May 29, 2010

Being Fiercely Real

So, something has been bothering me for a while now. A little while ago, I was chatting with an old high school friend of mine on Facebook that identifies as being a homosexual male. We were both talking about how we were trying to be more health conscious and go to the gym more. We both mentioned the, let’s just say… changes, our bodies have made over the years. I told him how I wanted to get back to my senior year/ freshman year body because I was really happy with myself then. He replied with an “lol.” But what he said next is what really bothers me. He added that he wants to make sure that he looks good for the boys. Now, just to give you some comparison, we are the same age, same height, similar build, and I’m bigger than he is. My fitness goals are less than his. After bringing this up to him, he replies that the only thing that matters to gay guys is how many abs you have and how big the rest of your muscles are. I was taken aback by this. I won’t even begin to go into all the thoughts that ran around in my head. I asked him if he was like that. Response: “No. But I know what people want and I’m going to do anything I can to give it to them.”

I was floored. I know that body image is very important to a lot of people, but is that really the ONLY thing that is considered when considering if someone is attractive? Do I really have to have rock-hard abs and be able to bench 250lbs to be considered hot? Are gay guys really that vapid and shallow? Speaking from my personal experience, thankfully not all are, but I do know that there are some people (of all different identities and sexualities) that take physical appearance as the only deciding factor. But please for my sanity, tell me that it’s not as large of a population as I fear.

It’s something that I’ve noticed a lot, not only in the gay community but in society as a whole. Everywhere you look, you see the models with their flawless skin, amazing physique, perfect hair, immaculate smile. I look and wonder if that is really the concept of beauty. If it is, then what in the world am I?! My skin is far from flawless, my body is decent but could be a lot better, I could use a haircut right now, but I do have a pretty nice smile if I do say so myself. But should I have to break my back at the gym everyday for 2 hours or starve myself for weeks on end to look like all the models do? Do I really care that much about getting called “hot” by some air-headed, shallow, gym rat? NO FREAKING WAY!

Don’t get me wrong, I will still go to the gym and try to adopt healthier eating habits but it won’t be anything drastic and it is not because I want to be one of the “beautiful people” as I like to call them. It is because I (extra emphasis on that “I”) want to do it for myself.

On Tyra Banks’ show (yes, I watch her show every once in a while), she did a special episode about plus-size women and how they can and should feel happy and comfortable in their body. Tyra gave them style tips and the whole nine yards. Also, she didn’t call them plus-size women. She called them “Fiercely Real.” I’ll admit that I burst into laughter at this new title, not because of who the title was for but just because it’s Tyra and everything is fierce in one way or another to her. Anyway, I actually loved that episode. There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to the gym for 2 hours everyday if you want to do it for yourself. If you are like me and actually like having a little extra warmth on you, then you go right ahead and stay warm! Do you and that’s all you can do. As soon as you try to do someone else, then my friend, we have a problem.

So here’s another warning from me to everyone, but especially for our Community because I see it a lot within us: Don’t let anyone dictate to you how you should live your life or how you should look. If YOU think you look good, great. If someone else has a problem with it, tell them this: Build a bridge and get over it.

Peace and blessings.

And here’s a little something completely unrelated but I think you should know about it because it is absolutely amazing.

May 27, 2010

The End of the World, More or Less (More)

The letter we just got from Janie, Director of the LGBT Center, and Surrogate Mother to Us all:



Hello, Everyone!

I hope the beginning of your summer is going well wherever you have landed. We have students all over the world and also a sizeable group here at Duke for the summer. I am writing with some news that makes me both happy and sad.

I'll start with happy. Chris Purcell has accepted a position at the Berklee
College of Music as the Coordinator for Peer Advising. His new duties will include coordinating their Peer Advising Program (hiring, training, and supervising 85 peer advisors), doing outreach to first year students at risk, and collaborating in the delivery of their new student orientation program. His last day in the office at Duke will be June 18, 2010. I am happy because Chris is happy especially to be closer to his mom and, of course, for a promotion and increase in pay! I told the reference person who called me that I did not want to talk with her, and she should go away! She did not listen to me, however. This same news makes me sad because we are losing a great member of our team who has brought so much light to so many of you. I know you will want to join me in wishing Chris well and much happiness. We will be hosting a good-bye reception for Chris here at the Center on Thursday, June 17th from 3:00-5:00 pm, and I hope many of you will be able to attend. For all of you who are at some distance, I know Chris will want to hear from you as well.

I am moving forward to request permission to retain the position so that a search process may be started as soon as possible. If the request is approved, there will be student reps on the committee, and I hope many of you in the area will participate in the interviews and offer your feedback. I will keep you posted throughout the summer as we make progress. I also encourage any of you who have questions or ideas to e-mail me at jlong@duke.edu. While I am sad for the loss of Chris, as this door closes another one will open with new wonderful possibilities!

Stay tuned for details about our celebration of Chris. We want to make sure he leaves feeling the love!

My best,
Janie

* * *

I understand Janie's attempt at framing this as an OK thing. Chris is The Best and has consistently played an infinitely important role in all of our lives, so it is logical that we would want Him to be happy and have money. I'm sure that there are other qualified people out there (I am not sure there are other qualified people out there), and we have Chris' cell number, anyway. At the same time, Justin Clapp better be prepared because his is now our Resident Male That We Trust and Approach With Dire and/or Inappropriate Situations.

So yeah, I'm totally not going to overreact and make this into something hugely negative. But just know that I am WITHDRAWING FROM DUKE BECAUSE I DON'T WANT TO GO THERE ANYMORE. THERE IS NO LIFE AFTER CHRIS PURCELL, PEOPLE.

Let's make this The Longest Comment Thread on how much we are in love with Chris. It should not only feature words (in caps lock) but also links to appropriate videos and images. I'll start.

In tribute:




Senate Armed Services Committee Debate: Watch as the Senate committee debates/votes on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal and the compromise made this week. This looks like a lock for Us, but it's got to make it through here before it goes before the House.

