Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.
I didn’t know I was gay until I met the girl I fell in love with. It was a poly relationship. She had been in an open relationship with her boyfriend and decided to change their rule of “date me, fuck whoever” when I told her that I was interested in her. So, she had a boyfriend and a girlfriend and things were good. Then, she broke up with me when she realized that she had changed the rules on hey boyfriend and didn’t have enough love left for both of us. I came out to myself for her, to my super religious family for her. She was my best friend and I’m pretty heartbroken.
That said, she knew me really well before we got tother. So, she knew all about my PTSD and how I’ve always been heteroromantic but asexual. I did what guys wanted me to do while either crying and hyperventilating or singing the ABCs in my head until it was over. Physical intimacy was, at the sexual level, terrifying and at the affection, kissing and cuddling, level, boring or awkward. The thing is, this changed with the girlfriend. I wanted her to touch me. I wasn’t ready to sleep with her yet when we broke up, but I was considering it. The thing is, I don’t know now whether or not I actually could enjoy sexual things that I didn’t enjoy in my hetero relationships. Was I not into it because I was gay and didn’t know it yet or because early sexual abuse experiences ruined me for enjoying sexual relationships? I’m so sheltered and so new to being gay.
I want to be able to rebound and just have fun with somebody without all of the emotional stuff… but I’ve never done much more than kiss a girl and have no idea how it will feel to be with a girl, no idea whether or not it will trigger me the way it has with men. Any advice would be amazing. I’m a half-closeted twenty-year-old pastor’s daughter. The level at which I don’t know what the hell I’m doing is almost impressive. Please help me out here.
Cricket, hello! I’m going to let you in on a little secret that might help ease your worries enough for you to breathe just a little bit, just a Cricket-sized breath, and in that space we’re going to find a little peace together. You ready? The level at which all of us don’t know what the hell we’re doing is pretty impressive. I don’t just mean me and you; I mean all of us, every one of us, humanity as a whole. We’re all out here winging it, Cricket, trying our best every day. And that’s okay, that’s just okay. That’s what it’s like to be a human being on this wide and wondrous planet.
I’m sorry you’ve recently had your heart broken. It sounds like you gave so much of yourself to your girlfriend, that you risked so much and summoned up a whole lot of courage you didn’t even know you had to be with her. And on top of the romantic heartbreak, she was your best friend. It’s a common queer conundrum, that double-layered heartache because women are wonderful and female intimacy is singular, and oh, I’m just so sorry you’re hurting so much right now. Time and space will help heal your wounds. I promise you that, Cricket. I know it doesn’t feel true right now, but it is true.
Your struggle as you look forward is to understand if you’re really a heteroromantic or homoromantic or biromantic asexual or a lesbian who just hated engaging in physical intimacy with men (a thing that is made even more complicated because you’re a survivor). I’ll tell you right now that either of those identities are super valid, and so are some other ones you might explore as you begin this new journey of self-discovery.
Here’s where I’m coming from: I grew up as basically a pastor’s daughter in a teeny-tiny town in the northeast Georgia mountains and the last thing on earth I ever wanted to do was have sex with or make out with or even kiss a dude. I was bred as a Southern Baptist, which gave me plenty of reasons not to let a guy touch my boobs. For example, it would break Jesus’ heart. And also I would go to hell. I thought — truly, Cricket, until I was 24 years old I really believed — that the reason I didn’t want a man to touch me was because God himself was guarding me from being overtaken by lust and falling victim to Satan’s grand plan to snatch my soul from my body and ferry it away into the fiery pits of eternal agony.
I always felt nauseous trying to force physical intimacy with guys, even though I really liked the guys I dated. They were good guys! The last boyfriend I ever had (again, in my mid-20s), I told him that God told me that he didn’t even want me to do kissing before marriage. Like that God spoke to me the way he did to Moses from the burning bush, but instead of grand plans to free his people from enslavement, God just wanted me to know I shouldn’t put my lips on a boy’s lips. One night my boyfriend tried it anyway, and I threw up on him.
