You Need Help: My Girlfriend Has No Queer Friends, Is That a Problem?

Q:

Okay, so I met this incredibly adorable queer woman a little over a year ago. We started dating long-distance (about a 3 hour drive), fell in love, and eventually became a couple. We have now decided to move in together. I’m leaving the big city to join her small town life, to try to make a life there of my own.

I identify as a non-binary dyke, I’m very much into queerness — it’s where I feel at home, it’s what I’m attracted to, and it’s an integral part of who I am. My girlfriend looks queer af and is decently versed in queer culture and theory. However, she doesn’t have a single queer friend in her home town. I’ve felt an unease about this fact throughout our relationship. Mainly because I believe that queer people need each other, for support and community and a sense of belonging. My girlfriend says that she has gotten all that from her bio-family and straight friends. She hasn’t felt a sense of queer lack (which I felt pretty much immediately upon meeting them all). Now that we’ve decided to move in together, in her town, I’m scrambling to try and meet other queers, especially as we are also thinking about becoming parents together. She has said, after I’ve asked her about it, that she does want to find other queer parents for the sake of a future child to have some other families to look to, that looks like ours, so that ours wouldn’t feel so different. But I find it baffling that she hasn’t felt this need in regards to herself.

I’ve tried talking to her about it, but she gets very defensive and feels like I’m saying she isn’t queer enough. Of course she is queer enough! I just want to understand why she hasn’t seen the need to build queer relationships, other than a singular romantic/sexual one. Am I supposed to be the only queer person she is close to and can talk about navigating a cis hetero normative society with? I feel pretty alone in this, in my need for queer friends and community. And I’m scared that me voicing my concerns doesn’t inspire her to reach out to other queers, but simply makes her feel inadequate and ashamed.

Please Autostraddle, I need some solid advice on how to deal with this issue! We are both open to couples therapy, (though of course my concern is that there won’t even be an lgbtq friendly therapist to talk to in her town) but it would also be so incredibly appreciated to get help with some good talking points, from which we could begin to understand one another, and not dig ourselves deeper into our own defensive trenches.

A:

Hello friend!

I want to validate your feelings: you are moving to a new, unknown phase in life and lifestyle. You have anxiety about the differences in the ways you and your partner move through the world. You’ve been in a place that’s felt safe — a big city surrounded by queer community — and may be losing some of that soon. That is scary!

I also want to say, though, that if my girlfriend consistently pressed me to change the way that I live despite my very clear messages that I am happy exactly as I am, I would break up with her. This is very clearly your problem, not your girlfriend’s problem, and resolving it will be your work, not hers.

Queer community is very important to you. That’s fine! What isn’t is imposing this belief, that “queer people need each other, for support and community and a sense of belonging,” on your girlfriend. That’s your valid opinion, not a fact. You insist that she feels a “queer lack” despite the fact that she clearly doesn’t, and are “baffled” that someone could have a different experience of the world than you, could have different needs than you, could be perfectly fine living their life their way instead of yours. This is where the problem lies: you don’t appear to even be making an effort to understand or respect her perspective.

The fact that you mentioned that she “looks queer” and is “decently versed” in queer theory and culture, as positive things seemingly in her favor, indicates to me that being queer is a, maybe the, defining aspect of your identity. I personally don’t feel like that’s a good thing, but if that works for you, fine. For many of us, being queer is one aspect of who we are among many. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to be, and it’s obvious to me why you’re making her feel like she’s “not queer enough.”

Her lack of queer friends does potentially impact you, and that’s a legitimate concern. That’s where you need to put your focus. You’ve given some hints about these fears — you’re going to want to parent and have other queer families for your child to interact with, and it’s definitely legitimate to worry about being overburdened with emotional labor when it comes to queer issues. But she answered the parenting question, and you’ve been together for a year and the emotional labor issue doesn’t seem like it’s been a problem so far. If it actually has, talk with her about that. But if not, it likely won’t be in the future either. It’s going to be crucial for you to dig into why this is causing you distress and making you feel “alone.”

