QUEERNESS IN QUARANTINE: HOW THE INTERNET IS SAVING LGBTQ+ FOLKS DURING COVID-19
By Gabrielle Kassell
If you had told me a decade ago that I’d shack up with my cis-dude lover during a global pandemic, I don’t know which phrase have caught me more off guard: “cis dude” or “global pandemic”.
After all, I came out at as lesbian at 16.
But a few months before the pandemic my cis-dude best friend and I decided to explore the undeniable romantic and sexual tension between us. What began as a casual exploration turned serious in a way only the apocalypse could prompt.
While we broke up a few weeks ago after a few months of living together (the culprit: mismatched long term goals), it was dating a cis man during the global pandemic that led me to find online queer communities.
Allow me to explain.
Sure, I was in that same straight-passing relationship before that bitch Rona reared her stubborn head. But queerness was a mega part of my waking life: I played on a queer rugby team, hosted a weekly The L Word viewing party, regularly hit up bars like Stonewall Inn and Cubbyhole, and was part of a bimonthly queer book club.
When social distancing orders were put into place, I lost all of those things. Suddenly, it was just me and my boy boo. I wondered, Could I ethically be a queer sex journalist when the only person I was seeing was my boyfriend? Intellectually I knew the answer was yes. But emotionally, without my queer community, I felt like an imposter.
So, I turned to the internet.
I began following hashtags like #bisexual, #LGBTQ+, and #queer on Instagram and Twitter with more fervor than ever before. I started transforming the articles I’d written on queer sex into shareable graphics for Instagram. And I began sending unashamed, I feel like our energy really jives. We should be friends! DMs to mutuals I’m now lucky enough to call friends.
Before I knew it, I had a queer cyber fam.
These days, I have a group chat with all the other bisexual Gabbys on the internet (there are a shocking number of us), am a member of Zoom Queer Bookclub, and review queer pleasure on Instagram (ICYWW: my current favorite is the Fun Factory Amor Dildo).
And I’m not alone. Many, many, many queer folks have established and solidified an online LGBTQ community during quarantine—a queerantine family, if you will. Below, learn all the beautiful ways queer folks are finding each other with the help of technology. Plus, learn 4 tips for finding your own internet queer community.
How other queer persons are using social media to socialize
Queer high-femme legend, writer, and bisexual advocate Olivia Zayas Ryan, like me, has turned to Instagram. “I started sliding into folks' DMs and letting them know when the content they were creating really resonated,” she says. According to her, a surprising amount of the sex-positive, bisexuality-advocate, and polyamorous educators she admires responded. Eventually, this kind of exchange happened with enough regularity with the same person that they became friends. (For the record: This is exactly how Ryan and I became pals!).
Instagram isn’t the only platform for making LGBTQ+ community. For instance, Gabrielle Alexa Noel, bisexual advocate, founder of shop Bi Girls Club, and author of the forthcoming book How To Live With the Internet and Not Let It Ruin Your Life, has been a big fan of Facebook Groups.
“I was looking for a Facebook group of Buffy The Vampire fans, found one, joined it, and then that group became homophobic so someone started a queer version of it… and that group is my everything.”
Noel is also a member of a few polyamorous NYC groups and a bisexual meme group. “Facebook groups are a great way to make friends within a really niche interest,” she says.
Twitter can also be an A+ avenue for making friends, or at least it was for Billy Saunders, a New York City-based gay man whose 2020 resolution was to make a gaggle of gay male friends. He put steps in place to make that happen by joining a kickball league at the beginning of the year—but then social distancing orders were put into place and the season (surprise, surprise) was cancelled.
With the free time he had now that he *wasn’t* catching and kicking balls (ahem), he downloaded Twitter. Within no time he fell into the rabbit hole that is Gay Twitter. “I leaned into the algorithm and started following all the gay men Twitter suggested after I followed any gay personality,” he says.
After realizing that there are few capital-F figures (think: Lady Gaga, Ru Paul, Real Housewives, and Miley Cyrus) who regularly made appearances in Gay Twitter’s tweets, he studied up until he was versed enough on these icons to begin responding to folks' tweets. “I ended up in conversation with folks who were talking about [these things] and who were also really involved in politics,” Saunders says. One day, he slid into someone’s DMs asking to get involved in one campaign and badabing, badaboom. Now, not only is he involved in a dope political campaign, he’s also friends with the folks who are!
