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“Hi! I’m a (very gay) sophomore in high school. However, I’m not out to anyone other than a few friends in my close circle as I live in a homophobic town. I’ve noticed a very cute girl (that I’m interested in) in the the grade below me, and I am 99% sure she is queer (we’ve only talked twice) but I’m not certain. How do I find out for sure that she likes girls without being invasive and awkward? Also how do I get to know her while dealing with the intense urge to want to mash our faces together.”

-Question Submitted by Anonymous

Carrie Wade Says:

Okay, friend—pull up a chair and let’s pick apart your situation a little, shall we? I actually think you have a lot to be hopeful and happy about here, even if it doesn’t feel that way now.

The first thing that jumped out at me in your question is that you’ve only spoken to this girl twice. I can say without reservation that, regardless of whatever else you decide to do, you need to talk to her more in order to figure any of this out. I’m sure she’s the coolest and gives off an awesome vibe—you wouldn’t be submitting this question otherwise—but there’s only so much you can know about a person from two conversations. How did those come up? Do you have classes or activities together? Did one of you just stroll on up and start chatting? Whatever the case may be, you’ve talked before, so you can talk again. It doesn’t have to be about anything heavy, including whether she likes girls or not. Just get to know her! To me, that strategy is a win-win-win: either the information you’re looking for comes up organically, you learn a lot about a new terrific person, OR it turns out maybe she’s not the best fit for you and these frustrating feelings will just burn themselves right out. That third option is not a loss; even if that’s all that happens, you talked to a girl you thought was cute and got to know more about what you’re looking for in your next person, even if she isn’t it. That’s an invaluable skill you can bring to all the delightful things and people in your future.

Talking to her is also the only way to know for sure whether she is also Very Gay. You can only get the real answer straight (ha) from her. You could theoretically try to find out from other sources, but none of those can ever be trusted as much as the lady in question. Only she knows her feelings for you and for girls in general. So if, in the course of talking (and maybe spending more time together), you feel comfortable enough to start discussing your personal lives, I think it’s okay to do a little detective work. Be respectful of boundaries—don’t push her into a conversation she isn’t on board with—but you can also keep your ears out for things like whether she specifies a pronoun when talking about who she’s interested in. And if you definitively want to turn the conversation in that direction, you could come out to her, even just by mentioning it casually. I wouldn’t recommend that until and unless you build a friendship first—but if you’re 99% sure she’s queer, it seems like you can be reasonably confident that she won’t freak out if you tell her that you are. If you’re right and she is queerly inclined, now she knows that you might be an option; if she’s not, at least it’s acknowledged and you can move forward in a different way.

Build on what you already have while getting to know her: if you have a class together, talk about that. If you’re in a club together, sit near her during the next meeting, and make even just a little small talk before or after. She knows who you are and that’s a huge advantage. And in terms of the face-mashing urge, getting to know her better will either build up those feelings or not (but you can’t know which yet, either way). If you do find your feelings for her growing, it is okay to tell her and see what happens. I know that probably sounds like the most terrifying thing in the world, and that’s because it is; you’re putting yourself out there and hoping for the best. No one knows how to do that gracefully. But as someone who crushed HARD on a straight friend while living in a homophobic town, I can say that even if the prospect of a relationship is a lost cause, telling her can take some weight off your shoulders and help you start to move on. Again, if you’re that sure she’s queer, she probably won’t be bothered knowing that you think she’s very cute. My person was definitely NOT queer, and I knew that, and I had to tell her anyway because I couldn’t let the feelings fester in my gut anymore. Despite being the straightest person I’ve ever met, she took it exceptionally well and it’s still something we laugh about and bond over today, ten years later. It is possible.

Now, I give you all this advice under the assumption that you will feel safe following it. “Homophobic town” can mean many things, and since I don’t know what yours looks like, I want to make clear that if you feel like disclosing any of this will put you in danger, it is also okay not to say anything. No crush, regardless of how awesome, is worth jeopardizing your wellbeing or life over. Obviously I hope that isn’t the case (for so many reasons). But if the danger is too great, you can turn to the awesome friends you already have and talk your way through it with them. They can either help you work up the courage to talk to this girl or give you a safe place to process your feelings with less risk. Lean on your support system—that’s what they’re for!

