S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.
S2: You’re pretty your prudent defer here, Prudence, dear, dear Prudence here pretty do you think that I should contact him again? Help. Help. Thanks. Thank you.
S3: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Danny and Lowry. With me in the studio this week is Dave Davies, who writes about culture and sexuality. Their first novel, The Earthquake Room, is available through Tykerb Press. Read their newsletter about people named David and its David Substract Dotcom. Welcome to the show.
S4: Thank you for having me. I’m very excited.
S5: I’m so thrilled. I’m so excited to, especially because I got to do multiple takes on that, because normally I’m very careful about making sure I have everything pronounce correctly before I read someone’s biography. And then I just went ahead and pronounced it news later. It’s your news later. You send the news around later. How’s your day going? How are you doing?
S4: I’m doing great. I don’t know if you remember, but when my book came out a couple of years ago, I had gotten in touch with you or my publisher. I’d gotten in touch with you for us to do some kind of event together and it didn’t happen. But I feel like this is like finally it’s coming around for me in some way, getting contact. So I’m very excited.
S5: Yeah. Let’s just promote your book. Let’s pretend that it’s twenty seventeen or whenever your book came out and let’s just do it. I think a lot has changed for both of us since then and I’m certain I don’t know what you mean.
S3: The other day I had to do that like, you know, like trans call ahead to something where, you know, you’re going to need to show ID and you have to explain, like where you are in the name changing process where I’m like legally. Danny Laverick is now my name. But none of my documents reflect that because I’m waiting from, you know, eight different government agencies to get back to me. And usually when I do that call, they have to sort of pretend that they know what I’m talking about and like, oh, don’t worry, we totally have a policy. And like, we know what to do and they never do. They’re always just like, oh, this is going to reveal that our process is just like a gossamer weave of various toughs.
S5: And so the information that I got was like, oh, OK, well, does it have the same last name? And I said no. And they said, OK, well, will you have like one of each name? And I said, yeah, I can do that. I can reason with each name. They said, great. And then as long as your photo I.D. looks like you, that’s that’s fine. That’s all it is like I can guarantee you that it won’t because I have a beard now and there’s a picture of a lady with long hair and then they just stop for a second. They’re like, well, as long as the you know, the most important features are still similar, they’re just lovely, like they clearly were. Just like we have to, like, pay lip service to the ID thing. We don’t want to say something trans phobic. What sounds plausible, like what is a basic feature and how like I’ll be the same height if you’re good at like eyeballing what, five, seven and a half looks like, I immediately start making the hierarchy in my head important features.
S4: And like I guess my eyes, people people always say they like my eyes haven’t changed, but, you know, and then you just kind of divi mine.
S1: Have your eyes always driving? Well, no, not at all. But my friend Julian is always like one of their big kind of fussy things is like when people say to change something that it couldn’t possibly have changed, you know, like the like I broke my arm. Is it because I’m on testosterone thing and I am normally very much with them on this. But I do have one completely unsubstantiated belief, which is that my eyes have gotten a little bit smaller since I started testosterone.
S4: Is that like a fat distribution thing or something?
S5: I mean, that makes me feel like the person on the other end of the phone. Right. Like it sounds a little plausible if I say out loud, well, T is redistributed the fat on my face in such a way that they squeeze my eyes down. But come on. Come on. Can you imagine yourself saying that to like a group of people and feeling good?
S4: To be fair, it’s not any more outlandish than I took medicine that changed my life the way I look almost completely. You know what I mean? Yeah.
S5: I mean, yeah, I took shots that gave me a big I have smaller eyes, tea shrinks your eyes. Be advised.
S3: I’m glad you’re here. I don’t know where any of this was going, but I’m very, very glad that you’re here.
S4: Same I’m very excited to judge other people’s lives and to.
S5: Oh, good. I think there’s so much judgment that I feel ready to do for our first letter.
S3: I’m really, really excited. Would you read it for us?
