feature art: Autostraddle
Anxious energy consumed our apartment for most of the day. This would be the first time we had guests over since COVID began and we wanted it to be special. My roommate had been vigorously cleaning as I was moving furniture around and figuring out how to make my Thai noodle dish look as tasty as it actually is. With a candle burning, Charli XCX playing on our speaker and the heat from the oven rising into the living room, we started to welcome guests right at 7pm. The first few early birds were friends we knew well, dressed to the queer nines, bearing everything from a Greek potato dish to Ube crackers.
By 9pm the room was flooded with laughter, conversation, music, and the amazing smell of fried chicken our hot married couple friends brought later in the evening. I didn’t recognize more than half the faces in my own apartment, but that’s what made the ambiance so exciting. At one moment in the evening, I was in a corner manifesting good sex with my other queer femmes. At another moment, I was meeting two other writers who just moved to LA and expressed a desire to make queer community. The shoe pile at our front door slowly spilled out into the hallway and with each group of fresh faces I kept wondering how new folks even found us. Is queer community really in this high of demand? Based on the sheer amount of leftovers in our fridge the next day, I can report that the answer is a resounding hell yes.
Finding and creating an authentic queer community has been a skill I’ve developed and learned to heavily lean on as I’ve navigated the mess that is my 20s. In the past seven years, I’ve lived in six vastly different places where I was confronted with the option of retreating into the antisocial hermit I sometimes love to be or growing outside of my comfort zone to create a social and emotional network for myself. Most of my networking involved showing up to clubs or events alone, hoping for the best and feeling like a failure when I couldn’t seem to make any friends.
However, it was in these moments that I learned my first guideline in community-building: it only takes one other person.
Queer Family Dinner came to fruition because a few core friends recognized the desperate need for restorative queer spaces. Our outgoing, bubbly, and endlessly loving leader, Vrushabh, made a point to connect with me and other queer, trans, and GNC folks to make one-on-one connections and curate a space where anyone who needs a home can find one in us.
Vrushabh’s intentions were clear from the beginning:
“Any reflection of today’s American society will point to a very grim picture. We are a white-centered, cis-heteronormative, capitalist, ableist, transphobic, xenophobic, and racist culture in nearly every facet of life. Not only does this create a culture where certain folks benefit from the status quo, while others get crumbs, it breeds a societal mentality that scarcity is all that there is and belonging must be earned. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ+ community is no exception to these forces at large, and oftentimes, can reinforce these institutions in insidious ways. We see the exclusion of trans, femme, GNC, and lesbian identities in “masc” dominated circuit parties; we see the rejection of trans folx from cis-heteronormative, feminist struggles; we see black, brown, indigenous, and other people of color experience harassment, fetishization, and abuse in self-designated “inclusive” clubs. This has never been okay, and it never will BE okay.
QFD resists these systemic attempts to pull us apart into individualistic struggle and insists that there is abundant queer belonging, power, and healing within all of our communities if we chose to work towards it and intentionally carve it out. It radically names that spaces for us are not only vital for building a better world, but they are the bedrock of challenging the systems that would try to strip our collective power.”
Knowing our purpose, intentions and desires helps us create the space of restoration we all long for and deserve. Over the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about how to curate and host a sacred queer space. In the midst of Pride month, where capitalism and cis gay men party culture can really take control of spaces, it feels especially important to share some of the practical things I’ve learned about creating the space I envision for myself. Community requires patience and a lot of work, but the collective healing that emerges from these efforts is an endless celebration of queer love and excellence.
Want to build your own queer community? Assuming we’re starting from scratch (as I so often did), here are my concrete steps to hosting and creating a dinner party for your chosen queer fam.
1. Set Your Own Intentions
Before you get to any planning or mingling, take some time to really think about what it is you want for this space. Sometimes it can be helpful to dream up a vision: who is there? where is it? what does it look like? how do you feel in the space? what are people saying about the space? Journaling through these questions could help you set a tone for how you invite people into this journey.
