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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.