little fuzzy, but I’m not sure what is “work appropriate”. I realize that most masc-presenting folks and people who don’t often shave usually stick to pants at work, but that’s just not my style. So what do I do? What is professional? And just how hairy can I get without crossing the “work appropriate” line?
BOY HOWDY you wear the dang dresses, is what you do! Your legs being hairy or shaved has zippity doo dah to do with whether or not you should wear those dresses. You can braid that leg hair right at your damn desk if you want to. If the dress itself is work appropriate, that’s all that matters.
If any men in your office are asked to shave their arms or legs before they’re allowed to wear certain clothing, call me.
Q: Is it even worth coming out?
I’m a lady in my early thirties finally coming around to the notion that I’m probably (definitely) queer, or at least sexually fluid, after years of everybody telling me I’m probably (definitely) queer, which for the record was extraordinarily unhelpful. I’m about to get married – yay! – to a man who would fully support my queerness. It’s a hetero appearing relationship, and we’re monogamous, so… is there any point to the coming out? What does it mean to come out and “explore” your sexuality if you’re, you know, not sleeping with other people? Also, as a bonus, is there a way to prevent folks from harping on with the likely combination of many unhelpful “I told you sos,” and handful of “I don’t believe yous” if I do come out???
I wish people would stop doing that! Everyone reading this has to promise me that you’ll never tell someone who identifies as straight that they’re actually probably queer! It’s so obnoxious. Gaydar gossip amongst queer friends is one thing, but presenting your unsolicited gaydar findings directly to the person in question is just tacky. TACKY.
Sorry, thank you for letting soapbox in your answer! A, congratulations on your upcoming marriage! B, only you can decide if there’s a point in coming out! But also consider, does everything you do have to have a point per se? I meannnnn. Realizing you’re queer is a pretty exciting development in a person’s life — lots of things click into place, lots of things are relearned, lots to think about! If you decided to share this personal development with other people, it would be well within your rights as a human and totally legal and cool. Sharing things about yourself with the people in your life who care about you is never pointless, in my extremely unhumble opinion.
There are lots and lots of ways to explore your sexuality if you’re not sleeping with other people! Look into queer history because you definitely weren’t taught any in school. Get to know the local, state, and national policies that affect the queer community, and find out how you can leverage any of your personal privilege to help move the needle forward for other LGBTQ people. Join in on the local queer happenings, because you’re queer! Play around with your look — heteronormativity’s #1 job is to put everyone in tight boxes determined by genitals and relationship status, and one of the best thing about being queer is smashing all those boxes to hell and building your own life and sense of self in a way that actually works for you.
If learning about discrimination laws isn’t sexy enough for you, you can also bring some queerness into your actual sex life by ummmmm (sex advice isn’t my forte, so) letting your fantasies get really really gay, reading queer erotica, pegging your fiancé, buying yourself a lap dance, etc!
And finally, I’m afraid there’s no way to prevent people from being total douchebags, so if you think someone will likely respond with “I told you so!” your options are to not tell them at all, or to tell them clean off when they say that to you. People who don’t believe you’re queer are really just saying they don’t care what you say about yourself, thereby making them useless assholes who are stupid to boot, and they also cannot be helped. Pay them no attention. Surround yourself with the people in your life who respect you, care about what you say, and would never be obtuse or tacky enough to say “I told you so!”
Oh and just for the record, you do not have to wear a cage bra to get into queer girl events. It’ll seem like you do, but trust me on this.
This is the final question today and it deals with sexual assault in detail. If you’re not in a mental place where you can safely read about this topic, just know that you can scroll right past it now to get to the comments and discuss the other three topics.
If you do choose to read this portion and include a response to it in your comment, please preface that portion of your response with “Q4” to give other readers a heads up. Thank you!
Q4: Was it sexual assault?
When I was 18, not out, and completely denying the fact that I was gay, I wanted to fit in. All my friends had boyfriends. I grew up in a smallish town with no access to gay friends, either. I started dating a boy (man) who was about 5 years older than me at the time. We’d spend time at his house together and one day I was laying on his bed and he started to take off my pants. I said “no” and tried to pull them back up. He insisted that he just wanted to make me feel good. I still said “no,” but he continued to pull down my pants. He performed oral sex on me. I was a virgin at the time and had no experience with anything even remotely sexual. I’ve struggled with the idea of justifying this as rape afterward, because there was a part of me who liked it. It did ‘feel good’ to have someone touch me in that area. But I’ve always felt sick about it. About liking it. About saying no and feeling like my voice didn’t matter. About not wanting to be a victim of something that seemed like a very minor case of sexual assault when so many other people have had it so much worse. But now, over 10 years later, I still think about it. I feel upset at myself for putting myself in that position. And for letting him feel as if that was ok. For not having any backbone. And yet, I still find myself not thinking about this incident as rape. Am I wrong in thinking that this incident doesn’t belong in that category because it didn’t cause me physical harm?
I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m sorry you’ve carried the shame and guilt for over a decade when you did absolutely nothing wrong. You didn’t put yourself in any position, you didn’t let him feel as if it was ok, the existence of your backbone is not in question.
A culture of rape and violence against women put you in that position on the day you were born, and it let him feel as if what he was doing was ok. His own moral shortcomings and sense of entitlement let him tell himself, and you, that he was doing you a favor that day. A society that devalues women and discourages women’s bodily autonomy created an environment that lets all this shit happen every motherfucking day with impunity.
The definition of rape is “sexual activity carried out forcibly against a person’s will.” It doesn’t have to be physically violent, it doesn’t have to hurt, it doesn’t have to involve screaming, it doesn’t have to result in bodily injury. But listen, if you don’t want to put what happened to you in the category of rape, you don’t have to. Maybe using the term “sexual assault” would be easier for you; it would certainly still be true. You could even just call it the worst fucking sex of your entire life, if you’d rather. Whatever words you use to describe it to yourself or to other people won’t change the fact that it was traumatizing, not your fault, and 100% not ok.
I know this is way easier said than done, but really try to give yourself permission to let go of the shame you’re carrying for liking the way it felt. Genitals are designed to feel good when touched. That’s it. Erectile tissue responds to stimulation. One of the most insidious elements of abuse is the fact that it can and sometimes does feel objectively ‘good’, and the shame and anger and confusion that comes with this can be overwhelming. It’s like your body betrayed you, or like something is seriously wrong with you. It can even make you question whether or not you really didn’t want it to happen after all. But your body just did what it will do, and nothing is wrong with you. You can trust yourself.
RAINN has both a hotline and a live chat, if you think you might find it helpful to talk to someone, especially someone specifically trained to have that conversation. (I think you might.) (I did.)
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.