I asked two of our lovely core Queer Fam Dinner members to think about the culture they wanted to create for their space. Here’s what they said:
“From the moment any individual of queer identity walks into the space, we want them to feel like they can let their guard down and lean into vulnerability. The dinner always begins with a moment where intentions are set by the host, brief remarks on boundaries and guidelines are shared, and an invitation to nourish and commune is extended. It’s very much a “pick-your-own” adventure experience following these central pillars, and folx are encouraged to meet new queers, step outside of their comfort zone, and learn something new about themselves or others. The requirement to explore creates a culture of possibility and a feeling of wonder that most folx never forget, and oftentimes will not find anywhere else.”
— Vrushabh (he/they)
“When hosting queer family dinner, I knew that I needed to be strategic but also intentional when trying to create a space like this and I made sure to invite people who I think would benefit from this kind of community. People who recently moved to the city and haven’t found a core group of friends yet and people who are maybe out growing old friendships and are craving new more vulnerable relationships. I wanted to create a warm and welcoming vibe that invites and accepts all. A place where people are aware of their privileges and blind spots and feel comfortable getting to know somebody who might be very different from them. A space that allows room for connection and vulnerability. A space where people who have not always been given the spotlight (trans folks, queer POC, GNC folks) can convene, laugh and build loving community with one another.”
— Myronn (he/him)
2. Scope Out The Scene
When wanting to create something like this from scratch, you first need to figure out how to find the people who are also searching for community. Mid-COVID, this will look a little different for everyone. Pre-COVID, I just showed up to queer events in the city and attempted to make friends. I usually would be quite blunt: “Hi, I like your shirt! I just moved here and I’m looking to create a queer community.” Towards the beginning of 2020, I relied heavily on Lex. I would simply post what I wanted and connect with people virtually. While I’m more of a TikTok lesbian fangirl, I also know that folks have connected via TikTok (i.e. Queer Field Day) to find their people and eventually connect IRL.
As I was talking to friends of friends, even in a virtual setting, I realized that a lot of other queers felt the same way I do. Sera and Hal, two QFD friends of mine, share similar stories of yearning for this space despite not having it previously.
“It wasn’t until very recently, in my late 20’s, that I really began to seek out queer spaces and community, specifically with other queer women. It was surprising to me how many other people were feeling the exact same way I was. QFD has provided a space where I can connect and empathize with people who have a lot of the same life experiences and who want the same things in terms of connection and love. I think the mutual support, encouragement, and community QFD has given me has changed my life here in LA. Every dinner feels like a sacred space that is truly filled with queer love and something I now know I absolutely need in my life as I grow and evolve.”
— Sera (she/her)
“Being new, and newly out, in the city, I have made so many friends through QFD where there is a shared value and interest in intentional world building that centers on QTIBIPOC love and liberation. While I feel fortunate to live in a city with lots of queer people, QFD has been an amazing opportunity for connecting with people and making friends. Within just a few short months, our community has grown into a mutual aid space, support network, dance floor groove crew, and blossoming friendship space that has brought so much light into my world.”
— Hal (she/her)
3. Foster Intentional Relationships With A Few People
Instead of trying to keep up with many people on a more casual basis, I’ve always found it more impactful to cultivate 1-2 relationships consistently. Did you really jam with one particular person? Great! Invest your energy into the places and people that feel most natural. I’ve found that growing relationships person by person helps me to form an intentional bond that signals to the other person “Hey, I really like you. I will put in the effort to get to know you.”
4. Follow Up With These People
Have you ever had that friend (or been that friend) who’s trapped in a pyramid scheme job and is constantly messaging you to see if you want any of their products? It’s because marketers know that repetitive follow-up works. The same goes for making friends! My rule of thumb is to always send a DM or text to a new friend after meeting up, even if it’s as simple as “This was really fun. I’d love to hang again sometime.” This isn’t so different from what you would do after a good date. Communicating that you want to spend time with the person will let them feel safe in starting a new friendship!
