It’s A War Out There: How Queer Female Friendships Can Save Us All

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When I was 14 and in the closet, I went to visit my older brother in New York City.

We went to a party where adults stood around drinking wine. I met two gay men there. I had never met any other queer people in real life before. They were fresh-faced, and one had his arm around the other’s waist and no one at the party was concerned with the Very Gay Thing happening right in front of us.

I didn’t hang out with another out gay person until my freshman year of college when I met my friend Jamie. She was barefoot and confidently sitting on a dorm bed and someone told me, “Jamie is a lesbian.” Wow, I thought. People knew it and she was okay.

But because I was in a sketch comedy troupe, my college friends were mostly white boys. After college, at stand-up open mics, it was even more male-dominated and aggressive. If I had a dollar for all the hours I spent trying to impress unimpressive dudes, I’d be the real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran. (Actually, can I just be her anyway?)

I was out as a bisexual, but it mostly served as a way for these male friends to ask insulting questions with impunity. And because I didn’t know any better, I saw this as a hazard of friendship. This was my lot in life; the chill bisexual who took it as a compliment when she was referred to exclusively as “the girl” by her male group of friends. It wasn’t until I was 25 years old that it occurred to me that I could seek out other queer woman and surround myself with them instead. And not just “could,” but that doing it was vital to my sanity and my success. It was something I can’t believe I’d ever gone without.

I’m not sure if there was anything specific that made me feel like I needed other women. Maybe it was moving to LA with no prospects. Maybe it was breaking up with one terrible person for another terrible person. Maybe those two forms of loneliness converged into motivation. Maybe I was just tired.

There’s emotional labor involved in friendships with people who will never get your experiences as a woman. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have male friends, or that all men are unable to feel empathy and love for queer women. Of course not. But there’s a missing piece. I thought I was expected to do that labor — education, explanation, frustration — all the time. That it was my job as a queer person.

Then, on a whim, I moved to LA and needed friends. I decided to start hosting a meet-up for women (straight, gay, trans — just women). I wanted a place where we could cleanse our spirits and talk about what was going on in our lives without having to add the caveats of “I know it sounds crazy” or “Does that make sense?” It would. It would make all the sense. I suspected the isolation was what made us ask these questions, and if we all came together and spoke up, we could grow strong. Like, when the Power Rangers become MegaMorph. (This is a very relatable reference.)

Because of the TV show American Horror Story, I named my meet-up “The Coven” and invited 20 women to a night of light paganism and female bonding. Through friends inviting friends, the group has grown to be mostly queer women. I’m not sure if it’s because a few of the girls have felt more secure with themselves and have come out during the time since the Coven began, or if the spooky name is a big draw for queer women in general.

I can tell you this though: Befriending other queer women will save your life. Fear is born of isolation and everything in the world is working to pit women against each other and keep us apart — especially minority women of any kind. We’re told we’re the only ones at our work who feel the project is sexist. We’re told to “calm down” about street harassment. We don’t talk about the injustices of existing in a world built for men because then we’re “whining professional victims.” The world is exhausting. A queer woman can not survive on her own.

At Pride this year, surrounded by women at the Ace Hotel, someone asked why we don’t do this every day? Why don’t we hang out in large groups and take up space and make an effort to be together?

Having queer lady friends is a privilege not everyone can have. Which is why if you have the ability — you live in a diverse city, you can be out, you don’t have social anxiety — you should make the effort to befriend other queer women. There is magic in it. There’s support. There’s understanding. There’s comfort. Not seeking out other queer women to befriend when you absolutely could is like living next door to a bank and not robbing it. (Don’t rob a bank, but you get it.) As a queer woman, you need, as the Fast and the Furious franchise puts it, “a familia.” You need a squad. You need a group of women to reenact the Bad Blood video with. You need an army, because goddamnit, it’s a war out there.

Immediately post-college, at a Mexican restaurant in New York City, a male friend bragged to me that he was “basically a lesbian” because he loved having sex with women so much. I laughed. I once sat through an entire date with a man who intricately explained how he wanted to adapt the Iliad and never asked me anything about myself. I drove in a car listening to rape jokes on the way to a comedy festival for hours because I was the only woman on the improv team. And the more I hung out with other queer women, the more I realized my experiences weren’t isolated incidents and I didn’t have to stand for that.

