ASK THEM - Monthly Advice column

Welcome to Ask Them – because sometimes you just can’t ask your friends.

We would like to thank everyone who has written in already. If you don’t see your letter, it may be destined for another month. If you do see your letter, consider writing back with an update. And if you’d like some advice, please write in using our google form at https://bit.ly/SDMAskThem.

The Ask Them Column will be moving to a bi-monthly format. Stay tuned for the next column in July 2022! 

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This pandemic has been both a boon and a bust. Boon because I’ve become so much happier these past two years. Bust because my social anxiety is slowly creeping to agoraphobia level! I was nervous around crowds before 2020. Now, last month, I tried to go to a festival and almost had a full blown panic attack in my car. As you guys have announced, Dyke March (and I’m assuming all of Seattle Pride) is going to be in person for 2022. I SO badly want to go. I’m so sick of this plague. I’m so sick of being stuck at home, not seeing people, fearing I’d lose my job if I get Covid-19, and worried my loved ones will get sick. I want to celebrate! It’s been two years damn it! But I also don’t want to end up with a panic attack this June. I’m not looking for mental health information; you guys aren’t mental health professionals and hell I’d never ask for that from you! I was wondering, do you have any advice to slowly reintegrate myself back into society after the hellscape (and ongoing hellscape it is) of Covid-19? How do I get used to seeing people’s bottom half of their face again? How am I going to deal… with being perceived? Wha!

Sincerely yours, Panic at the Disco

Response A: I’m glad you’ve found a silver lining to this pandemic. As you acknowledge, we’re not mental health professionals, but speaking to one might give you a bit of relief. It’s definitely something to consider if it’s available to you and you’re not already working with someone. But as for how to reintegrate yourself; I would consider creating opportunities to be around people that start off small and increase in size/duration/etc. toward a large event like the Dyke March. It could start with in person shopping, then going to a gym or the library or a coffee shop, then going out to a bar or the mall, or other more densely populated place or event.

As for seeing the bottom of people’s faces and being perceived- I would start with being kind to yourself. It’s been a wild few years and we’ve all been through a lot. You had unexpected changes that forced you inside and allowed your comfort at home and discomfort out of your home to grow. You sound determined to “reintegrate,” so I’m confident you’ll be successful. It just might take some time. So I’ll double down- offer yourself some grace and compassion. It will make reintegrating more fun and most likely more effective. I wish you the best of luck. We look forward to seeing you at the Dyke March!

Response B: Dear Panic at the Disco, Perhaps you learned something valuable about yourself, maybe you don’t really want to do big Pride events. There are so many people who are just not interested in the crowds, so you’re in good company. Perhaps the question to explore is what social things will bring you joy or at least feel like they would be worth the anxiety. 

It sounds like crowds might not be your happy place, so perhaps find smaller groups or activities. One example is the the Seattle Lesbian Social Meetup. They have regular walks around the Seattle area that seem to be about 7-12 people. 

Have you thought about whether having a support group go with you would help? If you have some friends you feel comfortable with, you could talk to them about your needs, explain you might need to leave early or take breaks. If you haven’t yet found your group of friends, you could also ask on places like the Seattle Queer Exchange (Facebook) and Lex and perhaps find a group of people who have similar concerns and you can support each other. 

Just take care of yourself and listen to your body. There’s no right way to enjoy Pride, or being out in the world again. We’re lucky to be in a place like Seattle that has so many activities and different ways to connect – explore what feels good to you. If you do make it to the Dyke March, we’ll be excited to see you. 

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I’m finally coming out late in life, and one thing that kept me closeted for decades was the fear of being too inexperienced in gay sex. I’m afraid that disclosing I’m a queer virgin will freak people out, but lying by omission feels shitty and I’m guessing will just lead to bad sex.

How and when should I open up about this to a new date? Are there people out there who get off on teaching a very enthusiastic beginner?  – Late Bloomer

Response A: Dear Late Bloomer, Congratulations on coming out! Dating is about finding people that accept all of you. While some people may have negative reactions due to your lack of experience, there will absolutely be people who are happy to “teach a very enthusiastic beginner.” Hold out for someone who is excited to share those experiences with you. 

