Hey, everyone. I had this month’s column all ready to go, with a cheerful little intro about Pride and community and remembering to wear sunscreen. Then the Pulse shooting happened and I remembered that Pride and community aren’t just fun ways to spend an afternoon. They’re why and how we fight. They're why and how we live.
Forty-nine people are gone, most of them queer people of color. They were dancing and celebrating in a place that should have been safe, a place specifically designated so that they wouldn’t have to hide who they were or what they wanted or who they loved. A massacre in a sanctuary.
I’m still reeling, and I’m sure many of you are, too. I want you to know that I’m here with you— that even if we’ve never met, we are grieving together and that makes us family. My heart is with you. My heart is with Orlando, with all the friends and families of the victims, with queer and trans Latin@s, with queer and trans Muslims. My heart is with the brave and proud and visible queer and trans people who refuse to let violence steal their honesty or their joy, and my heart is with anyone who isn’t out yet and is afraid and feeling alone. I promise you’re not alone.
I was waffling on whether to go to Pride this year, because I’m old and boring and it’s hard to find parking, but now my mind is made up. I’ll go and I’ll hold my partner’s hand and we’ll kiss in public and smile at strangers and I hope you all do the same. (And I hope you wear sunscreen.)
I'm a 21-year-old man who's been forced to get a girlfriend and start having relationships with people that aren't a priority for me right now. I feel like my mom and my sister are trying to make me feel more "masculine" and more "manly" by making me do things that I don't feel comfortable doing. Plus, I'm not sure what I identify as romantically and sexually. Given that my family are mostly conservative and old fashioned, what should I do?
How have your mother and sister “forced” you into having a girlfriend? You didn’t really give me a lot to go on, here, so I’ll keep the advice general. If you don’t want a girlfriend, don’t have a girlfriend. If you don’t want to do traditionally masculine things, don’t do traditionally masculine things. If and when you feel drawn to pursue sexual and romantic relationships, do so safely, respectfully, and above all, on your own terms. Your love life is not up to anyone but you and your potential future partners.
I know I’m oversimplifying a little—depending on your specific circumstances, I might be oversimplifying a LOT. For instance, it’s seldom easy to shrug off the expectations of family members (whom you probably love, even if they’re putting unfair pressure on you to change who you are), but it’s much more difficult if you depend on them for financial support or shelter. If that’s your situation, you’re going to face challenges as you work to establish a life where you’re self-sustaining, so that meeting their expectations isn’t a question of survival.
Even if you’ve got a great job and a place of your own, it’s really scary to tell your family, “Respect who I am and stop pushing me to be someone I’m not.” You might be afraid they’ll reject you if you say that, and I’m so sorry to say this, but it’s possible that they will. If that happens, it will hurt. There’s no way around it. But it’s the kind of hurt that will become smaller and more bearable over time, as opposed to the hurt of hiding who you are and not pursuing the life you want, which will only grow and grow until either you break free or it consumes you.
Live your own life. Don’t make yourself responsible for how other people feel about your choices. They don’t have to live your life. You do. It’s going to be so much more wonderful than you can imagine right now.
Oh, and please read the next letter, because it’s a perfect illustration of why you need to start pushing back against your family’s demands as soon as possible.
I feel so lost and would like your advice.
I think I made a mistake by marrying a man. I am gay and in the closet. What should I do? My parents are deeply conservative and everyday it’s confusing and torture. I was pressured into marriage by family.
Please advise as to how to gain back confidence and follow my heart.
I’m going to be blunt: You should leave your husband. If he loves you and you don’t love him, every day of your marriage is going to break his heart in slow motion until you finally end it. The merciful thing to do is end it now and let him move on. If neither of you love each other, ending your marriage might be an inconvenience, but it’s the surest path to joy for you both.
You don’t have to come out in order to get divorced; you can simply say, “I was pressured into this before I was ready, and I’ve realized it’s not the relationship I want to spend my life in.” I’m making this sound easy again. It won’t be. But it will be worth doing, because once you let go of trying force yourself into a life meant for someone else, you can start searching for the thing—whether it’s a girlfriend or a career or a hobby or whatever—that feeds your soul, that makes you more of who you are instead of less.
