Y’All Need Help #2: You Can’t Avoid Your Ex Forever

Welcome to Y’All Need Help, a weeklyish (maybe?) advice column in which I pluck out a handful of questions from the You Need Help inbox and answer them right here, round-up style, quick and dirty! You can chime in with your own advice in the comments and send your quick and dirty questions to youneedhelp@autostraddle.com.


Another week, another adventure in mixing metaphors and not necessarily being right about things! But, I mean, I am right. Let’s get to it!


I was straight my whole life. I never questioned my sexuality. I became friends with the new girl at work — a gay butch woman — and started hanging out a lot. I never had a clue that she was into me and she never gave out any hints. Then one day, we were sitting on the couch, and BAM she was kissing me. I went with it obviously, I didn’t want to make her feel bad by rejecting her, especially because she was not only my friend but my co-worker and I had to see her everyday. After that night, I went home confused as all hell because I had this weird feeling of wanting more. So I kept hanging out with her, and the kissing kept happening. Next thing I know, its a month later, my clothes are all over her room, I haven’t slept at home that entire month, and I’m sitting on her bed stuck right in the middle of the “are you my girlfriend” conversation. Like I said, I was never gay, never liked or thought about girls until one day I was slapped in the face with the realization that I WAS, in fact, dating a girl. We were together for three years and every time I was faced with the “are you gay” discussions, I always denied it. I didn’t honestly believe I was gay. And I still wasn’t attracted to girls (even though I was dating one). It wasn’t until one day, shortly after our break up, that I literally woke up and thought “Omg butches are fucking hot”. I suddenly became obsessed with women and completely attracted to them.

So now for the real question behind all the seemingly redundant history.

Since I am soooo new to the lesbian world, I don’t even know where to start. I feel like a fish out of water. I don’t have any friends that aren’t straight to help guide me. I feel like I don’t fit in because I wasn’t a lesbian from the “beginning.” I don’t know how to go about meeting others or even how to spot them if I did cross paths with them. I don’t know any places to go (besides the bar), that I can make new friends and satisfy my new found obsession with women. I live in Chicago. What are some fun places to go or things to do that I’ll likely meet other lesbians? And will the new LGBT people I meet reject me for not always playing for their team? Will they think it’s just a phase or treat me like a poser? I certainly know this is not a phase, I’m not just curious, I’m literally just a lesbian who took a little longer to figure it out.

Sincerely,
A clueless baby

Holy cats, Clueless, do you have any idea where you are?? You’re practically sitting on a lesbian volcano right now. Chicago is like, one of the prime places for cool queer women — I mean it’s up there with Oakland/Berkeley, LA, Portland, Bushwick — you are SURROUNDED by other lesbians. Do you have a dead cat handy? Swing it around. YOU ARE HITTING SO MANY QUEER WOMEN.

lesbian donuts

Ok but seriously listen up, here’s the deal with being a lesbian who took a little longer to figure it out: That’s fine. It’s totally fine. Look at all these queer women who came out well beyond their teens/early 20s! So many, right? And while you’re there you should just read the whole article because Laura nailed it. Everyone figures things out about themselves in their own time. I didn’t know I liked dark chocolate until I was 28, Clueless. Twenty-eight! Twenty-eight stupid years without dark chocolate! That’s a goddamn tragedy, but it sure as heck doesn’t make me a poser. I will fight any one of you for the last delicious square of 85% cacao, and I’ll win. I also didn’t know I was gay until I was 25 or so, and would you just look at me now? All I do is have lesbian sex and eat dark chocolate and hang out with queer women on mountains and executively edit this very website you’re reading!

And yes, there are some butthurt, petty, pathetic children in this world who spend their lives trying to make other people feel like shit about themselves, and those children may very well attempt to do this to you. They might discount your identity, make fun of you, even call you a ‘failed heterosexual’ (a personal favorite). If they do, be grateful, my Clueless, for they have made it supremely easy for you write them off as complete fucking idiots. Isn’t it nice when people show you upfront what an asshole they are? Bless their hearts. People like us don’t bother with people like them, because we’re having entirely too much fun supporting each other and living fulfilling lives and having dark chocolate lesbian sex parties.

I’m gonna let the Chicago Straddlers play us out in the comments, because I know they have some great suggestions re: how to go about meeting awesome lesbians in Chicagoland. Also here is their Facebook group for meetups and other rad happenings! Crystal, who is moving to Chicago from Australia to marry her fiancée and be adorable forever, says there’s also a very active Straddlers book club. Now get out there and live your life!


