December 31, 2011

I'ma be me Gay vs. Black

Happy News Years Eve everyone!

I recently had a conversation with another black queer student at Duke, and it caused me to ponder a question that I had never thought about before, but yet was always there. He was explaining to me why he doesn't feel as comfortable in the gay community, as he does in the black community. He is very active in the Mary Luo center for black culture, but I don’t think he has ever set foot in the LGBT center. For me I’m almost the exact opposite. I feel much more comfortable within the queer community than I do the black community, and I frequent the LGBT center regularly, while I can count on one hand the times I’ve been to the Mary Lou.

So the question is why? Why do I associate with one part of my identify so much more than the other? I find it particularly interesting because 1. My Blackness is visible unlike my gayness, and 2. I was raised black, while I have only recently learned what it means to be gay.

I think one reason I’m more involved with the gay community is because I feel that it is harder to be gay than black. As the black lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes put it “ it’s harder to be gay than black, because you don’t have to come out as black”. When I was having this conversation with my black queer friend I told him that I feel the LGBT community needs my support more. The constant attack on the LGBT community by conservative politicians and religious leaders has help shape my self-identification. My Grandparents had to struggle for their rights as African Americans, and now I have to fight for many of my rights as a Gay American. In my home state of North Carolina I can’t get married, give blood, and I don’t have protection from work place discrimination. These things stem from the fact that I am gay, not because I’m black. The fact that more people have a problem with my gayness is one reason I identify more with it. This may seem Kinda odd but it’s one of the ways I’ve learned to empower myself…. or maybe it’s just me trying to be controversial and tick off homophobes (my friends often accuse me of being purposefully controversial) but either way it works for me.

Another reason I think I identify more as a gay man is because of the guilt I still harbor for not coming out sooner. Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to make up for lost time. Whether right or wrong I do feel that I owe something to the gay part of myself for the 19 years I spent living in shame of it.

With all of that said, I still whole heartily embrace and celebrate my African American identity. I am proud to be black, and I m proud to be gay. Both shape who I am, and the way I live my life. Truth be told, I think that my identification as a gay man needs more attention at this part of my life. I’m still learning what it means to live my life openly and proudly as a gay man, and so to a certain extent one part of me is playing catch up with the other. It is my goal to one day find a balance between the to largest components of my identity, but for now I think it is ok if I pay a little more attention to a part of myself that I have neglected for way to long.

December 29, 2011

Love, Arguments, and the Chemistry of Bodies

My ex boyfriend had a special place in his heart for intellectual arguments. He was a Philosophy major and took every opportunity he could to flex his debating muscles. If that wasn’t bad enough he was good at it and knew that one wins philosophical arguments with mathematical logic and empirical biological evidence rather than by quoting Foucault at random. I freely admit that I rarely, if ever, won any such arguments with him. Mostly I just tried to challenge and amuse him for as long as possible before he-- inevitably-- disproved my belief.

About a month into our relationship, we were studying together in the link when I accidentally stumbled into one such debate. I was trying to convince him to help me with Physics 53 while he was trying to ignore me long enough to finish a Biology essay. Then, out of nowhere we were arguing over, of all things, the transcendent nature of love. My position was, in essence, that love is an illogical and non-useful impulse that would not have evolved naturally in any species. The fact that love not only existed, but fills a central spot in human minds and culture, means then that love must descend from on high. I was arguing for what I think can fairly safely be called the popular opinion: love is inexplicable, transcendent, and a gift straight from God Himself. My boyfriend, in turn, took the position of a cynical scientist, arguing that love is a combination of our biological, sexual impulse and learned social behavior that together serve as human beings’ primary evolutionary selection mechanism. I was trying to use love as a proof for God; he was trying to use love as a proof that evolutionary selection still exists in the modern world.

Our debate didn’t last long, but not because he “won.” Instead, I asked if we could stop talking about it. He went quiet, assuming he had accidently hit a soft-spot and having no desire to dig a deeper hole for himself. He probably assumed that he accidently offended my religious sensibilities-- I was in the process of entering the Catholic Church at the time, and he often found himself being too verbally critical of the decision. I let him think that was the issue. Though I hadn’t told him yet-- nor would I for two more months-- I already knew I was in love. To me, that meant a lot, and I didn’t like what I thought sounded like that feeling being trivialized. What’s worse, though, is that I was afraid that if he talked longer he might convince me. That was the most terrifying. I liked being able to think of my relationship with my boyfriend as something special and almost holy, and I didn’t want that sanctity taken away. With this fear in me and knowing it might not be long before the topic came up again, I decided to study up and develop a more advanced answer to Haddaway’s immortal question.

My approach to rooting out the nature of love was somewhat convoluted because it pitted two warring parts of my personality against each other. See, anyone who knows me knows I’m a painfully abrasive cynic. Anyone who knows me a little better knows I also am, paradoxically, a shameless romantic who weeps during romantic comedies and thinks that couples who marry before the age of 25 are heartwarming beacons of joy in a disillusioned age rather than kids making bad financial decisions. I am, in turn, already very well versed in all the tropes of love and can quote appropriate Death Cab lyrics about the immortality of true love just as readily as I can cite examples of love at first sight in both reality and fiction. I expect most readers will agree that love is built on a sort of intellectual compatibility: partners are expected to be able to share and compare insights, humor, and good conversation. Yet still there exists the concept of being “struck” by love, repeated again and again in stories and film. There needs to be some sort of intangible impetus that separates compatibility from something more. Additionally, if intellectual compatibility were all it took, it stands to reason that “sexuality” as a concept would be nonexistant.

The natural assumption, then, as to the source of this spark is simple: sex. Or, to use a tamer word, physicality. The addition of a physical connection to an intellectual connection creates what we call romantic love. This means that the unique quality of love is a deeply rooted physical attraction. Now, you might be thinking that sounds a bit odd from a self professed romantic. I think a big part of that comes with the fact that when we think of sexuality, our first mental image involves grunting, squishing, and an abundance of fluids. What I’m talking about is slightly different. I remember how the first time I ever knew I was in love was when I bumped into a friend coming back from a run. She greeted me with a hug, and my arm wrapped around her narrow back as I noticed that the sweat in her hair smelled like smoke and timber. One might hesitate to call such a moment sexual, but there was a physicality and a fluttering. It’s these small characteristics that make any regular relationship something more: the way my ex’s left eye would always crinkle and squint more than the other when he or grinned; the pacing of a partner’s breathing when they’re asleep; the way a friend’s voice might drop when they’re nervous. It’s these sounds, smells, features inherent within a person that draw out our feelings.

