Book Club Books

“The Passing Playbook” by Isaac Fitzsimons is The Tempest Book Club’s June Pick. Here’s the first chapter.

We’re so excited to announce Isaac Fitzsimons’ novel The Passing Playbook as The Tempest Book Club June read. The Passing Playbook is about a trans boy trying to fit in at a new school after being bullied when transitioning in his last school. As time goes on, he blends in perfectly–big brother, soccer athlete, and proud nerd. All this is at risk when a discriminatory law forces Spencer’s coach to bench him. Now Spencer has to decide: cheer from the sidelines or publicly fight for his right to play, even though it would mean coming out to everyone—including the guy he’s falling for. LISTEN

As always, we’re collaborating with Penguin to give away a copy. Enter here!  

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Spencer’s morning went to hell when some asshole on a dirt bike swerved in front of Mom’s Subaru.

Mom slammed on the brakes and flung her arm across Spencer’s chest, despite the fact that he was wearing a seat belt, and even if he weren’t, it’s not like her arm would keep him from hurtling through the windshield and becoming sausage meat.

At least she’d already finished her coffee. The last thing he needed was to spend all day smelling like the inside of a Starbucks.

“Is everyone okay?” Mom twisted around to check on Theo in the back seat, but his eyes remained glued to the nature show playing on his tablet. Spencer was impressed by how nothing seemed to faze his little brother.

“Maybe we save the vehicular manslaughter for tomorrow,” said Spencer. He didn’t want to be known as the kid whose mom ran over someone at drop–off. He wasn’t sure he wanted to be known asanything. As far as he was concerned, the less he stood out, the better.

Mom ignored him as she steered the car more carefully up the tree–lined drive and parked at the curb. “Promise me you’ll make an effort today. Talk to people. Smile sometimes.” She tugged on one of his earbuds, pulling it out of his ear. A muffledda–da–da–dun–da–da–da–dun from the song he was listening to trickled out into the car. “It wouldn’t kill you to be more social.”

“It might.”

Mom’s jaw clenched. “That’s not funny, Spencer. Not after last year.”

“Too soon?” said Spencer. If he turned it into a joke he could pretend that he didn’t still wake up in the middle of the night, heart racing, drenched in sweat thinking about The Incident. He called it “The Incident” so he wouldn’t have to remember it all in excruciating detail: the threatening email, the picture of his face in crosshairs stuffed in his locker, the call to the school that prompted a lockdown, huddling in the corner of a dark classroom, the cold tile leeching heat from his body, and knowing that if someone got hurt, it would be all his fault.

“I’m serious, Spence. We don’t have other options if this doesn’t work.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” The back of his neck grew hot and prickly like it had whenever he was awakened in the small hours of the day by the creak of the staircase as Dad crept up to bed after spending all night preparing for the extra college courses he was teaching that summer to pay for Spencer’s tuition.

Even with the extra work, it didn’t take a math genius to figure out that Dad’s paycheck was barely enough to send one kid to private school, let alone two. So after two years in a Montessori program his little brother, Theo, who was autistic, had to go to public school for the first time.

Theo had spent his summer stretched out on the living room carpet in front of the TV watching anything and everything with the word planet in the title. Spencer wasn’t sure how well an encyclopedic knowledge of the mating behavior of amphibians (called amplexus, according to Theo) would go over with other eight–year–olds.

“Hey, what’s with the face?” asked Mom. “This is going to be a great year. For both of you,” she added, reaching around to pat Theo on the knee.

Spencer picked his backpack up off the floor and squeezed it to his chest. He reached out to open the door when Mom said, “Are you sure you want to keep that there?” She pointed at theI’m here, I’m queer, get over it pin on the front pocket.

Spencer’s fingers brushed over the pin. He’d had the same conversation with Aiden over the phone last night.

“Think of it as a test,” Aiden had said. “If someone makes a big deal out of it, you’ll know to steer clear. Besides, how else will you find the other queers?”

“I’m just saying,” continued Mom, “it’s a bit . . . provocative for your day one. Why don’t you wait and see how the QSA meeting goes first? That’s today, right?”

Spencer nibbled his bottom lip. Last night he had agreed with Aiden, but now, seeing the glittery, rainbow letters sparkling in broad daylight, the idea of walking into the building with it on felt like sticking a target on his back. Sure, Oakley might brag about being the most liberal school in the county—-after all, that’s why they’d chosen it—-but it was still in rural Ohio, where just that morning they’d passed by half a dozen churches, one of which had a sign that said:Don’t be so open–minded your brains fall out.

He undid the clasp and tucked the pin in his backpack, hoping Aiden didn’t ask him about it when they debriefed after school.

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“All right, do you know where you’re going?” asked Mom.

“I think so,” he mumbled.

“If you’re not sure, you need to ask for directions.”

“I know.” He tried to keep the tinge of annoyance out of his voice. When Mom got anxious, she tended to treat him like a baby. But this was a big day for all of them.

“Here,” said Mom. She rolled down Spencer’s window, and leaned over him, calling, “Hey, you with the bike!”

Spencer slouched lower in his seat as several kids, including the boy on the dirt bike, turned to stare at them.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

The boy on the bike reversed, rolling backward to the car and stopping outside Spencer’s window.

“I’m sorry about cutting you off earlier, ma’am. I didn’t want to be late.” His voice was low and gravelly and muffled inside his retro motocross helmet.

“That’s quite all right,” said Mom, clearly charmed by his slight Appalachian twang. Her own accent, courtesy of a childhood in West Virginia, came out stronger. “This is my son Spencer. He’s new this year.”

“Nice to meet you.” The boy stuck a gloved hand through the window. The worn leather was as soft as a lamb’s ear against Spencer’s palm.

“Do you think you could show him to his first class?” asked Mom.

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The helmet visor hid the boy’s expression, but Spencer imagined the amusement in his face at being asked to play babysitter. “It’s okay—-” he began, longing to turn around, go home, and try again tomorrow, but then the boy lifted off his helmet and Spencer’s words died in his throat.

He was cute—-all farm boy tan in a navy polo and Wrangler’s. But what really made Spencer’s insides feel like he’d just been dematerialized and rematerialized in a transporter was that this kid, with his brown eyes and megawatt smile currently aimed right at Spencer, was a dead ringer for Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Spencer’s nightly ritual was watching Star Trek with his dad, who would disown him, not as a son but as a fellow Trekkie, if he knew that the only reason he put up with the cheesy special effects was because of his teeny–tiny crush on acting ensign, wunderkind, Wesley Crusher.

