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The New Millennial Gay Experience

Being gay in our emerging new world

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Can a College Be TOO Gay Friendly?

Posted on July 7, 2013 at 10:35 PM

By Paul Johnson

 

"Excuse me. Um, I was just wondering: How accepting is your campus of gay students?" 

 

I'm touring more campuses in my state as I approach my senior year of high school, and I find myself having to worry about my open life for the first time in years. Since the ninth grade I've been able to take for granted that everyone in my school life already knows I'm gay and is witheringly indifferent to it. I actually don't know how I'd be able to function in an environment where it's a big deal.What would it be like to have to catch my pronouns, to look around before flirting with a guy, to have the threat of harassment become a part of my everyday life? Needless to say, I've been checking with each college tour guide for any potential dangers. 



 

But there's a flip side that I feel a little ashamed to even be considering. My parents recently had me visit a legendarily liberal campus in my area. When I saddled over to ask a couple of tour guides my customary question, both leaned in with huge grins and began bursting with information. They told me about a dozen LGBT and Gay-Straight Alliance groups. They told me how diversity was celebrated and gay couples frolicked through the streets. If I came there I would be appreciated and celebrated for my homosexuality, and for my brave decision to share it with a hateful world. After about two minutes, I managed to cut them off and get them talking about their pre-Med program instead. The visit went on for another two hours, but I'd already made up my mind. This simply was not the school for me.

 

One of my favorite things about my current school's student body is that, even though I'm the only openly gay student there, they've never pigeonholed me as "The Gay Guy." It sounds somehow wrong and non-Prideful to admit that, but most days it's nice to just be known for being me. I'm the guy who's always three minutes late to first hour because the teacher doesn't care. I'm the guy who gets away with the filthiest "your mom" jokes because everyone knows they're not meant even the tiniest bit seriously. I'm the guy who studies one month ahead in Physics so he can help other people with their labs. The guy you ask when you want to find out what the next X-Man movie will be about.

 

When being gay IS part of the equation I like it to be relaxed and casual. So when a teacher tries to get us jazzed for a Christmas project by inquiring "Do you like to give AND receive?", I'm the guy who replies "Yep!" and derails the class for a minute while the teacher tries to get the students to stop laughing and fist-bumping me.

 

I like being known for all these things, and I'm a little worried that my new classmates will ignore them, and make me into the "Gay Kid" that I've avoided being so far. Either because they're too eager to celebrate my sexuality, or because they're too uneasy with it to see past it. I've actually felt like this for a while, but I didn't know how to verbalize it, since "not wanting to be known for being gay" sounded like internalized homophobia. This was actually part of my motivation for buying my shirt in my first article:  I needed to prove to myself that I really was okay with letting others know I was gay, as long as I did so in a way that also revealed other aspects of my personality:  my nerdy interests, my love of Mario games, my shameful preference for the new Wii version over the Nintendo 64 ones.


Lucas' shirt.

 

It's not to say that I have no interest in gay groups or Pride.  My long-standing attendance on AfterElton and my current participation here clearly indicate otherwise. I have a deep appreciation for the generations that have preceded me, and I find stories explaining things as they used to be utterly fascinating. But I also know I wouldn't want those to be the primary studies of my life. So much of the gay agenda up until this point has been built on the idea that someday a gay kid would be able to grow up and have the same life as every straight kid around him.

 

I’m now able to be that kid. So what does it mean that I’m thankful and happy for that, but at the same time I feel a need to identify with my fellow gays?

 

Categories: Other Voices

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8 Comments

Reply Hue-Man
1:44 PM on July 11, 2013 
The tragic Clementi suicide and the follow-up trial made clear to me that I have no idea what the college experience of today consists of. I would be very interested to understand how gays and lesbians deal with the brave new world of no private life when approaching college life, relationships, friendships, interests, and careers.

Back in the last millennium, my college room-mate and I were blank sheets: he was upper class, wealthy, private school, had already completed his first year and straight while I was NOT all those. Information about ourselves - history, parents, loves, achievements, failures, etc. - were only revealed as we wished and when we wished. Every new person you met was similarly in cognito whether in class, in athletics, in the dorm, socially or even standing in line to register for class. (Quaint, I know. Google IBM 370 to gauge the hi-tech of the time.)