After the initial argument, I remember realizing how much this was starting to align with my ex’s perspective. Still, it wasn’t quite enough to prove one way or the other. I remember thinking how years before, shortly after I came out to one of my closest friends, he asked if I thought sexuality was a choice or not. I thought about it only a moment before answering “I don’t really care either way.” My life, I thought, made me happy and fulfilled without harming or upsetting anyone-- it didn’t seem important whether that was carved into my genome or the result of some subconscious decision years ago. This is the same answer I developed for my argument. Even if the fact that my love for him was rooted in some chemical appreciation of his body, it didn’t make the way I felt for my ex any less miraculous. If anything, there is something sexy in the mystery of it.

December 27, 2011

A Space of One's Own:


[Note: This is my response to the Anonymous Post #1 of this week, which you can read -here-.]

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?

Absolutely not.

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.

Sports and Community

I was home for five days this Christmas. In addition to being out to many friends in person for the first time and celebrating the one-year anniversary of letting the parents in the loop, I was able to take in a hockey game, an NFL game, and a college hoops contest. I witnessed two quality wins by the Penguins and Steelers and unfortunately saw Wagner defeat its first ranked opponent in 33 years by way of the Pitt Panthers (really Jamie Dixon?). While taking in all of these sporting events, I grappled with the idea of community and what it means to be part of a group. Much of this has to do with my personality.

Steeler fans have recently started this annoying trend where they collectively scream “first down,” as if the PA announcer couldn’t handle the task himself. Every time one of my friends attempts to heckle an opponent or influence the call of a referee, I find myself cowering and attempting to disassociate myself. I went to the Consol Energy Center to watch the Penguins play the Blackhawks. Every time a “Let’s Go Pens” chant erupted, I found myself chomping on peanuts and quietly analyzing the game and discussing strategy with my family.

Granted, I had a fantastic time. I watched world class athletes compete and shared the experiences with the people I love. I sported my team gear, bought food, and invested in the team by buying a ticket. But the Pittsburgh Steelers, Penguins, and Panthers do not need thousands of John McGintys who sit on their hands and refrain from joining in chants. These teams need individuals who instantaneously start clapping their hands when Cha Cha Slide plays. These teams need individuals who freely catapult themselves into screaming or hollering whatever the jumbotron demands.

Am I less of a fan because I choose not to partake in these gimmicks? Sorry I’m not sorry that I think the decibel meter is rigged to make the crowd louder. Am I at fault for not being the loudest, foam finger waving, belligerently intoxicated fan out there? I still consider myself a valuable member of the Pittsburgh sports fan base and community, but at the same time I can’t deny that others in my stead would have a more tangible impact on the game. I can’t deny that I feel more fulfilled when I force myself to join in a chorus of defense chants at a game. I cannot coerce myself to participate all the time, let alone others. Is it enough for me to tacitly support my teams and be a part of a community, or should I be faulted for free riding off of more active and passionate members? . I’d like to think that I can be a quiet fan and still rank my passion for sports at the top of my identifier list. But is that fair, is that effective, and does that produce the world I want to live in?

This post never mentions LGBT or the Duke community, but it has everything to do with them.

December 26, 2011

Anonymous Posts (12.20.11-12.25.11)


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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a friend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)

Ho ho ho!! By now, Hanukkah is almost through and Christmas has passed. Kawnzaa starts today, and I wish any of our readers who celebrate it a happy holiday!

I went to this charity drinks night last night to benefit the Phoenix Mercury Charities and One-N-Ten (Phoenix), an organization that serves LGBTQ youth. Serious props to the Mercury for joining forces with an LGBTQ organization. You don't see that enough in sports!

Since our last installation of Anonymous Posts, we've had five great posts! Coincidentally, most of them touched on the coming out process. Ye'tha'thne wrote about going home and her decision to come out to her mom, Jessye wonders about the parallels between 21st century homophobia and 20th century racism and antisemitism, Jacob shares the long journey his dad took to embrace him after coming out, Jonathan dreads the superficial conversations being in the closet requires, and Risa compares a summertime experience to the hardship of going back in the closet after each semester. All in all, another busy week here on The Blog!

I hope that everybody has a wonderful winter break, but here at the Blue Devils United Blog we know that that isn't always the case. There can be a lot of anxieties about going home, which may mean going back in the closet or coming out to family and friends or any number of things. Please reach out to the resources at the bottom if you find yourself in a position where you need support. We're a community and we're here to support each other, so keep checking the blog for new content and be sure to keep up with each other, as well.

Now, notes from OC!

#1
At the risk of sounding inflammatory, I'm sort of tired of all of this he said/she said sexism in the LGBT Community (at Duke) stuff. And before you dismiss me for having male privilege and simply not seeing it—which is your favorite retort—I am a woman. I'm tired of the bickering. I'm tired of cismen being hated on simply for being born cismen. Yes, going out to LGBTQ clubs can suck because there are usually not tons of women. And yes, a lot of LGBTQ organizations nationally are run almost exclusively by gay men (you might point to BDU and say the same thing, but for anyone who was at last year’s elections, only two women ran! A 50% election rate ain’t bad...and okay, maybe we need to figure out why only two women ran, but…I digress). And yes, queer women’s culture gets overlooked for gay male culture (Tegan and Sara: 0; Lady Gaga: 231723012). But um, I like Lady Gaga! And liking her doesn’t make me a bad queer woman. And at Duke? I can’t say I’ve ever felt discriminated against in the LGBTQ community for being a woman. Most of my close LGBTQ friends are guys, and I definitely get that there can be a bit of an old boys network--they hang out a lot without me. But I have my best friends (non center folks) who I hang out with and it doesn't bother me that I don't get invited to dinner or whatever with them. I don't count the number of men and women when I walk into the center, because the gender of the person sitting next to me isn't important (to me). People don't talk to me all the time, but it's usually because they're doing homework. Would they take a break from their homework and talk to me if I was a cisguy? I don't know, and I'm not going to hypothesize about it, arbitrarily decide they would, and call sexism on it. At the risk of being even more inflammatory, I don't think Women Loving Women is helping to change the social dynamics. It's creating a insular, secretive community of queer women. Queer women have this outlet, and so they don't come to other things (I know, because I go to the other events and am frequently one of less than a handful of women), which just creates an even greater schism. Maybe it's a chicken and the egg problem--if things weren't already sexist, then queer women wouldn't feel the need to have this separate community; but having a separate community is further creating a schism, manufacturing more of a need for a separate community. Truthfully, I feel there is no place for me in the queer women's community at Duke if I'm not into cisman bashing. And I'm not. And I feel bad for my cisguy friends who get attacked any time they say something.

#2
A potent article to say the least. Dan urges all Christians to extend Christian love towards everyone, no matter how "sinful" they may be.

