An often overlooked Minority Coalition (MinCo) group, the Queer Student Union (QSU) is a tight-knit group committed to both providing a supportive environment for queer students and their allies and raising awareness of queer issues on campus. Although the organization’s presence on campus has increased over recent years due to active and committed board members, many misconceptions still exist about the group at Williams.
The most pervasive assumption is that all members of the group are “gay.” First of all, the term “queer” is a term that encompasses a broad range of gender expressions and sexualities, even extending to allies. Another false impression is that the QSU is insular and only holds social events for queer people. In reality, the QSU actively encourages students, queer and straight, to attend weekly meetings at Hardy House. The discussions on queer issues provide engaged students an opportunity to partake in thoughtful dialogue on a myriad of issues, regardless of personal orientation. For these reasons, the QSU reaches out to the campus through an event that more and more students know about even before stepping into their freshman entries.
Two words: Queer. Bash. When combined, the two ignite an array of ideas about the biannual dance parties thrown by QSU. Often, student discussions revolve around how to wear the least amount of clothing without violating town ordinances or where to find an extra-large pair of heels for the football player in their entry. However, behind the flurry of glitter and feathered boas, the driving purpose of Queer Bash is often lost.
Ideally, Queer Bash is a safe space for gender expression and sexuality. For QSU members, the dance is a way of creating an inclusive atmosphere where fellow students can express themselves without fear of judgment. Whether it’s through gender-bending fashion choices or simply attending the event, students, both straight and queer, engage in a night of both entertainment and acceptance. According to QSU Co-Chair Johannes Wilson ’11, Queer Bash “encourages openness in one’s perspective toward sexuality and gender expression.”
Unfortunately, students often forget the reason behind the upcoming dance and often harshly judge what they witness. Many still shy away from a same-sex couple dancing next to them or rudely comment on the outfits of some of their peers. Inaccurate assumptions about the sexuality of those students who question traditional notions of gender expression through their clothing linger among a minority of students and are, frankly, disappointing. These judgments threaten to marginalize the inclusive effect of Queer Bash and spoil one of the few times in which the queer community is celebrated at the College.
One of the most contentious aspects of Queer Bash is the projected porn that illuminates the inside of Goodrich Hall. The presence of a large variety of porn is not meant to perpetuate the false relationship between queerness and promiscuity, nor is intended to encourage unwanted sexual advances (quite the opposite â€“ get consent!). Instead, the porn exists for the reason of de-stigmatizing sexuality, or, in other words, removing the (mis-)labels associated with certain sexual behavior. Through the large number of students partaking in the cross-dressing tradition of Queer Bash and the presentation of porn, students witness a variety of sexual and gender expression that is often deemed taboo in mainstream culture. It is the hope of the QSU that the incorporation of Queer Bash in the Coming Out Days events provides an entertaining night that can segue into discussions of queer identities in our society. By having constructive dialogue, members of the queer community can feel a stronger connection to the College.
However, with the budgets of MinCo groups suffering a severe blow after last year’s college-wide budget cut, some question the College’s commitment to supporting the “diverse” community advertised in the picturesque admission view books. The continued presence of Queer Bash reminds not only current Ephs but also prospective students that Williams strives to be an inclusive campus. Sadly, when students ignore the vital importance of Queer Bash for some of their peers and arrive with judgmental attitudes, the safe place desired for the dance is compromised.
Regardless of whether you attend Queer Bash or not, remember how important this event is to many of your fellow students. By leaving phobias and prejudices at the door and by respecting each other and ourselves, Queer Bash will continue to be a healthy exhibition of Williams pride in its students. Oh, and an epic dance party as well.
Zach Evans ’12 is from Clifton Park, N.Y. He lives in East College.