S4: Yeah, sure. The subject is my dad wrote me off, dear friends. I wrote my dad a letter about two years ago where I called him out for being abusive to my brother during our childhood. I’ve always been an incredibly doting daughter. I dutifully called him every single Sunday knowing we would never talk if I didn’t. I flew down to visit him two to three times a year and in twenty years he never once came to visit me. I sent lovingly chosen gifts for holidays and often sent chocolates as a random surprise treat. But after the birth of my own son, I was haunted by the abuse my father displayed towards my brother. Growing up, I felt that I had always been a very good daughter and I had a right obligation to come out. And what he did to my brother, who was so young and sweet and was hit and belittled for being shy. I wrote a letter and sent it to my dad and he wrote me off entirely. This was two years ago and I do not know where he even lives now. My stepmother texted to say me, to say never to contact them again and that they didn’t even want me to have their contact information. I’m still in shock. And I think about this almost daily. I expected my dad to deny or justify his behavior or to be angry, but not this. Our relationship has always been at least cordial. And while I knew I was doing the heavy lifting and keeping our relationship going, I was OK with that, afraid to fly wherever they lived and engage in family counseling. But they weren’t interested. I texted my stepmother a few times in the last two years either to wish you a Merry Christmas or ask my stepmother to tell my dad happy birthday or Happy Father’s Day for me. She texted back last time. Your dad thinks about that letter every day and nothing more. I wanted to give my dad room to process his feelings and come to me when he’s ready, but I don’t think he ever will do. I never contact them again, which seems to be their wish or do it right. My dad a letter directly. I don’t have his address, though. I can’t find peace with this. I love my dad very much and always had forgiveness for him for what happened when we were kids. I know he was stressed when our mother died and I know he struggled with his temper. I want him to know that although I can never accept child abuse is OK, I love him and can forgive them. There’s room in relationships for both love and anger. Having my own child caused some sort of reckoning in me and I couldn’t get the images of my brother as a child out of my head. And I regret sending that letter. I can see now that trying to reach my dad in any deep capacity was a mistake. A relationship was built on me being beautiful and good and sticking to conversation, focusing on politics, or whether should I ever try to contact him again or respect his wish to never speak to me again.
S1: Pretty heavy, and I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to edit this down, and I think I’m glad I left it as it is, because I think there’s some ways it might be helpful to this letter writer to look and see just how many times. And in many ways she has quite literally bent over backwards for her father and feels sort of stunned by surely if I don’t bend over backwards and I ask him to once meet me 50/50, that would be fair. I’ve earned that. I can ask that of him because of all the work that I’ve done previously. And it’s kind of blown away by. Seeing what she previously had worked very hard not to see, which is no, he does not want to meet you halfway. He wants you to bend over backwards forever. And if you don’t do that, he won’t talk to you.
S4: Yeah. And I mean, I think this is also she still doesn’t quite see it. You know, it’s like a people pleaser, right. Who has spent years and years and years being an exemplary, dutiful daughter, doing the most people pleasing. And the one time that she attempts to kind of change that pattern, she’s seeing consequences and which is obviously very painful and confusing, but unfortunately is also the one of the consequences of not being a doormat is that people are. You know, they’re not going to be completely happy with everything that you do.
S1: Yeah, yeah. And I think that really came through in that one line of I think I’m still in shock. Yeah, I just think that’s true. Yeah. I think there’s just that shock of like but this is I’m already telling him I’m prepared to forgive him. I’m not trying to ask him to do 50 50 all the time. I just want this one thing and I think I’ve earned it. And this sense of how come I’m not getting it and I can I can really relate to that sense of like, wait a minute, this is shocking. But as you said, I think it’s also true that if you’ve been in a relationship with someone for decades where they relied on your being a doormat, no matter how gently or calmly or rationally or reasonably, you say, I’m not going to be a doormat this time, they are not excited about the idea of an equitable relationship. They wanted you to be a doormat. That’s the way things worked for 20 years. So while this might work in a relationship with another person, this might be frankly ideal. I would I would recommend this type of gentle, loving honesty with other people. I think it feels very, very clear here that your dad does not want even the most loving, gentle, peaceful conversation about the fact that he abused a child.
S4: Yeah, and the hard part about it is it’s like, I guess the nice part or one of the cool things about advice columns is that you can get angry on other people’s behalf, maybe if they’re not able to yet yet. So the part of me that just wants to be like, fuck this guy, write him off, don’t ever talk to him again. You know, there he and his wife are, too. I, I would guess to some extent are having kind of a power trip whenever you reach out and they can say no. But that’s that’s so much easier said than done because it’s your dad and you’ve had this long relationship and you have been so good and you deserve better and it’s hard to turn that off.
S3: Yeah. And to that I would say to me, the most obvious place to consider channeling that is your brother. You don’t say much about your brother here in this letter. I don’t even know if he’s still living. I don’t want to make assumptions about what your relationship is like now or whether or not he would want to hear from you on the subject of his abuse. So I’ll say all of us with a pretty significant caveat of this is assuming your brother is alive and wants to speak to you about this abuse. And I think you should preface any attempt at a conversation with him with a pretty big. Are you up for this? Do you want to talk about this? Is there anything you want to share with me?
S1: Is there something that I I’ve done that’s harmed you or that’s hurt you? I can imagine possibly if you have only really spoken to your father about his abuse of your brother once you had a child of your own and you’ve previously been sending your brother’s abuser chocolates and being doting, that may very well have hurt your brother quite a lot. And so there may not necessarily be a way to make amends for that now. But it’s certainly, I think, the most obvious place to consider moving your energies, which is just to talk to your brother. How is he? What does he want? What does he need? Does it help him to talk about the abuse to does he need to hear from you that it was abuse? Does he know you think it was abuse? Does he know that you’ve told your father that you think it was abuse now?