Cricket, it wasn’t Jesus. He hadn’t cast a spell on me to keep me from getting sin-fire in my loins. Possibly he also had not spoken to me to tell me to not to smooch a dude. I was gay, Cricket. When I figured out who I wanted to roll around on the floor with, all I wanted to do was roll around on the floor.
Maybe that’s the case with you too.
Hey, or you know what? You might be homoromantic asexual. And that can mean so many things. It could mean the idea of sex grosses you out, period. It could mean you get turned on seeing girls have sex on TV, but don’t want to have sex yourself. It could mean you don’t find anyone sexually attractive. Or that you do find certain people sexually attractive, but aren’t really into having sex with them. Or you might have a desire to be physically affectionate with someone you trust without it turning into sex. Or that with certain people in certain circumstances you do want to have sex. It could mean you need to really, really get to know and trust someone before you consider physical intimacy with them. It could mean a hundred billion things, Cricket, and all of them are okay. All of them are normal.
Or you know what else? It might be that being touched by anyone in certain ways at certain times is going to be triggering for you because you’re a survivor. Or sometimes you might not be triggered by a thing at all, and then the next time you might absolutely be triggered by it. Or you might not ever be triggered. And those things also are normal, and those things also are okay. You’ve been through so much, so very much, and you never have to issue a blanket of consent to anyone.
You’re going to find out what you want and what you need by trying new things and communicating with the women you allow into your life. I know that sounds terrifying, but that’s how queer women have been figuring out their deals since the dawn of time. Every two people who come together to figure out what sex between them will look like encounter a unique alchemy. We bring all of our experiences into that moment, the euphoric ones and the traumatic ones. We bring all of our insecurities, all the TV shows we’ve watched and books we’ve read and advertisements we’ve seen, all the advice our friends and family have given us. We bring our cultural programming and our religious upbringings. Sometimes we bring our sweetest hopes and deepest fears too. And the other person in the scenario, they bring that stuff with them.
Cricket, you’re going to meet women who aren’t interested in having that conversation. They don’t want to know everything you’re bringing to bed with you and they don’t want you to know everything they’re bringing to bed with them. They just want to go to bed, that’s the main thing. And that’s okay. You can try that, if you want. You can walk confidently into those situations and give it a go. You might find out you were made for casual flings! If you decide you’re not, no matter where you are or who you’re with or what you’re doing, you can stop when you realize it’s not right for you.
But it’s also okay if that’s not who you are. I’ve never been able to have sex without having the conversation, without talking about what I’m bringing into it and what my partner is bringing into it. I can’t have sex without an emotional connection. And in my whole life, no woman I’ve ever been with has ever pushed back against that or pushed back about my desire to take things slowly and figure out what I need and want as we go. And the women who have talked to me about what they’re bringing into the bedroom, whether it’s triggers or past abuses or insecurities or questions they don’t have the answers to, I’ve never pushed back or pushed them away either.
Not everyone’s like that, but lots of queer women are! Most queer women, I’d guess! Nearly all the queer women I know, at least. You just have to be honest up front (maybe not first date up front, but probably third date up front) and establish connections with women who want to walk through these things with you, as you walk through their things with them.
I know it seems like all the other queer woman on the planet are just out there having casual, life-altering sex whenever the mood strikes them with no hang-ups or worries in the world. It’s not true!
Cricket, when I was 27 years old, I was working for a tiny company in a tiny cubicle in a tiny town in Nowhere, Georgia. I was reading Riese’s The L Word recaps on the sly and thinking I was never going to be able to come out, not really, never going to be able to say, “I’m a lesbian!” to my whole family and all my friends and have them be okay with it. I was in a toxic, unfulfilling, impossible-to-define relationship that was ruining all my other relationships. I didn’t know what I was doing. Not just in the sack (though that was part of it). I fully, wholly didn’t know what I was doing. Not with my career. Not with my love life. Not with my sexuality. Not with anything.
Ten years later I get to work with these rare and wonderful women at Autostraddle, a website Riese founded from the blog where she wrote those The L Word recaps I used to sneak away to read. I wake up every day beside my girlfriend of six years in New York City, and when we’re out in the world I kiss her and hug her and the bartender at our favorite restaurant rolls his eyes and says we act like we haven’t seen each other in a month. I am out to everyone, and even the people in my family who had a hard time with it have come to embrace it and to celebrate my relationship. Cricket, I was too scared to even walk past the LGBT section at Barnes and Noble ten years ago! Now I work at the greatest and most popular queer lady website in the entire world!
