This winter break I had a pretty interesting experience; I hooked up with a man. I felt completely and totally attracted to him, and we had a great time. It was exciting and deeply personal-I realized the label of "lesbian" that I've always used does not quite fit me. I realized...maybe I'm just open.
Who did I go to to discuss this experience? Of course I told all sorts of friends.
But then I also told a specific group of people-I told queer women. But I wasn't really just telling them, though, and I'm sure they knew that. :) I was also simultaneously asking for their for advice. They were pretty much all wonderful in reading between my lines of, "I JUST HOOKED UP WITH A MAN" text message as reading something more of, "Hey queer female friend! Look what's going on in my life! It's exciting and enriching and I want to know what you think of it...because you've been there, you're a queer woman too. Tell me what you did. Where do I go from here?" It was a wonderful, enriching experience. I couldn't have asked for more insightfulness or thoughtfulness from queer women as we discussed our queer, female, identity intersection based on personal experience.
Let's pretend in an alternate scenario, that WLW doesn't exist. And now re-run the above experience that I had earlier this break.
To begin, I'm probably still closeted without WLW. Afterall, I went to WLW first. WLW was my entry point; it helped me come out. [Only three months after I went to WLW, one of the WLW members invited me to BDU with her, and I went.]
But okay, let's pretend for a second that without WLW I do come out as queer without the support of a women's community like myself, and that I happily integrate myself into the LGBT Center.
Well, so the experience happens-I'm back home my senior year over break and I hook up with a guy. Except this time...who do I go to? Who do I tell that can relate to me on personal experience and personal stories? Would I even know any other queer women?
That answer would be too hard to provide, so here's what happened in the real scenario:
One of the first women I told was someone I met at WLW-we became friends through it. I ended up calling her after the experience and she talked to me about how cool it is to be open, and that as a queer woman she's had this experience before, too.
Let's take another woman I told. I met her at? WLW. She eventually did branch out to BDU and the LGBT Center, but it took a WLW member inviting her to come to the Center during its regular hours, 8am-5pm, and she finally did come to the Center "just to hang out", and eventually she came to BDU , too. She affirmed my experience also, based on her personal experience as an openly queer woman.
Do you...see where I'm going with this? I met all of these queer women through WLW. The community I needed to expain to me what they did when they went through a similar experience was the community I found from women's community. Notice that I'm highlighting the women I told here *not* at the exclusion of men, but just to show that they provided a wealth of experience in a similar identity of queer female-hood that no male could have shared, not because he's somehow inadequate, but because he wouldn't have that personal experience.
The "we're all equal and we deserve equal treatment and equal groups for our equal experiences" is what some parents tell their children in a simplistic way to explain the world. It's not the reality, and in an effort to explore our different experiences we are creating groups to explore that. Do you want to talk about female sexual fluidity and the pressure on bisexual women to prove that their identity is not a "stepping stone" to lesbianism nor is it slutdom nor is it a phase? Can you imagine why that might be difficult to explain to a group of all gay men, or why it might be difficult to try and have that conversation among straight people? If you don't understand why that might be difficult, I challenge you to recognize that it is a privilege to have an identity that society doesn't stereotype or double-bind you for.
It has been my experience that by creating and fostering community through an "official" capacity, or WLW, it's created friendships and brought more women into the LGBTQ community than I ever knew of before. Eliminate it, and you'll not only lose an incredible space for queer women on this campus, but I can gurantee less women would come to BDU or the Center in general. Many women who I know today who attend BDU or the LGBT entered through WLW; it didn't stop them from joining other greater LGBTQ groups, but rather was their stepping stone. Some queer women might not have any desire to go to WLW, either-and that is still great. It's providing a niche and a community for those who wish to seek it.
Does that mean all-queer-women's community, like WLW, wants to get rid of the men and the straight folk so that we can form this community of support? Does that mean...we purposefully attend WLW and then don't bother to go to BDU events cause we're just that malicious?
Why have identity groups at all? Why even have the LGBT Center? Why have Spectrum? Why have Women Loving Women?
I would like to challenge the original author on this idea: creating one type of community does not automatically eliminate the possibility of creating another one. Queer women meeting together and forming a strong support network does not mean these women are suddenly removing their gay male friends from their lives or crossing "BDU @6pm" off their iCal. During the Abolitionist movement in the 1800s, separate all-black abolitionist groups formed. Did this mean blacks stopped attending the integrated meetings? Nope, the reverse happened. It created stronger black community that then fostered into stronger abolitionist force as they moved forward.
So what do these spaces mean, then? If they're not out to maliciously separate us all?
It simply means we're finally finding people who might reflect our identity, and who might even share a part of that experience. [Because trust me WLW is full of such a diverse group of women that I know all of our experiences couldn't possibly be shared.] But to find even a small part of your identity reflected in others can be a powerful thing. "Insularity" is, I feel, an unfair word to use for a space that simply tries to foster community not found elsewhere. "Secrect" I feel is also unfair; the Free Masons are a secrect society. What do they do at the Free Mason meetings? Nobody knows! That is a truly secrect society. What happens at WLW? Find our monthly meeting topic or movie online here at the BDU blog, on the BDU listserv (thanks Ari!), the public LGBT listserv, the Black Student Alliance listserv, the Women's Center listserv, the Duke Varsity Athlete listserv, or any other of the many public listservs we advertise on. WLW is simply confidential for the so-many reasons why a person might not want or be able to be "out".
One of the founders of WLW told me once, "it was dissapointing...you know...that [WLW] had to be an official thing. You would hope...that these things would just spring up...organically."
Maybe one day we won't need WLW at Duke. Maybe it will spring up organically and all the queer women at any space, any university, any city, any town can just find each other. They'll feel instantly comfortable with their identity and join a group like BDU and integrate effortlessly and find queer female community with which they can share personal experience.
Until that happens, I'll be happy to keep coordinating WLW, and I'll be happy to pass it on to someone next semester after I'm gone to lead, and I'll be happy to know that we did something to affirm our identity, which virtually every space on this campus does not. If you have a problem that queer women are growing stronger in community on this campus in a monthly hour and a half-long space (and shoot people, last time all we did was make grahamcracker gingerbread houses!)...then I think there is a bigger problem; and I do not think it is us.