Mom gave him a little nudge. “I have to go put Theo on the bus. Have a good day, sweetie.”

Spencer climbed out of the car, careful not to trip over himself, and slammed the door behind him. Did she have to call him sweetie? In front of him? What was wrong with bud? Or sport? Bike Boy’s parents probably didn’t call him sweetie, especially not at school.

He waved them off, watching the Subaru disappear around the corner, and trying to ignore the hollow feeling in his chest.

“So, what grade are you in?” asked the boy, parking his bike and waiting for Spencer on the sidewalk.

Spencer’s thoughts became all tangled up in his head as he tried to shape them into words.

“Are you a first year?” Bike Boy prompted.

“No,” said Spencer, a little too forcefully. He pulled himself up to his not very tall height of five feet. He wasn’t insecure about it, not really, but it would be a long year if everyone,especially cute boys, thought he was a middle schooler who got lost on his way to class. “I’m a sophomore.”

“Cool, me too.”

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He followed Bike Boy up the path to the gated entrance. On the way the boy waved to a couple kids and high–fived another, but he didn’t introduce Spencer. Then again, what would he say?This is the kid whose mom almost ran me over and then made me walk him to class? Not exactly the first impression Spencer wanted.

“Let me guess, you were kicked out of your old school for talking too much.” Bike Boy shot Spencer a wide grin. His two front teeth overlapped slightly, which Spencer found oddly endearing considering that most of his friends had been put in braces as soon as they hit double digits.

Spencer searched for something witty to say back. Something to show Bike Boy that he wasn’t a complete weirdo, but his words got lost again.

The smile on Bike Boy’s face slipped off. “Wait, were you actually kicked out? I’m sorry, I—-”

“I wasn’t kicked out.”

“It was just a joke.”

“I know,” said Spencer, growing frustrated that even the most basic of conversations left him flustered.

Not wanting to prolong the agony, he made a decision when they reached the entrance. He knew where he was going. Sort of. He had taken a tour earlier that summer when signing up for classes.

“So what’s your first class?” asked Bike Boy.

He opened his mouth to respond when someone going past pushed him from behind, and he fell into Bike Boy, who reached out a hand to steady him.

Spencer pulled back his arm like he’d been burned. “It’s okay. I know where I’m going. But thanks for your help.”

Bike Boy searched his face as if trying to see if he was telling the truth. “Are you sure?”

Spencer nodded, scuffing his foot against the floor.

“All right, then. I’ll see you around, I guess,” said Bike Boy, his voice lilting slightly like he was asking a question. He hitched his backpack higher and turned to join the swarm of students on their way to class.

Spencer watched him leave, not with relief, but with something that felt a little like guilt. Maybe he should be a touch nicer to the guy who had offered to help him, despite narrowly escaping death at the wheels of his mother’s Subaru. Hell, Spencer didn’t even know who he was.

Before he could stop himself, he called out, “Wait, what’s your name?”

Bike Boy turned and flashed Spencer a smile. “Justice. Justice Cortes.”

Justice Cortes. Spencer silently mouthed the name before another wave of students knocked into him. He shook his head. The last thing he needed was to think about Justice Cortes, or any boy, really.

What he needed was to keep his distance. If he didn’t get too close to people, they wouldn’t find out his secret. If they didn’t find out, they couldn’t use it against him. Nobody at Oakley knew he was transgender.

Spencer needed to keep his head down, study hard, and escape Apple Creek, population 1,172, where the only traffic jams were caused by tractors and Amish buggies.

But first he’d have to survive PE.

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After a few wrong turns, he finally found the locker rooms just as the warning bell rang.

When he opened the door the nauseating stench of body spray mixed with floral air freshener blasted him in the face, invading his nostrils and making him light-headed.

Spencer hovered awkwardly at the door as a few stragglers in various stages of undress glanced up at him from the wooden benches lining the room. Maybe he should change in the nurse’s bathroom like Ms. Greene, his guidance counselor, had suggested. Private stall, a door that locked, and nobody who’d snap him in half like a twig if given the chance. But then someone might wonder why he didn’t change with the rest of them. First rule of passing: Don’t be different.

He found an empty corner and untied his shoes, avoiding eye contact. He wiggled his toes as a chill from the concrete floor seeped through his socks. After a minute the only sounds in the locker room were the thumping of his heartbeat and the dripping of a leaky faucet.

Alone at last, he jumped into action, wriggling out of his jeans and pulling on shorts from his backpack. He tugged on his T–shirt, grateful, not for the first time, that he hadn’t needed top surgery or to suffer through wearing a binder. Starting hormone blockers at thirteen prevented too much growth and almost one year on testosterone replaced whatever fat there was with smooth muscle.

The late bell rang and he slipped into sneakers, shoved his clothes and backpack into a locker, and hurried out the door.

With its towering oak trees and ivy–covered walls, the Oakley School looked impressive on the outside. But inside, the lemony scent of disinfectant and the squeak of his shoes against the linoleum as he jogged down the hallway connecting the locker room to the gym told Spencer that this was more like the charter school Miles Morales attended than the Xavier Institute. The hallway, which had teemed with the hustle and bustle of chattering students five minutes ago, was empty. He snuck into the gym, where a dozen or so boys were flinging foam balls at each other. One sped toward his face, forcing him to duck. Where was the teacher?

“You’re late.”

Spencer jumped and twisted around to see a man in a baseball cap standing beside him. The man wore saggy sweatpants and a ridiculous–looking cardigan with a hood—a hoodigan?—-and had a toothpick dangling from his mouth.

“Are you Coach Schilling?” he asked, slightly out of breath. “Sorry, I—-”

“Name?” Coach Schilling cut him off.

“Spencer Harris.”

“Harris, eh?” He surveyed his clipboard, rolling the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other.

Sweat pooled clammy and moist under Spencer’s armpits. The principal, Mrs. Dumas, had assured him that his school records would have the correct name and gender, but that didn’t stop the panic rising in his chest. If someone had made a mistake, he’d be outed in his very first class, and all of it—his dad working overtime, Theo switching schools—would be for nothing.

“You’re new,” said Coach Schilling. It wasn’t a question. With a school this small, new students must be easy to spot. “Make sure you’re on time tomorrow.” He pulled a magazine from the back of his sweatpants and began thumbing through it.

“Could you tell me what’s going on?” Spencer sidestepped as another ball hurtled toward him.

Coach Schilling, preoccupied with uncovering the secret to getting rock–hard abs in thirty days, barely glanced up from his magazine and said, “Dodgeball.”

