Building Queer Community – Amber Stewart


Book clubs and beyond

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Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

When I first moved back to Nashville four years ago, I had very few friends. Having spent the last eight years living in New York, I had maintained very little community in my hometown. And having gone to a religious, anti-lgbt school, I wasn’t super excited to reconnect with people I had known from my teenage years.

As a result, the first few months, maybe even the first year, was lonely. I downloaded dating apps, but had a hard time connecting with people, probably because I was incredibly depressed. I was working a job that was fairly isolating, office friendships were few and far between. I had no one to celebrate my birthday with that year. I sat in my kitchen and cried, wondering why I had made the decision to leave my friends, my community behind. I cried several more times over the next few months.

Until one day I realized that if I couldn’t find community, then I was going to have to build it from the ground up. I knew I needed to be around more queer people; being queer in a red state is a task that demands solidarity. But I didn’t want to just meet queer people. I wanted to meet people who I could share interests with. And since I’m a writer and avid reader, books seemed to be the best place to start.

So, I created an account on Meetup.com and started a book club. I set us up to meet once a month to discuss books with queer characters, written by queer authors, with an emphasis on picking books written by women, people of color, and trans or gender non-conforming people. I called it Reading Queer waited for people to join me.

The first few months were slow, but eventually, I got a good little core group going. We met up to discuss books once a month and got brunch on the off weeks. Sometimes we sang karaoke. Sometimes we just hung around the local lesbian bar.

But then relationships happened, and the 2016 election made me depressed again. Next thing I knew, it had been several months since we had met, and I had lost touch with the original members of the book club.

Until one day, I got an email from a woman looking to start a book club in Nashville with similar goals. So we decided to join forces, and Reading Queer 2.0 was born.

Since then, the group has maintained a core membership, with several other members attending when they can. We meet at a local brewery one Sunday a month. Attendance can be anywhere from three to twenty people on any given Sunday. The Meetup group itself has over 700 members.

And some of those book club acquaintances have turned into real friendships. One member and I threw a joint birthday last year, my 30th. And at that party, I met a couple of her friends, who met a couple of my friends, and a mostly queer Dungeons and Dragons game was born.

From that game, I met two other people who identify as sexually fluid (one pansexual, one bisexual). So together, by reaching out to friends and friends of friends, we will be hosting our first Bi+ Brunch (Pan Pancakes? Queer Quiche?) next weekend. Currently, we’re expecting between 10 to 15 people. If it’s a success, we’ll look to make this a regular event.

So, how do you form a queer community? You ask for it. It’s going to take some time, and some planning, but soon you’ll be surrounded by queer people.

So here are some tips:

  • Form an activity group. I have found Meetup to be really helpful for this purpose; however, I have also seen a lot of queer activity groups flourish from Instagram and Facebook.
  • Make sure your group has a clear purpose. People are more likely to come if they know what exactly your group is about. Then, if you become friends, you can chill out at the bar on the weekend.
  • Meet in public initially. The internet is full of weird people. Don’t invite them to your house sight unseen.
  • Make sure you meet in a space that is safe for queer people. I drive about 30 minutes away to get to our meeting space because it’s a queer friendly neighborhood. Especially if you live in a conservative area, you want to make sure that you can chat openly without fear of being censored.
  • Choose somewhere with a moderate amount of background noise. You want to be able to hear each other, but you also want a small amount of privacy. Because my group discusses queer themes in books, I like to have the little bit of privacy that the noise of a Sunday afternoon bar provides.
  • Follow up! If you meet someone that you think you’ll really click with, get their phone number and plan to meet outside your group. You never know how your community might grow!

Remember, your goal here is to build community. If you are looking for a dating service, I would suggest that you stick to apps. But if you want to build friendships that will help nourish your sense of self, toss an idea out on social media. Chances are, others out there are also looking for community. And, after all, if you build it, they will probably come.

Now, I must run. My partner and I are having another queer couple over for dinner.

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