CC’s gay community celebrates
by Phoebe Parker-Shames, guest writer; photo by Julia DeWitt, staff artist
It’s Gaypril. Across the country, various colleges claim this month as a time for celebration and education regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues. At CC, it is a time for the queer and allied community on campus to expand horizons, raise awareness, and party it up at Drag Ball.
At a Glass House dinner and discussion at the end of March, “Why Do You Have To Be So Gay?” some students said they feel the LGBTQ community is hyper-sexualized, especially at this annual event. But beyond the hype and stereotyping, the Ball comes forth from the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) to make the queer experience visible on campus. Despite the stereotypes, the relationships among the active members of the queer community are not much different from the campus standard.
As the CC play “Relations” portrayed last February, the hookup culture is embedded in the perception of relationships on campus. “CC has a really bad hookup culture,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “You make out with someone at a party, you go home with them, then you’re done. Absolutely no strings attached. I don’t think that’s a queer thing, I think it’s a CC thing, or maybe a college thing.” Almost every person interviewed for this article mentioned that the hookup culture is the norm, both in straight relationships and queer ones.
The quick-fix culture can feel especially awkward for queer students because the community is so small. Many active queer students know each other through Empowered Queers United for Absolute Liberation (EQUAL) or QSA. According to their website, EQUAL is a “confidential group of students that identify outside of the heterosexual norm, or that are questioning their sexual or gender identity.” QSA is “a social and activist group that serves as a bridge between the Queer and Straight communities.” Essentially, QSA gives a public face to the issues discussed in EQUAL.
“Certainly you can’t hide from anyone who’s at all involved in queer life on campus,” said sophmore Alix Hudson, a member of EQUAL. She mentioned that if you date on campus, it’s almost impossible to avoid interacting with people you’ve hooked up with, which means that you can’t just ignore your ex. “You’re forced to make some sort of human contact,” she said.
The situation is even harder for male students on campus where, according to the Princeton Review, the population is more than 53 percent female. “CC is a small campus and the dating pool is fairly small for everyone,” said Alicia Drapkin, one of the Co-Chairs of QSA. “Gay men on this campus seem to have a much harder time of it than women. I’m not completely sure why that is, but my guess would be that there are more women than men who are flexible in their sexuality. I’ve heard of several men going off campus [to find male partners].” One male student who wished to remain anonymous even turned to Craigslist to find a date.
“It’s extremely hard,” freshman Ryan Haas said, explaining why he thinks there is such a discrepancy between the number of openly gay women and men. “There’s the masculine stereotype and you’re not a man if you like other men. For girls, you’re still a girl if you like other girls.” Haas mentioned that many gay men already have a positive image in the straight community and sometimes even date girls. “So on top of the ‘will people accept me?’ factor, there’s the factor of not wanting to change your image of yourself.”
Despite these difficulties, CC remains a relatively safe haven for many queer students. QSA and EQUAL have done a lot of work on campus to make LGBTQ students feel welcome. For some, this is the only place they can be themselves. “I didn’t come out until I came to CC,” said freshman Kate Vukovich. “My friends at home are now aware of my sexual orientation, but my family is not. I love them dearly, especially my parents, but if they knew I was queer in any way it would completely destroy our relationship. I feel really accepted on the CC campus.”
Events on campus can be valuable for new students trying to get involved in the queer community. Sometimes, the best place to let loose is at parties put on by the gay community specifically to facilitate meeting new people. “They’re something everyone gets really excited about,” said freshman Marley Hamrick. “It’s a chance to have fun, hang out with friends, and to be yourself.” It’s an entire party scene on campus that, typically, only LGBTQ students and allies participate in. A major feature of the gay dating scene is the Big Gay Parties (BGPs) and Little Gay Parties (LGPs). BGPs are open to queer students and allies (straight people who are actively involved in LBGTQ issues) while LGPs mostly include members of EQUAL and other queer students.
“All of my BGP and LGP experiences have been fantastic,” said Vukovich. “I love being able to interact with the queer community in that way and I also love the openness of the BGPs—anyone is welcome. I love that accepting aspect of them.”
Nonetheless, even the BGPs only involve a small number of students. Drag Ball, on the other hand, is a major LGBTQ event on campus that attracts students from all social circles. It can be a good chance for CC students to experiment with queer culture in a way they might not get to otherwise.
The event has, however, attracted some negative attention from within the queer community. Some students spoke out at the Glass House discussion dinner, saying that the dance perpetuates stereotypes and does not educate.
Others feel that it is an important time to engage the rest of the community. “Personally, I think Drag Ball is great,” Drapkin said. “Like any other event, some students get really drunk and disrespectful, but people actually learn a lot too. Many men who dress as women complain about women dressed as men objectifying them, in an interesting misogyny reversal. Although it needs to be a continuing conversation, I think [QSA] is trying to make the event respectful and educational without forgetting that it is a party and should be fun.”
One interesting phenomenon that occurs frequently around queer-themed parties on campus is the blending of roles, even among straight people, where students start doing things outside their sexual norms. “A lot of straight people end up making out with gay people [at BGPs],” Hamrick said. “I had a friend who explained that ‘this is a queer space, so everything just turns queer.’ I think alcohol plays a big part in it. I have a guy friend who dresses up for it, and all the lesbians want to hook up with him because he’s as hot as a girl. It’s confusion, and everyone’s drunk. You just don’t know which way’s up.”
Not all students are excited about the gender-bending event. Some still display homophobic attitudes about the dance, especially men dressed as women. The Ball itself is not always free from the discrimination it is trying to prevent. A few years ago, security guards asked students to remove their wigs or hats so they could assess which bathroom they could go into, which upset quite a few of the students who spoke at the “Why Do You Have To Be So Gay?” forum last month. They felt it was a disrespectful and discriminatory act, and the security company was replaced.
Even on a campus like CC’s, where many queer students feel accepted, discrimination is still an issue. There are many queer students who are not fully comfortable being involved in the groups on campus, and others who do not feel as accepted as their heterosexual peers. Most of the students at the Glass House discussion said that they had never met anyone who was openly discriminatory towards them. However, other students mentioned that a more subtle form of homophobia exists: Many CC students still use terms like “gay” as negatives in everyday language.
It can be especially difficult for students who don’t feel that they fit into more familiar sexual categories. There is a wide range of sexual identities that many people do not know about or fully accept. “I feel like sometimes people don’t understand bisexuals as a group,” Haas said. “They try to label them in monosexual ways or try to understand them in a monosexual way. But attractions vary over time. I feel like it’s harder for people to understand that. Bisexuals in general aren’t that involved in the queer community.”
There is a perception among many students that there has been an increase in the number of homophobic incidents on campus. This year, there have been several instances of anti-gay vandalism in Loomis. Early in the year, students tore down posters displaying homosexual couples. Recently, at the Glass House, derogatory notes were written on queer students’ doors. There were also discriminatory messages written on an African-American student’s campaign posters this semester in Loomis, which further upset many students and added to their sense that the CC community is not as generally accepting as it seems. Partly as a response to these incidents, some faculty members and students are trying to add gender identity and expression to CC’s anti-discrimination policy.
Nonetheless, there are students here who have found that they can embrace their sexuality in a way that was not possible before. “It was hard [back home],” said Hudson. “I didn’t want to be out in high school, so I didn’t hold my girlfriend’s hand or anything, and we would make out in the bathrooms after school. It was very much a subtle thing.”
“I’m totally okay with public displays of affection now,” says Hudson. “It’s kind of like something you want to show off, like, ‘Hey, look, I have a date, I have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and I want to show this to the world.’” ∼