S6: Yeah. I mean, there’s so much here where this person is talking about her father, her feelings about her brother, you know, talking about his sweet face and those those awful memories. But it is also filtered kind of through the son that she has now. I mean, I think you’re right. This is this emotional exchange is happening between her and her dad and a little bit through her child and not actually through the person who was most hurt in this situation.
S3: And I don’t say that to say, like, don’t ever talk about it. If you if you didn’t say something when you were a child or ten years ago, you have no right to. Now, I just I want I want her to be aware of the possibility that this is a better late than never sort of situation, but where the late part still hurts.
S6: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, would you have advice for her for say she wants to reach out to her brother and either she can’t because she’s no longer with us or because she’s not interested? Like, I’m trying to think about other means of closure. I guess it’s closure for her moving beyond it as much as she can.
S3: Yeah, I think to to reach out to the brother and to say something relatively brief, which is like I have just been honest with our father for the first time about the fact that he abused you and that it was wrong. And I’m sorry it took me this long. If there’s anything you want to talk with me about this, I’m open and available to listen, including to hear things that I’ve done that hurt you. I love you. And I’m sorry I didn’t say the sooner I think some version of that and then leave the ball very much in his court. And if for whatever reason, you don’t get a response to that. Yeah, I think to start thinking about what are ways that I could channel some of my time or money or energy into organizations or services that help children who are abused by their parents so that you’re really putting all of the energy that you. Previously gone into pleasing your abusive dad, into serving the kind of kid that your brother was when you were children, who needs that help now? And to just, you know, in those moments where you feel like, oh, I can’t believe my dad threw me to the side after this. Remind yourself your stepmother said your dad thinks about this letter every day, not he thinks every day about the fact that he used to hit a child for being shy. He doesn’t apparently think about that every day. That doesn’t rest heavy on his conscience. He thinks about the fact that you said, hey, dad used to hate your son for being shy. And that’s the thing that’s causing him to lose his equilibrium, to lose his sense of peace. If you if you just need to say out loud, my father stopped talking to me because I refused to continue pretending that he never abused my brother. If that helps you kind of reorient yourself in this in this and to remember like. Oh, right. This is this is unhinged. Well, my father is doing this is evil. My father is doing not sad.
S4: And he used that as like motivation to continue to stop trying to get in touch with him and then holding to that, because that’s never that’s never going to go anywhere that benefits you. It’d be different if he reached out and wanted to begin the process of accountability, making amends. But it’s not going to come. Yeah. At this point in time. He does not he might not ever. Who knows? It’s not up to you, unfortunately.
S1: Yeah. I think just the thing to focus on, as you say now, I regret sending that letter not to say don’t feel regret, but it is not wrong to call abuse abuse. And it was not wrong of you to say, for example, I don’t I can’t trust you around my child because they remember what you did the last time you had a child in your care. So I hope you can learn not to regret that part. I understand that you’re sad that you’ve lost something that you worked very hard to keep, but I think you should in those moments. Again, remind yourself, my father only wanted a relationship with me when I would send him chocolates, lie to him about his abusiveness and do all the work. You say that the relationship was built on my beautiful ness and sticking to talking about the weather or politics.
S6: What kind of relationship is that? Yeah, like what? What are you getting out of that?
S1: I get that like the idea of the dad can be a big one, but like, you know, take a step back. Aside from the fact that he’s your father. Like, what do you miss about this man who you used to have to mail chocolates to in order for him to say, like it rained today? Are there any other men in your life where you would mail them chocolate regularly to get them to say whether or not it rained? And, you know, if not, maybe maybe think about the ways in which it’s good for him to be out of your life. He sounds like a child abuser who is also rude to adults. And that’s.
S6: You know, a person not really a net gain for most people.
S1: Good luck. This can be hard to process.
S3: I think this next letter is my turn, and I feel very equipped to give a useful answer to this one. I’m right there with you in some ways. So the subject is my family won’t stop bringing up my triggers, but they don’t know they’re doing it. Dear Prudence, I’m a recent college graduate living with my family while we ride out the pandemic and I try to find work. We’ve been spending increasing amounts of time having relevant sociopolitical conversations, and one of the frequent topics is sexual abuse. I have childhood trauma in this area, but my family is not aware of that. I have no intention of telling them I don’t trust them with it. I’ve tried redirecting to other topics with almost no success, as I’d like to not talk about this right now was enough to result in invasive questions every day. I dread the chance the next chat is going to turn into another round of trigger talk, which I’ll just end up having to deal with in private. I don’t know what to do.
S7: I mean, when I read this, my first thought was, well, they already know whether whether it is top level or whether it is somewhere deeper.
S6: I know that sexual abuse and sexual harm is very much a part of the conversation with the president and within just culturally, it’s something that we talk about. But I I was kind of like, what are they talking about? That this is so recurrent. Yeah. Every day. And why is this not exactly so?
S7: And in my experience, when somebody keeps being a nuge about something that they claim to not know, it usually indicates that they might know a little bit more about it.
S8: And they are saying that they are right.
