Being In Love Doesn’t Make You More Of A Person

Dear Mommy,

I honestly really feel like no one will ever love me. I feel like every person who’s said they did was either lying or really only liked the idea of me. When I see people around me in love and know it’ll never happen for me, I get super sad and anxious and overwhelmed. How do I deal with it?

Hello, my love. First of all, I’m going to assume that when you say you feel like no one will ever love you, you are talking about romantic love. Because, as I am sure you know, there are most certainly people in your life that love you. But we’re talking romance here, being ~in love~, etc. I hear you and I am here for you, and I know the feeling! I spent every second of my teen years begging the universe for someone to love me. I was obsessed. I thought about having a boyfriend aaaall the time. As a teen, I was prone to insecurity and existential angst and I was absolutely positive that a boyfriend would quell all my anxieties about myself and the world. My self-esteem would rise, I would self-actualize on the spot, and the world would be full of beauty and joy ONLY. And, Lord, I had a crush on EVER-Y-BOD-Y. I did finally get a boyfriend in eighth grade, my brother’s best friend who I had had a crush on foreeeeever. It was only a couple of weeks before he started to avoid me, and finally called to tell me we should break up. I cried in the shower, but I was undaunted. I asked people out! Friends, acquaintances, whoever. No one was particularly interested. I watched my best friends get boyfriends and girlfriends, break up, and get new boyfriends and girlfriends. My senior year, I screwed up my courage to ask someone to the homecoming dance. He looked surprised but said yes. Later that day, he approached me in the hallway to tell me that he had chosen to go with someone else. I was so sure I was going to be single forever, that I would never experience requited love. It seems funny now. Laughable. Not only because I did eventually find love and it’s silly to think that I, as a teenager, could see into the future and predict that it would never happen, but because sometimes it feels like you’re supposed to look back on the emotional pain of being a teenager and see it as funny. “Ha ha ha, look how much I’ve LEARNED! Look how much I have EVOLVED!” says I as I re-read my diary from high school. But when I really think about it, I can vividly remember how I felt, and it was painful and crushing and not funny at all. It became all tied up in my feelings about my body and my feelings about being a girl and, before I knew it, my self worth became tangled up in my ability to get someone to be romantically interested in me. What’s funny about that? And then, when I was 18 and fresh out of high school, I fell in love with someone and they fell in love back. And I’m not going to lie to you, it was great. Incredible, really. You know this. You’ve seen the movies. If you didn’t know this you would not have written me this question. Being in love is THE SHIT. My relationship lasted for 7 and a half years, and then it imploded. And I am now almost 8 months on the other side. I have been there and back. Would you like to know what I’ve learned? HERE ‘TIS: I have learned that, while being in love and having someone love you back has numerous benefits, it doesn’t make you more of a person. It doesn’t make you funnier, it doesn’t make you smarter, it doesn’t make you more interesting. Being loved doesn’t make you any more…you.

According to a million songs and movies and friends who’ve finally ~gotten the guy/girl/person~, “Being in love makes the sun shine brighter!” What a seductive idea, and it’s probably true for a little while. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, forever. I know why you want it, and it’s okay to want it! It really is! It’s okay to feel sad that you don’t have it, it’s okay to feel like you’re missing out, it’s okay to feel however you are feeling about it at any given moment. Your feelings are valid, and when they come up, let yourself feel them because feelings don’t usually go away just because you’re pretending they’re not there. Feel the feelings, but you must absolutely REFUSE to let them shut out your light. You must, eventually, STAND UP and pour yourself into every single crack and detail of your life. Just absolutely pour yourself into it. Because all that sun shining brighter shit? Well, that’s how I felt after i saw Joanna Newsom live. That’s how I felt after I visited the met for the first time. That’s how I felt when I read The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch. That’s how I felt at my birthday party in 2014, surrounded by all my friends. That’s how I feel when I spend Christmas with my family. That’s how I feel when I watch either of Beyonce’s visual albums. That’s how I feel every time I swim in the Columbia River. What I am saying is, you can, to some degree, create the circumstances that allow for a complete and total, reciprocal, loving relationship with life. Find the things that give you permission to live the exact life you want to, and watch them/read them/listen to them/go see them. Take your time and fill up your life with people who make you feel good, alive, and loved. Spend your free time doing the shit that lights you on fire, whether it’s cooking or graffiti or playing music or working on your unauthorized biography of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (just please please please send it to me when you’re done). I’m not saying it’s easy. A strange thing about life is that sometimes it’s impossibly hard to do the things you love, because all the feelings get in the way. And it won’t take the pain away completely, but here’s a secret: being in love doesn’t even take the pain away completely. So it’s time, my friend, to put on your gear. Strap on your helmet, your boxing gloves, your Wonder Woman shield – whatever it takes to fight the voice creeping into your head and heart that’s telling you that, because no one has loved you in the past in the way you want to be loved, that they never will. The thing that says you are only valuable to this world when you are in love. The thing that’s telling you that you are more full, more you, when someone loves you. Strap on your gear and fight it, and fill up every inch of this world with the beauty and brilliance that is you and all the things you love and all the things you create. Make us grasp desperately into our purses for our sunglasses when you appear in the doorway because you are so fucking bright. I can’t wait to see you shine.

Love, Mommy

 


 

Dear Mommy,

How do you decide when a romantic, deeply-entangled, life-partner kinda relationship should (or should not) come to an end?

Hi, darling. I am so sorry that you are finding yourself in a position where you have to ask this question. I was in this position very recently, and it is a position of turmoil, likely of great pain, confusion, and contradiction. My relationship did come to an end, and I knew that it should end a long time before it actually did. But we had been together for over 7 years, we lived together, we moved to the city I now live in together – our lives felt as entangled as entangled could be. The thought of the unraveling of that life we built together was so deeply painful that it felt like I would die, so painful that I couldn’t even admit to myself that I wanted to break up. So I just kept trying to fix it, and the pain got worse and worse, and eventually my relationship became a drain on my entire life, the root of most of my unhappiness. But that day-to-day trudge through the mud still felt preferable to the earth-shattering destruction of a breakup, and I stayed even longer. I stayed far past the point of crying almost every day, far past the point of almost all thoughts about my relationship being accompanied by hurt and confusion. And then, finally, he ended it. It’s scary to me to think about how long I might have stayed if he hadn’t finally put our relationship out of its misery.

