Queer Loneliness: How to Find Community
Note: This article was written by Fei Mu, an undergraduate student at McMaster University who works as a Programs Assistant at the SWC.
Many of these community-building tips require being brave, taking risks, and going outside of comfort zones. Your attempts may not always work out, but trying is so important. Please remember that rejections and failed connections are not a reflection of your self-worth. We are capable of doing scary things! You will find your people.
2SLGBTQIA+: an acronym for Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual and other non-heterosexual orientations or non-cisgender identities. The practice of placing “2S” for “Two Spirit” at the beginning acknowledges that Two Spirit Indigenous peoples were the first sexual and gender minority in North America.
Queer: Many young 2SLGBTQIA+ folks in urban areas, like myself, use the word “queer” with pride as an umbrella term that includes diverse sexualities and genders. For some people and in some contexts, “queer” is a slur. This word has historically been used as a weapon against 2SLGBTQIA+ folks; please ask for permission before describing someone as “queer”.
My Experience with Queer Loneliness
It wasn’t until I found myself still crying at the end of one of my “cure-all” runs, the ones created as coping mechanism for the end of my first lesbian relationship, that it dawned on me: I was lonely. At the time, the reasoning behind this feeling was not obvious to me. I was riding the high of finishing my first solo trip across Canada, I had begun training for a marathon, I was finally studying what I loved, and I felt closer to my friends than ever. I didn’t even love her, we had dated months ago. Regardless, here I was 5k later, running home with a wet face and the same sick feeling that I started with. I wasn’t able to put a name on it then, but I was experiencing queer loneliness.
I hadn’t always felt this way. I can now trace these feelings of loneliness to about a year prior, when I started questioning my sexuality while in a long-term heterosexual relationship. I had hesitated to put a label on that feeling because I was not yet out to myself. I couldn’t admit to the emotional struggle and disconnect that I felt as I realized that I couldn’t just ‘play along’ in my life anymore.
I only felt a little more settled in my identity after consuming what felt like a lifetime’s worth of queer media, much of which I couldn’t relate to because of my intersecting identities. It wasn’t until I met my ex-girlfriend and saw myself reflected in her experiences that I truly felt validated. Being in company with other queer people who are unabashedly themselves can be incredibly healing. By the time we broke up, I had felt more secure in my identity than ever. But without other queer friends, the feelings of isolation crept back in. I soon began to recognize myself as the only queer person in a conversation, a room, a workplace, a tutorial, a running group, a club…
As artist Richard Dowell says, “loneliness — like all grief — is a queer experience”. Being queer is not just about who I love, it’s about being so heartbreakingly aware of how that changes the way that others see me. It is a way of life that forces me to love myself more than needing to be loved by others.
Although a strong sense of self love can help us cope with loneliness, we also deserve to feel seen and loved by those around us. I’ve put together 10 tips in hopes of helping you navigate the feelings of queer loneliness and find your community.
Tips on Surviving Loneliness and Finding Community
1.Consume queer media
Feeling represented by what you see on television can be validating, especially for folks who are just coming to terms with their sexuality and/or gender. Consuming queer media can be a low-pressure way to gain a sense of belonging and a more positive outlook for the future. Also, what’s a better way to make friends than joining a fandom?
The Student Wellness Center has created lists of popular queer media for you to enjoy at @mcmasterswc. It Gets Better Project also has a series of videos created by queer folks for people of various identities. While there are still major strides to be made to diversify the voices in queer media, these two sources have some great recommendations.
2.Rethink your preconceived notions of what queer people look like
This tip was taken from S. Bear Bergman’s article, because it is just so good. Navigating the world as a queer person involves a lot of guessing about who is “family”, and it’s worth unpacking our biases about what other queer people look like. Queer people exist in all “races”, ethnicities, genders, cultures, and even the most “straight” spaces. Sometimes, consuming queer media can be helpful for recognizing subtle queer cultural references from others. Is that person actually using a carabiner to hold one singular key? Why are they sitting like that? Are mullets back in style? While culturally informed generalizations can be useful, challenging your beliefs about what queer people look like might help you feel less alone in certain spaces.
As Bergman writes, “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 [2SLGBTQIA+] folks are looking for connection, just like you, and many of them will be legit excited that you introduced yourself.”
3.Go to events, programs, and lectures on campus
There are a few safe spaces on campus that hold regular events and programming for queer folks. The MSU Pride Community Centre and Women & Gender Equity Network located on the second floor of MUSC offer a variety of services from peer support to social events. The McMaster Queer and Trans Colours Club create solidarity amongst BIPOC 2SLGBTQ+ students and plan social events to foster community engagement. McMaster Engiqueers is another social and advocacy organization on campus for queer engineering students. In addition, MSU campus events have hosted a drag Bingo night and other queer events in the past, check out their social media for more information.
The Student Wellness Centre will be hosting an in-person Pride Trivia Social on June 28th, and currently provides “Embracing Gender Diversity” as a drop-in program. If social events aren’t your thing, you can also sit in on lectures or take courses about gender and sexuality. My favourites include SOCIOL 3U03 Sociology of Sexualities and SOCIOL 2HH3 Sociology of Gender. After the event or class, be brave and ask someone there for their thoughts! Remember that they are there because they share the same interest as you, and you’ll have something to talk about.
4.Adventure into the city for performances and events
Though there isn’t an established bar in Hamilton for queer folks, there are event organizers such as House of Adam and Steve and Queer Outta Hamilton that organize drag shows, parties, and karaoke nights at various locations in the city. Fruit Salad is a recent addition to the city that hosts regular happy hours for lesbians+, 2SLGBTQIA+ women and their friends. A low-pressure community setting can also be found at Hamilton Queer Hangs, which is a monthly park meet up with gentle discussions. For musically inclined folks, Sounds Gay! Hamilton hosts musical events that are a safe space for queer musicians and members of the community. @hamilton.queer.events is an Instagram page that keeps up to date with what is happening for queer folks in the city. If you are looking to explore safe spaces, check out this list of businesses in Hamilton that are queer owned or queer friendly.
