Queers Built This is a project about queer inventiveness and DIY culture then, now, and tomorrow.
I’ll never forget being 15 years old and walking into my first ever meeting for lesbian, gay, bi, queer, and trans youth at BAGLY in Boston. The meetings were held in a church basement back then, and I had never been in a room full of just LGBT2Q people before in my queer little life.
I was already a pretty butch little queer, with a gender expression that was tilted heavily to masculine, which tended to make new groups awkward—I often had to start by discussing whether I was a boy or a girl, which was basically the opposite of welcoming. But at BAGLY people immediately greeted me, made a space on an incredibly ratty sofa, asked my name, and offered theirs. It felt like I’d always heard coming home described, but had never experienced.
So often, LGBT2Q people find that as we leave our homes and venture into the world as out, independent humans, we’re searching for that sense of welcome, and for connections to our culture(s). Even those of us with accepting parents or supportive straight friends can’t always turn to them for advice on queer dating or sexuality, for help with trans-related questions about navigating a hostile world, or even just for things like outfit guidance. (“Mom, is a thong good for a foam party? What do you think of this crop top to go with?”) The close queer friends we make become a chosen family, with a shared culture and identity, forming the bonds that are essential to our wellness and growth.
But as gay bars and bookstores are closing left and right, many of us have turned to apps to fill that gap, meaning we spend more time than ever alone in our rooms. Meanwhile, the passage of time means many of us will age out of queer youth groups sooner or later. Even before the coronavirus pandemic made meeting new people in person basically impossible, queers and transfolk were still struggling with loneliness. As our in-person meeting places dwindle out of existence, lots of LGBT2Q folks are going to have a harder time finding community in person (or in a specific, one-to-one way online).
This queer problem is compounded by the fact that making friends gets harder and harder as we reach adulthood. Researcher Jeffrey Hall estimated that it takes 40–60 hours of time spent together to make a casual friend, and 200+ hours for a close friend. In school or at work or in a house of worship, it’s fairly easy to rack up 200 hours with someone without even trying very hard. But depending where you do those things, you may find queers thin on the ground. A queer TV show or novel or even a hookup are great ways to get some queer validation, but none is going to bring you soup when you’re sick or listen to your breakup-makeup-breakup woes.
On the other hand, this leaves lot of queer people in the same boat. Likeminded people are out there—they exist in both physical and digital space, and you can make friends, build community, and be in the mix with each other. Here are some strategies and options for finding, and connecting with, your people.
(Before we go though, consider Step Zero: Make a safety plan. It’s great to make new friends, online and in person, but if you’re planning to meet someone who’s still basically a stranger one-on-one, it’s wise to borrow a page from sex worker wisdom and meet in a public place first, let someone else know where you’re going, with whom, and when you expect to be home. You might also consider arranging a safety call—i.e., if they don’t hear from you by a certain time to say you’re safe, they’ll call/text you, and if they cannot get a reply they’ll start looking for you. And on that note: please be extra careful as you plan which of these options you can action now, during the coronavirus pandemic. Follow the guidance of your regional public health officials, wear a mask, wash your hands, check on your neighbors, and stay as safe as you can, please—even if that means waiting a few months to put these tips into practice. OK, now, onto the fun stuff!)
1. Rethink your preconceived notions about what queer people look like and where we hang out.
Making new friends may sometimes require being able to make a guess about who’s “family,” so start by unpacking your assumptions about who that could be. LGBT2Q people exist in all genders, in all cultures, and relying on your gaydar is a good start, but expanding your queer and trans cultural references will boost your abilities. (Are you clocking that Big Freedia or Prancing Elites T-shirt as much as a Madonna one? Are you seeing the femmes that cross your path rocking leather accessories or that extra helping of glitter?) Don’t rely on mixed-up gender cues to do all the work for you, but when you see people that might be Your People, make the effort to say hello and keep saying hello. It might feel awkward the first few times, but that’s a muscle you can build. Remember: so many LGBT2Q folks are looking for connection, just like you, and many of them will be legit excited that you introduced yourself, or asked for their number, or followed them on Insta, or sent that text or suggested that coffee.
2. Follow hashtags to find folks.
Instagram and Twitter make it easier to find other people with the same interests, whether it’s hedgehogs or aerosol art, and there are so many homo-tastic hashtags. When you find someone you’re excited to follow because their posts indicate that you share interests or identities, maybe try a DM? Don’t be creepy, be curious: “Hi, just wanted to say I really like your look/art/politics/cakes. Have you ever worked with eyelashes/watercolours/anti-carceral feminism/pie?”
Not sure where to start? Try #QueerStyle, #BlackTransExcellence, #QueerFemme, #LesbianMemes, #BiLove, #GenderEuphoria, #Gaysian, #LGBTTikTok. Or, add your identity to your state, school, or profession to find #GayMichigan or #QueerMorehouse or #TransUtah or #PansexualUK and more.