S3: And in this case, it’s certainly to me, I think buttresses the point of I have no intention of telling them I don’t trust them. Yeah, I think you’re right not to trust them again, whether or not they’re aware that they’re doing this consciously because they kind of want to badger something out of you. They’re badgering you that much is clear. They know you don’t like talking about it. They bring it up every day. When you say something pretty banal, like, I don’t want to talk about sexual abuse all afternoon, they release the hounds.
S1: They’re already trying to get it out of you and they’re already pushing boundaries. And I think you are right not to trust them. And so the question then is just like, how much do we want to recommend dissociating as a tactic in the short term versus how much do we think that can cause harm in its own right? And it’s better to figure out something else. Do you have thoughts there?
S7: I mean, yeah, like how much how much dissociating do you recommend on a daily basis? I mean, this is I mean for something like this, like I wonder how. You know, whether this person has the option to opt out of these conversations in general, I mean, I know that they’re living at home and everybody is kind of you know, there are a lot of different kinds of conflict that are arising with lots of people that are moving back in with their family or living in really close quarters with those people.
S6: And so.
S7: Exploring options that are not outright, just saying, no, I can’t or won’t talk about this, that will still kind of alleviate the pressure that you have. So maybe that means that you’re not talking about. So maybe you can just say, I don’t want to talk politics, which is one of the big cop outs, but also maybe in the circumstances is going to be useful for you.
S3: I’m very happy to grant a pass on this in this context. Yes, absolutely. This is not like oh, I don’t feel like examining white supremacy with my white family. That is not what this is.
S6: This is a different a different flavor of opting out of this situation.
S1: Right. Right. Yeah.
S3: So I think that’s useful to is not pegging it to when the topic turns to sexual abuse so much as just it sounds like you’re having daily salons about the news of the day and to whatever extent you can just not do that, like living with people does not sign you up for the salon schedule or walk for those sessions as often as you can, or take a nap or put in earbuds and say you have to, you know, just just always pretend your job hunting like feels like a great, easy excuse, which is just like, oh, I actually, you know, I have a seminar on revising your resume, just like pretend you are doing 10 times more like I’m doomed scrolling indeed.
S6: Right now. I can’t. I just I simply can’t. You don’t have the bandwidth.
S3: Yeah, absolutely. Which I also recommend that you do, by the way, like put a lot of your energy into looking for work so that you can eventually get out of here. Maybe also look into is there anyone else you can write out the pandemic with? Because this could very well be another.
S1: Several years.
S7: I hope not, but it seems good to plan for that.
S1: Yeah, like, you know, get a test, do the two week quarantine, move in with somebody else, do the test again. Anybody else you could part up with might be better than this. And I realized that you might not have friends who could take you in for free. So that just may not be an option. But to to keep an ear to the ground for even somebody who’s willing to say, well, maybe three months from now, I could do that with the goal being right.
S6: The long term goal being like maybe re-evaluate your relationship with your family and maybe you don’t. But you have determined that living in close quarters with them under these circumstances aren’t healthy for you. So whatever you’re doing, it might not be on the timeline that you prefer, but one good way of setting a boundary if you’re not great at establishing them or the people around you aren’t respecting them, is to make space between you. So that’s like a good first goal.
S1: Yeah. And then I think beyond that, I want to suggest this not because I think it is going to be the most helpful thing or because it won’t necessarily have consequences of its own. But just as like a sort of stopgap or maybe like a harm reduction tactic, sometimes you just know there’s not really a way for me to get out of this conversation. There’s not really a way for me to safely say, I want to talk about this. I can’t even, like, go into my room. I know I’ll be followed and yelled at. If you have to just fire up the old imagination and put yourself on a big cloud and travel the world and say things like, mm hmm. I totally agree. That’s a really good point. Yeah, that is my biggest concern.
S3: Say whatever you have to in the moment to get them to agree with you and think that we’re having a great chat and then use your mind to send yourself places that are fun for you and lie you up yakety sax and everything that they’re saying.
S6: It’s just that going over your head. I mean, I think that’s actually that is not the advice that would have occurred to me.
S7: But I think that’s actually good advice because like, this is a situation where you’re kind of trapped and these people are not interested in what you actually think or want as they have established.
S6: So whatever you say doesn’t really matter because they’re just angling for a certain kind of answer or interaction.
S7: So don’t play ball. Just this is one of those where you can just give them what you want and then make tracks when you can.
S3: Exactly like this is like I don’t trust them. I’m never going to tell them about this. My read of that is like we’re going to have a congenial but distant relationship when I don’t have to live with them. So I’m not especially concerned here about like, oh, no, that could damage the intimacy between the two of you because it doesn’t sound like there’s any good intimacy there now. And you just need to get through this. So I really just want to throw in a plug for see what you think they want to hear and just don’t give them anything to react against. Just lots of agreements. And great point. I think that’s probably true. I think that that’s gotten me through many conversations and now I have a great life and I don’t talk to anyone I’m related to. And that’s terrific. And that’s my hope for you. And actually, sex is such a fun song.