And since we all know communication is a key to great sex, I would agree that not disclosing would be unlikely to lead to great sex. Being vulnerable is intimate and sexy! 

As to how and when you disclose- that is up to you and may depend on each person. You can put it on your dating profile if you’re comfortable and want to help people self select themselves out of your dating pool. But if you’re not comfortable with that, I would consider telling people within the first few dates. There is nothing shameful about coming out later, it’s just a fact of your life. I would urge you to relay the message with similar nonchalance and acceptance. A possible script would be, “I came out recently and this would be my first experience dating/being intimate as a queer person/lesbian/gay man.” 

Response B: First of all, congrats! What an exciting and challenging time. To answer your last question first, yes. There are people who specifically pursue newbies. If you choose to share information about your experience level widely (for example, in your dating profile), you may attract people who are primarily interested in your (lack of) experience more than anything else about you. It is important to be mindful of your own needs and expectations when deciding who to tell. For example, would it bother you if someone lost interest in you once you gained more experience? If you decide you want more control over who has information about your experience level, I think it is reasonable to bring it up in your early conversations with a specific person you’d like to get to know better. How early? That’s really up to you and the other person. If they ask, be honest. If they don’t ask, once you start chatting and questions about past experiences or future expectations come up naturally (which they almost certainly will), that would be a good time to share that you are newly out, and ask whether they have any concerns or issues with that information.

Stay grounded. You may not have experience with queer dating, but you have the benefit of a few extra years of self knowledge to guide you as you navigate this new adventure. It is tempting to focus exclusively on your “newbie” status, but it won’t help you make complicated choices about sex and dating. Check in with yourself often and make sure the reality of your experiences align with your own hopes and needs. If not, don’t be afraid to make a different choice. Be yourself. You have focused for so long on your fears about being judged for not having experience with gay sex, that you are probably over estimating how much this matters to many people. I cannot overstate the importance of listening to your feelings and not your fears. Many of your fears will probably evaporate once you find someone your gut says is accepting, supportive and feels safe getting to know intimately. Try to keep your focus on whether you actually like each other and feel basic attraction, and not on your lack of experience with gay sex. Best wishes to you!

Welcome to Ask Them – because sometimes you just can’t ask your friends.

We would like to thank everyone who has written in already. If you don’t see your letter, it may be destined for another month. If you do see your letter, consider writing back with an update. And if you’d like some advice, please write in using our google form at https://bit.ly/SDMAskThem.

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My partner of 6 years decided to take testosterone a year ago. They have always been trans masc, since the beginning of our time together. It wasn’t so much a gender change as just an evolution, a new expression of what has always been there. As a trans masc person microdosing testosterone myself, I support them. I’m excited for them, and I’m curious about their experience, what they notice and how they grow. As someone who is not attracted (much of it brings up a disgust response in me, at an intimate level) to secondary sex characteristics of testosterone, I’m terrified that this means the end of our partnership. And that at some point, I won’t be sexually attracted to them any more.

I am still attracted to them now, mostly, but I’m already being triggered frequently by their low voice. I have been in therapy through this. I have lots of support with friends and other trans folks who are close family. I’ve done a lot of healing/transformative work, yes. And, I am just completely not used to hearing a low voice in my ear or close behind me in my intimate spaces! It has been more than 20 years since I’ve had a cis male lover. I’m not used to it and it gives me a bodily reaction of cringing and wanting to run away.

I love them deeply and am serious about my commitment to them, but it feels inevitable that our erotic connection will dwindle and stop. And that is completely triggering my complex trauma and disorganized attachment panic.

All the materials & support for partners of people who are transitioning that I have found are geared toward cis people with very basic “trans exists” kinds of rhetorics, and those don’t apply to me. I find myself completely unable to be comforted about this change.

Even if we only have five, three, one more year together, how do I keep going knowing that the end is inevitable? Is it kinder to end things now? How do I learn how to stretch and grow my own identities such that I can keep loving this beautiful boy, who is generally wonderful? – Jesse

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Response A: Jesse. First of all, I want to say thank you for writing in. I think we are in a political context right now where when people experience difficult relationship issues or have complex questions weighing on their heart, there is immense fear of reaching out for help. The “why” of that reality could be its own song, dance, and epic musical to unpack, but regardless, thank you for your vulnerability.