That Clementi and his room-mate did deep background surveillance on each other before arriving on campus, I find truly frightening. To think that some text I may have sent when I was 12 (instead of the hours spent on the telephone) is permanently attached to me is staggering. I don't know that the 12-year old me would have understood the implications of an innocent photo sent to my (gay) best friend. Back to the college issue, the same lack of privacy applies to EVERYONE I mentioned earlier plus profs, judges for dissertations and competitions, and voters (for student political candidates). Am I over-reacting if I say that I would consider moving to another country or entering Witness Protection?!
Reply Cole
1:22 PM on July 10, 2013 
In my experience, even in the most "liberal" of environments, people will take their cues for how to treat you from you. Even though you are open about your sexuality, if that is not a perspective that you are constantly pushing to the forefront by such things as starting every sentence with, "Well, as a gay man, ..." then they will be less inclined to pigeonhole you as "the gay guy." The more you give them to work with in terms of the interests you share, the things you discuss, etc., the more fully rounded will be their perception of you. It sounds as if you have a ton of things to offer to new friends. Just put it all out there on the table and I think you will be pleased with the results. I've been around a few college campuses in my day, of varying types and sizes, and the vast majority are going to offer a friendly environment, while even the most welcoming will have pockets of students by whom you will simply not be accepted. The schools which are not welcoming are going to be pretty obvious, certainly if you ask your question about LGBT students during your visit. Many of the ones you would want to avoid are so open that they will require students to sign "morality clauses." If you are going pre-med, you will probably want to avoid these schools for academic reasons as well, lol.
Reply CATHY CRONIN
2:20 PM on July 9, 2013 
Lucas Butler says...
Hello, Cathy! I actually did attempt for a few months in 9th grade to begin a GSA at my school. However, my school is pretty vehemently non-"political," so it didn't really catch on. I eventually decided I could do more good for the closeted at my school by joining student groups (Robotics, Track, Cross Country, etc.), making friends, and living an open life than by sitting in a room and trying to make a big political point out of it.


Aw well, if a GSA wouldn't work at your school, then I think you made a wise choice, Lucas! I'm sure you haven't gone unnoticed by any other gay students :-) Even within your generation, there will be those that fear coming out, for various reasons, & of course, it's different for everyone.
Reply John
9:48 PM on July 8, 2013 
"So what does it mean that I?m thankful and happy for that, but at the same time I feel a need to identify with my fellow gays?"

It means that you're a complex human being and you want to connect with, be supported for and share every facet of yourself, including the gay facet. Not to say that we're a monolithic minority, but straight people simply cannot fully understand what it means to grow up gay, to experience the world through that unique set of filters. It's natural to seek out people who share similar interests and world views and who share our various facets. Don't worry about it, associate with whomever you want, gay, straight or otherwise.

Now about that legendarily liberal campus tour, don't be too hard on your guides. They don't know what your background is and their job is to sell you on the school, so of course they're going to load you up on information on the various LGBT groups. I felt fortunate to have one campus group back in my day. If the school's not a good fit, it's not a good fit, but you might not want to rule it out on the basis of a couple of zealous tour guides.

/lecture
Reply Yiannis
8:42 PM on July 8, 2013 
Dear Lucas, I quote this from your article "I needed to prove to myself that I really was okay with letting others know I was gay, as long as I did so in a way that also revealed other aspects of my personality: my nerdy interests, my love of Mario games, my shameful preference for the new Wii version over the Nintendo 64 ones." to tell you that I wholeheartedly agree and that in effect, I believe it to be a very mature way of thinking. Being gay is one of the wires that connect us to the outside world, an important one, surely, but not the only one. Your fear of internalized homophobia seems unfounded to me. On the contrary, it seems to me that you moved past the initial conflicts of accepting yourself as gay and are on your way to accepting yourself as a human being.
Reply Lucas Butler
6:51 PM on July 8, 2013 
Hello, Cathy! I actually did attempt for a few months in 9th grade to begin a GSA at my school. However, my school is pretty vehemently non-"political," so it didn't really catch on. I eventually decided I could do more good for the closeted at my school by joining student groups (Robotics, Track, Cross Country, etc.), making friends, and living an open life than by sitting in a room and trying to make a big political point out of it.
Reply Dennis Stone
2:34 PM on July 8, 2013 
Insightful question Cathy! I hadn't known myself until very recently that Lucas was the only out kid in his school. I had exactly the same question you did. (And thought exploring that might make a good article!) I don't think Lucas has set up a profile here yet to post comments, and I don't want to speak for him, but when I asked him that question he said that the only other gay kids he knew were from other schools. They had a good environment at their schools but their parents weren't happy with their sons' orientation. So I'm wondering if it's a family thing. Though if you think about it, even in a friendly school you'd still be the center of attention for awhile. Or you'd be aware of a larger societal dislike in some quarters.
Reply CATHY CRONIN
1:55 PM on July 8, 2013 
Good luck choosing your school Lucas! I'm actually curious about something you've mentioned a few times before (I've been reading your stuff since your Ta Da! post on AE!) --- about being the only out kid in your school. Why do you suppose no one else has come out? You're going into your senior year, so you've been there for 3 years, right? Unless your school is exceedingly tiny, odds are there ARE other gay students, after all :-) Is there a Gay/Straight Alliance at your school? Curious, don't you think? Maybe things aren't as easy as you thought at your school? Or your type of personality would have been out, & doing well, in any type of school environment? Things that make me go, hmmmm ... ? Ha ha!!