Since making female friendships a priority, I’ve found people to party with on rooftops during Pride. The members of the Coven find each other jobs, group text support on bad days, and send re-enforcements to bars where one of us is being harassed. (We kind of have eyes and ears all over town.) Recently, a member of our squad’s father disowned her and she turned to the Coven for help changing her auto insurance. I’ve shared my disappointment in a once-trusted guy friend who declared gay bars “heterophobic” and accompanied one friend to the clinic to get an STD test. (It was an ingrown hair.) We get beers on Saturdays to lament ex-girlfriends, throw holiday picnics where our dogs all play together, and when marriage equality passed, a dozen of us pre-gamed before storming West Hollywood to celebrate until the early hours of the morning. Everything is just better.

Find your queer lady family. We’ve all spent so long alone, that fuck it, we’ve earned this.


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Gaby Dunn is a writer, journalist, comedian, and actress living in Los Angeles. She hosts the finance and feelings podcast "Bad With Money" and her book I HATE EVERYONE BUT YOU is out now from Wednesday Books. She is bi AF.

Gaby has written 2 articles for us.

84 Comments

  1. I love this! It’s so true and I’m glad someone finally wrote an article about it. I’m always reminding myself how lucky I am to have a lesbian friend. Especially the one I’ve got because our relationship has helped me to really accept and like who I am. I’m glad someone finally wrote an article about it!

  2. “There’s emotional labor involved in friendships with people who will never get your experiences as a woman. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have male friends, or that all men are unable to feel empathy and love for queer women. Of course not. But there’s a missing piece. I thought I was expected to do that labor — education, explanation, frustration — all the time. That it was my job as a queer person.”

    whoa. you just put a long-term uncomfortable feeling into words. thanks <3

  3. Lovely, lovely women all around the globe! Let’s celebrate this every day.

    I find the friendships between queer men and queer women interesting. My closest friends are men who identify as gay, and while of course I love them to death, I’ve also found parts of our relationship more strained since coming out.

  4. SO MUCH THIS.

    When I was in middle/high school I avoided becoming close friends with girls because they gave me confusing difficult feelings and it was easier to keep a distance.

    When I was in college I was burned pretty badly by a few female friendships because they themselves were on fire and unable to stop themselves from hurting me. It messed me up in a lot of ways and sealed me off more than I was before.

    Now though? I moved to a totally different state not knowing anyone. Admittedly I made most of these friends through my partner, but holy shit is my crew the queerest, most amazing group you could ask for. I never get tired of hanging out with them. They make me feel safe and loved. I feel like I have a support system in a way I’ve never had before.

    I recently had a BBQ on my roof and invited all my queerdos. I really regret not getting a photo of them all together because it was really in that moment I fully realized just how lucky I was. I had a lot of social anxiety growing up and have never had a ‘big’ group of friends before, partly also because I never really found a group I felt super comfortable with (mayhaps because they were straight, mayhaps not).

    Also a big shout out to A Camp for really opening me up to allow these friendships to happen. I fear letting people in close, but A Camp really showed me that if I open up I won’t be met with hate. I think if I hadn’t gone I might not have been able to become friends with this group. I made family at A Camp, which allowed me to make friends in my home.

    tl;dr MY FRIENDS ARE THE BEST AND I LOVE THEM

  5. As a trans person I really have to agree. And because of this site I have meet many interesting and cool women. Just being around women & trans people), specially queer ones, is way better. Like who wants to hear about a dude talking about what makes him a man or about what a cis hetro girl is looking for in a mate.

  6. This article is great. All of my close friends where I live are female but I’m the only one who is a practicing queer and while the others are really sympathetic, there are just some things they don’t get. I often imagine what it would be like to have some fellow queer women around who do.

    There’s gotta be something like this in NYC. If not, I should get off my ass and start one.

  7. I used to have a couple of queer women friends – (one of whom was my ex). My own experience was when I needed them most (started dealing with some unpleasant progressive neurological condition, probably progressive MS), they were the first to leave.

  8. I feel this SO much, I live in a not very diverse area and I have probably one good queer gal pal who I get to see every so often, but literally everyone else I’m friends with is straight. While I love them dearly, it’s exhausting to be barraged by homophobic, sexist, and racist comments on the daily.
    I need a sign in front of my house that says “Now accepting applications for queer gal pals” and cross my fingers or something.

  9. I always pictured having an L Word style close group of queer lady friends. It never really happened, no matter where I lived.

    I guess I’m just grateful that I function so well alone. I had a pretty cool set up in New York, but wound up back in SC after my dad’s stroke. I plan to move to either Asheville or Wilmington, NC and buy either a house in the forest or a house on the beach (depending on which city lol). Hopefully, I put down some roots and make some friends.