“Right,” said Spencer. “But what should I actually be doing?”

Coach Schilling raised a bushy eyebrow and gave three sharp bursts of his whistle. A hush fell across the gym. Spencer’s face burned as all eyes turned on him. Coach Schilling picked up a loose ball and shoved it in Spencer’s hands. “Take this and throw it over there.” He pointed across the painted line in the center of the gym. “No head shots, no crotch shots. Got it?”

Spencer nodded.

“Good. Have fun.” Coach Schilling blew his whistle to start the game then went to sit on the bleachers with his magazine.

Spencer’s knees knocked together as he joined his teammates. At least if it was a total disaster he could probably duck out after attendance tomorrow and Coach Schilling wouldn’t even notice.

After a few minutes of playing, Spencer’s pent–up anxiety about the first day of school dripped away with the sweat. He might be small, but he was nimble on his feet. He ducked, dived, and even got in a few hits himself, until he was the last man standing on his team and found himself outnumbered, two to one.

His first opponent, a tall boy with shaggy brown hair, chucked a ball at him. Spencer did a clumsy pirouette and it whipped past. He grinned as his teammates called out encouragement from the sidelines.

His second opponent threw a ball, which Spencer caught. His team erupted into cheers as the player moved to the sidelines, out of the game. Now it was Spencer and the shaggy–haired kid.

The boy launched the ball into the air. Spencer used the ball in his hands to deflect it back, then threw his second ball, forcing the kid to defend both shots simultaneously.

To Spencer’s shock, his opponent reached out with hands the size of Spencer’s face and caught both balls. Spencer was out.

Coach Schilling blew his whistle. “All right, game over.”

Spencer threw his head back. He didn’t consider himself a sore loser, but he disliked losing enough to make sure it didn’t happen very often. When it did, it was like a kick to the shins: incredibly painful, but unlikely to cause any real damage.

He forced his grimace into a smile as his opponent approached him, hand outstretched. “Nice moves out there, Twinkle Toes.” He winked at Spencer.

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Spencer’s cheeks ached with the effort of keeping his smile from falling. He took the kid’s hand, squeezing it limply. He couldn’t tell if he was making fun of him or not.

As the kid turned around and started walking back to his buddies, Spencer’s pulse raced. He imagined him telling them what he’d just called Spencer and the nickname spreading around the school. His eyes fell on a ball in front of him, and before his brain caught up with his body, Spencer pulled his leg back and let loose. The ball made a perfect arc in the air before smacking the kid in the back of his head.

The kid whirled around, his cheeks flushed and eyes flashing. Spencer’s brain finally caught up.Oh, shit.

“Who did that?” shouted the kid.

All eyes turned to Spencer. Even the girls playing badminton over on the other side of the gym with their own teacher stopped their game.

The kid rounded on Spencer.

Spencer flinched.

“Did you throw that at me?”

Spencer couldn’t exactly lie, not with a room of witnesses. “No, I kicked it.”

“With your right foot or your left foot?” asked the kid.

“I— What?” asked Spencer, wondering what the hell that had to do with anything.

The kid took another step toward Spencer, who found himself backed up against the wall. “That shot. Did you make it with your right foot or your left?”

“Left. My left.”

To Spencer’s surprise, the boy smiled and turned to Coach Schilling. “Did you see that, Coach?”

Coach Schilling was also staring at Spencer with a curious look on his face. “That I did, son, that I did.” He paused, looking thoughtful. “Macintosh, why don’t you head to the nurse and get an ice pack. You.” He pointed his whistle at Spencer. “Harris, right?”

“Yes, sir,” said Spencer.

“You’re coming with me.”

Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Random House.

Get a copy of the book here.

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Book Club Books Pop Culture

Navigating queerness & tradition in YA fiction with Adiba Jaigirdar, author of “The Henna Wars”

Adiba Jaigirdar is an Irish-Bangladeshi writer, poet, and teacher with an MA in Postcolonial Studies. Her latest book, The Henna Wars, is a poignant story about two Muslim girls falling in love.

Be sure to check out our live Instagram event featuring Adiba and our own editor, Shaima. We’re also doing a giveaway of her book, enter now!


Adiba Jaigirdar’s debut novel The Henna Wars stems from a genuine desire to inspire joy. She was drawn to “write a story that made [her] happy and that was funny to read and fun to write.” She settled on the idea of a romantic comedy with two teen girls with rival henna businesses while “attempting (and failing) to teach [herself] henna”.

Looking to up the stakes of the girls’ rivalry, Adiba imagined what it would be like “if the two girls were also romantically attracted to each other, and grappling with what that might mean.” From there, everything else came together to make this wonderful tale of love, longing, and growing up. 

The Henna Wars revolves around themes of queerness, first love, culture, and family. Adiba interjects stories with themes that are relevant to herself and her life, and exploring them in the medium of storytelling.

Her influences range from The Princess Diaries, Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe to Bollywood film like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai which she cites as part of her introduction to romance.

She recalls the first time she encountered a person of color writing about people of color in Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses (which we love!). Reading her stories made Adiba realize that it was possible to write about people like herself.

As a queer woman of color, she acknowledges that she has a responsibility to represent her culture, gender, and sexuality in her work. “There’s a lot of pressure, especially because there aren’t a lot of novels out there about Bangladeshi teens, and even fewer about queer Bangladeshi Muslim teens,” Adiba said. “Even though realistically I know that it’s impossible to represent everything as you write a single story, I still felt the pressure of that.” 

To her, storytelling cannot be separated from politics. “Especially as a queer Muslim South Asian, there’s no way that what I write is not going to be political. My very existence is political.” 

As she writes in the contemporary era, I was curious to see what she finds unique to the time that we are currently living in. To her, this time is a time of “rising up against oppression and attempting to enact change.” Yet, she believes this has been the case for a while, as “marginalized people have been fighting for our rights for a long time. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” 

If this story were set in the future, she would love to say that the “characters like Nishat and Flávia wouldn’t have to worry about their sexuality, race, and culture making it more difficult for them to fit in.” However, she has her doubts. “I’m not particularly hopeful of that happening anytime in the near future.” 

For the writers out there or those interested in what happens behind the scenes, Adiba admits that her writing process is “honestly a little chaotic.” When she first begins writing, she “usually have a very basic idea of the story I want to tell. I figure out the important bits that I need to be able to write the story—the beginning, the end, and bits and pieces in the middle. Then, I begin to write and it’s a process of stringing everything together. It’s a little like putting together a puzzle. Once it’s out there on the page, it’s time for me to begin revisions and shape it into something that really works.”