I ended a years-long relationship about eight months ago. It was long overdue and I was more than ready to pull the plug. The problem is that my ex and I live in a small town and see each other often, including at 100% of gay lady events. I’m completely over her, so it’s not really about being hurt so much as feeling super awkward talking to other women and watching her do the same while we’re literally in the same room.

I’ve rearranged plans to avoid seeing her a few times, but obviously this can’t go on forever and not doing something I want to do because of this feels cowardly. I’ve gone through break ups and had to hang out around an ex before, but never when the relationship was this serious or the break up was this ugly.

I know there’s no actual solution here, so I guess my question is just: What’s the best way to suck it up and act like an adult about this?

This is a tough yet extremely simple situation, because the truth is that you just have to look at your priorities and then act accordingly, and that’s really it. It’s what adults do and it isn’t always easy or fun, but it’s how people live! You’ve actually been doing this, you were just working with a different set of priorities, and now they’ve evolved. The original set of post-breakup priorities you were working with were probably like:

1. Limit the possibility of confrontations.
2. Only participate in activities and thoughts that are the least likely to end in me crying/yelling.

Those are very valid priorities! Your well-being and emotional balance post-breakup are fragile, itty bitty little things, like a basketful of bubbles. Everything could pop or float away at the slightest breeze or stumble. It takes a lot of time and energy to prioritize the care of these bubbles because without them, you’re kind of nothing, but even with them you’re sort of nothing, because all you are is them and the caring of them, and they are bubbles. It’s exhausting but necessary work.

Over time the bubbles eventually turn into something like… an egg? Like if your heart was in an eggshell; a heart egg. So the moment you start thinking, “Ugh I feel stifled and annoyed by this situation with the basket full of bubbles,” it’s because your bubbles are a heart egg now. Congratulations! Your heart/egg thing still needs near-constant protection, but also some oxygen and music and other people. They need to be carefully moved around and inspected for damages. They need warmth and attention! But also air.

And you know this! You know it because you wrote this email and you’re ready to breathe; ready for your fragile little heart to see the sun again. Sticking your heart egg in the sun will be horrifying and dangerous, but it’s time. It might get bruised, you might feel so awkward that you want to claw your brain out of your skull (graphic!), you might feel extremely sad or guilty about a number of things, but also? You might have a great time. You’ll definitely get better at not clawing out your brain, and at forgiving yourself and other people, and letting things go. And you’ll absolutely build a stronger, healthier little heart, so that when it’s ready, it’ll punch right through your chest and fly out into the world with its own agenda and you’ll have to run to keep up.

the time has come my little friends

This is just something you have to do. You’ll have to live through awkward, weird, sad, uncomfortable situations — right through to the end of them — and you will make it to the end of each and every one of them, with your heart still beating and your skull still full of brains. You’ll go home and wake up and do it again. You’ll get really good at it, because that’s life. This is a thing you can do!


I have two groups of friends who I hang out with — one from high school and the other from my area. My high school friends have continued on with our friendship exactly the same as before I came out, but my other friends have made me being gay one of my biggest characteristics. Being gay is a huge part of who I am, which is why I wanted to come out, but it also doesn’t define me. For my local friends, me being gay is treated in the same manner in which we tease one of my friends for being a bit of a ditz. Its a constant talking topic and related back to everything I do or say. I don’t think they are doing so in a malicious way, and I sometimes join in making jokes about it. I’m just not sure about how to try and resolve the situation.

I don’t want to confront my friends because I don’t want it to come across as an attack. How are they supposed to know they are making me uncomfortable if I sometimes take part in the ‘joking’. I’m just nervous that any new people I meet through this particular group of friends will only come to know me as The Gay One. I have no intention of ever hiding my sexuality, but its not the only thing I’d like to be known for. Not only to new people, but this isn’t only what I want to be known for to my friends. I know this probably isn’t the most pressing situation, but I’m sure if I don’t deal with this situation now, it will shape the rest of our friendship moving forward.

Oh damn that would irritate the heck out of me! They’re probably doing this because they’re either very excited to finally have a queer person in their friend circle, or they’re still sort of uncomfortable about it and they’re trying that thing where you normalize something by just repeating it over and over again. Like when I spent my first summer in Phoenix saying to myself “You’re awake, in the desert! You woke up in the desert this morning and this is where you live now. In the desert! Living that desert life! In the desert! Desert-dweller! Aaaah!” because few things are more jarring than waking up in the fucking desert in the summer. People aren’t meant to live in the desert, you know? It’s fucking hot here. If you will literally die in an environment without air conditioning — and I’m not talking about being uncomfortably hot or even heatstroke, but actual death — you should not build your home in that environment! It’s very simple! But I DIGRESS, READER.

