When CC’s liberal beliefs go to bed
by Kathleen Hallgren, staff writer; illustration by Austin Turner, guest artist
So, let’s just say you’re a girl.
Also, let’s say you’re gay.
It’s Friday night, and campus is abuzz with the whisper of evening plans unfolding. Three hours until Midnight Breakfast and you’re in a friend’s room, probably pre-gaming, definitely listening to music. The night progresses, and above the bumping bass-line you hear one of your friends exclaim to the group, “Let’s go out!” You and your girlfriend agree, because your sexuality shouldn’t hinder hanging out with your friends, right? A short walk in the biting cold (its temper beaten into submission by the three or four “Rastails” and other beverages you’ve enlisted to act in your defense) leads you to the dimly lit, sweaty, pulsating sex pit commonly known as a house party. You barely have time to survey this sea of bodies before you’re swept into its clutches. PDA is clearly the norm, but you’re hesitant to make a scene. You and your girlfriend spend a good twenty minutes dancing with your friends, trying to blend into the heteronormative scene as best you can, which isn’t hard because neither of you would necessarily tip off anyone’s “gaydar.” As you watch your peers succumb to the sexually charged atmosphere and the contents of their red Solo cups, inhibitions begin to fade. Everyone around you is dancing and having a good time, and you decide there really is no reason to abstain from dancing with your girlfriend. I mean, this is a liberal school, right?
So you dance, and you know that people are looking at you a little differently, whispering to their friends, and starting to stare. You shake it off at first because you figure it’s obviously more unusual to see a gay couple dancing than a straight couple, and maybe they’re simply a little curious. Eventually, however, stares linger too long, whispers become more audible, and things start to get awkward. You begin to feel extraordinarily out of place, almost as if you’re on-stage. Why? You’re dancing with the person you’re attracted to; they’re dancing with the people they’re attracted to. Yes, you’re both girls but…CC students are open-minded, right?
Still hoping to have an ordinary night out with your friends, you let it go and keep dancing. At some point, you lean over and kiss your girlfriend. Not a big ol’ sloppy wet one, just a simple and tasteful display of mutual affection, and whoa. Slow down. You’re suddenly like Shamu in Sea World, flailing your fins to a cheering crowd of spectators. You unexpectedly find yourself accosted by a handful of your male peers, who are under the faulty impression that this display was meant exclusively for their viewing pleasure. This miscommunication can take one of two courses. Either you and your girlfriend will be asked for a repeat performance, or you will be approached by one or two exceptionally presumptuous male peers and asked to follow them out to the dance floor. If you go on to explain that the woman you kissed is in fact someone with whom you are in a committed relationship, you will again be faced with one of two reactions. Least likely: male peer seems embarrassed, flushes, and walks away apologetically. Most likely: male peer will say something along the lines of, “I mean, yeah, but that doesn’t really count,” or, “Cool! You can both come!”
Somehow, you know that if you were with a male who you identified himself as your boyfriend, the whole thing would be dropped. Yet if you react more vehemently, you open yourself up to a whole range of reactions, from anger to disgust to plain confusion. As long as your relationship with your girlfriend can be understood as a performance for male pleasure, you’re in the clear, but once it’s made more apparent that you are actually attracted to one another regardless of the presence of a male audience, your relationship is no longer acceptable. Indeed, it seems as though it might be an affront to some heterosexual men.
This range of reactions highlights an important and often-overlooked form of homophobia, which sociology professor C.J. Pascoe refers to as the sexualization of women’s same-sex relationships. “I think that this is particularly an issue when you have two rather normatively feminine women, where neither is marked as particularly butch or alternative,” said Pascoe. “If no one is ‘the man’ per se, then a) you can’t really have sex and b) your eroticism isn’t really about your own desire, it’s about male pleasure, right?”
In my current block, Deviance and Social Control (taught by Pascoe), we discussed the cultural phenomenon wherein two straight girls can “hook up” and not be seen as exceedingly deviant. As someone in my class said, “It’s like a show for guys. No one assumes they’re doing it for their own pleasure.”
Victorian conceptions of sexuality have left stains on many of the attitudes we hold today. In the early nineteenth century, women were told it was immoral to engage in sexual acts without the specific intention of procreation. In these terms, sex simply isn’t sex if a penis isn’t involved, and two women can’t be in a legitimate intimate relationship. “Homosexuality” as a descriptive term emerged in the mid-nineteenth century, although the practice of same-gender sexual relations existed long before. In the Victorian era, only men were thought to engage in “homosexual” behaviors, and even Queen Victoria was quoted as saying, “Ladies would never engage in such despicable acts.” As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, same-sex sex acts were no longer seen merely as sin, but also as signs of perversion and social deviance.
We are no longer in the nineteenth century, and Colorado College is not Victorian England. What surprises me is that on a campus as liberal and open-minded as ours claims to be, the majority of the population’s tolerance level seems to go down with the sun. Imagine the last house party you attended. What kind of relationships did you see there? Was there any representation of this campus’s gay community? And if you’re answering no, or if you can count on one hand the number of times you’ve seen a gay peer at such an event, then aren’t you curious? Why aren’t they there? What is it about the nightlife on this campus that is so inhospitable to gay students? And why don’t we question what it is about our culture that is causing this split?
I’m not suggesting that homosexuality should become normative. On the contrary, I think that there is something beautiful about the fact that we aren’t a homogenous campus. I am, however, asking for some introspection and some respect. There has only been one instance in which I have actually felt physically threatened after pointing out that I am in a same-sex relationship, but the number of times I have felt disrespected and marginalized is almost equivalent to the number of times I have “gone out.” As a school and as a culture, it is our responsibility to step back and honestly evaluate the environments that we cultivate.
I do not think that social justice is an impossible stretch, especially not on this campus. That being said, nothing will be achieved without thoughtful reflection on these questions and a commitment to evaluate the way that we act toward others. There is more to tolerance than waving a flag and denouncing discrimination during daytime discussions. Through an unforgiving lens, we must assess how, as a school and as a culture, we have created a social scene and nightlife that push people to the fringes. I will not be given the ultimatum that I can either hang out with my close friends and check my sexuality at the door, or openly be in a same-sex relationship and forfeit participation in campus social life. ∼