Dear Worrier Princess: Soft In the Middle
Dear Worrier Princess is a queer advice column based off The Ex-Girlfriend of My Ex-Girlfriend Is My Girlfriend, the viral queer advice zine by Maddy Court (a.k.a @xenaworrierprincess on Instagram). In this column, two people search for the boundary between openness and overexposure. Maddy considers the Share Zone, a complicated space of vulnerability and honesty that every human approaches differently. Is it possible to speak and expose our truths while keeping some part of ourselves? How do you navigate vulnerability in love and art?
Queery #1: I know it’s commonly joked about that lesbians in particular have no reservations about sharing their traumas, mental illnesses, and tragic life stories on a first date, but it’s totally true and I really struggle with it. As someone who’s generally emotionally guarded but mostly just looking for a kind of normal dating experience, I don’t really want to go on any more tinder dates where I end up feeling obligated to go on a second date with a girl because she just told me all about how her depression manifests itself and now I’m like, an emotionally invested bystander. Am I wrong for not indulging in this kind of thing - should I just give it a shot? Or is there a way I can take things slow (emotionally) and stop being weirded out by this kind of occurrence? It’s happened literally on all of my past 4 first dates and I feel insane for not telling these girls about my parent’s divorce or whatever as soon as I see them at the bar.
I agree that it’s standard in lesbian culture, as well as queer culture at large, to openly discuss mental health, trauma, sex, and other topics mainstream culture deems sensitive and verboten. Your queery is an important reminder that what’s cathartic and liberating for one person might be uncomfortable, or even triggering, for another. For instance, I have a friend who requires consent before conversations about sex. She presents as ultra-gay and has a big social life. As a result, people often assume it’s okay to share their sexploits and kink journeys with her. My friend worries that if she confronts these situations, she’ll get labelled a prude or a Bad Queer. She worries confrontation will force her to share her own trauma as justification. “It’s stressful when I’m talking to someone and they launch into the Share Zone. I can’t stop them! All I can do is nod and listen,” she said.
My friend defines the Share Zone as a space of openness, confession, and “going deep.” Ideally, people enter the Share Zone together. But as you know all too well, the Share Zone is sometimes forced and one-sided. I’ve gone on dates with women who made me feel like a free therapist. I’ve also used dates as free therapy. Queer women tend to feel safe around other queer women—there’s an assumption that you share similar life experiences. You used the example of a date who told you about her depression. It’s possible that in a previous relationship, her mental health was a source of conflict or rejection. Informing you on the first date might be a way to protect herself and save you both time. What I’m trying to say is that the Share Zone is complicated. Ultimately, you never owe someone a second date or emotional support.
You want a relationship that develops gradually—one where you’re not expected to be instantly vulnerable and trusting. Unfortunately, dating is exhausting by definition. The whole point is to meet strangers and see if you feel something. It’s like throwing a sticky hand at a ceiling. It takes time and perseverance, but please don’t get discouraged. Eventually you’ll find someone who wants to discuss Bojack and podcasts, someone who saves the heavy stuff until the third date.
Queery #2: I'm a twenty-something queer/trans nonfiction writer and have recently been getting my work accepted for publication in various little online journals (!!). I'm so happy to see my writing in the world, but I get nervous thinking about someone I have a crush on or a person I'm starting to date reading my work -- which as of late tends to focuses on my experiences with mental health/sexual assault/self harm -- and learning these deep things about me and having it skew or impact their view of me. as a fellow queer writer & creator, do you have any advice for getting past the very real feeling of discomfort that arises from vulnerability in one's art?
First off, congratulations on your publications! You’re doing brave, important work. I want to emphasize the word “work” because for me, recognizing a division between myself and my writing is vital. The word “work” allows me to sustain my creative practice, ask for compensation, and not internalize rejections.
You’re specifically worried about a crush or romantic prospect searching out your work. This strikes me as important. Are you overwhelmed by the idea of information you can’t control? How does sex and physical intimacy enter into your anxieties? The truth is that nobody wants to feel pre-judged or reduced. You are a whole entire person, not a composite of your nonfiction. It’s a major red flag if someone doesn’t understand this. Besides, the alternative is to stop writing and sharing your work and that would be tragic.
I’m still figuring out how to navigate vulnerability in my writing. Back when I was a Tumblr teen, I frequently wrote confessional text posts under the influence of flavored vodka. I lived to press “post” and watch the likes and comments pile on. In the morning, I’d wake up feeling overexposed and vulnerable. It’s a particular form of regret, not unlike a hangover or spending too much money on vacation. I felt extreme anxiety that others would read my trauma and struggles as entertainment. I worried that my text posts would come to define me. Today, I try not to share personal writing that makes me feel iffy or overexposed. For reasons I don’t fully understand, @xenaworrierprincess enables me to take risks with my work. She’s a hyperbolic version of my own voice. I’m content to numb myself with frozen pizza and the same 3-4 episodes of Bojack, but @xenaworrierprincess is never not-feeling. She checks Tinder continuously. She sends the texts I erase. She would tell you that if you keep writing, you’ll come to realizations and answers eventually.
To be honest, I’m stumped by this question. Every writer is different. Personally, I’m still searching for my own balance between disclosure and privacy. I want to tell you to prioritize your peace-of-mind. I also want to tell you to prioritize your writing over theoretical crushes and romantic interests. Here what I do know for sure: sharing work that is genuine and meaningful to you will bring people into your life in a million mysterious, innumerable ways.
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All illustrations for this column are done by Sid Champagne. Sid is a freelance illustrator based in Baltimore by way of the Gulf Coast. You can find them on Twitter @sid_champagne, or Instagram (more cat pics) @sidchampagne