December 6, 2011

Trying Out

[Editor's note: Please welcome Cameron T to the blog!]

Author’s note: I am by no means condoning the playing of/listening to Hannah Montana by referencing one of her songs in this post. I want to make that very clear.

Since my arrival at Duke, I feel as though I’ve been trying out. No, dear reader, I don’t mean I’ve been gallivanting around attempting to join every group on campus in a desperate attempt to satiate my need for social stimulation. I mean trying out for acceptance – both within and without the LGBT community. I came to Duke with many unresolved questions in mind – Should I come out immediately? If so, how 'gay' should I be? If not, then when should I come out? Was it possible to have the *ahem* beeeeest of both worlds – being open with my LGBT friends and yet maintaining some privacy with the rest of the world? #ThanksHannah. In retrospect, I see that those questions were downright silly. Since I wasn’t out in high school, I felt as though my transition into college life would be a defining moment for how I would live for the next four years.

Needless to say, I chose to rip off the proverbial Band-Aid and enter college as an openly gay man. My reception and continuing integration into the community has been interesting to say the least.

Community is a curious word. The dictionary defines it as a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. The LGBT community at Duke is (or should be) about more than the mere fact that its members all identify as LGBT. Isn’t it supposed to be about supporting and loving each other?

One of the things I’ve noticed most about our community is a seemingly ever-present sense of comparison of between individuals’ ‘levels of gayness.’ I’ve heard of people being ‘too gay, ‘not even counting [as gay],’ and being ‘not gay enough.’ During a bus ride a few weeks ago, a member of our community glanced at me, turned to his female friend, and unabashedly stated, “If I ever get that gay, shoot me.” Another member of our community once told me that he reads the BDU blog just to laugh at it. When a community which claims to value diversity mocks its own, it has far-reaching implications. I would even go so far as to say that it gives tacit consent to be mocked by those outside of the community.

So why then is there such factionalism within our little community? If being part of the community is all about what makes us alike, then why do we tend to focus so much on what’s different? Yes, I understand that there is a need for everyone to be an individual, but I am unsure why (completely unmerited and ridiculously contrived) varying ‘degrees’ of homosexuality seem to be so heavily emphasized.

I have to reject the notion that gender expression and sexuality are synonymous. Actions (watching football or liking to shop for example) are not gendered, and do not, in and of themselves, say anything about one's sexual preference. The fact that we think of certain actions as being more masculine or feminine than others is a mere reflection of societal constraints on gender. We need to rethink our notions of what it means to be ‘gay’ – in a community that strives to be as inclusive as possible there’s no room for such internal bias and exclusivity.


  1. Cameron, welcome to the blog!

    As for the “If I ever get that gay, shoot me" comment-wow. I'm so sorry that happened. Did anyone else hear the comment besides you and the female friend? Did they speak up? That's a really good example where allies could have stepped in, hopefully.

    I'm glad you wrote about the LGBTQ community's diversity! Diversity in the community is a really beautiful thing and important to recognize; like Sara's post from this Saturday, understanding differences within identity communities (for example, the experiences of a black gay male versus a white gay male) makes us a more supportive and knowledgable community. (As one of my friends put it, "colorblindness makes you blind". We've GOT to be aware and care about this rich difference/multiple minority identities within our community.)

    And then like you say-it's important to recognize all factions of the community as a part of the "fight"-the similarity of a goal while simultaneously recognizing our diverse differences. There is that quote by Sylvia Rivera, an important pioneer for American transgender activism, on the trans community's marginalization within the LGBTQ community: “It's
    not even the back of the bus anymore — it's the back of the bumper”. Or for example, even just as a queer woman, I look at HRC and just want to laugh. It's so far from representing a diverse community, their willful ignorance/lack of concern for diverse perspectives is hurtful and disgusting, considering the power & influence their wield in today's political movements.

    Your last line: "We need to rethink our notions of what it means to be ‘gay’ – in a community that strives to be as inclusive as possible there’s no room for such internal bias and exclusivity." Yes; I am consistently amazed at the discrimination within our own community; minorities are oppressed by "majorities" within the minority community here. Thanks for sparking this dialogue, Cameron. =)


  2. Cameron, great first post! Good to have you writing on the blog at long last.

    As far as what I's kind of kind Megan said. So props to Megan. Just wanted to let you know that I agree with you too, especially the diversity and levels of gayness thing.

    I wonder, why do we separate ourselves within our own community? Why is it so hard for us to all be on equal footing?

  3. Cameron, this is an awesome post! Thank you for raising an issue that I think often gets overlooked (maybe even purposely ignored).

    My opinion? I believe that sometimes people just need to find a way to differentiate themselves from others even when they already have certain characteristics that individualize them. I think this especially applies to minority communities that are marginalized. Some people in these marginalized communities feel the need to feel superior to someone else. The rest of society tells them that they are sub-human freaks. They have to find some way to feel significant. So what do they do? They denigrate other members of their community for dumb, pointless reasons to give themselves some sense of worth. I think that everyone, at some point, needs a little ego boost but this is NOT the way.

    Also, I'm so sorry that someone said that about you. I think it's a great testament to your strength that you were able to take such an awful comment and make a great post like this out of it.

    Can't wait for your next one!