[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
[Image Description: Book cover of The Henna Wars, two girls with henna reaching their hands out to each other.] Via Twitter
The scenes that she enjoyed writing the most were the Bengali wedding scenes at the beginning of the book. “Bangladeshi people are obsessed with weddings, and our weddings are a whole event. So it was nice to explore that aspect of my life through the lens of a character like Nishat, who is surrounded by the familiarity of a Bangladeshi wedding, while also stumbling across her childhood crush.” 

As for how it feels to see her work being shared around the world, Adiba admits that “it still feels a little surreal.” Her dreams of being a writer when she was younger seemed to rely on her writing about straight white characters with whom she shared few experiences. Those were some of the only stories that she saw published or have mainstream success. “It was hard for me to imagine a world where someone like me could be writing stories about people like me.” 

In the future, she hopes that The Henna Wars can allow queer brown girls to see a reflection of themselves in its pages, and that it can open doors for more queer brown people to write and publish more of their own stories. 

For those that have enjoyed the latest book-to-movie adaptations like To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or Crazy Rich Asians, Adiba shares that she would love to see The Henna Wars adapted for the big screen in the future. Especially if the potential adaptation stays true to the ethnicities of the characters.

As of now, Adiba is revising her second novel, which will be out from Page Street in spring 2021. It’s another YA romantic comedy which follows two girls—one Bangladeshi Bengali and one Indian Bengali—who have to start a fake relationship in order to achieve what they want. 

Have you entered our Instagram giveaway yet? And if you absolutely cannot wait, get The Henna Wars on Amazon or on The Tempest’s own virtual bookshop supporting local bookstores.
Love Life Stories Advice

If you have feelings for me, TELL ME

My story started in August when I first met Hamza*. I didn’t realize I had a crush until after it happened. By then, I understood it was more than just a crush. He was cute, funny, nice, and cared about me – what else could I have really needed? Since we met, nothing stopped us from being friends, even if his damn ambiguity got in the way. I had a feeling he might’ve liked me back. Unfortunately, I think I was wrong about it.

And yet, I’m still not sure. 

Let me start from the beginning:

Hamza and I both work for the same media organization, this was how we got to know each other.

One day, I got really tired of one of my classes and asked my friend to pull me out to go to the media room. When I walked into the room, something felt off.

My friend had already told me that some people were discussing me with Hamza. It was an unsettling feeling, but I brushed it off. Whispers settled around me as I took a seat next to my friend. He had already turned away.

Out of the blue, someone asked, “Do you have a crush on him?”

My heartbeat increased almost immediately as this awkward and uncomfortable question slipped out of her mouth.

Who knew a question like that could make my palms sweaty and my breath shallow and my heart nearly stop? I did have a crush on him, undeniably. But, I would never admit it to them. Hamza was right there– watching and listening.

How did those girls think I would ever tell them the answer to that question in front of him?

After that question, things were temporarily awkward. But soon enough, our friendship settled. I would roast him again; he would tell me my roasts were bad; and so on it went. 

I had missed a key point while all of this was happening. Yes, my friend did say they were talking about me, but she didn’t clarify exactly what they were saying. I learned later that they had asked him how the same question as well, but about another girl, and he had refused profusely. And that’s where I came into the conversation.

After that, they proceeded to ask him about his feelings for me, whether he had any. And this time, he didn’t have an answer.

In typical fashion, rumors were flying within our organization that we were ‘a thing’.

You could say I was hopeful. But I only held onto that hope for so long.

Whenever I did ask him anything remotely similar to whether or not he liked me or wanted a relationship, he would always ignore it. He avoided it as if if he did answer it, the whole world would blow up. But I don’t understand.

I don’t understand why he couldn’t just say “no”. It’s a two-fricking-letter word. Ambiguity has no place in love for me. If you like me, then you like me. If you don’t, then you don’t; and that’s that. There’s no way to ignore your feelings or pretend like you don’t have them. Having a crush is not the end of the world.

I keep thinking maybe it was my fault. Maybe I’m overthinking all of this, and maybe he wasn’t ready for a relationship. Maybe he just didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Or, maybe he felt embarrassed by me. Maybe it was because I’m not friends with his friends. Maybe he just didn’t like me and wanted to stay friends, but couldn’t find a way to tell me.

However, all of these reasons weren’t validations to not tell someone if you like them or not.

If he wasn’t ready for a relationship, he should’ve said so. If he didn’t want my feelings to get hurt, that’s life; I’m going to get hurt at some point. If he felt embarrassed by me, then that’s his loss. And, if it was because I’m not friends with his friends, what does that have to do with our relationship? If he didn’t like me and wants to stay friends, then why did he tell me that his mother refused instead of him?

There is no foolproof test to tell whether or not someone likes you back, and that’s all the more reason to come right out and tell them. Stop hiding behind a “maybe,” and just choose. No matter how many times you google “signs that a guy likes you,” You know you won’t find your answer unless it comes from them.

But now, I don’t give a damn if he says he doesn’t like me; I just want to know. I’m absolutely sick of it.

So stop pissing me off, and please, just TELL me if you like me or not.

Just tell me. 

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Love + Sex Love

Love in the time of Instagram

I can tell you whether or not I’d be attracted to someone based on their Instagram bio. There is no specific formula to this, nor any logic behind it – if it’s witty or a little bizarre, it’ll work. If it includes his height or more than two emojis, it won’t. This is both risky and judgmental, considering the fact that whittling one’s very essence down to 150 characters or less is a tall order and also, not everyone is David Harbour or Chelsea Peretti. No bio is a cop out, as are the flag or three-letter abbreviations of your country of origin (sorry).

We as a generation answer so many questions surrounding attraction before any kind of in-person contact takes place. The accuracy of these answers has no fixed pattern – they range from spot-on to not-entirely-accurate – although in my experience they are yet to be wholly misleading. And why shouldn’t we access all the information available to us in order to form some kind of tentative impression or fulfill an initial curiosity, as we would do with any subject of interest? It’s all there – passions, politics, sense of humor.

This very 21st-century romantic elimination tactic has inevitably resulted in marked shifts in our priorities and perceptions. Access to someone’s online presence is both helpful in the little clues it gives us, and exhausting in that it’s just another factor to take into consideration during the highly susceptible, seasonally variable mating ritual that is modern dating. Knowledge is power, but it’s not always accurate. Transparency keeps us safe, but is likely as manufactured as everything else online. Our demands are equally contradictory: we want authenticity but not if it’s messy or ugly or boring; and insight, but only if it shows us what we want to see.