May 25, 2010

I did it!

Yall already know that I came to my homeland with a MISSSION (thanks Chantel!)

I'm not religious and resent the fact that much of the support for LGBT people in San Antonio is done through churches. I personally do not feel comfortable going to church or church related events. I think non-religious as well as religious folks should have access to this kind of support.

Unfortunately I developed activists block. I had sent e-mails to coffeeshops and community centers to no avail. Last night I bypassed my pride and e-mailed a slew of LGBT friendly churches that I found in an online directory. This morning three e-mailed back saying I could use their space for an LGBT youth discussion group.

One pastor in particular lamented the dearth of resources for LGBT youth in San Antonio. He, along with some other pastors, was trying to start a religious group for LGBT youth. He could get the message out to members of gay-friendly parishes across San Antonio. Most importantly, he promised me access to a large meeting place equipped with state-of the art games like ping-pong.

I was wholly unprepared for this to happen so quickly. I did what anyone in my situation would do: I created a Facebook group. Now the group has almost thirty members. I have sent e-mails to arts organizations, synagogues, HIV/AIDS organizations, meditation centers- every place I think will lend me a sympathetic ear.

I would like to contact high school GSAs (does anyone know if an online directory exists?) and reach out to all sides of town. I want people to hear about and have access to this group whether they live on the Northside, Southside, Eastside or Westside. The highways in San Antonio can take you anywhere. Unfortunately, public transportation is limited and doesn't yet exist in the newer parts of town. I love that the church is located near San Antonio College in the downtown area.

I know this was a simple step that required no high-tech skill or grant-writing ability. Yet for some reason it hadn't been done before (correction: I have since learned is has been done before, it just didn't last.) I can't wait to see how this group develops and meet some more amazing people.

For those of yall who found this via Google and want details about the group: the first meeting will be Thursday June 17th at 6:00 PM at the Cove. Check out the Facebook group San Antonio LGBT Youth Discussion Group. Please RSVP for the event. I look forward to meeting you!

May 24, 2010

Anonymous Posts
(5.17.10-5.23.10)

Every week, we collect anonymous entries sent in using the link on our sidebar and post them all on Monday. We post anything as long as it doesn't contain personal attacks or hate speech. Feel free to submit your thoughts and questions :)

This summer continues to be The Summer of Chris as I spend more and more days not doing civil engineering at the HRC. For those curious about what a typical day is like, when I get there in the morning, I first do not design a sidewalk. Then, just before lunch, I do not design and mix a batch of concrete. The rest of my day is spent not finding neutral axes.

It is truly a dream job.

After work today I met up with Vivi, who is The Greatest, and took her to this great Mexican restaurant I found this week called "Chipotle." I think a Glee party with the other Dukies may be in order tomorrow night. Community, come visit us!

Anyhow! Sorry these posts are up superlate today. I was busy fighting for my civil rights and those of millions of other people (clearly this job has not gone straight to my head).

#1
I am excited and I am anxious to begin my next four years at Duke. I have no desire to live life in the closet any longer. But easier said than done? How do I present myself to a new community as a gay member? Will I just become known as the gay kid? Perhaps if I wait until later, until people get to know. But then will I do? Can I tell them? And how much more time of my life will be spent as a lie? I am a straight acting guy, and no one really questions my sexuality. I have begun to wonder, however, if this is really who I am. Did society force me into this ideality of how a man should act? Did I shun my true self so far down into the darkness that I can't even recognize it? I am gay. I know that, but I have never said it. I cannot bring myself to say it, let alone to another person. I hope that at Duke I am able to live happily with myself, and discover my true identity.

On another note, not that this has been very linear, I have been considering that when (if?) I am an open gay man. How will I begin to see/date other gay men. Starting with my freshman year of high school, I had a "hook-up buddy". He was a year older than me and went to the same high school (he is actually the brother of my one best guy friend, which made for some interesting nights spent over there). We never really talked, just hooked up. I have never even kissed a guy; nor have I never had sex, but everything in between I suppose. I have never dealt with actually dating or getting to know a guy. I do want to hook up at Duke. I want to have fun and I want to meet people, but I feel like I won't know how to actually connect with someone. Does this make me superficial? Or just like any other college guy?

In short, I am confused. I am confused as to who I am and how I will live my life at Duke. This post has been a messy stream of consciousness with too many rhetorical questions, but I have never actually talked(or written) about this before. I just hope I can be happy with myself at Duke.

#2
Hi community,

You don’t know me yet, but you will soon, and I want to pick your brains.

First, I’m a woman, and I think I’m bi.

I think I accidentally dated a girl once, who I think was also bi, but wasn’t ready to go there. I mean when we stopped living together I called it a breakup… that was one of my first signs. (what timing). Also, it was a little complicated because I was engaged at the time, but when I started questioning and then realized that I’d been cheating on him, honest to God unknowingly, and with a woman, for several months, and he’s not a bad guy but also not particularly sympathetic with the LGBT community, well that broke down real fast.

I’m still questioning, but I think it’s a pretty good indication that sometimes I find myself thinking about kissing breasts while my boyfriend goes down on me. But what if I’m actually a lesbian? I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve blamed some confusing sexual reactions in my recent past to abuse in my far away past, and now I have no idea.

And I think I might need to spend some time with a girl to figure it out.

The problem is, I’ve been dating someone new and I really love him. We’ve recently moved in together and he is the most open and understanding ally I’ve ever met in my entire life, not to mention a smart and wonderful and loving person. I’m toying with the idea of forever. We’ve talked about my sexuality situation and he said he might be secure enough in our relationship a few months down the line to set me up with one of his bi/lesbian friends, but I don’t really believe him. I think he would do it but it would hurt him too much, honestly, and he is not by any means one of those guys like Katy Perry’s boyfriend who won’t take cheating as seriously if it’s between two women. (Thank God. Can we please stop supporting that, culture?) Anyway.

So, my questions to y’all are these:

Do you think you can know definitively about your sexual orientation without experience to back it up?