If you feel intimidated about going without queer friends, it’s perfectly reasonable to bring a supportive straight friend with you for most events. However, please be mindful and respect that these spaces are dedicated for those in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
5.Be OUT and about
Being queer and looking like your authentic self is a beautiful thing, and it’s a magic that can attract the best people. Is there a funky haircut or a camp outfit that you’ve been holding back from? On a busy day, you’ll walk by hundreds of strangers on campus who might secretly admire your style, and some of the best dressed people I know are queer folks.
I personally rely on the lesbian flag pinned on my backpack to get the message across. I was partially inspired by someone else I saw in passing on campus with the same flag, and it was a pleasant surprise re: tip number 2. Pinning the flag of your identity or your pronouns, in spaces where you feel safe doing so, can be an obvious invitation for other queer folks to reach out to you and help others feel less alone.
6.Give your labour to what you value
Join clubs and volunteer for organizations that unite the community. The MSU Pride Community Centre, Women and Gender Equity Network, McMaster Queer and Trans Colours Club, and McMaster Engiqueers provide opportunities for students to join throughout the year. Check out their individual Instagram platforms for hiring information. In addition, the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community (PACBIC) has a Gender & Sexuality advocacy group that will be recruiting.
Outside of campus, Pride Hamilton offers volunteer opportunities for their July pride celebration. For the sporty ones, Steel City Inclusive Softball is a recreational team that provides opportunities for play and volunteering. Spending time in these queer friendly spaces can help provide a sense of community even before you make a close friend.
7.Say it out loud!
Revealing your sexuality and/or gender to others can be daunting, and you don’t have to “come out” if it’s not right for you. “Coming out” is often viewed as a one-off milestone event that marks the beginning of someone’s queer life. In reality, it takes time, involves many conversations, and opens the door for rejection, discrimination and harassment. For many people, “coming out” is not possible nor desired. Instead of coming out, you have the power to decide who to let into your life, and you are valid in your identity even if you are “in the closet”.
If you feel safe to do so, it can be helpful to utilize weak ties – your broader social network of acquaintances and casual friends. Tell your non-queer friends that you are looking for queer friends! Chances are, someone’s friend’s roommate’s sibling is in the community, and bingo! Your name doesn’t even have to be passed down the line if you’re not comfortable. It is perfectly okay to share that you are looking for friends of your own identity.
Another way to find friends is by dropping queer “hints” in safe environments. Perhaps you are in a club or volunteer for a passion project that is not explicitly queer. Talking about a queer show or artist that you enjoy, referencing a queer TikTok trend, or mentioning your partner can subtly let other queer folks in the group know that they can reach out to you. You might be surprised about the number of queer folks you can meet in social justice circles.
8.Join online communities
During the pandemic, many folks found community through online platforms like Reddit, TikTok, Discord, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and many others. It can be a low-stress environment to ask questions to others in the community, find common interests, and make friends. Search up #LGBTQ, #gay, #queer, and combine it with the city that you’re in or a hobby of yours, and you just might find a thriving online community of people similar to you.
9.Try out apps: and be clear about what you’re looking for
It can be easy to swipe with abandon on a Tinder account you created with intentions to “make friends”, after all, loneliness is a difficult feeling to cope with. While it is understandable why many folks in the community resort to dating apps to make connections, it is also very important to be open about our intentions and practice online safety. Rainn.org has an educational article with tips on staying safe while navigating dating apps.
Keeping that in mind: Bumble offers a BFF feature that allows you to create a profile and swipe only for friends. There is an “Out and Proud” badge that you can add onto your profile to identify that you are a part of the community. I met one of my queer friends through that platform! HER is a social and dating app with a friendship feature, and it is specifically created for queer women and gender diverse folks. These platforms can make it easier to find others who are also looking for friends.
10.Reach out for help
It takes a lot of strength to share one’s struggles in a cis-heteronormative society. Talking to someone anonymously may alleviate some of that pressure. Below are some resources to reach for the next time feelings of isolation become hard to deal with alone.
24/7 Anonymous Crisis Support
- Trans lifeline: is a peer support phone service run by trans people for trans and questioning peers, even if they’re not in crisis, at 1-877-330-6366
- Good2Talk: offers free, confidential support to post-secondary students in Ontario at 1-866-925-5454
- Kids Help Phone: offers free support from a trained volunteer at 1-800-668-6868. There are options to chat with First Nations, Inuk or Métis crisis responders
2SLGBTQIA+ Peer Support
- LGBT Youthline offers confidential and non-judgmental peer support through telephone, text and chat services. Get in touch with a peer support volunteer from Sunday to Friday, 4:00PM to 9:30 PM EST
The Student Wellness Centre is also here to provide medical care, counselling, and health education for queer students. If you have specific needs regarding your care, or just prefer to have a provider who is prepared to help you regarding your questions on sexuality and gender, you can specify that when you call to book an appointment at 905-525-9140 x27700 between 9:00am-8:00pm Monday-Thursday, or 9:00am-5:00pm Friday.
It may sound like I have it all figured out regarding queer loneliness, but I don’t. I have accessed many of the resources and services listed here, because life is hard as a queer person and I don’t have to deal with it alone. Like sadness, happiness, fear, and all the other juicy emotions that keep life interesting, loneliness comes and goes. My hope is that the next time things start to get dark, you know what to reach for, whenever you’re ready.
References:Life Events, Mental Health & Mental Illness, Relationships