[Editor's Note: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BLOG! In honor of our second birthday, I am pleased to bring you the one and only Chris, the metaphorical mother of our current site.]
[Author's Note: Right. So. This has been scrapped and re-written at least three times. I still think that it's kind of zzzzzzzzz at times and definitely longer than necessary, but who knows. Maybe this'll resonate with someone. Like I said in my first pseudo-personal post, my respect and appreciation for the 50 writers who've consistently written beautiful, kickass columns over the past two years is through the roof after going through this arduous and nervewracking process (of writing, uh, one blog post). Love and miss you all.]
When I arrived on campus for orientation week four (four!) years ago, I’d already been comfortably out for almost three years. Mom and Dad knew (this happened), as did anybody who was interested, I guess, at my high school. I was one of 3,000 students and it was a pretty diverse place, so no one cared. I was never bullied or teased. There were so many out guys at school and I knew all these others in surrounding districts.
* * * * *
Which I feel is now the norm experience for the current first through third-year white gay Duke youngins (I’m working on my graduate condescension). These guys have been out since, like, second grade, and I think entered/are entering with the same mentality I did, which was that everything is wonderful and we’re just about at the end of the gay rights movement. “What is an ENDA?” – Us.
Which I guess is sort of great on one level? That we’ve come to a point where at least some in the LGBT spectrum have awesome experiences have never felt other? “Gay” was about as high on my identity list as “white” (which, for the record, is very very not high). I’d probably more readily identify as a Yankee fan. That’s cool! Good work, Everyone These Past Forty Years.
But as such I had a pretty skewed understanding of what The State of The Homosexual was in 2007. I thought homophobia was, like, Selma, 1960’s shit and no longer A Thing. I knew of one lesbian in high school and bisexuality was just a phase to me. I’m pretty sure the only trans person I’d ever seen (if they even were?) was the villain in Silence of the Lambs.
Anyhow. How problematic and wrong all of this was is for another post — the point is that I was worried about a thousand other things more than my sexuality. I mean, I did have my stigma about North Carolina; for Long Islanders, like, Pennsylvania is The South to us. I would say there are actually places latitudinally north of us that we consider The South (sorry, All of Upstate New York :/). But Duke was just so pretty when I visited mid-April and anyway I told myself that I was going to school to study, not to procure a boyfriend.
I think the first thing that becomes apparent to a lot of gays is that they have to adjust their gaydar for Duke. I wasted so much time swooning over pink-polo’d peers before I realized that bow-ties and pastels were just things that straight men wore if they were wealthy and sort of a jerk. I was just so out of my element — there really were all these flamboyantly dressed guys and yet no out gays.
I remember you used to be able to browse Facebook networks by various parameters, and when you searched “18-21” + “Men” + “Interested in: Men” for Duke, uhhh, five? results came up? Like, for the entire school. And that was including me. I mean, if I could search “Interested in: [blank]” + “Number of tagged photos: >1000” I’d get much more accurate results (amiright?), but still. The message was clear: I could count the other gays at Duke on my fingers.
That’s right — only four years ago, it was possible to feel like you were one of only five out gays at Duke. I’d like the current sophomores and juniors reading this to take a second and let that sink in.
And my first year just sucked. The entire year. I was unhealthy and I didn’t sleep or shower or eat and my grades were awful (CHEM 21) and I had so few friends. I rarely left my room on the third floor of GA and I developed a reputation among the other men on the hall for always being on the phone (I called my mother every day without exception for my first two years at Duke). They developed a reputation among me for saying some of the most racist, homophobic and sexist things I’d ever heard. I don’t think many others had the same experience — like, I think I was just unlucky in terms of where I lived.
Despite the introversion, I was constantly looking for other gays on campus; after a while it wasn’t really as much about finding a boyfriend as it was about finding empathy and similar interests. But going to the LGBT Center was just out of the question. My utopian high school experience and socialization led me to attach a stigma to the Center, which was based on three [horribly flawed] premises:
- Those who frequent this space all have “gay” as number one on their identity list, and there is no reason for this (what an arbitrary thing to define yourself by!). Unless sex means so much to these people and their life (how does their sexuality affect them at all outside of the bedroom?).
- Those who have “gay” as number one (or even top three) on their identity list are all just The Most Flamboyant and cross dressers. I remember this Chronicle article from that September profiling the Center, specifically the quote:
- Flamboyant and genderqueer people are all vapid and unintelligent.