A rising percentage of couples first meet online, the majority of them on dating apps, which, unlike social media, are built for the specific purpose of initiating romantic relationships. I would argue, however, that social media is a step up from dating apps, simply because it’s so much more revelatory.

Dating apps show you how someone interacts with you, while social media shows you how they interact with everyone else. Tinder will show you how your crush presents themselves to potential romantic partners, while their Instagram or Twitter will show you how they present themselves to the rest of the world. Social media is a dating app for the nosy, offering a much wider scope of information and, as a result, a higher capacity – depending on the nature of said information – for either satisfaction or regret.

The two also have their similarities, the biggest one being the potential for disappointment. At a time when a lot of our communication with loved ones is via social media, it seems presumptuous to disregard online chemistry as a valid marker of a deeper connection. It seems equally foolish to lean towards the opposite extreme: to rely entirely on the conviction that a months worth of direct messaging and a handful of meme tags can give you a solid idea of who a person really is. Best not to put all your DMs into one basket. 

For those earlier on in the process – pre-contact with but post-identification of your subject of interest – there is the issue of personality versus projection. Part of social media’s appeal is that it offers us a say in how we are perceived, and image control is one hell of a drug. Projection, whether it’s carefully crafted or kind of accidental, is still telling you something about someone.

It’s difficult to stay nuanced in the way we think about social media and whether or not it’s a helpful tool that heightens the excitement of attraction, or a scourge on all things private and intimate and sacred. Thinking in extremes comes particularly easily to me, but if the former assessment is on the right and the latter on the left, I’m comfortably seated in-between, slowly, slightly hesitantly inching to the left with age and experience. And then maybe backtracking further to the right whenever it suits me. And back again to the left again when I feel like I’ve had enough.

When your generation is the first to grow up steadily consuming and consumed by social media, the first to see it create connections and facilitate careers you could never have conceived of before, to see it aggravate mental illness and conflate your sense of what’s real and what’s not, you learn to treat it with the ambivalence it warrants.

You embrace it openly for the wealth of opportunity it affords, but remain prepared to be deceived at every turn. In a sense, social media stands for the opposites of all the qualities we associate with true love: intimacy, honesty, and absolute trust. And as literature and film and even astrology have repeatedly told us, opposites often attract.

Mind Love

Why the best crushes are the ones that can’t be anything more

The three stages of a standard crush are as follows: attraction, awareness, and decision to pursue. Attraction is self-explanatory – you see something you like in someone and it makes you pay a little more attention to them. Awareness requires you to be slightly more invested – noticing which one of your celebrity impressions makes them laugh the most, making sure they always see you from your good side, wondering what their favorite salad dressing is (balsamic vinaigrette implies understated sophistication, anything involving mayonnaise is a red flag).

The decision to pursue is where things tend to get a bit more complicated. You have decided you’re compatible with this person and are taking active steps to begin a relationship with them. Your thoughts become consumed by whether or not they reciprocate, and to what degree they return your interest. Every gesture, every word of theirs is a clue. Every gesture, every word of yours is an attempt to extract some more of these clues. In short, it’s agony – agony that may pay off, but agony nonetheless.

And that is precisely why the greatest crushes are the ones that cannot become anything more: your best friend’s brother, your happily married 19th-century poetry professor, cashier number eight at the grocery store on Tuesday evenings. The crushes that, due to some obstacle, impracticality or inconvenience, you can never, ever act on. You can observe, you can fantasize, and you can make sure your hair is always freshly washed and smelling of tropical fruit on a Tuesday, but that’s it.

The crush remains private and passive until you lose interest, lose touch, or both.

This is just as, if not more, agonizing, you say? Isn’t wanting something you can’t have worse than pursuing something you can? Allow me to plead my case. You say or do something crushingly embarrassing in front of your Nowhere Crush (henceforth used to refer to a crush that can’t go anywhere beyond distant attraction)? Who cares! Your crush has a peanut allergy but you can never give up peanut butter? Not an issue! Their singular (but inexcusable) flaw is that they clap when the plane lands? Doesn’t matter, you’re not going anywhere with them!

The pressure to pursue is killing our ability to crush for the joy of crushing. We are in such fear of missing fateful connections and overlooking big opportunities that we are blind to the quiet, consistent connections and opportunities we encounter every day. Not every feeling, every instance of subtle magnetism, requires us to do something about it. Some things can be enjoyed passively and carelessly, with no thought of consequences or commitment.

It is in the process of trying to do something about everything that we forget to take pleasure in all the best parts of having a crush. Eye contact that feels electric, careless banter, a single butterfly in your stomach. Crushes make us feel young and excited and alive; they remind us that we are always on the lookout for connection and feeling, no matter how small or inconsequential. Crush often, and crush without care.

Love + Sex Love

Dear Kaka, you were the sports superstar I always crushed on – and it’ll never change

Dear Kaka,

I was never the kind of girl who was into celebrities.

I could not recognize most A-listers and I was not bothered about it. I preferred books that transported you to another world, but all the males close to me were very much into football. So it came as no surprise that when I developed a crush on a high profile personality, it was not on a Hollywood star but on a soccer superstar.


[bctt tweet=”It came as no surprise that when I developed a crush on a high profile personality, it was not on a Hollywood star but on a sports superstar. You. @KAKA #MyCelebrityCrush #TeamKaka ” username=”wearethetempest”]

The first time I saw you, it was on a recording of a confederation match. I was intrigued.

“Who is that?” “What team does he play for?” “How long has he been playing for?”

My brothers looked me straight in the eyes and calmly proclaimed that I liked you. Of course, I denied it. I thought I was just being curious. Even after I spent the next hours going through the recordings in a bid to unravel you, see more of you…I still thought it a harmless curiosity.

At this stage I did the next natural thing. I searched like crazy.

The first time I ever had a jealous outburst was when I typed your name into Google’s search bar and a picture of your wedded bliss showed up. Apparently, you had just gotten married. I felt the heat rise up my chest and kiss my cheeks. I mean… what the hell? Yes, in my rummage through my father’s football magazines I’d gathered that you were engaged, but it still took me aback. I was transfixed and embarrassed and so damn jealous.

I didn’t really know the feeling before that day.

