Autostraddle’s community members are all one in a million special snowflakes, and the only thing even better than @-replying their avatars is meeting them face-to-face. Claire and Whitney, rockstar Autostraddle meet-up group captains, know this for a fact. That’s why they’re going to spend the next few months hosting conversations with lots of different folks who are parts of ‘straddler communities IRL in this very series!
These posts are organized and put together by Claire and Whitney, although I am proud to present them! Come on in, join the conversation, and take away some inspiration for meet-ups of your own! Together, we’ll build the ‘straddler nation.
For their first interview, Claire and Whitney talked to some folks who have either started their own meet-up groups or are taking big leadership roles in them now.
Meet the Crew
I live in Cincinnati, where I co-founded our ‘straddler group in February 2014 and still do a lot of meet-up-planning and general organizing of the group. I’ve also been to A-Camp three times and could talk about it for hours on end! Here in Cincinnati, I work at a publishing company and do lots of creative endeavors: painting, poetry, etc. I just completed National Novel Writing Month for the first time!
I created the Twin Cities ‘straddlers Facebook group back in the summer of 2013 and continue to lead and create meet-ups there and encourage / empower others to host meet-ups as well! Besides Autostraddle, I’m passionate about a quarterly event I organize in Minneapolis called Queer Cuts for a Cause. We give sliding scale haircuts that benefit local LGBTQ non-profits. Super fun!
Soph Bonde (@softly)
I live in DC and work part-time as a photographer for a start-up and part-time freelance. I created the DC ‘straddlers Facebook group in June 2013. It’s typically been more of a resource for new folks coming into the city than a place for folks to gravitate around, but I have a lot of ambitions for it at the moment: creating monthly meet-ups, encouraging other folks to becoming more involved themselves, and creating updated group documents on queer-friendly stylists and doctors — specifically gynecologists and therapists — in the city. The question we get most in the group is: “Where can I get a good alternative lifestyle haircut?”
Brandalynn White (@bird)
I work in international higher education, and student programming is really where I cut my teeth in event planning. This last spring I made the jump from my uni’s LGBTQ Student Alliance to being a member of the LGBT Faculty and Staff Council, and am still working out all of the kinks in the cultural shift between the two worlds. Besides being a crazy cat lady, I’m an active member of Indy Feminists, a local grassroots collective focused on intersectionality, reproductive justice, and education. I also founded Indystraddlers in the summer of 2014. So far most of our events have been lightly structured hang-outs/meals, and in many ways the group still feels quite fledgling. We seem to attract readers who are move-ins to the area (and their partners) and ‘straddlers looking for other LGBTQIA community members after realizing they aren’t quite sure where/how to find other queers in the Indianapolis area. I’m currently striving to get the group up to regular monthly events and encouraging others to take ownership and start planning events, too. I know there are more straddlers in our city, but figuring out how best to reach them and get them to come out to events has been a struggle.
I’m a recently graduated social worker. I attended A-Camp 4.0 in 2013, where I organized a lunchtime meet-up for poly / non-monogamous folks; back at home, I created the AutostradLDR Facebook group for ‘straddlers in long-distance relationships as well as the Polystraddler group for non-monogamous / polyamorous straddlers. I’m not really active in either of those groups anymore due to different life circumstances, so I’ve been focusing more on the Toronto group. I’m not actually an admin in the group, but I stepped up when it seemed like no one else was going to. (It already existed when I joined it a few years ago but wasn’t very active – which is unfortunate considering there are 175 members!) In 2013, I planned a meet-up for International Autostraddle Summer Brunch Weekend with my ex-girlfriend, and it went so well I planned one the next year, too. This year, I was looking for a queer feminist book club to join so I asked the Toronto ‘straddler hive mind for a recommendation. A number of other ‘straddlers were interested in joining one as well so we ended up starting our own!
The Whole Shebang
Claire: You all may have already covered some of your answer in your introductions because you all are wonderful overachievers — but go ahead and break it down for us. Why did you want to start a meet-up group or take on a leadership position in an existing group in your area?
Brandalynn: I think mostly I wanted to meet people. That sounds a little selfish, but at the time I only knew queers that were super into the bar scene and I really wanted a space in Indy to meet and hang out with others that didn’t center around booze and exclude anyone who was under 21. Plus, I knew that it was probably going to be a while before I could afford both the trip and the time off to attend A-Camp and I didn’t want to wait that long to become involved in the Autostraddle community. I figured I wasn’t the only one! I was working in event programming at the time so it felt like a challenge I would be comfortable with taking on. If I could do it, and no one else was doing it here and now, what could be my excuse to do nothing?
Soph: I don’t think that sounds selfish Brendalynn, but granted I relate! I’d gone to regular AS meet-ups when I’d lived in Scotland in 2010, which are still the most regular and well organized I’ve been a party to — and actually how I found out about Autostraddle! I went to the first A-Camp because I was moving back to DC and knew no one in the queer community and few folks with similar interests. I started For Capital Straddlers as a reflection of that feeling: DC is an distinctively transient city, although I would say that urban centers on the whole tend to have a good flow of people.