So, how do you know when you should end it? Looking back on everything I went through, I should have ended it the moment I knew I wanted to. If you want to end it, end it. The moment you feel like you are worth more than what the other can give, walk away. The moment you feel like you deserve more and they are not capable of giving you more, go. If you feel like you want to get out for no real reason even, just get out. If you’re not sure, maybe it’s not time to leave yet. But the moment your relationship becomes a slow trudge through the mud, choose the shattering instead of continuing the trudge. There are probably always going to be reasons to stay, possibly many. But the only reason that you should need to go is that you know you want to, you know you need to. In the end, by staying in my relationship, I just gave myself many more chances to feel pain. But when you are in a relationship that is that entangled, where your partner feels like a family member, an integral part of your life, and a breakup would feel like a death, how can you possibly find the strength to end it voluntarily? I don’t know, I couldn’t do it. Maybe for you it’ll be easy. Or maybe the pain will be unbearable. But you will survive. Your partner will survive. And if you do want to get out, I hope you find a bravery that I couldn’t. Good luck.

Love, Mommy

Conflict Does Not Mean Something Is Broken

Dear Mommy,

Lately I’ve had a weird sense of resentment towards two of my best friends. I love them dearly, and they’ve never done me wrong, but I find I am irritated with them a lot for no good reason. Like, little things are making me more annoyed than they should. I’m starting to feel a sense of distance from them because of this. How can I spend time with them with this irritation at the back of my mind?

Friendship is kind of a funny thing. “Our bodies force us to have physical reactions that involve making sounds and expelling air when we hear the same joke. Let’s put our bodies in the same place sometimes!” There are lots of different kinds of friendships: true soulmate friends, friend with benefits, friendships of convenience, friends who feel like family. Sometimes you connect with people for no discernible reason, sometimes you share the same interests, sometimes you don’t really like each other but you have years of accumulated shared experience that sort of makes you friends by default. Sometimes you choose your friends. Sometimes you don’t. Friends are crucial. Friends are fun. Friends are supportive. And, sometimes, friends are annoying.

It could be useful for you to try to pinpoint where your irritation with your friends is coming from. Try to notice patterns or specific things that annoy you. Is it a particular thing these friends are doing, a particular way they interact with you? A specific subject they want to talk about a lot that just doesn’t jive with you? Is is it environment specific? Do they annoy you when you’re around certain people? Try to answer these questions as honestly as possible, and then figure out if it’s something you can talk to them about. If it is, sit ’em down and be real. I don’t recommend starting with, “Hey you’re annoying the fuck out of me lately!” But do be honest, and tell them what’s bothering you. I know confrontation can be extremely hard, and I think it’s easy to assume if there is conflict that something is broken. With romantic relationships and family members, there seems to be an understanding that you’re going to be mad at or annoyed with each other some of the time. With platonic friends, conflict feels scarier for some reason. Maybe it’s because there is less of an explicit commitment. I’ve been in a few situations lately where I’ve confronted friends. Everything worked out fine, but it sent me into something of a personal crisis. “Am I a good friend? Should I be 100% okay with everything my friends do, even if they upset me? If their actions bother me, is it my job to be ~chill~ and try to stuff that annoyance/hurt/anger down?” After many nights of tortured soul searching, I realized the answer to all of those questions is a resounding HELL NO. I want my friendships to be strong, and they can’t be strong if I’m over here with daggers in my eyes because Sheryl just told a group of strangers at the bar the story where I peed my pants at the mall, AGAIN. Cut it out, Sheryl! That is MY story to tell and I WILL NOT push my feelings down inside! Look at it this way: your confrontation is your explicit commitment. It’s your way of saying, “I care enough about this friendship to bring this up, to explore this painful and scary uncharted territory with you, and try to find a solution. You are worth it.” If you let it all sit within you, the annoyance might grow until the friendship can’t be saved.

But what if you can’t pinpoint what’s annoying you? What if there is no pattern? What if you’re being annoyed by things that you recognize you shouldn’t really be annoyed by, AKA it’s more of a problem with YOU than THEM? What if you’re getting annoyed by little things that trigger you for reasons you can’t name and it would make you sound and feel like an uptight ASSHOLE if you ever brought them up? There is a pretty clear-cut path to peace here. You need space, my friend. You are spending entirely too much time with these people! Get away from them for a little while! Cut down on your hangout time, or impose a two-week or three-week or month-long break from them. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable thing to do! Tell them you’ve been feeling anti-social lately, or just be real and say you need some space. This will allow you some breathing room and time to think about what is getting you down. When everything is up close, it’s hard to see the problems clearly. With space and time away from your friends, you might gain some clarity on what exactly is annoying you and where it’s coming from. Maybe you’ll see that you’ve grown in many different ways since your friendships started and some of your friends’ values no longer align with your own. Maybe you’ll see that it’s your friends that have changed and certain parts of your personality just aren’t that compatible anymore. If that’s the case, and this is something you want to do, it is totally and completely okay to decide not to be friends with people anymore. Friendship is not compulsory, and you never have to be friends with anyone that doesn’t bring you joy. This doesn’t mean you can be an asshole to whoever you want, but you do have every right to stop being friends with people you don’t want to be friends with anymore. You don’t have to keep people in your life just because they’ve been there for a long time.

That said, let me re-iterate that conflict does not mean something is broken. Just because you don’t see eye to eye right now doesn’t mean you never will. Just because you are growing apart doesn’t mean you will never grow back together. Just because things aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you need to cut off any ties. Certain friends play certain roles in your life, and it is okay for those friends’ roles to change over time. It’s really important for us to see that friendship is fluid. It is completely normal to feel like you don’t connect with someone anymore, even when nothing has happened. It is totally okay to be irritated and annoyed with people you love, even for petty ass reasons. It is completely normal to feel distant with your best friends. If you stick with it, you may find that you start connecting again or that the distance between you closes naturally on its own. You and your friends are just humans, flawed and beautiful like all of us. Relationships ebb and flow, closeness becomes distance and then closeness again. There is pain and beauty in every wave. Ride it out. Or don’t.