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over breaks and throughout the school year. If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts or urges to harm yourself or somebody else, please reach out to the following resources: In an emergency, please don't hesitate to call CAPS at any time, including "after hours" at (919) 966-3820. Ask to speak to the advice nurse and tell them you are a Duke student. You may also call the Trevor Project, a national hotline specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth (college students included). Their number is 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

December 25, 2011

More in the Closet than Ever Before

[Author's note: I wrote the crux of this post in mid-June. I didn't post it then because while writing helps me to process things and get things off my chest, I'm not always comfortable publicly sharing things I write when the issues are still raw. Now that I'm comfortably past this experience, it seems especially relevant given the nature of going 'home for the holidays.' A lot of people spend the semester out of the closet and engaging in activities related to their LGBTQ identity. If someone isn't out at home, leaving Duke means wrapping all of that back up (see Jonathan's post from yesterday). For me, the only thing harder than coming out of the closet to people the first time was going back in the closet when I moved to a new community for my summer job as a camp counselor.]

I always knew that when people weren't out it took a lot of extra energy on their part to hide that identity. I spent the last several years of my life not out, and in some ways, I'm still not. For one thing, I don't identify as anything. But also, there are people who don't know that about me and who I've intentionally not told. Through this half-in and half-out thing, I've come to understand the potential struggle that closeted, or only partially out, people feel in a way that I never did before, even though I, too, was in the closet. In many ways, it really does feel like living two separate lives.

I only had two weeks at home between my post-school travels and coming to camp. My time was so limited that it forced me to talk about my sexuality a lot. After all, there were a lot of people I needed to fill in. After filling those people in, I posted my blog post, coming out to all of cyberspace. The very next day, I came to camp.

It was weird spending so much time talking about my sexuality and then coming to a place with lots of new people and others to whom I was not out. Those from camp whom I told, via sending them my blog, and I didn't really get to talk about it--they read the blog and that was that.

I'm not sure how much of my identity my sexuality (or lack thereof) is. During those two weeks at home, though, it was a really big focus in my life. After all, it was my first time home in over 5 months and I'd been waiting to tell my high school best friends and immediate family that I was questioning my sexuality in person. I had two weeks to come out some 15 or so times. And then I came to camp--where my complicated sexuality simply doesn't exist.

Even during all the years when I was "in the closet" I never felt like I was in the closet the way I do right now. Every small group discussion we had about our year, I wonder whether I should bring it up. After all, coming to terms with this was a huge part of my year (as in, The Biggest development in my life). I debate with myself in my head, until its my turn to talk. And then I choose--to tell or not to tell. In the end, I've done different things in different situations. But before now, I never debated in my head whether or not to share. (Because it was just a "duh" thing; of course I wasn't going to bring it up.) And I never felt like I was being deceitful when I didn't share this with people. I guess I never felt like I was hiding something, because I wasn't talking about it with anyone. But now that I am, it all feels so different.

In an unexpected way, I spent the last ten months coming out of the closet, but the truth is, I've never felt more in the closet than I do right now.

[Author's note, part ii: I want to make it very clear that my camp's environment played no role in my anxiety. On several occasions during staff week and the summer, our director made it very clear that this was a safe space for counselors and campers of all sexualities (Bravo v'todah, Rav).]

[Author's note, part iii: I'm happy to report that this feeling did not last long. The contrast between the two weeks before camp and the first few days at camp was the source of my frustration. So once I made it past the few days, things calmed down. I didn't come out to everyone, but by the end of the summer, I'd told the people I wanted to tell, even had an age and time appropriate conversation about it with some of my high school campers, and stopped second guessing myself. (Bravo v'todah, Self)]

December 24, 2011

Christmastime in the Closet?

A very merry Christmas eve to everyone! Hopefully this post finds all of you well and enjoying the winter break.

My break has been dominated with decorating. For Christians, the Christmas season is a quiet time to decorate and prepare your house (and thus symbolically, your heart) for the coming of Jesus on Christmas day. Decorating (physically and symbolically) is a big deal. It's public, and it gives us the chance to show what we can be at our very best. We take the best parts of our lives and put them on display for all to see. But I, like many of you, haven't been able to "decorate" properly this year. I haven't come out to my mom yet, so whenever I'm around her I can't bring out the best parts of my life and show them to her - I have to censor and hide anything about my life that has anything to do with the LGBT community, leaving my conversations with her decorated with second-rate stories and half-truths. I haven't ever been able to show my mom what I can be at my very best.

And I'm sick of it.

I'm done spending my Christmastimes in the closet, which is why I've decided to come out to my mom before I head back to school.

We'll see how this goes.

But no matter what happens, from now on I'll finally be able to decorate my conversations with my mother with all my favorite activities and accomplishments. I'll finally get to show her who am I really am, and what I can be at my very best. Wish me luck!

Merry Christmas everyone, and happy decorating.

December 23, 2011

An Ode to Dad

On the heels of the four-year anniversary of me coming out to my parents, I wanted to reflect a little bit about someone that I don’t talk enough about or give enough credit to: my dad.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, or at least of my posts, you’ve probably heard a lot about my mother and how amazingly, wonderfully affirming she is. She may have even made you cry—as she has made me many times—with her life-affirming and nurturing love that only a mother can give a queer son.

But I haven’t really taken adequate time to tell you all about my father. My father’s journey was much more challenging than my mother’s and he struggled much longer with my sexual orientation than my mother ever did. But my father came around; he learned to be proud of me for exactly who I was, albeit with some trepidation. But let’s start at the beginning shall we?

I’ll never forget how my father reacted on the night I came out. After watching a Goosebumps marathon on Nickelodeon and feeling nostalgic as all hell, I decided that, for whatever reason, that was the night I was going to come out. I was just going to do it. I was just going to march downstairs and tell them. First I called my best friend Paige to make sure that she was on call in case things went badly and I needed a pick-up, and I called my brother to let him know that I was finally going to do it. For whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to find my parents in the same room that night. So I spent a few minutes wandering around the house trying to see if they’d naturally settle in the same place; when it became abundantly clear that they wouldn’t, I just asked them both to come downstairs, “I just have something I want to talk to you about.”

“What’s wrong sweetie?” asked my mom.

“Nothing, I just want to talk, that’s all.”

So now my mother and my father are standing across the island in our kitchen, we’re all standing up, and I jump in.

“There’s not really a way to preface this, so I’m just going to say it…Mom, Dad, I’m gay.” The words dropped to the floor, and my father let them crash and shatter at his feet. My mother, thankfully swooped in to catch them before they could break, and she began to do what any mother would do. She started asking warm, loving questions.

It was strange, because while my mom and I were talking, my dad only stood there. After about twenty minutes of talking with my mom, she was out of questions, and my father’s silence hung thickly in the room.

“So, Abe, what do you think?” my mom asked my dad.

My dad paused a moment, and began to speak, “Well son, if you choose this lifestyle, I will not have any part in it. If you choose to have a partner, he will not be my son-in-law. If you choose to adopt children, they will not be my grandchildren. You are still my son but this will not be a part of my life.”

After he had finished, his silence no longer hung in the room; it was now suffocating, heavy, weighing down on our family.