Even if you can know, is it important to get that experience?

Why can’t I stop thinking about it? Do you have any suggestions?

Love.

#3
So I’m approaching my month of being uncloseted! I’m so excited about this day approaching. To be honest after I came out I told my friends that I wanted a “Coming-Out” party! I still plan on making that happen and I want “I’m Coming Out” by Diana Ross to blast over the speakers. I just want to celebrate my accomplishment. I wrote my mom a letter, inspired by a friend’s letter to her mother, and I sent it to her over facebook. I kept asking myself as I was writing it, “Are you sure?” “Life will be changed after this forever”. I was also listening to “Listen” from Dream Girls. (I’ve yet to see the movie, but I love that song). My soul straightened up and said I’m coming out and I finished the letter. I even attempted to preemptively answer the questions that my mom would have at the end of the letter. I posted it and clicked “enviar” (send, my facebook is in Spanish). I was out. Well not right away my mom would have to read the letter..but several other things happened. I called my grandparents to let them know what I did, and my grandma pleaded that I told her I was kidding... I waited a day and my grandma went ahead and told my mom. While waiting this day, I told my friends what I had done, and received all of their support. I was out. No more hiding in closets...No more lying to mom about what I’m doing!! I can now be more specific about what I do at Duke! I felt free. My soul felt free. My entire being felt marvelous, amazing, alleviated, healed, repaired, liberated, astonished, amazed, shocked, scared, flustered, and incredulous! It was the most unique experience I’ve ever had in my life!! I’m out!!!!!!!!! I’m OUT!!! I’M OUT!!! I told myself this, and each time I felt like I was taken to a different level. My mom is now asking who I’m dating but I have a feeling she is telling all the family relatives, so now it is going to be awkward when they approach me and say...so I heard through the grapevine your gay. But lately my mother has been having conversations with me about the birds and the bees. She states, “When you were young you didn’t like suppositories or enemas, how do you think a man will be?” What she fails to understand is that, being a child, you don’t think of adults like that...well not at the age of 3 or 4. So that bothered me a bit that she was trying to rationalize my sexual preferences. But I told her same rules applied before I came out. I’m not telling you about my First nor what positions were tried. That’s gross mom, well gross to talk about with your own mother.

May 22, 2010


Uh... Everyone needs to see these videos: (via Aliza and Billy!) OK, so this first one from the TV show "What Would You Do" (which has changed a bit since I first saw it in the 90's) where gay parents and their children are refused a meal at a Brooklyn restaurant, and we watch as Society completely fails Us. "Fuck that, I'm hungry!" - Society. Whatever. How do we feel about this show, Community? I have mixed feelings.


Thank you to the people who said something? I think? I don't know. This show kind of lauds people who do kind of duh things. "Some would say that makes you a hero." Really? Well some people need to go to Definitions School. Anyhow. Let's all watch this other video of a gay proposal. It'll be worth it, Readers. I promise!

May 20, 2010

Butch/Femme

“I like butch girls and I cannot lie

You other femmes can't deny

When a butch walks in all the femmes make a fuss

Because there's like one of them and thirty of us”

-“Butch/Femme” by Team Gina

Don't hate me but...I can somewhat relate to the characters on the L Word. Don't get me wrong- I am just as annoyed that there were no real butch characters. I find the level of wealth and glamor unrealistic. Yet I can't help myself. I am attracted to the women on the show and aspire to be like them. My race and socioeconomic status also play a role, but I will address those identities another day.

Today is all about gender expression.

I see myself as a queer femme. It makes me feel like I’m in a burlesque troupe. While I am not the typical femme girl, I am a femme girl nonetheless. (And really, regardless of sexual orientation, who is the "typical" femme girl?) Before this year I assumed that since I wasn't “femme” in the most narrow, stereotypical sense I wasn’t a “femme” at all. I also assumed that in order to be “femme” I would have to date only “butches.” I changed my mind partly because Tiffany kept telling me how femme I was. I also realized that well…I wasn’t like all the other LGBT girls I knew. This realization wasn’t of the “OMG I’M SO ALONE WHAT EVER AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE” variety (we've all had plenty of those.) Rather, it was accompanied by a sly grin. One more hitherto unanalyzed part of me was finally beginning to make sense.

Part of the reason why I was so hesitant to claim the identity was because I was I was a flaming tomboy growing up. When I was younger I would often pass for a boy. I envied girls who could wear shorts and a t-shirt and still look like girls. In many arguments with my mom and grandma where I have been accused of “not being feminine enough.” Someone was always willing to explain to me that I was too loud, too logical, too brash, too sporty, too ugly, too to-the-point to be a girl. I still don’t feel like I have correct femme foundation. Whatever “femme” is, it’s not completely instinctive.

We all have many sides and histories. The word “femme” to me is not about wearing heels everyday, wanting to be a mother, having a million cute pictures on Facebook, heightened sensitivity to colors or shopping stamina. It’s not about only dating women who can pass for men, though I do find masculine women appealing. The aforementioned qualities are more stereotypical than realistic, though sensitivity to colors is based in biology. What makes me a femme? Well, my love for skirts, dresses and all things beautiful. My hair-flipping ability. My freakish emotional intelligence and sensitivity. My aversion to physical pain. My desire to comfort others. To you this may sound like outdated stereotypes. Yet for me the details are less important.

I am constantly "hacking" the word femme, teasing out of it new meaning.

Putting a definition to “feminine” and “masculine” is one of the hardest tasks I can imagine, slightly less hard than running the Federal Reserve or being a neurosurgeon. I understand why someone wouldn’t want to identify with a label. This may surprise you, but I can wear a suit and tie or play a contact sport and it has no effect my status as a femme. I have femme tenure.

Femme is also more liberating because I made the choice to identify as such and feel no shame in it. Of course I would feel no shame- as a woman I am encouraged by society to be "femme." And you'd be right to assume that it's easier for straight women and I to find common ground when I look similar to them. I also find it easier to introduce straight women to a girlfriend who looks like a boyfriend. But I don't have a firm ally in men or women. While straight women can relate to me and make up most of my friends, I am still too often seen as the tainted lesbian. I'm like a slut or a whore. And I have difficulty forming strong friendships with straight men.

