Omar Bustamante/FUSION

Hey there, pals! I hope you’re all enjoying these last few weeks of summer, relaxing and reading (have you checked out my book yet?) and eating lots of fresh peaches. For some reason, questions to Ask a Queer Chick seem to come in waves; some months I get a ton of questions about being bisexual in a monogamous relationship, some months everyone wants to know about sex toys. Right now my inbox is full of requests for advice from trans women who, one way or another, are feeling unmoored and in need of support.

Below are two letters from readers at very different stages in their lives and transitions, but fundamentally struggling with similar issues. In their honor and in light of how scary this world can still be for trans women, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone to love, honor, affirm, and uplift the trans women in your life, this month, and every month.

I'm an 18-year-old trans girl, and I came out to my mom in February. At first she wasn't too bad toward me. She said some offensive things, but I figured it was because she was trying to come to terms with my gender identity. No biggie.

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Shortly after coming out to her I decided it was time to come out to the world, and it could not have possibly gone better; I gained a massive support network, and my self-esteem had never been so high, despite my mom telling me that I was "claiming to be transgender" because I wanted attention. Obviously this wasn't true, but it still hurt me. It was after that fight that I started relying on my supporters more than ever, including many weekends when I would stay at a friend's house the entire time and just live as a woman. My mom either didn't realize what I was doing or didn't care.

Then prom happened. I'm fortunate to go to a high school with a very accepting faculty and administration and was granted permission to go to prom as a female, which I, of course, took advantage of. In hindsight this is where I screwed up—I went to prom, but without telling my mom I was going as a female, figuring I'd be better off asking forgiveness than permission.

After she found out, it hit the fan. My mom tracked down everyone who had supported me and threatened some of them with lawsuits because they dared to call her out on her bigotry.

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I only recently found out exactly what she said to my friends, and frankly, it's horrifying. I don't know how I should approach them—or whether I should let them come to me. Any advice or help is appreciated!

This isn’t really the point of your letter, but I need make it clear: You didn’t “screw up” by going to prom as a girl. You ARE a girl, so this was a perfectly reasonable thing to do! It might or might not have gone better with your mom if you had discussed your plans with her in advance, but please know that her shitty reaction is entirely her own responsibility. Presenting in public as your true gender identity, especially for a special occasion like prom, should not require either forgiveness or permission. I hope you took some amazing pictures, so you can look back on that night years from now and remember how young and gorgeous you were and how good it felt to be honest about who you are.

And I hope that when you look at those pictures you feel nothing but warmth and nostalgia for the friends with whom you share those memories—not regret that you let your controlling, unreasonable mother come between you. You didn’t cause your mother’s irrationality, and you are not to blame for your friends being exposed to it, but I still think you should reach out to them as soon as possible to repair any damage she might have done. They may be afraid to call or visit you lest it provoke further fuckery from her, so they will probably welcome whatever contact you can initiate. If it’s safe for you to do so, call, email, or visit your friends as soon as possible and let them know that your mother does not speak for you. You don’t owe them an apology, but you can certainly empathize and let them know you’re there to listen if they need to work through the awful things she said.

Then ask them for their support, encouragement, and if possible, assistance getting away from her. You’re 18, so you can and should be looking for your own place to live. You may already be planning to leave home for college, but even if you’re going to school in your hometown or not at all, you need to live apart from your mother. If you don’t have a source of income yet, start by looking for a job—ask your friends to let you know if they know of any place that’s hiring—and plan and save as needed. If you’ll need roommates to make ends meet, look for those as well. Work toward financial independence from your mother as soon as possible. Whatever benefit of the doubt you may have initially given her when she struggled with your coming out, she squandered it by attempting to cut off your support system. For your own emotional health and safety you will be much better off living on your own.

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That’s not to say you can’t or shouldn’t continue working toward a positive relationship with your mother, if you want to, but that relationship needs to be on your terms and in a situation where she doesn’t control your living arrangements. It might be worth looking for a trans-competent family therapist to help you work through her discomfort with your identity in a way that doesn’t involve her lashing out at the people who love you. But if you feel that you’ll be better off living your life entirely apart from her until and unless she accepts you for the woman you are, it’s also okay to part ways. The most important thing to remember is that you are an adult and your mother doesn’t have a say in your identity. You don’t need her permission to be yourself.

