I’ve had two distinct kinds of experiences while attending The Wickham, a gay-friendly drinking establishment in Brisbane. Allow me to paint an angsty picture for you, friend.

In the first scenario, I’m flying solo. I’ve spent a good portion of my day psyching up for this moment, giving myself the most stirring of mental pep talks.

“You can do this. This will be good for you. You’ve just got to believe,” I tell myself repeatedly.

Inexplicably, I’ve convinced myself to get out of my comfort zone and I’m standing outside the venue, ready to meet new people. What could go wrong?

I take a deep breath and give my best damn impression of a person who’s not on the verge of a catastrophic freak out.  It’s the moment of truth. It’s go time. Fortune favours the brave.

I take in my surrounds, mosey to the bar, and order a Corona. So far, so good. I scan the crowds of happy folks surrounded by their pals. This is about the time that fight or flight kicks in. I take my drink and find a table far away from all the people. I don’t make eye contact with anyone. I play with my phone to look busy. I become the definition of unapproachable.

It’s safe to say I didn’t make any new friends that night.

This probably wasn’t my finest hour. This was tough. I was proud of myself for trying, though.

In the second scenario, I’m with a group of new pals. We ramble over admittedly excessive amounts of drinks and enjoy each others company. I might even sing and dance along to the house band.

Thank God for alcohol, huh?

I feel accepted and part of something. I take a moment to appreciate how far I’ve come in such a short while and after such a long fought struggle. I had found that elusive community thing that people talk about!

It’s a pretty dramatic difference, huh? So, what happened? How did I get here?

In hindsight, the solution was obvious, it just took a while for it to compute…

Holy damn, I was finally out. It actually happened. The nightmare scenario I had built up in my head never came to pass. I was feeling more comfortable than I ever had in my life. I was standing tall, with my head held high. The feeling is sort of indescribable, but I am willing to wager it’s one you know all too well if you’ve also lived through this experience. A weight had lifted, that’s not just the thing of cliché – I was unburdened. So, where do I go from here?

Being gay felt a bit academic to me. I wasn’t dating anyone. I didn’t have many gay friends. I didn’t feel like I was part of that community you were supposed to get instant membership into if you fell under the LGBT umbrella. I realised soon enough that this was something that didn’t just happen. You had to pursue it. You had to make the effort. I decided that’s what I was going to do. Coming out wasn’t enough and it was time to get out of that comfort zone.

I stood across the street from Brisbane’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia for an embarrassingly long while, just taking in the sights and sounds. I didn’t feel like I belonged here, but that was the kind of thinking I was hoping to kick. I would be lying if I said I felt entirely comfortable with other gay folks at this point, and that wasn’t ideal. I eventually crossed the street and sat on a bench for a little bit. I didn’t speak to anyone, but it was something. That was enough for one day. I moseyed off and saw Mad Max: Fury Road.

It took a few months to work up the courage to engage with the whole community thing again…

Soon enough, I found myself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with an insane number of my LGBT brethren at a marriage equality rally. I was proud of myself for being here. It still wasn’t an easy thing to do. I still felt like a visitor, but I was making the effort. I was standing for a worthy cause that had a very real impact on my day-to-day life. Marching through the streets kind of made me feel ‘different’ from the general population for the first time. It was a strange feeling. I was no longer intentionally passing myself off as straight to make my life easier.

It almost felt like I was separating myself from a community I did fit into. As a gay man? I was still an outsider. I still didn’t have any LGBT friends. Where was my own community?

I think it’s safe to say that I’m an introvert. I’m not one of those guys who can effortlessly approach strangers on the street and become best friends forever. I am good with people, though. I know how to find common ground. I know how to carry a conversation. I’m just shy in instigating the whole conversation thing in the first place. The going to The Wickham solo plan was an admirable goal, but not entirely realistic. I had to find another way to connect with people.

Once again, in hindsight, the solution was obvious. I had done it before, after all…

In 2011, I had no friends. I lived an existence that was very hermit-like. I found solace in video games.

I found myself frequenting a website called Kotaku Australia, that focused on gaming and gaming culture. These sites tend to be toxic, where it’s always a good idea to avoid the comment section at all costs. This place was an anomaly on the interwebs, though. It had fostered an incredible sense of community. Soon enough, I became a prolific poster here. It wasn’t long before I made friends of the real life persuasion. We got beers. We went to theme parks. We met each others families. I felt like I belonged somewhere for the first time.

The internet was my lifeline, giving the means to meet new people and forge new friendships.

It was a leap of faith to throw myself into this community in the first place, but one I have never regretted. Good things can happen outside your comfort zone. Who knew?

I had to do the same thing with the LGBT community, if I ever wanted to belong…

I’ve previously talked about how social media played a huge role in helping me come out. I would follow gay folks on Twitter and Instagram and witness the lives they lived from a-far.

It was an incredibly comforting thing to see happy people on the other side of the closet.

The solution to my problem was staring me in the face all along. I, unknowingly, was halfway there…

Instead of just being a fly-on-the-wall to these lives, I had to actually engage with them. Put myself out there. Make friends. This is so much easier to do on the internet. It’s less scary to instigate a conversation with a stranger on Twitter or Instagram. There’s a lot more common ground and conversation starters to be found. Social media was once again my lifeline, but this time to the LGBT community. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it.

I followed more and more people. I shared my life and experiences with them. I made friends.

Experience has taught me that there’s not a whole lot of difference between an internet friend and a ‘real life’ friend. Often the two become one and the same, after all. It’s just another way to meet, that’s no less valid than striking up a conversation at a marriage equality rally or atThe Wickham. The internet is an introvert’s best friend and a helpful tool to combat loneliness.

The sense of community I’ve found on Twitter has been invaluable. It gives us a way to support each other. It gives us a way to connect, no matter the size of the town we live in or whether we’re entirely out of the closet or not. It gives us the means to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, even if we’re not comfortable doing that in person yet. It gives us that comfort, too.

The time came to make another expedition far outside of my comfort zone. I was meeting the Twitter gays in person. I psyched myself up and gave the most stirring of mental pep talks, not unlike that time before I flew solo at The Wickham.  I take a deep breath and give my best damn impression of a person who’s not on the verge of a catastrophic freak out.  It’s the moment of truth. It’s go time. Fortune favours the brave.

Scenario two played out. The leap of faith was worth taking. I had found my community.

Remember when we weren’t supposed to meet strangers from the interwebs?

What a tough time that must have been…

On June 14, I attended the Brisbane vigil for the victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando. I once again stood shoulder to shoulder with people like me. I belonged here with them.

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