What jumped out from your submission is that your partner’s expression of their secondary sex characteristics seems to be triggering your complex trauma. And before I move onto my questions and advice, I want to pause and provide space for that. For people who have trauma, change can be scary. It can remind us of a time when everything felt safe and fine, and then something changed and it all exploded. Needing to pause or having fear of change does not make you transphobic and it does not make you a TERF. I hope you already know this, but I just want to be sure to say so because I understand that in this quick-to-react world labels can be put on feelings without being open to hearing the “why” (don’t worry, I still hate transphobia and think TERFs can go step on a LEGO). Now, on to my thoughts.

My first question is, what type of therapy are you engaged in or have historically engaged in? I am very happy to read that you are engaged in therapy and have a wonderful support system. Simultaneously, I am curious if you have ever engaged in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy? If you have not, it may be something to look into. Other forms of therapy can be wonderful to address a wide range of issues. However, talk therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy), or narrative therapy is not effective at treating trauma. It is incredibly effective at helping to develop coping mechanisms for the issues that come up with trauma, or at coping with life transitions or certain mental health diagnoses.

EMDR is a form of trauma therapy that helps to recategorize traumatic memories from the limbic system (middle of the brain, where fight/flight/freeze happens) to the prefrontal cortex (front of the brain, where memories are made and we do our learning). This process is done by talking to a therapist about certain watershed traumatic events (not the visceral physical details, but how you emotionally felt at the time) while experiencing bilateral stimulation (watching a light go back and forth, holding buzzers in your hands that take turns buzzing, etc.). That bilateral stimulation is akin to rocking a baby back and forth when it is crying. It helps to bring memories that cause you to experience them as if they are happening in your body to the front of your brain, where they will be experienced as a normal memory. The reason I think EMDR may be something you could look into (if you have not already) is what you wrote about concerning your partner’s lowering voice. Is it possible that hearing the lower voice is triggering a memory (or memories) that could be addressed in trauma therapy? It is possible that addressing what is causing your brain to associate a low voice with danger in trauma therapy could help you to not have that body response anymore. If my writing about EMDR has you or any other readers interested, I recommend The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. He is the founder of EMDR, and the book has wonderful information about what trauma therapy is and how it is applied.

If you have already engaged in EMDR, perhaps bringing what you specifically wrote to us about to your therapist could be helpful. In the end, I think whatever you decide will be best for you. Relationships are complex, and while sexuality is fluid, not all people and expressions fall under everyone else’s umbrella of attraction. Simultaneously, I am reading that you are worried that you will no longer have attraction to your partner, not that you are no longer experiencing attraction now. So, I ask the following questions: Do you feel that it is a part of your sexual identity to not be sexually attracted to binary men (regardless if they are cis or trans)? Or do you feel that something that has happened to you (trauma) is causing you to not feel sexual attraction to people with male secondary sex characteristics? If it is the first question that is more resonant with you, I think bringing your feelings to your partner and discussing how you want to proceed is a good idea. If it is the second, I still think bringing your feelings to your partner is a good idea and also beginning to look for an EMDR or trauma therapist is a good idea. A very kind reminder, trauma is what happened to you, not who you are. Trauma is indeed important, it rewires how our brains work and affects how we see the world, but it’s not the guideline for our identity. 

There is no hard and fast answer to your question, and it’s possible that you may identify with both of my open ended questions. Regardless, I wish you lots of love and healing in your journey.

DISCLAIMER: This response is not a substitute to professional medical advice. Readers should reach out to a licensed mental health provider for assistance.

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Response B: I’m going to be completely honest and say that this letter made me cry. Jesse, your deep and thoughtful love for your partner is so apparent and consistent throughout your letter. It’s truly beautiful. Let’s jump in!

At one point you say that you’re “terrified that this means the end of our partnership and that, at some point, (you) won’t be sexually attracted to them any more.” There are many partnerships that are not centered on or even include mutual sexual attraction. Have you and your partner considered opening up the relationship to take some of the pressure off sexually while maintaining your deep love and and possibly some level of intimacy?