Love, Mommy

Problematic Faves

Dear Mommy,

What are ways to navigate loving celebrities that sometimes do shitty things?

Hi, friend. I believe you are referring to what we in the 2010’s call PROBLEMATIC FAVES. UGH. Allow me to define our terms: a problematic fave is a singer/actor/writer/other sort of media-maker/celebrity that you love OR a fictional character that you love who does or says something hurtful or oppressive. Problematic is sort of a blanket term for actions that are racist, sexist, homophobic or uphold other oppressive power structures. Media has always been problematic because humans have always been problematic, and with the advent of social media we can now read, hear, and see every problematic thing that our favorite creators of media are thinking all the time! I love it! It’s truly good for the soul.

First, I want to tell you that it’s okay to consume problematic media because, uh…that’s pretty much all there is. You’d be hard pressed to find a celebrity (or PERSON) that never says anything sexist, racist, homophobic, classist, ableist, transphobic, etc. etc. etc. Ditto TV shows. Ditto movies. Ditto every type of media you could consume. It’s nearly impossible to avoid problematic faves. What matters is not that you have them, it’s how you respond to them. There are lots of ways to navigate this particular part of our twenty-first century lives. Some, in my humble opinion, are better than others. Give me the pleasure of your company as we explore them.

One thing you can do is decide it’s stupid to pay attention to things like structures of oppression and that people who do and claim to be hurt by them are too-sensitive crybabies who are trying to be offended by stuff (like that’s a thing). I don’t recommend this course of action, because it makes you an oppressive asshole! I’m not here to tell you what to do and what you need to pay attention to, but I will tell you that you DO NOT get to decide what is worth being offended by, what oppression looks like to people, and what people should or shouldn’t be hurt by. You have no say in what is worthy of tears and attention for other people.

I can understand this reaction initially, especially when it’s someone you REALLY love being called out. There can be an instant shame reaction, like, “Wait…I like that thing/person and they did a bad thing. Am I bad?” Then that feeling of shame can lead to hyper-defensiveness that serves only to convince yourself that you are not bad. You say to yourself, and everyone who will listen, “NO THIS IS STUPID. THIS THING PERSON SAID/DID IS NOT BAD, EVERYONE ELSE IS TOO SENSITIVE. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS IS KILLING MEEEE,” and that becomes your viewpoint, and the sole purpose of it is to prove to yourself that you aren’t a bad person. You aren’t trying to learn anything new, you aren’t trying to understand the world, you aren’t flexing your empathy muscle at all, you are just self-absorbed and boring. And to you I say, “Peace.”

If you are a white person and the celeb/artist/media-maker in question did something racist, another thing you can do is call it out with outrage very publicly, and continue to insult the celeb in question whenever they are brought up, as a means of distancing yourself from racist behavior. Definitely make sure that your outrage seems real enough that people believe you have never done anything racist in your life. Definitely act like you have no understanding of this person’s racist actions because you have never thought or done a racist thing before you educated yourself about the history of race in our country and the current systems of oppression that continue to perpetuate racism.

My sarcasm above is not to express that you can’t be upset as a white person when a celebrity does or says something racist, that you can’t be angry or disappointed in the celebrity in question, that you can’t post to Facebook like, “Please stop fucking up, people I love!!!” Just don’t use your outrage to position yourself as someone who can’t understand how anyone could ever do or say a racist thing because you are the ultimate non-racist white person. This reaction, again, is just aaaaaall about you. You are not, again, trying to learn anything new, you aren’t trying to understand the world, you aren’t flexing your empathy muscle at all.

So, how do you respond to a problematic fave in a way that allows for learning new things, gaining understanding of the world, and flexing your empathy muscle? Let’s go through some scenarios and break it down into steps.

I think there are levels to problematic faves. One level is when your fave says a problematic thing in an interview, posts an offensive picture to social media, or it is written into a tv show/song/essay you love. For example, I’m watching my favorite television show and there is a scene that is so problematic that I shudder. Or I’m cruising the web and see that one of my favorite pop singers has just said the most eye-rollingly ignorant thing on Twitter. Or I’m reading an interview with an actor I am crushing on haaaard and they say something sexist and I slam my head to the desk. It happens to us all! The first step, when this happens (and it will), is to LEARN. Read some reactions on the old Twitter machine or anywhere on social media. It’s almost impossible not to be able to find reactions somewhere, just google the damn thing! Reading people’s reactions helps me learn what, exactly, was problematic about the thing. Sometimes people’s reactions teach me that something is racist/sexist/ableist/etc. and I had no idea before! Cool, thanks! But what if it’s something you have *gasp* said/thought/done before? Oh, shit! Well, you have now been taught, and you can make amends however you see fit. Amends can take the form of apologizing to a specific person you now know you have hurt, mailing an apology letter addressed to THE COSMOS, or just privately saying, “I have learned, I know better now. I am sorry and I forgive myself,” and starting the day anew. You can now put this all in your metaphorical brain desktop folder titled “ANOTHER WAY TO NOT PERPETUATE OPPRESSION.”