And I still don’t always know what I am doing.
The most courageous thing any of us can do is to try to move forward just a little bit every single day, in the best way we can, with the tools we have available to us. And then move forward a little bit more the next day. And the next day. And the next. You don’t have to know everything about who you are and what you want right now. Just trust that you will figure out — hour by hour, day by day, relationship by relationship — what sustains your soul in this world. Maybe part of that soul-sustenance is sex. Maybe it’s not. Either thing is okay. Either thing is just right. You’re just right, Cricket. Every experience you have will help you color in the lines of who you are.
Remember the part about every two people who come together forming their own alchemy. And be as kind and gentle with yourself as you are with the people you love most.
All the light,
Heather you are such a beautiful soul- this advice was like a warm blanket, I hope it helps Cricket.
Heather I want to forever read your answers to “you need help”. This is the most comforting thing ever.
Man I’m dreaming of the Hufflepuff Common Room, how awesome it must be!
Wonderful as always. Thanks Heather
I felt a tug at my heart strings reading this. I feel bad for Cricket and the heartache that she is feeling, not to mention the sexual confusion. It’s never easy to put yourself out like that especially when you are starting to discover your sexuality or identity. Discovery is one of those things that is never over in many parts of our lives. Sex can make the process even more confusing especially if you are a survivor. Touching can be a very big deal even after making peace with the past. So I offer some virtual hugs, the best virtual hot cocoa and my support to Cricket. Don’t be afraid to discover who you are and what you like.
Ditto on everything here. Virtual consensual hugs Cricket
this is by far one of the sweetest and most affirming posts on this website <3 <3 <3
This is lovely and comforting and I’m so glad you wrote it.
Heather, thank you for working at this, the greatest and most popular queer lady website in the entire world :) You are so wise! So reassuring!
Heather, this is a solid affirmation. None of us have it all figured out, and that is okay! Coming out and exploring your identity can be a difficult process to begin with and adding all the layers that come with sexual trauma can make it even more difficult, but it isn’t impossible. Sometimes we just need a little time and a little gentleness.
I love this and I love you, and oh little Cricket, I love you as well. I think it’s so great that we are all learning so much about intersectionality, and discovering not just who we are, but how to articulate that to the world around us. But! When we don’t have those words, I fear that too many of us think there’s something Wrong With Us. But there isn’t! Just like you said, Tater, we’re all just stumbling and bumbling around, hoping our lamplight lands on the right path. I hope Cricket will find some peace and strength in this. Because whether she’s ace, or gray ace, or demi, or gay, or too wild and wondrous to fit neatly in a box, she’s worthy of love and respect and compassion. And since you didn’t include it, Heather Anne, I think she needs a smidgen of your favorite poem.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Hang in there, little one!
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How/where do you send something for You Need Help?
Heather, this almost made me cry. I’m at work, so that’s not optimal, but this was so soothing and reassuring, as well as light-hearted in a comforting way. Thank you for it.
I would like to say something about this though:
“And in my whole life, no woman I’ve ever been with has ever pushed back against that or pushed back about my desire to take things slowly and figure out what I need and want as we go.”
As sweet as this is and as glad as I am that you haven’t had that experience and as much as I think that affirming Cricket is necessary and important, I think it is also important to note that women can be perpetrators of abuse and sexual violence too. We don’t talk about it as much, but I don’t want Cricket to be unaware.
Cricket, there might be women who push back at your desire to take things slowly, but you have the right to take your time and figure things out. And it’s not okay for anyone to make you feel pressured to do anything sexually that you don’t want to.
oof so real.
Women are definitely so much better about this stuff than men are, but, under patriarchy, none of us are taught how to treat women ethically.
Thanks for bringing this up.
Just crying because I needed to hear this too
As a therapist, I wish I could bundle Heather up and send her home with all my clients. Everyone deserves a Heather in their life, to help them feel supported and to help affirm that whoever they are, whatever their experience is, it is valid and meaningful.
