When I reported last week that The Strand was hosting a second round of Queer Ladies Speed Dating, y'all seemed pretty excited to attend (or sad that you couldn't attend, in which case I encourage you to connect with independent bookstores in your area and make it happen near you!). I have to be honest though, when the storm hit yesterday afternoon and Twitter informed me that Brooklyn was flooding, I was a teensy bit worried. Would people come out despite the weather? I just didn't know. But I grabbed my umbrella, hopped on the train, and hoped for a decent turnout.
Well, serves me right for doubting your superhero queer abilities. Not only was there a "decent turnout" -- so many of you showed up that we ran out of chairs! My mistake. I should never have questioned you and your desire to find love and friendship amongst other girls who like girls who like books. So let's talk about what happened when all these beautiful faces appeared at The Strand!
To be honest, I was super anxious at the beginning of the evening, and I wasn't even there to speed date! I checked in with some of the actual participants and there seemed to be mixed feelings. Some people were bubbly and excited, some seemed more reserved, and one girl after my own heart asked if I thought it would be weird if she just stood in the corner with a glass of wine and a cake ball for the whole evening. I made friends with Shelly of No Man's Land who was doing an awesome job manning the bar with Strand events director Jessica, and she made me a really beautiful name tag that said: VANESSA / AUTOSTRADDLE : TELL ME ALL YOUR FEELINGS. This did in fact encourage everyone to tell me their feelings all evening, which I loved. Thank you to everyone who shared their feelings.
The event was hosted by Autostraddle team members Carly and Gabby, and I am just going to be completely blunt and tell you up front that they killed it. If I were just relying on my own opinion I may admit to some bias, but I checked in with several different speed daters and it was unanimous: if you ever go speed dating, you better hope Carly and Gabby are hosting, because they're perfect. Honestly though, they did such a great job. They were hilarious and energetic, but also really careful to make sure everyone felt comfortable and at ease. At one point Gabby said, "Help the lady next to you! If she says she doesn't need help, be a gentlequeer & DON'T HELP HER, she can do it on her own!" Sound advice.
As I mentioned, The Strand was expecting about 40 girls to show up, and instead we packed about 100 humans into the awesome third floor Rare Book Collection. This meant that though the event was set to start at 7pm, it actually began closer to 7:45pm, and instead of ending at 8:30pm we went a full hour over. No one complained, and the late start just meant everyone had time to drink a little extra wine and get a little more comfy if you know what I mean. I would now like to take a moment to review exactly how cute all the speed daters were; here's a small sampling for those purposes:
Gabby and Carly led everyone in so many great activities. There was the part where each person got a colorful index card with a word on it and had to find the other human who had the matching word. Because this was a literary event, samples of these words included The Hunger, On My Mind, Jungle, Stone Butch...you get the idea. But the genius part was that there were multiples of each word, so every person had the opportunity to meet several matches during this ice breaker! Then there was the part where you could win $10 gift cards to The Strand; these cards could be won by guessing Gabby's favorite lesbian movie or also by being a boss and hopping up to sit on the table in order to get a little closer to your date (see above for proof). Carly played a really excellent Beyonce-heavy playlist, and as I flitted around the room trying not to awkwardly interrupt anyone's potential love connection, I heard so many happy things! People talked about if they were dog people or cat people, what their deal breakers in relationships are ("You cannot be an ignorant bigot who refuses to educate yourself" -- sounds super reasonable, I am on board with this deal breaker), and how they discovered Autostraddle. Every three minutes Carly's timer went off and sometimes she would announce, "Congratulations, you just went on a date!" And then the next date would begin.
At some point Robin arrived and she and Shelly and I had a discussion about how truly fantastic it was to see so many queer women connecting in a safe and literary space. I don't know about you, but I fucking hate the bar dating scene, and were I not in a serious two year relationship I would probably spend my Friday nights at home in bed watching Buffy (which I do anyway, but it sounds more socially acceptable if you do that with your girlfriend rather than by yourself). Honestly though, I have no idea how many humans at last night's event feel comfortable in bars (more power to you if you do!) but a few came up to me and explicitly said that they have trouble meeting other queer girls out and about, and this event felt safe and happy for them in a way that they are not used to feeling. And that made my little gay heart SING.
It's important to note how this stellar event came about. You know how I'm always going on and on about queering all the spaces? Well there's a reason for that! Put queers in positions of power and we can make stuff happen! Kate, the badass behind this concept, is a queer lady who happens to be on the events staff at The Strand. She wanted to create this event and her company supported her. See how that works? It's so neat, I really truly love it. The Strand deserves a huge shout out for hosting such a great event for the queer community, and I am personally asking that all New York-based Autostraddle readers show our love and support by spending our book-buying dollars at this fine institution. You don't have to of course, but if you need some incentive you should know that Gabby stood on a table last night and made this same request, so. We're just saying.
On that note, I'd just like to shout out the incredible Strand staff that put the event together. Kate, of course, along with Topher at the door, Blake at the register, Billy on tech and "all charming services," and Jessica Strand at the bar. It was extremely organized -- everyone had their headshot taken at the beginning of the evening for easy recognition post-event, filled out confidential dating cards throughout the night, and will be contacted with any "friend" matches or "love" matches once Kate has sorted through all the data, which sounds amazing and way better than waiting for messages on OKCupid. There was an abundance of both red and white wine, and the yummiest cake balls made by Lizzy Selzer. Everyone was friendly and helpful, and the vibe of the whole event was just so chill and loving and literary it was a queer bookworm's ultimate fantasy in the midst of a rainy Manhattan evening. I never wanted to leave.
If you attended the event, I hope you made some friends and maybe some dates, and please remember that if you fall in love and get married and have babies Gabby would like you to name your first child either "Gabby" or "Carly," which seems only fair. If you live in New York and think this sounds magical, I promise you it was, and I hope you'll consider coming next time (because yes, we are aiming for there to be a next time!) And if you live outside the city I encourage you to chat with your local independent bookstores and try to host queer lady literary events in your city. Because I've always suspected, but after last night I know for sure: there is absolutely nothing better than girls who like girls who like books.