You also say you find yourself triggered by their low voice. As testosterone can take some time to begin seeing results and your partner has only been on T for a year, I wonder if their voice change is new. As they settle into their new voice I wonder if you too might get used to a low voice – connected to this beautiful boy that you love! – in intimate spaces. Do you feel that time may give you the opportunity and strength to stretch your own identities?

You’ve framed this question in relation to your own gender identity but you haven’t once mentioned your or your partner’s sexual identities. Do you consider yourself bi or pansexual? Do you feel that your sexuality is fluid and open to the new gender expression and changes from someone you deeply love? I would recommend reading some Kate Bornstein. Specifically I wonder if you would enjoy her book, My New Gender Workbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving World Peace Through Gender Anarchy and Sex Positivity. Your letter sits at the intersection of gender and sexuality. I wonder if expanding your definitions of your gender and/or sexuality might lead to a shift in perspective about your current partner.

You’re doing all the right things. You’ve been in counseling and surrounding yourself with community. You are seeking out individual support while cheering on your partner. You have not and are not failing. I would recommend giving yourself some more time. Your partner has only been on t for one year. As time progresses you may be surprised about what things you’re able to tolerate or even come to love. After 6 years and the type of love I find in this letter- I think you both deserve it. 

But the decision is ultimately yours, do you feel there is any room for a future together by either shifting your partnership to a non sexual relationship or growing and stretching your sexual identity? If not- that is okay. You are still not failing. And you can choose to love that beautiful boy as a platonic friend. As for timing and whether it’s better to end things now, that is a matter of personal opinion and something worth discussing with your partner. When you’ve had a chance to answer some of these questions for yourself, have a discussion with your partner and let them know what you’re experiencing as well. Wishing you both the best of luck and a long, loving relationship no matter what. Please write back to let us know how it goes.

what I really, really want

Welcome to Ask Them – because sometimes you just can’t ask your friends.  

We would like to thank everyone who has written in already. If you don’t see your letter, it may be destined for another month. If you do see your letter, consider writing back with an update. And if you’d like some advice, please write in using our google form at https://bit.ly/SDMAskThem.

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I’m pretty (extremely) shy and, on the weekly, impossibly horny for a 40+ year old trans person. How do I tell people to approach me if they are interested, and to throw themselves at me for a kiss and more like a cup of tea in a tree? – PaperStranger4life

Response A: If you are shy, acquiring the social skills necessary to flirt and have choices for casual sex partners will take time. In the meantime, create a sex focused or hookup only ad on sites that are focused on casual sex, like Tinder, etc. Be abundantly clear about being sex-positive and wanting casual sex. Get creative and flirty with your ad. You can incorporate something like, “Message me if you’d like to meet in person over a beverage and see if there’s chemistry. We can take it to the physical step by openly discussing it”. My only other advice for you, PaperStranger4life, is to remember that you can only be responsible for and influential of your own actions. Don’t try to change how people interact with you- consider changing how you interact with them. Practice throwing yourself at them and allowing for the very real, and normal possibility of rejection. Dating can be hard, but often worth it. Best of luck!

Response B: Meeting dates and kiss-partners can feel like a major challenge, and if you’re someone like me who hates dating apps, it can feel impossible. Don’t despair though, there are a lot of opportunities out there! If you want someone else to take the lead, going to events like speed dating or structured socials can be really helpful because people attend with the intention of dating, meeting people, or hooking up. Join us at a Seattle Dyke March event and you’ll meet plenty of potential kiss options! Another method could be indicating your interest visually – nothing like showing up to a date with a pin on your jacket that says “Kiss Me” to indicate you want someone to throw themselves at you for a kiss! However you choose to go forward the most important thing is to remember that while you may be shy you know what you want, and there’s nothing more attractive than that.

