I often sense, and notice, a lot of awkwardness when we organise LGBTQ+ social events. A typical scene would be the mature crowd in cliques, the expats feeling left out, newbies come and leave immediately as they cannot handle the anxiety of a crowd or saying ‘hi’ to the guy they probably chat with everyday on Facebook.
We become a very different animal in real life compared to how we interact online. I feel sad, especially for the young ones, who find it so easy to be digitally present, but physically and emotionally absent. Frankly, I’ve had it up to my neck hearing some people within the LGBTQ+ community complaining that there is a lack of gay spaces and events on the island and how hard it is to make friendships when in reality it's their reluctance to showing up.
The good news is that mingling is a skill and therefore it can be learnt. I give credit to my involvement in numerous conferences abroad over the years, both work and voluntary related, where I would find myself to be the only one from Malta, and rather than hiding in my hotel room, I made the effort to throw myself in the crowd. Nowadays I feel less stressed with meeting new people and handling conversations.
And yes, I am primarily an introvert and it’s no excuse to find it difficult to make friends. Remember, it takes practice and gets better with time.
Anyways, here are my 4 major tips to make yourself a social butterfly in a queer environment
1) Time to work on your internalized homophobia
It may come as a shocker that even though you are a proud gay man who never misses a pride march, you still look down upon other queers who are not your type. You hate femmes, Asians and blacks and only go for the muscled straight acting type hence making fun of anyone else who may come across as flamboyant or simply different. You may be a femme who hisses at other femmes because they don’t do their contouring right or their style is different than yours.
We all have had to deal with our own shame during the growing up and coming out process, and it’s only natural that we become somewhat put off by others who do not fit our experiences of queerness.
This is your first and major obstacle you need to work on. If you want to start socializing and reduce your own self imposed anxiety to say ‘hi’ to others, become aware that some level of homophobia or transphobia is present within you and that it is ok, as long as you are working towards reducing it.
Book Tip: May I recommend you to read the book ‘The Velvet Rage’ by Alan Downs which helps you to understand a lot more yourself and the suffering that your peers go through
2) Work on your judgement and resting bitch face
Linked somewhat to the above but applies universally, it is natural that you tend to judge others based on their appearance and behavior. Most people are very skilled at judging others before getting to know them or based on what you have heard from others (word travels fast in the LGBTQ+ community) and believe it or not, that judgemental attitude will transpire through your whole body language.
Unconsciously you have created another obstacle towards making socializing any easier . Most people, with at least an average level of emotional intelligence, can sense energies, and if your energy is a ‘judgey’ one, it will be very hard for you to strike up a conversation as you will be emotionally blocked.
My tip for you on this is to work on positive self talk and say to yourself “everyone is a beautiful human being, everyone is worthy of love”. Use this as your mantra. This will automatically change your mindset and your attitude / behavior will change for the better. Say this to yourself especially when you’re in the crowd and anxiety is kicking in.
Your eyes will light up and your smile will send out warm and positive vibes that will make you a talking magnet.
Book Tip: If you want to work on this skill and much more, I suggest the book: ‘How to talk to anyone’ by Leil Lowndes.
3) Working the room
You’re at an event filled with LGBTQ+ people; you plucked up the courage to come all alone, as your friends had made other plans and couldn’t join you. Your heart is racing with anxiety and you said to yourself ‘one drink and I'll be gone’. By now your head is probably already buried on your mobile phone avoiding any sort of eye contact or connection.
Unfortunately that sort of thinking has already sabotaged your efforts to socialise as your mind is working on your body to close in upon yourself making it hard for anyone to approach you. So it all depends upon your own efforts to either make the evening a pleasant one or a premature departure.
My tip for you at this point is to bury that mobile in your pocket, have a drink in hand and keep your head held high as you say to yourself the mantra “everyone is a beautiful human being, everyone is worthy of love“. You will start to feel your body relaxing and open up.
If you’re the type of person, like me, who adds random gay people on their Facebook, not necessarily because you know them but just because they’re gay, and happen to see them at the event, it is probably that your eyes will meet and well maybe it’s about time to start a real life conversation with that person. So what do you do?
Approach the person smiling (keeping your thoughts positive) and introduce yourself by saying “hi, aren’t we friends on Facebook/instagram? You’re Matthew right?” And they will probably give a shy smile and confirm who they are. Quickly try to think on something interesting they posted recently on their wall and bring that up on the conversation table, such as “you’ve been abroad recently haven’t you? How was it?” Make sure to ask open ended questions so that the conversation is flowing.
Feel free to pry some questions about what they do in life, empathise with them and reciprocate by being an open book yourself without revealing too much about your personal life that could compromise you or divisive topics like politics, religion or veganism.
If you never met the person online before but your eyes glimpsed each other and gave half a smile, it should be an indicator enough that that person is open for conversation. Introduce yourself and ask them what brought them to the event. A question which I enjoy asking to people I don’t know is “so what’s your story?” And although they might be thrown aback at first to answer such a big question, it allows the person to reply in any way they want. Make sure to actually listen what they are saying and not stress about what you’re going to ask them next.
In the scenario that you’re alone and everyone else is talking in groups, I find that what works best is to slowly stay within close proximity to the group and listen to what they are saying, occasions smiling or responding appropriately with facial expressions. In a few minutes the group will see you engaged and ask you to join their circle and introduce themselves and voila!
Note however the collective body language of that group. Is the circle too tight to not allow anyone else to join or are their bodies leaving enough space for new persons to join in?
4) Our sexuality is a driving force but it doesn’t mean that every person we speak to results in a sexual encounter
One major thing which blocks people from initiating a conversation is the expectation that by talking to another person of the same sexual orientation would eventually mean that I want to date the person or even engage intimately with them thus creating unnecessary social anxiety and expectations of what could be the aftermath.
We need to eliminate this expectation of us that 2 gay guys talking and getting to know each other does not necessarily have to lead to anything sexual. If at all, our expectation first and foremost is to network because god knows what we might need from each other at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a job move, advice, collaboration, etc.
We all need each other!