This exercise has taught me to me more sensitive to the unique gender expressions of those around me. You are free to identify as butch/femme, genderqueer, androgynous or just yourself. I not vulnerable to harassment because of how I look, walk, dress or talk. I am vulnerable to harassment because I choose to be visible. I'm angry whenever I hear the line "If I wanted someone who looked like a man, I'd date one" on a television show, especially one that is LGBT themed (Sugar Rush comes to mind.) The gender expression chauvinism is our community needs to stop. I know the butch/femme dynamic seems passe, but it's just as passe as only valuing feminine (or non-butch) lesbians.

Identifying as femme is not about putting myself in a box. It’s about finally finding a box that so many people hid from me and saying

“Hey! That’s my box!”

May 19, 2010

Ticks.

So first I should probably just note where I’ve been this whole semester. I had been so sure of myself: on this mission to present my community with interviews and photos. I loved doing it. But then, as some of you know, my last subject’s parents found the entries…the blog. What ensued was not the greatest of circumstances for this individual. I had the permission and everything but I couldn’t escape this feeling of guilt. I stopped writing. What right did I have to put someone in that position of pain and hurt?

I think I reflected on it too much. I was scared that I threw myself out there, and was trying to pull out everyone with me. To be supergay, or ultragay, or gay before anything else. To take the risk and out ourselves on campus, online. That’s a big step. Deep down, I still absolutely agree that being just us was the goal of my entries: to show the broader experience of queer folks at Duke.

But being more out has not been without its hate.

Reactions from family and friends and complete strangers have been interesting. Although I am perhaps more hesitant now to post online, I know these stories are important to tell. So I hope you can bear with me in this post. I hope to continue posting during the summer and make up for my absence and overcome the fears that have piled up on me this semester.

There were two events that occurred really close together. They were my most direct and blunt experience with hate speech. I tried to brush it off and not let it get to me, but I’ve kept replaying these events over and over in my mind over the past few weeks. The first—was on LDOC. For those of you who have seen Patrick’s Documentary, LDOC 2009 was a great memorable experience for me. LDOC 2010 was tons of fun too, don’t get me wrong. But while kissing a female in the crowd while the bands were playing, I suddenly became aware of the people talking around us. I tuned in to a pair of guys next to us, hearing: “They’re kissing each other, that’s fucking disgusting.”

I can delight in the attention and reaction and help show a broader spectrum of female sexuality, the girl I was kissing certainly was. But I don’t really like being told that I’m fucking disgusting. It tore through me like I didn’t know it would. I shocked myself with how much it hurt.

Then, awhile later, the second event. Walking down Markham, hand-in-hand with my partner, a gentleman took it upon himself to lean out of his car and yell, “God made Adam and Eve!”

Not so piercing, no. But what if it was? What if something happened?

The only thing you can really do is laugh it off. Crack jokes. Be stronger...somehow. How do I do that?

I went to the Eno a few days ago, on a hot humid Durham day. I jumped right in that damn river. The peace and serenity of it all was overdue. Listening to the river flow slowly by, sitting on a soggy log, watching the dragonflies dance. I even got a tick! I’ve been terrified of ticks my whole life, but somehow it felt like a milestone. I picked it off without an issue, and maybe I’m sinking too far into hippiedom for my own good but I was pretty excited.

This semester was huge for me. A coming of age with hate speech and ticks. My grades weren’t what I wanted them to be—but are they ever? And I talked to my dad yesterday and while on the subject of coming out to the family he said: Summer, I just want you to include in your life whoever you want to be in it.

I don’t think he knows what that means to me, to us. It made my big ol heart want to explode.

Transparency and honesty are hard. It’s what I’ve made out 2010 to be. So far so good I think.

May 18, 2010

Multiple Identities, One Person

I love the rain. There’s something about rain that makes me feel very reflective. I like playing in the rain when I’m not on my way to class or have something else to do. It’s very cleansing and therapeutic for me. So today’s sudden monsoon put me back in my pensive mood. I began to reflect on my classes this year and on the mistakes I’ve made. As I thoughtfully meandered my way through the past academic year, I halted my psychological car in front of this one awesome memory I like to call Clinical Issues for LGBTQ, a wonderful class taught by the amazing Dr. Janie Long (PLEASE take this class. I promise you will not regret it.). So one of the readings for the class was entitled “Black-Gay or Gay-Black” and it basically stated that when a person is gay and Black, that person must decide whether he or she finds identifying as gay or Black to be more important. For example, I would have to choose which of my identities matters most to me. This made me a very unhappy person.

According to this article, I cannot equally and fully acknowledge who I am as a person. What am I supposed to do? Should I neglect one part of me while I devote more attention to another part of me? I can’t do that. I am me and all of me. It’s not possible for me to choose what matters most to me. I am gay AND Black, neither more gay than Black nor more Black than gay. I do not choose to highlight one over the other or attempt to conceal one and promote the other. So where do I fit in in this dichotomy of identity? Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, I actually do unknowingly fall into one of these categories?

So I sat and I pondered. I pondered and I sat. Then, I went and played in the rain a little. Then, it was back to sitting and thinking until I finally realized something. As much as I hated to admit it to myself (and now y’all too), I’m a gay-black. It’s not purposefully done at all. I just see so many more issues that the LGBTQ community faces that the Black community doesn’t. I have not fully come to a conclusion as to why I participate in more LGBTQ groups and events than Black ones, but I’m beginning to understand why. As I was reflecting on another class I took this semester about racial passing in literature (Shout out to Prof. Maurice Wallace. You should so take one of his classes, too), we had discussions about what it means to be Black and some other very interesting discussions. Anyway, from that class, I’ve learned that my views and belief about race are not quite views that many others share. But it’s due to my own view on race that I’m not active in Black student organizations.