S9: Is it really is.
S5: OK. Oh, good. Now we just got some light trauma for the last one. Oh my God. I really I got a I got to every time I have somebody else quere on, I feel like I save all the big trauma ones. I need to find more Choi for the advice column.
S7: OK, this one subject line is called Love and Drama. Dear Prudence, I am a queer man in his early forties, after years of therapy and medications to deal with my trauma, physical and verbal abuse, sexual abuse, homophobia and forced conversion therapy or I have made huge strides in terms of my wellbeing. My problem is this. Many of my former partners start with withdrawing and losing empathy for me. Once they hear about my history, they seem unable to handle it and we inevitably break up to be clear, not spending a lot of time dwelling on the past with them. But if a partner asks me about my coming out story, which is pretty common in a gay relationship, here’s even the basics of what amounts to a horror story. What else can I do? Lie, deflect, try to come up with a rosy colored account. I have been messaging back and forth of a very promising person and we are having a social justice meeting very soon. I’m increasingly anxious about having to face these conversations. For instance, they volunteered info about their family and asked about mine, which I dodged. Should I tell them? I would rather not speak about it, make up stories, save it for later, warn them that the answer may be triggering and let them opt out if they would rather not hear it? Or should I just resign myself and never talk about such instances of my past? Any scripts or recommendations would be helpful. This I mean, I’m so sorry. Yeah, yeah. I want to start by thanking congratulations to your years of therapy and medication like this is like I don’t I have no idea what the details of your story are. But the but the overview is telling me that you have survived a lot and accomplished a lot in spite of that. And so I hope that you’re giving yourself a little bit of credit and grace and allowing yourself to be proud of yourself for what you have accomplished. It’s a lot.
S1: Yeah. I realize in some ways this kind of awe could mirror the question that we had earlier about I have people in my life who I never intend on sharing my trauma with.
S10: And part of my advice was, have you considered lying to them a lot? And so here the sort of question is like, is it worth coming up with a slightly rosy colored account that I can later amend once I trust someone more? Or will that just set me up for more pain and more rejection further down the road? This is a slightly different set of stakes because these are people I would presumably like to be emotionally intimate with.
S1: So do you do you think of this as something that’s like, oh, this is good screening early on? Or do you think it’s something of waiting to see how much information someone can handle? Where does this where does this fall for you?
S7: It’s further complicated by the pandemic situation, right. So casual dating is I mean, for some people, maybe it still is casual, but everything the antes are up for everything because you kind of have to screen people even more carefully initially and you have to all of these decisions are further complicated by that aspect. So trying to recognize that, do I kind of think it seems a little bit like maybe the cart is before coming before the horse a little bit. I kind of wonder I know that that your history is really on your mind, especially when you’re thinking about trying to build something maybe long term with somebody coming to a Tinder match or a casual messaging back and forth and really putting this pressure on yourself to divulge just the right amount of information is a lot. It’s a lot of pressure for you. And so what I would do when I do is first I would do the thing that I do with straight people when around the holidays right there, like the beginning of the family or whatever, which is deflect. Right. Or you can kind of make a joke. You can go, well, you know, the holidays like that, or sometimes I say, like, you know, agree that that is kind of a complete sentence for people.
S5: They’re just like, oh, yes, the holidays, the end of the conversation, you don’t have to tell them anything about anything.
S7: Kind of using that to start. I do think it’s it’s not weird that another career person would talk about their family, because I know a lot of people are close with their family of origin and have relationships. But to me and kind of like family, but to each their own. But maybe just if I were you, I would kind of take advantage of all of the kind of bullshitting at my disposal to kind of move around that kind of thing until I get a better a better take on that person’s vibe, at least until you can meet in person and kind of see how you feel as you are talking about the get to know you questions. But that doesn’t resolve your kind of longer term concerns.
S1: Right. Because the bigger concern is like the story of my life and especially the story of my coming out has a lot to do with pretty much every kind of child abuse you can think of and then also forced conversion therapy. And so I imagine part of what you were hoping for in any kind of serious relationship as somebody who is at least occasionally able to talk about it with you, not somebody who’s going to be processing with it with you all of the time, but who, you know, occasionally you’re going to want to talk about it and you want them to be present, engaged, loving, not so overwhelmed with their own feelings that they don’t know how to pay attention to yours, etc.. So, yeah, I don’t want to give you such advice that would necessarily set you up for failure in that regard. But I think maybe think of what’s the what’s the truest thing about my coming out story that feels the least distressing to disclose. So maybe for you that’s the like just with a quick sentence of like, oh, it was a really bad coming out story.
S3: It involves conversion therapy. I don’t usually like to go into too many details about it. I don’t know that that’s the detail for you. That would feel the easiest to say. So I don’t want to suggest that. But just maybe whichever one feels the most like this gives them some version of truth and reality, but doesn’t bring up any of the stuff that is very difficult for me to see or feel rejected about. Just one sentence, name one thing, give them the gist of it’s awful, it’s the worst. And then, you know, you can kind of do it in a way that communicates like, oh, this story I’m always having to tell this story. You’ll be doing me a favor by not making me tell you the whole saga.
