Starting Over in Suburbia: Building a New LGBTQ+ Community

Several people of different ages and ethnicities sit in small group and pairs, talking wth interestThe temperature is well below freezing. I sit at my desk listening to my beagles, Silas and Tatum, snore at my feet and look out the window, watching the city plows roll down the street as they push aside unfathomable amounts of snow. “How did I get here again?” I wonder.

Actually, I know exactly how I got here. I moved. Again. I chose to trek across the country with my husband to support his career.  I chose to uproot what I knew as normal to go on another adventure. I don’t regret it. In fact, after three moves in eight years, I should be a pro by now. But at times, I still feel like a beginner.

As the newness sets in, I’m left feeling alone. My support system is virtually virtual. My family is across the country, and my career is once again at a starting point. So my real question to myself is, how do I face this change with hope and action?

When I was younger, making friends and creating a social support system was easy. Through the multiple environments of college, church and sports, I had a relaxed, natural, and unintentional experience of ending up with a group of people I called friends. Even as I came out, I didn’t have any trouble creating and maintaining friendships. I was a young gay man in a metropolitan city—friends were plentiful and out in the open.

Now, I’ve reached middle age and live in a suburb that doesn’t have an obvious LGBTQ+ community. Logistically, this wasn’t our first choice, but it was the logical one for my husband’s job.  I haven’t seen a rainbow flag or equality sticker on a car outside the city in several months. Our neighbors are all friendly enough, though we are the token gay couple in a sea of upwardly mobile families focusing on Cub Scouts, their children’s school activities, and upcoming visits from adult children and relatives.

So what do I do?

What does any LGBTQ+ person do in this situation? If you find yourself, like me, living in a city without an identifiable LGBTQ+ population, you may feel alone. Adrift. If you, like me, are not one to settle and become “besties” simply due to orientation, you may struggle with building connections and making friends, even if you never experienced difficulty in that area before.

The following have been beneficial to me in past relocations and are helpful again now. If you, too, are experiencing the challenges that accompany a move to a new community, these steps may also help you.

  • Join a Meetup group. This app, available on smartphones, can help people find others who have similar interests and participate in similar activities. It may take a while, but eventually you may be able to form a new friend group.
  • Volunteer. By volunteering, you can give back to the community and also find potential friends and/or intimate partners who also care about helping others.
  • Visit affirming churches, if you have spiritual interests. Doing so can help you create connections in a space that allows for both spiritual and social bonding.
  • Search online for LGBTQ+ organizations in your area. Facebook and other social media apps may help here.

In the process of restarting a practice, I have intentionally made the decision to take the train and commute into the city, hoping to create professional and social connections in a place where other members of the LGBTQ+ community may be more prevalent. This professional piece—networking, setting up my office space, building up a clientele, developing a credible reputation— I am more familiar with. I try to focus on these same skill sets as I work on my developing my social life, but the vulnerability here is far greater (If a similar vulnerability threatens to overwhelm you, making it difficult to begin the process of reaching out, consider speaking to a qualified therapist).

It is happening for my husband and me, albeit slowly: Last Sunday, we met a new gay couple for lunch and watched a football game together. They brought along one of their friends. We are meeting people and finding friends in the suburbs, and I am hopeful. But I am backing up this hope with intention and action.

It may be a slower process than I wish for, but I am grateful that it has begun. I intend to keep putting my plans in action, until it isn’t a new city any longer, until we are members of the community and not just “the new gay guys in town.”

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jimmy G. Owen, LCPC, CDWF, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Nunes

    January 3rd, 2017 at 8:11 AM

    That is pretty awesome that you have chosen to up root your own life so many times to make those moves for your husband. That has to be a strong marriage. I hope that you can again find your place soon.

  • Johnny G

    January 3rd, 2017 at 2:13 PM

    I found it to be even harder as an older gay male to make new friends in a new city. I have a wonderful opportunity to further my education & career if I relocate to Washington, DC but I find myself resisting when I know I should not pass up on this incredible new journey. I have found that I tend to isolate more as I have matured.

  • Jim S

    January 4th, 2017 at 6:33 AM

    I especially appreciate the way you touched on the reality of decreasing invitations/opportunities to socialize and be included once you’ve attained middle age as compared with our earlier years. Particularly after age 50, I think one must be willing to work through the vulnerability and discomfort of joining new social groups and making contacts. Your article is a really good read.