But of course, personally, I hope you talk to this girl a third, fourth, and fiftieth time and you either end up with another rock solid friend or an adorable girlfriend. You are going to learn a lot about yourself regardless and take some brave steps. That’s a huge win no matter what.

***

Carrie’s body is weird and she’s making that work for her. She lives in Los Angeles, where she does a lot of crossword puzzles and longs for a squished-faced dog. Help her get better at Twitter.

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“How do I communicate in the bedroom without having a panic attack? I can’t make the words come out of my mouth and then I end up in a weird mental spiral that ultimately ends sexy time. Please help?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Bethany Rutter Says:

I would get the communication done before it gets to the bedroom, or specifically the bed, but definitely before it gets to a state of undress in the bed. It can feel too much, too personal, too critical to have those conversations once sex is already happening, so chatting about what you want and what you don’t want and what’s hot and what actually makes you feel kinda uncomfortable is best done in a chilled environment before you get down to it. ‘You know what would be really hot?’ or ‘hey, I feel kind of weird about…’ are fine and legitimate ways to start sentences.

Knowing what you want to say and feeling like you have something concrete to work with is often half the battle with communication. It could be a good idea to create a list, for yourself, consisting of three things: stuff you know you like, stuff you know you don’t want to do, and stuff you’re not sure about, but under the right circumstances you could be into exploring. You could literally write this stuff down in a draft email or a note on your phone, so it becomes clearer in your mind, so that when it comes to your next sexual encounter, you can articulate your turn-ons, turn-offs and curiosities. It might seem prescriptive and un-spontaneous, but having it clear in your mind what you know you’re into and what you’re not into can make it more likely that you’ll be able to speak confidently and get what you want sexually. Full disclosure: I learnt this approach off someone I had a fling with, and it’s been super useful to me ever since. People often really like talking about what they’re into sexually, and don’t often get asked by their sexual partners. Assuming a one-size-fits-all sex life exists is the road to boredom, ruin and unhappiness.

Also, a weird mental spiral is not necessarily a bad reason to end sexy time. If you’re feeling uncomfortable and like a sexual encounter is causing you to freak out a little bit, you’re totally within your rights to cut it off at any point.
Not to get too granular, but meta-communication (that’s to say, communication about communication) is a really valuable part of relationships of all kinds. Talking to your partner or partners about how you want to communicate, how you don’t want to communicate, the ideal scenario for talking about stuff, your worst communication nightmare, can be super helpful. I like resolving issues right then so if I’m in conflict with someone who finds it useful to have time to think before stating their position, then I need to know that about them so I don’t think they’re being evasive and don’t value me. Asserting how you want to talk, and hearing how your partner wants to talk, will mean your talking goes better every time.

***

Bethany is a journalist and blogger living in London. She spends more time doing nonmonogamy and being queer than she does writing about it, but hopefully she can lend a hand in written form. She loves cute clothes for fat girls, reading obsessively, lipstick, Broad City and giving pep talks. Follow her on Twitter at @archedeyebrowbr

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"How do you navigate a relationship when you have issues with mental illness? And how do you find a partner who is willing to handle it? I have an anxiety disorder and some depression, and it makes just being in any relationship hard, let alone a healthy, serious, long-term romantic relationship."

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Well, hello.

Let me start by saying that I struggled with pretty intense anxiety for several years in my late twenties and, although I haven’t had a bad panic attack in years, I now wrestle with depression. (I learned recently from my therapist that anxiety and depression are closely related, and that a lot of people who once struggled with an anxiety disorder later deal with depression. So, way to go me for being right on track.)

The next part of me telling you about me is to say that I was in a longterm relationship of five years when I was struggling with anxiety, and I’ve now been with my wife for seven years, several of which have overlapped with my depression. Both my ex and my wife understood mental illness from differing places: My ex had also dealt with anxiety and knew it first hand; Jenny has never dealt with anxiety, but has wrestled with depression and is incredibly good at listening and working to understand what I need when I’m feeling low.

