Precious Emotional Energy, Getting a Haircut, and The Gay Man’s Crush-o-Meter

by Lindsay Miller


Last winter I went to an art museum with my mom and girlfriend. We ran into a lady who frequented my place of work (retail). We’d always been friendly and had known each other (in a work-customer relationship way) for a few years. I’ll call her “Jane”. Jane approached us to say hi, and I introduced my girlfriend.

Jane: Ooh, girlfriend? As in, a friend or a mate? Because my daughter just told me she has a girlfriend and that she’s fluid! Are you fluid? What does that even mean?
Me: That means she isn’t attracted to just one gender.
Jane: Oh! So, let me ask you something, I’m uncomfortable with her being this way, do you have any advice?
Me: The most important thing as her mother is to love her unconditionally. My mom sometimes has a hard time with it, too.
Jane (to my girlfriend, in front of my mom) (No joke!!!): So, how do you, as the girlfriend, feel being in a house that is uncomfortable with you?
Me: I don’t think that’s an appropriate question to ask, we are leaving now.

Please keep in mind this is happening in a very quiet, highly populated art museum. Naturally, this conversation made me, my girlfriend, and my mom very uncomfortable. She was asking me for advice on how to be accepting of her daughter and asking about my own sexual orientation and to explain it in front of my mom. I didn’t know how to respond to how forward and inappropriate she was being.

Anywho, now, a year later Jane and my mom are in an exercise class together. Jane apparently approached my mom last week and apologized for her behavior before telling my mom that her daughter had the audacity to bring home a girl for Thanksgiving without telling the family that they were dating! She continued to ask my mom for advice on how to deal with a gay daughter, and told my mom all about PFLAG and to watch Transparent, a TV show about a family member beginning their transition.

I feel like she’s trying to get my mom to pardon her and tell her it’s okay to have all this internalized homophobia. I feel super uncomfortable with this, and I feel like I should write this woman a letter or sit down and talk with her. What should I do? I don’t want my mom to be continually approached by this woman, but I live out of state now and don’t have any connection or contact with Jane anymore. How should I respond to this situation? Do you have any advice on how to respond to interactions like this in the future?

If you have interactions like this in the future, you should do exactly what you did in this case: cut off the conversation that’s making you uncomfortable (“I don’t think that’s an appropriate question”), and remove yourself from the situation (“we’re leaving”). Queer people are not walking Teachable Moments; it’s not our responsibility to drop whatever we’re doing — looking at art, buying groceries, getting our teeth cleaned — to instruct a straight person on the finer points of LGBTQ relationships and etiquette. The best thing you can do for the sake of your own emotional well-being is to get really good at setting boundaries, and enforcing them (with your absence, if necessary) when they aren’t respected.

You’ve mastered the art of setting reasonable boundaries in person; now it’s time to work on the other side of the emotional health coin, which I like to call “out of sight, out of mind.” In other words, if someone is acting foolish or inappropriate in your absence, it’s not your problem, and you don’t need to drive yourself crazy figuring out ways to check them. You told Jane you didn’t appreciate being grilled about your personal life when you were just out for a pleasant day with your mom and girlfriend, and in doing so, you exceeded all expectations for polite interaction with an invasive straight person. You’ve fulfilled your responsibility as far as Jane’s personal growth is concerned. At this point, reaching out to Jane, whom you haven’t seen in a year, to lecture her on appropriate social interactions with queer people would not only be an unnecessary use of your precious emotional energy; it would be rude and invasive in its own right.

Jane is doing what parents of queer kids who are uncomfortable with their kids’ queerness are supposed to do: talk about it with other parents who have been in the same situation. If your mom doesn’t want to be Jane’s PFLAG buddy or have her over for a Transparent marathon, it’s up to her to establish those restrictions in their friendship. Whatever Jane needs to learn about decorum and respect in order to improve her relationship with her daughter, that’s between her and her daughter. Either they’ll work it out or they won’t, but an intervention from you isn’t likely to make things better. Stay out of it, and enjoy the fact that your work day no longer includes running into this woman.

What tips do you have for staying present during sex? I’m totally into my partner, but I’ve been masturbating solo for so many years that my brain seem to automatically go to my go-to fantasies whenever I start getting close to orgasm and it pulls me out of the moment with my partner. Help!

This can be so tricky! Having a fantasy that works like a charm is wonderful if you otherwise struggle to get off, but you don’t want it to be like a TV screen that pops up between you and the person you’re boning. Staying in the moment requires focusing on your senses — not just the ones directly contributing to your impending orgasm, but what you’re seeing, hearing, etc. that connects you to the specific person you’re with.

As much as the word “mindfulness” makes me cringe (I have post-hippie-college stress), I think it’s what your situation calls for. Bring your attention back to the sensory input of the moment, as often as you need to. Keep your eyes open. Listen to your partner’s voice. Say their name. This doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with fantasizing, if you really can’t make it happen without your specific brand of mental porn — you can stare deeply into your lover’s eyes while letting your go-to scenario play in the background. The goal is to enjoy the person you’re with while also having a satisfactory sexual experience. Don’t try to shut out your fantasy entirely; just aim to turn down its volume.