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I don’t have a lot of experience or interest in sex, but I absolutely want to be in a romantic relationship and am open to exploring my physical boundaries. I always feel stressed when getting to know someone because I don’t know how to discuss this. How and when should I share this with dates or prospective partners without either moving too quickly into intimate conversation or accidentally leading them on? – Demi Dilemma

Response A: The one thing I want to emphasize is that you can always say no. Let me backtrack. There’s not really a “right” time to bring up the topic of intimate boundaries, because each person is so different, and you have to wing it on what you feel is right. However, The most important thing, especially when it comes to exploring your physical boundaries, is that you can consent and revoke consent any time. How comfortable you feel with expanding your boundaries, whether it’s trying out a new sex toy or testing a new technique with a partner, should define “how” and “when” you bring up this discussion. Advocate for yourself; don’t be afraid to stop your partner mid-interaction if you feel uncomfortable. Being vulnerable and honest is hard when you’re trying to be as hot and funny as you can to charm your date, but may I remind you that confidence is incredibly sexy, and you’ll also be happier for it when you’re able to explore your physical boundaries in a way that feels fulfilling and safe for you. It’s okay to tell them that you’re definitely interested but you’d like to get to know them better first. It’s also okay to say, “Hey, I’d love to date you but I don’t really want to ever have sex ever again!” Someone that you would want in your life long-term should be able to respect that. The pressure to cave to someone else’s desires is difficult to resist, especially if you DO find the person attractive. However, ignoring your own boundaries to please someone else could lead down a slippery slope to unhappiness. A romantic partner who doesn’t respect your wishes in the bedroom may potentially not respect your wishes in other departments. At the end of the day, keep in mind that just because someone gets upset with you or doesn’t mesh well with you, doesn’t mean that you’ll never find a romantic relationship. The idea is to find someone with similar or corresponding boundaries to yours, who you feel safe around in approaching these topics in the first place. It might take time and a lot of patience, but in the meantime: take your dates to cafes, restaurants, or bars you’ve always wanted to try out. If the date didn’t work out, well, at least the food will be delicious.

Response B: There’s no one right moment to share this information. At some level you’re gonna have to feel it out with each potential date. I think what you really need to decide is what you feel comfortable with. Would you want to put some or all of the information you shared with me on dating profiles or via text communication before a first date? Would you feel more comfortable waiting until the second or third date to share that information? Once you know what feels like a good fit, you can use that as a general guideline. I also recommend that you consider exploring what you really want from your romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships. I think an interesting way of getting to know people we might want a significant relationship with is to experiment with the relationship smorgasbord. The relationship smorgasbord basically lays out different aspects, activities, or just different ways of connecting that hopefully helps generate a conversation about how you want to customize your relationship. It can allow you and your prospective partner(s) to look at the various needs and desires you have – including monogamy, companionship, physical affection (private, PDA, sexual), caretaking, finances, cohabitation, etc. There are lots of ways to structure relationships, Demi Dilemma and you don’t have to follow the path that’s been allowed by the cis-hetero-patriarchy. We get to explore and create relationships that serve our needs. Whatever you decide will be right, there is no one right way to date.

Welcome to Ask Them – because sometimes you just can’t ask your friends.

We would like to thank everyone who has written in already. If you don’t see your letter, it may be destined for another month. If you do see your letter, consider writing back with an update. Either way make sure to come back again on March 15th, for the second edition of Ask Them. And if you’d like some advice, please write in using our google form at https://bit.ly/SDMAskThem.

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I’m a bisexual/pansexual cisgender woman in a male/female relationship. We don’t see my partner’s parents much except for every few years. But since we’re now getting married I’m feeling weird that his family probably assumes I’m straight. I hate feeling like I’m lying by omission because even if I’m married and monogamous, I’ll still always be attracted to all genders. In the rest of my life I’m pretty out and proud, which could cause in-law confusion someday should they figure this out themselves. Should I disclose that I’m not straight to the in-laws? If so, how? It seems so, so awkward. – Bi-furious

Response A: It doesn’t sound as if you’re particularly close with your in-laws, Bi-furious. I don’t think you have to worry about fixing their mistaken assumptions- they’re the ones assuming heterosexuality. My lingering thought is: what do you want to do? Do you want the opportunity to possibly foster a closer connection with your in-laws or would you prefer to “avoid awkwardness”? Whatever you choose will be perfectly okay. And if you choose to come out you can have your partner mention it to his parents, or bring it up yourself by mentioning a community connection or other aspect of your out and proud life. Best of luck!