I tell you all of this, Anonymous, because I want you to know two things right off the bat:

1. Many (many, many, many) people deal with mental illness, in varying ways and shapes and forms and intensities. Not as many people TALK about those struggles, which is something that I hope changes over time, but we are here and you are far from alone.

2. It is completely possible to have a beautiful, healthy, awesome relationship with another person or other people while also dealing with mental illness. The biggest requirement is communication, and partnering with people who are able to listen and take mental illness seriously. In my opinion, those are characteristics you’d want to look for in someone regardless of if you had anxiety or depression or not!

As someone who has been on this journey for a long time, I can tell you that the more I know myself, the better I become at communicating what I need. That is the place that I’d suggest you put the bulk of your focus; reflect on your interactions, moments that make you feel uneasy, places and things that make you feel safe or help you feel calm. Recently, my therapist suggested that I make a space for myself somewhere in our house that was just mine – a place where I could go to read quietly, listen to music, or just sit and breathe for a bit. It’s helped me so much already, and it’s given me another option to turn to when I am struggling. I lean on Jenny, of course, in many moments, but I’ve also begun to build supports for myself outside of our relationship. That, too, is important. Your partner(s) can and should listen to you when you talk about your feelings and experiences, but they can’t be expected to carry all of that weight. Neither should you!

Write down a list of people close to you who you can talk to, and a list of activities you can do (coloring, writing, running, singing?) or places that you can go to (under your desk, the gym, church, your attic??) to help mediate the anxiety and depression. If you aren’t already in therapy, I’d highly recommend it. Many cities have accessible mental health options (check your local LGBT center for resources!). Explore what works, take notice of what doesn’t. Our lives are spent learning, and this is included – I learn more about my mental health EVERY day.

In my experience, if you are working toward a better understanding of yourself and the tools you need (including medication, there is no shame in medication – it is incredibly wonderful for so many humans!!), your partner(s) will be able to be there with you. They will be patient when you struggle because that is what a partner does. Yes, there may be times when you lean too hard or not enough, and times when they say or do the wrong thing, but that’s true of all relationships – and if you continue to communicate, you’ll learn the best ways to coexist and support each other.

Much love to you! ️ <3

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"How do I talk to my girlfriend about getting a sex toy? (I’m also a girl.) And at what age do you think it’s appropriate?"

Question submitted by Anonymous

Constance says:

Ok first off: I work at a sex toy shop and out of all the questions I get, this is one of my FAVORITES. There’s nothing I love more than working with people who are putting themselves out there and exploring a new part of their relationship.

When it comes to bringing up the topic of sex toys with a partner, I’ve personally always preferred a blunt approach. I’ve found that dancing around the topic just makes things more awkward and opens it up to confusion. Try to find a casual, comfortable moment when the two of you won’t be interrupted (this may not be a conversation to have at the local coffee shop) and directly bring it up. Being upfront about it can show your girlfriend that this isn’t a big deal, which can help everyone be more honest and comfortable about what they’re feeling.

You might find it helpful to start off with a comment about how much you enjoy whatever things you’re already doing before mentioning something you think might be fun. Something along the lines of, “Hey darling, you know how much I love it when you X my Y? I was thinking that it might be even more fun if we also had a [insert whatever sex toy you’re thinking of here].” The point isn’t that you’re unhappy with whatever bumping-and-grinding you’re getting up to, but that you think there’s something fun that you could bring in. (Sidenote: If you are unhappy with your sex life with your partner, that’s a whole other conversation. Remember that a sex toy isn’t the magic cure—honest communication is going to be your best friend there.)

