Dear Prudence

Queer Is as Queer Does?

Prudie advises a letter writer whose friend says she’s queer but is married to a man.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

Mallory Ortberg, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

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Mallory Ortberg: Those who are tardy do not get a fruit cup. Let’s chat!

Q. Is my friend really queer?: A friend of mine recently came out as queer and I’m not sure how to feel about it. First starters, she has only dated men and is currently married to a man. She is a stay-at-home mother with two kids and wants another one. For all intents and purposes, she lives a very heterosexual lifestyle. I would never accuse someone of lying about her sexuality but I don’t think she’s really queer. She has always been an attention-seeker which is why I think she’s claiming to be queer. Homophobia is very real and I’m afraid people like my friend who pretend to be queer are trivializing real issues faced by gay people. How can I tell her to stop?

A: You can’t! You also shouldn’t. Your friend is, presumably, aware that she is married to a man, and that she has children, and even that she would like to have another child. She is likely aware that, married to a man, she faces less daily homophobia than she would if she were married to a woman; she is not attempting to race to the top of Queertimes Mountain and claim the Most Queer Experience for herself. There’s no Sex Quorum for calling yourself queer, no membership requirements. Let’s read her actions with the least generous lens possible and assume you’re correct—that she has somehow fabricated this queer identity and secretly cares only about heterosexualizing all day. That’s still impossible for you to prove, and in no way detracts from anyone else’s ability to care about homophobia. I suggest you take this as an opportunity to not worry about your friend’s sexuality. You are, of course, free to think in the privacy of your own head that she is not “really” queer, but you do not have any grounds to tell her she doesn’t know her own mind or orientation as well as you do.

Q. Sexual history: I have been in a relationship for several months with a great guy. He’s thoughtful, mature, and accepting. However, he is overly inquisitive about my past sex life. It’s already been established that he’s had more partners than me, and I am not a very sexual person. However, any time we are having a chat about our pasts, while I ask about childhood friends or family time, he always asks about previous partners. I feel like I’ve gone over this with him multiple times now, but somehow his interest always comes back to that. (Other than this, he doesn’t seem to be obsessed with sex, and we have a very balanced relationship.) Is this as weird as I think it is? How can I get him to stop (he knows everything anyway)? I’ve pointed it out to him before but he always takes it as a joke.

A: It may be that he’s simply used to talking freely about former relationships and sexual encounters with partners, and is still adjusting to your way of discussing your past. Or he may be asking questions in a way that’s pointed, loaded, relentless, and designed to make you feel uncomfortable. You’ve already asked him to back off and he hasn’t taken you seriously, which is not a great sign. The next time you re-visit the issue (and I think you should bring it up soon), tell him, “Hey, I’ve told you as much about my sexual history as I’m comfortable with, but you keep asking about it whenever we discuss our lives before we met one another. I’ve asked you to stop before, but it seems like you take it as a joke, so I wanted to make it clear now that I’m not joking. I’d like you to stop asking me about the other people I’ve slept with. Can you do that?” If he can, great. If he can’t, you have a pretty good sense of how he will act when you try to set other boundaries in the future, and can act accordingly.

Q. Lack of trust: My husband has cheated on me in the past and I don’t feel like I can trust him anymore. Despite many arguments and promises, I still catch him lying to me regularly. We have two small kids (toddlers), and I can’t decide whether it’s worse to live with a man I know to be a liar or to be a single mom and never get a break from the kids. I have a hard time not yelling at them already. He is a very involved father and the kids would be devastated. Also, I’m a stay-at-home mom and financially dependent on him. Would my kids be less damaged if I just tough it out until they are 18? I am going to school part-time, but we live in an expensive area and if I leave I will be seriously struggling.

