In the Cards is a monthly advice column by Carly Boyce, a queer and genderqueer femme witch based in Toronto. With a background in community-based sexual health, grief work, and suicide intervention, in addition to several years of tarot reading, she brings gentle advice and the wisdom of the cards to your questions about life, love, and feelings of all sorts. To submit a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Ask a Feelings-Witch. Questions will remain anonymous, and may be edited for length.
Q: Dear Feelings-Witch,
I’m a queer person who is super shy and introverted but also hoping to connect more with other queers for friendships, relationships, and sexy times. I don’t really know how to do this, and going out and talking to people and being social feels so uncomfortable for me. Being shy is part of who I am and I don’t want to feel like I have to change that in order to connect with folks. How can a shy queer find love and sex and community in an effective yet shy-person way?
A: Dear Shy Queer,
It makes me so happy to hear that you don’t wish to change who and how you are in order to have friendships, relationships, and sexual connections. You super don’t have to.
Let me tell you one thing to start off with: you are not alone. As I’ve gotten older (I’m a wizened 33), more and more of my queer buds have come out as shy. Many of us spent our 20s faking it; going to the dance parties, trying to drink until it was fun, watching everyone else and emulating how we thought we were supposed to be. I’m so grateful that people are talking about shyness and introversion, and so we have more language with which to describe ourselves. So many of us, especially where sex and dating are concerned, feel like we didn’t get the manual. It’s a crappy feeling- we’re often confused, left out, oblivious, inappropriate, terrified of being inappropriate, too much, or not enough.
A good friend and I led a workshop at a BDSM conference last year called “flirting and negotiation for shy perverts”, and half of the conference attendees showed up. Even in a space that’s queer and sexually charged, so many folks felt like they didn’t have access to the kinds of romantic and sexual communication they’re “supposed to” know. We are a critical mass of weirdos, and we can make our own ways.
It’s become clearer and clearer to me over time that this “right way” of being a human, socializing, making friends, flirting, and dating is obscure and confusing for nearly all of us. It’s like how no one can ever find jeans that fit them perfectly, and we all think our bodies are the problem, but actually the jeans are the problem, because they’re made for some abstract idea of how our bodies should be. Our bodies are not the problem. Our shyness is not a problem. You are not a problem. Shy people are a lovely gift to the universe. Blushing and being flustered are actually really great flirting tools. I bet your shyness is adorable.
Let’s see what the cards have to say to you.
Heart of the matter: Two of Bottles/Two of Cups
The Two of Bottles is about the spark of new connection. This is risk and thrill and being surprised at how comfortable you are in a place that’s a bit beyond your comfort zone. It’s diving deep and taking the risk of letting yourself be seen and appreciated exactly as you are. The Two of Bottles is here to tell you that the connections you desire are out there. They exist, and you can have them! The two is also about reciprocity, so think both about what you hope to gain from relationships with others, and what you hope to give. What are the gifts you offer to friends and lovers and community spaces? Do you value your own contributions? Can you see the ways you have (or might, or could) add another delicious spice to the soup of queerness?
What to do: Artist of Feathers/Queen of Swords
The Artist of Feathers is earnest and honest AF, and they want you to be too. Think about the ways of communication and self expression that feel best to you, and stick to those. That might be selfies, or poetry, or acerbic political tweets, or youtube hair tutorials, or zines, or music, or Marvel Universe fanfic, or something entirely else. Making connections with humans is about seeing each other, and some part of us saying “I get that” or “that’s fascinating” or “woweewow”, and then building some mutuality. One tactic you could employ is to put some of yourself out there into the world. That can mean performing your work in actual public spaces, or posting it on some corner of the interweb. It can also mean supporting and engaging with the work and words of other folks that resonate with you. Reach out to get tattooed by the rad babe you follow on instagram, or offer to work the door at the next book launch for that author you can’t stop reading.
The Artist of Feathers is also about logic and planning. Queer people, and people who either can’t or don’t wish to adhere to social scripts, we are masters of the workaround. We have a million strategies for survival in a world that would prefer us to disappear. What are yours? What are the strategies you have employed to be in social settings and feel okay? How have you built the friendships that you have? Something I really value about my friendships with shy folks, introverts, and other social weirdos, is that there is a real sense of permission around having needs. It’s way more possible to get your needs met if you can identify them (no easy feat), and not feel silly or guilty for having some.
Here are a few of the strategies that I employ to make it (or try to) to social gatherings, and to cope with all my feelings about doing the thing (or failing to do the thing). Maybe some of them will work for you too?
- Adornment! For me, this means some combination of dark lipstick, an aggressive accessory or two (something shaped like a knife helps), a crystal (rose quartz or leopard jasper) tucked into my bra, stompy boots, and an outfit I feel a little bit bulletproof in. Is there something you can wear that feels like armour? Sometimes I get dressed, take some cute selfies, and then decide if I still want to go to the thing, and if I don’t, I get into bed in my cool outfit, watch Daredevil, and tweet about my feelings. Sometimes people tweet back; they get it.
