Is it True Love or Queer Friendship – or both?

How many queer folk do you know who once dated and are now best friends? Personally, most of my most treasured friendships have resulted from a drunk kiss in the smoking area of a gay bar, or a Hinge swipe, or meeting in Cambodia and finding out we grew up around the corner from each other (I know, soul mates or what!?). The level of intimacy and closeness established between wlw relationships is incomparable. It is no surprise then, how easily this is converted into friendship, which can often be truly magical, but inevitably, tricky. 

In the LGBTQIA+ community, dating friends, connections involving and unconventional dating is common. Perhaps one of the most enjoyable parts of belonging to this colourful, vibrant, ever-changing community is the sheer freedom. Freedom to date, kiss, be who you want. With gender identity and expression becoming something that is openly spoken about within our community, the wider world is taking note. Championing non-binary and trans identities, living outside of the gender binary, displaying pronouns, discussing the presentation of the word woman and its loaded meanings are all prevalent conversations happening across our community and it is wonderful to see the freedom of expression in recent years. Our community seems more fluid than ever. 

Many have found a home within the reclamation of ‘Queer’. Thankfully, the umbrella term has coincided with progressions in our liberties and rights. Identifying as queer can also allow the freedom to not have to assign a specific, limiting label. That said, language is powerful for LGBTQIA+ people. It always has been, and it’s always changing. The language around our relationships is constantly changing too. Many within the queer community have taken to using the word “friend” or “enbyfriend” over the binary “girlfriend/boyfriend” or the very grown-up “partner”. Relationships have been called everything from seeing each other, to fuck buddies, to being in love. So, in the current wlw dating world, is there any place for labels? Is calling everyone your friend okay? And more importantly, is dating your friend, okay too?

Unconventional ways of experiencing love are common in the LGBTQIA+ community. Our community is often described as one big family, and we stand in for absent roles in one another’s lives; mothers, fathers, siblings, partners. Societal conventions are often abandoned, in favour of finding our own  new, sparkly ways of doing things. Ripping up the cis-het rulebook and writing our own. As the very nature of queer existence, queer love and queer joy has had to be based around fighting, standing up and coming out, we are sadly used to struggle. We are different. Queer people know that we are different from the offset.

Difference is wonderful. Though, it can be scary. Especially, when growing up up queer in a heterosexual world. Kind of like growing up as a woman in a patriarchal world, or genderqueer in a binary world. Embracing difference can allow for autonomy when paving the way in dating and relationships. When first finding feet in the dating world and learning about relationships, sex, love and communication, the space to be different allows queer people to try, adapt and change. It allows for elements of traditional relationships to be kept, whilst other outdated patriarchal or binary norms to be thrown away and replaced by whatever feels more authentic. 

This is a very glowing account of queer love. However, queer wlw dating is not all sunshine, rainbows, fanny flutters and fingering. The agonising first move can sometimes take 6 months. The hints, signals and coyness, can be difficult to pick up on and the subtlety can feel agonising. Adding into the mix, the nuance of neurodivergence, which means that intimacy signals can be harder to read, boundaries more commonly misunderstood and then you’ve landed yourself into perpetual “what are we?”-ness.

Often, the easiest way to allow the relationship to develop authentically into what it is meant to be, is to stop worrying about labels, what it is or what it means so much, and enjoy it. Love, lust or whatever you like to call it (I think the baby queers are calling it “seeing each other” now?) is beautiful. Honest, open communication of your needs, desires, boundaries and expectations of the connection is key. And apart from that, enjoy it.

For me personally, many of my friendships have taken many amalgamations from dating, to flirting, to sleeping together, to platonic friendship, to something in-between. Many of my closest platonic friendships today started as connections that I was positively sure were going to turn into love.

It’s common, you meet travelling, or at work, and you just get on so well. There’s a definite vibe and then you do the “are you” chat (after dropping an agonising amount of hints, side glances, playing MUNA intentionally on your phone and sending queer memes- so by the chat I mean one if you almost-screams “so, are you queer” in order to cut the sexual tension with a knife). You date for a bit. And knowing wlw relationships, it’s very cute, very wholesome. Picnics are involved, so is sunshine, so is rainbows and flowers and glitter and inevitably sharing clothes. It’s beautiful. Then, it doesn’t work out. 

I recently watched Kathy Burnes All Woman documentary. There is an element of one episode which features an anthropologist who debunks a lot of myths about womanhood and love. She expresses how love at first sight isn’t a thing, how love is basically survival and most remarkably she notes how we can live without romantic love and parental love, but the one love we categorically cannot live without is friendship love. Upon introspection on this for my own life and my journey with polyamory, I can fully agree with this notion. There have been many times when I’ve realised just how much I love someone I first meet, I decide to be friends. It’s a safer option if I fully want someone in my life. A difficult one, that often leads to drunken sex (also very fine and fun!) But the friendship continues.