There have been times where I’ve been like, “Really? That’s racist? I just…don’t see…how it’s racist.” Duh I don’t see how – I’m white! Which brings me to my next step, which I will just call TRUST. If you are white and a person of color is saying something is racist, TRUST. If you are a cisgender person and a transgender person is saying something is transphobic, TRUST. If you are a man and a woman is saying something is sexist, TRUST. On and on and on… BUT WHAT IF YOU LIKE…DON’T AGREE? Who cares? We have just established that you do not possess the identity (or identities) that are affected by the remark/show/song so, please, I beg you…get over yourself! Seriously, I say that with love and the full knowledge that getting over yourself is extremely hard. Repeat these two sentences as much as you have to, until you have internalized them: am not an expert on everything. I am not an expert on other people’s experience. You may have been brought up believing you are, but I am here to tell you that you. are. not. Still don’t understand? A cool thought here may be, “I cannot see how this is racist, I really can’t, but I can recognize at the same time that I do not possess all knowledge of racism, so I am going to TRUST.” How does that harm you? (It doesn’t)

So, what if you do belong to the identity that is affected? Sometimes celebs say supposedly sexist things and I am the demographic that is supposedly affected. I follow my first step (it is LEARN, in case you forgot) and I’m still like, “I don’t see how that’s sexist.” Well…maybe it isn’t to me. Where is the decree that women all have to believe and be affected by the same things? Hint: that decree does not exist because we, as women (and people), contain MUL-TI-TUDES, duh. Within any identity/demographic/SELFHOOD you will find people who are incredibly…multitudinous, AKA we ALL are vast and incredible creatures with different experiences, hang-ups, loves, tastes, triggers, traumas, INFINITE GORGEOUS VARIATIONS. The appropriate thought, then, is, “I do not find that this personally affects me, but I recognize that it affects this person. Respect.” Wow, that’s it. Isn’t that sort of a…relief?

So, what if your problematic fave apologizes and you think they have really learned something from the ordeal? That’s tight! Good for you! But what if other people don’t think the apology was adequate? That’s tight! Good for them! Hello, multitudinous? Engage in a good-hearted debate with that person if you are both willing. Maybe one of you will convince the other! Nothing wrong with that! But if not, allow that you may never agree on that particular issue and move on! Allow that we are all from different experiences and, say it with me, YOU ARE NOT THE EXPERT ON EVERYTHING.

So, what about the other level of problematic faves? Like, what about when you find out a celeb you love(d) has done something unforgivable, whatever that means for you. A celebrity charged with domestic violence. A celebrity who molested his children. A celebrity accused of one, or multiple, rapes. A celebrity who goes on a terrifying and racist rant. BUM-DUM-DUM… (a drum roll, I think?) here come our final steps: SET BOUNDARIES and RESPECT OTHER’S BOUNDARIES. We all have the absolute right to set our own boundaries. Sometimes we know exactly what our boundaries are and we see something in our favorite TV show that crosses them and we hit that power button like, “Fuck no, never again.” Or we hear our favorite director from childhood is an abuser and we decide that we will never see another movie of his. Sometimes our boundaries surprise us and we think, “Wow, I didn’t know that thing made me feel uncomfortable/unsafe.” Whatever they may be, go ahead and SET BOUNDARIES. Set whatever boundaries feel right to you. YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY ALLOWED TO STOP WATCHING, READING, LISTENING TO, FOLLOWING ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU UNCOMFORTABLE OR UNSAFE OR AFFECTS YOU NEGATIVELY IN ANY WAY. No matter what anyone says. Whether or not your friends agree. Whether or not you can say what it is that makes you feel that way. Even if you think it’s tiny. And I’m not here to tell you what you can’t do, but I will say that if this trash person’s media means a lot to you, as it often can, and you just can’t imagine not being able to consume their art again, and it doesn’t make you feel icky as all hell deep inside, THAT IS OKAY TOO. Seriously, you get to decide. Sometimes people can separate a person’s art from who they really are, sometimes people can’t. Multitudes, etc. BOTH ARE VALID, as long as you aren’t an asshole about it and you RESPECT OTHER’S BOUNDARIES. Sometimes I think about potential conflicts in my head as conversations. Here is one where a person is given an opportunity to respect another’s boundaries:

Person 1: “OMG, did you watch Chicken Wings the TV Show [TV show I made up] last night?”

Person 2: “I didn’t. I stopped watching that show because the creator said some really racist things and I don’t want to support it.”

Person 1: “Ugh, I know. I really love Chicken Wings the TV Show and that really bums me out! I think I’m going to continue to watch it, but I can totally see how you don’t want to. I won’t bring it up around you again!”

*Person 1 and Person 2 hug*

Obviously that is not how a real conversation goes down. Maybe Person 2 convinces Person 1 not to watch the show. Maybe Person 2 argues and argues with Person 1 about the Emmy award-winning Chicken Wings the TV Show hoping Person 1 will stop supporting the show, but Person 1 will not budge. All these scenarios can happen while boundaries are still being respected. That is tight!

What if a problematic fave really crosses a boundary with you personally but you don’t want to give up their art forever and ever? You can totally do this, but it may ease your conscious to set up some personal guidelines or smaller boundaries. Here’s an example from my own life:

A lot of Woody Allen’s movies mean a great deal to me. I grew up watching them. They were formative for me. (Totally awesome if you didn’t, totally awesome if you hate them all.) After I found out that Woody Allen sexually abused his daughter, I have not been able to watch his movies, but I might one day. Here are the guidelines I have set for myself: I am not going to give that asshole’s art any publicity. I’m not going to talk his movies up on the web and I am not going to post pleasing stills from them on tumblr or whatever. And I am not going to give that asshole’s art any more money. I will not buy a ticket to see his movies at a movie theater. I will not buy a new DVD copy from the store. Maybe one day I’ll watch a pirated copy of Annie Hall, or maybe I’ll decide that I can’t separate the man and his actions from his movies. Both are okay.

Those are my personal guidelines for extremely problematic faves. You don’t have to follow them. Sometimes I don’t. We all screw up sometimes! But I find it helps to have a general idea of what my boundaries and guidelines are. I also find that it’s a lot easier to not support certain problematic celebs if they weren’t formative for me, and I’ll bet that’s true for a lot of people. We are all doing what we can. When someone whose art is meaningful for you fucks up in a really bad way, it can be so confusing. It can feel really bad. “But what does it mean about ME?!” I scream to the heavens any time I can’t bring myself to give up on an extremely problematic fave. I still don’t know! But I think that as long as I’m learning, reflecting, and respecting other people’s opinions and feelings, and as long as I do whatever I can to be able to look at myself in the mirror and metaphorically chuck myself on the chin and say, “Look how you’ve grown, kid,” and beam with pride, well…I’m doing okay. And I don’t think enjoying problematic media in the privacy of my own home should necessarily interfere with my ability to do that. Do you disagree? That’s awesome – infinite gorgeous variations, remember? I disagree with you, but I respect the hell out of you.