3. Go to lectures and performances, especially the free ones.
Colleges, universities, bookstores, and libraries typically bring amazing LGBT2Q artists, writers, cultural workers, and other smartypantses to give talks and performances, almost all of which are free, open to the public, and held in buildings that are at least somewhat accessible to disabled people. Get on the email list for your local independent bookstore, library branch, and any college or university LGBT2Q resource center within your comfortable travel range, and go see them (once it becomes safe to do so, of course). Then, afterward, strike up a conversation with someone who just watched the same thing you did and ask what they thought about it! Note: if you’re not sure who to talk to, look for the smokers, who are accustomed to casually chatting with other people smoking. (You don’t have to smoke in order to chat—just stay upwind. And please don’t start smoking just to make new friends.)
4. Find a worship space that’s affirming, and get involved in the community there.
If you’re religious in almost any way, there are queer and trans people who are worshipping in the same or similar ways. That may be surprising news if you’ve been raised in a homophobic branch of your religious tradition, but I promise you—they’re out there, and they can’t wait to welcome you (and you may find it really healing to bring your whole self to your faith tradition). Here are some links to lists of affirming (that’s the religious buzzword for “we like the gays here”) organizations:
And there are many more! Bonus: Many religious traditions explicitly value welcoming a stranger, so if you show up a couple of times you won’t be a stranger for long.
5. Be out and about.
Did you know that there are a lot of LGBT2Q outdoor activity groups? You can bike, hike, scuba dive, camp, canoe, summit, forage, and otherwise enjoy the great outdoors in queer company for sociability (and safety, too). Check out Unlikely Hikers, which specifically welcomes and celebrates people who don’t fit the classic Patagonia profile including fat folks and hikers of colour; Venture Out Project, which is run by and explicitly welcomes trans people; Gay SCUBA Week and Queer Paddlers; and basically what I’m saying is that if you want to be out and Out there are definitely other ‘mos to do it with in your area. Also, know what’s great for making friends? A campfire.
6. Host an open house.
Offering hospitality is a great way to create community, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. You can make it a potluck in the grand lesbian tradition, serve a coffee and doughnuts brunch, put a pot of soup or chili on and let people bring their own bowl and spoon, or whatever suits your space and style. Some tips to get you started:
- Do it monthly. People will get into the habit of stopping by on the second Tuesday (or whenever) for some queer companionship.
- Ask to be listed in your local LGBT2Q event publication, and let people email you for the address so you can vet them a little first.
- Have a theme or discussion topic! It could be as festive as “Beach Party” or as serious as a reading group about dismantling white supremacy, depending on how you like to spend your time.
- Know that it might take a few invitations for people you don’t know well to be convinced that it’s really OK to accept your hospitality. Go to lots of events and keep inviting the people you meet and like to your gathering. Try: “Hey, I host an open house brunch on the fourth Sunday of the month for anyone in the LGBT2Q community. It’s low-key and very relaxed. Come have waffles and meet some people!” And follow up with them one time closer to the date so they know you’d really like to see them there and weren’t just being polite.
7. Find the Gay-mers.
Board game cafes are taking off worldwide, and many have specific nights set aside for LGBT2Q participants. They tend to be quiet, well-lit, sober or sober-friendly, and give participants a lot of time to chat and get to know one another. Bust out your Scrabble dictionary or your Dungeons and Dragons dice and go make friends with the other board game nerds enthusiasts. (And if you’re playing Set, please invite me; I love that game.)
8. Serve what you value.
There are few better ways to make friends as an adult than to volunteer your time. Go to the meetings of whatever local organization puts on the events you enjoy, and join a crew or committee that matches your skills. If there’s a specifically LGBT2Q org, that’s ideal, but also look at artistic and cultural groups where you see visibly queer people in attendance often.
Community groups always need more people to set up, clean up, drive people and stuff around, put up posters and all sorts of other tasks. Can you bake cupcakes? Balance the budget and keep the books? Collect money at the door? Are you a street medic or have skills in mental health first aid? Can you moderate a Facebook page or keep the social media feeds fresh? Whatever you can do is definitely needed somewhere, and then you’ll meet other volunteers. Yay, friends!
(This is also a great way to access sometimes-expensive events for free—many organizations have volunteer programs that provide tickets or entry with a few hours of work!)
9. In recovery? Find a meeting that meets your needs.
There are hundreds of LGBT2Q-focused recovery meetings in the world, including ones that take place online. If you’re newly sober or in recovery and trying to avoid places, people, or patterns that may not be healthy for you right now, a gay AA or other recovery meeting might be a double-win for you: support on your path and a boost for your new social life. If you’ve tried AA (or similar meetings) but can’t find a useful groove there, consider an alternative type of program and see if you can find one that helps you manage your substance use in a way that feels healthy and appropriate.