“Well, I’m glad you’re being honest dad. At least we can work from there.”

The silence grew heavier and heavier.

“Could you at least give me a hug?” I asked.

The silence broke.

“I’m not sure if I can do that right now.” he stated coldly.

And as the silence broke, I broke along with it. Something inside of me snapped—a fundamental string that connected me with my family, with my father, with my home, had snapped. So I ran. I didn’t know where I was running to, all I knew was that I had to get away from him. I ran through the cold rain of December in a cotton hoodie. I ran to the playground in my neighborhood, where I sat and cried, crumpled on warped wood. I called my brother; he couldn’t understand me over my sobs. I called my friend Paige, who eventually came and picked me up.

For the next week, my father wouldn’t say a word to me. He avoided me in the house, shunned me in the most hurtful way possible. He said it was because he didn’t want to distract me during mid-terms; I knew that was a lie.

A week passed, midterms were over, and I made my dad a card from construction paper and magic marker. On the front it said, “Dear Dad,” and on the inside it said, “I love you and I’m gay. You don’t have to accept the second part, but you at least have to accept the first.”

I sat my dad down in our home office, and I started the conversation by turning the tables, “Dad, I don’t really care if you accept the fact that I’m gay, because you’re my dad and I will love you for the rest of your life, whether you accept me or not.”

For the next hour, my dad and I went back and forth yelling and cursing. He said it was a sin. He said I was going to hell. He said that I couldn’t tell his family, that I shouldn’t tell anyone else. At the end of his vitriolic rant, I shoved the card I had been keeping behind my back at him and stormed out of the room.

As I got in my car to drive away, my dad said, “Jacob, come here.”

I hesitated, unsure of what he was going to do. I walked back over to my father, prepared for the worst, but the worst never came. I walked over to my father and my father gave me a hug.

It was the beginning of a long journey that took two years, but eventually my father came around, but it was only because we both worked on it, because neither of us let the other one give up.

***

Two years later, my dad and I are sitting by the Christmas tree and he says, “Hey son, do you want to take a walk?”

As we wander the neighborhood, my dad starts to speak, his voice timid but firm.

“Son, I owe you an apology.”

I was a bit perplexed, because I couldn’t think of what he had done recently that was worth apologizing for.

“Two years ago, when you came out to me, when you told me that you were gay, I wasn’t there for you. In the moment when you needed me to love you the most, I didn’t love you, and I will go to my grave regretting that I didn’t. I just wanted you to know how sorry I am for how I reacted.”

This time his silence hung in the air, but it was warm, it was loving, it was gentle. Something that had been broken for a long time had been fixed. My father had finally picked the shattered fragments of my identity off of the floor and glued them together.

Now, my dad is fine with the fact that I want to go on to be an LGBTQ rights activist. He’s okay that I want to make a career fighting for my rights and the rights of others like me. But he just wants me to get a J.D. or Ph.D. from Harvard first; then I can go save the world.

Happy holidays y'all,

Jacob

December 22, 2011

An Age of Tolerance?


Earlier this week we went to a family friend’s 80th birthday party. My grandmother is best friends with the birthday boy and his wife, my mom grew up with the kids (who are all in their 50s) and I practically grew up with the grandkids. They are lovely people and we try to see them every few years, even though it means putting up with the man I am labeling “The Antagonist,” the husband of one the “kids." The Antagonist is one of those ridiculously avid Republicans who likes to let you know his opinions, no matter how offensive they are.

At this party I went over to The Antagonist's table to talk to his daughter (a friend of mine). My mother walked over at some point and he felt the urge to try to annoy us (we’re both very liberal). He said (admittedly with jovial kindness), “Liberals and abortionists are the source of all evil in the world.” Verbatim. He went on for a while saying equally ridiculous rubbish. Fortunately we left before he had the chance to say anything about the LGBT community.

Do you ever have instance where you pretend to have a conversation with someone and you come up with really witty answers that you wish you could have said out loud? Well I do. And this guy got me thinking: what would I have responded if his next sentence had been: “Gays are (also) the source of all evil in the world.” (I would like to note that I do not mean to put words in this guy’s mouth or ideas in this man’s head nor I do not actually know his opinion about the LGBT community, and I would very much like to assume he doesn’t have a negative one. He was merely my springboard for this post.)

Gays are the source of all evil? That’s funny because for most of our history, certainly throughout the Westernized world, Jews were thought to the source of all evil. (Note: Both The Antagonist and I are Jews.) In ancient times the Romans went on crusades to suppress the Jews; in the Renaissance and the Middle Ages the Jews were exiled from several European countries (most famously in the Spanish Inquisition in which Jews could either convert to Catholicism or leave the country); and most recently in the Holocaust. All because they were different: they believed in one God; they were not Christians; they were not “Arian.” For the better part of two millennia, the Jews have been hated. And then what happened? People stopped hating the Jews. I don’t mean to say that anti-semitism is not still rampant in certain parts of the world; I do mean that in a lot of the Westernized world people have stopped thinking that practicing a different religion means you belong to a different species. It’s as much “ok” to be Jewish as it is to be Christian, or Muslim, or Buddhist, etc.

I could go on giving these examples. Need we examine the history of blacks in the Americas? (For the sake of the length of this post, I am not going to delve into details, but you get where I’m going.)

What make the LGBT community any different? For too long both blacks and Jews were hated because of who they were. These were things that people could not change about themselves (note: I understand that one’s religion is more flexible than the color of one’s skin.) Now, at least in the parts of the world I have been, it is taboo to be racist against blacks and against Jews, but for some reason not against gays and lesbians and transgenders etc.

To me, it seems like the LGBT community is experiencing now what Jews and blacks were experiencing centuries and decades ago: either being asked to suppress who they are or being treated like second class citizens because of who they are.


I do not need to tell all of you that only 8 places in the US have legalized gay marriage and that only 6 more recognize same-sex domestic partnerships or civil unions. I do not need to tell you about Amendment 1. I do not need to tell you that even though transgenderism and transexuality are medically recognized conditions and that there are specialized psychologists and surgeons to help with transition, most insurance companies will not pay for gender reassignment surgery (the surgery itself averaging about $17,000, not to mention the additional costs for hormone therapy, doctors visits and therapy). I do not to tell you that even in states that legally recognize same-sex marriage, many religious institutions still refuse to hold service (for example, my congregation in New York will not hold a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples, mostly because many of the members object so the Rabbi feels his hands are tied). I do not need to tell you that being gay or lesbian or transgender has no more an effect on the quality of one’s character than does being straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, white, black, yellow or red. I do not need to tell you that in an age of tolerance it is unjust that our society continues to accept intolerance towards sexuality. I do not doubt that centuries (or even hopefully decades [or really hopefully much sooner]) down the road people will look back at our society's intolerance toward the LGBT community and view it with as much disdain as we look upon segregation and religious and ethnic intolerance. In such a relatively tolernt age, the LGBT community should not have to wait that long to receive the kind of acceptance (and legal rights) that Jews and blacks have received. Although, I know I didn’t have to tell that to you that either.

