Queer people fall in love, too.
“It’s not this niche, marginalized, novel thing that happens,” said 32-year-old Seattle comedian and writer Juno Men. “People are just trying to find connections.”
In June, Men was one of six contestants on The Queer Agenda, a live comedy dating show created by and for LGBTQ+ Seattleites looking for love. While Men did not meet her true love onstage, she was able to meet other queer folk in the city’s comedy scene and to work with creators who purposely provide spaces for underrepresented people to shine.
Each iteration of The Queer Agenda stars a group of five to six contestants, chosen prior to the show, who play rowdy icebreaker games and accept roasts from the hosts in their pursuit of love. The next show, at Kremwerk on Aug. 26, features five Sapphic contestants, most of whom are people of color.
The Queer Agenda was created by comedians and girlfriends Stephanie Nam and Jaleesa Johnson, whose story began with a different show, also centered on queer dating. In August 2021, Nam created the live comedy show Written in the Stars, which follows one woman as she is matched with three potential suitors a la ABC’s “The Bachelorette.”
At the time, Johnson was healing her heart after ending a seven-year relationship — and looking to get back into comedy, from which had strayed a bit. She saw a flyer for Nam’s show and decided to apply, not realizing at the time that Nam, the creator and host, was a comedian Johnson had seen performing at an open mic earlier that month.
Nam was open to love but not actively looking for it. They met on the show, with Nam as the host and Johnson as a contestant … who wasn’t the audience’s favorite.
“I said my cat was my best friend, which was honest,” Johnson said. “The audience really has a stake in this.”
The show ended with the “bachelorXXX” going on a date with a different contestant while Nam and Johnson went their separate ways. A week later, Johnson saw Nam perform again and was taken by her humor and looks. With a friend egging her on, Johnson messaged Nam on social media — a simple, “You’re super cute, Stephanie” — and two messages later, they were setting up a first date.
“I stayed over that first night and never left,” Johnson said.
Their first “I love you“ was just as simple.
It was in October; the pair were at Nam’s house. Nam was eating chips when Johnson confessed her love. Nam felt the same; she wrote a multiple-page letter in response, listing the reasons she loves her girlfriend in neat script.
In December 2021, the two came back from New York and felt sick. While holed up at home quarantining, the two binged on reality TV dating shows like Netflix’s “The Ultimatum,” which will star LGBTQ+ couples in a future season, and “Love Is Blind,” which recently filmed in Seattle, when the idea for a new comedy show formed.
They opened applications online for contestants and their first show, produced by Nam’s company Nam Nam Productions, kicked off in February.
By then, the couple was living together with their two cats. They had gone through normal relationship squabbles and had defined boundaries. They took up hosting The Queer Agenda, with the goal of creating a unique, fun experience for contestants and audiences alike as they “bring back queer love.”
Men was a contestant on the fourth “episode” of the show. She wanted to work with Nam and get involved in a comedy show spotlighting diverse people, mostly. But a small part of her thought it would be “pretty neat” to find a love connection on the show.
Wearing a green cardigan, Men met the other contestants an hour before the show. They were all nervous but excited. The emotions continued onstage as the audience, mostly LGBTQ+ folks, happily engaged with the show. Men and the contestants played get-to-know-you games, including Shoot Your Shot, wherein she had to make the other players laugh with pickup lines or risk being squirted by a water gun.
“It removes the awkwardness of trying to break ceremony,” she said. “The thing that scares me the most when I’m trying to meet other people is to introduce myself to them and trying to connect.”
Men matched with another contestant, and while they’re friends now, their romantic connection didn’t last past the first date. She has also talked about grabbing food with two other contestants whom she clicked with platonically.
For Men, the show was a way to meet others like her, albeit in an unconventional way. The experience resonated with her as an Asian trans woman. She’s found safety in Seattle, where she said there’s social infrastructure that supports people like her, but dating is still difficult.
“Dating women tends to be a lot more welcoming and safer to navigate than dating men,” she said. “I’m attracted to cis men, but there’s been a lot of social stigma there that makes it more difficult to feel like an emotionally safe space to navigate romantically.”
Men wants to see intersectional experiences like hers represented in the media locally and nationally. Citing Marvel’s “Black Panther” and Netflix’s “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” she said content highlighting the LGBTQ+ community and people of color can be popular and profitable. She’s doing her part with her comedy show “Flock!,” hosted monthly on Capitol Hill.
As queer women of color, Nam and Johnson strive to make their shows as entertaining, refreshing and inclusive as possible, and the upcoming Aug. 26 show will be the most diverse show they’ve had.
“One thing that The Queer Agenda and other shows like it … offer is really great, entertaining shows that center around queer people and sometimes queer people of color,” Men said. “And I think that’s a really lovely emergence of the nightlife landscape in Seattle.”
While the main goal is to entertain their audience and support a vibrant, diverse, queer dating scene in Seattle, the creators can’t help but think about the possibilities their show may bring.
“We want to see a Queer Agenda wedding someday,” Johnson said. “We want to see someone go all the way the same night, get engaged, get married” and — because relationships can be messy, she and Nam joked — “a Queer Agenda divorce.”
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