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On Being

Staff of The Stranger offers wisdom for the addled college student, and the rest of us.

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How to Be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself

By Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizzelle, Bethany Jen Clement, and the staff of The Stranger

Sasquatch, $16.95

It’s hard to be a person. Our bodies function in all kinds of strange ways that constantly demand attention and adjustment. Our minds are often unwieldy and play tricks on us. And somehow we’re supposed to figure out how to interact with hundreds or even thousands of other people over the course of a lifetime, without hurting any of them too severely or ending up in a cage for our efforts.

The editors at The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly and a consistent purveyor of both good advice and lots of laughs, feel our pain in the new book How to Be a Person: The Stranger’s Guide to College, Sex, Intoxicants, Tacos, and Life Itself, by Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizzelle, Bethany Jen Clement, and the staff of The Stranger. City Paper readers, of course, know Stranger editorial director and co-author Dan Savage for his hilarious, thoughtful column Savage Love, which runs weekly in these pages.

The authors wisely focus on the college years, when so many of us struggle with the ramp-up in responsibilities, opportunities, and potential pitfalls in our personhood. And, needless to say, given that Savage is involved, a healthy chunk of the advice is related to sex—and rightfully so! There’s a lot to figure out! In fact, 54 of the book’s 250 pages are devoted to college-themed Savage Love excerpts, like the freshman whose boyfriend asked if he could wear her panties or the grad-school student whose mom caught him using a RealDoll to masturbate.

But the real highlight is the section that offers advice on getting laid for every species of person-fucker (excerpted in the sidebar accompanying this piece). Boys looking to get with girls are reminded that women are “not just fleshy collections of holes that you would like to put your penis into,” while girls looking for boys are asked, “Do you exist? A lot of men will sleep with you based solely on that.”

It is, of course, all very funny but, like Savage Love, always a little bit surprising in how good—even downright wholesome—the advice is. It sometimes seems as if a parent, or at least a good college counselor, has been taking funny lessons to couch their otherwise fairly straight-laced advice. For example, a section called “How to Binge Drink” opens with a sobering, “It must be said: Binge drinking is not a great idea,” listing rape and alcohol poisoning as potential consequences, before adding, “You ought not to do it, but if you do, best to do it as safely and non-jackassly as possible,” and suggesting sticking with good friends and getting help if you binge regularly. The chapter “What No One Else Will Tell You About Drugs” pretty much advises against doing all drugs, though it is perhaps most lenient with pot and ecstasy.

The best chunks of the book are the ones written in short sections, like the “How to Get with” chunk or “Chapter 2: A Guide to America,” in which the Pacific Northwest is described as a leading exporter of “sad white people, sad white people in bands, and owls,” and Arizona is “like New Mexico, but with more old people and racism.” Perhaps the only dip is a short chapter by an anonymous professor—notably, it’s the only part of the book not written by The Stranger staff—called “How to Sleep With Your Professor,” which also offers decent advice (again, basically, don’t do it—but if you do, be cool about it) but just feels too long and not nearly as funny and breezy as the rest.

Also, buried amid all the sex and drugs is more mundane advice, like how to do laundry (including “A Note About Bleach”) and a section on writing, “How to Write Good,” that might actually help the struggling student with, ya know, school. Frankly, it all makes us wish we were back in the dorms, plumbing this trove of wisdom as we worked our way through those exhilarating, confusing days.

From: How To Be A Person

By Lindy West, Dan Savage, Christopher Frizzelle, Bethany Jen Clement, and the staff of The Stranger

How to Get With a Girl If You Are a Boy

Here’s the main thing: Don’t be creepy. Girls can smell your weird, insecure, predatory creepin’ from a mile away (hint: It smells like DiGiorno and Axe body spray!). Groom yourself, don’t try too hard, don’t use pick-up lines, don’t stare, and try to visibly have fun. People (women are people!) like to be around people who are fun. Don’t be too aggressive, but don’t be too timid. Most importantly, talk to women like they are humans with interests and lives and things to say, not just fleshy collections of holes that you would like to put your penis into. Oh, and please don’t wear sandals. No one wants to look at your weird toes.

How to Get With a Boy If You Are a Girl

First of all, how high are your standards? Do you exist? A lot of men will sleep with you based solely on that. Unfortunately, many of those men are hoboes. If you’re trying to bag some landed gentry (or at least a renter), here’s what’s up: Put on some makeup (not too much). Show some skin (not too much). Find someone who can consistently cut your hair in a flattering way. Before you go out, listen to the dirtiest rap music you can find. Leave the house. Smile a lot. Convince yourself that if you were a man, you would definitely want to have sex with you. Believe it. Then project that confidence. Don’t be annoying. Don’t be desperate. Say interesting things but don’t pander. Have fun. Congrats! Penis in vagina!

How to Get With a Gay/Lesbian If You Are a Gay/Lesbian

Oh, it’s all the same as for the straights—have good hygiene, be an interesting person, don’t talk with your mouth full. The key difference for gay people is that you have to come out of the closet before anything else: People who are out are much healthier and happier (and thus more datable) than people who are closeted. If you’re a gay man, being in the closet will force you into a never- ending spiral of secrecy and stress and sex in bathrooms. If you’re a lesbian, you’ll have the spiral of secrecy and stress without the sex in bathrooms. For the love of god, come out of the closet already (if you’re struggling with this, see How to Come Out of the Closet, page 43), make an account on a gay dating site, join a club or get a hobby that will force you to interact with other gay peers, and if you’re old enough, hit the bars. The gay rights movement started in a bar, after all (see The History of Gay People in a Few Paragraphs, page 46).

How to Get With a Bi/Trans/ Differently Sexual Person If You Are a Bi/Trans/Differently Sexual Person

Again, it’s all the same as for the straights—have good hygiene, be an interesting person, don’t talk with your mouth full—but out of the closet! (If you’re struggling with this, see So I Think I’m Trans, page 106!) Be honest about who you are and what you’re into, join (or start!) a club for people like you, and get online to find other likewise-sexual individuals. Also, you’re awesome—don’t let anyone make you feel marginalized or otherwise less-than-awesome.

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