The Ex-Girlfriend of my Ex-Girlfriend is my Girlfriend

Pop this in the leafy greens section! I had the chance to review something a little different than a standard sequential. The Ex-Girlfriend of my Ex-Girlfriend is my Girlfriend is a queer advice book based on Court’s viral zine that features never-before-published letters and responses by guests, too. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Writer: Maddy Court
Illustrator: Kelsey Wroten
Publisher: Chronicle Books

The Ex-Girlfriend of my Ex-Girlfriend is my Girlfriend is a refreshing and broad take on advice from relationship dynamics, sex, being “out,” sexual expression and even some tough questions (more on that later.) Court is honest about her lens as a Midwestern lesbian, but offers heartfelt advice based on her own touchstones as a person navigating queer relationships. Where Court offers advice that doesn’t stem from her lived experiences, she does so with compassion and level-headed honesty.

This is simultaneously a fluffy and real book. The questions featured are occasionally irreverent, often raw and never treated as a joke, though there might be one or two where a flip response by a guest commentator filters in alongside the shared chagrin and heart. Court and Wroten divide the book into themed sections like “Firsts & Thirsts,” “Support Systems,” and “There Are No Shortcuts,” and we can all resonate with a particular question (often with a rueful half-smile or pained grimace,) and the sum effect of each section’s clear-eyed look at community, coming out and individual relationship dynamics. 

Wroten’s illustrations are stylish, expansive and charming. The book constrains itself to a limited color palette and Wroten uses this in high-contrast designs that often capture a tortured emotion, like the new feeling of potential creepiness when we come out, or the complexities of navigating polyamory in an illustration that spans the fold with reaching arms. Precise cartoon details enliven the page: jealousy takes on a green-skinned viper aspect, an inactive sex life features a headstone as a bed headboard, and a trapeze artist holding a heart out to an empty partner trapeze captures the anxiety and heady feeling of being single. Wroten also features different body types and skin tones to make the book as inclusive as possible. 

What makes The Ex-Girlfriend of my Ex-Girlfriend is my Girlfriend successful is that it’s a queer advice book for everyone. It doesn’t glamorize party culture, but it doesn’t demonize active sex lives. It advocates for a relationship ethic rooted in honesty, trust and good boundaries while making cracks about U-Hauling and classic queer tropes. Court’s age helps with this, but there’s never a sense of talking down or prescribing action based on wisdom – just the quiet and steady rapport of a queer person whose life experiences might be more varied than our own (or not!) and an offering to help us through. 

Court also references living in a city and area where there isn’t a huge population or dating pool, and adding visibility to non-coastal queer lives and communities is clutch. Media and pop culture usually seize upon the extremes by glamorizing urban queer intrigue or dramatizing rural queer existence. The truth is often somewhere in the middle, and it’s also true that many queer people aren’t safe in any space, no matter how blue the state may be. Court’s equipped to address the frustrations of younger folks who might yearn for that heady period of bar culture, or just want more queer friends in their lives. Not all our elders are gone, but we don’t all have access to generational knowledge in our immediate circles, and offerings like this book can help.

I’m a critical queer, and I’m also non-binary. I don’t speak for trans experiences across the board, but I was interested to see how Court handled an overwhelmingly cis-appearing, if not definitely cis-presenting, body of correspondence. One letter of note in the “Tough Questions” section asked for advice in supporting a trans friend who’s out to them, but not out to the world, and Court’s advice rang true: as a cis person in a friendship, it’s their job to show up, listen and be active when asked and supportive when needed. Another letter features a non-binary, chronically-ill person navigating rebuilding community when their existing community is ableist, and hasn’t been supportive. The guest responder speaks from similar shared experience and digs deep into the politics, heartbreak and fearlessness of building something new away from the people who try to leave us with wreckage in their wake. “There Are No Shortcuts” isn’t the only place where Court touches on gender identity and expression, but setting aside a place to speak seriously without cracking tea jokes alongside more sincere advice is a good call.

Overall, The Ex-Girlfriend of my Ex-Girlfriend is my Girlfriend is unabashedly Court’s lens on queer existence, but that lens is pretty broad and relatively inclusive. The book is humorous without being shallow, rueful without being bitter and inviting without bashing us over the head with queer tropes as a substitute for real connection. We all tend to glamorize the queer trash bag persona, but Court encourages us to look a little deeper and find something genuine to celebrate in our difference and culture.

The Verdict: 8/10The Ex-Girlfriend of my Ex-Girlfriend is my Girlfriend deals honestly and (yes, our favorite word) tenderly with queer identity and dating woes.

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