As we head into horny/vaxxed/tits-out/corporate rainbow season, I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the people who ~realized some things~ about their sexuality and/or gender during the pandemic. Maybe you got served so many videos from lesbian TikTok that you decided to do a little soul-searching, or perhaps you came to the conclusion that life is too short to deny yourself the things you really want, or maybe you’ve always been open about being LGBTQ+, just not as loudly and proudly as you’d like. Or maybe 2020 was just always going to be the year you stepped fully into your queerness!
In any case, there are a lot of folks for whom this summer will be the first opportunity to be out–out… like, in a more-than-theoretical, literally out in public sort of way. Just thinking about the beautiful months ahead—full of shimmering queer possibility, after a year that was so uncertain and dark and marked by a breathtaking amount of loss—brings me so much joy! But if you’re the one who is currently on this precipice, the moment in which you can finally emerge and feel the warm sun on your gorgeous face might leave you feeling equal parts “yay!” and also “??????????? [panicked screeching].”
Trust me when I say: We’ve all been there! With that in mind, I reached out to some of my LGBTQ+ friends and colleagues to get their best advice for stepping into the sun this summer (or whenever).
(Some responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Making friends and finding community
Despite what the “gay best friend” trope might have taught you, a lot of us don’t really want to be surrounded by cis straight people when we could simply… hang out with other people who are like us! Yes, being The Only One can still happen, particularly when you’re younger, or if you live somewhere where other queer and trans people are few and far between. And I, too, have “my straights.” But in general, found family is a huge part of the LGBTQ+ experience—often out of necessity, but important even if your loved ones friends are supportive—and is a great place to begin your out–out future.
Here’s what some of the folks I talked to had to say about how you can find your people:
“Some places I've felt a particular sense of belonging have been at book events with queer authors, shows with queer musicians, and drag performances, and even less organized spaces like the dog park I go to (where it's easy to strike up a conversation another seemingly queer person because who doesn't want to talk about their pup?) and my neighborhood wine store (where the person who's always working when I stop in is queer, and our chats have now shifted from wine recs to real conversations as we've gotten to know each other more).” —Tom Vellner
“One unexpected place I’ve found an incredible community is my gym: Everybody Gym in Los Angeles. Community spaces may be struggling due to pandemic closures. This is a great time to introduce yourself and ask how you can get involved.” —Amanda di Bartolomeo
“Queer community can be whatever size suits you. TV and books and movies can often represent the queer person as the one with all of the friends, the person with all of the culture. But that might not be you! For me, I thrive with a smaller group of friends, queer or not, and have had to accept that I might not be the most well-connected queer in the room.” —Danny
“I've only ever lived in American cities and mostly in the northeast so I'm not sure how universal this will be, but I think social justice communities are a great start. Queer folks tend to show up in force in social justice movements, so those are good places to meet people like you, I think. And if there's a ‘Queers For’ or ‘LGBTQ People Against’ group or movement in your community, definitely check that out.” —Anon
“Go where your interests are! I've taken classes in writing, film, rock climbing and met queer friends—and then their friends—that way. Just do your research and sus out the vibe via social media first.” —Katie P
“I was drawn to LGBT+ spaces before I came out, so I was very lucky to have a bit of a community already established once I came out. Even so, I felt a lot of pressure to find my ‘L World group’ and felt like I wasn't ‘doing it right’ when I didn't have one. So if you feel that internal pressure too, know that you're not alone and that there is no such thing as ‘doing it right.’ Finding a community in which you feel seen and understood is important but it can take time and that is OK. Start small, and if you're comfortable, be open: ‘I recently came out and would love to make new friends. Would you mind inviting me to your next BBQ?’ Everyone was new to the community at some point! Also apps, like Lex, can help you find friends with similar interests.” —Mackenzie
“I don't have any tips for meeting NEW queer people but I can say from experience if you just wait a bit all your current friends will probably end up being queer. :)” —Jess
And if you want some more tips, the wonderful S. Bear Bergman has a great guide to making more LGBTQ friends.