Whitney: I can relate to creating or leading a group to meet people. I was new to the Twin Cities and thought the best way to make friends was to bring them to me! But seriously, I couldn’t find a Facebook group for Minnesota (I later learned that was a group on the Autostraddle website, whoops!) and decided to dive in and create a FB group and people have since trickled in.
Claire: Oh this whole thing is already warming my heart! Like all of you, my intention was to meet some new people. My friend Caroline and I actually already knew a decent number of lovely queer people, but there was a lack of community — that is, of real connection and continuity. We also were seeking to find people who shared Autostraddle’s “you do you” vision and who weren’t just trying to hook up or play cliquey games.
Soph: I’d also like to reiterate something I stated in our group recently. One reason I really did start the group and a reason why these regional groups are so lovely is that they’re an opportunity to hold shindigs and get togethers that reflect the personalities of the local queer population. We can communally decide what events we’d like to have and move away from the boundaries of the bar scene as one of the few places for queers to meet one another.
Kaybo: Like Soph and Brandalynn, I was also looking to meet new people — specifically, queer ladies — and make friends. Since no one was stepping up in the Toronto group, I thought I’d give it a go since I have a bit of experience in event planning. There was a great response every time I organized something, so it seemed like others were looking for community and needed someone to get the ball rolling. Regarding the two other Facebook groups I started, both were directly relating to my life and I was looking for support and community — it only seemed natural to turn to fellow ‘straddlers! Every generalization should be taken with a grain of salt, but the vast majority of ‘straddlers I’ve encountered have been intelligent, thoughtful, and kind people — the types of individuals I like to have in my life!
Whitney: What were your goals in starting these groups or hosting meet-ups? What were your fears, if any? One reason I had for starting the Twin Cities meet-up group was around mental health: In my previous work I’d learned that community can be really healing, and I sincerely believe people need other people — and when I haven’t had a solid community, I’ve been a less healthy and happy person. My hope was that others could find some happiness in this Autostraddle group. Not to fix all problems, but to create friendships that could walk through tough times together.
Kaybo: I was pretty sure people were going to show up but I was worried it would be awkward and that conversation would be stilted. It was okay, though! See above re: straddlers being kind and intelligent.
Brandalynn: Oh god, what weren’t my fears? That no one would show up was probably my strongest and earliest concern. Even as we’ve grown and formed relationships I still worry about it sometimes! I wasn’t sure what people would like or want to do and I was really unsure if anyone would even see the event. What if I was the only one looking to connect like this in my area? Hashtag paranoia.
Soph: I definitely have fears about it now, but I think my overall perspective at the beginning was that we were starting from nothing so regardless of what it became we couldn’t disappoint on the nothing that existed previously. Has it gone well for you, Brandalynn? Did people show up in the beginning regardless of your fears and the smaller size of your group?
Brandalynn: It’s been slow going but people did indeed show up! The first meet-up was just the two friends I had drug along, the acquaintance who was the first ‘straddler I had ever met in person prior to Indystraddlers, and one other person. They were the first person to really take the risk of coming to something alone and they and their partner have since become the best and most dedicated regulars and recruiters in the group.
Claire: I didn’t have too many fears about the whole thing — only that someone might not feel included. That’s still my main concern for the group — all our wondrous individuals don’t all have to agree or be best friends, but I really want everyone to feel welcome coming to events, and like they belong among us. And I also love that several of you have talked about building friendships as a way of finding support and taking care of each other. I think that’s one of the most important functions of my group, as well.
Whitney: How did you get your Autostraddle meet-up groups started?
Soph: Do you mean how did we get it off the ground? Literally I just went through the ‘create group’ process on Facebook and then it was there, on the Internet, creating internet footprints to exist for all time. I invited queer friends of mine to give the group some visible bulk and create a couple of events and people came.
Claire: In Cincinnati, my friend Caroline and I didn’t start out necessarily intending to have a group. All we knew is that we wanted to make some more queer friends. So we made a meet-up event on Facebook, invited every queer person we knew, and posted it in all the LGBT group pages that we could find. We had about 10-12 people show up that first evening, and were surprised and delighted. We decided then and there to make a group page so we could easily chat with each other and spread the word in case others were interested. I planned one general meet-up a month for a while, and then over time some other folks hosted some events, we tried more themed meet-ups and events with specific purposes, and now we usually have at least one meet-up of some type each week.
Kaybo: I wish I could remember how I got started with my meet-up group! I can’t remember how I found it on Facebook. I think someone probably mentioned something about a Facebook group on the main site, or it came up in the AS Social Toronto group.
Brandalynn: Our first meet-up was summer 2014 and Autostraddle had just put out a call for Pride meet-ups, and I was about to graduate and was a little anxious about being an adult without a campus environment to meet other lady-queers. My roommate at the time and my girlfriend agreed that to attend and back me up so I went for it. We met the day before Circle City Pride as a coffeehouse in Indy that’s the closest thing to a non-bar queer space in the city even though it does serve beer and wine. Graduation and job-hunting delayed any further action until the call for Autostraddle Holigay Parties that December. We held a brunch, which was a success, and decided there was enough interest to create a group in Indy to hold events outside of the times when Autostraddle told us to do things. I created the Facebook group that night and went from there.