    Not counting on it, though. People don’t get too close to known nomads like me. That’s okay, though, I have a cat, and I am just fine being a spinster and hooking up.

  10. This makes me miss my little crew of queer babes in Montreal so bad. Good friends are pure gold. Lovers have come and gone in life, but they are my constant.

    I’ve recently joined a Meetup in Melbourne called Queer Active, who go on cute friend dates and stuff, as a proactive way of fighting the isolation of being new in town. So glad I did! Ive only been on one so far but already met a few lovely folks who feel familiar and comfy, work in the same or related sectors, and have similar interests. HIGHLY recommend Meetups to anyone looking to find their people and build community. Also, volunteering! This has saved me more than once. ️xo

  11. This. Gay ladies group at my university was one of the first places I felt super comfortable talking to people about uncomfortable experiences we all shared. That group was REALLY useful for making my other friendships better cause i was able to test out my comfort level with the gay ladies vs my other friends.
    tldr: all my friends are awesome but the gay ladies annihilated my shell. hell yeah gay ladies.

  12. This is amazing. I’m 25 right now and I’m realizing how isolated I feel. So I’m going to the recently established monthly pop-up gay bar tomorrow night. Assuming I don’t talk myself out of it. … I am already beginning to talk myself out of it. Like how do you even make friends in bars?

  13. i wish i could have something like this… the queer students group at my school is not very welcoming and meets very irregularly. i’m working on transferring but for now i feel very alone

    • I don’t know if you’ll still see this, since it’s a little late, but I’m sorry to hear that and I hope you do have better luck at a new school! I never felt comfortable with the queer student group at my school either, and I think I kind of felt like maybe all queer people would be like that forever? That ended up not being true (of course), but it was a really lonely feeling all around. Anyway, what I mean is you’re not alone in feeling alone, and I hope things get brighter soon!

  14. So, as a fellow LA queer lady person, how do I go about joining this “coven” cuz I really do need more queer friends. Who actually like to go out and do stuff. And not just the same straight bar every other weekend. Because, yeah….

    But yes to everything you said. After my break-up, I sought out fellow queers in my area by joining a feminist group which I have to say has been pretty freaking awesome. I’m learning so much and I’ve met some pretty cool people along the way.

  15. Ahh so relevant.

    I’ve also had this problem in relation to meeting other feminists face to face (rather than awesome internet groups) .

    Anyway,back to the topic- I’ve had trouble meeting queer friends because:

    A) You suspect a person may be attracted to you , and even when you explicitly tell them you’re just looking for friends they don’t respect it/there’s still tension.

    B)Superficial friends who just wanna party .

    C) I like deep rather than superficial friendships, so maybe I’m just too picky….

    I think I’d be content with some superficial friendships if I had at least one strong, meaningful one as well . Unfortunately, that’s not the case though.

    I don’t know… can anyone relate ?

  16. Wow it surprised me to see gabby dunn here, hey girl I like your youtube videos. I so relate to you as a (long time outed) bisexual Gaby who used to be surrounded by men. I was “the girl” (or “just another boy”) of my group of friends. and after a breakup from a very very bad man, found miself absolutly isolated from women. I actually have a very hard time making girl friends, since I feel I’m always being looked at weirdly, but it’s a big chance that’s all in my head. Usually the very few girls (like 2) I meet, I fool around with and pretty much screw any chance to stay friends. I’ve been almost 5 years in an open relationship with a very very nice man now, but still have a hard time making friends of my own. I’m from Santiago de Chile and it is a VERY large city (at least an hour bus ride to go anywhere), and it’s hard to find people to relate to close to my neighborhood. It’s not a very friendly city to have a decent social life alltoghether, even worse a queer social life. (But nature is crazy here, the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen) Cheers!

  17. I miss having queer friends around me. I’m lucky enough to have queer friends I can talk to on Skype (in several cases, these are friends I made before any of us realised we were queer – did anybody else subliminally select a queer group of friends at school?) but since moving abroad most of my friends have been straight. And they’re great people for the most part, but there are some things they just don’t really get.

  18. So pumped to read Gabby’s stuff on Autostraddle!

    I find that some of my closest female friends are straight with queer/radical tendencies. But it would be nice to have a circle of solely LGBTQ friends. I guess I still need to find my tribe.

  19. I love this article. It’s so important to find queer friends. But I want to speak to the difficulty of finding those friends!

