"What should you do when you say a shitty thing to someone? I am generally careful about my words, but I made a joke that was actually not very nice to someone I care about. I have recognised what I did wrong, apologised to the person whose feelings I hurt, and respected their need to be distant from me for now. But now, all I want to do is fall into a spiral of self-hatred and never leave my house again for fear of doing something shitty again, which doesn't feel healthy or productive."
-Question submitted by Anonymous
I want to start by telling you that, given the context of this question, you have already done two incredibly wonderful things: First, you’ve recognized that your misstep affects two people – yourself, and the person you care about. Second, and most importantly, you’ve prioritized the needs of the person you care about by recognizing, apologizing, and respecting their space. The importance of those actions cannot be overstated. So, so many people who are in a similar position to you, Anonymous, get so wrapped up in that self-hatred part of the equation (and we are gonna get there, hang tight), that they do not prioritize the overarching respect that is so critically important to the person who has been hurt by their actions or words.
I want you to begin by acknowledging the respect you are giving to the person who you’ve hurt. That is a productive, positive action that you have taken and are continuing to take.
Now listen to me: you are not defined by one moment, one action, one utterance. What defines any person is the way that they respond, learn, and adjust after they do something that has hurt another person (or a group of people). Yes, of course, it would be just lovely if no one ever said words that hurt others, never took actions that caused harm… but that just isn’t possible. We do not live in a utopia, we live on a planet that is riddled with misinformation, complicated and troubling messages, and a whole butt-ton of inter-personal feelings. The truest path on this little planet to a place of healing and growth is found by learning from the moments where we all, inevitably, misspeak or misstep.
Once, at a speaking event that I did years ago in Tennessee, a student expressed concern, and hurt, during the Q&A. With the room full of hundreds of students, she said to me, “during your talk you said that people were either LGBTQ or straight. I am a trans woman and I identify as straight, and that really made me feel erased.” My eyes likely got as big as dinner plates as I realized what I had done – I had used my words in a way that not only caused this person to feel erased, but that had potentially misguided a room full of people! I felt horrible, but I also immediately realized that this person speaking to me deserved an immediate apology, recognition, and a promise for change. And, that is what happened. I apologized. We had a long, incredible conversation about gender, sexuality, and erasure while the audience listened, and I changed that part of the event forevermore so that I wouldn’t ever misinform anyone else on that false dichotomy.
Now, that doesn’t mean I never misspoke again, Anonymous. It does mean, though, that I never misspoke in that way again, and that I became even more vigilant about choosing my language and constantly, consistently educating myself. You will leave the house again (you must! you’ll at least need some gummy bears from time to time), and it is completely, 100% possible (and even likely!) that when you do you might hurt another person through your words or your actions. You are not a perfect person. You do not know all the things about all the people or even all the things about your own language!! No one is, and no one does. What I can promise you, though, is that you have learned something from this experience, and you can use that knowledge to help you make better choices and choose better words in the future!!
So. When you feel that pang of “what the fuck did I do,” turn it on its head and make it productive. That’s how you escape from a self-hate that will always, only be unproductive! In the morning, when the moment flashes through your brain and you wince and start to spiral, find a quiet spot and meditate. Clear your brain. Help your emotions to find a place of balance, because that balance will better guide you and your words next time. In the afternoon, when you think “what the hell is WRONG with me, how could I have done that,” find a book, an article, a video, a podcast that has informative, balanced content so that you can be better informed and educated. That education will help you to understand the world around you in even more complicated and nuanced ways, and that will also help to guide you next time. In the evening when you start to sink into a deep, desperate longing that it had never happened… remember that it did happen, and that you are learning from it, and that is the way that the world changes. Keep working on yourself, continue to respect the needs of those around you, and please, please leave your house. That courage, Anonymous, is what will help change things for yourself, and for a whole lot of others.
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“I’ve been fooling around with my straight best friend for 6 months. Surprisingly, he made the first ‘moves’ and we progressed from there, but we agreed to keep it as ‘friends with benefits.’ But we act like a couple – we do everything together, and we both even say I love you several times a day. The only thing he won’t do is admit we’re ‘together,’ even though our close friends even say we’re a good couple. I call him Mickey (from Shameless) because he won’t admit he’s gay. Do I just wait?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Shane Billings Says:
In times like this I find great comfort in the electropop yodeling of Gwen Stefani, whose first solo album demanded that we ask ourselves: What you waiting for?
Not-so-totally long ago, I fell for a guy who kept small Warhol prints hanging on the wall of his bathroom, each with a different quotation. One, in particular, read: “The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting.” So I’d be visiting this guy, and I’d be in his bathroom, checking for boogers or stray hairs before smoochy time. And I would see this particular print and wonder… Does waiting actually make it more exciting?