December 21, 2011

Telling Mom

I’m going home today. Normally, the only thing that would be on my mind is escaping the Duke bubble and eating real food. This time it’s different. I have a mission. I have about five days to tell my mom that I’m in love with a girl.

I think that’s how I’ll say it. “Mom, I’m in love with a girl. I want to tell you because I love you and I want us to be close.” That’s my script. For those of you who happened to catch that “I Kissed a Girl” episode of Glee, I can promise you that I’m not stealing Santana’s lines. Instead, I’ve consulted friends that have had “the talk”, and the consensus is that this is a pretty effective way to approach it. I’ve rehearsed several times, but the words still don’t come naturally – not because what I’m telling my mom is unnatural, but because it feels unnatural for me to have to explain and justify something that does feel natural.

Of course I’m nervous. My parents have lived in the same small, close-minded town for most of their lives. In my entire 22 years, I’ve probably only known about 3 queer people from my home community, and none of them seemed to be particularly open about their sexuality. If they were, they were usually ostracized and ridiculed. I can actually remember being at a middle school party and hearing words like “dyke” and “nasty” to describe this bisexual girl who was there. There’s also the religion thing. Hollister is small, but not too small to house at least 5 Baptist churches in the core community. I’m prepared to hear that God doesn’t approve of what I’m doing, that the Bible says it’s wrong, and that I must not care about my soul or love God because I’m choosing to be gay. I’m prepared to counter that rhetoric – 1) God loves everyone and 2) Why would God send an entire group of people – some of the most enlightened and genuinely good people at that – to hell for something that isn’t a choice? My hope is that by telling my parents about my sexuality (I still think it’s SO weird that I’m even expected to discuss that with them), my parents will be able to ask questions that will open their minds and change the way they think about people who identify with the LGBTQ community. Even though I often called home last year to tell my mom about how Janie Long blew my mind in class, I’m certain that none of it will really seem relevant until she realizes how close to home some of those topics actually are.

On the flipside, I’m also really excited about all of this. Once my parents know, I’m solid. Anyone else can ask or talk about me to their heart’s content, and I will answer openly and honestly. I have these quotes and phrases swirling around in my head:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Be who you are, and don’t apologize for it.

You only get one shot; don’t be a coward.

In the past, I’ve allowed others’ perceptions of me to dictate my life, and during those times, I was never proud of my behavior or the person that I was. I’ve resolved that if what I’m doing at any point truly makes me happy, I will cling to and defend that happiness in any way necessary. I will be who I am, and I won’t apologize.

December 19, 2011

Anonymous Posts (12.13.11-12.19.11)


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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a friend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)

Anddddd, that's a wrap! First semester, I mean.

Got the grades you wanted? Congrats!! Didn't? Relax; neither did most of us. The semester is over, you made it; that is something to be proud of!

Really cool! Duke LGBT Network President, Kyle Knight, and former Duke Women's Basketball superstar, Abby Waner, wrote an article for HuffPo about LGBT rights in the NBA and US (fun fact: Kyle was a practice player for the team).

Also, if you were really busy studying last week and missed our five fantastic posts, catch them here: "Q & A with Your token Queer Friend" by Logan, "Some Shameless Advertiesment, and Thoughts of Home" by Kyle, "Another Shameless Plug and a Few of My Most Stressful Things" by AJ , "Freshman Christmas Again (Also How I Became an Ally) by Mary Claire, and "Snap. Crackle. Pop." by Kory!

I hope that everybody has a wonderful winter break, but here at the Blue Devils United Blog we know that that isn't always the case. There can be a lot of anxieties about going home, which may mean going back in the closet or coming out to family and friends or any number of things. Please reach out to the resources at the bottom if you find yourself in a position where you need support. We're a community and we're here to support each other, so keep checking the blog for new content and be sure to keep up with each other, as well.

Now, notes from OC!

#1
I teared up reading this. What can I say, I'm a sap.

#2
I'm conflicted and irritated. I'm in a relationship and things are going well! But I know that I'm not out to any number of my facebook friends (despite the fact that my orientation is on fb) and feel like "in a relationship with so-and-so" would bring unnecessary attention to that. Even if I just added "in a relationship," it seems like I could risk alienating friends who I have no choice but to live and work with for the next year. and I wish it weren't so! For my straight friends, it's just nothing--add it or not, whatever (not that they don't or won't struggle to decide when to make it public). But for me it's an agonizing decision that seems super important. This just seems unfair and difficult for all the wrong reasons.

#3
I had my first gay experience ( I'll call it that for lack of a better term) yesterday! I have often heard that when two gay girls look each other in the eye they can immediately know that they are both gay. I wasn't a believer in this theory until I looked a gay girl in the eye as she was boarding my plane. She stared right back at me and then took a middle seat ( a middle seat people!) So she could sit next to me even though there were end seats galore behind me. Sadly, I'm pretty shy so our convo didn't go much beyond, "what time is it?" And "oh yeah arizona doesn't have daylight savings." Even though I kind of failed, I'm still glad this whole thing happened. For some reason it's just nice to know that I look gay.

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over breaks and throughout the school year. If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts or urges to harm yourself or somebody else, please reach out to the following resources: In an emergency, please don't hesitate to call CAPS at any time, including "after hours" at (919) 966-3820. Ask to speak to the advice nurse and tell them you are a Duke student. You may also call the Trevor Project, a national hotline specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth (college students included). Their number is 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

December 18, 2011

Snap. Crackle. Pop.

It’s the end of the semester, so I won’t be writing about anything profound…not like that’s an exception for me or anything.

Over the last few days, I’ve had some really interesting discussions about all kinds of social issues from religion to a Facebook argument regarding the role of women in corporate America. Our discussions were always classy, but seldom uneventful….there’s nothing like being called stupid when you’re arguing about issues that will never be resolved in our lifetime. It really made me think, WHY IS THERE NOT MORE OF THIS?

Why is there not a discussion group that talks about things other than LGBTQA topics? I mean, these discussions happen a lot, but I would LOVE to see something more organized and facilitated. I can’t tell you the last time I had a discussion about religion with a bunch of people I barely knew—like an hour designated to talking about nothing but religion; or women in corporate America; or women in the world; or politics; or all of these things!!!

I’m talking about real deal stuff, like common ground once a week or once a month, stuff. Lets talk about the f-word, the b-word, the n-word, the other f-word, all of that! It could be like a GOP debate, but with smart people! (Lolz I’m a registered independent, but I just like to throw in some provocative stuff)

I would love to see the Center host this kind of thing: A place where people can get flustered, passionate, and even downright angry. A place where all kinds of opinions are valid, but attribution is non-existent. I admit to being ignorant about so many things, but I just can’t find enough people to tell me that I’m wrong…these discussions could fix that!

