“Ask Dr. Bukky” is ELIXHER’s bi-weekly column that offers advice to queer women of color on relationships and mental health wellness. Got a question you want Dr. Bukky to tackle in the column? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Dr. Bukky,
I am increasingly becoming concerned about the relationship choices of my heterosexual female friends. The men they choose are sub-standard at best. But, though our sexual orientation hardly, if ever, plays a part in our friendship, I do feel a bit out of place trying to offer any advice and don’t think I will be taken seriously. As somewhat of a feminist, I understand that all my commentary could come off as harsh. What is a good way to express to my friends that, though I no longer date men, I am quite aware of how women are supposed to be treated on a universal level (and these negroes are not cutting it)?
It’s getting to a point where I can’t stand to be around them.
Dear Girl Please,
It is difficult to watch our loved ones make poor choices, even if the consequences of those choices fall on them. And if I’m reading you accurately, there are three things that seem to be operating here:
1) Your fear that your opinion will be discounted because of your queer status
2) Your fear that your opinion will end up coming off as highly critical, given your “feminist” values
3) The consequence of “watching in silence” on you and the friendship
When we are afraid, our biological tendency is to do one of three things to protect ourselves: fight, flight or freeze. Looks like you’ve been freezing to prevent being hurt by your friends (i.e., discounting or rejecting your opinion because of who you are). Let me start by reassuring you that you are spot on—the ability to recognize the fundamental characteristics that make a person a good partner have nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with knowing what paves the way for a secure relationship, as well as how much you know your friends and what they need. If you were trying to offer your opinion on how to perform specific sexual acts that you have no current (or prior) experience doing, then yes, your opinion may not be seen as credible given your sexual orientation. But this is not the case. Though it feels scary to put yourself out there, given your fears that you (or your opinion) would be rejected because you identify differently than your friends, I encourage you to take the risk and share your concerns with them because you care about them.
Though suppressing our emotions and thoughts can help us feel safer by allowing us to avoid facing our fear (in your case, rejection), it actually requires more mental and physical energy. Even more, it is often an ineffective route, as it ultimately compromises our relationships by inadvertently reinforcing negative beliefs we have about the other and eliciting feelings of resentment. Given these unintended consequences, I am not surprised that you are experiencing urges to reject or withdraw from your friends. This seems to be the cost of your silence and is now posing real threats to your friendships.
I’d like to add that being a feminist does not have to equate to harsh commentary, even when challenging sexism and misogyny. It is very possible to be a feminist and still be gentle and tactful. I wonder if the forcefulness you worry about displaying is more of a reaction to how long you’ve felt compelled to be silent—when you finally share your concerns, will it look like a dam breaking?
Your interest in speaking up is courageous and the exact way to go… and doing it in a gentle and tactful way will be most effective. Nevertheless, please remember that just as you are entitled to your feelings and thoughts, your friends are also entitled to their autonomy. They should therefore have the right to disagree with you and make choices as they see best for themselves without it posing a threat to their friendship with you.
So what should you say?
1) Slice your fear of rejection by naming it.
“I really want to share something with you guys but I’m worried you will not hear me out or take me seriously because I no longer identify as straight.”
2) Be transparent about your positive intentions.
“I want to take this risk with you because I think our friendship is one where we can be honest and look out for each other.”
3) Get their permission to share your thoughts or, better yet, cooperate with you.
“Would it be okay for me to share what I’ve been thinking and feeling? Would you guys be willing to hear me out?”
4) Describe your feelings and specific observations to them and, as much as possible, avoid using any blaming language. You don’t want your friends to feel like you are criticizing them. Instead, focus on your fears and worries for them.
“I’ve been feeling sad about the way Jon and Khalid treat you. Simone, last week when Jon…(describe your specific observation)…it seemed like he was…(describe your specific interpretation of the behavior and the impact you think it had on her). It is hard for me to see that given what I think you deserve. I worry that (describe your ultimate worry/fear)… Nikki, when Khalid screamed at you in front of everyone, it seemed like he was being disrespectful of you. It killed me inside because I think you are an incredible person and deserve a man that treats you with respect. Ultimately, I’m terrified that you guys will begin to believe that you have to settle or, even worse, that these are the type of guys you deserve.”
5) Reinforce their autonomy and your (unconditional) support for them.
“I trust that you know what is best for you and what you need and I will be here for you no matter what choices you make. I just wanted to share this with you because it is hard for me to see you not being treated well.”
6) Check in with your friends about their feelings and thoughts about what you’ve shared and, if possible, continue the dialogue by exploring how they’ve been feeling about these guys that you see as “sub-standard.”
“What thoughts or feelings are you having about what I’ve shared? How do you feel about how they treat you?”
Good luck with the conversation and write back to let us know how it goes.
Dr. Bukky Kolawole is a NY-based licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in helping lesbian and gay couples cultivate the healthy and fulfilling relationships they deserve. She has offices in SoHo (Manhattan) and Park Slope (Brooklyn) and offers late evening hours to accommodate the needs of professionals. For more info about Dr. Bukky, visit her website at www.drbukkyk.com.