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Dating LGBTQ in a small town can be difficult

Rob Mathers, left, and his fiance Donnie. (Photo provided)

Dating is difficult in a small town, no matter what. The laws of probability are not in your favor, and even less so if you’re not a cisgender heterosexual (see sidebar on definitions on Page A11).

Only about 5% of the population at large identifies as LGBTQ, according to a recent Gallup poll. Additionally, a 2016 survey by the Williams Institute found that transgender individuals, in particular, form only 0.6% of the population. Given the small overall populations in the Tri-Lakes, these percentages show that dating possibilities in the Tri-Lakes for those in the LGBTQ community are quite limited.

Baylee Annis is one of the lucky people who met her partner in person in Saranac Lake, but she dated online for five or six years before meeting Erin. “Not that I loved doing it,” she explains, “but there just wasn’t any other way to date when you’re queer here. There are no spaces you can go to where you’re queer and you can expect to see other queer people.”

On the other hand, Annis notes that dating for LGBTQ individuals “is not a totally different scene. Dating in the region when you’re straight or white is already difficult.”

Some may disagree, but according to Annis, dating apps work well for people of different sexual identities and orientations. She reports that Tinder is a good site for most genders and sexualities, and even though it has a reputation of being just for “hook-ups,” she notes that all her friends under 35 who’ve met their long-term partners online have done it on Tinder. Annis also shouted out a site called Lex, which is almost like the traditional personal ads one used to see in the Village Voice or on Craigslist, except that it is specifically for the “Lesbian, Bisexual, Asexual, Queer, Trans, Intersex, Two Spirit, Non-Binary, Genderqueer community.” Unlike the more well-known dating sites, Lex has no photos and no swiping, just text.

Kelly Metzgar poses with her dogs Lexi and Sable outside her house in Saranac Lake. (Provided photo — Shir Filler)

Rob Mathers of Saranac Lake also states that dating in the Tri-Lakes has been hard and that he found the local scene for gay men to be “very primitive.” He noted that there is not a lot of healthy dating and getting to know each other. To explain this, he cites homophobia that still exists in the community. “When you feel scared, ashamed or guilty for who you are … that will reflect itself in your personal choices.”

Mathers did not have much luck with online dating in the traditional sense. “I tried one free dating site … Plenty of Fish it was called. It was very weird. I met a few guys who were either only looking for sex or guys who were strange and clingy right off the bat.”

Mathers, who grew up in Saranac Lake, says he realized he was “different” when he was around 4 years old, and he knew he was gay at 12. “By the time I was 14, I came out of the closet to everyone. I was considered such a ‘freak’ that I wasn’t able to form many relationships of any type. I had a handful of friends who were also treated badly, and I found support with them. As far as other gay people, I knew none. At that time I was the only openly gay kid in school. So I didn’t even have the option to date until I was older.”

In a recent post on the Adirondack Diversity Initiative’s Facebook page, Mathers wrote: “Life for me as a gay man in this community was a literal nightmare. I was excluded from almost everything a normal kid would get to do. I never went to a school dance, the one time I went to the youth center I had rocks thrown at me while other kids screamed homophobic slurs. Kids spit on me and threw things at me from their cars as I walked to school every day. I quit high school before completing 9th grade because I just couldn’t take it. I couldn’t eat lunch in the cafeteria without being tortured. Couldn’t join teams or clubs. I certainly couldn’t date.”

Ultimately, Mathers was able to meet some compatible partners, but mainly through Facebook. While not truly an online dating site (though Facebook has begun to officially venture into that territory), it does allow people to connect to a wider circle than those in geographic proximity, and often potential dates are “pre-vetted” because they are friends of friends. This is how Mathers was able to meet his fiance, Donnie.

“He was a mutual friend of many people I knew,” Mathers said. “I liked him from the brief interactions we had and he was also a Facebook friend. One day I decided to ask him out on a date, and the rest is history. We’ve been together for six years and are in a happy and, more importantly, healthy relationship.”

Facebook doesn’t work for everyone, though. Kelly Metzgar of Saranac Lake, a regional advocate for the transgender community, says she is disappointed with the online scene. She says, “Men are constantly trying to friend me on Facebook.” She generally discovers that they are “catfishing.” (According to Urban Dictionary, catfishing is “the phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships.” Sometimes this is done out of loneliness, curiosity or boredom, but occasionally it can lead to financial extortion or physical harm.)

In 1983, Metzgar, 26 years old, moved to Saranac Lake to take a job at North Country Community College. At the time, she presented as male. She knew she was different, she says, but she didn’t have a word to describe the difference for many years, until the internet became accessible and connected her with a larger community.

“Back then there was no such thing as transgender,” she explains. “We did not know what was wrong with us. I was never gay, never interested in men — why did I have these feminine feelings and desires?”

She notes that the term at that time was “transvestite,” which is now thought of as derogatory. “Transvestite” became “cross-dresser” and now “transgender,” although there are still people who identify with the former terms.

“I knew who I was,” Metzgar says. “I sort of liked the term transgender, but I still identified as a cross-dresser; I was a cisgender male who enjoyed dressing and presenting as female. I could be my boy self during the week, and then on the weekends I could escape and become ‘Kelly’ — female.”

Metzgar explains that the transgender community spans all orientations. “I was a very cis hetero person before. I’ve always been attracted to women, always dated women, had girlfriends, had wives — didn’t work out, obviously — now I’m a trans lesbian.”

Although she has a friend in the area who came out as trans and has a lesbian relationship that is going well, Metzgar asserts that, “For the most part, cis women do not date trans women,” but she admits that may be changing. “I think the younger you are, the more able you are to form those relationships. Younger adults are more open to gender orientation diversity than my generation was.”

While she says she is ready for a relationship, she understands that the Tri-Lakes is not a great place to look. She notes that Plattsburgh has more of a diverse community, and she has looked online but was not impressed by the “quality of people, and the distance involved.”

“I’m lazy. An hour drive is OK, but I am not going to drive four, five, six hours and have a long-distance relationship,” she said. “I want someone who can come over … and we can just enjoy being together.” She says she would not go back online — “I was not impressed — even as a male.”

She keeps busy, though. In 2014, Metzgar began her advocacy work. She has done LGBTQ diversity training for six-and-a-half years, is the executive director of the Adirondack North Country Gender Alliance, is a core team member of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative and is a founding board member for Gender Equality NY. Between that work and being “proud mommy of two pomeranian babies, and four feathered babies,” she says she has found peace with being single. She loves Saranac Lake and doesn’t see herself leaving.

The bottom line is that it can be difficult to find romance in a small town, and even more difficult when you are not in the majority demographic of this already small population. Going online has pluses and minuses, but like Baylee Annis said, it can deepen the pool a bit for those who are looking for those rare kindred spirits.

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