Do you believe that all of y’all’s friends need to be mutual, and fear that if she has straight friends, you’re stuck with them too? Are you realizing this is lessening your attraction to her, given that you’re attracted to queerness? Are you actually externally processing your anxiety about moving to a small town and projecting it onto this issue, when it’s really about your own fears about being able to find enough queer community there? Do you have an unspoken, maybe unanalyzed desire to have her support in making friends in your new town, and feel let down that she’s not interested in supporting you in this way (by the way, it’s unfair to be disappointed when people don’t do things you haven’t asked them to do)?

It’s not often acknowledged, but queer issues are, at their core, universal. Two of my best friends and my girlfriend are cis, and I’ve never had a problem talking about trans issues with them. I’ve never had a problem talking about queer and trans issues with straight friends. Sure, they don’t fully understand the depth of certain things, but good friends can commiserate, empathize, and even offer advice because they love and care about you, not because they’ve been through the exact same thing. It’s fine to seek affinity groups, but it’s not necessary for everyone. Why do you feel like you can only connect deeply with people who have had a very similar lived experience to you? Have you struggled to make deep, loving, intimate friendships in the past? Is this actually your insecurity?

I wonder if you have trauma related to your own biological family and/or straight, cis friends rejecting you, abandoning you, or letting you down? If the only way you’ve been able to find safety is in creating a queer chosen family, giving up having them in proximity would seem scary, and unsafe, and might lead you to fear that your girlfriend’s straight/cis circle is going to eventually reject/abandon her like they did you. You may even have potentially subconscious envy that your girlfriend has the kind of community that you deserve but were denied. It’s totally reasonable to have these feelings (if you do) and to have created safety in the best way you’ve been able. But it’s possible that her definition of safety is different from yours and is also valid.

You want to understand “why she hasn’t seen the need to build queer relationships.” But she has very clearly explained that she has her friendship needs met already; you just don’t accept her answer. Are you sure you respect her? You’re coming across as believing she’s deluded, or naive, or an idiot. Why can’t you accept her worldview as legitimate? Why is her friends’ identities so important to you? Isn’t it more important that her friends are kind, supportive, and loving than whether they’re queer? Isn’t it more important that they share values than sexuality?

You’ve made it clear that, despite the fact that you’re making your life partner, future spouse(?) and co-parent feel “not queer enough,” “inadequate,” and “ashamed,” you still believe that you are right and she is wrong. You seemingly wrote this expecting a response like Em’s recent guide on making queer friends and some extra talking points to help you convince your partner to do your bidding. If she decides for herself that she wants to make queer friends, great! But I don’t think she does, and I think you’re wrong for essentially believing that you know the correct way to be a queer person and your partner doesn’t. She feels inadequate because you are communicating to her clearly that you believe she is inadequate.

You are the one who needs to fill in your defensive trench, not her. You need to do some empathetic introspection. Have you really considered her position? It doesn’t sound like you respect, understand, or appreciate her. To be honest, at least based on the small amount of information given in your letter, it doesn’t sound like you actually love her. Now, that’s unlikely to be true, but love is when you accept someone as they are, not as you desire them to be. It sounds like you’re projecting your insecurity onto her instead of processing it yourself. You need to do some work journaling, in therapy, and/or otherwise thinking deeply about what makes you feel safe, the degree to which this move is raising your anxiety, and if there’s a way your partner can support you emotionally through the process. You also need to think deeply about what you believe about how queer people should move through the world, and why you feel the need to control how your girlfriend does.

Until you figure out why her not having queer friends bothers you so much and what you’re actually afraid of, and give up on controlling her and being the architect of how she lives her life, you’re going to remain baffled and unhappy. Resentment will likely build, and you’re potentially setting yourself up for failure. Instead of telling your girlfriend what you think she should do, share with her what you’re afraid of and why, and why you’re the one who needs support in navigating this change in life — not her.

Good luck!


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


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Abeni Jones

Abeni Jones is a trans woman of color artist, educator, writer, and designer living in the Bay Area, CA.

Abeni has written 80 articles for us.

23 Comments

  1. Wow, Abeni, thank you. Your response is perfect. The original letter made me feel so defensive because I’ve run across so much of this kind of judgmental thinking in the queer community. Everyone has to look, think, and act exactly the same or else it’s a THREAT. Of course there exist bigoted or clueless straight people in this world. But there also are tons of lovely amazing straight people out there! (Also, within “the community” there’s a mix of good and bad actors, queers aren’t magically “safe” just because they’re queer) I don’t think it serves us to self isolate so that we can ONLY interact with the few dozen people in our city who are the EXACT type of queer we are. And what does it even mean to “look” or “act” queer??? We look and act and think all sorts of ways and that’s great! Being queer just means that our genders or sexualities are something other than cis/het- it doesn’t and shouldn’t predict all our other physical or personality characteristics..