In the end, celebrities are people just like we are people. Some people may believe celebrities have more of a responsibility than we do to not fuck up super bad because they have an influence on a greater number of people. That may be true. But I think it would do us all some good if we stopped looking to celebrities and makers of art to be great thinkers or great people. Like just because someone’s vocal chords can make beautiful sounds they are supposed to be a good person? Seems weird to me. Not to say that they shouldn’t be held accountable for the messed up shit they do, not at all – just that we will be continually disappointed if we lift certain people up as shining examples of personhood just because they are talented or beautiful. The art people make does not necessarily reflect the person they are, just like the art you choose to consume doesn’t necessarily reflect who you are. But how you react to it can! Remember to always attempt to LEARN whatever you can from a situation. Remember to TRUST that, when someone say something hurts them, it does. Remember to SET BOUNDARIES that feel right to you, that make you feel safe, that make you feel comfortable. Remember to RESPECT OTHER’S BOUNDARIES by believing they know what is best for them and not trying to convince them otherwise. Just the fact that you are asking this question gives me such hope for you. Go forth and, as an old coworker of mine once said, “Fuck up, learn from it, rinse, repeat, try again.” Good luck, baby.

Love, Mommy

I Want Them Back

When you wake up to the news of 49 people shot dead in Orlando, Florida, you still have to eat breakfast. You have to keep up your strength. You may cry while you’re eating your eggs, but you need to fortify yourself for the day ahead. You can even crawl back into bed for a little while after you eat it, but please just get something in your stomach.

Crawl into your bed and think about the queer and transgender people you love with your whole self. It could have been them, it could have been them. Think about the latinx people you love with your whole being. It could have been them, it could have been them. Let yourself cry and feel everything you are feeling, but make sure to think, “It probably would not have been me.” Make sure to say it out loud. And think about why that is.

We live in a terrifying and violent country. In our terrifying and violent country, terror and violence are not dealt out equally. Queer people experience a hugely disproportionate amount of violence. Transgender people experience a hugely disproportionate amount of violence. People of color experience a hugely disproportionate amount of violence. Queer and transgender people of color EXPERIENCE A HUGELY DISPROPORTIONATE AMOUNT OF VIOLENCE.

I will not live in this world.

14 transgender people murdered in the first 6 months of 2016 is 14 too many. 21 transgender women killed, most of whom were women of color, in 2015 is 21 too many. 35 holy human bodies is too many. I want them back.

258 black people murdered by the police in 2015 is 258 too many. 258 holy human bodies is too many. I want them back.

63 acts of anti-muslim harassment and vandalism in 2015 is 63 too many. Even one holy human body affected by those acts is too many.

49 people murdered at pulse nightclub in orlando, florida on June 12, 2016. 49 holy human bodies, almost all queer, almost all latinx, is too many. I want them back. I want them back.

I will not, I will not, I will NOT live in this world. I promise I will continue to engage and to learn everything I can. I promise I will not turn away from the disproportionate experience of violence in queer communities, transgender communities, and communities of color, and every intersection there-in. I promise that I will have the conversations I need to have with people like me who do not experience this violence.

I love our grieving world and I will fight for it.

Pardon Me If This Blows You Out Of The Water, But You Cannot Contain Me

Dear Mommy,

I am a woman and I am fat and I hate my body. I try so hard to feel positive about my body, to feel confident, and to forget everything I’ve been told about it, but all I can do is obsess about how much I hate it, which also makes me hate myself. How can I feel better about my body?

Hi, my love.

I have a fat body. Isn’t it so funny that typing those words out for other people to see fills me with palpable dread, especially at the thought that people who know me in real life will read them? Even though everyone who has ever seen me has seen that I have a fat body? I think part of it comes from the fact that I don’t have very many friends that have bodies like mine, and I don’t see many positive images in media of people that have bodies like mine. Being fat and happy, fat and comfortable, fat and beautiful, fat and visible, fat and unashamed, are not archetypes widely available to me, which makes even the act of naming my body as fat very scary. Every time I go to the park or a show or a party or any other place where people my age gather, I scan the crowd trying to find people that have bodies like mine. Where are they? Are they all gathering somewhere else? Are they all indoors? Should I be indoors?

Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’m supposed to be trying as hard as I can to not have a fat body, but I don’t. I never try to actively lose weight and that makes me feel like a failure. I don’t do it mostly because, when faced with the idea of counting calories or figuring out an exercise plan geared toward dropping pounds, I always think of so many other, better, more interesting things I could be doing. There’s also an ornery side to me that is pissed off that there is some unknown entity out there trying to dictate what is beautiful and what I should look like and what health means and I refuse to buy in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream of losing weight, that it doesn’t enter my mind multiple times every single day, that I haven’t wasted hours of days, years of my life, wishing it would happen.

I don’t know if people who aren’t fat realize how much of a BATTLE being fat is, every single day. Especially especially especially if you are a fat woman. I have felt shame because I couldn’t starve myself enough to lose weight. It made me feel like I had weak character. I have concocted elaborate fantasies in which I am in a terrible accident and enter into a coma, which would mean I could not eat, which would mean I would lose weight. Can you believe that? Can you believe that I have wished very extreme harm on my body in the name of being thinner? I bet you can. When I was a teenager, I took pictures of the parts of my body that I hated the most and printed them out from my family’s home computer. I kept them in my bottom desk drawer and I would look at them to remind myself not to eat. I have harmed my body because I hated it.

I grew up knowing I was supposed to be looked at, and if you are a woman you probably did too. I know that’s some well-tread territory for a lot of us, but it’s still in me all the time and still worth talking about. No one took me, no one took most girls, aside and said, “Follow your dreams! But always remember that your main purpose in life is to be gazed upon by men. Let that be a part of everything you do. Let that seep in and become as fundamental to your functioning as the blood in your veins! As natural as breathing!” No one said this explicitly, and no one person even did this but, like, I knew. I knew then and I still know, even though I would desperately like to know better. It would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. I’ve had it pinned down, I’ve had it named, for years now yet I still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. As women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons. We are all walking that path together, and I’m always gonna tell you that your body is holy and, yes, I will bow down to it. You just have to ask. But if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. You can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. Unless you are living it.

