Gay pride versus prejudice

I’ve always considered Williams to be a pretty queer-friendly place. True, there aren’t all that many of us out on campus, compared to many liberal arts colleges. But while I’ve heard of certain amounts of prejudice in particular student groups, and a reluctance to for students to come out to friends here, personally I have never had any unpleasant experiences on this campus: I’ve never gotten more than a couple of indulgent smiles when my girlfriend and I hold hands or express PDA like all couples on campus would. All in all, I thought it was pretty hunky-dory with the general student population that I am a woman who wants to spend her life with another woman. Who really cares all that much about someone else’s sex life, anyway?

I was under this delusion until this fall’s Queer Bash. Walking home from Queer Bash in the crisp autumn night, tiny raindrops flecking my blue wig, borrowed corset, and cargo pants, I felt good. Yeah, the party wasn’t as great as I remembered from my freshman year, the last time I’d been, but I was pleased that the Eph Rainbow Alliance (ERA) had once again admirably organized this campus-wide party in celebration of exploration, open-mindedness and sexuality of all forms.

Not five minutes later, I was crouching in the rain, sobbing in rage and frustration because of a conversation-turned-argument with several fellow students about whether or not it is pathetic, sad or sick to be gay.

I admit I should not have joined the conversation in the first place. I was walking up Mission Hill behind a group of three people who had clearly also just left Queer Bash. They were two young women and a young man, attending the most prestigious liberal arts college in the country, inhabiting the one of the only states that allows unamended marriage for same-sex unions, leaving the most accepting party of the year. They were speaking loudly, and I was walking about a foot behind them. I heard them discussing a male friend who they said was gay, complaining that it was “lame,” “sad” and “sick” that their friend was “such a f—–.” Their conversation got pretty graphic, using disparaging descriptions of several ways in which men often have sex to “insult” this person who considers himself their friend.

Like I said, I shouldn’t have gotten involved. But I guess I hoped if they realized that people could overhear and be hurt by their conversations, they might think twice next time before loudly declaring their disdain for gay people.

“Excuse me,” I said, still not quite able to believe that I was hearing students talking like this after just attending a party like Queer Bash. “Are you insulting your friend by calling him gay?”

The conversation quickly went downhill. I was momentarily relieved when the conversation got onto a slightly more academic level about whether Queer Bash perpetuates stereotypes (their opinion), or stretches boundaries, challenges stereotypes and generates exploration of normalcy and acceptance (mine). I was informed that my opinion made one woman “f—ing sick,” and, furthermore, that I was clearly in the wrong because I was also gay. I am glad that I don’t remember the remainder of the exchange – when I get really angry, sometimes I have trouble hearing or remembering clearly. But I do remember the minutes immediately afterward. I only got a few steps before the whole thing really hit me, and I started breathing hard and fast. I crouched down, fingers touching the wet pavement, and felt hotness on my cheeks that meant I was crying. I felt sick, and it took a while to calm my breathing and stomach and heart.

Anyone who knows me will testify that I will never grudge anyone an opinion. But I find it distressing that people here share an opinion which they feel they can loudly proclaim despite the pain and isolation it causes many of their peers. Students should be able to come out here and not feel like they are freaks. People should be able to explore their sexuality or gender identity without feeling like deviants. I know students at this school who do not tell their friends they are in a same-sex relationship. I know students at this school who would never dream of asking their friends to change the pronouns they wish to be used in reference to them. I know students at this school who cannot go home to their families and talk about their relationships or even on-campus activities because they are told it is wrong for them to be queer. And these same students come back to Williams expecting to find a safe place where they can grow into who they are meant to be – and are met with groups like the one I met.

Maybe I should not have let these prejudiced and probably drunk people upset me. Luckily for me, I am comfortable with my sexuality and have only received support and love from the people who are most important to me. But this exchange upsets me for all the people who don’t have that security, whose parents disown them or whose friends shun them or have loud, disparaging conversations about them in public. It upsets me for what it indicates about our generation, of which I am sometimes so hopeful and sometimes so ashamed. How do we expect to move into or lead any kind of healthy, globally connected future if we cannot even accept our peers at Williams for who they are?

Moving on into the real world after this year, I am still basically glad I came to this school. But what feelings I had of Williams as a supportive and nurturing community were entirely destroyed as I walked home from Queer Bash and heard from fellow students that they hate me because I am queer.

Ariel Heyman ’08 is a biology major from Claremont, Calif.

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