    I think the letter writer should just make their own queer friends and ALSO give the gf’s straight friends and honest chance. It doesn’t sound like the gf is opposed to having queer friends on principal. They can totally have an awesome mix of queer and straight people in their lives without all the pressure and judgement..

  2. Facts. As a person who has never really had queer associates, I get annoyed by the insistence that somehow I’m missing out on having a fully queer experience. My life is my fully queer existence. I understand why others may feel more comfortable in queer spaces and/or with queer friends but I find self segregation to be counterproductive. I’ve never sought out friendships based on a person’s orientation or gender because I know what it is to be rejected because of those traits. And there is this unrealistic idea that all queer people will get along or share the same values, beliefs, or ideals.

  3. This was a great answer. I also kind of bristled at the “looks queer” comment in the question…like wtf does that mean? As a femme I’m used to people in and out of the community assuming I’m not “as queer” or “queer enough” (sometimes compared against my partner, who is butch). I’ll never forget the time one of her friends met me and said, “Oh, you’re one of those ‘nice’ lesbians who care what straight people think” before I’d even said a word. A prime example of how some queer people are jerks.

    My wife and I have been lucky enough to have supportive straight/cis family and friends as well as queer friends. It has admittedly been difficult to keep our queer friends in our lives since we had our daughter (all are childfree and prefer adult-only activities, so we connect mostly online). We’ve tried making queer parent friends because I definitely feel that lack but that’s also been difficult with differing family schedules and the pandemic; also I’ve faced some hostility for making different parenting choices moreso than any issue around queer identity or politics.

    The letter writer is very lucky to have had a strong queer friend group and I hope she can open her mind to her partner’s needs and wants, as well.

  4. Incredibly insightful and gentle advice here! I would also add that the LW may have had an easier time finding queer friends if they live in a big city vs their girlfriend who lives in a small town! Not to say that there aren’t queer people in small towns but you might have to work a little harder and if LW’s girlfriend already feels fulfilled with her family and straight friends, she might be less interested in making that effort. Or maybe she did and got treated as “not queer enough”! It’s more important that your girlfriend has a loving and supportive network around her, even if they’re straight.

  5. I don’t know if I fully agree with the advice being given here, though I do agree that if you really want to change your partner that the problem is the relationship/compatibility, not the partner.

    Meanwhile — I am a queer woman on my second marriage. My second wife identified as “straight” before we met, is high femme, is from the Southern Bible Belt, and almost all her friends are straight. Queerness was not a big part of her life or identity prior to coming out though she had always been progressive in her values and politics. Her friends and family are all really affirming of our marriage but they are, still, all straight people. Like the OP here, I’ve usually had more queer friends than straight friends for all kinds of reasons — ranging from that I don’t like hanging out much with cismen or having to feel like a bug under glass as my experiences are “informative” for the people around me.

    So we had to find a dynamic that worked right for us as a couple, because we are very different in our backgrounds.

    How it’s worked out for us is that my wife has come to understand her queerness more deeply by immersing herself in more queer history and culture and by slowly coming to recontextualize her place in the world because of her own queerness. She can and does affirm for me and for her own self that she sees the huge differences between cishet friends and queer friends, in terms of their understanding or level of support or knowledge. And she affirms for me that she sees that many people in her life do NOT “see” or understand me, as a non-binary and disabled person.

    Meanwhile, I’ve come to embrace all her friends and their partners and families because they are good people, and they love my wife and they love me as her wife.

    And we hang out with our friends evenly in terms of time spent.

    It seems like OP is maybe afraid of feeling erased or assimilated — which is super valid. And I’m surprised no one here was wondering whether or not OP’s partner’s total disinterest in queer friends or queer culture might not be the thing in need of further examining — seems like a point of insecurity or something, to me. I dunno.

    Bottom line, I guess, is if you hate your partner’s friends, that’s a big issue. If your partner is disinterested in your feeling safe, validated, or not-alone in your queerness, that’s a big issue. If you can’t articulate why queer community matters to you and your partner isn’t really bothered to find out, that’s a big issue.