I’m so glad that you’ve found a network of friends who love and affirm you for who you are. Once you find that, it makes everything else a whole lot easier. Good luck!

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I am a transgender woman and I am still single at 41.

In my teens and twenties, I dated women, then gradually realized that I liked guys and started dating them—but it took me until my late thirties to come to terms with being a trans woman. I started transitioning over three years ago and at first, I couldn't even think about dating because I was still processing all of the changes in my life.

Now, I am much more settled and happy, and for the first time in my life, I actually like myself. I live my life as a woman and generally "pass," but it has been so long since I have been in a relationship that I am not even sure if I remember how to be in one. So far, I have experienced nothing but disappointment. A friend liked me but couldn't face his family's trans prejudice and men sexualize me all the time but they only want sex with an "exotic" trans woman and aren't generally looking for love. On top of this, I simply have no experience dating as a woman, and guys can be scary.

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I need to jump back on the horse and put myself out there—but how do you do that when you have never ridden this particular horse? I am as confused about dating as a teenager in regards to straight men. What advice would you have for putting myself out there and what I should look out for?

First of all, congratulations on coming out, transitioning, and generally being a brave and awesome motherfucking badass! It hardly seems fair that after all the work you’ve put in and obstacles you’ve overcome, you now have to strap back into your emotional armor and venture forth into the battlefield of dating. But if you want someone to share your life—or at least some sushi—with, there’s not really another option.

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You didn’t talk about what you’ve been doing so far to meet men—are you working to get out of your usual social circles and meet new people? I know that’s an advice columnist cliché, but we keep coming back to it because it works. Whatever you love to do, go do it somewhere there are other people who share your interests and might ask you out to dinner. If you live someplace rural or otherwise isolated and don’t have lots of social opportunities, online dating is a good place to start, but you can also use the internet to locate cool folks to hang out with platonically—the more friends you have, the more likely one of them is to introduce you to their cousin’s hot single roommate.

Making sure you have a robust social support system will also help you weed out the dudes who aren’t what you’re looking for, either because they treat trans women as sex objects or because they’re predatory dudes looking to take advantage of your lack of experience. Once you’ve been out with someone a few times, introduce him to your friends and ask them what kind of vibe they get. And if they tell you “he seems like bad news,” LISTEN TO THEM. This doesn’t mean you have to immediately dump anyone your friends don’t like, but in 99 cases out of 100, if your lady friends hate the dude you’re dating, it’s not because “they’re just jealous.” (In the 100th case, your friend is jealous because she’s gay and secretly in love with you.) Of course, if you’re meeting up with someone for the first time, tell a friend where you’re going and what time you’ll check in. And always plan your first date in a public place.

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As you dip your toes into the dating pool, be on the lookout for dudes who ignore your boundaries or keep trying to get you to do something after you’ve said no, whether that means first-date sex or one more bite of dessert. Don’t feel that you need to rush your relationships just because you have less experience than some women your age; it’s okay to move slowly, emotionally and physically, and check in with yourself periodically to make sure everything feels healthy and safe. It’s also, of course, okay to dive right in if you find someone who makes your heart sing or your genitals do backflips—we’ve all taken wild risks in the name of love. Sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t.

The most important thing to remember when dating later in life is that you don’t have to rush toward the finish line just because other folks had a head start. If one relationship falls through, it doesn’t mean that you’ve waited too long or missed your shot or anything like that. It can take a few tries—or a lot of tries—before you figure out what you really want and find someone who you’re compatible with in the long term. There’s no timeline, so ignore anyone who tells you there is. Enjoy the journey.

Thanks, everyone! Remember to send me your questions at askaqueerchick@gmail.com.

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Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, an adorable baby girl, and two very spoiled cats. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, was published by Plume in February 2016.