You Need Help: How Do I Feel More Connected to the Lesbian Community?

Q:

I often feel disconnected from the LGBTQ+ community, and feel like I’m not allowed to belong. I didn’t realize I was queer until about 18, and I changed my labels so much that I didn’t fully realize I was a lesbian until recently, in my twenties. I feel like I don’t have the “right” experience, or that I somehow messed up my coming out story and that I’m not the “right” kind of lesbian. It feels like I don’t deserve to take up space in the community because I feel so new, and like my story doesn’t count. What can do I to combat this feeling, and how can I feel more connected to the community?

A:

First off, I want you to know that your feelings are valid and understandable. But also your anxieties are lying to you. Or maybe some actual humans are lying to you. But there is no such thing as a “right kind of lesbian.” There are two main things in your question I want to address, 1) feeling disconnected from the community in general, 2) the feeling that your story doesn’t count. Because I can relate to both of those feelings and I’m here to call to you from the other side of the tunnel; there is an end to the darkness. And there are snacks.

I know that movies and TV shows often depict coming out stories happening in high school, and I know Gen Z is coming out younger and younger each year, but the truth is, there’s no right or wrong time to come out. And there’s no such thing as “too late” to find community. For example, I didn’t come out until I was 22, and I have plenty of friends that came out even later than that. And even after I did come out, it wasn’t until years later that I finally found myself with multiple circles of queer friends, and like you, at first I thought I just wasn’t going to fit in. What if I didn’t know all the inside jokes, or hadn’t seen all the right shows and movies? What if I didn’t look or act or dress “gay enough” to fit in? I’d go to gay bars and not connect with anyone and feel like I’d never find my place.

What I didn’t realize at the time, but seems so much clearer looking back, is that I didn’t find my little galaxy within the LGBTQ+ universe until I stopped trying to connect with people just because we were both gay. It’s something we tease straight people about — most of us have had someone say, “Oh I met a lesbian last night I should introduce you,” but they know nothing else about them besides the fact that they’re gay. But the truth is, a lot of us do it too when we’re first coming out. For some of us, being queer is such a huge part of our identity, especially at the beginning, that it makes sense that we’d use that as our beacon to find friends. And while that IS something that connects us, it’s not enough on its own.

I didn’t find the queer people in my life that mean the most to me now until I added one more filter to the search. Instead of trying to force a friendship with anyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, I started meeting people who were under the LGBTQ+ umbrella AND whose childhood was partially defined by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. People who were queer AND who loved livetweeting Pretty Little Liars. AND who loved Wynonna Earp enough to go to conventions about it. AND who wanted to play D&D with me. (Mine are all heavily nerd-based — but the AND can be literally anything else you’re passionate about!) People who have the same sense of humor, the same core values, who you just genuinely enjoy being around. That shared queer lens will help make the bond of that second thing stronger, but people’s interests and experiences are way too varied for our sexuality to be the only thing we have in common. We’re a marginalized community, and we’re considered a minority group, but there are still way too many of us for that.

It took some time but by talking to people on Twitter, through Autostraddle, via friends, slowly but surely I collected them like treasures until suddenly I had enough shinies to make a bunch of different rainbow constellations.

Ok! About having the “right” experience! Like I said, I UNDERSTAND those feelings, because I had them, too. But they’re lies. I also changed labels a few times when coming out — and honestly am still not sure what word is right for me, over a decade later. I had only ever drunkenly made out with sorority girls in college by the time I came out, and I had hooked up with boys; I wasn’t sure what was going to count for or against me. Even years later, as I started making more friends, I was nervous. But what I learned is this: the right people for you aren’t going to check your credentials. I’m 34 years old and I technically have never had a proper long-term girlfriend. The longest I’ve ever been with a girl is a few months and she didn’t want to put a label on it, and that’s the most I’ve got. I haven’t slept with all that many people, and I haven’t even gone on a date in years. But my friends don’t care. In fact, it doesn’t even come up all that much. There’s so much else to talk about, because we have more in common than just who we’re attracted to and like to date, so it’s not a hindrance on our friendship that I don’t have much to add in those types of conversations besides support (and opinions, of which I have plenty.) It also doesn’t stop me from being a “professional lesbian” as I sometimes jokingly call myself. I get paid to talk about my gay feelings on the internet and I’ve never had a girlfriend. If that’s not proof that experience isn’t the be-all end-all of queerness, I don’t know what is.

This community would be so boring if we all had the same stories. And there’s no such thing as the “right” queer story. You don’t even need a “good” coming out story, or a coming out story at all; since you’re a queer person, any story about your life is a queer story. And if your story is different from everyone else’s, that’s just more to talk about. None of my friends and I have exactly the same story; we all came out at different ages in different ways. And I’ve had plenty of friends change labels or pronouns since I’ve met them. No one expects you to have it all figured out, because the truth is, none of us do. You are enough, just as you are.

What it boils down to is that old cliché: Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. I know it seems overwhelming, almost like starting over, but it will all be worth it in the long run, I promise.

Your people are out there, and they can’t wait for you to find them.


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

Just a TV-loving, Twitter-addicted nerd who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 281 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. This sort of scenario is when I’m reminded of how cishet people are the only ones unquestioned on their sexual orientation if they have no experience whatsoever. Anon, you’re good!

    Tbh narratives about someone’s story “not counting” are perpetuated by scarcity mentality and they’re no reflection of the validity of your experience, but people’s insecurities. You can see how AS hosts plenty of stories where the realization of the writer’s sexual orientation takes place past their 30s and there have been many bumps before.