“It’s felt like such a genuine way to make a group of gay friends,” he says. “We became friends due to a mutual interest in politics, democracy, and queer issues.” And they wouldn’t have even met had Saunders not dove head first into Twitter. Neat, right?
LGBTQ+ folks are using technology for more than just social media
Lesbian woman Abigail Michelson, for example, has Twitter and Instagram, but she’s found most success meeting queer friends on Her, a dating app for lesbian, bisexual, and queer people.
“In my profile I specified that I was interested in both friendship and more than friendship, which helped me find folks who just wanted to be my friend... and I also found folks who eventually became more than friends.”
While the global pandemic has made going on IRL dates tricky (if not impossible), she says, “It’s been comforting to realize that even during these odd times making queer friends and partners is possible.” Preach!
Another dating app that multiple queer folks have used to find friendship and more during quarantine is Lex. A dating app for lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, queer folks, womxn, trans, genderqueer, intersex, two-spirit, and non-binary people interested in meeting lovers and friends, Lex is text-only profiles similar to the personals in old newspapers. Ryan says, “It may be a dating app but people use it to find book club members, people to go to Black Lives Matter marches, fellow femme friends, and more.”
She also likes that you have the option to link the app back to your Instagram. “Following a bunch of people from the Lex ads on Instagram definitely helped me speed up how quickly I found queer community on Instagram.” The more you know!
Caroline Colvin, sex and relationship writer and founder of Cherry, a style, wellness and art newsletter from a non-binary Black perspective, doesn’t credit just one digital space for their URL LGBTQ+ community. “Starting an OnlyFans, connecting with LGBTQ+ sex workers through OnlyFans and Instagram, and participating in digital NSFW spaces have all been helpful,” they say. “Enveloping myself in these digital queer communities has been essential to me embracing my fluid and ever-changing identities.”
(For the record: Whether you’re strapping on a rainbow cock like the Amor Dildo, riding the oh-so-customizable Limba Flex, or exploring the pleasure-potential of your P-spot with the Duke, sextech is another fun way to explore your queerness via technology.)
Want to make your own online queer community? These tips can help
1. Engage, engage, engage
Hate to break it to you, but you can’t make friends online passively.
Ryan says, “On social media, actively posting, sharing other people's content, and regularly commenting is key.” Fail to do that and nobody will know you’re even looking at their posts, after all.
Saunders adds that on Twitter, retweeting and retweeting with a comment are e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Note: If you’re not out or don’t feel comfortable engaging with queer content on your current personal accounts, you might consider making a Finsta.
2. Be nice, not needy
Not sure how to shoot your (friendship) shot? Do it in the most gracious way possible, suggests Ryan. “A rule I have is to never slide into someone’s DMs asking for their emotional or mental labor,” she says.
With nearly 30K followers on Instagram, Noel is pretty damn popular, and she agrees this is a good practice. “It’s important to realize that when you DM someone asking for their take on X pop cultural moment or very specific advice, you’re asking them to give you their time for free.”
So trust, words of affirmation will get you everything. Anything else, probably won’t.
3. Be clear about what you want
Colvin specifically sought out cyber kinship with other BIPOC genderqueer people in the sex industry and Saunders was looking specifically for a community of gay male friends.
Now, you don’t have to be on the hunt for *just* friends or *just* lovers (as witnessed by Michelson) but knowing what kind of relationships you’re open to can help you hunt more intentionally.
4. Don’t get discouraged if your first try doesn’t work out
Noel had to join a homophobic Facebook group before finding one that was more her speed (read: queer AF). And Michelson had to download a few different dating apps before realizing Her worked best for her.
So, if the first app, group, or platform you explore isn’t a good fit, keep on exploring!
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a sex and wellness writer and pleasure-advocate who is currently training to become a certified sex educator. In addition to Fun Factory, her work has appeared in publications such as Cosmopolitan, SELF, Well & Good, Health, Shape, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more. In her free time, Gabrielle can be found reading romance novels, bench-pressing, sexting, or yep, reviewing pleasure products. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @gabriellekassel.