[bctt tweet=”The first time I ever had a jealous outburst was when I typed your name into Google’s search bar and a picture of your wedded bliss showed up. I mean… what the hell? #Kaka ” username=”wearethetempest”]

In the searches that inevitably followed that one, I found out that you had waited until marriage to have sex and that your teammates thought it hilarious. I was impressed.

You were a superstar with all that fame and money and women who would just die to be with you, yet you choose to wait.

In that moment, you won my respect.

And with rock-solid principles like this, my respect for you was cemented. You went from being an inaccessible star that I had it bad for to a human being I could relate to as a Muslim girl committed to waiting until marriage.

[bctt tweet=”You went from being an inaccessible star that I had it bad for to a human being I could relate to. I was a Muslim girl who was expected to wait till marriage and never go near any intoxicant. #Respect #kaka” username=”wearethetempest”]

So I spent the next few years following your career.

I celebrated your wins with you and mourned your losses. I proudly proclaimed that I was your fan. At this point I didn’t bother to hide my fondness of you. I entertained fantasies in which you were the one obsessed with me for a change. In some, you would travel to my country, get lost, and I would be the Good Samaritan who saves you. You would then become entranced with me and even accept Islam as a result.

In others, I would hunt you down to one of your game locations, make sure you took notice of me and the rest would be history. I even found a contact I thought was a direct line to the San Siro but I don’t remember ever dialing it.

Yet in others, you would be retired and Muslim and I would be widowed or separated and we would end up together. It was amazing the kind of stories I told myself. It was no wonder my dreams were mostly enactments of these meet-you fantasies.

[bctt tweet=”I entertained fantasies in which you were the one obsessed with me for a change.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Then one day your team was pitted against mine.

See, a long time ago, I decided that I was a Manchester United fan. I had a bad case of divided loyalty that night. On one hand, of course I wanted my team to whup you guys but on the other, I wanted you to shine. And shine you did, netting a goal that is still considered one of your best, a goal that had me laughing out loud.

It was beyond hilarious.

Your big move to Spain upset me. Not because I had anything against La Liga but because I had read reports in which you explicitly denied that you were making a move. I didn’t expect such disparity between your words and actions. I expected more from you.

Then began your professional downfall. Each time you got injured I was concerned but kept up hope. You were still the best, a little delicate now, but still kickass.

[bctt tweet=”Each time you got injured I got concerned but kept the hope. You were still the best, a little delicate but you were still kick-ass. #kaka #TeamKaka” username=”wearethetempest”]

I defended you when my brothers made it their business to let me know that your star was waning. They did it just to get a rise out of me and I took the bait every time because I just had to come to your defense. So you can imagine my anger when you announced your move to MLS – usually the last step before a soccer player retires.

I know it was none of my business.

You didn’t know me, had no hint of my then obsession and you have thousands of fans but hey, I was pissed. As far as I could tell, you were giving up. How could you give up on yourself when I was busy defending you?

More importantly, how could I keep expecting you to get up and dust yourself off if you’d already thrown in the towel?

[bctt tweet=”How could you give up on yourself when I was busy defending you? #kaka” username=”wearethetempest”]

In retrospect, it was probably a good move considering your injuries and your reputation. You ‘left’ when we were still hungry for you thereby executing an honorable retreat.

Your recent retirement from professional soccer brought back memories of the years I spent obsessing over you and all the ways in which we would end up together. So this one is for you, one of only eight footballers to have won the World Cup, the Champions League, and the Ballon d’Or.

Soccer history will never forget you… and neither will your fans.

[bctt tweet=”This one is for the legend that you are. Football history will never forget you… and neither will your fans. #Kaka #GoodbyeKaka #GoodByeLegend ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Now that all is said and done:  @KAKA follow back maybe? 🙂

Gender & Identity Life

Can we stop telling girls that abuse is love?

We were having a family get together at my house and I was hanging out with one of my little cousins. She’s around seven or eight years old and she was telling me and some other relatives about how a boy at school was bothering her. He would tease her, push her around, and all that elementary school bullying that shouldn’t happen.

And then one of our aunts said something. She said something that people say all the time. People toss the comment aside as if it’s meaningless, harmless, like it’s totally natural. Like it’s a definitive fact of life and childhood. But it’s not and it shouldn’t be. So, she said, “That just means he likes you, sweetie.”

[bctt tweet=”To tell a child abusive factors look like love sets up a pattern of unhealthy behavior.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Oh dear.

I could only think one thing.



Please no.

It troubles me that people don’t understand the implications of a statement like that. Telling a child that her bully is just trying to show her he likes her is excusing his bad behavior. It justifies aggression as a means of communication, as an ordinary way to interact.

[bctt tweet=”Why wouldn’t young girls learn to accept pain as a measure of endearment?” username=”wearethetempest”]

Pulling hair, hitting, hurting someone’s feelings, these are all, by definition, examples of abusive behavior. And to tell a child abusive factors look like love sets up a pattern of unhealthy behavior. Why wouldn’t young girls learn to accept pain as a measure of endearment?

And the people that make comments like this, who tell girls that this form of bullying is okay, are the same people that won’t understand why women stay in abusive relationships. Maybe it’s because you’ve told them, systematically, since they were children that if a man hurts them, he loves them. And what’s even more upsetting is that in setting up this dynamic, you’re telling young boys that in order to express affection, adoration, they need to inflict pain. Once you’ve sanctioned that kind of mistreatment, how do you turn around and declare that it’s immoral to hurt a girl years later?

[bctt tweet=”You’re telling young boys that in order to express affection, they need to inflict pain.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It only makes sense that these lessons develop over time and translate into grown, abusive relationships. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every person ends up in situations of domestic violence either as the perpetrator or the victim, but it speaks to a cultural norm that legitimizes abuse. It normalizes male aggression.

[bctt tweet=”It’s because you’ve told them since they were children that if a man hurts them, he loves them.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s no surprise that we tolerate the narrative of the dominant male in the household who makes more money, receives more opportunities and gets to tell his own version of history. It’s no wonder that this translates into victim-blaming and rape culture. Of course, women stay in dysfunctional relationships and make excuses for why their male partners are controlling, rude, and maybe even violent.

Some people are going to say, “but they’re just kids.” They’ll say this behavior means nothing when they’re so young, that they’ll obviously learn better. I say those are just more excuses.

[bctt tweet=”At exactly what age do you start to tell young people that aggression is no longer affection?” username=”wearethetempest”]

Because it doesn’t change. Where do you distinguish between acceptable playground roughhousing and inappropriate, threatening behavior? At exactly what age do you start to tell young people that aggression is no longer affection?