    I don’t think OP is entirely in the wrong here; I think this couple is struggling to communicate their values to one another.

    • “And I’m surprised no one here was wondering whether or not OP’s partner’s total disinterest in queer friends or queer culture might not be the thing in need of further examining — seems like a point of insecurity or something, to me.”

      The OP did say that her partner is decently versed in queer culture. So she’s not disinterested in that.

      As for the not being interested in specifically making queer friends – maybe she’s just not interested in making new friends, of whatever identity, period. That’s not unusual for adults, especially introverted ones, to feel that their established friends meet their friendship needs and that they don’t have the time or energy or open enough schedule to fit in more friends. That’s especially true of adults who also have nearby family on good terms and romantic relationships that also require an investment of time and energy. The girlfriend appears to have lived in this town her whole life.

      I agree somewhat with your last sentence that the couple is struggling to communicate their values to each other, although since the OP basically refuses to accept what their partner says or feels, this seems to be more down to the OP. I think a better way of putting it is that they have different conceptions of their identities. As Abeni mentioned, it seems like OP defines being queer as a fundamental, or the fundamental, defining aspect of themself. Girlfriend seems to be more in the “this is only one part of what I am, and not the biggest part” group. OP seems unable to accept this from their girlfriend. But OP didn’t complain that their girlfriend says that OP has too many gay friends or spends too much time thinking about being queer or queer culture, so it doesn’t seem like the girlfriend has a problem accepting OP’s identity. She only objects to the part where OP tries to impose it on her.

      Also I have the feeling OP didn’t give any of her girlfriend’s friends or relatives a chance. They wrote that they felt a queer lack “immediately,” which makes me think the problem is that the girlfriends’ friends and relatives are all straight and OP was never going to look past that simple fact to other considerations like capacity for empathy, support, love, acceptance, etc. I wonder if OP has any non-queer friends. The immediate dismissal of their girlfriend’s circle of loved ones makes me think the answer is no.

      • I’m glad you commented on this sentence because I had thoughts about it too! The impression I got from the original question is that LW *is* concerned that insecurity might be the factor underpinning their partner’s lack of interest in queer friends, and has not been trusting their partner’s response when they say this isn’t the case. I find making this assumption to be pretty rude if the partner has repeatedly said they’re happy with their current friend group and don’t feel the need for a more queer friends – it feels very unfair not to trust someone’s perspective because it doesn’t align with their own, and suggests a lack of trust and empathy on LW’s side.

        I also agree that immediately writing off straight people is 1) a bit inconsiderate of what these people might mean to your partner and 2) missing out on people with whom you might share some other vital parts of your identity! I had a point where my partner wanted more friends who’s experiences reflected hers so went out looking for queer friends and found that very few people’s experiences aligned with hers, but ended up having a long discussion with one of my straight friends and found that common ground she’d been looking for – more than she had with me, even! – and I’d never begrudge her finding this common ground and support with a cis straight person. I’m just grateful she found it, and felt seen and supported. There’s more to a person’s ability to relate to your experience and support you accordingly than whether they’re queer or not.

    • I think this is a great point, though I definitely would have given different advice if LW had said their partner was formerly straight. Seems like a totally different scenario!

      The questions I asked LW to consider were an attempt to get them to figure out what their feelings and fears and anxieties are, hopefully so they can share them with their partner. As I said, it’s unfair to be upset when someone doesn’t do something you haven’t asked them to do.

      If LW is feeling those things, then they need to communicate that to their partner — the entire letter is around trying to fix their partner, not asking the partner to support them in their own struggle. They don’t seem to see it as their own problem, but see it as their partner’s. Hopefully if they realize that it’s their problem, they can actually seek the support they need.

  6. “good friends can commiserate, empathize, and even offer advice because they love and care about you, not because they’ve been through the exact same thing”

    This hits so hard – in a very gay cliché crisis point in my life and for the first time in my life really needing my friends – and you know what, the straights have come through. Yeah it’s nice to have people who share life experiences and yearning and shit, but actually when the chips are down it’s not the most important thing.