A: If your husband is a very involved parent now, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will never get a break from your children post-divorce, especially if you two share custody. While the negative financial impact of divorce, especially on women, is very real, you would likely qualify for child support from your ex-husband, if not alimony, even if you only had the kids with you half of the time. Consult a divorce lawyer and find out what your financial options would be if you two separated. Consider, in the meantime, the picture you paint of your marriage: You don’t trust your husband, he lies to you regularly, and you’re so overwhelmed with being a full-time parent that you feel on the verge of yelling at your children. This does not sound like a peaceful, respectful environment that benefits your kids, and I imagine they are already pretty aware, even as toddlers, that their parents are not happy together. Since your husband is a great parent but a lousy partner, you two might even find that eventually you have a much happier, healthier relationship as co-parents than you ever did as spouses. You don’t have to file for divorce tomorrow, but visit a good lawyer, start saving whatever you can, and figure out what steps you need to take to prepare for an amicable a divorce as possible.

Q. No stone unturned: Recreational marijuana is legal in my state. Being a generally rule-abiding person, I had never tried it before but wanted to once it was legalized. My partner and I talked about it a few times over the span of a couple of months before we finally went to a store and purchased some edibles. We’ve now ingested a couple times, both times with great restraint on the amount because my partner likes to be really careful. I haven’t really felt any effect, but he has. He doesn’t hate it, but he’s not a fan either. If I weren’t in his life he’d probably never bother with marijuana again. The problem is that I want to continue experimenting with it to figure out whether I like it and, if so, to keep doing it because I like it. While this seems like it should be a “my body; my choice” situation, the fact is that my partner is very uncomfortable and/or doesn’t like being around me when he’s sober and I’m not. He’s also uncomfortable with the idea of my doing marijuana without him around. It’s not that he’s not trying to compromise with me, it’s just that he has problems with both of those options. It’s getting to the point where I’m getting annoyed with him. I don’t want to do things that make him uncomfortable. At the same time, while I certainly don’t need to keep trying marijuana, I want to and I feel that it’s within reason for me to make that choice. Are there compromises we aren’t seeing? Is one of us being unreasonable?

A: This has little to do with your partner’s reluctance, but try smoking or vaping your weed next time; edibles are notoriously difficult to dose out, and ingesting THC is significantly different from smoking it. This might explain why, in your quest to avoid getting too high (a laudable goal) you’ve found yourself not feeling anything at all. If you’d like to try getting high again and he doesn’t want to be around while you do it, that’s absolutely fine, but it’s going one step too far for him to insist you can’t try getting high without him, either. You’re not trying any drugs he’s not comfortable with, and you’re not suggesting you start waking and baking on a daily basis; you just want to get the same amount of high that he did to see what it feels like. He is allowed to feel uncomfortable if you decide to go smoke weed with a friend you trust, and you are allowed to do it anyway, and you both get to talk about your feelings before and afterward.

Dear Prudie: I Like My Husband’s Kids More Than My Own

Listen to more Prudence at Slate.com/PrudiePod.

Q. Re: Is my friend really queer?: There are many queer women that don’t share romantic or sexual experiences they had with other women for fear of being judged, especially if they are also attracted to men. There is a very real chance your friend has dated women and just never told you about it. Also, sexual orientation does not require experience. I imagine most of the straight folks who read this column knew what gender they were attracted to before their first kiss.

A: This is a useful illustration, I think! There’s also a seeming desire on the part of the original letter writer to litigate what constitutes legitimate vs. illegitimate “attention-seeking” behavior, as if the friend in question is somehow “taking away” attention from the “legitimately” queer, or that said friend’s desire for attention is inherently bad. It is, of course, possible to demand more attention than one is due, or to lie in order to get some, but it’s also true that attention is a pretty basic social need. If someone says “I have information about my sexual orientation that you didn’t previously know, and I want to share it with you and have it affirmed,” that is pretty healthy, normal attention-seeking. It is OK to seek attention sometimes!

Q. Do stepchildren need to be invited to a wedding?: I am in my late 50s, as is my wife of one year. We’ve both been married twice before and have children from those marriages. I had a son with my first wife and two daughters with my second wife. My daughters have met my new wife, but my son (who lives overseas) has not. Nor has he met either of my wife’s children, both of whom are adults. My son is getting married later this year. He has invited my wife and I to the wedding but has not invited my wife’s children. She is upset about this as are her two children. They want to attend the wedding and are demanding an invitation.

