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How are you, dear reader?

Here's something to celebrate: Pride Month! For the past few decades, June has been used to commemorate the Stonewall riots in June 1969 and celebrate the progress made by and for LGBT people. (Find events in your town here!)

In the ✨ survey ✨ for Sown (which you can still fill out!), one of you lovely people asked for more insights on making friends in adulthood from the queer perspective. Ask and you shall receive! 

This spring, Tobin Low and Kathy Tu, hosts of WNYC's Nancy show, launched a project to help their listeners find their gaggle, or their chosen family of queer friends. "It’s important to have representation in the media, to see your identity in the media, but I also think it’s important to have different representation in your own life," Kathy told me. "If you don’t see those people in your own life that you can relate to, you might always see yourself as the 'other' person and that’s never great."

The lessons they learned in helping their listeners (and doing the project themselves, too) are incredible for LGBT folk, but also for allies and making friends in general. This Q&A is a little bit of a read, but it's definitely worth it. If you want it in audio form instead — go listen to the Nancy podcast that started the Gaggle project in the first place!

Your friend,

Christine

P.S. There's been a lot of hubbub this week that might have you (or someone you care about) feeling lonelier than usual. Here are some tips from Seize the Awkward about bringing up mental health with a friend or loved one. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is helpful to keep in mind in emergencies, but remember it's never too early (or late) to ask for help! ❤️ 

Note: Our chat has been edited + condensed for clarity.

Christine: Why did you decide to start the Gaggle project? What need did you see for it? 

Tobin: There’s this expectation, especially if you grew up with a certain generation of television like Will and Grace or Queer as Folk, that when you grow up as a queer person you’re going to have this tight posse of friends. I was seeing a lot of people in my circle talking about 'Where is that group? I don’t have that group — did I fail in some way? Did I miss the boat on it?'

So we started talking about this idea of having a queer gaggle of friends. Then I met a guy, Joe, who pitched me on this idea that he also never had this group of friends and he wanted to find them. So that’s how we developed the project by first helping Joe to find friends and then looking at the toolbox we built for him and realizing other people want this and it totally blew up from there.  

Kathy: We also direct our listeners to go to queer spaces and reach out to queer folk and be intentional about surrounding yourself with queer people whether you know them or not. That might be the difference in making any other friend as an adult. Making friends in adulthood is hard in general. With this project we were intentional about saying, 'you’re going to reach out to specifically queer people because that’s the group you’re trying to build.'
Christine: So in addition to talking about this on your podcast, you also had a month-long series of challenges via newsletters (3,000+ subscribers) and a Facebook Group (2,000+ members). Why did you approach it that way?

Tobin: So much of the language that we have about talking to and about each other is geared toward dating and hookup culture. You can be really open about what you want out of a hookup or out of a dating situation. There are apps built for that! What we built our tools around was being able to say a vulnerable thing of 'I want more friends.' The Facebook Group specifically was great for that — everyone by joining is saying that.

Christine: What were you expecting when you started it, and how did it end up? It seems as if the spirit of the project is going to continue, even though the month of challenges has ended.

Kathy: I don’t think I expected this many people to participate. There’s not one person that I know of that listens to the show who says 'I don’t need anymore queer friends, I’m good.' It’s turned into people being online friends with each other. We have a bunch of subgroups based on location and demographics and interest. There’s a gaming gaggle, a book lovers gaggle. And we didn’t start any of those, those were on their own. 

Christine: What do you think the project has taught you about making queer friends in adulthood?

Kathy: Sometimes I am afraid to approach people who seem like they know more about queerness than I do. That makes it hard. Before this project, it felt easier to befriend somebody that maybe was just coming out. I felt like I had the knowledge to help them. It’s harder to be in a position of thinking that someone knows more than you do. But there’s no criteria for how much you need to know to be a queer person, and I think that project helped me realize that.

Tobin: For a lot of the queer people highlighted in the media, there's an emphasis on being fabulous and being confident and knowing exactly what you’re doing and who you are — which is so important and we should be talking about — but sometimes that doesn’t leave room for being vulnerable and saying 'I need connection' and to find people that feel the way that I do. I think that one thing I‘ve learned from this project is that there’s a lot more people than I realized who feel like they’re are still figuring it out and want to be in touch with other people who are also figuring it out to be able to be vulnerable with them.

Christine: Can you walk me through how you approached the project, both with setting up the challenges and carrying them out yourself?

Tobin: We wanted each step to progress in difficulty and also in building somebody’s confidence, all in the name of getting to this last step of actually having an IRL meetup. The early challenges were low level, maybe pulling on resources you already had. It was like tweeting at another queer person you’ve always admired or would love to be friends with and engaging them, or reaching out to a sort of friend you’d like to be better friends with. Week 2 was going on a friend date. There were easy wins at the beginning. Then they progressed to going to a queer space and trying to make small talk and then following up, then that progressed to actually organizing and and being the instigator for making a hangout happen. 