While some have taken to analyzing a Missy Elliot track, most have gathered around a long drawing table – the artists inside of them pour paint onto posters of purple Blue Devil icons, unicorns with heart-shaped eyes, and slogans like "Duke Allies" in eye-catching, multicolored text.Right.
- Not everyone who frequents The Center has “gay” as number one on their identity list. For me it is. And it is not because my life revolves around sex, but because, like, you can be fired in 20 states for being gay without legal recourse.
- The diversity of the LGBTQ Community at Duke (including those who visit the Center) is staggering. There are film buffs and athletes. Students who are turning gender on its fucking head and students who are questioning. Fierce activists and those who, eh, just don’t really care all that much. Fraternity men, Greek women, people who don’t like Lady Gaga, Yankees fans, Tampa Bay fans (whatever), Catholics, Jews, and
twoone Pratt student (but seriously). I will say that in terms of race, gender and sexuality, the population is skewed toward gay white men. This is a situation that is always improving, and We’ve made huge strides in the past several years.
The point is that fear of not “fitting in” should not keep anyone from visiting the Center.
- Flamboyancy and genderfuckery are not inversely proportional to intellect. This is just just a duh thing and I’m a little embarrassed that I ever thought otherwise. It’s no excuse, but in retrospect, the only truly queer or superfeminine gay men I knew of were those I saw on television and they weren’t exactly paragons of intelligence. It took actually meeting some genderqueer guys IRL (and being subsequently awed by how smart and insightful they were #Duke) that I realized how wrong (sexist and homophobic) I was.
The Second Year
I resolved during the summer that I was going to do everything different once I got back to school. I was going to be extroverted! I was going to introduce myself to people! I was going to drink maybe!
Most of all, though, I was going to not do any of these things!
I developed an insane crush on this Duke gay that summer, and it’s pretty comical how gung-ho I was about meeting (marrying) him. I still had, like, nine social anxiety disorders and awful self-confidence. My fear of being out of control of myself and affection for Diet Coke kept me from drinking (all four years, it would turn out. Ask me about that unintentional social experiment sometime). I still had zero friends that would take me out even if I wanted to.
So. Okay. This is kind of fucked up and embarrassing, but when I got back I would to go to section parties alone and sober just hoping to bump into this guy. He was someone who raged on the weekends and I was so socially inept that I thought there was like ONE party that just everyone went to each night. If you were going out, that’s where you’d be.
I did this about three times in September. I’d just quickly scan the halls and rooms, not interacting with anyone. I don’t think there’s any way this wasn’t illegal in some way – like, this is the definition of stalking.
It eventually became apparent that this was kind of stupid. My pragmatic half understood that statistically it just wasn’t going to happen. Also, years later I realized that I didn’t really have a plan if I did actually run into him.
Me: “Hey! I’m Chris. I’m introducing myself, because this is just a thing I do all the time.”
Him: “Hi, Chris! I’m almost definitely in the middle of a conversation that you just interrupted because there’s no way I’m just standing alone against the wall like the middle school dance scene that you always imagined this being. I’d tell you my name, but it’s obvious you already know it. How’re you doi –”
Me: “Will you marry me?”
Him: “Of course! Why didn’t you ask sooner?!”
My moral compass apparently still thought this was an appropriate amount of energy to spend on one person. I just needed to try something different.
And then the most perfect thing happened.
Chris Purcell, the Program Coordinator at the time, sent out this message to a Facebook group I was a part of soliciting help for Coming Out Day on Thursday, October 16. And get this: I knew that someone who knew My Husband would be there, and if I could just meet him, then I might as well start picking Our Song (just kidding! I already knew what it was!). So I volunteered to hand out tee shirts on The Plaza.
Yes, my first visit to The Center was purely for hormonal reasons.
It was just the greatest day, though. Everyone was really sweet to me and I had tons of fun. Coming Out Day is an awesomely affirming event, and its progression to the huge party it is now is testament to the strides this community has made over the past several years.
I should mention that as well as everything went, I did not meet My Husband’s Friend that day. In fact, I didn’t even meet the guy I had a crush on until my senior year. (This, it turned out, was for the best.)
Actually, that night of Coming Out Day, I randomly added someone on Facebook that I would go on to date for a year and a half.
But yeah. Once I started going to The Center, I was just infinitely happier. I met all of my best friends there – people I now consider family. I’m not saying that every LGBT person will definitely have the same experience or that they have to go, but it changed my life in a lot of ways. Just sayin.