Merch idea: the warm Heather blanket :)
Thank you so much for this perfect piece of advice. I hope it helps cricket and everyone else struggling with the same thing who didn’t have the courage to even write the question. I clicked on it to take a break at work, and here I am sitting at my desk and crying.
I’m also writing this part on a post it to keep as a reminder:
“The most courageous thing any of us can do is to try to move forward just a little bit every single day, in the best way we can, with the tools we have available to us. “
Cricket, here’s a hello from a possibly-panromantic-asexual-survivor who doesn’t have anything figured out, either. Even if we never get it figured out, the least we can do is try out best to love and respect ourselves along the way.
This was right up there with Tell Tepid To Fuck Off (Ask Polly) in a very short list of my Very Favorite Advice Columns Ever
Heather this was gorgeous.
Cricket, just know you can be gay and asexual as well or bi and asexual. You don’t have to choose between those things if it’s not quite right for you. And heterosexuality is pushed on all of us, it’s okay to be confused by things because of that.
thank you so much
This is the best relationship/life advice I think I’ve ever read.
Cricket: we are all Crickets. Keep doing the best you you can do.
I wish we could have stickers made that said “We’re All Crickets.”
Heather, you’re so wonderful. I wish we could be real-life friends and drink tea and chat and play with cats. I hope this helps Cricket <3
Heather this is so helpful and good, something that me 5 years ago could definitely have benefited from. I loved reading this because it was so Heather, but also reminds me in the very best way of the comfort that’s always behind Rachel’s advice. Thank you THANK YOU for writing this!
That’s the best possible compliment you could have given me. Rachel’s compassion inspires and challenges me every day. Thank you for saying that.
Yay Rachel and yay Heather and thank you, thank you all, this is all so good
ALL THE TEARS ARE POURING OUT OF MY FACE RN. Thank you… When I started to read this I thought These were words I needed to hear when I started having sex, but then I realized these are words I needed to hear right now. Thank you.
This was such a beautiful answer. Thank you Heather.
Such an affirming article. Thank you for writing this.
thank you for this. there’s so much here that I needed to read today. thank you.
Heather your reply was excellent. I myself grew up in a small town in the South. My grandfather was a Pentecostal evangelist. Needless to say, i was in church a LOT. I felt all of the things you described…well into my twenties I would wake in a cold sweat wondering if I had been “left behind” because of my relationships with women. It was a rough time, so Cricket, I feel your pain. Many…many years later, about 15, I finally feel whole. We all still experience heartbreak. It is never fun, but what is the alternative? Living a life without being vulnerable will leave you without joy. What gets me through some days is the realization of what Heather said. Even if we are all falling apart and broken, and we are, we are doing it together. you are not alone.
Thank you so much for this.
This is beautiful, Heather, thank you!
aww heather! this was so good. i’m so glad you’re here giving this advice and writing for AS and changing lives every day <3
This made me cry at work for the closeted girl I was just a few years ago and how much I needed to read these words then and how far I’ve grown into my own soul and body and heart since then. Thanks Heather <3
Heather, I swear to fuck, every time I think couldn’t be more grateful for your presence and your writing in the world you pull something like this.
Thank you thank you thank you.
Thank you for writing this, Heather. It was something I started thinking about at 3am this morning. And beautifully written as always.
Sending Cricket lots of love and gentleness on their journey.
Always worth printing out for my file on beautiful. beautiful Autostraddle articles.
We need some things to read in Tasmania in winter and your articles are the best.
This is beautiful Heather, so much love to you little cricket we are all here with you.
This is so beautiful. Cricket, so much love here for you!
If you are wanting to stay connected to a Christian community, look at the Metropolitan Community Churches LGBT-predominant denomination. They do a great job of reconciling the Bible with LGBT identity and affirmative sexual activity (and non-activity, should you be asexual).
Well, what do you say after that. So, so beautiful. And the comments?! Ugh, we have the best community on the interwebs.
This really resonated with me, thank you so much…. healing words!
Im other news im not asexual and sinlge ????
