Almost a year ago, a group of students including members of the Queer Student Union (QSU), Women’s Center, and RASAN established the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC) through active demands directed at the College’s administration to address under-acknowledged and under-supported aspects of life on campus. As an institutionally supported resource, the GSRC (located in Jenness House) is currently a place to study, get information, read interesting magazines, meet for weekly discussion groups and procrastinate with friends.
This addition to our campus isn’t particularly revolutionary, considering many other colleges like Williams have similar centers, but the programming and presence of the GSRC has significantly increased the level of support and the opportunity for further change. It is an avenue through which one can coordinate discussion groups or propose projects or campaigns on any number of issues. That aspect currently leaves it in the hands of any student to develop what the GSRC means on campus. It is also separate from the QSU but supports students in a way that directly affects the mission of the group.
In the past the QSU has struggled to be simultaneously a support, social and activist group, but with the establishment of the GSRC, we have the room to concentrate on a specific area or try new things. Institutionalizing resources provides a stable form of support for all students, especially for those who don’t choose to join the QSU. As an underclassman unsure about how to join what seemed like an exclusive group of friends, I felt the need for a more accessible resource. The creation of the GSRC brings support closer to one’s comfort zone. As a result, the QSU can maintain its own identity, which often makes others a bit more uncomfortable.
Not every member of the QSU is LGBT, and not every LGBT student is somehow automatically affiliated with the QSU, but members drive the organization. We have a mission statement, weekly meetings and a real live board that spends time and energy to coordinate events each semester. We could never adequately provide support or address the complete scope of opinions surrounding gender and sexuality on campus.
Changes over that past year have given me the opportunity to emphasize the meaning of queer in the group’s identity. The word “queer” definitely carries with it a history of being a pejorative term and is still not especially popular among those who remember it as such. It is often used as an umbrella term to signify someone who is not heterosexual or gender conforming. It’s also a word of convenience, a shortcut to the acronym that is sometimes spelled LGBTQAAI. I resist that type of use because I think the use of the word queer is most powerful when it’s not convenient or comfortable to use. I prefer to think of the term as one that can include all those identities but in such a way where the distinctions between them fade.
Queer to me will always be radical in the sense that it not only takes us to the root but also validates the smallest branches of identity that depart from the usual. It is an unstable, active identity term. It morphs and changes to resist every new given assumption. It resists the idea that your experience is like mine, that we’re both “straight” or even that we’re both “gay.” As co-chair of the QSU, one of my goals is to encourage events and discussions that challenge the ways certain forms of gender and sexuality are assumed and given preference in our culture on and off campus.
I believe anyone can choose to identify as queer. It is not dependent on sexuality but indicates the presence of other complexities including gender identity and political ideologies. The concept of “queer” is both devoid of a specific meaning and full of possibility in which to fill in one’s own background, desires and sense of identity. It provides room to breathe, to question and try new things, and to change. None of us can predict the future, so why limit how we define ourselves?
Theory is important, but it’s much more gratifying to put it into practice. In December, many of us in Hardy House realized how little we actually knew each other and then experienced first hand how a group can function and bond regardless of sexuality, gender, age, race or economic background. Through deconstructing boundaries, connections can be made and more potentially created. This is a potential for different types of relationships, families and ways of approaching our place in society.
Toward those goals, the QSU is a space where anyone should be able to express themselves without checking a box and then have the support in fighting to give others that right everywhere. For that reason I don’t think there’s a single political issue around for which the QSU cannot rally or an aspect of queer identity that doesn’t pertain to us all.