S7: And I would like to think that most other career people, we. To be sensitive to that kind of thing, because a lot of people have had maybe not experiences as extreme as your sound, but can definitely relate to that on some level. But my other my other kind of point was when you say that you’ve noticed that people withdraw or lose empathy for you when they hear your story, and I’m not and that’s awful and hard and must feel so lonely when you have been so vulnerable with somebody only to have that happen to you. I would just like to float something, something that at least you’re a different person. Something that I have experienced, though, is when I’m preparing to or anticipating sharing something really vulnerable about past trauma in my own life with somebody. I tend to feel like I’m on guard. I tend to feel paranoid. I tend to read a lot into their response. And for a lot of people hearing someone say. Tell me a story about something bad to happen to them. Sometimes it’s hard to not just be quiet and listen to it happen, you know, or sometimes it’s hard to think of the right thing to say in response. And I wonder and you could be I don’t know what people have said to you. I don’t know. You know, I trust that your gauge of the situation, but I wonder if you would revisit and maybe maybe kind of think again about how people reacted to you. Was it that they said something that was pretty explicitly sherry, baby? Where they just as warm or as what you were hoping? Did they just clam up? That might not necessarily mean they don’t have empathy. It might mean that they just don’t know how to proceed with talking to you about it. And that does mean that you have to deal with those people. But sometimes I just try to do like a reality check on myself when I’m starting to feel unsafe around somebody who I maybe don’t necessarily have any reason to feel unsafe around them. Does that make sense?
S11: I think that can be useful. And it feels clear to me that you are not saying, oh, no, you accidentally created these situations. Absolutely. Feature so much as one opportunity you might have is to think about next time that this comes up for you to also say this has gone badly for me before. One thing I know is that it’s hard to know what to say to a story like this. I’m not expecting you to say anything that sounds really good or that makes it all OK. I don’t need that from you. What I do need from you is some patience, some reassurance for you to maybe kind of check in with me over the next couple of days and let me know how you’re doing in a way that makes it not like you dump on me, but like that makes it clear you don’t think this is something we can never discuss again or that you have to avoid or treat like it’s plague ridden. I think clarifying with them. Here’s how you can be useful to me so that if they are an otherwise good person who is just like, oh, I just don’t know what to say, so I’m going to kind of clam up. That facilitates further connection. I have also had that experience a couple of times and it does feel different to me for like I have had moments where I’ve shared some form of trauma with someone and I felt afterwards like this was not the right person, not like, oh, I should have known. But just like, this is not good, I want to get out of here. I’m not going to do this again. I’m going to distance myself. And then I have a couple of times had moments with someone where I had this feeling of I really love this person. I have previously known them to handle other people’s trauma really well. I think there is an opportunity here for us to go back and talk about what’s not working or for me to say really clearly what I need. And if they still fuck it up, I can get upset. But there might be an opportunity to. Are they simply flailing?
S7: Yeah, great. Yeah. And a lot for a lot of people is sometimes you have to front load them or kind of tell them how to to treat you in tough circumstances, which is an ideal. Right. Like sometimes you’re like this awful thing happened to me. You just want someone to say the right thing and do the right thing. But but this is one of those situations where and it’s hard and sometimes it’s scary, but telling someone what you need from them in a really explicit way can really actually help the situation if it’s over communicating times.
S1: Yeah. And then I think beyond that, not that I want to say, like only people with a ton of trauma, but if you don’t have anyone else in your life who has a story that’s a little bit like yours, maybe seek some people out. And again, not like run out down the street and say, like, who’s really fucked up, who’s feel really bad about the family abuse, but to seek out support groups or even just like, you know, message boards, as they used to have online, of people who talk about specifically like queer tinged or queer influenced family trauma, so that if nothing else, you have a couple of friends in your life where you talk about it sometimes and you can say, like, I’ve had partners really flip out, what did you do when that happened and who you can kind of go to.
S3: So you’re not like I’m the most traumatized person I know because that can be. And again, I don’t want to, like, go collect trauma like Grynch, everyone according to how much trauma they’ve got. But, you know, if you want to find traumatized queer people to be friends with you and of course, then that comes with its own issues, too. And sometimes we can really hurt each other in ways that are painful because we are traumatized. So you can also tread with caution. There don’t necessarily just like automatically trust anyone because they say I’ve been hurt badly.
S1: Sometimes that just means that they’re really hurt and not necessarily in a place to give you what you need.
S3: But yeah, OK, that’s like 19 different caveats in 12 different directions. I’ve hedged my bets. I’m making it clear I don’t think traumatized people are bandies, that you can apply to yourself to feel better. And I also don’t think that we’re liabilities that you need to run away for.
