by Joanna Rutter

When the average person thinks of “gay culture,” the first city that comes to mind is probably not Raleigh, North Carolina. But for a metro area known around the world for being the home to one of the most transphobic state governments in the country, there’s a beautiful, strong and vast queer community in Durham, Raleigh and beyond. 

Part of why the Triangle’s queer community is thriving (in spite of legislative efforts) is that we’re home to some of the most fearless and dedicated LGBTQ activists you can find. And dammit, we Southerners are stubborn. If you tell us we can’t use a certain bathroom, we’ll just get louder. We’re here, we’re queer, and we aren’t going anywhere!

And though the past two years surviving COVID-19 have been a difficult time of loss for many, the pandemic has also provided a unique opportunity for many people to explore their sexual identities. 

I’m referring to the phenomenon of the “discovering WLW TikTok to freshly-out bisexual” pipeline, of which I am a proud product. Though I can’t speak to the experience personally, I’ve also been delighted to see several friends of mine come out as bi or trans, secure gender-affirming surgery, and generally just get gayer in the past two years. God bless.

A gayer Triangle requires gayer journalism. Therefore, I put out some Instagram polls to my friends and spoke with a few friendly volunteers on Lex to pin down exactly what LGBT-Q-ties need to know about dating here. 

Here’s what they say you need to know about navigating polyamory, which apps to be on, where to impress a first date — all while still minding your manners like a good Southerner.

Get ready to run into your ex everywhere

Despite its population of over 1.4 million, the queer community in the Raleigh-Durham metro area is highly interconnected. This has its advantages, like making new friends easily, and its disadvantages: one source shared that they told their work friend about a new hookup only to find out their colleague had been hanging out with the same person the week before. C’est la vie!

“The queer scene is vast yet connected, which can make it feel opportunistic and incestuous,” Nat said. 

“I have a lot of preferences when dating – trying not to interrupt friend circles and respect people’s exes – but the Triangle seems to be so concentrated that it’s nearly impossible,” echoed Possum. 

Ask a handful of queer folks — specifically, due to my sample size, cis queer women, trans lesbian and bi women, and genderqueer and gender-non-confirming friends — about the queer Triangle dating scene and you’ll get a surprisingly unified perspective on the culture here. 

“Raleigh’s for career queers, Carrboro’s for art queers, and Chapel Hill is for burnt-out queers,” testified one friend on Instagram. Durham was described by another Lex user and echoed by many others as “polyamorous bottom country.”

The polyamorous contingent (folks engaging in multiple relationships at a time with the consent of all parties) plays a significant role in multiplying that tight-knit feeling. According to almost all the people I spoke to for this piece, in the Triangle, polyamorous people on dating apps are as common as Subarus in a co-op market parking lot. They’re everywhere!

Possum’s advice for dating in such a tight-knit scene? Look inward before you leap.

“It’s important to ask if you’re actually into this person, or just curious or bored,” they advised. “If it doesn’t work out, you’re probably still gonna have them in your orbit.”

Running into your ex at the store is one thing; having a hookup-gone-sour stuck in your friend circles for years who’s dating your exes is a whole ‘nother level. So keep it tidy out there, heartbreakers!

Delete Bumble, get on Hinge or Tinder

The consensus is clear: Use Hinge if you want to get boo’d up, Lex for new friends and first dates, and Tinder if you want to hook up. 

On Tinder specifically, you’ll likely sift through a lot of couples seeking a third if threesomes of that flavor aren’t your bag. Then, more often than not, the rest of the people you’ll be swiping through already have a spouse or primary partner and may just be looking for casual flings on the side, say many of the folks I interviewed.

“I have met so few monogamous women or femme queer folk,” said Sarah, a new Durhamite, of her online dating experience here so far. 

“Everyone is either poly or looking for someone to join their marriage or relationship — and the husbands are always ugly. It’s always like the last picture in their profile. The whole profile is her name, her bio, her pics and then, bam! — ugly-ass husband. And at the very bottom of the profile is something cringey like ‘looking for our unicorn’.”

So if you’re partnered and seeking a third (hopefully not with an “ugly-ass” husband, though if you are and you love him dearly despite his looks, as we say here, bless your heart) make sure to be upfront about it, or I guess you’ll get absolutely roasted by Sarah. Then I’m afraid no one can help you.

Here are some other takes from queer people about app strategy: 

  • “I’ve had the best luck with Hinge for online dating and some success with getting first dates on Lex.” 
  • “Tinder here is a meat market, but Hinge is good if you’re looking for something more serious.”
  • “Hinge is definitely more relationship-oriented, [but] I see the most women, non-binary and genderqueer people on Tinder. So I stay on it, because even if it’s mostly poly people, there’s still the odd monogamous person looking to meet people.”
  • “Hinge still has a huge population of poly/ENM [ethically non-monogamous] people. But they are mostly looking for a legit relationship with a second person. Less hook-up culture, but not more monogamous.”

Word to the wise: Bumble is overwhelmingly heterosexual in the Triangle, so if you’re newer to queer dating (welcome!) you might want to switch out the app you’re using.

And to save my country queers a bit of time: the Piedmont vibes on are, as one source shared, a small sampling of horse girls who definitely seem to be lying about their age, so you can skip it, especially considering how the app wasn’t designed with queer people in mind and may not be the safest place to meet folk. 

