As seems to happen in any class with sex on the syllabus, we ended up on the topic of the hook-up culture in my psych discussion section. It was the last one of the semester; I guess they figured they’d go out with a bang. We were assigned a few articles to read on the subject, some on research conducted by old white men in sterile laboratories, some on the findings of researchers who had actually been adventurous enough to go out into the field and take surveys. (Or so I gathered from reading the intro and conclusion, all I had time for before rushing to class.) All were dealing with straight couples, and the issues that they had as a result of anonymous sexual interaction.
It was one of the liveliest discussions our group has had. I hadn’t read the articles very thoroughly (i.e. not at all), so I sat back and took in what was going on around me. I’d heard it all before: the effects of alcohol, risk of disease, sexual assault, emotional issues. These are all serious subjects, but from the way the conversation was going, I was beginning to believe that only heteros had to deal with all that icky stuff. Whew, what a relief! Oh…wait…
My first chance to tie the conversation to the LGBT community came soon. As I thought about what I was going to say, my heart began to pound and my hands began to slightly shake. “This shouldn’t be happening to me” I thought, “I don’t give a fuck if these people know I’m gay. I don’t give a damn that Party Boy Chad and his Brohammer are sitting next to me, sharing stories about their experiences and perspectives, so that everyone in the class know how brotastic they are”. But I had already missed my chance, the discussion had moved on. I would have to wait to interject gaily at some other point in the conversation.
Its funny to me that after being out for so long, after marching in pride parades, having walked hand in hand with a boyfriend across campus- hell, after coming out to my African American Christian Republican parents- that coming out again in certain situations still gives me a little rush of adrenaline. And it is not always fear that makes my heart flutter. Sometimes, its genuine excitement, anticipation of a reaction, that makes coming out almost like a game. Other times it’s the insecurity of not knowing whether a teacher will be biased against an openly gay student, or if my project partner will want to switch groups. It had started out as the former this time, but I will admit, I was a little nervous. Whatever it is, coming out, something that even openly LGBT individuals have to do, is still always a noteworthy occasion in my day.
I did eventually get my chance to speak again in class. I broached the subject apparently just before my TA did. I started by stating that I believe feelings about hooking up should be thought of on a more individual basis, and that the statements “guy/girls always do/feel___” didn’t really make sense to me. I told the class that I’d always had friends of both sexes who consistently did non-stereotypical things and held non-stereotypical beliefs. I also mentioned that while the conversation was obviously talking about heterosexual relationships, there was a significant group not being represented.
My TA smiled, nodded, looked down at her list of questions and said the next one that she had planned on asking was: What are people’s perceptions of the LGBT hook-up culture at Duke? Party Boy Chad said under his breath (in that tone) “I have no idea”, preemptively clarifying the fact that, if he hadn’t made it clear before, he was not a homosexual.
I sat quietly for a moment to gauge the class reaction, also curious what others had to say. Being in the class for a semester (actually after about a week), I had come to the conclusion that I was the only openly gay individual. After a time I spoke up, all eyes turning to me as I said jokingly, “I guess I’ll go”. The fact that I was gay hadn’t come up, and I wouldn’t say I’m (always) “obvious”, so I felt like it was a surprise for those who hadn’t suspected, or even noticed me in the class before. I went on to explain some of my perceptions about the LGBT community at Duke: that by the simple logistical fact of there being less LGBT individuals, the selection pool was obviously more limited, that it wasn’t as easy to find a place where you could find someone (Shooters isn’t exactly catering to LGBT clientele), that for those not out, dating was a lot more difficult, that the prospects of long term relationships when marriage wasn’t at the end of the rainbow were maybe a little more complicated. When I stopped talking, hands slowly began to rise. We went on to discuss the ways in which society seemed to be changing, with more people feeling comfortable identifying, and people coming out younger. Some sympathized with the difficulties that LGBT individuals face, bringing up friends, family, or just people they knew of who were out or still in the closet. Someone asked whether or not coming out was a maturity thing. In my opinion it's not (and has much more to do with circumstance), but that the straight person who asked couldn't see why one wouldn't come out in college as heartening in some strange way. The class also seemed pretty supportive in general, and the TA definitely was, wrapping the discussion up by endorsing LGBT rights.
What I find interesting about the episode are my reactions and that of the class. Not having come out to anyone in some time, I was reminded again of what dropping the g-bomb felt like, and surprised that even in the relatively harmless environment of that classroom, how many emotions the act could elicit. While I wasn’t expecting a storm of hate speech following my admission, I was pleasantly surprised by my peers’ mostly positive reactions. Even Chad (I hope his name really isn’t Chad, I have no idea) listened respectfully, and made a comment, of which I can only remember that the gist was an affirming one. I’ll admit it may have been my own pre-judgment that assumed things about his character and beliefs based on minimal interaction. I think it is good for me to be reminded of struggles I’ve been through, to better empathize with those going through them now. And I love it when I’m reminded that maybe Duke is changing, right before my eyes, and perhaps the real world along with it.