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3 min

Cutting through Vancouver’s frosty cool

Making friends in the queer community

Credit: Ken Boesem illustration

Moving to a new city is like starting your first year of high school all over again.

If you’re lucky, you already have friends you can hang out with and might not have to worry so much about meeting people.

If you’re not so fortunate, making friends can be a daunting experience.

I know I’ve had a difficult time.

I moved to Vancouver six months ago and have had varying degrees of success in the friend-making department. I was fortunate enough to already have some friends here, but trying to meet new people has been challenging.

Still, newcomers looking to make friends in this city’s queer community needn’t feel like lonely teenagers in the halls of Davie St High. Some recent conversations I’ve had with people in the gay Village reveal that, although it can be hard to meet people here, it’s by no means impossible.

Ken McCreath, who I spoke to one Friday night at the PumpJack Pub, moved to Vancouver about 14 years ago from Ontario. He personally doesn’t find it hard making friends here, although maintaining friendships in this city has been challenging for him because people are always in transition.

“I find myself forging a lot of new friendships,” says McCreath.

He also notes that some people are apprehensive about meeting others because they are afraid of being rejected.

“Gay men are afraid of opening up,” he suggests.

But that doesn’t stop him from trying.

“I’m not afraid to be rejected, even though I know it’s a possibility,” says McCreath, urging newcomers looking to make friends in Vancouver to adopt the same approach.

As McCreath puts it: “Be bold. No guts, no glory.”

Another PumpJack patron, native Vancouverite Graham Barber, takes a less charitable approach to the topic of making queer friends in his hometown.

“Everybody wants to keep their calendar free. It would kill most Vancouverites to pick up the phone and call someone,” he says.

People shouldn’t feel bad if they try to make friends with someone and don’t get the kind of response they were hoping for, he continues. “If you meet someone that you’d like to make friends with, don’t get upset if they don’t want to make plans with you. Schedules don’t work here.”

Barber, like McCreath, says making friends in Vancouver’s queer community takes determination.

“Be very assertive when you run into people in the bars or on Davie St or Denman St because you’re not going to get anything out of them any other way.”

Mitch McGuire, a bartender at Numbers, agrees that making friends in queer Vancouver requires some effort.

“I think it depends on how outgoing you’re willing to be,” he says, as he prepares for another busy Saturday night. “Too many people depend on other people to make contact with them, but you have to make the first move.”

McGuire, who moved to Vancouver from Ontario in May 2005, says a good way to meet people is to get involved in activities you enjoy, like a sport, where you can get to know people with similar interests.

“You have something in common with them and can develop friendships around that,” he advises.

Making friends through getting involved seems to have worked for Charles Troster, who moved to the West Coast in July to study chemistry at the University of British Columbia.

Troster, who sat down to chat with me at a Davie St coffee shop, has met people by participating in the city’s Critical Mass bicycle rides.

“It’s actually the first place in Vancouver where I’ve made friendships that have lasted,” says Troster, a Torontonian. “I have had a much easier time meeting people through the bicycle rides than through any queer venue.”

“The gay men in the Village are very guarded,” he continues. “Nobody really wants to get to know new people. Or, if they do, they don’t show it. I haven’t really found a way to break into the cliques of queer Vancouver.”

Troster also attended Pride UBC’s weekly discussion groups when he visited Vancouver in the spring before moving here, but didn’t have much luck.

“It wasn’t really the right time of year to be meeting people there,” he says. “Everyone was finishing school.”

He plans to try Pride UBC again this term.

Asked why he finds it difficult to make gay friends in Vancouver, Troster says some of it might have to do with the character of the city’s gay bars, where meeting people can be very intimidating.

“I find that there’s a lack of low-pressure social spaces in which to meet other queers,” he says.

The internet is an alternative to the bar scene, but Troster says looking for friends online isn’t necessarily a better way to meet people. “I think gay men who get frustrated with the bar scene stay home and try to make friends over the internet, which can be even more difficult.”

As for what advice he would give to other newcomers looking to meet queer people in Vancouver, Troster offers these words of wisdom that everyone, newcomers and longtime residents alike, could benefit from: “Say hi to people and create a friendlier Vancouver.”

Whichever way you do it, trying to make queer friends in this city doesn’t have to be scary. I guess it’s just a matter of deciding to take that chance with someone with the hope that they might be willing to take it with you, too.