Like, waiting at the DMV never made my registration tags sparkle or shimmer. Two hours in line at Space Mountain maketh not a spacier thrill. Waiting, in and of itself, does not promise meaning or value to the futures we’re hoping for.
So to answer your question: no, you shouldn’t JUST wait. Take your Gwen Stefani moment, and find out what exactly it is you’re waiting for. Waiting for Mickey to admit he is gay could be frustrating and insensitive to the reality that he may be searching for a different way to define his own sexuality.
Instead, pair the waiting with a variety of other things, like a behavioral platter of fruits and soft cheeses. Tell Mickey how you’re feeling about the dynamic in your relationship, and that you love him. Then wait a little.
Enjoy the current status of your relationship, and take pleasure in the fact that you’re able to do everything together. Expand your definition of “everything.” Wait a little more.
Watch a few Nora Ephron movies. Read a few Nora Ephron books. Then wait a little.
In a relationship, waiting can be a courageous act, so long as the waiting doesn’t make you inactive or resentful. Be generous and be kind. Give Mickey time and space to define his sexuality on his own terms. Appreciate your role in his discovery.
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“Hi, I’m a 16yo girl, and recently with all the media storms all over Tumblr, and also just life in general and the people around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sexuality. I think I’m at least bisexual, but I keep seeing labels that are wider just, in general, that include trans people? Is there a better label that just ‘bisexual’, is what I’m really asking.”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Hello! I want to say, for the record, that I am thrilled to hear that the world around you has challenged you to think about your sexuality, and to wonder and explore and dig into the feelings you have, both about yourself and toward other humans. I say this because I think there are a lot of people out there who are afraid that, by being open about the existence of many sexualities and genders, we might be confusing or influencing young people to be something that they aren’t. Newsflash! Being open about sexuality and gender allows people to actually think about who they are! Which is great and awesome and wonderful. So. Thank you for allowing me that brief moment on my soapbox.
*steps off soapbox*
For starters, the term bisexual does, for many, 100% include trans and nonbinary people! Let’s dig in a little deeper:
When I came to understand the word bisexual I also thought that the term – based on the prefix ‘bi’ – meant that I was saying I was attracted to men and women. I should also mention that it was 1998 when I first used that word to describe myself, and so that is what I meant, because in 1998 I didn’t have any understanding of gender outside of the binary. I knew there were men and I knew there were women, and I felt attractions toward them both! I held onto that understanding of the term for many years (and went on a whole journey with my own labels, which you can hear about here), and over time I learned more about gender identity, the gender binary, and the many genders that exist both within and outside of that (false) structure.
Armed with a new understanding of gender identity, I also realized that I was attracted, like you are, to people of all genders, rather than just the two I’d been taught about as a kid. And, through that whole process of rediscovery, I learned a lot about both the term “pansexual,” and how the term “bisexual” is understood by many (bisexuals included).
Pansexual is a term used by many to mean that they are (like you!) attracted (romantically or sexually) to all genders. If you like that word, then it can be your word, for sure! But but but. You must also understand that the word bisexual is used, by many, to express the very same sentiment. Certainly, there are people who identify as bisexual that may use that term to explain their attraction to two genders, but there are very many who use this term in keeping with Robyn Ochs definition, in which she states:
“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”
This is how I understand the identity, and expresses what I mean when I tell someone that I am bisexual. I am attracted to people of all genders.
Now, let’s stop here for a very important second: Words are words. Which is to say that, the way I use a word may carry different meaning then the way that you use a word. The underlying piece of this whole conversation is that, if you are choosing a word or identity label for yourself, YOU have to feel comfortable with that word! It also means that, no matter how many people I talk to, and regardless of the fact that I identify as bisexual myself, that does NOT make me an authority. Words can mean many things to many people! That is why we should always leave room when we hear that someone identifies in a particular way, because their relationship with that word may be different than our own.
My advice to you is: keep asking, keep learning, keep reading. There are a multitude of identities out there, and an endless supply of words to choose from… but at the end of the day your truth will never be contained within just one word. The term bisexual is absolutely inclusive of all genders (many also view the ‘bi’ in bisexual to be an expression of “self” and “other,” meaning they can be attracted to someone of their own gender, as well as someone who is a gender other than their own), and there are many other words, or combinations of words, that can also help you express yourself and your identity.
I hope this helped, or at least confused you enough to keep asking more.