However, that does not at all mean that I am neglecting my heritage. I will never forget where I came from, but remembering the past will not hold me back from realizing the future. I have multiple identities. I draw strength, power, courage, and love from all of my identities and the communities associated with them. So, I still believe that the article was incorrect in stating that I view one identity as more important than the other. I fully embrace every facet of who I am.

Sometimes, classes teach you more than just knowledge about the subject of the course. Every once in a while, you get one of those amazing classes where you learn about yourself, too.

Now, I want to thank Dr. Janie Long and Prof. Maurice Wallace for helping me to learn and grow more as a student and as an individual. I could not have done it without their guidance. I owe both of you so much.

May 17, 2010

Anonymous Posts
(5.10.10-5.16.10)

Every week, we collect anonymous entries sent in using the link on our sidebar and post them all on Monday. We post anything as long as it doesn't contain personal attacks or hate speech. Feel free to submit your thoughts and questions :)

OMG. I am currently on my lunch break at the Human Rights Campaign in DC where I started my internship today. Being here is pretty surreal and this is going to be The Best Summer without a doubt.

Of course, my work here pales in comparison to the hours I spent trying to get the Facebook Share widgets to work on our blog posts. Apparently, HTML stands for Hard TML because of how hard it is to code. But hey! The widgets are installed and ready for All of You to use. Please do! We can tell from analytics that the traffic on the site is directly proportional to the number of people that post our columns on their Facebook wall. So help Us out!

#1
I ran away to Duke because I wanted to escape. Escape the pain. Escape the judgment. Escape the tears of a place most call "home." I wanted to create a new me: too strong to be hurt, too courageous to be scared, too assured to question. But I couldn't escape. Even worse, the pain, judgment and tears stripped the "new me" naked. I no longer knew who I was; I was so lost. I have never felt more alone.

On a whim, I decided to apply for Common Ground. There I heard a story of a young man who had felt so alone and so lost that life wasn't worth living, but instead of giving up he came to embrace the best he could ever hope to be - himself.

Each day since then (some days are better than others), I have tried to love myself. Working to embrace the best that I can ever hope to be - myself. In this daily struggle, I have come across some of the most remarkable stories; many from those who have had similar experiences. I'm now blessed to call these people my friends. I no longer feel alone in this journey we call life.

Many of my friends have dedicated their time at Duke to sharing their stories, reaching out to people who may feel alone and even to those whose actions make them feel pain.

I hope that this documentary (link), a collage of experiences and reflections, can help them continue this incredible work.

#2

this might sound completely ridiculous, but I'm worried about entering a relationship with somebody I've grown close to because I don't know how to have lesbian sex. I wonder if straight people realize how easy they have it. i'm scared shitless that I will be physically incapable of giving a woman an orgasm in a way that makes both us satisfied.

Being Queer Gave Me Unrealistic Ideas About Cities

As I've been thinking of my fair San Antonio this past week I have also begun to think about cities in general. What do I want from a city? Do I even want to be in a city? Why am I so obsessed with cities?!!! (I promise y'all I will make this LGBT related!)

I live about 15 minutes from downtown San Antonio. Going downtown is an easy drive that I undertake multiple times a week. I usually stick to hip neighborhoods because literally driving in the downtown area is tricky. I am a beast at finding fun things to do. (Just ask Tiff: I found a cool, inexpensive play to see in Baltimore in a matter of hours and I don't even live there.)

I am certain I am biased towards cities because I am queer. Ever since I came out, I yearned for the neon lights of New York and the power lesbians of Los Angeles. Every show I watched, every book I read, every magazine I flipped through reminded me that I was MISSING OUT BIG TIME. It seemed that all LGBT people lived in a few fabulous cities. They had the most political clout, funnest places to meet up, most extensive resources and best overall experience. I couldn't wait to bust out of San Antonio and enter the major leagues of queerness. Only then would my sexuality stop being such a hulking "issue."

Little did I know I would get rejected from 7 colleges and end up at Duke University, my North Carolina wild card. I love Duke University and the community I have. Though Durham is a pint-sized city that most Dukies fear, it is a major hub for queer women. Do I want to stay in Durham? Probably not. I think Washington D.C. would be better suited to my career goals. But I want to leave my future location unresolved. I'll go wherever my life leads me, whether it's Portland, Boston, Berlin, Beijing or Augusta, Georgia.

Many of my relatives live in the country. They don't understand why anyone would live in a city. Whenever I express my distaste for the country, my parents remark sternly that some people prefer it. They want to be able to fish any time. They want wide open spaces to themselves. They want to see the stars. Maybe it would be nice to have natural beauty to go to when the bars close. Throughout my life many people have reminded me that you can truly feel alive in a small town. My city chauvinism is astounding and will be difficult to undo.

I know I would be incredibly lonely if I lived far away from civilization. Yet I often stay home and read a book rather than go out. I don't take advantage of all the amenities my city has to offer. How useful in an awesome alternative theater when I don't feel like making the drive? Or, more often, when my friends can't afford to buy tickets? How fabulous is a metropolis when you don't have any meaningful relationships? When you're sick from the pollution?

I'm trying to dissect what I want from a city. Do I want access to every type of restaurant imaginable? Yes! Do I want to meet diverse groups of people? Certainly. Do I want to experience cutting-edge art and design? Of course. Do I want access to a large public library? Don't get it twisted! I definitely do! When I get in my "pro-city" mentality I can't see much of anything else. I don't realize that I experience more cutting edge art and design through the internet than in person. While San Antonio is a major city in its own right something about it feels limiting. It may be huge geographically but it's not fulfilling in other, subtler ways. This is less about San Antonio and more about me. Until I find the city that feels like home I will keep searching.