Can we set this up? Pleeeeeeeease, can we?!

December 16, 2011

Freshman Christmas Again (Also, How I Became an Ally)

Somehow, it doesn’t feel like winter break is starting today for me. Maybe it’s the fact that I just got out of my last final, a math exam, and am too exhausted to consider anything else, or the fact that instead of running out of class with all my friends and going home for a Christmas party, I get to go back to my room and clean the pig sty it has become. But whatever it is, whenever my family calls me to ask what I want for Christmas, I’m at an utter loss of what to say-Christmas? Already? It seems like a foreign concept, since I’ve spent too much time in Gothic Wonderland and not enough in Winter Wonderland. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’ve forgotten Christmas exists, but it doesn’t feel like the latter half of December used to-a buzz and carols in the air, everyone being nicer to each other than usual, freezing cold weather, wondering if for once, it would maybe be a white Christmas in the south, excitedly discussing with my sisters and friends the number of days left until break and what we would do with that precious two weeks off, and all those ridiculous themed school projects we had to do before winter break…in some ways, I’m not that shocked I’ve forgotten what time of year it is.

A bunch of people I know tend to lament the fact that, near Christmas, they’re the exact same way they were the year before. I don’t think that’s been the case for me ever since I was in middle school. Some things about me will probably never change-despite many years passing, I’m still a Legend of Zelda geek, I still love soccer and horseback riding, and South Park has yet to stop being hilarious. I still walk around barefoot whenever possible, and I don’t think I’ll ever be half as girly as most girls. But I know I’ve seen myself change a lot in the past four and a half years. I’ve gotten a little bit taller, a whole lot smarter, and a lot more outgoing (maybe a bit more outgoing than some of my friends would like!). And, admittedly, I think my heart has changed in many ways.

I’m not exactly proud to say that at the beginning of high school, I didn’t approve of people being gay. I didn’t think it was right, in any universe, to allow gay marriage, and being gay in itself was worthy of damnation. If you had told me I’d willingly attend BDU, base my Writing 20 final paper on relating gay marriage and the integration movement, and would gladly assist with passing out shirts at Coming Out Day (and wear one), I would have thought you were absolutely insane-partially because I never would have thought I could get into Duke, but also because I couldn’t see myself taking such a controversial stance on a topic that inevitably started flame wars no matter where you turned back home.

That all changed one day at school. Seeing one of the only openly bisexual (closest you get back home to being gay) people in my school being bullied by a pack of teenagers struck a chord with me. I spent seven years being the bullied one for not being like the other girls, but I had never been the bully. No, I had resolved never to stoop to that level, knowing what it had done to me. Those people tormenting that poor kid were definitely bullies. And I was no better than them, if I thought the way they did. Loving your neighbor didn’t mean that convoluted thing we had been taught at private school-love the people who are like you and show everyone else tough love by refusing to associate with them and not letting them do what you think is wrong-but something else entirely. It meant accepting other people, period. And that was for everything-race, religion, sex, age…and sexual orientation, I realized that day.

I wish I could say that was also the day I learned just how effective an uppercut to the jaw could be, but that day wouldn’t come until 10th grade in a soccer match. At the very least, though, it was the beginning of a process of undoing all the things I had been forced to believe for a part of my life. Over the course of a year, I learned not only to accept the LGBT community and its allies, but also people of other religions and backgrounds by extension of that knowledge. In a way, high school saved me from going absolutely insane because I learned to accept myself, too, even if I wasn’t like the other girls. And it also opened a number of doors to me-including the courage I needed to attend that first BDU meeting back at the beginning of the semester.

So, as a freshman once again, I know I’m a much different person than I was the last time I was a freshman at Christmas. As opposed to the cynicism and cold shoulder I presented to the world as a freshman in high school, now, I’m only like that once in a blue moon. If I’m not content, I’m positively overjoyed with being alive-just ask my friends. I like to think it’s because I’ve learned to judge less and love more, something that started all those years ago when that bisexual kid got bullied. If I hadn’t realized what I did on that day, I don’t know where I’d be today (but probably not anywhere near as amazing). Maybe that’s why I can’t think of what I want for Christmas-I’ve found something so much better than anything my family could ever possibly hope to buy for me. And, cheesy and overrated as it is, I guess that’s what Christmas is really about…love and joy.

December 15, 2011

Another Shameless Plug and A Few of My Most Stressful Things

Following Kyle's trend from yesterday, I'm going to do a little shameless plug before getting into the real point of this post.

So, there's a discussion group for LGBTQ-identified men called Man to Man. Did you know that? Most first-years probably don't because we haven't had any meetings this semester. We had some logistical difficulties but we'll be back in full action next semester. Man to Man is a monthly discussion group for LGBTQ-identified men for us to discuss the issues we face and how they affect us. Topics that have come up are coming out, stereotypes, gender expression, and lots of others. The group is meant to help us foster a community that goes beyond the superficial conversations and give us a support network of other queer men that we know we can talk to. If you're interested, shoot me an email (ajb56@duke.edu) and keep your eyes open for specific details on meeting times.

Ok, plug done. Now, on to the real thing.

Thing 1:
It's the end of the first semester. I'm a senior. I'm applying for jobs. I'm gay. What does this have to do with anything? Well, when applying to jobs (or when I actually start *grunt of agony*), I need to be cognizant of the company's treatment of LGBTQ individuals. See, I've decided that I'm going to be gay in my applications. I'm going to list my involvement with the LGBTQ community here. I'm going to talk about it in interviews when asked. I hid who I was for close to 16 years of my life. I'm not hiding anymore. But my refusal to hide myself brings up another fear: an employer's refusal to hire me for not hiding who I am.

I've tormented myself about this for a few months. I could keep my sexuality quiet and not worry about it. But what about when I find a partner? What benefits would he be able to get? What if my secret is discovered and the company doesn't take it well? Then, I'm still out of a job. Whereas, if I'm upfront about my sexuality from the beginning, then once I do find a job that is accepting of me, I'm totally set and don't have to lie about what I did last weekend or something like that.

And yes, I am terribly worried that I will get turned away from jobs that I am highly interested in because of my sexuality. I am worried that I'm going to have a harder time securing a job than my straight counterparts (that could also be due to my psychology major compared to others' economics major *defeated sigh*). But you know what I've told myself? That's life. Life sucks sometimes. I wish it didn't and it's not fair that it sucks because I'm gay, but I'm not going to sit and cry about it. I'm going to boldly march on in search of the right job no matter what rejections I receive.