    I came out when I was 20 and got into a really awesome relationship, but was shy about getting involved with anything queer at all. I was too bogged down by my own internalized homophobia to feel comfortable in queer spaces. It took a couple years to get over that, but even then, I usually met more gay men than queer women. I love my queer guy friends, but I wanted more girl friends. Maybe most women date people and then just keep up with their ex-girlfriends to make queer friends, but I’ve been in the same relationship since I came out, so that wasn’t an option for me. I worked in the arts, and hence was slammed with work that paid me very little money, so volunteering my time for a queer organization wasn’t particularly feasible. And though I’ll go out to the gay bars/dyke nights sometimes, I find it super hard to meet new people in that environment.

    I eventually started keeping track of queer women I met at work and actively trying to keep up with them. I’m 27 now and am FINALLY starting to have a good group of queer friends.

    Maybe everyone is way better at being a social butterfly than me. But I just wanted to put it out there that if you’re 22 and don’t have your squad figured out yet, that’s okay. It takes time.

  20. My isolation in high school in little rural Oklahoma was terrible. I was out, but literally the ONLY out gay person in the entire school system. When I got to college, I sought out my gay lady crew and never looked back. My friendships with these women changed my life. I’m always looking to bring more people in and extend my friendship networks with lbpq women. I call it “social separatism”, and it’s the best choice I ever made.

  21. Awkward comment time. As another bi lady, who went to your alma mater, but sadly didn’t know you while there– it’s been super fun seeing you succeed in comedy and I’m also pretty psyched to see you writing on autostraddle. Way back when you hosted a comedy thing with a friend of mine, the world is small.

  22. I needed to read this so badly. I just got into a huge argument with one of my closest friends (a male) about his extremely oppressive beliefs–which he apparently has gone to lengths to keep hidden from me. I am so upset and he can’t see why and I’m going nuts. It super doesn’t help that he’s currently crashing at my place for the week. On top of that, I’m an introvert and I feel like I just need to be alone right now, but talking to some queer lady friends of mine has already helped a bit.

    I have no idea what to do with this problematic male friend though…

    UGH.

  23. I’m kind of late to the conversation, but this is just perfect. I attended a women’s college in ATL and was blessed to be constantly surrounded by queer folks who in the intervening years have moved away for jobs or grad school… so my life has felt a little emptier ever since.

    Anyone in Atlanta looking for a squad/recruiting for their, let me know!

  24. I’m also new to LA and figured I’d take the leap because having a group like this sounds incredible. So for all you LA ladies looking for a group – respond to this comment. If I see enough interest I’m gonna start a meetup group. Get at me! 🙂

  25. Gaby!!! So great seeing you on here, I love everything you do.
    I’m going off to college in the fall, so I will definitely embark on a mission to befriend all the queer women.
    Sometimes I’m so picky, though. I’ve met a few queer women, but they were all white and just…really weren’t in tune with racial issues, to put it kindly. I technically only have one close(ish) queer lady friend, but she’s quite a bit younger than me and. That difference of maturity can get a little frustrating sometimes. And as straddler Gabi stated in the comments, the friendship can get additionally awkward since we’ve wanted to be more than friends, in the past.
    I have high hopes, though!

  26. This piece had me welling up in tears, I’m at a point in my life where most of my friendships are with straight men and I didn’t really think about how much I need other women, especially queer women in my life. I left high school with the plan to make a great group of queer friends, now it’s nearing graduation and I haven’t connected with any queer women, and it’s lonely, it gets really lonely. So if any Torontonians are reading this and feeling this then we should get together, or at least I’ll try harder to find y’all.

  27. Thank you for this! Queer female friendships really did save me. Having lesbian community is so vital to me now I don’t know how I ever managed without it. The importance of having people like you to just HANG with and TALK to almost seems to get forgotten about in the queer scene. When actually, that’s the stuff that really helps you get through the day.

  28. I wanted to read this last week when it was initially posted and then i forgot (I have a 1yr old) so then tumblr reminded me and here I am.

    This is lovely, I have been evangelizing the importance of community to my younger gay friends…There is so much to be gained by surrounding yourself with queer women and really, nothing to loose.

    Thank you.

  29. I know this is super late to the conversation, but I just read this piece for the first time (thanks for the bisexual article round-up!) and–ugh: yes. This is really hard for me as… well, as a lot of things. As a not-out person, as someone in a rural and very not-queer area, as someone who is nonbinary, as someone who is socially anxious most of the time–etc. Historically I’ve tended to have more guy friends, but at the moment I have, like 0 friends (because my life took an unplanned turn and now I’m 24 and still live at home), but I always feel weird being around other “girls.” I don’t know if it’s mostly the nonbinary thing or mostly the bisexual thing, even. But anyway, totally hit me up if want to be pals!

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