Response B:  Many of us, especially when in hetero-presenting relationships, feel a pressure to come out to prove or validate our identities. While sharing this part of yourself with your in-laws may feel fitting because you are “out and proud,” you don’t owe them any disclosure of your sexuality and you shouldn’t feel guilty about if or when you do it. If you do choose to share, you can always keep it simple – try bringing up some queer media and mention your experience with it as a bi/pan woman. Either way, know that you are already living your authentic self and have nothing to feel guilty or awkward about!

Response C: If a conversation with your fiancé’s parents about sexual identity fills you with dread, remember: you don’t owe them an explanation. In fact, they may prefer to avoid the discussion as well. However, if this is a conversation you genuinely want to have with your future in-laws, you owe it to yourself to take the time you need to feel calm and confident in your approach. Remember: you get to decide when you feel ready to share this information, and there are wonderful resources to help you prepare for a conversation with your family. Check out https://pflag.org/ and strongfamilyalliance.org

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Do you have any advice on reconciling with parents who, due to who we are, have had difficulties accepting us? How do we keep our parents in our lives despite these continued differences? – Rosie

Response A: It’s a painful fact that many parents need time to learn about and accept lgbtq+ identities. If you want to maintain a relationship with them it can be worthwhile to withstand the hurt and the distance while they come to terms with it. If they are open to it, educate them on your identities and experiences. If they are not, rekindle those points of connection you’ve shared with them before to keep them an active (if much more limited) part of your lives. In the end though, Rosie, it’s important to remember that you deserve love and acceptance and you should continue to seek out people in your life who provide it.

Response B: One of the more difficult yet common things a person might face and is an unsupportive or toxic parent. A therapist can help you decide if the relationship is too destructive to maintain. It may be possible to have a limited and civil relationship with a problematic parent by setting boundaries. A therapist can give you the tools to achieve a balance of self protection and engagement with your parents.

Response C: You can’t control how other people will treat you based on your lived experiences; all you have power over is how you react to treatment from others. It may cause you more pain in the long-term trying to keep people in your life who don’t want to accept you for who you are. You may find more peace in letting go and readjusting your own perspective/expectations, and better served spending that time and energy on loving yourself and others who do want you in their lives. Life is short; create and nurture space for love, joy, and laughter!

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What would be the best ways to meet older queer people and/or integrate yourself into a more established community? – Anh

Response A: What a lovely question- I love seeing people honor their elders and community at large. My first recommendation would be volunteering – there are so many different types you’re bound to find something that interests you or suits your skillset. I would also recommend following local queer organizations on social media to learn about upcoming events and opportunities that might interest you. Lastly I would use meetup.com to find local queer groups, and apps like lex, HER, and bumble to find new queer friends. Best of luck, Anh, and write back to let us know how these recommendations worked for you!

Response B: I think the best way to find community is to pursue your passions and then find the queer people who are passionate about the same thing. The reality is that we are far more than our genders or sexual orientations, and while it is a point of connection, it isn’t enough for this sometimes elusive thing of friendship and connection. If you like sports, there is a lesbian softball league, and gay running groups – http://www.teamseattle.org/weeklyevents.htm is a great resource. Passionate about the environment, there’s a queer environmental group.  Like reading books, there’s a Lesbian Literature Book Club. If you love the layers of your identities and want to find a place that celebrates it all, Seattle has you covered, whether it is Trikone, Entre Hermanos, Trans Women Solidarity, or many groups within the many tribes in Washington. In every profession, you can likely find queer groups, like QLaw for queer lawyers or the GSBA. If there is something you are interested in, there is quite possibly a queer group out there.

Response C: Covid has severely impacted the task of finding your people. The Meetup App and Facebook Groups dominate social networking, and there are scores of queer groups catering to specific ages and orientations in the greater Seattle area. Luckily, our city is a national hub for lesbian and queer culture, so the many camping, hiking, trivia, and crafting Meetups groups almost certainly also include quite a few of us. Be persistent. Building community takes time. You have to put yourself out there, again and again, and try not to take the “Seattle freeze” personally. I know this is easier said than done, but eventually, if you keep showing up, the odds are that you’ll find new friends.

P.S. If you’re looking for queer community, check out some of the upcoming events on our community calendar!

Whether you need advice about queer dating, navigating pronouns in the workplace, or how to manage your MIL over the holidays, the Seattle Dyke March is here to answer your burning questions.