Thing 2:
Following Jenn's inspiration (Gosh, I'm such a follower. Maybe because I have such awesome people to inspire me :D), I'm going to have a conversation with my mom about my sexuality and life in general when I go home for break. We've never had an outright discussion about me being gay, only awkward, subtle suggestions of acceptance. But I think I'm at a point where I need to hear the words from her mouth. Me applying to jobs as an out gay man is basically putting business out there for all to know, and I'd like to have my mom's blessing, I guess. Her opinion still matters to me a lot. It doesn't mean I'm going to completely change at her suggestion but she's my mom. I love her so I want to know what she thinks.

Also, and here's the big reason this is stressing me out, I'm going to tell her about my boyfriend. I'm incredibly terrified thinking of how she's going to handle it. It could range from an uncomfortable, slow acceptance to rage and shouting. Both will most likely involve crying from both of us. I've always kept my personal life somewhat of a secret from my mom, even the names of my friends. She's always asked questions about my friends that I was never comfortable with, but that's a personal conversation to have, not a blog post. Suffice it to say that I had good reasons to be so private. Telling her about my boyfriend is going to be the first time I've opened up to her about the details of my personal life. That is stressful enough. The fact that it's about her gay son's boyfriend just takes it to another level.

I haven't decided when we're going to talk about it, probably the day before I come back to Duke. I don't want to do it too early because if things go sour, I'll have to deal with that for two weeks. But I also want to give her time to think it over and ask me all her questions before I'm like "Peace out, mom. See you in 5 months!".

So yeah, that's what's stressing me out right now. This final I have isn't helping *pained moan*. The only thing getting me through this week is the thought of being done and my awesome boyfriend :-)

December 14, 2011

Some Shameless Advertisement, and Thoughts of Home

Ok Our Lives readers, I have a bunch of things to discuss with you today/tonight. Hope this post finds you all well and working your way through finals tolerably well. Another quick reminder to for everyone to fill out the survey for the Center, it’s really important that we get as much feedback from the Community so we can put together a good report to determine what the center needs to be in the future. (For those who don’t know, the West Union Building is being renovated and it’s already been decided that the LGBT Center will not stay there. There’s a study group comprised of undergrads, grad students, and faculty members that are gathering information about the needs of Our Community. We’ll be reporting this information back to the powers that be so we can get a space that best suits the needs we’ve uncovered. Moral of the story? We need your input.)

First up on the agenda is to let you all know something that’s going to be happening next semester, Blue Devils United will be running a Bisexual/Questioning/Queer visibility campaign similar to the Transgender Awareness campaign which is just about ready to kick off, if it hasn’t already. (I’m not super aware of the world right now, with finals and all.) Essentially the point of this campaign is to shed some light on the “B” and “Q’s” of the full LBGTQQIAA acronym (let me know if I missed any). Essentially, our goal is to simply clarify some common misconceptions and get people talking about the rarely discussed issues tied to these identities. If you’re interested in working on this, shoot me an email or send one to Risa. We’d be glad to hear from any and all who are interested in helping in any way.

So, now to the meat of this post. This semester has been a pretty long and hard adjustment period for me, but I finally feel as though I’m starting to get the hang of things here. I feel like I’m doing better academically, and I’m beginning to feel a little more comfortable with the social life here. What concerns me most, now that the semester is nearly at its end, is going home. I feel that in my adjustment to life here, I’ve also adjusted to my queer identity as well. While when I first came out I felt uncomfortable with my bisexual identity, I now feel as though I’ve grown into it. I guess this is what it feels like to be unapologetically out of the closet.

This has been a wonderful experience for me, and I love how I’ve grown as a person thanks to this new openness, but it also a cause for some worry. As I prepare to journey back home to my family, I have to wonder if they’ll accept this “new” me. Will it bother them at all that I’m not how I remember them? Will I seem “too queer”? These are not things I would normally worry about, but it’s a little different with my family. I mean, I do have to live with them. Based on recent experiences though, I can say that my immediate family will probably not reject me based on my growth as a person.

My true worry comes from my grandparents, who I can say are decidedly homophobic. Some of the things that my grandfather has said have made me very nervous about the possibility of ever being out to him. (Example: Man, I love the actors with the Cortland Repertory Theater, too bad all the men are queers.) I worry about them because my family celebrates Christmas with them, and I can only imagine the debacle that Christmas would become if they started to pick up on my sexuality. They’re not idiots, and I can only dodge so many questions about my extra-curricular involvements before they start to get suspicious.

That said, I am not ashamed of who I am. I remember what that’s like, and I refuse to let the prejudices dictate my actions. If they figure it out, good for them. I won’t apologize for the way I love.

That’s it from me everyone, have a good finals week and I’ll see all of you on the other side.

-Kyle

December 13, 2011

Q and A with Your Token Queer Friend

Since it’s finals week and my brain has become entirely useless, I decided to do something fun for this post. I invited my six closest friends to ask me any question they wanted about My Queer Life. I did my best to answer [most] of their questions based on my personal experiences, but of course, I’d love to hear other people’s opinions/responses! Whenever I’m talking about the community as a whole, keep in mind that my responses are based on my personal opinions/view-points and that they may not be true for everyone.

Who has been the hardest to come out to? Did you have any negative reactions?
Well, you [my best friends] were. I’m not sure why it was so hard to talk about my sexuality with you all, the people who probably know me better than anyone. Maybe that was it. Since you know me so well, I was scared that it would change something if I told you that the version of me you knew wasn’t actually who I was. It felt like I had been lying to you or something. Of course, you all knew who I was all along—probably even before I did. And now that we do talk about it, I realize that what changed our relationship was the fact that I hid something so important to me from you.

In terms of negative reactions, I haven’t really had any so far. The closest I’ve come to a negative reaction was one individual who, while trying to be respectful and open, asked several rather uncomfortable questions. Perhaps uncomfortable isn’t the right word…it was more that they were coming from a very skewed perspective.

Do you feel you've been able to express more/different parts of your personality since you've been out (cliche but do you feel more YOU)?
I absolutely feel more ‘me’ now that I’ve started coming out. I feel as though I gained a lot of self-confidence when I came out, which helps me to express myself in all types of situations. The weight of trying to hide something so central to your identity inevitably has consequences that affect how you live your life and how you interact with other people on a daily basis. Feeling confident in myself has allowed other aspects of my personality to become more vibrant.

Who is expected to pay for the first date? What's the protocol?
Generally, I think that whoever makes the invitation should pay. Then again, in my experience same-sex dating is much more egalitarian than heterosexual dating. Rather than there being the expectation that the ‘gentleman’ should always pay, there seems to be an expectation that same-sex couples will take turns paying. Offering to pay for dinner/a movie/whatever else people do on dates is a really nice gesture that certainly isn’t lost when you’re both making the effort.

What's considered sex for lesbians?
This pretty much sums it up.

Are there any terms/phrases/questions that someone has said offhandedly that you considered offensive? And on the flip side, can you think of anything that other people may tiptoe around because they think it's offensive but actually it's not? Do you find it offensive when girls jokingly refer to themselves as lesbians?
I can’t think of anything that people have said offhandedly that I find offensive. People seem to generally mean well, and if they don’t, they tend to make their offensive statement very clear. The only word that I consider offensive is “dyke”—but then again, I’m only offended when someone who is not a queer woman uses it.