To speak to my own experience, the one I loved the most was Week 1. I had a gaggle in town, and then basically everyone moved away. I still keep in touch with all those people but we were a little bit disparate. I used Week 1 to start up a group chat again. It was amazing to me how much it immediately caught on fire again. Immediately I had 20 texts in my phone, and that was nice reminder of 'oh yeah, I just have to actually reach out.' These relationships are sometimes right there.
Kathy: I tried to do the challenges as they were coming along. In Week 1 I felt a lot of anxiety about reaching out to a lot of people I had not talked to in a while. Week 2 I attempted to do a friend date, but a lot of it is being adults and not being able to schedule something. I ended up with somebody to see their musical improv show. So that wasn’t really a friend date but I felt like I still checked something off the list because I made myself go.

Then I went to Queer Soup Night which was another step in anxiety because I didn’t know anybody there. Basically I sidled up to this couple and was like 'I’m just going to stand next to you, because I don’t know anybody here,' and that seemed to work out. That’s where I met this expert gaggle, so by Week 4 I didn’t have to put together my own group of people. I did start a list of people, but I didn’t end up contacting them. I went to the expert gaggle's brunch which was a lot of fun. In the end a lot of anxiety but worth it. Definitely worth it.

Christine: Apologies for the ignorance, but what other people might not understand about making friends from the queer perspective? Why is it important to have this gaggle?

Tobin: It’s important because if you have a certain experience, that circle of friends who also has that experience is such an important base. It’s a shorthand where you don’t have to start from explaining your identity. There’s an understood lingo between you of what the lived experience of a queer person is. Even if it’s not the same, there’s an understanding about being outside the 'norm.' That’s why it’s so important to find those groups, and a lot of people find really important relationships in those groups. What we heard from a lot of people about the making of queer friends specifically is no one has figured out the 'should we be dating or should we be friends,’ or ‘do we hookup and then be friends'. That mess is part of it. If someone has it figured out, please tell me!

Christine: What would you challenge people to do, potentially in the queer space, potentially not but as allies? How do you think people could best integrate what you've learned with the Gaggle project into their own lives?

Tobin: Creating the event or the space that you don’t see has been a pretty successful thing for us and for the listeners. People will sometimes say 'I can’t find anyone to hang out because there’s no one interested in this very specific xyz so I never see events for this'. It’s like, cool, that’s probably true, but you could also be the person to create that space. Part of that has been seeing the subgroups and the Facebook Groups of people creating specific groups for their interests and hanging out out of that.

Kathy: I don’t know if this is actionable, but somebody at the expert gaggle said 50 percent of it is you saying yes to doing something when somebody asks you and 50 percent of you asking other people to do something. You gotta do both, you can’t just wait around.

Christine: Is there anything else you wanted to say?

Kathy: It’s important to make queer friends but maybe you’re at the point where you moved to a new place and you just need friends. I wouldn’t limit yourself to the type of friend you’re looking for if you feel like you just need to make friends. I don’t think there’s a number of queer friends you have to have to make yourself a good queer person.

Tobin: For the introverts out there, you don’t have to confuse trying to make friends with changing yourself to be an extrovert. I think there’s a confusion there that 'to make friends I have to change my personality and be really outgoing and that’s the same thing as trying to make friends.' It isn’t true. You can find ways to make friends as an introvert, as you are.

Go sow: Challenge for the week. 

"Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, and moribund." — Anthony Bourdain

Try starting with Tobin and Kathy's set of challenges for creating your own space:

Week 1: Reach out to someone.
Week 2: Go on a friend date.
Week 3: Attend an event that's grounded in a shared experience. 
(maybe the queer experience!)
Week 4: Be the instigator — host or organize an outing.


What space do you need — and how can you create it? How can you be an ally for those creating the spaces that they need?
Write back and let me know how it goes! And add these to your friendship toolkit:
  • "Last year, Jane Church hit a major life milestone. For more than a year, the 31-year-old Toronto-based consultant had been building out her own company, a nonprofit natural resources consultancy called NetPositive, when word came in that the organization won a grant she had applied for, and they could afford to hire interns. It was, she said, 'a real accomplishment that was going to move me forward toward my goals,' and the most significant achievement of her year. Everything about it made her feel like an adult. Oh, and she also got engaged": The shifting milestones of adulthood.
  • "Running for office can feel really lonely sometimes": How friendship and a group chat helped these three candidates win their primaries
  • "In her very first lecture, Santos emphasizes to her class that she wants to teach them not just the science of happiness but the practice of happiness. And happiness, it turns out, does take practice. But first you have to learn what exactly happiness is": The most popular course at Yale teaches how to be happy. We took it for you.
  • Take the final exam yourself here!
  • "Having a digital sanctuary has made me more energized and willing to fight for what I believe in. My community of like-minded souls doesn’t feel like a 'bubble' so much as a source of strength. Because every now and then, I need reminding that I’m not in this alone. To me, that’s the very definition of friendship, whether we’ve met in real life or not": If online dating is no longer taboo, why is online friendship?
  • Learn all about the history of the handshake, for the next awkward time you try to shake someone's hand when you meet them and miss (true story, it happened to me when I met one of my bosses!). Bring up one of these fun facts instead.
  • Happy National Best Friends Day! (Okay, belated.) Glamour and the Today show interviewed a panel of besties to talk about their experiences of friendship and how they make it work — across time and space.

Grow the Sow.

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