It’s not the way everyone can live and of course factors like jealousy, or attachment are barriers to exploring relationships in this way for some. However, I found through becoming comfortable in my own self, devoid of labels or expectations that stifled me, I could begin to feel comfortable with how I dated and related to other queer people with whom I was exploring connections with. I was someone who was always allll about the labels for visibility, but I found some, especially around relationships, could complicate rather than simplify things for me. I can now embrace complexities, confusions but magic of being a queer woman in the contemporary dating scene.

Finding my own place within our LGBTQIA+ family came when I launched SISTERHOOD in 2020. Before then, I always felt not lesbian enough, then not queer enough, then not butch enough. Feeling part of the queer communitywas a real savior for me for surviving 2020, as it allowed me to lead with purpose, creating a safe space that showcases and uplifts all LGBTQIA+ femme voices. In doing so, this uplifted me. This would not have been possible without queer community, queer friendship, queer love, and queer joy: the aspects of the queer experience less spoken of, written about, or portrayed on screen. I managed to rest on the wall of queer women friendships to give me the love and confidence boost needed to survive lockdown. As queer people, there are definite external expectations and labels that are placed upon us and once I found what I could bring to the community in the form of SISTERHOOD, it no longer mattered whether I felt welcomed or expected externally. Feeling welcome internally also leads to healthier connections, relationships and friendships, without the need to be wanted or validated.

Connections that I agonised over in the past, (often with people whose sexualities permitted that they would never, ever, fancy me back) only ended up in pain and hurt, because of my lack to communicate my feelings and perceive theirs. Nobody ever likes their feelings being hurt so I think open conversations early on about love languages, dating styles, polyamory/monogamy and other future plans. For instance, I travel a lot and have sometimes forgot to mention on first few dates as I didn’t want to sound like a showy Dora the Explorer (or something?) but actually for some people that are looking for something more grounded, this could be a dealbreaker. For me personally, having these conversations quickly establish healthy boundaries and permit future uncomfortability. As long as we continue to keep healthy communication going in all friendships, it should never become harmful. 

It is also important to know when to say goodbye. Sometimes a person has served their intended purpose in your life. I love the analogy that your life is your bus ride. You are the driver. People will get on the bus, at varying destinations, through whichever countries you take your bus, you will experience lots of different scenarios. Some will stay on the bus your whole life (for me, this is my big sis). Some will get off, after a long ride, and you will have to bid farewell, friends, lovers, or those in-between.. Not everyone can stay on for the whole journey. As is the nature of a bus ride. (FYI mine is a converted hippy bus with kaleidoscopic rainbow print decor ofc!)

It is a common wlw stereotype that we are quicker to fall in love and commit, but this shouldn’t feel like a pressure. The emotional maturity, vulnerability and openness that women share between each other, is something that makes for beautiful connections, whatever they are. I love to see the magic in each connection and know that nothing will ruin the connection and friendship.

I’m here to tell you that hooking up with, kissing, holding hands, going for cute picnics, dancing together, making cakes, sleepovers, and all that cute good stuff are all amazing things to do with your friends. If that feels comfortable to you. It is always best to follow what feels authentic and right to each individual connection, rather than doubting yourself due to convention, societal norms or the opinions of friends.

Just because your dating style or way of relating may differ from the norm, it doesn’t make it any less valid. Exploring the romantic element to friendships can be a transformative experience. It can feel like honouring your truth and being honest with who you are and how you feel about a person/situation. At the very least, it feels like communicating your desires, freely and safely, to a friend.

And if that remains, just that, a friendship, then I’d say that’s the perfect outcome.

Friends are our life-long loves anyway. 

Lou Avey

Writer

Hey, lovelies!! I’m Lou. I can be found writing poetry when I’m not boogying to 70s bops. My work explores the sensitivity and boldness of women through the key topics of queerness, nature, mindfulness, the body, love, personal growth, and relationships. My partnerships include BBC Radio, Vice, Young Identity, and Feel Good Club. My words appear in BRICKS, The State of The Arts, Hits Radio, and Magic for Bauer Media (Hits Radio, Grazia, Empire). My poetry is published in the Truth & Other Assorted Works book.
I’m currently working on Rising Rose: Everything I’ve Learned About The Importance of Collective Sisterhood, Sexuality and Self-love, a book which is part memoir, part poetry collection, and on getting my play SISTERHOOD onto a real-life stage! Also, I’m always working away, planting little seeds that grow over at SISTERHOOD @sisterhoodcreativecommunity which is a multi-faceted space for queer women and all LGBTQIA+ allies, incorporating an online showcase gallery for creative work, a podcast, and a growing community of creatives.