S7: I think you’ve made it. I think you’ve made it really clear this is one of those kind of super nuanced situations where everything else aside, you have demonstrated that you’re a survivor and that you can take care of yourself. And so I just want to make sure that I didn’t come off as saying you shouldn’t. Trust your own instincts, I think it’s just more making sure they’re tapping into the resources that you that you have and recognizing some that maybe you hadn’t really thought about before. Yeah.
S3: OK, that’s fabulous. I think we have time for one voice mail.
S12: Property, I’m calling to ask about how I can forgive myself and move on, a few months ago, I met an older man who was willing to buy me stuff and pay for pretty much anything. I asked him and I pretended to be his girlfriend for about a month. I’d always kind of been curious about transactional sex, and this was a way for me to experiment. But throughout this month, he really repulsed me with his behavior. I really found that he made degrading comments about women and to me as a woman and I just wouldn’t stand for it. So after a month, I ended it because I said, this is not worth it. Since then, I am just really mired in self disgust. I feel like the repulsion that I had for him has now turned towards me. And I don’t know if it’s really serving me, but I definitely feel very shitty and grossed out with myself every day. So how do I let go and move on after this? I’m scared that future partners will leave me if I told them about it. Thanks. Bye.
S4: I mean, this is one of those ones where.
S6: You can definitely intellectualize the feelings that feelings of guilt or shame that aren’t merited, but it’s hard to kind of like dig that gunk out yourself just by doing some mental gymnastics. But let me start by asking, like, if you’ve dated a shitty guy and it sounds like this guy was a shitty guy and you dated him and you weren’t working, there was no transactional no transaction happening.
S7: Would you feel ashamed of yourself or guilty about that in that situation, and I’m assuming not, right, because you have it sounds like when he did the thing that she really objected to, she said, I’m out.
S6: Yeah, well, I mean, you know, if you’re if you’re sugaring or if you’re doing any kind of sex work and your client is shitty, even if you stick around and or you continue to have a relationship with that client, you still haven’t done anything wrong. Right. Like that. This whole situation, there are two people in this equation. One of them is an asshole. And it sounds like a misogynist and one isn’t. So who is supposed to feel guilty or feel guilt or shame? It’s not you. But that’s that’s easy for us to say.
S7: Right, because you’re still feeling that those feelings anyway and you probably have had those thoughts, too. Mm hmm.
S6: This is one of those opportunities or I think for personal growth in the sense that what you’re also feeling is the whiplash from internalized fear phobia, which is a part of her phobia that is entrenched in our culture. Your fear about sharing this with future partners, unfortunately, is a valid one because there are people who will not want to date you or who will judge you for that or use it against you, which is unfortunate.
S7: Those people are being homophobic. But I think the way for you to. Not forgive yourself because you don’t have anything to forgive yourself for, but for you to integrate an experience of transactional sex with yourself, understanding, first of all, therapy.
S6: Right, copious therapy with a firm exterminator.
S1: Yes, exactly. Yes.
S7: Yeah, hard to find, but those people are out there.
S6: The unfortunate thing, too, about this experience is that you are, from what I would guess, are not kind of don’t aren’t in community with other work or other sex workers who would be a great resource for you to talk about these kinds of feelings and who would probably know if there are therapists who are available for you to talk through, et cetera, et cetera. Like you’re kind of alone in this. So another suggestion kind of alluding to what you had said earlier, Danny, about the person who you suggested that she kind of get involved in causes or mutual aid benefiting like. Benefiting children of abuses, maybe you get involved locally with mutual aid or support for people who are doing sex work. Right now it’s extremely harder than ever right now because of foster cesta and. Criminalisation in general. Sorry, I don’t want to I’m just yakking.
S3: No, that’s fabulous. The only thing I wanted to add to that, not that I thought the letter writer was going to, but it’s possible to get them confused if you’re not kind of already tapped into a network or a group of sex workers. And it sounds like this letter writer isn’t is make sure that those organizations are led by sex workers and that are not about, quote unquote, rescuing sex workers. That was the thing that I wanted to just stress, because I could imagine it would not be difficult to find a place that was like, oh, yeah, we’re all about helping sex workers, helping them get right with Jesus.
S6: Exactly. And that’s what I mean. I mean and we don’t know I don’t know what your.
S8: To the letter writer, I don’t know what your opinion is or your politics are about this, about this topic, but as somebody who is extremely pro sex worker, extremely pro decriminalization and extremely anti homophobia, I hope that you won’t. Let this kind of influence you into trying to either deny your experience as a laborer, which is what you are and what you were doing, or. I guess I guess let it turn into like a feedback loop against yourself and against other people who are sex workers who have done sex work or transactional sex. I don’t think that will make you feel better.