5. Get A Feel For People Already In Your Life
Even if you moved to a completely new city and know absolutely no one, I also believe that you can use the resources you have. If you already have friends of family near you, build on that! Does your cousin have a queer friend looking for other queer friends? Great! Connect with them. Do you vaguely know someone from your high school who lives in this city and may also be queer? Shoot them a DM. Think about why you’re in the location you’re in, or what brought you there: that’s the first place to look to find your core people. The more you know you have in common before you even start attempting to build a community from scratch, the easier it will be to make smooth conversation.
6. Brainstorm With A Few of These Core People
Identify the 1-5 people core queer fam folks in your life and ask them for their thoughts! Would they want a more formal dinner party? A potluck? A meetup in the park? What do they think the vibe should be? Not only does this help you cater the space to what people want, but it also sets the tone for a communal feel, which is ultimately what we want anyway!
7. Confirm The Details
Find a date that works for you and maybe run it by a few of your core people to make sure it works for folks. I suggest planning a good month in advance so people can put it in their calendars and make it a priority. Make sure you know the date, time and place of the dinner, and you may also want to communicate an ending time if you’re worried about people staying too long.
8. Determine What You Need
If you’ve offered to host the whole dinner, you’ll want to make a list of everything you need and shop at least a day in advance. However, I’ve found the community feel of a potluck to be a bit more inviting, and people often feel wanted if you’re counting on them to bring a dish to share. Don’t feel bad about delegating roles or supplies accordingly–people love to help!
9. Make A Cute Little Poster
This isn’t a must-do, but it’s so fun! Our little group started a tradition where the person hosting creates a cute little poster like the following to quickly message to people interested. It makes all the grunt work of giving out details much easier on you and them.
10. FOLLOW UP!
People need to be reminded. People need to feel wanted. The follow-up is key in getting people to come together! In this message, make sure to remind folks to bring something (a dish, drinks, ice) if that’s been pre-determined, and remind them of any space guidelines (such as alcohol-free, vegan, BIPOC only, etc).
11. Set The Scene
Even if you decide on a potluck-style dinner, you’ll want to have one dish and one type of drink ready to go as a safety net and foundation. Keep it simple! Anything goes! When I hosted in March, I made a simple pesto pasta salad and had a bottle of wine at the ready.
Depending on how many people you’re expecting, you’ll want to arrange your space so that it makes sense for the number of people expected. If you’re only having a handful, then make the table extra cute with placemats or flowers. If you’re expecting a slightly larger crowd, move your chairs and furniture to reflect the communal atmosphere you’re trying to set. A loose, casual circle is typically my go-to.
You’ll most likely want to play some music in the background to break any initial awkward tension and set the mood for a fun, heartfelt evening. My roommate burns candles before people come over and I’ve always found that little touch to be warm and inviting.
12. Share Your Intentions
Remember those intentions you journaled about in Step #1? Share them with your community! I’ve seen this look like a small little toast to kick off a dinner, or even just small one-on-one conversations where the host checks in on how people are doing. The line could be as simple as “Thank you so much for coming. Over the past ________, I’ve wanted to create a ________space for us to be our queer selves and share in community. I hope we can create that here!” Putting it out into the world is typically a good manifestation practice and people will most likely appreciate your authenticity.
13. Send A Follow Up Note
Again, the key is in the follow-up! The day after your gathering, send a little group or individual message thanking folks for coming. This could also be a great time to gauge interest and collect feedback. Would people want to do something like this again? Should we meet at a park next time? Should we have fewer people? Should we ask our friends to bring a friend next time? I’ve found that folks are typically excited to share how their evening went, especially if the host seems genuinely interested in knowing their thoughts and feelings.
Happy Pride Month! Please feel free to share your dinner party and community building tools in the comments. The more resources we share, the more we will collectively thrive. I hope you are able to host the queer dinner party of your dreams!