10. Be a fan.
Do you love a particular sports team? Almost every team and stadium now hosts a Pride night and often an LGBTQ fan group. You can meet other people who know as much as you do about RBIs or FGAs or NRRs, but you don’t have to be a superfan—it’s fine to just enjoy all the fit young people running around in Spandex, too, and you can always start a conversation with someone by asking them to explain whatever just happened. Just remember that in basketball, FTM means Free Throws Made (sorry…)
11. Start something.
Maybe you’re wild for birdwatching or motocross or fiber arts or molecular gastronomy and you’d love to practice your skills with other LGBT2Q folks. Why not try starting a group? Post notices in general bird/bike/crochet/sphericizing spaces and let people know that you’re interested in enjoying your hobby in queer company. You may get pushback about this from straight people (“What does your sexuality have to do with whipping your bike?”). Just tell them plainly that you’re looking to make more LGBT2Q friends and you thought it would be nice to find people with whom you also have activities in common (and then don’t feel obligated to listen to their complaints any more).
12. Participate in online communities on Zoom and Discord.
COVID-19 is brutally awful for a million reasons, but one silver lining is that many orgs are increasing their technical knowledge and moving some or all of their programming online—a situation that’s likely to continue even when we find a vaccine, because hosts are able to see how the barrier of physically coming to a space impacts some people more than others. Look up LGBT2Q orgs in your area, or in major cities near to you, and join their meetings, discussions, and watch parties.
13. Speak on it.
Many universities maintain a speakers’ bureau for profs looking to invite a panel of LGBT2Q people to share their stories—you could join one! These panels are a way for young people to see what Janet Mock perfectly named possibility models: people living the lives they want for themselves. They typically offer training to teach you how to frame and tell your story, and speakers’ meetings to process any post-event feelings. These groups do a great service to young people and if you do a few, you’ll get to know some of the other speakers. This is especially great if you feel like the friends you currently have are mostly your same age and have very similar identities to you—panels are often quite diverse in age, gender, and sexual identity, and ideally race and culture as well.
14. (Mis)use hookup apps with gay abandon.
To be clear, a happy, healthy, consenting hookup is a thing of beauty. But if you’re looking for friend connections, you can often find them there as well. There are apps that specifically welcome—and are actually used for!—friends-only connections. I’ve often used them while traveling to find local advice on where to eat or go out, and to find (largely platonic) company to do those things with as a not-especially-cute, somewhat-older queer trans person. By being clear and up front that I’m looking for social company, I’ve met a lot of really lovely folks. Some apps I (and a few trusted friends) recommend for this:
- Scruff (generally men but pretty welcoming to queer/trans/nonbinary folks)
- Growlr (gay bears and admirers)
- Lex (which describes itself as “for lesbian, bisexual, asexual, and queer people. For womxn and trans, genderqueer, intersex, two spirit, and non-binary people for meeting lovers and friends”)
- Feeld (a polyamory-focused app with a couple dozen sexual orientations and gender identities available)
15. Pass notes.
It may have a long lead time, but I love a little queer secret agent action. Are there books you love—foundational books, books that shaped and formed your queer identity? Write a note and leave it folded in a library copy (or multiple copies) of those books. Keep it simple: you love this book, you’re looking for friends who also find it meaningful, if that’s you here’s my email (or insta, Tumblr, whatever).
16. Take a page from the kinksters and make trick cards.
Lots of people who are into BDSM have what they call “trick cards”: sort of like a business card, but with a first name or scene name, some contact information, and often a photo or a little bit about what the person likes to get up to. They’re incredibly handy for when you meet someone you want to stay in touch with in a dungeon—or at a protest, march, noisy party, dance floor, reception, or other situation where it’s a little too busy to connect. (Especially great if you’re trying to action #10!) Make cards that say your name, some way to get in touch, and a note like “ask me about my studs and femmes book club!” or “looking for gardening gays!” or even a simple “new in town and trying to make friends!” Just hand it over and invite them to get in touch if they want.
17. Fly the flag (and notice who salutes).
If you go out in an unambiguously queer T-shirt and someone says “Love your shirt!” they’re saying, “Hello, fellow homo!” Say hi back, and maybe stop and chat for a minute? If you have fabulous hair, style, or accessories and someone says “I love your look!” or “What a great color story,” it’s extremely likely they’re saying HELLO I AM ALSO QUEER AND/OR TRANS AND I WOULD LIKE TO TALK TO YOU.
Note: don’t be fooled if someone doesn’t “look gay.” What even is that? We’re everywhere and we look like anyone and also please don’t contribute to the idea that there’s one way to look gay, cool? Cool.
18. Just say it: tell everyone you want to make more LGBT2Q friends.
There’s a concept in sociology called “weak ties”: people you’re friendly with, maybe mutuals with, but you’re not really friends. And over and over, research has proved that when you’re looking for something new—new job, apartment to rent, and so on—it’s most likely to come through your network of weak ties, because you already know about everything your good friends know about and vice versa.
So, activate your weak ties to help expand your queer social circle. Tell everyone you know even a little bit, regardless of their gender or sexuality, that you’re looking for more LGBT2Q friends. Be specific if you want (“I really want to connect with trans elders”) or just leave it open. They’ll introduce you to their nonbinary cousin, their gay office friend, the trans girl in their PhD cohort, or whomever. Awkward coffee dates? Probably! Cool people you might never have otherwise encountered who are at least somewhat vouched by someone you know? Definitely.