I think we all know that this pair of eyes is bigger than any one’s actual pair of eyes, and that it’s not really a pair of eyes at all. (So how the fuck is it looking at us?) But this pair of eyes that isn’t a real pair of eyes does affect the way people with real pairs of eyes view my body. And if you are a fat person, a fat woman especially, you learn very early that people hate what your body looks like. People hate what my body looks like! Would you like to know how I know that people hate what my body looks like?

A SHORT LIST TO ILLUSTRATE HOW I KNOW THAT PEOPLE HATE WHAT MY BODY LOOKS LIKE

  • At an old job of mine, my favorite coworker approaches me and says, with no prompting, “You want to know something embarrassing? When I was a kid I had to wear [she kinda whispered at this point] plus size jeans.” “I WEAR PLUS SIZE JEANS NOW SHOULD I BE EMBARRASSED? JUST KIDDING, I DON’T EVEN WEAR JEANS CAUSE THEY DON’T FIT ME! SHOULD I BE DEAD?” is how I respond, later that night in my bed, in my mind, replaying the incident for the 600th time.
  • A close friend says to me, “I hate when fat people leave the house in sweat pants or pajamas. Just because you’re fat doesn’t mean you get to stop trying.” “Hmmmmmm,” I say as my entire being splatters onto the windshield of her car.
  • In middle and high school, the phrase “I love ___ like a fat kid loves cake” becomes popular. I hear it over and over, over and over, over and over again. Like a fat kid loves cake. Like a fat kid loves cake. Like. a. fat. kid. loves. cake.
  • In high school, a boy at a party asks me to follow him downstairs. “You’re fat,” he tells me. “Okay,” I say. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he says. When I refuse, he calls me a piece of shit four times. Was I a piece of shit because I, the fat girl, was not grateful for his attention?
  • The thin, beautiful manager at my first college job loves cookies. My other manager brings cookies to every meeting. “Are you trying to make me fat?!” she cries. Everyone’s uproarious laughter borders on outrageous. Aside from wounding me deeply, it just…isn’t that funny.
  • I am walking on the street one evening a few years ago. Two men sitting outside a bar are, presumably, trying to find a woman for one of them to date. “Why don’t you date her?” One of them says as I walk by. “Yeah, maybe if you gouged out my eyes first,” replies the other. I have to keep living as a human being after that. I don’t get to burst into a beautiful cloud of dust and transcend this painful plane of existence.

These are a few examples. I had many more to choose from. I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about how much people hate, are disgusted by, and dehumanize fat women. Unless you are also a fat woman. Then we’ve both forgotten more than they’ll ever know.

Which brings me to your question. “How can I feel better about my body?” Oh my god. You sweet, incredible, powerful, and smart child of god (whatever that is). I wish so, so badly I could tell you. I wish I knew. I am sitting here, writing this, begging the world to send me the answer, because you deserve to know. It has never helped me to look in the mirror and say, “You are beautiful.” It has never helped me to write myself affirmations. That advice has always felt so puny to me. In fact, very little has ever helped me feel better about my body. Almost nothing. But I can think of two things.

The first is seeking out the stories of other fat women. Nothing, nothing, nothing helps like feeling less alone. A huge, giant recommendation is Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West. Holy shit, I’ve never felt so known. I’ve never felt so healed. Women create such beautiful, incredible things. It takes my breath away, I am BREATHLESS as I type this to you. Find them find them find them! Women will save you, they will pull you out of the water to breathe the freshest air.

The second thing is…writing this. Did you know you can write out the scariest shit in the world and share it with the people you love and you will still be alive? Maybe even a little bit lighter in the heart? Did you know there is nothing more powerful than saying to the world, “Pardon me if this blows you out of the water, but you cannot contain me. You are not allowed to bind me with your notions of what is appropriate to feel, to talk about, to experience. You cannot contain me. I am uncontainable! I am allowed to talk about what scares me, and what scares you. I am allowed to roll up my sleeves and lay my scars bare for all to see.” Write it all out, sister. You don’t have to share it, just get it out. That voice that tells you that you are unlovable, unfuckable, disgusting, inhuman, worthless, powerless? That. Is. Not. Your. Voice. That is the voice of demons. You are not a demon, you are a glorious human being so take a fucking pen to paper or a finger to keyboard or a paintbrush to canvas or a gluestick to magazine cutout or a guitar pick to guitar and tell your fucking story, girl. Find your human voice. How can you feel better about your body? It starts with looking at your demons right in the motherfucking eyes and daring them to murder you in cold blood and finding out that they can’t do that when you’re looking at them right in the eyes. Fuck you demons, you cannot contain us.

Love, Mommy

Above All, Show Them Love

Dear Mommy,

What are some ways to support friends who are experiencing depression?

Hello, dear one. This is a really important question. There is a huge chance that every single person who will read this has at least one friend who is experiencing or has experienced depression. Even though a huge number of people experience depression and other mental illnesses, we continue to be stigmatized in our culture and communities. We can be seen as weak, violent, unpredictable, incapable, dishonest and lazy, among other things. We know that we are viewed this way by many people, which causes shame, embarrassment, and silence. It is so important to treat people experiencing depression with love and care. It’s also important to understand that managing depression can sometimes be a full time job, one that is exhausting. Empathy and understanding is key!