Instead, locally source a piece of agricultural ass the old-fashioned way by hitting on anyone wearing overalls or Blundstones at the farmers’ market. Giddy-up!

Leave the transphobia and misogynoir at the door

Speaking of minding your manners when dating while queer: Both cisgender people (whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth are the same) and white people have some catching up to do on that front.

“My biggest frustration with dating around here is with queer cis women,” shared Cleo.

“I’m a trans woman and a dyke, and almost all of the cis women that I’ve talked with or been on dates with over the past year since I started dating new people have had no follow through and it’s really disappointing,” she said.

Cleo kindly shared a tip for those lucky enough to have the chance to go out with trans women and femmes.

“I wish cis women would work out their transmisogyny before going on a date or hooking up with a trans girl so the discomfort wasn’t obvious,” said Cleo.

Unfortunately, transphobia isn’t the only negative element making the scene not-so-friendly for everyone: one friend on Instagram described their experience with dating locally as “a hellscape for fat Black women.” 

Clearly, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Calling misogynoir and fatphobia an ugly look is the understatement of the year, and friends don’t let friends be transphobic. However, there are signs of hope: Erin says that the people she’s encountered are largely kind and well-meaning. 

“I’m pretty fucking eclectic and definitely not everyone’s cup of mildly unhinged goth metalhead tea, and yet I’ve had a shocking amount of success, even amongst less-than-likeminded folks – so I’d say the local queers are a pretty open and accepting sort,” said Erin, adding: “As it should be.”

Hopefully, that acceptance is an upward trend.

The Pinhook

Impress your date with these queer-friendly date ideas

Now for the part you really clicked on this article to scope out: Stealing cute first date ideas from the pioneering lesbians who went before you. 

Unfortunately, the Triangle does have one big pickle in our local LGBTQ+ culture, other than the fact that Durham Pride happens in September instead of June: We don’t have any lesbian bars! We’ve got a wonderful handful of queer-owned spaces like the Pinhook and gay clubs like Legends, but nothing for the ledollarbeans. Please consider this your sign if you just so happen to be a trust fund lesbian: Do us all a solid and become our small business butch benefactor!

Keeping in mind that we’re still in the middle of a goddamn pandemic, I asked sources if Zoom dates were still cool, or if they’d gotten cringey. Abbey told me that the video move is a solid choice for a first date for one very important reason.

“You can introduce your pets to your date, [which is a] great conversation icebreaker,” she said. 

However, if your pet needs some fresh air, or if you want to impress a cat lover, go to the Purr Cup Cafe — Abbey says they’re queer-friendly and have an outdoor patio. Who knows, one kind of pussy could lead to another. (I’m sorry! I had to!)

If you want to dance yourself sweaty but in a sexy way, and if you just so happen to have a lot of single dollar bills on hand, Durham’s reigning mother of drag, Vivica C. Coxx, and her House of Coxx shows are one of the best live events you can catch in the Triangle, right under watching a truck get absolutely fucked by The Can Opener. Tip generously, because these performers are worth it! If you love drag but also love an early bedtime, then Ruby Deluxe’s drag brunch will be just as fun.

Ruby Deluxe’s drag brunch

If you need something equally artsy but want a more affordable vibe, pro tip: the North Carolina Museum of Art is free-ninety-nine, which you could easily follow with drinks at The Night Rider or on the back patio of the Accordion, both queer-friendly spaces that have more of a cozy neighborhood bar feel.

Another unique date idea: Jesse Boutchyard turns the Pinhook into a honkytonk every other Wednesday for Queer Country Night. One surefire recipe for happiness in life is dancing with a hot new friend listening to Dolly Parton on vinyl while drinking a Roxy, a Pinhook signature concoction of vanilla vodka and Cheerwine. Yeehaw!

When in doubt, nature is free, or at least, it is until the squirrels fully take over as the top of the food chain and start charging us admission. Folks recommended Duke Gardens and the trails at Umstead Park for safe and friendly outdoor time (and PS, much of Duke Gardens is wheelchair-accessible, which is extra hot). Just grab two oat milk iced coffees on your way there for an adorably queer forest foray. 

Take some good advice from folks in the scene

Now that you understand the landscape and have some date ideas in your back pocket right next to your carabiner, you’re ready to get back out there. And I salute you! Dating while queer can be a challenge in the best circumstances, what with the bigotry and all, and during a pandemic, it’s double the challenge. Pace yourself and stay safe is my advice — here are some wise words from others.

“Make sure to ask someone out within 3-7 days of starting to chat to avoid losing texting momentum and or creating an idealized version of the other person,” Abbey said. Or take Nat’s advice, which is to just start out by being friends first.

“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and to just make connections, even if that connection doesn’t go past a first date,” Abbey said as a tip for people who are recently out and new to LGBTQ+ dating. “Reflect on what felt right and what felt off, and repeat with the next queer date you have. You also don’t have to tell anyone you’re newly out until you’re ready.”

Lastly, don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone within reason — especially if you’re exploring ethically non-monogamous relationships.

“Manage expectations, but also say ‘yes’ to just about anything that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, and be very aware of your own feelings at any given time,” Erin advised. 

Pack your backpack, go forth and find happiness, dears!