So maybe your friends are either extremely psyched or still weirded out, maybe both, maybe neither (this is a professional advice column), and you’re worried that the new people you’ll meet through this group will only see you as The Gay One, and I have to say that that’s just not going to happen (or it will happen, but more on that in a second). People who are the kind of people who you want as friends will go out of their way to learn more about you beyond the surface things, and you’ll feel comfortable letting them in on the deeper parts of yourself, and they’ll interact more and more with those deeper parts, and respect them more and more, and that’s how you’ll become actual friends. People who don’t go out of their way to learn more about you aren’t the kind of people you’ll be friends with, and that’s true for any situation, whether we’re gay or tall or ditzy or whatever.

There are definitely people in my own family who think of me strictly as ‘the one who got pregnant in high school, moved off to California, became a lesbian, and now lives a life of sin in the desert of all places,’ and while all of those things are true about me, they’re certainly not my entire story. It’s just tough titties for them because little do they know that I’m also getting into herb gardening and one time I made a quilt! I can recite all of Dirty Dancing, my wife is the most selfless human on earth, my kids are brilliant, Brittani Nichols is following me on Twitter, AND I’m really, really good at making mashed potatoes! Like I frighten my own self with how amazing my mashed potatoes are. Those poor motherfuckers will never know, ever. Any new people in your life who don’t make an effort to get to know you beyond being The Gay One are missing out on all of your unique talents and world views and quirks, and that’s just sad for them. Womp.

gay face

As for the people who are already your friends but can’t seem to move past your queer identity, what if you played a fun game where you only referred to them as The Straights, and brought every interaction back to their straightness? For example:

“Oh I bet you and your girlfriend like this boring, mainstream romcom, don’t you Todd? Since y’all are just straight.”

“I was reading an interesting article about straight people the other day — did you know y’all are 80% less likely to have an orgasm with your partner than queer people are? That’s sad, friend. Damn. Do you need to talk about it?”

“Does this shirt make me look straight?”

“Some of my queer friends think that all sexuality is fluid, but I stood up for you guys! I said ‘No, Alex, some sexuality ISN’T fluid. I know at least four people who are so dedicated to their straightness, you have no idea. Don’t ever talk about my friends like that again!’ Because I’m such a good ally for you people.”

“Hey, is that girl straight? I mean, she’s wearing mom jeans and an almost-mullet, but I can’t tell if it’s literal or… I don’t know I just figured you could tell when people are straight like you.”

“Do you think you straight people have as much fun at Disneyland? I don’t see how you can, Jennifer. I really don’t see how you can.”

But seriously, I think you can just tell them that it’s annoying and encourage them to knock it off, if it bothers you that much! I think most people are interested in not being accidental assholes to their friends, and would maybe appreciate you telling them how you feel. This might also be a good opportunity to reconsider how you treat your ditzy friend, now that you’re on the subject. I’m just saying!


I wish you all the very very best! Do you have advice for these advice seekers? Drop your thoughts in the comments! Need some quick advice for yourself? Email youneedhelp@autostraddle.com!

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 866 articles for us.

53 Comments

  1. So much beautiful advice, but most of all I want to say HOW GREAT ARE THESE GRAPHICS. I wanna put “I’m so much more than just a pretty gay face” on my wall. I hope they stay a part of this column forever.

    P.S. LW#1, there’s always more room for Butch Appreciators in my queer world, welcome to the fam!

  2. LW 1, I help organize/moderate both Chicagostraddler book clubs (one is queers reading books, one is queers reading Great Works of Literature), and it would be awesome to have you! And/or hang out. And the Chicagostraddlers in general are pretty awesome and fairly active. PM me!

  3. Ahem, I have had possibly the most positive exp with ex’s(gays and straights) by having conversations ONLY WITH OTHER PEOPLE PRESENT! (I should note I wouldn’t call anyone I’ve dated crazy, which is a whole ‘nother bag of cats) just for a few months, till you’re in love with yourself again and they probs already have a crush on someone else, the external pressure to ‘be an adult’ is suuuuper helful. Then if you’re careful, you can have a friend who sees through your bullshit immediately, which I highly recommend.