Ugh, I’m having “Lesbian or asexual” pangs right now as well. I’ve IDd as bisexual for so long, it’s part of my identity, but honestly touching a penis just sounds so…not fun.
(Yes, women can have penises and men vaginas and right now what I mean is that I do not desire the fleshly cock – whatever we want to call that)
It’s super stressful because I’m in a relationship with a penis-haver, and I don’t want to throw away something good, safe, and solid, for the chance that I might have awesome sex. Because I might not have awesome sex. I might just be asexual. UUUUUGH. I feel your pain OP and thank you, Heather, for your insights.
Stop parroting trans-inclusive language while making zero effort to be empathetic and understanding to trans people. You’re not being trans-inclusive by literally categorizing people by their genitals.
You don’t want to touch a penis and you think you might want to touch a vagina. That’s fine! If you need to change your relationship because of this, that’s also fine. But “I think I prefer vaginas but I’m in an exclusive relationship with a cis man” is a very different problem than “I think I prefer vaginas but I’m in an exclusive relationship with a trans woman,” even though either way, you’re still entitled to do what you need to do.
If you like your relationship apart from the sex stuff, then see if your partner’s okay with opening it up, I guess. Or maybe break up if you don’t. Regardless of whether you do have the potential to enjoy sex, you seem to care enough about the fact that you might that it’s probably going to haunt you until you get that shit figured out. Whatever. Be more thoughtful about trans people.
I was going for brevity, and came off as dismissive, so I apologize for that. My language could have been a lot clearer.
However, when it comes to naked time with another human, I feel like it’s well within my rights to categorize people by their genitals since that is a big part of naked time and there’s somethings I am just not into at the moment.
And when it comes to a person with a penis, I’m not sure how cis man or no-op trans woman makes a lick of difference to someone who doesn’t want to be around penis. It’s still there, it’s still a relationship that sexually isn’t working out. In my case it is very literally about genitals and not about the person.
There is a whole group of people – men, women, cis, trans – who have junk that I’m not especially interested in. It’s excluding people, sure, but it’s also allowing that some men might be on my radar and some women might not be. My sexual preference is, happily, my own affair, and not wanting to be around penis isn’t invalidating anyone’s gender.
You seem to be misunderstanding what I’m trying to say. My apologies if I wasn’t clear – I in no way meant to say that it’s wrong for you to not like penises, or that genitals have no bearing on sexual attraction, or that you have an obligation to stay with your partner if they’re a trans woman but not if they’re a cis man.
It is okay not to like penises on men, women, or nonbinary people, just by virtue of the penises being penises. But women with penises are treated like shit for having penises. Whatever their own relationship to their penises, society treats them as lesser women and lesser human beings for the way their bodies are configured. Which does not mean you need to be attracted to that, or that you need to be a sexual martyr if you’re not. But it’s not the same problem. Even if the problem involves your lack of desire to do things with penises (which again, is perfectly fine), it can’t be the same problem because of the vastly different conditions involved depending on who the penises are attached to. If you need out, you need out, and that is fine, as I am stating a million times because whenever this shit comes up people ignore what other people are saying in order to defend their right to not like penises (a right that nobody is disputing). But it is different to need out when the trait you’re not compatible with is marginalized. It’s a different sort of situation. YOU CAN STILL NEED OUT but it’s not the same thing. But you are specifically talking about it like it’s exactly the same thing, and that’s messed up.
Heather, you’re fantastic. Time to make a podcast…I think you would be wonderful at it.
This was so, so beautiful to read. Fabulous advice, and so many wonderful reminders to treat ourselves more gently. It’s so easy to assume that everyone else has it all together.