Your friend is going through something very difficult and it can be really useful to try to hold them in unconditional positive regard, meaning that you accept and support them as a person no matter what. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t responsible for any ways that they hurt you or other people, just that you’re able to isolate your friend’s behavior from who they actually are. I know from personal experience that this can be hard, and unconditional positive regard (UPR) is a tool and concept that originated in therapy and counseling, so it’s usually mentioned in regards to professional relationships. I don’t necessarily believe that you have to hold all of your personal relationships in UPR if you don’t want to or can’t. If a relationship in your life is too hard to maintain or affects your life negatively, I don’t believe that you have an obligation to hold that person in UPR and keep them in your life. However, if your friend with depression is a person you want to keep in your life, UPR can be a useful concept. Remember that they are not being self-indulgent and they are not making things up. Try to see the ways that people cope with depression in an often traumatizing world as valid, even if they are not the ways you would choose to cope. Try to remove judgement.

It’s also important to remember there are no absolutes because all people experience depression differently and need and want different kinds of support. I will be writing this from my own experience of depression. That said, here’s a list of general guidelines that could help you support friends experiencing depression, and they work for lots of other challenges as well:

  1. treat it like strep throat
  2. check in with them often
  3. don’t ignore it
  4. listen and don’t give advice unless they ask

1. Treat it like strep throat. If your friend had to cancel your weekly Twilight series viewing because they have strep throat, would you be angry with them? If you invited a friend to your birthday party and they said they’d try to make it but it might be hard for them because they have strep throat, would you be hurt? Nope! You would say, “I’m so sorry! Let me know if you need anything!” and then you’d text them the next day to see if they were feeling any better, because you are an incredible friend! Depression is often accompanied by lots of physical symptoms that can interrupt daily life, including fatigue and low energy, change of sleep patterns, appetite changes, and even joint and muscle pain. All these symptoms can be accompanied by repetitive thoughts or rumination, anxiety, irritability, insecurity, and intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness, to name just a few. When you’re experiencing some or all of these things, it can make social interaction really hard or painful. So, if a friend discloses to you that they are struggling with depression and you see them starting to retreat a little or a lot, try not to take it personally, support them, and be understanding.

2. Check in with them often. Send them texts or messages throughout the week. It doesn’t have to be anything profound. It might actually be better if it’s not. If you send them the most incredible text they’ve ever received about how much you love them, they’re going to feel pressure to reciprocate with an equally profound and loving text, and you’re probably going to want them to, which is natural. Just keep it simple. “Hey, I’m thinking about you! How are you?” If you do want to send them long and beautiful sonnets of love and friendship, make it clear to them that you don’t expect that level of reciprocation. Maybe writing sonnets of their own in response will be helpful! But make sure they don’t feel obligated, because this is not about you. Make it an intentional practice to find out how your friend is doing or tell them that you love them and are thinking about them at least weekly. And invite them to your shit! Don’t take it personally if they never come and don’t put pressure on them, but keep inviting them. Maybe you’ll get them on the day they feel able to go out. Insecurity and thoughts like, “No one cares about me. No one loves me. Everyone is annoyed by me. I’m a burden to my loved ones,” Can be a huge part of depression. Nip that shit in your friend’s bud by proving to them that it’s not true, by proving to them that you’re there.

3. Don’t ignore it. A few years ago, a therapist wanted me to take antidepressants for the first time. I was scared and I told one of my friends. They promptly changed the subject and never brought it up again. You probably know this, but do. not. do. this. I will never speak to that friend about something that personal again. I felt confirmed in my thoughts that, “No one wants to hear about this, it’s too personal. It’s awkward to talk about.” And it’s even made it harder to confide in people who I know won’t ignore it because that fear is often in the back of my mind. Recognize that it can be really scary for people experiencing depression to confide in friends, and respond accordingly and in a way that acknowledges and respects their bravery.

4. Listen. Really listen. This is probably the most crucial way to support someone going through depression, or any kind of hardship. It can be hard to really listen when someone is sharing something personal and vulnerable. It can feel uncomfortable because you’re not sure what you’re going to say when they finish talking, so you start thinking about what to say and then you’ve totally stopped listening and started focusing on yourself. I’m sure this comes from a place of truly wanting to support your friend and realizing that you don’t know how, but try to remember that just listening is supporting your friend! You don’t have to provide profound insights on life! Take that pressure off yourself by doing these things:

  • Stop thinking about yourself and try to really listen, both to your friends’ words and body language. Stop trying to mentally prepare what you’re going to say. Just relax!
  • Encourage your friend to continue and show them you’re listening periodically with simple verbal signs like “yeah” or “uh huh.” (You may be like, “um…DUH,” but this is important!)
  • Do not interrupt your friend or change the subject to yourself in any way, even if you think you are helping. Ask questions that clarify what your friend is saying, or summarize or rephrase what you heard. This is crucial – it shows your friend that you are really listening. Do this only after they have finished a thought or point.
  • Only when they’ve completely finished speaking should you respond, and just be as open and honest as possible. Your response can be as simple as, “That is so hard and I’m so sorry,” or “What can I do to help and support you?” If you’ve followed the steps above you have already helped and supported your friend by being a good listener.

This is called active listening, and it makes people feel heard. Feeling heard is what your friend needs. It’s the whole reason they are talking to you. They aren’t expecting profound insight, they just need what they are going through to be witnessed and treated with care. I’ll provide a small example. This fake conversation is obviously kind of robotic and not indicative of the natural ~flow~ of a conversation between close friends, but hopefully it helps you see what this whole active listening thing is all about.

Friend: I’ve been struggling with depression a lot these past few weeks.

You: What does depression look or feel like for you? [clarifying question]

Friend: It feels like I have no energy most of the time. It’s really hard for me to get out of bed and I feel really unmotivated to do things or see people. And I feel really insecure all the time.

You: What do you feel insecure about? [clarifying question]

Friend: I feel like no one I love really loves me as much as I love them. No one seems to care about me, no one wants to make plans with me. I think I’m just annoying to everyone I love.
[This is where you will want to say, “That’s not true! Everyone loves you!” Do NOT do that. You may think this is what your friend needs to hear, but it’s just invalidating what they’re feeling. You can express this sentiment in a different way in your response to your friend when they’ve finished sharing.]

You: What I’m hearing is that you’re insecure about how important you are to your friends. Is that true? [summary/rephrasing of what your friend said]

Friend: Exactly! It makes me feel really sad.