Which is why I half-decided to stay in San Antonio this summer. Most of my family lives in Central Texas. Though I fantasied about moving up North in high school, I know that leaving my family will be a slow and painful process. I have friends who need me right now who won't take kindly to me running away from them. I have half-entered the real world and feel like I need to realistically assess who I am and where I'm going. If I can't do meaningful academic research in San Antonio, why would I assume that I would do it in Boston? If can't meet new people in San Antonio, why would I meet them in New York? If I can't find fun shit to do in San Antonio, why would the fun shit fall on my lap in Chicago? If I can't handle being called a "dyke" in San Antonio, why would I handle it with perfect poise when I'm in Portland? Of course I'll discriminated against in all of these cities. Of course I will encounter homophobia. Sometimes I get to thinking the grass is the perfect shade of neon green everywhere but San Antonio.

I stayed in this city as a challenge. I mistakenly believed that if I left San Antonio I would be able to achieve my dreams. I feel profound satisfaction that San Antonio seems riper with possibilities because it means I have acquired better eyes and better tools. I am fortunate to be from such a culturally complex city and near my family. Whether you are in New York City or the middle of nowhere this summer, I encourage you to take advantage of your location. I know what it's like to find your home stale and limiting. Keep searching. And if all else fails, there's always the internet. I am so excited for the people going to South Africa, England, China, Kenya, Ecuador, Vietnam, Tibet, Germany and everywhere else in the world this summer. I can't wait when I too will be able to say I am going to [insert awesome country here] to do [awesome thing.] For someone like me who is so internationally minded (I have a world map on my fucking wall!) staying in my hometown for the summer sounded completely counterintuitive. That's also why it makes perfect sense.

Back to the LGBT message: I firmly believe that no part of America should be left behind in the quest for gay rights. While I can't blame anyone for flocking to a "gay mecca" the migration of LGBT people to certain cities just serves to make the less desirable places even less desirable. If it wasn't for natural beauty, family connections and moving for jobs I fear that some places would lose all their LGBT citizens. I know I'm a hypocrite because I have have an escape plan in my back pocket. Who knows, maybe I won't have to use it.

May 13, 2010

I'm Not Southern and I Say Y'all

I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve lived here my whole life. My family is from the Philadelphia area. Basically, there is not a drop of “Southern” in me.

Some, especially those from home, might think that my new usage of the word “y’all” is reflective of going to college in the south. That’s where they’re half right. Yes, I’ve adopted the word “y’all” since going to college in the south. But the “southern” thing really has nothing to do with it. The real reason I’ve adopted the word “y’all” into my vocabulary is because I went to college and “got radical” (this is my favorite way to describe how much more aware of cultural issues I've become, including but not limited to LGBTQA things and feminist issues, and how much more vigilant I've become in my fight against it all).

It’s important to me that I’m living my life in a way which is consistent with my ethics. I don’t want to just talk about supporting gender neutral initiatives. It’s not enough for me to sign a petition in favor of gender neutral housing. I want to support gender neutrality with my everyday actions. So I say y'all. It’s a feminist thing. It’s an LGBTQA thing.

Now, I’m not perfect. I know I use gendered language in other ways and I know I continue to say “you guys.” I can’t unprogram and reprogram myself just by wanting to. It’s a work in progress, and I invite y'all to join me.

May 11, 2010

Summer Session: San Antonio

This summer I half-decided to stay in San Antonio. I hope to bring some necessary resources to San Antonio and eventually create a fiscally sustainable LGBT Center (using Duke money of course.) I will continue posting but be warned that my experience in San Antonio will be the main topic. I'm going to start off with a reply to a comment I received on my How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love San Antonio...Not post because it encapsulates the strong feelings I'm experiencing at the moment:

One problem I see with the LGBT community in San Antonio is that it's very content in its position. Speak up about San Antonio's ills and someone will quickly try to make it seem like everything's fine. In high school I was too often silenced by people who thought because they were happy and "tolerated" that I had nothing to complain about. People think San Antonio inherently can't be like other big, boisterous, gay-friendly cities. It can't support a gay district. The community is divided and lacks political clout.

But San Antonio is not a little city where this situation might be understandable. San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the United States! Its peer cities in size are Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego and Philadelphia, all of which have basic resources for LGBT people. San Antonio might be "fine" if you have a home, education, job, community and your health. If you don't, San Antonio might seem like the worst city in America. Last night I discovered that of the 50 largest cities in the United States, 15 did not have general LGBT community centers. Of these 15 cities many had centers for youth, discussion groups for youth, were part of a gay-friendly metroplex, or had services for LGBT youth in foster care.

I think Duke's situation is similar to San Antonio's. Many non-LGBT people might think that the LGBT experience at Duke is "understandable" because Duke is in the South and not historically known as a gay-friendly university. (You're in the South, what do you expect?) Many LGBT people, because of their gender, gender identity, race, interest in *gasp* non-LGBT things, lack of interest in being a part of an LGBT community or any number of other reasons don't see how much room Duke has for improvement. Duke's peer institutions are not Baylor and Texas A&M. Duke attracts students from around the world and its peer institutions are some of the most progressive in the country. Duke cannot be complacent and neither can San Antonio.

For those of yall who found this via Google and want details about the LGBT youth discussion group I started for the summer: the first meeting will be Thursday June 17th at 6:00 PM at the Cove. Check out the Facebook group San Antonio LGBT Youth Discussion Group. Please RSVP for the event. I look forward to meeting you!

May 10, 2010

Anonymous Posts
(5.3.10-5.9.10)

Every week, we collect anonymous entries sent in using the link on our sidebar and post them all on Monday. We post anything as long as it doesn't contain personal attacks or hate speech. Feel free to submit your thoughts and questions :)

Summer break, y'all. By the dip in visitors I'm going to assume that 95% of You Guys are in Myrtle right now, celebrating the end of the academic year with tempered and completely appropriate social functions. "I love it when the Dukies come down!" says Every Adult There, always.

Anyhow! For those of us that are lame/broke/staring at the HRC in a week (!) there are anonymous posts (which will be posted all Summer as we get them. So hit us up!).

