Monday, May 28, 2012

Feeling Welcome Within The Community

The smallness and sometimes insular feeling of my community here in Portland makes it difficult for new people to join in. A friend of mine attended the QDoc film festival a couple weeks ago and had an experience that I wouldn't have expected. But, I come from a place of already knowing a lot of people in the Portland community so, after thinking about it I came to realize that I would have had a much different experience.

The experience she had was of one standing on the outside looking in. Making steps to get inside, introducing herself and talking to others, but not breaking through the insular barrier that seems to surround our community. With her permission, I would like to share the experience in her words.

Last night at the QDoc film festival I realized how much I am outside looking in. All the other lesbians I observed seemed to fit into these stereotypical little buckets and cliques. And they were all so territorial and aloof. I felt weighed and judged in those up-and-down-once-over-looks we got from all sides. What is it with lesbians and their territorial-ism? [We] didn't know anyone there. And NO ONE except the festival director was nice enough to speak to us. At the party afterward, the same thing happened. (We were very 'open' in our stances and body language). I even introduced myself to several people, but we still ended up not speaking more than a few words to anyone. The community is so insular. It was a surprise since both of us were really interested in meeting some new people.

I understand that some of this would fade if we appeared at more events and the 'tribe' could become more comfortable with us. But I am not interested in being rubber stamped and labeled and dropped in the right gay box. That's what it has felt like at every event I have gone to too. What is the answer? You are more in touch with the gay community. Am I way off base?

Sigh-I'm not trying to be uber-negative. I guess I just had hoped for more of a feeling of belonging to a community last night and instead I felt more isolated than ever. It was almost like visiting another country where I don't know the language and the people don't really want visitors.”

When I look at this from the perspective of the “human tribe”, I see the same thing happening. But that's on a much grander scale. We, as humans, tend to run with our own packs and clicks. It's happened since the dawn of time. When we do this, though, we miss out on other amazing and interesting people in the world around us.

I get that it could be considered a safety issue for some and that others may not be comfortable with reaching out to “strangers”. I am shy in social situations, myself. Getting the courage up to talk with someone outside of my “tribe” requires a lot of energy and a tremendous sense of self confidence. In all honesty, who likes rejection? Stepping outside of our realm of safety and acceptance is frightening, to say the least, and the possibility of rejection is very apparent.

Remembering my own voyage into the Portland GLBT community, I really didn't know where I fit in to any of it. I wasn't into the party scene, I was a Mom and I worked a lot and attended college so my first introduction to the community was via the internet. It was a way for me to look into the community and learn a bit about it before physically stepping into it.

The night I stepped into the community.
After months of communicating and interacting with others online, I finally worked up the courage to venture out to an open mic night at a local coffee shop. It was the perfect scene for me because it was a small group in an intimate setting complete with art. I remember being fairly quiet for a bit before introducing myself to a few people around me. I don't remember much about the conversations that night or if there were many but I do remember being included in a photograph towards the end of the night. That simple act made me feel welcome.

I wish I could say that I've been aware of this ever since and have made it a point to introduce myself to people I haven't seen in the community before but, in all honesty, I haven't. I want to change that from this moment on, though, and ask for others in not only this community but in communities all over the world to do the same.

At your next event, look around and find the couple standing off by themselves or the person on the outskirts of the crowd who looks to be new, walk over to them and introduce yourself. Introduce them to others in your group. Do what you can to make them feel welcome. It only takes a moment or so and it just might make a huge difference not only to them but to you and your friends, as well.


  1. As someone trying to break into the Portland community, I want to thank you for posting this.

  2. this said cliquishness and territorial-ism seems to be everywhere in some form or another...i've been in denver for almost four years and i still have yet to find a strong "posse" if you will. I recently started volunteering at my local GLBT center and even there the majority of lesbians that i have met tend to ignore me...but i do not let that deter me from a good time and am convinced that i can find a solid group of peeps if i work at getting out of MY comfort zone and just keep at stubborn that way haha

    1. That's the best way to do it. Good things can happen when you step out of your comfort zone!

  3. Loved the two perspectives presented here- alot to think about.
    Thank you for posting this! :)