Feeling hot and getting noticed
When you’re entering a new, and more unencumbered, phase of your life, it’s totally reasonable to want to change something about your look. (It’s funny how quickly you can go from not wanting anyone to see this thing about you to suddenly wanting everyone—or at least other queers—to notice this about you.) And clothing, accessories, and jewelry are a great way to mark a big rite of passage. But sometimes, the classic options don’t feel quite right, and you might start to get in your own head about whether you look queer enough.
If you’re trying to figure out how to present in a way that feels authentic to you and/or that other LGBTQ+ people will pick up on so they invite you to do stuff and ask you on dates, here’s some advice to consider:
“The things that immediately made me feel more queer were my change in hairstyle and glasses. They're such simple ways to show off your style and add more personality to your look. In general, I also felt and presented more queer as I became more comfortable with my body language. In the ‘closet,’ I constantly monitored the way I walked, stood, sat—now, I swish my arms, cross my legs, and pop my hips as much as I want, and it still feels liberating after all these years.” —Tom Vellner
“If there was ever a time to forget about the word ‘cringe’ this is it. Lean all the way in to exploring what makes you feel best in your skin—get that haircut, buy and wear all those clever T-shirts, weigh down that denim jacket with buttons, Pride flag yourself from head to toe, play with clothes and styles you were told were not for your sex-assigned-at-birth or were unflattering for your body type. Many of us spent our teenage years trying desperately to conform. This is your do-over! (Pause and sleep on more permanent decisions like tattoos and piercings... but then get them if you still want them!) On the other hand, don’t feel pressure to adopt a ‘queer look.’ I am a fairly femme cis woman and sometimes feel invisible in the queer community, but trying to present myself differently just after I came out felt weird and uncomfortable. To be queer is to be yourself no matter what that means.” —Amanda di Bartolomeo
“I think getting a haircut that reads as ‘queer’ made me feel more like myself. If I wanted to up my ‘please read me as queer’ rating, that's where I would start. I also like wearing tees that sort of describe the kind of gay I am. So, I have one that says ‘queers bash back’ and another from Bad News Wares that says ‘homosexual tendencies.’” —Anon
“When I first came OUT OUT I did a big chop. I felt like I really wanted to express my identity by trying something totally new, but now I've settled into what just feels like me. My advice would be think about what you admire in queer people you've seen and go for it.” —Katie P
“This is always a work in progress. Like, daily. Not in a bad way, but being queer inherently lets you challenge norms of expression and identity, and that can be freeing and difficult at the same time. After my first episode of Drag Race (don't we all remember our first time?), I knew in my bones that nail polish was for me and it was the missing link to my queer expression. Turns out, I liked it, but it did not solve the puzzle… but at least I tried! No matter how you figure out your expression, just DO NOT believe what Instagram has you thinking you need to look like. Looking at you, toxic-white-fit-gays-in-Speedos-that-still-make-me-feel-inadequate-even-though-I-know-I-love-myself.” —Danny
“I feel super hot grabbing Starbucks with Iggy my pug in a gay tank and Lululemon leggings, mostly because I'm just really comfortable. Feeling like my authentic (and sometimes basic) self is icing on my gay cake.” —Lucy
“The internet is your best friend. Make a Pinterest or Instagram so you can save looks you're loving—you can even lock your accounts to keep it secret. You'll start to see patterns, and that can help you figure out where to invest. I felt like myself for the first time when I bought a leather jacket and I still wear it almost a decade later. Another big moment was my first suit. Once I made those investments, the smaller changes felt so natural and obvious to me.” —Mackenzie
“My personal style and gender presentation tend to fall in the ‘femme dyke’ bucket, but I love having the freedom to lean into different sides of myself depending on my mood. Sometimes I want to look like the hot, brooding leading man (think E.R. Fightmaster or Gina Gershon in Bound) and sometimes I want to look like I fell straight out of a Reformation ad. In either instance, I'm still extremely gay—and at the end of the day, people can really pick up on a vibe, especially if they're looking for it. There is no specific way to look or act, give yourself the room to play a bit! (But also, silver jewelry—like chains, or small, chunky hoop earrings, and bonus points if it's a single earring—are dyke culture.” —A femme dyke