Some people recommend buying an inexpensive sex toy before having the conversation so that you can be like, “Hey, I found this and thought it might be fun to try!” The idea there is that you’re keeping it casual and making things simple by presenting one concrete thing to consider rather than a bigger question of sex toys in general. I’m not a huge fan of this approach because I think it can feel more like “Surprise! Let’s Do This!” rather than opening up a conversation. Instead of buying a toy before the conversation, I recommend having a plan you can offer of what it would look like if she’s into the idea. Do some pre-conversation research to get a sense of where you might get a sex toy, what the options are, what your potential budget is, and so on. This can help give specifics for her to think about without springing a sex toy upon her without warning.

The best thing you can do in this conversation is be honest and open with your girlfriend and be willing to listen to her concerns. She may not want to run out to get a sex toy right at that moment, but these conversations are important for couples to understand each other even more.

As for the second part of your question: I’m not really sure there is an inappropriate age to get a sex toy. For those of us who have sexual urges, the instant we begin to experience them is usually when we tend to find sex toys all over the place. Early sexual desire drives innovation as we find new uses for washing machines, handles of hairbrushes, or the classic electric toothbrush. If someone is old enough to be repurposing household objects for sex toys, then I don’t see what’s wrong with them having something that’s actually intended for that purpose. I will say that not everyone agrees with me on this and that you should check to see what your local restrictions are on getting sex toys: Can people under 18 go into a sex toy shop in your state? Can you buy them online?

Exploring our sexual desires alone and with our partners can be filled with anxiety and joy. Sometimes things aren’t going to work out like you hoped, but the important thing is being able to communicate what you need and listening to everyone involved. There’s no surefire way to know how things will turn out, but you can’t go wrong with plenty of research, empathy, and kindness. Sending my best wishes to you.

***

Constance Augusta A. Zaber is a New England writer interested in history, sex practices, libraries, what she’s going to eat next, and Virginia Woolf. She writes about books (particularly those by trans authors) online, sells sex toys in a college town, and is working on an undergraduate degree in Sexology. Her personal, professional, and academic work is based in her experiences as a white, Jewish, trans woman with clinical depression and anxiety. Follow her on Twitter @augustazaber
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"I identify as bisexual, and have been dating a guy for nearly two and a half years now. For the past several months I've been having very strong feelings for a female colleague of mine and this weekend we hooked up. She has feelings for me as well but we can't date because of workplace rules. Is it worth breaking up my relationship with 2 years guy for a person I can't even be with? I can't be out at work or at home. Thank you for taking the time to read this."

Question submitted by thisispoppycock

Kristin says:

Hello there, Poppycock.

Here is the thing: breakups shouldn’t hinge on whether or not you have the opportunity for another relationship or not, they should hinge on how you feel about the person you are dating.

From the tone of your question, I am getting that you are in a monogamous relationship. You have feelings for another person, and those feelings turned into making out… and guess what? Your feelings for this other person didn’t go away. They intensified. Which also means that, dating or not, you are in an emotional (and now physical!) relationship with this other person. Even in many non-monogamous relationships, this would be past the point at which you would need to tell your partner about these feelings (and those actions).

I totally get having to stay closeted for various reasons, but, all on its own, that can be a very heavy weight to bear. Adding on to that heavy stuff with another, ongoing secret is going to slowly press on all your bones and muscles and tendons and cells until you find yourself swirling around on the inside of it all, totally confused and very, very lost. That lost and confused part is where most of us make super careless decisions and do things we wish we hadn’t.

Another thing that I would like to point out: you didn’t tell us anything about how you feel about your boyfriend! Not to read too much into the absence of that content, but liiiiiiike… my gut tells me that your feelings for him are rooted in the history and length of your relationship together and not the current state of the partnership itself. Your question essentially says: “If this girl and I could date, I would leave him without thinking twice.” That means that you and this boy should not be together, because, if for nothing else, it is incredibly unfair to him.

I think you need to come clean with your boyfriend and/or you need to break up with him. If you decide that telling him about the girl would only add insult to injury, fine, skip it, but it’s time to walk away. You have things you need to explore, and you aren’t going to be able to do that and also be a good partner to him at the same time.

It’s scary to take that step into the unknown, and many of us are afraid of being alone – but it is when we take those steps and find that solitude that many of us actually discover what we need and who we are.

Good luck. <3

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