For most of my life I considered romantic love the solution to loneliness. Everything I read and everything I watched told me that falling in love was how you survived. It wasn’t until I began to have queer female friendships that I redefined the meaning of intimacy and questioned the value of romance.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the classic lesbian U-Haul joke. It’s frankly grown past being just an inside joke with an entire community of women, it’s become a sort of node of recognition. It’s a symbol of being a part of a space where you never need to explain yourself, where you’re seen and never questioned. You’re accepted, never despite your flaws, but because of your humanity. Lesbians are perpetually stigmatized or over-sexualized and in our friendships we find our humanity. We see each other as we wish the world could see us. It would thus be impossible for our friendships not to garner a new kind of intimacy.
Audre Lorde and Pat Parker were poets in love, but in a platonic way. They both had partners and families but they shared a bond together that is forever encapsulated earnestly and beautifully in the letters they exchanged from 1974 to 1989. Because they were both activists and poets they were publicly known to be intelligent and introspective. But these letters show the wry humorous parts of their lives. It exposes a sense of vulnerability that only surfaces as a result of a deep rooted connection.
From the rest of the world, looking into our communities must be confusing to say the least. Everyone has these stereotypes and preconceived notions about who we are. But we recognize ourselves in each other, like Audre and Pat do in those letters. They are, to me, a model of queer female friendship and non-romantic intimacy.
While neither I or my friends exchange letters, and maybe we should, our words mean more than we know. Even in interviewing queer women about this, I tried to pay close attention to the way we talk about love, intimacy and language. There is a shared language, subtle and hidden under the things we actually say.
The fact that we’re able to talk about lesbian TV characters (and all their tragic deaths) or talk about the women we love and the women we’re attracted to, that’s retaliation from a society that brands our entire existence as deviance. It’s reclamation of the nights we spent at sleepovers hoping no one asks us which boys we find cute.
What I realized as I become friends with other queer women was that the kind of loneliness I had been feeling my whole life had nothing to do with not feeling loved. It was about not feeling seen and understood. It was like going your whole life unaware of the fact that you were speaking in a different language than everyone around you. When you’re growing up, none of it makes sense. You try so hard to create these connections with people who’ve been around you your whole life but it still feels superficial.
For me, non-romantic intimacy is finally finding someone who speaks your language in every sense of the word. It’s finding someone who knows your cues, someone who understands your lexicon, someone who uses their body like you do, and harboring a connection.
“I’d define non-romantic intimacy as physical touch and emotional validation and no amount of sexual tension whatsoever,” said Tristin Brown.
“It’s trust and love. It’s warmth, and a sense of home and safety. Sharing with each other — laughs, drinks, good times, bad times, thoughts and honesty. It’s actively wanting them to be in your life,” said Chelsea Barrantes.
“I would describe it as having a community or individual you feel like you can be raw and vulnerable with. Somewhere where you are free to admit your mistakes and shortcomings. While these things are painful and embarrassing, you feel safe to examine and work through the issues together because of the trust shared and because this person is also someone who builds you up and accepts you despite and because of these same missteps, experiences, character traits. Intimacy is a person or community where you can just be loved and supported even when you are the worst version of yourself,” said Nance Messenio.
The emphasis on recognizing flaws is deeply humanizing, it’s a reminder that we don’t have to be a community of perfect people to deserve basic decency. It’s also a reminder of the battle of where we choose to be introspective because our flaws can so easily be weaponized.
“I think it’s those friendships where you have a rough day and you can go home and have a friend just hold you and lay with you and you don’t even really have to talk because there’s an understanding that you just need someone to be there for you at that moment. That type of intimacy is sometimes even deeper than any romantic or sexual intimacy,” said Cole Santiago.
Physical intimacy stopped being inherently sexual and romantic when I made queer friends. I’ve never been a particularly touchy person, maybe because it took me a long time to figure out what exactly my body was for. It took me by surprise that being physically drawn to someone stopped having a sexual connotation. It started being about comfort and care and both of those things felt intensely heightened when we could also talk about how Gina Gershon and Sigourney Weaver have a monopoly on tank tops.
This is essentially a platonic love letter to all the queer women in my life. It’s a love letter to the version of myself that didn’t know queer women yet and probably still exists in so many other people. Queer female friendships are a means of survival, a means of lighting the burden of our existence. And when we hold each other, with anger and fear and tenderness, we no longer feel afraid of wearing our scars like medals.