Whitney: What are your challenges? Have they changed over time as the groups grew or evolved?
Kaybo: I don’t really enjoy the logistics of event planning, especially finding a venue for a large group of people! I also find it frustrating that no one else seems to feel much of a sense of ownership of the group. It’s almost like I stepped up not because I necessarily wanted to, but because no one else was. I don’t begrudge the work I’ve put in but I’m a fan of collaboration and shared responsibility and ownership.
Soph: I definitely relate to you Kaybo! The challenge I had when I started the group is the same challenge I have now: getting folks to be more interactive within the group. Anyone can create a document, an event or post to the group, but few folks do. It’s a decently sized group, though, and I would say a good portion tends to show up to our events. At this moment we’re at 355 members and I would say between 30-60 people show up to every event. When people post there is always wonderful feedback and interaction, but the original initiative is just not there.
Claire: Getting Cincy Straddlers established wasn’t too challenging, actually. The question of group engagement is a common one — for us, there is usually lively discussion in the group page, and most events have at least several people, but over the past six months or so there have only been a few people who actively plan events. In our case, though, I think this is partly just because people don’t know they can plan events. Recently I posted in our page to remind the group that anyone can make an event, and included a file with instructions on how to do it. Since then, several new folks have hosted hikes and other meet-ups. I’ve also found that asking people I know directly if they’d like to step up and help with something specific has worked well, too: A friend of mine has taken over the logistics of our book club, and another friend jumped at the chance to plan our monthly Board Game Night next month.
Brandalynn: The biggest challenges for our group seem to be size and age range. Our group is relatively young and small, so when a few of us get really busy in other areas of our life like graduation/school, job hunting, moving, trying to learn how to be real adults, etc., we don’t have the time to do as much with the group as we would like to. When my girlfriend and I were moving in August I couldn’t plan anything for the BBQ meet-up Autostraddle was pushing, and even though others had agreed to take ownership and do something when we met in July nothing ended up happening. Each time we meet — especially when we meet regularly — we grow little by little but our largest meet-up currently stand with 8 in attendance.
Soph: We also have had trouble creating enough spaces for sober queers — DC is a hard drinking city, and a lot of other promoters and event planners post in the group, but pretty much 100% of these are at bars or involve drinking in some way. Both Carmen and I drink and were (and still are, as I presume she in LA is as well) actively involved in the bar scene and we while we were supportive and interested in creating spaces for sober queers, we were not motivated by our own lives to do so and maybe weren’t the right folks to be doing that work. Plus, we had events that were not specifically drinking events, such as pumpkin carving, but people would drink and get drunk regardless. We did not have anything that was totally sober for a long time.
Claire: I view one of our biggest challenges now as how to get the word out about how the group functions and to empower people to make the group what they want it to be. Not everyone reads every post on the Facebook page, so it’s hard to make sure everyone gets the most important updates. What about y’all? Looking forward, what are your goals for the future? Or maybe, what kind of stuff are you gonna work on?
Soph: I think sustaining the group is all about trying to encourage participation, creating regular get togethers and if folks ask questions, not letting them sit unanswered. I have had a few goals in mind for the Capital Straddlers group; ideally I’d really like to make it a community-oriented group where if there aren’t any queer events you’re feeling happening, or any you know of that weekend, you could personally organize something and boom! There’s an accessible audience with shared interests.
Claire: As meet-up group leaders, is there anything you find super rewarding? Anything that surprised you?
Whitney: What has surprised me most about creating a meet-up group is how big it has gotten. I truly didn’t have any idea or plan for the group to get to be bigger than an intimate group of friends, but it has ballooned to almost 1,000 members! I think is shows a need in the Twin Cities community for genuine connections outside of bars and parties and also new transplants have somewhere safe to land as well with friendly faces. I still get surprised at each meet-up when I meet new people. How many rad humans can live in one city?!
Kaybo: I think my favourite parts are meeting fantastic new people and the sense of accomplishment that comes from planning an event that is well-attended and that folks enjoyed!
Soph: Something else that sits in my mind is that my queer friends are my family — I hold such love and deep affection for them. If I need help finding a resource in the city or don’t know how to adult my way around an issue, they’re always there and they understand my perspective. I know a lot of people even in liberal metropolitan areas don’t have this, and maybe our group can be a little bit of that gay family? I’m so sentimental!
Claire: Soph, I’m totally with you here. Maybe I’m a sentimental sap too, but the last two years with my Cincy Straddlers around me have been the best of my life. The work I do to organize the group has taught me so much about what I’m capable of, given me brand new skills, and even pointed me in new directions for my career and my goals as an adult human. And of course, my chosen queer family has been like the sun, warming up and lighting up my life. I only wish that every Straddler had an IRL posse like mine.