  4. Hey there Clueless! I live in Chicago, let’s be friends!
    For serious there are tons of lesbians in Chicago. Join the facebook group for tons of meet ups and if you are in absolutely any way book inclined I highly recommend joining our Chicagostraddler Book group. We meet once a month and its totally not a big deal if you didn’t even read the book. Come out anyway and hang out. We generally (aka always) spend more time socializing than having deep literary discussions. (And if that’s your jam there is the Chicagostraddlers Other Book Group which tends to have more in depth discussions about the texts) I moved to Chicago a year ago and after one book group session it was like Insta Friends!
    Welcome to the Windy City lady!!

  5. Can I also say to person #1, if anyone ever again just starts randomly kissing you, please don’t feel that you have to “go along with it” so as not to hurt their feelings. I mean, it seems to have worked out ok for you in that case, but you are not obligated to kiss anybody for any reason.

      • although i don’t think this was random kissing — but it’s true that you shouldn’t feel pressured to kiss someone just so you don’t embarrass them or because you have to work with them later. though i can say with conviction that i’ve definitely acquiesced in a similar way, multiple times, and the only instances i wish i could’ve done differently — ie had the guts to stand up for what i didn’t actually want to do — were the times in high school when boys and alcohol were involved. i’ve let a couple of queer girl kiss me when i wasn’t really feeling it and it was 100% not as terrible as when i let straight boys do it. this is just my experience obvs, but it felt important to sort of expand on what i meant when i replied to your comment! i’ve just had a different level of trust and understanding with queer girls than i’ve had with straight boys — i think it has a lot to do with how we’re socialized for straight boys to feel entitled to take whatever they want, whereas the queer girls i’ve been involved with definitely didn’t feel that same sense of entitlement (instead it was more like a terrified attempt to not be humiliated after being honest and trying something). it sounds like i’m saying i felt sorry for those girls, but really i just was comfortable (and maybe also felt a solidarity with them) being what they needed me to be in that moment, knowing i could handle any resulting awkwardness and/or end things gently at a later date. i wouldn’t have had sex with them for those same reasons, though. idk! trying to kiss people or letting them kiss you: it’s not always black and white! la la la!

        • For sure, these are all valid thoughts/feelings! I’ve only ever been surprise-kissed by boys and felt squicky about it, but I can see that it could be different with girls. I also realize it’s totally possible that the letter-writer maybe had unacknowledged subconscious tingly feelings about this person already, so there may have been more to it than just going along with it for the sake of it. But just the way that it was worded, I felt like I wanted to respond to that.

          • Yes! Everything you’ve said here! And I’m glad you responded to the thing you wanted to respond to, really. This was a cathartic conversation that I wasn’t expecting to have, but I’m glad we did. HUZZAH!

  6. I know the point of these are to provide advice to queers but for me it’s also just a nice chance to be reminded of how much I love you Laneia and how right you are about everything

  7. Also, Clueless; we built this city on the backs of late-in-life lesbians — I also had no fucking clue I was gay until my mid-twenties and now look I made this weird website. So, welcome!

  8. Holy moly, I love this column and the graphics! Laneia, you are hilarious and brilliant and you seem super nice.

    The not avoiding your ex advice is so spot on. My little heart egg is finally out of the basket of bubbles stage, after my first real heartbreak and ten months of self-reflection and tears, and it is so exciting!!!

  9. …I know this isn’t the point at all but (at least from my limited perspective) getting pregnant in high school, moving off to California, becoming a lesbian, and now living a life of sin in the desert of all places sounds like an epic story even though it’s obviously not the whole truth of the person?

    • you can send me a direct message via autostraddle social! go to your profile > messages > compose > send to “green”. you have to be a registered commenter to do this, but you can just use a fake account if you’re trying to be super anonymous.

      but i can promise you that we never share your email info with anyone ever ever.

  10. Laneia, you are the best! My favorite was: “Sticking your heart egg in the sun will be horrifying and dangerous, but it’s time.” God bless you. And can I please please please have a dark chocolate lesbian sex party??!!

  11. This is so great! Clueless (& others in Chicago) – I mod the main Chicagostraddler Facebook group; please reach out here or there. We’re growing pretty quickly and there are always new people at every meetup!

  12. “If they do, be grateful, my Clueless, for they have made it supremely easy for you write them off as complete fucking idiots.”

    My favorite thing ever!! I came out when I was 30 and had absolutely no gay friends what so ever. When I met people, I was just honest about the fact that I had no idea, and now that I did, I was gonna try and “make up for lost time” – that meant putting myself out there and making friends! Don’t worry about it! If people don’t accept it, screw them. There are WAY more people who will. Good luck! Chicago is amazing, and you will no doubt find your group of people soon.

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