- Arrive in a team! I sometimes enjoy, or even prefer, to be at a social gathering by myself (way easier to ghost), but I find it difficult to get in the door that way. If I can find another human to travel with, or meet outside, or have a tea with half an hour before the thing starts, I’m way more likely to actually make it there. They might also be happy for the arrival company; shy kid solidarity! A variation on this is arriving early, to set up or help lay out the snacks or whatever thing, and then leaving once the group gets too big. Having a house party fill in slowly around me is easier to manage than arriving to an already-crowded room.
- Gentleness with self and permission! Before going to any gathering of humans, I remind myself that if I’m not having a good time, I can just leave. I give myself permission to ghost and work really hard at not seeing leaving as a failure. Making it in the door is a win, even if I only stay a short time.
- Matchmakers! I have some friends who are great social convenors. They know exactly which six of their favourite humans will have a delightful time sharing a meal, even if they don’t know each other well. As a shy guy who takes a while to trust new people, I am way more likely to be comfortable with new folks who come pre-approved by someone else that I love. This works for dating too- being set up by a friend who knows you really well is a great strategy. If you don’t have friends who can do this kind of matchmaking, those services also exist in a formal way. Friend of a Friend, for example, is a Toronto dating service that has a queer-specific yenta. Pretty cool.
- Adaptive Technologies! This is fancy language for bringing stuff that will or might make you feel better. Sometimes just having a thing that could maybe help means that you might not need to use that thing. It’s like how packing an umbrella sometimes seems to make it not rain. Your technology could be earplugs, or meds, or something to fidget with (I always, ALWAYS have knitting with me). It could be a pack of cigarettes (built in excuse to take a break from any gathering!) or a flask of whisky. This is something more than a lucky charm; it’s something that could be used in a tangible way to change how you feel in the moment.
- Assignments! I like to have a task in a social environment, it helps keep me from getting too overwhelmed. I like to work the door at a show more than I like to just watch. I’m happier washing the dishes at the dinner parity than having a post-dinner drink with everyone. Some situations make it easy to get a host or organizer to give you a task, or you can give yourself one!
We live in the future, by which I mean there is some amazing technology that people can use to connect with each other. I think there is some real interesting possibility in online dating/cruising, because it allows a space for the stating of wants and needs and boundaries before you are ever in a room with someone. You don’t have to go out with everyone you match with on Bumble (or Scruff or Her or whatever), but having confirmation of potential desire can be a helpful experience that you can carry with you into other settings. You can flirt with someone on the internet, over text (even if you’re in the same room), by passing notes, subtweeting, making crush art, all sorts of ways that don’t involve looking right at someone’s face and being like “hi, you’re a cute babe.” It’s okay if you never do that. You can get thoroughly smooched without ever doing that.
What to think: Ten of Feathers/Ten of Swords
The Ten of Feathers refers to a fall; a scary time when things seem overwhelming and intense. At that surface level of the card, I think then ten is here to ask you to take a hard look at your fears. What makes various kinds of gatherings or situations scary for you? Can you hold those fears with gentleness and make some plans to take of yourself when those fears show up, or their volume gets turned up too loud? One of the places lots of folks get stuck is when we feel silly or shameful about our fears and limits, so we try to pretend they don’t exist. It’s a bit of a self-defeating cycle.
The folks who made this deck also talk about reclaiming madness as part of what this card is about. They reference the Icarus Project as an example of the ways that folks have revisioned their diagnoses and challenges as superpowers. What are the superpowers that your shyness has brought you? In what ways has it made you more resilient? How has it protected you?
What to avoid: The Fool
The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana, the beginning of a cycle of learning and growth. It’s a sense of wonder and excitement. It’s the desire to go on a trip and not take a map, feeling ready without actually being prepared. In the position of what to avoid, I think the Fool has two things to say to you. The first is a reiteration of some of the messages from the other cards; don’t go in without a plan. Decide on a strategy and give it a whirl. Your plans can be flexible, and they can evolve as you get more experience, but give yourself a bit of a safety net. You deserve that kind of care! The second message from the Fool is a reminder that you aren’t a beginner. You might not feel equipped to take on the challenge of building social and sexual community for yourself- but you can give yourself a little more credit. You have skills in relationship building, in boundary setting, in communication, in facing fears. You are an expert on yourself, and you can create the circumstances in which you can thrive.
These cards want you get to really curious about your hopes for connection with other queers, and curious about the things that feel like obstacles to that. They want to be gentle with yourself, to issue yourself small challenges, and then celebrate not only when you succeed, but also the rich data collection that comes from not quite making it where you planned to. I hope you get everything you want, and maybe some things you didn’t know you wanted. Bon courage!!