PLEASE keep doing this. as a homoromantic asexual this is the first time i feel like I read the word asexual on this site and I love this site but i feel like society, even queer society, tells me all the time sex is literally a requirement for a relationship. I find the idea of sex with women far more palatable than sex with men–and i only recenly came out to myself about that–but i still can’t bear the thought of literally it being expected of me when i just want to love someone with all the other ways I can love them. Society keeps telling me it’s impossible to love someone without having sex with them (relationship wise) and i’m trying to form my own ideas about this but it’s scary to reinforce them to yourself when it feels like a tide is hitting you with what relationships, even LGBT ones, need to be. Thank you~
It’s okay if you don’t want sex. You’re not doing anything wrong by not wanting sex, and it doesn’t mean you won’t get to fall in love. You’re not the only person in the world who’d prefer a relationship without sex. There are people out there who are compatible with you in this way and other ways, and to those people, your asexuality will be a positive rather than a negative, because they’ll be happy you don’t expect those things from them, either. Don’t let the bastards get you down :)
Did “Cricket” agree to be called that? Because I would feel incredibly uncomfortable if I wrote in about my sexual trauma and I was given a cutesy, literally dehumanizing nickname that was repeated poetically throughout the response, and then nearly every commenter was using it too. Perhaps this is positive and affirming for the letter-writer, but do make sure not to do this sort of thing to people who don’t want it done to them.
Letter-writer, it might help you for now to think about what you want, rather than trying to figure what you are and using that to inform what you want. It’s okay if you want to have sex. It’s okay if you don’t want to have sex. It’s okay if you only want to be sexual in some situations. If it helps to think of it this way, all people who are ever sexual only want to be sexual in some situations. It’s okay for you to want to have sex and then change your mind. It’s okay for you to try things you want even if you’re not sure. It’s okay to hold back from trying things you want because you’re not sure. It’s okay if you don’t want to be friends again with your ex. It’s okay if you do. It’s okay if you want to, but can’t, or feel like you shouldn’t. What you want is okay. Give yourself permission.
What I’m assuming from your letter is that what you want is to go have a casual fling where you don’t have to bare your soul but where you do get to feel like your needs are known and respected, and where things are probably going to get sexual but you’re free to back out at any time without it being a big deal. This may be completely off the mark, and if so, I apologize, and this advice will likely not be worth very much. That said, if my assumption is somewhat accurate, one way to get that might be to play up the part where you haven’t had sex with women and you’re looking to explore whether that’s something you like to do. That communicates that you’re probably going to want to have sex, without any expectation that you know what you’re doing or you’re going to like it.
If you do meet someone you’re interested in sleeping with, then it’s a good idea to have a conversation about your needs before sex happens. It doesn’t have to be heavy if you don’t want it to be, and you don’t need to disclose your traumas, but it’s probably a good idea to give them a heads up that you might want to stop, and if you do, you want it to be okay. If they handle this respectfully, then that’s a good sign that they’ll handle it respectfully if it comes up later. If you’re able to assert your boundaries now, then that’s a good sign that you’ll be able to assert your boundaries later (if you have difficulty with that – some people do, some people don’t).
Lastly, if this is possible for you, it might help to have a plan in mind for what to do if you do get triggered. It will suck, but at least personally, when a bad thing that’s out of my control might happen (especially with mental health), it’s easier to maintain a feeling of control by having a plan to deal with it. That might mean paying attention to your symptoms and deciding to tap out early if you see it coming on, or having sex at the other person’s house or a hotel instead of your own house so you can leave more easily if you’re not feeling good. Talking to a professional if you can might be helpful, too.
I love this.
Thank you a million times, AS, for so consistently being so compassionate toward ace people. It feels amazing to know that this place I feel so at home in explicitly supports people like me. Thank you thank you thank you <3 <3 <3
I identify as asexual and, right now, I honestly can tell if I’m aromantic too or if I’m just trying to sidestep the issue because I feel like a walking dealbreaker most of the time. Right now, I’m definitely happier alone but I can’t tell if that’s what I want for the long term.
“Remember the part about every two people who come together forming their own alchemy.”
Heaaaatheeeer, this line just gutted me! Completely emotionally eviscerated me! Holy shit!
Everything you write is a gift that I am so glad I am blessed enough to be able to read. Cricket honey I hope you find yourself and your place in the world and someone(s) to love because you deserve it. You absolutely deserve it sweetheart. A thousand wishes and a thousand kisses!
Nice post. I learn something new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon everyday.
It’s always useful to read content from other writers and use a
little something from other web sites.
I come back to this article all the time and it is so warm and comforting.
This article was the beginning of my ~journey nearly two years ago, and it still brings me such comfort and joy. Thank you!!!!!!