“There's nothing like the feeling of finding a haircut/outfit/Stevie Nicks T-shirt/glitter combat boot that just brings out your YOU. You look at yourself in the mirror and are like, Oh yeah, this is what I'm supposed to look like, it's like I've always been wearing this. You can't help but be confident and hot when you honor that feeling, maybe or even especially if it's not something that's ‘in style.’ Keep trying different stuff until you find that.” —Jess
“There's no one way to be queer or to be trans, gender non-conforming, or non-binary. Do what feels good and right to you now, knowing it might well change over time. (And it might not!) That goes for labels, too. Use labels only as much as you like them and they empower you. You don't have to use any set of words to describe yourself, you don't owe anyone an explanation of who you are. If there are no labels that feel ‘right,’ it's not you, it's the confines of language!” —Anon
Dating, hooking up, and having relationships
Thanks to vaccines, dating is back on in a way that it simply wasn’t a year ago. But, like any new experience—or any instance when you feel a bit different moving through the world—it can be really intimidating at first.
Here are some tips on meeting people, hitting on people, having fun, and forming genuine connections:
“I'm a fan of the Lex app, mostly for tea and the missed connections posts. Like the straights, the apps are what you make of them. I found that just going out on casual dates frequently with different people helped me the most. And my best advice before your first queer relationship—or any—is therapy for yourself.” —Katie P
“Genuine compliments are the best gaydar. Tell someone what you like about them and see how they respond. Worst case scenario, you just made their day. Best case, your crush knows you like them now.” —Jess
“Trust your gut and follow the piece of advice that someone who shows a lot of interest in you is… probably interested in you! My current girlfriend proactively made plans with me and was excited to talk to me. So even though I wondered at first whether she identified as queer or not, I never questioned whether she was into me.” —A femme dyke
“Before I got into a queer relationship, I didn't realize just how freeing and empowering it would feel to express our love in public. THAT SAID, with public affection often comes public input. I didn't expect how frequently people, including strangers, would make comments like, ‘You guys are SO CUTE!’ ‘Our bachelorette party is dancing over there—will you guys sandwich the bride??’ ‘So, if you got married, who would propose? How does that work?’ ‘You guys are open, right?’ Instead of being casually homophobic, y'all could just be quiet? But despite the unsolicited comments or unwanted stares, I am unbelievably grateful to live in a place where I can even put my relationship on display and I'm proud to show off our queerness.” —Tom Vellner
“Oh lord. I haven’t dated in 14 years and married the first person I dated after coming out. Perhaps not the person to ask. Alternatively: the most queer relationship trajectory ever? Yes.” —Amanda di Bartolomeo
And here are some things to keep in mind if you’re feeling anxious about new-to-you sexual experiences:
“Your first experience does not have to be out of a movie and it's going to look different for everyone. If you're not comfortable diving into the deep end your first time, don't force yourself because you feel pressure. BUT also don't let your fears hold you back. The beauty of queer sex is that we don't have to subscribe to patriarchal/heteronormative standards for pleasure.” —Katie P
“Try as hard as you can to be open and honest with your partner(s) about what you need to feel safe and good.” —Anon
“It's OK to say ‘this is my first time.’ If they're weird about it then they're not for you. Also, asking someone what they want or like will make it the best experience for both of you.” —Mackenzie
“Ask for advice from your partners and also your friends. The thing about sex is, body parts matter, yes, but each person also differs. What feels good to one person with a vagina might not to another person with a vagina so ask, listen, ask some more. Asking is sexy! It’s a great basis for some dirty talk in bed (or, you know, wherever).” —Amanda di Bartolomeo
“If your first queer sexual experience isn't mind-blowing or life-changing, that's fine! And don’t take it as unassailable proof that you're not, in fact, gay. You might just not be that into *this* specific person.” —A femme dyke
“Don't be fooled by scenes in movies like Brokeback Mountain—a lil' spit is not enough for anal sex! As I always say: Live. Laugh. Lube.” —Tom Vellner
“Always start with the smallest butt plug.” —A different anon
Dealing with difficult stuff
Even if you’re feeling broadly optimistic about this next phase, you may also know that there will tough moments ahead—whether that’s a lack of acceptance/support from loved ones, trying to be out–out in a place that doesn’t exactly welcome it, or the onslaught of anti-trans legislation currently being enacted.