    Hell, I remember having a similar fear as you (though in my case with bisexuality), given how my only “experience” had been unrequited love, it eased as I started getting to know queer folks that shared my interests and eventually became very good friends. So yeah, the advice about finding people through mutual interests is SPOT ON.

    Good luck! <3

  2. “Your people are out there, and they can’t wait for you to find them.” – that’s beautiful, Valerie! I don’t even feel like I have a coming out story. It’s been more of a process… I gradually became more eloquent about the lesbian side of me. Still, too many people believe that I’m just a straight single woman (mostly those who don’t know me very well).

  3. This is all such great advice! I didn’t come out until my early thirties (and I was previous married to a cis man). After coming out my queer impostor syndrome was SO real. I felt like I’d never find or fit into queer community. It’s honestly been slow going, perhaps because I am older and social media averse (and the 14 months of quarantine have magnified feelings of isolation), but in the years since coming out I’ve made some new queer friendships. I’m still looking for more of my people but I do believe Valerie Anne is right and they are out there!

  4. I feel this a lot. I live in a large city that doesn’t really have a large or distinct queer community (as far as I know), and I missed out on those opportunities when I was younger to socialize in queer or lesbian circles while in college/post-college. I read books or see shows/movies where it seems like the lesbian character also have large lesbian friends group. I get that that is fiction, but I still feel like I missed the boat.

    It doesn’t help that I’m already pretty anxious about any group of people, so even the thought of going to some random mixer organized by the local Pride org gives me hives. Add on that I’m married with kids, so I have no interest in any of the romantic/dating aspects of these mixers. I just think it’d be neat to have some friends who happen to be lesbians.

    I guess I just can’t even imagine making ‘lesbian friends’ or being within whatever community exists if I struggle making friends without any kind of additional descriptor.

    • Plug for clarity: years ago a queer coworker just said, “I’d like to be friends outside of work.” Apparently they’d been complaining to their wife about how hard it is to make friends as an adult and their genius wife told them to just ask. And that was that.

      (But like Valerie Anne said, we had things like work, sports, and parenting in common too)

  5. I laugh at your anxiety LW (but not you, I’m not laughing at you). I’m sort of jealous you figured out you were queer so early.

    I came out in 40s. Since then I’ve managed to have a lesbian relationship (for less than a year) a couple of really short term flings and mostly been single because I still haven’t figured out how to find dates and relationships.

    I have a friend who accepted her sexuality after she divorced her husband and had 3 young kids.

    We’re great friends. You will find your community. I found mine at queer storytelling shows (while I am not actually including The Moth, in my town The Moth is pretty damn queer), at queer comedy shows, and through a meet up queer lady focused book club.

    I don’t like hanging out in bars, but also I think bars are terrible places to meet people b/c they’re usually too loud and noisy to have a conversation which is what I need to make friends.

    You do have to take a chance and put yourself out there, though. That’s the “trick.”

  6. I’ve been forcing friendships on random people in Facebook groups. And I just recently accepted a friendship and I thought she genuinely wanted to talk but she ended up demanding money for online sex. I blocked her immediately. Fucking scammers nowadays! They’re like extra evil! They leave you high and dry by thinking “Oh wow, this person wants to talk to me! And she’s gay!” (My facebook photo has a picture of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy) only to fucking demand online sex. Fucking bitch lol

    Point of the story, I give up. I’ll just settle with the friends I have on facebook (most of them are straight) and binge watch shows. Might as well get comfortable being a loner. I just turned 30.

  7. Excellent advice.

    The one thing that I’d add for finding queer friends through mutual interests is that I’ve had pretty good luck using meetups and FB groups as a way to add that extra filter and find queer people who are also interested in the things that I’m interested in.

    Volunteering at my local LGBTQ+ center also helped me feel like more of a part of the community. I just kind of decided I wasn’t going to ask anybodys permission to be there, I’d just go and help out.

  8. Thank you! I completely relate to not feeling like the right kind of lesbian. I’m 49 and I’m just really saying it out loud. I made a fleet with #Lesbianvisibility saying I am ready to be the true me which I feel was the easy way out. I think maybe the lesbian community will not embrace me because I may have lived “straight” for too long. This gives me hope and encouragement.

  9. All of my closest queer friends have expressed worries that they’re not queer enough, or in the right way, at some point. I’ve definitely felt the same way, and bonded with others over it (or encountered challenges to my queerness borne out of blatant insecurity from people who prove queerness to themselves by policing the experience of others). So in that way your experience is hyper-super-extra-queer, letter writer! <3

  10. This is such lovely advice and I needed it too! I’m in my late 30s and only realised I wasn’t straight not long before the pandemic hit. It feels like there are so many ‘typical’ queer experiences that I haven’t had but if I’ve learned anything from spending most of the last year on this site it’s that I’m not the only one :)

    I would definitely second meetup as a way of meeting queer people who share your other interests. I’ve only joined one group on there but it’s big enough that it has sub-groups/event strands.

  11. We are more numerous than you think! I figured out I was lesbian after being married for 12+ years to a man and even then I worry if I’m wrong and only “faking it.” I’m in my 40s.

    I’m looking for that extra filter of nerdyness too–having a bit of a challenge finding other queer nerdy women. If you have any specific advice on that, Valerie Anne, I would love the help!

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