#1
I just posted in the women loving women area of Craigslist tonight. I never thought I'd do something like this. Maybe it's my own fault for not putting myself out there enough. I never pictured myself writing a sketchy personal ad in the casual encounters area of a relationships section for an online buying/selling site. But then again, how desperate am I?

#2
I look forward to these anonymous entries every Monday morning. I have learned so much from the contributors here, and I hope that throughout the summer you'll keep this blog running!

An Open Letter To Closeted Duke Women

My Statistics final is tomorrow morning. Of course I can’t sleep.

From perusing the Me Too Blog I can tell that many women at Duke are in the closet. I also know that Janie and Chris meet with many closeted people at the LGBT Center. I like to think of myself as an approachable gal. If a closeted woman at Duke wanted to talk to another queer student, she’d feel comfortable talking to me. Yet so far I have received no Facebook messages. No e-mails. No calls. No texts. No one has randomly come up to me and identified herself as a queer woman. Why is that?

I’m a self-proclaimed Center kid. I have been out since I was 12 and visited the LGBT Center during Blue Devil days with my dad. I am committed to both Blue Devil’s United and Women Loving Women. Most of the LGBT people I interact with are open enough to come to the Center or Women Loving Women. Next year as a member of the executive board I will help shape Blue Devil’s United and I have no idea what it is like to be in the closet at Duke. I know of the many pros of being out of the closet and can also attest to its cons. Every day is an opportunity to conduct informal research. What reactions do my girlfriend and I get when we’re holding hands on the Plaza? How many people came to Lavender Ball? How do the people in club X and Selective Living Groups Y and Z view openly LGBT people? What do some members of sororities think about not being able to take other girls to their formals? When and where do I hear the most hate speech? My research has also extended beyond Duke. What is it like to be openly LGBT and homeless? What is it like to be openly LGBT at a Catholic all-girls school in San Antonio, Texas? What is it like to be openly LGBT and a great dancer?

To all the closeted LGBT women at Duke: I need you as much as you need me. The regular attendees of Women Loving Women have already convened to talk about what we can do next year to reach out to closeted women. I’m sure you’ll find our ideas strange, but hopefully you’ll also find them attractive. If you want to chat send me a message on Facebook. Perhaps in the Fall we can meet in person.

To everyone: Have a swell summer!

May 9, 2010

Taylor Swift and Anti-Gay Bullying

Taylor Swift. Lots of people love her. Others can’t stand her. At Duke, I was surprised to find guys in my freshman dorm listening to her while they sat in the hallway [an aside: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with guys listening to Taylor Swift…or any other artist. And I recognize that my “surprise” might imply some sort of gender binary and norm…but I think it’s more a reflection of the masculinity construct that existed at my high school/in my home community]. Me? I sometimes listen to her when I’m doing work. Which is what I was doing before deciding to write this post.

There’s probably a lot that I, as a feminist and member of the LGBTQA community, could criticize about her songs. As an outspoken member of both of those communities, there’s a lot to criticize about a lot of songs by a lot of artists. And I could probably find things she does well, too. But right now, I only want to be critical about one thing, and that is a line in “Picture to Burn.”

“State the obvious, I didn’t get my perfect fantasy/I realized you love yourself more than you could ever love me/So go and tell your friends that I’m obsessive and crazy/That’s fine, I’ll tell mine you’re gay

I was surprised when I first listened to the song and heard those words. In the context in which those words are presented, I can come up with two scenarios for the characters in her song.

1) Her ex-boyfriend is gay and she’s going to out him in revenge. I obviously don’t have to explain to the readers of the blog why outing someone is inappropriate and incredibly hurtful. In this case, though, the song justifies her outing her ex-boyfriend, sending the message that it's okay (at least under some circumstances) to out someone.

2) She’s going to spread an untrue rumor to hurt him. This scenario implies that being gay is “bad” (cause, um, you typically don’t spread nice/flattering rumors about people you don’t like/your ex-boyfriend). It perpetuates the negative connotation of being gay. More than that though, it normalizes anti-gay bullying of non gay-identified people [aside #2: I don’t think anti-gay bullying of anyone is okay…gay-identified or not. I chose to highlight the non-gay-identified part, though, because in this scenario her ex-boyfriend isn’t actually gay]. Anti-gay bullying doesn't just hurt LGBT-identified individuals. It doesn't just hurt individuals who are silently questioning their sexuality. Nor does it solely affect individuals who have gay friends or family. The fact of the matter is that being called gay or another homophobic slur is the worst insult an elementary school-, middle school-, or high school-aged kid can be called. A 2005 survey by GLSEN found that the second most frequent reason kids are bullied is because of actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Even if peers don't actually think that another student is gay, homophobic language is still likely to be used to degrade another student. Last April, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover commit suicide after being bullied with anti-gay slurs for months. The point is: anti-gay bullying is harmful to anybody who bullies target, it is pervasive, and it hurts.

A third possibility: Maybe I’m way over analyzing this all (it’s been known to happen).

I don’t know that I have anything really intelligent to say about it, other than "this is bad" (which doesn't count as "really intelligent" in my book). And maybe nobody else listens to her so you don’t really care about what she says in her songs (though I would argue that as a community we need to take issue with it even if she isn't the most played song on your ipod because pop culture themes penetrate the rest of society).

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this, though, is that when I went to look up the lyrics to confirm what I heard (I’ve been known to hear weird things that don’t exist), I saw that a few websites list different lyrics that exclude the gay line. Is this indicative of a “clean” version? Which then seemingly admits that she understood why what she says in that line is problematic. Yet she still included them.

Thoughts?