    Great for those who have queer friends who can provide support and also get it – but because bc of geography my queer friends have been supportive from a (literal not metaphorical) distance while my local straight friends have literally scooped me up, listened to me, hosted me, and I’ll never ever forget the way they showed up for me – it didn’t matter that they aren’t queer, they love me and care for me. End of.

  7. Yeah I don’t understand this whole must have queer friends thing, I mean I do have some but for me my straight best friend is the one who I go to when I need help with a difficult situation

  8. I appreciate Abeni’s thoughtful and in-depth answer here!

    One other thing that jumped out to me from the question is that it sounds like the questioner is moving not just to a smaller town, but to their girlfriend’s *hometown*, where their girlfriend feels very secure in their relationships and community. If their girlfriend has a longstanding social network who share a connection to this community, and the OP is new to town, I can understand why that would feel alienating and why they would think that that alienation might be ameliorated by their girlfriend having more queer friends (aka friends who would feel more “aligned” with OP than with their girlfriend’s non-queer family and hometown friends).

    At the same time… if you are moving to your partner’s hometown, that seems like a GREAT time to be building *your* own community and social network so that you have friends who don’t only relate to you as the new-to-town partner of an old acquaintance. And if the community is such that you really can’t find friends you relate to or feel comfortable with, that’s a dilemma you can approach as a partnership, rather than the oppositional “I wish you would be less satisfied with your friends and make new ones.”

  9. I’m a small-town queer and I can kiiiind of see this from both angles. I made a conscious effort to take part in LBGTQ events etc. after I moved here, and found that I had very little in common with anyone apart from the fact of not being straight. On the other hand, I found several very close and rewarding friendships with straight people who shared my values and interests (one of whom came out after we’d already been friends for several years, so yay, but that was luck more than anything). I think the LW maybe underestimates how hard it can be to find anyone you really click with in a smaller city, never mind people within a narrow set of criteria.

    Having said that.. over the last couple of years I’ve also found an amazing queer community online, and as much as I love my irl straight friends, there is definitely an extra level of connection that happens with the shared experiences and understandings amongst queer people. Previously I would have been the person saying that all my friendship needs were fulfilled, but honestly I didn’t know what I was missing. I totally agree though that regardless of whether that’s true, it isn’t the LW’s place to pester their partner into looking for connections that she doesn’t currently feel she needs, and that they should focus their energy into making their own friends.

    • Yeah, I’m with you here. I’ve been the “I don’t need queer friends” person before and then I got some queer friends and I’m really glad I now have a mixture of close friends with different identities. And I agree that nobody should pressure anyone to change how they build their friend group. If the partner decides that she wants queer friends she will make them, and hopefully come to the LW to share that process, but the LW needs to respect the partner’s autonomy.

  10. I’m a largely closeted queer trans woman. I have queer friends, and I love them dearly. But I knew many of them before they came out, and my best friend is straight. The first dress I ever tried on was borrowed from her, and she stood at my side when I bought the first one of my own.

    There are things about her life that I don’t get either. She’s an immigrant, I’m not. She’s religious, I’m not. She’s a person of colour, I’m not. She’s cis and straight, and I’m neither of those. Yet, I trust her more than I trust anyone else, and the reason I mentioned the dress is because I explicitly trust her with my queerness more than anyone else, too.

    As a trans woman, I’m more often more comfortable around cis straight women than cis queer men. That is a perspective directly derived from my experiences. Everyone relates to the world and the people around them in different ways, and those ways being different doesn’t make any of them incomplete. Demanding or expecting people to change what works for them in this regard when it isn’t hurting you or anyone else is unfair.

  11. It feels to me like the main issue in the OP’s question really might hinge around their experience of suddenly being totally isolated from their community and friends in their own hometown/contexts, combined with the pressure of being “the only person to talk about queer issues” from their partner. If specific issues are coming up that OP needs more support with, I agree that maybe the focus could be switched to them fulfilling their own needs for queer friends / community, and trusting that if their partner needs that type of community/wants to explore those friendship, she will take action to fulfill her needs in that way?

    I thought most of what Abeni advised seemed nuanced and considered, but I did think that the accusation that OP doesn’t really love their partner to be out of line. An advice question of a couple of paragraphs doesn’t paint a full picture of a whole relationship, especially when OP was reaching out, probably from a place of vulnerability, in order to get a different perspective on their situation. Personally I would shut down and find it hard to be open to the rest of the advice, if I was in the isolated and vulnerable situation of moving to a small town in order to start a life with a partner, reached out for help with an issue, and then was accused of not loving that partner at all.