  • Angel V

    January 4th, 2017 at 8:33 AM

    These are awesome tips, Jimmy! About a year ago, I relocated to Michigan from Texas and it was a huge change. Initially, I wanted to cling to any gay person I met until a series of experiences proved to me that I, like you, cannot settle for orientation being the only motivation for entrusting an individual with my friendship. Glad to hear that you are intent on thriving in your Chicago suburb :)

  • randy t

    January 4th, 2017 at 9:17 AM

    For anyone who moves it can be a challenge to make new friends, especially when you are just along for the ride and not necessarily there because of a move you are making for yourself.
    It can be hard to get involved when you don’t really know anyone and it feels like there are not those opportunities for involvement that you may already be accustomed to.

  • Jim P

    January 4th, 2017 at 11:42 AM

    Thanks for writing this blog… thanks also for the tips and the “kick in the pants” … just what I needed to get started building my network. Helpful and well written.

  • J R M

    January 4th, 2017 at 12:29 PM

    Thanks for sharing your experience, strength and hope. Best wishes.

  • John D.

    January 4th, 2017 at 3:31 PM

    Thank you for the great reminder about the power of putting one’s self out there!

  • Brooks J.

    January 5th, 2017 at 7:45 AM

    Yeah, reconnecting sucks. On the reverse side, though, I’ve found that if I don’t put any effort into it, it quickly gets worse. Thanks very much for sharing your thoughts.

  • Ed

    January 5th, 2017 at 9:55 AM

    Good article. I’m slightly past middle age and don’t know if I could do what you did. But, if the necessity arose, I like the suggestions and knowing that others have done it and are surviving.

  • CIJI

    January 6th, 2017 at 12:44 PM

    These are good thoughts for any couple who has to uproot their families and make a move for any reason. It can be a challenge for any of us when we have our routines and our friends and the tendency is going to be to be complacent with that and not to want to change. But sometimes life dictates that we have to change and so we do what is right for us financially and for our families. Some moves are always going to be easier than others but if you give it a chance and give yourself some time to get accustomed to your new surroundings then you might find that you actually enjoy your new place in life.

  • sonia

    January 7th, 2017 at 11:40 AM

    We moved from a large city to a smaller more rural area/ talk about a huge culture shock for us all!

  • Albert B

    January 9th, 2017 at 4:42 AM

    I know that things have to feel overwhelming right now but trust me in that if you give things a little more time generally they will always get better. It might just be a matter of getting out and meeting some new people, and they might not at first feel like they are those with whom you will have anything in common but I think that if you can keep an open mind then you will probably find that they can help you through this transition. Nothing is veer going to be ideal from the very beginning and as I am sure you are well aware, sometimes a lot of our lives is all about what we make them to be.

  • linc

    January 10th, 2017 at 11:22 AM

    So do you have to resolve to be the stimulus of building that new community?

  • jon F

    January 10th, 2017 at 6:13 PM

    I miss you and Jim more than you will ever know. When I drive by the house you once lived, hosted game nights, friends’ birthday parties, So You Think You Can Dance watch parties, etc., I am saddened, because I miss your friendship and knowing you are right next door. I know you have done what you needed to do as a “family”, and for me life changes have always been hard. So, enjoy the snow, the snoring dogs, sharing a new home with Jim and making new friends. Just remember, you always have a home back here in Dallas where you have been surrounded by a community for many years that embraces you for who/what you are and for what you have done for many through your practice and friendship.

  • Patrick F

    January 11th, 2017 at 1:24 PM

    I’ve always valued and appreciated your candid authenticity. Your willingness to share your own struggles and solutions go far in helping others overcome feelings they may have of being isolated or alone in their situation. Thank you!

  • J.V.B.

    January 15th, 2017 at 8:00 PM

    As someone whose closest, lifelong friends have for decades lived hundreds (even thousands) of miles away from me, I read with great interest about your strategies for integrating within your current community. Your initiatives make perfect sense. I would simply add: don’t hesitate to reach to those people in your life who, though distant, have sustained and enriched you. (That’s why we have airplanes! :) )

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