S10: Yeah, and I think one of the things that’s hard about this particular foray into the work, and that’s not to say like, oh, gosh, you know, you should feel even more disgust with yourself for not having, you know, quote unquote, like, educated yourself properly first are gone about it in the right way. You tried something that you were curious about. That’s it. But I think if you kind of go haphazardly into sex work and you don’t know anyone who’s doing it and you don’t have somebody that you can kind of bounce questions off of or talk about safety or harm reduction or risk management with and you’re not quite sure, does it feel better for it to be totally transactional or does it feel safer for it to be like kind of through the guise of someone I know, a sense of friendship, a sense of intimacy. So there’s this sort of blurring of is this work? Am I a worker? Do I have my work persona on? Or is this something that I’m trying as sort of like a fun thing for myself as a person? Again, you’re a person no matter what you do. But like the kind of blurring of those two attitudes can make it really difficult to feel like, well, am I at work or is this just a shitty client that I have to just, like, deal with? Or am I with a boyfriend who treats me badly? And now I worry we might use our interactions to fuel his misogyny and think that he, like, bought me and that hurts. And so, again, none of that’s to say, like, you went about this wrong and that’s why you feel bad. But I think that’s part of why this feels so complicated and so deep, which is just like it did not feel like just work. It felt like a blurring of a number of different things. And I think that’s part of what’s painful here. But yeah, Dave, as you said, like you met a sexist asshole, he should be ashamed, not you. Yeah.
S8: Yeah. And I will also say I do I do agree that I think people who sugar have a lot of different opinions about whether that qualifies as sex work. And I know that there are so many gray areas. And I do I agree. Like I do think the component of it where it wasn’t cut, dried and where it is a sugar relationship is kind of set up to be like the ultimate Gaffey. And so there can be more confusion there. But I will also say that when you are new to sex work or when you are just kind of dipping your toe in, for many people, those feelings of shame are going to happen because you are detoxing from everything that you’ve been told and made to understand about sex workers for your whole entire life. And it’s a trip. It can be a real trip. Yeah, I think therapy is good.
S5: Yeah, I was able to pull up.
S10: There’s an organization in Chicago specifically called Support the House that has a website at S X, H X Collective dog, and it’s a mutual aid organization of current and former sex workers and everyone who wants to be an accomplice. And I think it might really help you to see sex workers in community with each other who are not hypotheticals or thought experiments or a friend of a friend of a friend, but people that you can get to know and who have also dealt with, you know, what was it like to start work? What was it like to uncouple from maybe sexist beliefs that some of my clients had about me or the work that we did together? What did it mean to reject a sexist characterization of our interaction? And I understand the disgust that can come after feeling like I hate the person that I was just close with that had some form of closeness with me, even if that closeness was just proximity. And I hate the I feel kind of like a sense of second hand contamination from having been around him. And I just get that. And I would just say feel disgusted. This guy sounded awful. He sounded lousy, feel bad, don’t like him. I invite you to just bathe in those feelings. You full permission to hate this asshole. Yeah. And it just feel fucking like, oh, I can’t fucking believe I had to have dinner with him. And I you know, I hate that that happened. And just the idea of him being in my space now makes my skin crawl. Feel that one. That is the sense that you get of being free from a creep.
S8: And good luck. Good luck getting if you decide to get plugged in. Good luck. Yeah. And I hope I hope that those feelings of disgust go away and I trust that I trust that they will.
S1: Yeah, I hope that they will, too, and I hope that you get to have an expansive. Sense of what your friendships and relationships can look like with people who aren’t either just like, you know, I want to be the creepiest sugar daddy in the world or anyone who’s ever done transactional dating is a bad person and probably contaminated and thinks that they can be bought for a purse and is, you know, name the whore phobic stereotype. Whatever you like is, you know, just a picture of high heels and shadow or a lady in a dress with no head. What are they?
S6: They call it street.
S8: Hill. What is it? What does Melissa Grant call it? Cart street legs anyway, street, legs, street.
S3: Yeah, just anything like anything. There’s an article about sex work. It’s just like, oh, here’s some legs on this random lady whose face you’ll never see. Yeah. Yeah. What if you were just a pair of legs on the street you probably wouldn’t like it. Makes you think. And there you have it. There you have it. That’s what to do with disgust and with legs. And I think that’s it. I think we helped all the people we’re going to be able to help today. Help.
S8: Fantastic. Fantastic. Thank you so much. I had a nice time. I had a nice time to see how the sausage was made, and it was delicious.
S13: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence, our producer is Phil Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton. Don’t miss an episode of the show had to slate. Com. Dear Prudence, to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to Slate Dotcom Prudy Pod to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on an episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short 30 seconds a minute, tops.
S14: Thanks for listening for.
S3: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. This woman was right to be distressed when she found out the circumstances under which he forcibly married you. I applaud her for breaking up with him as a result. My guess is once she found that out from you, she realized, like, not only did he not tell me himself, he doesn’t seem to have done any introspection on on his role in this, again, just like act of child abuse. So, yeah, good for her for dumping him.
S11: I’m glad to listen to the rest of that conversation. Joined Slate plus now at Slate. Dot com forward slash pretty pod.