I told everyone in the room that day a lot of this; I spoke a lot about what we should not say or do. But, I should have talked more about what we should say instead.

We should tell little girls from the beginning that the first time a boy puts his hands on her without her permission is the last time. That’s what my grandpa told me.

[bctt tweet=”Tell girls that love isn’t predicated upon obedience, her weight, or her sexual conduct. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Tell girls love means respect, care, patience; it means friendship. Tell girls not to settle for anything less than a man who regards her with absolute reverence, who honors her and in return, whom she trusts and holds in the highest esteem.

Tell girls that love is not predicated upon her obedience, or her weight, or her sexual conduct. They need to know that there is value in their strength, that their opinions and convictions matter. Tell girls to stop apologizing for their existence. They need to know that living their lives exactly as they are – that is enough.

That’s what I want my little sisters to know. It’s what I’ll tell my future daughters. It’s what every girl, every woman should hear.

[bctt tweet=”Tell them there is courage in their tears, in their smiles, in their love.” username=”wearethetempest”]

And on the other hand, every boy needs to learn that honest communication, not aggression, is how to convey affection. They need to be rewarded for acts of kindness and generosity, not simply for brawn and arrogance. Talk to boys about their emotions and tell them there is courage in their tears, in their smiles, in their love. Teach them that feelings are not weakness.

So, I don’t want to hear anyone else telling young girls that the reason they’re getting picked on is that some boy has a crush on them. We deserve more than ignorant justifications for the disrespect and bullying girls face every day. We can do better than that.

We are better than that.

Let’s prove it.

Love Advice

I thought I was straight, but now I’m questioning everything

Dear Madame Lestrange,

There’s a girl I know from school who likes me. We are friends – we hang out a lot and I really enjoy spending time with her. One night, we were up late watching the meteor shower and, somehow, we ended up kissing. Just a quick peck.

And honestly… it felt amazing, but I got freaked out. I like men, I always have. But there’s something about this girl and I want to kiss her again. Is this a phase? Should I ignore it? What’s happening?




Dear Confused,

Wait – why would you ignore a crush! Because that is exactly what you have. Are you worried that having a crush on a girl means you’re a lesbian or bisexual? Why is that a worry? What’s wrong with that?

If this friend were a guy, would you have any hesitation kissing and pursuing something romantic with him? If the answer is no — then you need to reflect on why this is an issue for you. I mean, you can like men and also like women. You can be sexually attracted to anyone (or no one) and you’re still normal. Don’t question your heart just because of the homophobic expectations our society sets on us. It isn’t fair to you and it isn’t fair to any of us.

[bctt tweet=”Wait – why would you ignore a crush! Because that is exactly what you have.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Try to figure out what exactly is holding you back. Are you afraid of what your friends might think? Your family? Yourself? Do you plan on living your entire life in a way that everyone around you approves of? That doesn’t seem much like a life worth living because it isn’t living for yourself. If your friends stop liking you because you’re into girls, they’re not very good friends. And they don’t like who you are.

Family, as always, is a different ballgame. But if they’re not willing to support a natural, healthy relationship in your life … that’s on them.

[bctt tweet=”If this friend were a guy, would you have any hesitation kissing him?” username=”wearethetempest”]

If the kiss felt amazing, you enjoy being with her, and you want to do it again — girl, do it. Don’t be afraid of what you’re feeling. Embrace it, because whatever you’re feeling is normal, respected, and clearly returned. Sexuality is beautiful and fluid, it’s ever-changing for all of us. You might only crush on this one girl, you might crush on plenty… who knows? And, frankly, who cares? Who you’re attracted to throughout your life doesn’t have to depend on gender or sex.

[bctt tweet=”Sexuality is beautiful and fluid, it’s ever-changing for all of us.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Plus, if you already know she likes you, your chances are great! You haven’t tried and been rejected yet, which what you’re afraid of only exists in your own head. And fear has never been a good reason to hold yourself back. And don’t worry about it so much… if you free your mind of the worries surrounding this situation, your heart will lead you to where you want to be. Trust it.

[bctt tweet=”Your heart will lead you to where you want to be.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Judging by how hard you’re crushing, this could turn into a really amazing relationship. Or maybe it won’t! Just like any time you pursue someone romantically. But doing something you don’t necessarily associate with your identity for whatever reason can have its own benefits. Let yourself become your true self and embrace who you are and what you feel. You’ll love yourself more for it. And remember, there is nothing wrong with having feelings for or being sexually attracted to another girl.


You’re welcome,

Madame Lestrange

Do you have any questions for Madame Lestrange? She’ll answer your questions on love, sex, and relationships. 

Send all of your burning questions to or fill out our anonymous form here.

Love Advice

How do I tell my crush that I actually like them – without scaring them off?

Dear Madame Lestrange,

I have a crush on a guy, but I don’t (and NEVER do) know what to do now. How do I tell him? Do I tell him? I don’t want to scare him off or come on too strong. Help!!




Dear Crushin,

How exciting! I love crushes — that feeling of finally finding someone you like who’s interesting and cute and fun and gives you those butterflies. Immediately followed by, “Fuck – now what?”

Definitely tell your crush you like them. Otherwise, you’re relying on them and that’s silly. If you like someone, don’t expect *them to be the one to make the move – why should you? Sure, for some people this might work. But for so many reasons it could also not. Like, what if that person is oblivious? What if they’re so shy? What if they think it’s disrespectful to you or your friendship to say anything even though they really want to because they think you’re not into them? See. So many reasons.

So tell them. Straight up – hey, I think you’re really cool and interesting and (all the things), I’m interested in taking you out on a date – what do you think? Or whatever works for you to say. But be direct. Don’t make the person have to interpret what you’re saying!

[bctt tweet=”If they gotta problem with it, I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THEM.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Don’t be scared. Honestly, what could you possibly lose by telling them? The worst is that they don’t feel the same way. It happens. It’s happened to people who’ve been interested in you. It’s normal. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try. If you tell them, they say “I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way” — bam, at least you know and don’t have to spend the next however long pining over them or being confused about next steps.

Depending on maturity levels, friendship interests, or even how likely you are to keep pining anyway — you can figure it out from there. But…there’s the whole possibility that they do also feel the same way! In which case, YAY, you told them, now you know they feel the same way, and shit can go down!

[bctt tweet=”Scared of talking to your crush? Here’s how to do it.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If sharing how you feel scared them off, they’re immature and weird! It shouldn’t scare someone off or seem too strong for you to be like “hey, I like you.” That’s not too strong! It’s not threatening! It’s not weird. It’s an honest, mature way to handle your feelings for someone. If they gotta problem with it, I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THEM.