    It does sound like there are a lot of ways in which communication needs to be improved in order for both people to feel safe and understanding of the other, and I definitely agree that identifying when an issue is your own vs the other person’s is crucial. But saying that OP doesn’t love their partner is hella harsh and presumptuous.

    • I disagree with you about whether saying “it doesn’t sound like you love your partner, based on ten paragraphs of questions and thoughts earlier in this answer and the definition of love I’m going to give in the next sentence” is a harsh, presumptuous accusation.

      But I edited the answer to soften the language regardless, because you’re right – it could be taken that way, and that wouldn’t be productive or helpful to LW, which is the actual point.

      Thank you <3

  12. Ufff I feel bad for the LW and hope they‘re okay after reading this response, which I personally found very harsh and judgmental. I‘m actually a bit worried for them right now and hope they can get some support.

    The irony for me is that the person giving advice is claiming that the LW is projecting on their gf, when really what was more evident to me is that the person giving advice is projecting on the LW.

    Made me sad to read, cause it seems like there‘s been a lot of hurt there for the person giving advice around this topic.

    • Yes!! I completely agree with this. I was shocked that no one else felt this way and that people considered the advice gentle… To me, this wasn’t so much advice as it was (unnecessarily harsh) judgment, and I’m quite sure that won’t help this situation.

      If you’re reading this LW — I think your question was thoughtful and you were just looking to communicate better in your relationship and get some insights. I hope you can find that elsewhere. And I agree 1000% about the projecting…

    • as the editor of this column i just want to jump in and respond to this.

      i am the person who edits every YNH advice piece we publish, and i often write back to our writers once they file a first draft and ask them follow up questions if i feel we’ve missed something or if a piece of advice is missing the mark.

      in this instance, i really appreciated abeni’s perspective, and i did not have any follow up questions for her. i stand behind abeni’s advice one hundred percent. i don’t think a blunt response is the same thing as a harsh and judgmental response. her response did not read as a projection to me; she was validating to the LW’s fears and concerns, but realistic about how the LW’s girlfriend might perceive the conflict. even if the LW completely dismisses this advice, i think it’s valuable to receive a different perspective than the one you have and then check in with your own internal response and see if it resonates or not.

      to give you an opposing view point – i am someone who has majority queer friends, and that kind of community is very important to me. i would only want to date someone who has similar priorities. that said, i found myself nodding along to abeni’s advice, because the truth still stands that no one can control or insist upon who a partner prioritizes for friendship. i appreciated abeni’s perspective because it made me, someone who related more to the LW at first, rethink some of my values and beliefs, or at least rethink what i need to prioritize when dating and communicating in general. which is what i think ultimately a successful advice column is aiming to do, as well as answer individual questions each week.

      finally: you’ll note at the bottom of every single YNH column we encourage readers to chime in with their feedback! if you disagree with the advice a writer has given, we genuinely welcome opposing opinions, additional feedback, suggestions, support, etc… i say this sincerely, but for this post and for all future advice posts, if you think the writer got the response wrong, please go ahead and share your perspective, and your actual advice, if you have the bandwidth! our LWs appreciate the wide variety of voices here at autostraddle, and as an editor, i appreciate both my writers taking the task of giving advice every week very seriously *and* our commenters taking the task of chiming in every week very seriously.

      grateful for everyone, and of course, hoping the LW found this advice useful and wishing them well for their move and the future of their partnership and friendships!

  13. I’m absolutely shocked at how inappropriately harsh and terrible this advice is.

    an anonymous queer wrote in for advice and your response is to rip them apart down to saying you don’t even think they love their partner? what about that is advice? That’s unnecessarily cruel for someone asking for help.

    your advice came off as deeply queerphobic to be honest. OP wrote in about being concerned about their long-distance girlfriend not having local community. perhaps if the girlfriend had any local community she wouldn’t have turned to a long-distance relationship? OP’s concern about being isolated if they moved was a legitimate one- and you flipped their concern into them not even loving their GF.

    the intensity of your response reads entirely like a projection of your own insecurities around queer community. OP deserved better.

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