You might also have some success if you work on integrating your fantasies into your real-life sex and vice versa. Is your fantasy something you can act out with your current lover? It’s often easier to keep your head in the game if you’re actually doing the things you want to think about. You could also masturbate while thinking about your partner and the things you do in bed together — basically, retrain your brain to get off to a real-life scenario. If this is something you want to try, it’s important that you not switch to your go-to fantasy halfway through. Focus on your partner, or the sex acts in your regular rotation, until you get where you need to go. If you can’t have an orgasm without thinking about your default Sexy Situation, don’t have an orgasm at all. Going without for a few days might leave you pent up enough that it’s possible to come while thinking about the person you’re banging in real life. Once you’ve done that a few times, you may find it easier to stay in the moment when another person is present.

I’m a queer lady in my late 20s who’s about to start interviewing for my first professional librarian position. I think I clean up nice, but I don’t know what to do with my hair when I’m in a suit. It’s currently in a standard pixie cut, not too long or shaggy, and I don’t hate myself when I look in the mirror most days. But there’s a 30% chance that on any given day, some combination of my broad features + widow’s peak + side part + poofy side bits will make me look like Alan Partridge. That is not a look I’m ready to embrace while being judged by strangers.

The basic answer is to get a haircut, but WHAT haircut? I feel like I have had great haircuts in the past, but when I look at photos of myself from those supposed good days I think I look awful in every single one. This is weird, because generally I feel pretty kindly towards my body and face. But now all I can see are the hot queer models that I’m not, layered with memories of my super-dorky kid-self, and it’s seriously wearing at my confidence game. Is that undercut/pompadour that everyone has now professional enough with a suit and tie? Do you have any advice for looking at yourself and not just seeing the ghost of the 14 year old nerd you used to be? Also, oh my god, what you DO about short hat hair in this endless winter?

If at all possible, get a hat you can wear all day. The number one best way to combat hat hair is just to hide it from the world’s prying eyes. A stocking cap with a pom-pom on top is probably not ideal for the workplace, but my partner has short hair and often wears a newsboy cap (with ear flaps!) to work in cold weather. It depends on where your job falls on the business-casual spectrum, but I’ve worked in places that described the dress code as “business casual” and people came to work in PJ pants. You can also try a pair of earmuffs to keep your lobes warm while (theoretically, at least) not fucking up your coif. If neither of those seem like a viable option, just keep some hair product in your place of employment so you can fix your hat hair upon arrival.

As for your haircut, it sounds from your suit-and-tie comment like you’re aiming for a butchy aesthetic, so I say go shorter! Lose some length on that pixie — if you hate it, it won’t take long to grow it out again. The less hair you have, the less your follicles can misbehave and lead you into Partridge territory. A pompadour is often a good look and definitely fits into a professional environment, and even the fauxhawk (which is delightfully low-maintenance and can be rocked by pretty much any hair type) is slowly but surely infiltrating the corporate world. I can’t imagine that you’d be denied job opportunities for showing up with either of those haircuts. Bonus: Having short, neatly trimmed hair is a good way of warding off nerdy 14-year-old vibes, because if there’s one thing ninth-graders aren’t notorious for, it’s getting their hair cut in a timely fashion.

And when you look at old photos of yourself, don’t say “Wow, I hate that haircut on me.” I understand the temptation (seriously, no one ever let me get bangs again), but as you know by now, it’s totally useless and sends you into a spiral of self-conscious misery. Don’t look at old pictures at all unless it’s to reminisce about how fun that day was, or your awesome high school friend who moved away, or whatever. When thoughts about your appearance intrude on contemplating the good times, it’s time to put the photo album away and go do something that will make you feel happy and confident and awesome.

So, my husband did not grow up in a place where he was exposed to openly gay men, mostly for cultural and religious reasons. Being a smart, compassionate man, he bucked the family trend and has been passionately pro-gay rights his whole life. He is very comfortable around our gay male friends, and is irritated/calls out when straight men aren’t. One problem: he constantly thinks gay men are hitting on him. Seriously, he is like that girl in high school who thinks every boy is obsessed with her. Every waiter at a gay bar, every friend of a friend of gay man. He’ll be like, that dude totally wants me! And I’m like NO, all they said was hello! They asked if you wanted a beer! I’m not sure why, but he thinks all gay men want him, and while it’s nice that he has high self-esteem, it is just SO annoying! Please help me break it to him that while I love how LGBTQ friendly he is, he is not the gay Brad Pitt.

It sounds to me like, as cool with gay people as he honestly wants to be, your husband still sees gay men through the lens of their orientation first and foremost. That is, he can’t turn off the voice in his head that says “That guy likes dudes! I’m a dude! That guy could be attracted to ME!” He’s trying to indicate his comfort with gay people by insisting that he’s fine with being hit on, because he has a hard time processing that a gay man can have a non-sexual interaction with another dude. I’m guessing he doesn’t have any close gay male friends, because a true friend who noticed this behavior would set him straight on the fact that “married straight dude” doesn’t rank high on most gay men’s Crush-o-Meter. But if he does, maybe spending more time with them would help him get over his fixation on himself as a sex object.

I’m almost tempted to tell you that the next time he does this, you should ask the dude in question “Hey, were you just hitting on my husband?” The emphatic negative response you’d be likely to receive ought to embarrass him enough that he never mentions his gay-Brad-Pitt status again. (Is Brad Pitt still the go-to example of a sex symbol? I’d have said Idris Elba or maybe Channing Tatum myself.) But that’s kind of a mean thing to do to a stranger for the sake of proving a point to your husband, so instead I’ll suggest that you play the “I’m your partner and I’m tired of hearing you talk about how much other people want to bone you” card. If you let him know that it’s making you uncomfortable — even if it’s all in his head — he ought to be willing to cut it out.

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter, and you can peruse the AAQC archive here. Do you have a question for her?