In the beginning of June I did a week long press trip to Israel. I was there together with a big group of gay journalists from all over the world. We were at the Pride parade, visited a youth LGBTQIA center, went to a water park and many other things. For the first time in a long time, I felt belonging, something I'd been missing for so long.
As a minority, we need community. It doesn't matter which minority you belong to, it's always going to be true. It’s the same principle as with representation. I'm constantly looking for gay characters in the popular culture I consume (but let’s save that subject for another blog post). And I'm missing community where I live now. So I think back on my week in Israel, together with 15-or-so gay guys. I can’t say I’ve ever been in such a large group of gays before. A completely new setting for me. And what I felt was a sense of community with shared experiences and emotions.
In our last dinner together, we talked a lot about gay rights, such as adoption, marriage and other things. Suddenly I got the question ”What is the gay scene like in Sweden?” and I was at a loss for words. I stumbled and didn’t say much, because there frankly isn’t much to say. Thank heavens the subject changed and we moved on to something else. But this tiny exchange stuck with me. And it relates to so many things I’ve thought about for years now. The sum of it is that being gay in Sweden is boring! I have almost no gay friends here. How do you even meet them when there are no venues for gays to hang out? Sure, there might be a night club in Malmö, a couple of bars in Stockholm and so on. But those are for meeting random people and ultimately having sex. They're not about meeting new friends. Same thing goes for Grindr. It's a huge struggle finding friends on an app where everyone else is looking for sex. Although I've actually found most of my gay friends on Grindr, it's not the ideal place to go.
Finding new friends in general is no easy task. It might come down to the fact that most Swedes are quite happy and content with what they’ve got. Most people don’t seem to want or need any new friends. A recent study actually confirmed it gets increasingly difficult to make and maintain new friendships after the age of 25. I'm not surprised. To you who feel content and happy with what you've got, I congratulate you. You’ve won in the game we call life. I’ve never felt like a winner in that sense. Sure, I have my gay friends in Stockholm that I meet up with when I have the chance, and I love them very much. But out of the people I hang out with on a regular basis nowadays, how many are gay? Far too few.
Why is it important that I have more gay friends? you might ask. Well, connection is very important. We connect differently with different people, based on our needs and experiences. And for you to connect to someone, you should feel understood. We all want to belong and relate to each other, that's normal. But there is one thing that I'm pretty sure straight people will never be able to understand – the act of coming out. And that's one of the reasons why I continue to look for more gay friends.
I came out when I was a teenager, around 15-16 years old. It was a tough and life changing experience that I’ll never forget. I won’t go into details right now, but everything went fine. I’m privileged to live in Sweden, where gays are widely accepted. Our rights are pretty great too. But it does take a lot of courage to come out. And even though I’ve been out for 15 years (half of my life), I still have to come out every time I meet a new person. When I talk about my husband to a new person, I have to come out. Every time someone asks me about my love life. And every time I do it, my heart skips a beat. Every single time. Straight people have never felt that, nor will they ever have to. They will never understand that intense feeling of utter dread, even if it might only last for the duration of a heartbeat. And I'm happy for them, because no one should ever have to feel that. But this fact creates a kind of division, and the connection between us is partly lost.
I don’t mean to say I don’t like my straight friends. I love them and I consider many of them family. But the gay component is missing sometimes. And it’s something that can not be replaced.
Many of the gays I meet also crave more gay friendships. Most of them mainly have straight friends, and the gay people they have met have either been one night stands or relationships. And then they don’t meet them again. So what do we do to meet friends within the gay community? Especially when we're in a city or country that doesn't have millions and millions of people. I am asking these questions because I don't have the answer.
And bear with me please. I'm not finished. This blog post has taken me months to write, and I'm still thinking about it every day. I'll be writing follow-ups to this with more thoughts, so hold tight and join me on the quest for community.
Recommended viewing: Nanette, a stand-up special from Hannah Gadsby, available on Netflix.