May 7, 2010

A Gay Greek's Plea

Okay, here we go. I am gay, out, and in a fraternity. Best part about it: it’s not a problem at all. The brothers knew about my sexuality long before I rushed and pledged. I was worried that once knowledge of my sexuality spread, I would be blacklisted and never invited to come around again. Much to my surprise, not long after my sexuality was revealed, I was invited to go to dinner with some of the brothers. I agreed, hesitantly, wondering what in the world this could mean. Were we going to have “the talk”?! (DUH Duh duh!) We have dinner. The subject was not mentioned, not referenced, not even hinted at. I released a sigh of relief as mighty as the gust from Zephyr that killed the beautiful Hyacinth (Can you tell I love Greek mythology?). My times of hanging out with the brothers continued. Fast forward to rush. Once again, my suspicions rose that maybe I could hang out with the brothers but only as a friend, never a brother. On a last minute whim, I rushed. My heart beat at the speed of light at each event, waiting for one of the brothers to tell me what I knew I would eventually hear. I remember anxiously staring at my computer on Sunday nights, refreshing my email every 10 seconds, hoping that I would get an email inviting me to the next round of rush, but knowing that I would never get it. Again, the brotherhood proved me wrong. I received a round 2 invite, followed by round 3. Then came the moment of truth… bids. I successfully made it through all 3 rounds of rush, but would that matter? After all, it could have all been for naught if I did not get a bid to pledge and eventually join. For that entire day, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t eat. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t walk because my knees were weak. I couldn’t write because my hands were shaking. The same thought ran through my head all day: No fraternity wants a gay guy as a brother.

I broke into tears that night. I received a bid to join the Beta Lambda chapter of Sigma Chi. They didn’t care. THEY DIDN’T CARE!!! They wanted me to be one of their brothers! Tears of joy streamed down my face as I quickly ran downstairs to my best friend’s room to tell her the good news. I, Ashante’ Jamar Biggers, was going to pledge a fraternity.

That was a year ago now. I’ve enjoyed every single minute with my brothers. They’ve been my friends, my support group, my vacation buddies. They’ve been there through my happy times, my sad times, my confusing times, my stressful times, my blissful times. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

So why tell you my story? Because I want everyone out there to know that yes, there is homophobia in the Greek community, but it’s not everywhere. You can find a pocket of sunshine breaking through the clouds just like I did. You just have to find it. I feel very secure about my sexuality thanks to the help of my fraternity. I feel very comfortable inviting a guy to our events. The thing that gives me the most grief is getting up the courage to ask someone. I know that if I bring a guy to a date function, we won’t have to face the stares and whispers. We won’t have to be the awkward couple that no one talks to. We could be just another couple in the crowd.

So please, for me, don’t think of all Greek organizations as homophobic because they are not. I beg of you to not generalize all Greeks as the same because we are not. I am an individual just as much as the next person. Think of the negative stereotypes that you face everyday and how you feel about them. I feel the same way.

May 3, 2010

Anonymous Posts
(4.26.10-5.2.10)

Every week, we collect anonymous entries sent in using the link on our sidebar and post them all on Monday. We post anything as long as it doesn't contain personal attacks or hate speech. Feel free to submit your thoughts and questions :)

Finals week! It is officially finals week. For some, this means watching over three hours of Modern Family in my room last night instead of studying. You know who you are, All Those People That Were There.

But for serious. I'm more than a little nervous for my Concrete exam tomorrow. We're allowed to bring in 6 cheat sheets, which, uh, doesn't exactly comfort me. It's almost exactly like this scene from Kill Bill Vol. 2, where Pai Mei is like, "Pick a sword, but I do not need one" and Uma is like "Tihs is gunna B EZ!" and then it is not easy.


Captain Appropriate Cinematic Allusions, over here. This is exactly what being an engineer is like, with zero exaggeration.

Anyhow! Anonymous posts!

#1
So I’m a gay UNC student and I must say I’ve noticed lately that a lot of my conversations with friends have been driven by my sexuality. I like rating men as next as the other person and I welcome these discussions dealing with who I want to date and such, but I keep fighting to try to let my sexuality define my life. Also I have received some heat from my friends when it comes to dating because they were discussing what my preference is. I told them my tendency was not toward my own ethnicity but towards others. I don’t know why, I just have not found that many black men attractive. It is not that I’m racist or anything it is just that my tendencies aren’t toward them. Get me started on Italians...:) but see this is where the problem comes in...now I’m generalizing ethnicities to certain traits which in itself is a form of racism. But I would never consider myself racist against my own ethnicity. Talk about intersection of identities...I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person navigating this difficulty in their life right now. But it may just be that I hate falling into stereotypes. I understand that majority of stereotypes are based on generalizations. I believe it bothers me when I see ethnicities dating the same ethnicity. Something in me just goes, yay, we’re all falling into the stereotypes. Blacks don’t date anyone else besides blacks. Indians date Indians. Whites date whites. Ugh cultural stereotypes.

#2
As I was talking to my mom the other day on the phone, I decided to mention to her some of the things I was involved with recently at Duke that didn't really involve schoolwork or organized groups. I mentioned to her the Day of Silence pictures that went up over campus and on Facebook in which I was participating, as well as the "Do I Look Illegal" campaign that a lot of friends were doing. Instead of the expected response of pride in her child for taking a stand on something so important, I got asked, why do I always go looking for trouble? What if someone sees those pictures and tries to hurt me? I was taken aback. I responded instinctively that no one would try to hurt me, especially at Duke, the whole point was to take a stand for something that was right to me. She asked, yes, but aren't there crazy people at Duke? After this, I just shut down and pretty much ended the conversation by switching topics.

After thinking it through a few days later, though, I guess I can understand her point and fear. That's the kind of environment my parents grew up in. And that's the environment that they see on TV and on the radio. There are crazy people everywhere who harm others for being different or expressing their views. But not at Duke. Right? Nothing would happen to *me*.

I think that at Duke the situation, place, and experience for the LGBTQA community is getting exponentially better, but that doesn't mean that the world is moving right along with us. When we leave campus, we are not surrounded by a private institution that will support us no matter what. Or by bright, generally left-leaning twenty-something-year-olds. Or by an environment that caters to a population that actually cares about these issues and wants to "save the world" in whatever capacity that means. We are very lucky here at Duke to have this environment, but there's a lot more to be done in the greater Community. I just hope that fear will not be the cause or effect for not pushing for change in what is right.