Sunday School: Smells Like Seventeen Spirit


This week, because nobody sent me any questions (and seriously, this is a problem, because if I don’t get any legit questions it becomes increasingly likely that my friends will start spamming the contact form with odd questions about Mason jars or using marshmallow fluff as lube, and nobody wants that), I have prepared something special for you! I have braved the terrible hot-pink wasteland that is the Seventeen website, so that I could steal a question from another advice column!

Pretty sneaky, right?

But there’s a method to my madness, I promise.

Like a lot of cisgendered girls who eventually grew up to be moderate-to-radical feminists, I have a complicated relationship with teen magazines. On the one hand, as a grown-up, I recognize that these periodicals are vacuous trash that contribute to the socialization of girls into gender stereotypes and body-image issues that I find appalling. On the other hand, when I was a teenage misfit (and latent homosexual, don’t forget that part), subscribing to and faithfully consuming that trash made me feel “normal.” It may not be a normal that I approve of now as an adult, but holy wow was it important to me then. I can’t help but wish, however, that what YM was selling me back in the day looked a little more like me, and from the looks of things, catering to babby lesbians does not appear to have become a priority for these rags.

So after that fancy introduction, the conceit:

1. Find a teen mag advice column
2. Genderswap the object of a querent’s affections
3. ???
4. Profit!

Sounds fun, right? I’m glad you think so.

I’ve been hanging with this girl from work a lot, and we’ve spent plenty of alone time together—but she hasn’t made a move. The most we did was massage each other’s backs. Since she has had plenty of opportunities, does this mean she just wants to be friends?Not Sandra

(Funny how that question looks exactly like my usual thought process about all women who don’t flat-out tell me that they’re something other than straight, usually via OKCupid. I am secretly an imaginary not-lesbian from not-New York.)

Dating is hard, and it’s way harder when you’re dealing with people in real life, and when those relationships have real-life consequences. I’ve tried to subtly work my interest into conversations–all “my ex-girlfriend, and did I mention she was a girl?” in conversations, or making jokes about strap-ons, or other such maladroit conversational gambits to ascertain a lady’s interest in making out with other ladies. And so long as you’re not making the other party uncomfortable, all that stuff is fine, but it’s not really a good strategy if you’re trying to get results.

If you know someone casually but not well–if you’re friendly but not necessarily friends–chances are that the very best thing to do is to ask, “Hey, are you into girls?” Ladies are a little luckier in that asking that question isn’t likely to get us punched in the face by an irate straight person. But in all honesty, I’d probably prefer the punch (n.b., I am a masochist) to hanging out with a girl I liked all the time, uncertain as to whether our sexualities were mutually compatible, engaging in what would probably end up feeling like frustrated foreplay.

Not that back rubs aren’t great! Back rubs rule–unless you’re dying to have your lady friend rub something else.

The point, though: ask. Just because we metabolize pure sass doesn’t mean that we read minds.

But of course, “Oh yeah, so into girls over here” isn’t the end of the conversation. In a perfect world, making or rejecting a friend or acquaintance’s polite and respectful sexual advances would be simple and risk-free. But it’s hard to open yourself up to rejection from a friend or to shoot down someone you like, but not necessarily like-like, because you care about their feelings and you care about the platonic relationship that you have with them. If you’re young and queer and not really plugged in to the queer community where you live–or if no queer community exists for you to plug into–it’s doubly hard, because this person you like may be the only other person you know who is willing and able to be out to you. It is important to remember that you need a sample size larger than two if you’re in search of a soulmate.

It’s hard–holy shit it’s hard–to watch all of your straight friends and acquaintances doing the complicated serial-monogamy dance and to feel like the only partner available to you doesn’t want you. But despite what the teen magazines may lead you to believe, life lasts far beyond high school. And a quick jaunt on a dating site that’s friendly to queers can be pretty helpful in reminding you that you’re not alone.

Besides, sex is more fun when you don’t have to worry about your parents walking in.

If you would like to submit a question to Sunday School, please use our contact form. We won’t publish your real name (unless you want us to), and creative pseudonyms get bonus points!

Featured image is an homage to Nirvana’s 1991 video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” taken by flickr user Spectral Convergence.

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  1. First, I apologize for not asking questions, but unfortunately I already know everything, so… 😛

    Second, please do this again! I think there’s probably a LOT of entertainment and insight we can gain by queering up some standard advice columns.

    …I wonder if it would work as well with, say, “Maxim”…

  2. I got a kick out of this. I subscribed to Teen People, thinking it was the most mature choice of teen mags. And actually it did turn out to be helpful as they had articles about trans* teens and female sports stars (hello Mia Hamm). But it soon turned into vacuous fluff and was little better than Seventeen after the first year of publication

  3. Minor point, but transgender is an adjective, not a noun. Thus, transgendered is incorrect, while transgender is correct. For example: you wouldn’t say someone is olded, you’d say they’re old.

    Second minor point: trans girls can read magazines like 17 and grow up to be feminists as well; to be perfectly honest, I don’t really see why the distinction is necessary in this case.

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