When bad days inevitably arise, here are some things to keep in mind:
“This can be so hard and painful. Coming out is a great time to find a therapist who can hold space for all the hurts as well as the triumphs. Look for someone who explicitly says they are LGBTQIA+ affirming and/or advertises themselves as queer identified as well. A local LGBT center (if you have one), a nearby university (the university counseling center won’t be able serve you unless you’re a student there, but they all maintain referral lists and those lists usually include a category for therapists who specialize in issues of sexual and gender identity), or Psychology Today listings may help you find an appropriate therapist. Don’t be afraid to interview them over the phone or ask for a free consultation. Therapy is all about fit with the therapist. If you live in a lower-resourced area, consider reaching out to therapists elsewhere—many of us will continue to do telehealth even as offices reopen, especially for those where access to services is limited.” —Amanda di Bartolomeo
“Get active in your local social justice organizations and communities because it's super empowering and can help take the edge off of some of the shit we have to deal with. Surround yourself with chosen family who will hold you and hold space for you. Take whole days where you refuse to interact with cis or straight people unless you absolutely have to. Make use of free and low-cost mental health care either IRL or online/via text.” —Anon
“I came out in my late twenties because I knew my parents would react badly and I didn't feel like it was OK for me to be honest with them. Hiding took an incredible toll on my mental health, my friendships, my work, everything. I was in a constant state of heightened anxiety, worried I'd get ‘caught’ at any moment. I wish I had realized sooner is that we don’t feel this way *because* we’re gay; we feel this way because of how other people treat us. Through therapy, I was able to learn how to separate myself, the individual, from my parents' vision of me. Once you get comfortable with the idea of ‘letting them down,’ it can alleviate the guilt immensely and helped you feel more comfortable with yourself. Lori Gottlieb has written really eloquently on this topic in the past; I recommend starting with these pieces: ‘My Parents Still Won't Accept That I'm Gay!’ and Dear Therapist: I Love My Trans Daughter, but I’m Still Struggling.” —A femme dyke
“When people you love aren't accepting about your sexuality, gender, partners or anything else, just remember that it is more about their own stuff than it is about you. They have to work out their insecurities and self-acceptance and religious baggage or whatever is preventing them from giving you the support you deserve, and you not being yourself around them won't fix anything in the short or long term, even if it seems easier at first.” —Jess
“Not everyone is going to like you and you can't always change what they think. Confidence in who you are and what you believe in is truly one of the most beautiful things you can possess. And if you don't have that right now, get a dog.” —Lucy
“If you don't feel safe or comfortable being out–out in public, try to make your house, apartment, or room feel super-queer if you can, as a way to start the process, and to make sure you feel held in your own home. Hang prints or photos by queer artists, put up your community's flag, display your favorite books by queer authors, hang a sign that says ‘Live. Laugh. Lube.’ Whatever it is, make your space your queer sanctuary.” —Tom Vellner
“Know that you are beautiful and deserving of love and safety. If you need help, reach out. We're happy you're here and are excited for you.” —Mackenzie
Got that? We’re happy you’re here and are so, so, so excited for you. See you at the beach.