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Feminism & Finding Yourself: A review of 'Juliet Takes a Breath'
Like many other writers, I have loved to read from a young age. For as long as I can remember I’d pick up books and read them cover to cover, finding joy in them whether they were picture books or chapter books. But although I loved reading, I could never see myself in the books I read. The closest I ever came early on to a story with complex black characters was The Secret Life of Bees, and that was a book about a white girl and her perspective on the black women she was around. Eventually, like Marley Dias, I grew tired of reading books about “white boys and their dogs.”
This is why Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath is so revolutionary. A story about a Puerto Rican lesbian from The Bronx? And she isn’t a background character or a racist trope? Hearing about the story was a dream, and reading it was a dream come true. Finally, a queer girl of color on the forefront, with a loud and unapologetic voice. I can’t believe it’s taken so long.
Juliet Palante is 19 years old, asthmatic, and gay – and she’s embarking on the most important summer of her life across the country in Portland, Oregon (home of hippies and feminist bookstores). Living with and interning under her favorite feminist author, Harlowe Brisbane, means that she’s going to be learning about the power of her vulva and body positivity. An array of extremely entertaining characters surround her, and their radiant personalities jostle Juliet into figuring out who she should be, eventually shining a light on who she really is. Whether it’s her mother telling her that her sexuality is just a phase, or Harlowe encouraging Juliet to be the rags-to-riches feminist from the hood that she see her as, Juliet holds her own. And that’s what is so compelling about her.
I can honestly say that I have never read a book about a chubby brown gay girl who was confident in herself and her values. Not only is Juliet secure (well, as secure as a newly out 19 lesbian can be) but she’s also knows she doesn’t know everything. She can be clumsy and awkward with her words and with her actions. That’s where I found I related with her most. Gabby Rivera was amazing in conveying the uncertainty and immaturity of adolescence while still creating a memorable and loveable character. I relate to her feeling of betrayal when she finds out that the Puerto Ricans in West Side Story were played by white actors, her feeling of belongingness when she met black feminist Zaira, and her discovery that polyamory made sense to her. Juliet’s bewilderment in response to the super liberal ways of Portland – i.e. casual nudity and the collective white feminist worship of Harlowe Brisbane – was highly relatable and laugh-out-loud funny at times. Especially when those incidents were coupled with her frequent asthma attacks.
Many of the social justice aspects of the book resonate with me. Today in 2016, a lot of kids my age are involved in social justice and consider ourselves socially and racially aware – but Juliet’s story takes place in the early 2000s and, despite her interest in feminism, and despite her being gay, she isn’t entirely sure what her identity means to herself and others. When she first arrives at Harlowe’s, she is asked by someone she only just met, “So Juliet, how do you identify? What are your preferred gender pronouns?” Juliet is understandably dumbfounded. It reminded me of watching Orange Is the New Black for the first time. I thought of myself as a woke, sexually fluid feminist girl, but I realized I had a lot to learn when I saw the transgender character Sophia. Juliet’s discomfort and hesitation to not offend really spoke to me and made her more likeable – because no activist is perfect.
Perhaps most important is the originality of this book. There are a few twists and turns not only in the plot but also in the characters themselves – particularly in Juliet. She is not a perfect feminist – in fact, at one point she asks her cousin Ava, “Um, Ava, don’t all women have vaginas?” – proving that she still has lots to learn, and is willing to learn it all. In this way, Juliet Takes a Breath is a coming-of-age story like no other, one that speaks to not only queer brown girls, but to all young feminist girls.
In searching for books featuring characters like me, I grew tired of the same old story. I grew tired of not being able to find my type of feminism, my not-thin, sexuality-questioning, girl of color type of feminism. And I found it in Juliet. I found it when she realized that Harlowe, her feminist role model, might not have a feminism that was for her. I found it when she held her ground and told her mother that who she loved was not a phase. Most of all, I found it when Juliet stood up to Harlowe, realizing that she couldn’t allow her story to be defined by or taken away by anyone else.
Towards the end of the book, Juliet is asked, “Will you speak your truth, Juliet?” That question really encompasses the book and its importance. I saw myself in Juliet because she spoke her truth, and I felt empowered to do the same. That’s what this all comes down to. We need stories like Juliet’s because we need queer girls – specifically queer girls of color – to see themselves, and to see their stories told without apology. Juliet’s story not only spoke to my heart, but it also made me feel, as a writer and aspiring novelist, more ready and inspired to write my own stories and speak my truth to the world.
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In Bed: Brittani Nichols
Episode 3 of "Getting In Bed With Kristin" brings Brittani Nichols - actor, comedian, writer, and "esteemed lesbian" - to my guest bed! We answer a bunch of your questions (and some questions from Jenny Owen Youngs, who refused to be left out), a little bit of advice, and we find out that I am really, really horrible at telling jokes!