You: I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way. It surprises me because I see how much our friends love you, but I can also see how you feel that way if no one is reaching out to you. Is there anything I can do to help?

This brings us to “don’t give advice unless they ask!” This might be the point in the conversation where you’ll want to say, “Here’s what helps me when I’m in this place! blah blah me me blah blah me me me!” Don’t do it! Just don’t even freaking do it. You are not talking to yourself! You are talking to someone else whose experience is very different from yours. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to a friend about how I’m doing, and it gets switched around into a conversation about how my friend manages depression and how I should try this or that and I’m nodding along but really thinking, “Uh…did I ask?” I’m genuinely interested in hearing that information when we’re talking about you! But not when I was trying to talk about my experience. And I find most suggestions offered this way to be really unhelpful, either because they’re things I’ve already tried or things I don’t enjoy doing or things I’m uninterested in trying. I have a few friends that I know experience depression in the same ways I do or whose outlooks on life are really similar to mine, and those are the friends I go to for advice. If you are that someone in your friend’s life, they’ll ask you if and when they need advice. If they don’t ask, just listen. It also makes me feel like I’m someone who needs to be “fixed” or changed, and that it’s not okay to be feeling the way I feel and that I need to do lots of things to try to feel differently.

This is really just about being conscious of when you are trying to change the subject back to yourself because you feel uncomfortable or because you can only see your friend’s situation through your own lens. Sometimes you really do feel like you have important nuggets of advice that can help your friend. If this is the case, ask your friend if they’d like to hear them before you just launch in. Say something like, “This reminds me of something I went through recently. Something helped me that might help you! Would you like to hear about it?” They probably will! And asking this way makes it clear that you are still on the subject of what your friend is experiencing, this is just a detour that’s designed to give your friend some new tools. You can also just straight up ask what kind of friend your friend needs right now. A friend was once talking to me about something really hard they were going through, and it was something I had loooooots of opinions and feelings about. I really didn’t know what they needed and I also needed some direction, so I asked. “What kind of friend do you need me to be right now? Do you just need me to listen or do you want advice?” They were able to tell me they just wanted me to listen, and when they wanted advice a few days later they felt comfortable asking because it had already been established that they had the agency to decide. Never be afraid to ask!

I hope this helps you help your friend. Above all, show them love. Show them how valuable they are to you. Show them that you accept them no matter how they are showing up every day. Show them you are proud of them for just showing up every day. And listen.

Remember to take care of yourself through it all. You are already being a kind and supportive friend by reaching out for support yourself. I’m really proud of you.

Love, Mommy

Your Creativity Is Essential To The Turning Of This World Even If No One Else Ever Sees It

Dear Mommy,

Am I a bad person for getting mad at my friends because they’re more successful and creative than me? I never feel like my creativity is enough compared to those around me. Should I try to live up to my own expectations of my friends or should I only set goals based on my expectations of me?

Hi, friend. The short answer? No, you’re not a bad person. Yes, you should only set goals based on your expectations of you. Byyyyyye.

Long answer? No, you’re not a bad person for getting mad at your successful and creative friends. You’re not a bad person for any feeling you’ve ever felt, because we can’t control our feelings. We can control the way we react to our feelings, we can work through our feelings, we can express our feelings, our feelings can change, but we cannot control them or stop them from flooding through our gorgeous and bangin’ bodies. Give yourself the space and permission to feel it all. I would guess that the anger you are feeling is arising from jealousy. Jealousy and anger are hard emotions to feel, and they are often not given much space. We are taught that they are completely negative, nothing good can come from them, that we shouldn’t name them and we should strive to rise above them. But I can think of a couple of good things anger and jealousy do. Anger can motivate us and jealousy can help us name what we want and create intentions and goals.

If you are feeling jealous of your friends’ artistic success, it doesn’t necessarily mean you want their success to be taken away. It just means that you also want that success, whatever that looks like for you. So try to harness the energy you’re putting toward jealousy and anger into motivation. Try to pinpoint exactly what is going on when those feelings of jealousy bubble up in your belly or your loins or wherever the hell jealousy is located. Are you feeling insecure about your own work? Why? Are you giving more value to a friend’s medium than your own? Do your friend’s paintings seem more like “real art” than your collages, for instance? Try to remind yourself all creativity is creativity and its value is 100% subjective and it is ALL valid. Do you think your friends make more quality work than you? Why? What is “quality” to you? Why can’t you see that in what you make? Are you really just admiring your friends’ discipline and the amount of time they set aside for creative work? Set intentions based on the answers to these questions. Figuring out exactly what is making you jealous can help you to get a glimpse of what you want your creative life to look like.

And yes, you should only live up to your expectations of you. Your friends can inspire you and help you grow, but in the end you are the one that has live inside you forever. It’s totally okay and natural to want people to like what you make, but I have found that it’s best if that desire comes after the work is made instead of before or during. When I make work from the place of wanting others to like it or wanting it to be like someone else’s work, it causes me a lot of anxiety because i’m thinking the whole time, “Will my talented artist friend that I want to impress named Mr. Bansky Jr. like this? Is it as good as Jimmy John’s work? Etc. etc. etc.” The work suffers from that because I’m not creating from my true voice. It also makes creating less fun and feel like a chore. Sometimes I write a sentence that I worry sounds a little too out-there or something (see: “Mr. Bansky Jr.” up there) and I delete it, but sometimes I say FUCK IT and leave it in and I always end up being more proud of that work. That is me making work from my own expectations because, while I know some people don’t think using Jimmy John’s as a stand-in for any name is funny, I think it’s hilarious. Why would I take that out? Am I not supposed to be amused by or find joy from my own work? That’s ridiculous! That’s exactly what it should be about! Trust that you know what is funny to you, that you know what is good, and that your creativity is essential to the turning of this world even if no one else ever sees it. Make what makes you happy, regardless of what you think your friends will think about it. And when your own work makes you happy, it will be easier for you to be happy for your friends when they make work. Even though we established jealousy is valid and even useful, it just feels a lot better to be happy for your friends. Good luck, you beautiful creative soul.

Love, Mommy