Nearly all Williams students I’ve met say that homosexuality is “fine” with them and that they “have absolutely no problems with it or gay people.” Many quickly add “I have several gay friends,” as evidence that someone’s homosexuality doesn’t influence their evaluation of a person. Of all these open and accepting people on campus, why am I, a gay man, dismayed by the atmospheres of the biannual Queer Pride Weeks and Queer Bashes?
Much has to do with the reduction of homosexuality to sex and matters of the bedroom. This year, the advertising for Coming Out week and Queer Bash depicted muscular, bare-chested men in evocative positions. Last year, the theme was fetishes: handcuffs, leather, and high-heeled boots. “Gay events” and any number of gay clubs, publications, bars and television shows, consistently portray gay men and women as purely sexual beings. The language and tone used is often vulgar and violent or emotionally disturbed and radical.
As one of many who happen to be gay, I find it disturbing that such an intrinsic part my life has been reduced to little more than sexual fantasies and bedroom fetishes. The lives of an overwhelming majority of people do not revolve around sexuality or sexual orientation, and only a small subculture of the gay community expresses itself so vehemently through those means. Never do we see ads representing the businessmen, students, artists and workers who keep their sexual lives largely private, not out of shame, but out of the same decency that keeps parents from discussing their sex lives over the dinner table.
Many confusing notions about a “gay lifestyle” are strongly shaped by the expressions of a small, but vocal subset of a much larger gay community. Young men and women discovering their homosexuality and attempting to develop and explore it many times feel pressured to conform to the stereotypes of this highly visible subculture.
If you’re going to be a “real” and “open” gay man, it seems, dressing in drag, listening to opera and baring your ass in a club must all appeal to you on some level. This is not to say that particular cultural kinships do not exist, but that calling them “intrinsic” to homosexuality overlooks the many individuals who do not identify through such means.
In years past, the Queer Student Union (QSU) chalkings have fallen into this trap of sexual identity through obsessive imagery, vulgarity, and discussions of unbridled bedroom activities. I particularly remember last year’s line, “Bend over and take it like a man” which confronted me every morning before Econ class. The chalkings’ goals of destroying myths and fostering awareness were completely overshadowed by their crude and offensive language.
It was very pleasing to see that this year’s messages focused on encouraging self-identity and acceptance of sexuality, rather than relying on shock alone to inspire productive thinking.
Queer Bash, however, is a much more confusing phenomenon. On one hand, it is one of the few exceptional, non-alcoholic all-campus parties. Men dress as angels or clad themselves in leather, women break out chains and bright red lipstick and there are more high-heeled boots than you can shake a stick (or whip) at. Once the peer monitor showed up, many people, including myself, had an incredible time breaking free from the stagnation of row-house parties.
On the other hand, I am ashamed to think that people would consider the Queer Bash’s sashaying, circus-like atmosphere and its vulgar display of pornography as representative of what it means to be gay. Gay individuals have a vast array of values, tastes and means of expression. Like any subset of Americans, there are those who act or sing, those who work on Wall Street or are politicians, and those who read the newspapers or watch pornography. Lumping the provocative and shocking extremes of this diversity under a spectacle named “Queer Bash” is both misrepresentative and unjustified.
There is much comfort in knowing that there are people, on-campus and throughout society, who have experienced similar self-discoveries and challenges to identity. I’ve learned through many conversations regarding these issues that the Williams community is exceptionally open to fruitful discussions of homosexuality when presented with the topics and stories in mature, responsible ways.
Working against this atmosphere is the notion that gay rights and gay activism are completely opposite and radical to the long-standing heterosexual views of America, and that being gay is a phenomenon with definite qualities and interpretations. The word “queer” particularly highlights this relationship, and the derived notion of “queer pride” is similarly confused.
Pride is not a function of one’s sexuality or any other intrinsic human quality. Pride is also not an excuse for rash, misleading or coarse behavior. Pride springs from the mature handling of one’s individuality and the quiet, yet powerful expression of oneself in society. That’s the kind of pride I can relate to.