Welcome to Friendzone, Jezebel's column devoted to dealing with the valuable people in your life whom you're not humping. Got an issue and looking for guidance? Email email@example.com.
I'm a straight girl, and I have a boyfriend who has an ostensibly straight male friend. This guy has always joked that he and my boyfriend should date, but he claims to only find women attractive. This man has gotten very aggressive since my boyfriend and I got serious. He gets extremely angry with my boyfriend if he can't hang out with him on any given night, he has yelled homophobic slurs at some of our other friends, and as of recently has sent my boyfriend two pictures of his penis. What should I do?
Holy red flags, Batman! This fellow is acting like a real jerk. It'd be easy for me to say this guy is an aggro closet case, but it's honestly beside the point. And anyway, sexuality is more complex than that. Ultimately, I don't care if he identifies as straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, or anything else – this behavior is unacceptable. It's time for a conversation with your boyfriend. You can't dictate what your boyfriend does with the friendship, but it's fine to calmly point out the ways in which you've seen the friend's behavior negatively impact your boyfriend and perhaps even your relationship. And be sure to ask your boyfriend how he feels about this friend. Does he even see anything wrong? As for the bit about the homophobic slurs – that's just beyond the pale. To the extent that it is possible, cut this "friend" out of your own life. He's obviously in pain, but he's using it as a weapon against others. If everyone continues to tolerate his behavior, he has no reason to change. It would be great if your boyfriend could sit him down and have a man-to-man talk about this behavior, but that may be out of the question.
I'm currently living in China, and a close friend of mine from college is coming to visit in the Spring. She's dead set on visiting Beijing and the Great Wall –insisting that I HAVE TO GO with her since she'll probably only be in China once. I don't want to go. How big an asshole am I if I help arrange her plans but skip out on that weekend? She'll be staying with me for most of the trip, during which time I'm crazy excited to show her around, get her drunk, and skip a day or two of work to take her shopping.
Listen, your life does not stop just because a visitor drops in. When I lived in New York City, plenty of my buddies came through town and crashed on my couch or aero bed. I worked full time and did comedy at night and on the weekends. If a guest expected me to act as a tour guide, I always said, "Sorry, I really can't. Now here's your house key, and here's a map, and hey, I even made you a list of tips to help you navigate around the city! And I bought you a $10 Metrocard as a welcome gift." You might want to include a language dictionary in a little welcome packet for her. You can even book her a nice tour (she ought to pay, of course). Your obligation here is to provide a stable, safe and comfortable home base from which this gal can journey to the far reaches of wherever she pleases. You're gonna be a great hostess. You don't need to schlep to frigging Beijing to prove your worth as a friend. And lest you feel guilty about leaving her alone, there are some wonderful advantages to traveling by oneself. I love the opportunity to go at my own pace, make new friends on the road, and really absorb the sights and sounds of a new place. Just make sure you're clear with her about this before she arrives so that she isn't wildly disappointed or anxious.
I'm disabled, poor, and struggling to make a better life for myself. I don't have a lot of friends because I don't know many people in my area. Enter my former neighbor and good friend, an older, retired professional, light-skinned black man. He tried to "fix my flaws," at first in subtle ways, then in more obvious ways. He told me how physically unattractive I was, how my voice was annoying, and how I didn't fit the American standard. I tolerated this for quite awhile. The worst of it was when he publicly humiliated me on the bus, stating that while he pointed to all the younger looking, thinner, prettier, lighter skinned black women out (who all happened to have straight hair) and said, "Let's face facts: You are not pretty enough to be in the front office. You need to lose weight and lose that voice. You also need a job where it's not face to face, so you need to find one where no one can see you." I want to start my own business, but he told me black people can't run a successful business without a white partner. I felt so depressed since then, I can't even look in the mirror. I feel like giving up and I know that he'll win if I do, but I don't have anyone to help me get past this. Do you have any ideas?
This jackass is not and never has been your friend. This fellow is an asshole and an abuser who manipulated you into feeling bad about yourself. Typically, he did it under the guise of being helpful. You say he started out being subtle – I think he was feeling you out, seeing how far he could go. Sometimes abusers start small and then go big (like that incident on the bus). You say you tolerated it for "quite awhile" and this makes me wonder if there have been other people in your life who've treated you poorly, making you feel as if this were normal and acceptable. Consider whether other folks have said such negative things to you. Remember, abuse isn't just physical, and it doesn't just come from an intimate partner or relative.
I urge you to seek counseling to help you with depression and self-esteem. Because of your income, you may qualify for no-cost or low-cost counseling through your local public health center. If not, many therapists offer assistance on a sliding-scale basis. Get to Googling, look in the Yellow Pages, or call a local church or community center for a reference. And if you ever feel suicidal or just plain hopeless, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Now, I feel equipped to talk about suicide prevention and depression. I speak at colleges about this topic with relative frequency. But I don't have personal experience with the type of poisonous racism you describe in such vivid detail. Sometimes I call on friends (or friends of friends) for help with a particularly thorny Friendzone problem, and your multilayered issue fits the bill. To that end, I contacted Dacia Mitchell, Managing Editor of This Week in Blackness and co-host of TWiB!Radio, to get her insight.
"The first thing I would want to tell this young woman is that she's not alone and that racial trauma is VERY REAL," Dacia wrote in an email. "As black women, we already survive the constant din of racial denigration from multiple media sources, friends, family, you know, AMERICA! and to have that denigration confirmed by a trusted 'friend' is a horrific trauma that we all bear…Her friend denigrated her under the guise of 'racial solidarity.' That is, he advised her how to look and 'how it is' for her own good. And on the flip side, this young lady may not have immediate access to a community where she can express outrage. This woman does not need to hear, 'You're beautiful just the way you are, tell that so-and-so 'I'm fucking fierce!' and strut away.' That's another form of 'solidarity as oppression.' That tells this young women that you have to behave with a certain aggressiveness in order to survive and be considered worth saving, further exacerbating her psychological distress. "
Dacia added, "I want to shout to the rooftops that this woman is not alone. That she is heard. That she doesn't need to fit a manufactured standard to be a worthwhile person. That she is loved because of, not despite, who she is."
"If you're a strong black woman, or a strong black man, there's this idea that somehow you're just supposed to figure everything out on your own or turn to your family and friends for advice and support," Twanna wrote. "It's not true. First, not everyone has functional family members or friends in their lives who are equipped to offer sound, supportive assistance. Second, seeking counseling is not a sign of weakness or dysfunction. In fact, it's the other way around. Not seeking assistance when you need it is a form of self harm."
I have limited space here, or I'd include a thousand more voices. I'd also address sexism, ableism, and all the other "isms" going on here. Thankfully, Dacia had some great suggestions for resources you might like, including Gradient Lair, Are Women Human?, The Crunk Feminist Collective, and Black Feminist Manifesto. I'll add Our Bodies Ourselves.
Thank you for sharing your story. It's going to help others.
And now I'm going to throw this to the commenters and ask them to provide their own perspectives.