I personally believe they are only interested in attending because the wedding is to take place in France, where my son resides. They were uninterested in the wedding until they learned I was paying for my daughters to attend. Now they want “equal rights” and are demanding I pay for them to attend as well. I am unsure how to proceed. My son isn’t particularly interested in meeting his stepsiblings, who showed no interest in either him or his sisters until the possibility of this trip came up. My wife says that if her children are not welcome at the wedding it is a sign that I am not interested in bonding our families. This is quite true: I am not. Neither of her children has been particularly welcoming to either myself or my children, and their talk about the wedding revolves around how many side trips to Paris or Provence they might be able to take. If this were your situation what would you do?

A: You do not have the ability to extend invitations to your son’s wedding on his behalf, and he has declined to invite your wife’s children, who are strangers to him. It is boorish beyond belief for grown adults to demand an invitation (and paid airfare!) to the wedding of someone they’ve never met under the guise of “bonding their families,” which is a fiction so paper-thin it would tear under the slightest pressure. What your wife’s children want is a free vacation to France, and you should not give it to them. You might take them up on their obviously fabricated desire to get to know their new relations by suggesting you all get dinner together sometime after your son returns from his honeymoon. I doubt they will take you up on it.

Q. Safe or sexy?: I’m a divorced mother in my 40s. I have been dating a wonderful and kind man, who is solid and a great person, with whom I have a connection, but I’m not sure if he’s right for me—he’s a bit boring and not very good sexually. I also have a lover who dominates me in a kinky/SM relationship. We have been together off and on for years to fill a common need. He is married but my match in every other way, intellectually and sexually. Choosing one will necessarily hurt the other, and they are both kind men. What should I do? Choose a safe and loving, if not-quite-right man or an exciting-sexy and stimulating but ultimately unavailable lover?

A: Dump them both and find someone who’s available and sexually compatible with you. This is not an either/or situation; there are plenty of unmarried men in the world who would be willing to have kinky sex with you and are capable of holding up their end of a conversation.

Q. Repairing mistaken break in friendship: I have had a falling out with a lifelong friend over a complete misunderstanding. I made a completely innocent comment about this friend to a relative who misconstrued it (I believe innocently) and them re-stated it to the friend incorrectly with a more hostile meaning. It’s as if I told the relative, “Friend really smells nice,” and the relative told Friend, “She said you really smell.” This relative has a habit of doing such things, and I honestly believe it’s unintentional. Whatever the intention, my friend got completely upset with me, told me off, refused to listen to or believe my explanations, and has cut off all contact with me. She unfriended me on Facebook and won’t take my calls or texts. I want to respect her right to choose whether or not she has me in her life, but this is a complete comedy of errors and I can’t get over feeling like I ought to be able to get through to her. Should I give up and throw away our friendship or continue persisting?

A: I’m a firm believer in the general rule that if someone doesn’t want you to contact them, you don’t contact them, but since you believe this entire estrangement rests upon a misunderstanding, I think it’s worth sending a letter (or email) of explanation. Your friend may throw it away without reading it—at which point it’s worth considering that either something else has been bothering her for a long time and she hasn’t mentioned it, or that she’s willing to end your friendship without a single discussion; either of these possibilities might make you re-evaluate the end of your relationship—but you’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing you did everything you could to clear things up. After that, if she still doesn’t contact you, I think you should let it lie. You cannot force her to listen to your explanation; all you’ll have is the (relatively) cold consolation of knowing you were right.

You might consider, too, speaking to your relative with the history of innocent misunderstandings; if nothing else, consider confiding in her less often unless she seems likely to break the habit.

Q. Dumping ground: I had a friend whose house was being foreclosed. I agreed to let them store some belongings in my garage for a couple months. It has now been two years. I have made several attempts to set up appointments to get him remove it all, but those days come and go and he doesn’t show up. I asked if they even wanted it because at this point I am ready to take everything to the dump and just be done with it. Not so interested in salvaging any kind of relationship, just don’t want to be a jerk. How do I get my garage back?

A: Pick a day 15 or 30 days from now and tell your friend: “I’m having the junk in my garage hauled away to the dump on XXX date; if there’s anything you’d like to keep, come pick it up before then.” Then have it hauled away to the dump with a clear conscience.

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