You should probably take some time to yourself before you start dating again. (Obviously if you meet someone who makes your genitals sing in the interim, you’re going to ignore this advice and hook up with her. But it might get messy.) You were pressured into making a huge, life-changing decision against your own will; that suggests you’re used to people walking all over your boundaries. You need to spend time with yourself and get used to listening to the voice of your intuition or your gut or whatever you want to call it—the voice that tells you “yes, this is right for me” or “nope, get us out of here” or “I’m not sure, let’s stick around and see what happens.” And you need to practice expressing your boundaries out loud, ideally in situations that are lower-stakes than, say, a wedding.
If you want to come out to your family, if you think you need to share that truth with them in order to be free, go for it. If doing so doesn’t feel safe, you can wait. But either way, you need to practice standing up to them in small ways so you’ll be able to do it when it matters. Doing something little like wearing that necklace your mother hates or saying “no” when your father presses you to have seconds at Thanksgiving is a great way to start establishing healthy boundaries for yourself and reminding everyone (including you) that they don’t have the final say in your life.
Live alone for a while, if you can afford it. Take up as much or as little space as you want. Sing in the shower. Get really comfortable with both silence and the sound of your own voice. The great thing about following your heart is you don’t have to know where it’s going. Let it off the leash and just take in the journey.
I raised my kid like a good lesbian, QC—tonka trucks and princesses, and lots and lots of crayons. I swallowed her Barbie phase, her princess phase, told myself that as long as we kept up with the work of critically dismantling and noticing patriarchy issues in the media, we were gonna be fine.
She's 12 now. We have a pretty great relationship and we talk about a lot of stuff, but I AM SO DONE AND DONE AND DONE with the obsession with boys and sexist bullshit that comes out of her. My friends all seem to have the most amazing kids who are, like, tearing down the kyriarchy on Twitter and absconding with pronouns. And I've got the girl who wants to give me a makeover twelve times a day and gets pissy when I insist that we don't talk about diets at the dinner table.
Oh, dude, you gotta stop comparing your kid to other people’s kids. You must. You have the child you have, and there is no one like her in all the world, and I hope that in your heart of hearts you wouldn’t change her for anything, so start there. Remind yourself of all the things that are lovely and amazing and brilliant and wonderful about your kid. So she’s obsessed with makeovers—does that express her love for bright colors? Her appreciation of fashion as an art form? Her desire to keep things fresh and new, her impatience with repetition and routine? What are the values you instilled in your kid that she’s expressing now, albeit not in exactly the way you planned?
Your daughter is an adolescent girl living in a media-saturated society that tells her appearances are everything and romance is the finish line of life. She’s working out her relationships with those messages as well as her relationship with you, the kyriarchy-dismantling, diet-hating lesbian who’s raising her. She has to figure out who she is as distinct from you, and one of the ways she can express her independence and uniqueness is by embracing all the things she knows you hate. I know this is driving you batshit—it’s supposed to. This is how she figures out how to navigate her own life, with your example to guide her, but ultimately on her own.
You can’t control how much of this conditioning she’ll ultimately absorb and how much of it she’ll reject, but keep in mind that she’s nowhere near the end of that process yet. She still needs your input, even as she pulls away from you. Continue to set and enforce boundaries (“no diet talk at the table” is a great one), but do what you can to express an interest in the things she cares about rather than trying to get her to care about the same things as you. Don’t pass judgment on your daughter’s interests—don’t tell her she’s shallow or wrong for caring about boys and clothes. Of course you should keep engaging her in discussions about sexism and unrealistic beauty standards, but what the hell, maybe if you let her do your hair once in a while it’ll be a fun opportunity for bonding. Keep emphasizing your values, don’t stand for her making sexist comments about other kids—but don’t insist that your daughter must be a gender-neutral online activist or your parenting has failed. As a lesbian, I’m guessing you’re familiar with the damage a disappointed parent can do, whether you’ve seen it up close and personal or in the lives of other folks in your queer community. Don’t be that guy.
Remember that the reason you want her to question patriarchal values is so that she won’t be harmed or restricted by them, not because you want to show off your Least Traditional Kid on the Block trophy. If wearing lipstick and having boyfriends is what makes her soul sing, wouldn’t you rather she go for that than squeeze herself into androgyny just to make you happy? Some girls just like princesses, and that’s okay.
Maybe your daughter will always be more traditionally feminine and more into appearances than you would like, but that’s her choice to make. Your job as her parent is to be there for her and love her regardless.
Thanks, everyone! Remember to send me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, an adorable baby girl, and two very spoiled cats. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, was published by Plume in February 2016.