Just be yourself! Let them know how you feel, and then let things fall naturally. If they like you, too, don’t freak out about what to do next. They already like you for who you are, and that’s what they want from you anyway. You are perfect how you are! Now go get ‘em.

You’re welcome,

Madame Lestrange


Do you have any questions for Madame Lestrange? She’ll answer your questions on love, sex and relationships.

Send all of your burning questions to or fill out our anonymous form here.

Gender & Identity Humor Life

My college crush exposed me to the dark truth of life without lotas

There are certain revelations in life that nothing can prepare you for.

Some people are left reeling upon learning about the birds and the bees.

Other minds are blown when they discover that Bruce Willis was DEAD all along (thanks M. Night Shyamalan).

But for me, it was the crappy revelation that skid marks are a real thing that happen to unfortunate, unsuspecting undies every single day.

The first time I had heard about these dumpy biomarkers was early in college, when my best friend Lindsye and I were watching an episode of Sex and The City called “Drama Queens.”  (Don’t judge: This was the early 2000s, when anything remotely female-centered passed for feminist, no matter how trashy or stereotypical.) Keeping in line with its sexism-parading-as-feminism shtick, Miranda is tasked with her boyfriend Steve’s laundry, even though she’s a Harvard-educated lawyer who could probably have just hired someone to do so. In the course of her domestic duties, she comes across the shocking revelation that Steve was a “skid mark guy.” She seemed traumatized, but I had no idea why.

That’s when Lindsye, bless her sweet, worldly, patient soul, uncomfortably laughed through the explanation to me that skid marks were what happened to someone’s underwear, usually boys, when they didn’t, er, wipe adequately after a downtown pushdown.

Hah. What are those crazy writers over at HBO going to come up with next? I thought.

I just assumed that this was one of those shitty shenanigans that the writers came up with, to appear more raw and edgy. Could I have just googled “skid marks” and been introduced to the fact that this was a poopy occurrence that happened to real people? And that Linsdye didn’t just happen to have have an innate knowledge of our misguided favorite show?

No. Because life had other, much messier plans for me.

You might be wondering why skid marks are such an bowel-shattering concept for me. First off, most Muslims, Arabs, and Desi people use water in the bathroom after conducting our business, thereby ensuring complete nether-freshness. The fact that not everyone does this is unusual enough. But to leave enough on there, to where one could have a mark that varies from “thick to meaty” per Urban Dictionary, seemed like something out of a fiery nightmare based on a South Park play written by Guy Fieri, featuring music by Nickelback.

Ironically, this very practice has made me stick out on several occasions, mainly because people become really nosy when you announce you’re going to the restroom and insist on taking a paper cup with you. In fact, walking around with a water jug in the hallways of my freshman year dorm was how I was outed as a Muslim to a very racist set of post-9/11 campus mates. Thanks to all the pooh-pooing over what many people thought was an unusual cultural practice, I’ve once or twice even wondered if watering ourselves was overkill.

A very unfortunate group project my junior year of college would confirm for me that there is no number two option when it comes to post-turd cleanup.

This was the year I developed a crush on a boy, who would come to be known in my psyche years later as skid mark Joey.  There was nothing unusual or extraordinary about Joey. He wore baggy cargo pants, owned an impressive collection of Metallica T-shirts, and had that nice-but-not-too-nice smell of budget deodorant on him. In other words, he was a normal, early-2000s college kid. He was one of many head-scratching crushes that I would accumulate during my college years that would ultimately go nowhere, mostly because flirting is not a thing I do.

I was in a group project with Joey and two other people – we’ll call them Alicia and David. One afternoon, our deuce communed at Joey’s place to work on the project. Within minutes of arrival, David produced a joint and retreated to the balcony, making it clear that he had no interest in actually doing any of the work.

That left Alicia, Joey and me to take care of business. Our presentation involved shaping construction paper into letters that would be glued into a cardboard sign. We were using Exacto knives to shape the construction paper. I had rehearsed some cheesy lines that I was gonna drop on Joey and win his everlasting affection, or at least a couple of dining hall meals until the end of the semester.  


But since I have minimal fine motor skills, and even less chill when I’m around guys I have crushes on, I slipped, slicing the tip of my left index finger open instead.

This prompted Joey, like a true knight in shining armor, to tell me where to find my own band aids.

Hearts in my eyes, I stumbled into his bathroom.

“I think they’re in the shelf in the closet,” he called after me.

I opened the closet, where it was dark and confusing. I zeroed in on a large laundry hamper, and for reasons that still make no sense to me ten years later, lifted the lid.

There it was. Right on top, in all of its fecal glory.

At first it looked like a squirrel or some other tiny animal had furrowed its way into the hamper and died after being run over by a truck, right there, inside of Joey’s tighty-whiteys. I tried to make sense of what I was looking at, when it hit me. The location of the…mark made it fairly clear.

I shrieked and dropped the lid back onto the hamper. That’s when Alicia walked in.

“Are you ok? You look like someone died,” she said.

“I can’t find the band-aids,” I said in a voice far more dramatic than the situation probably called for.

“Actually, check the cabinet under the sink,” I heard Joey shout from the living room.

I opened the cabinet under the sink, but I didn’t even care about my finger anymore. I’m pretty sure my bleeding had stopped, because my whole body had gone into shock.

The rest of the evening was a blur. All I could think about was those stinking underwear and why they existed. My South Park Nickelback nightmare had come true, and it involved Joey, no less. Who was I gonna crush on now? And what if they, too, had a deep secret embedded inside of them?

The bright side was that, thanks to the incident, I didn’t use my awkward powers of non-seduction on Joey and probably avoided a whole lot of heartbreak, dining hall calories, and let’s face it – skid marks.

In the years since my romantic aspirations with Joey went down the toilet, I’ve discovered that such skids don’t make a mark for everyone. Still, I make sure to do my part and espouse the benefits of bidet bliss every chance I get.

“It’s French! So FRENCH! Don’t you want to be more *French*”??” I’ll tell confused acquaintances.

Even if I can’t convince everyone to make the restroom their next trip to a watering hole, I left the group meeting that day feeling just a little bit better about being the odd woman out. It took 20 years of feeling like a shitty weirdo, but I decided that night that maybe  everything mainstream wasn’t for me.

I’m okay with being the outsider with my cultural practices sometimes.