It seems like people tiptoe around the word ‘homosexual’, and I’ve even had someone directly ask me if it’s offensive. I personally don’t find it offensive, just awkward. I probably wouldn’t talk about any of my straight friends as heterosexuals—it’s weird, right?

I’m not sure if I would say that I’m offended when girls jokingly refer to themselves as lesbians, but I am annoyed by it. First of all, I think joking about being a lesbian trivializes the way queer women feel and live their life. The fact that I date women isn’t funny—it’s just normal. Secondly, I feel as though the context of these jokes is usually the bigger issue. It’s frustrating when girls pretend to be lesbians to get male attention (#mixedsignals?) or call themselves lesbians because they’re wearing not-so-feminine clothing (#lesbianslikeskirtstoo). We know you want to be one of us, but you can’t. Get over it.

How do you think same sex relationships compare to straight ones? Are there 'roles' as often stereotyped or not so much?
Same-sex relationships are pretty much exactly the same as straight relationships. Same-sex couples go on dates, cuddle, fight, make-up, work on communication, fall in love, get jealous, break-up, and do it all over again. As far as there being ‘roles’ in the relationship, I think that there are always roles that people play: someone is the pursuer, someone prefers to be pursued, someone likes planning dates, someone brings up the difficult topics that need to be discussed, someone typically initiates sex, and so on. I feel that in general, who plays these roles within a relationship depends on the personality of each partner, not their gender.

Do people usually assume you’re straight or gay?
I think that people generally assume I’m gay, but then again, who knows. People surprise me sometimes.

Would you say as many lesbians want to or plan on have children as straight girls?
I’m not entirely sure about this one. My initial reaction is that whether or not women want to have children isn’t really impacted by their sexuality. These days, people have so many options in terms of starting a family that it is perfectly reasonable for same-sex couples to have the same hopes/expectations about having children that opposite-sex couples do. However, my experience with this topic is limited, so I would love to hear other people’s opinions!

Do you think you can tell if others are gay better than most people? How?
I think I have a pretty good ‘gaydar’. Maybe it’s because being queer means that I know what it’s like to go through the process of questioning/coming out, or maybe I’m just particularly perceptive. Who knows? I think it’s pretty easy to pick up on the innate sense of confidence that queer individuals have (yes, even those of us who are super awkward have this confidence).

As far as the gay community and your relationships with other lesbians increasing.. what's your relationship with gay men like?
Great question! While I have met more gay men since I came out and started hanging out at the Center, I definitely wouldn’t say that I’ve built any significant relationships with gay men. I’m not sure if this is a product of the LGBTQ community at Duke being divided in some senses, or if it’s because I tend not to build strong relationships with men in general (gay or straight).


What do you do if a guy tries to hit on you? Do you tell them right away, play hard to get because that's funny, let them keep talking..?
Let me start by saying this doesn’t happen very often…most guys seem to get the idea pretty quickly. For those that don’t, my first reaction is a pity laugh (haha not really…but it is kind of sad). I don’t feel the need to out myself right away—“Hey, how’s it going? My name’s Logan and I’m into girls.” Awkward. Making polite conversation is nice and an easy way to work in little details that will let them know I’m not interested. You have to give them props for making the effort, right?

That said, when a guy tries to hit on me for his sister, I’m all for it! #truestory


The heterosexual Duke relationship culture is generally viewed as hook-up oriented, what's the Duke lesbian relationship culture? How would you say it's different?
In my opinion, the ‘lesbian relationship culture’ is very much relationship-oriented rather than hook-up oriented. The stereotype that queer women tend to get in serious relationships really quickly seems to be true—if anyone has an explanation for why this is I would love to hear it! Realistically, queer women on campus can’t really afford to be hook-up oriented because the community is so small. The chances of finding another queer woman at Shooters—much less having a D-floor make-out with her—are pretty low. That’s not to say that women don’t want to pursue hook-ups instead of relationships, but rather that the community isn’t big enough for that to work—inevitably, you’ll end up hooking-up with a girl your best friend dated two years ago who cheated on her with your other best friend who’s now dating a new girl, who also happened to have a fling with the girl you just hooked up with. You get the point.

Girls often dress "slutty" to attract male attention, what do you do to attract female attention?
Get a queer haircut and wear flannel? Joking. Kind of. I don’t usually make a conscious effort to attract attention. I find confidence most attractive, so I guess that goes both ways? For me, the most important thing is feeling good about the way I’m presenting myself.

What is something you've learned about women that you might not have?
Interacting with other women in a romantic context is very different from a purely platonic one. It’s hard to name anything very specific that I’ve learned, but I think it’s fair to say that I respect women so much more after coming out. Maybe that sounds weird, and it’s certainly not implying that I didn’t respect them before, but it seems like ‘respect’ really is the best word for it. I think I always viewed women in a heterosexual context as being almost dependent on men in relationships—not really taking charge of what they wanted. Seeing queer women as strong, independent, confident, and inspired is really awesome.

What's the biggest advantage to being a lesbian?
Getting to date girls. Girls are great :)

December 12, 2011

Anonymous Posts (12.5.11-12.12.11)


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, hate speech, or express or insinuate that one is at risk for hurting themselves or someone else. Please read this for an explanation of this policy and seek help if your or a friend find yourself in that position. With those exceptions aside, please feel free to submit your thoughts and questions. :)

Hey y'all,

Last week was busy, but somehow I feel like this week will manage to be even busier for most people. When you feel like procrastinating, though, be sure to fill out the Center's survey! Your voice will help to shape LGBTQA life on campus for many years to come by directly affecting how the new Center gets formed.

If you haven't read it yet, check out Jenn's reflection on coming out to her parents.

I hope that everybody has a wonderful winter break, but here at the Blue Devils United Blog we know that that isn't always the case. There can be a lot of anxieties about going home, which may mean going back in the closet or coming out to family and friends or any number of things. Please reach out to the resources at the bottom if you find yourself in a position where you need support.

We're a community and we're here to support each other, so keep checking the blog for new content and be sure to keep up with each other, as well.

Now, notes from OC!

#1
How many people come to WLW? I want to go but I'm afraid I'll be the awkward new comer joining a group of 5 really close friends or something.

#2
Any advice for someone who keeps falling for straight women?

#3
I'm scared to go to the center cuz I've never hung out with other queer women before...what if I don't fit in?

Please remember that there are a number of resources available on campus and in the local community. These resources are available over breaks and throughout the school year. If you or a friend are experiencing thoughts or urges to harm yourself or somebody else, please reach out to the following resources: In an emergency, please don't hesitate to call CAPS at any time, including "after hours" at (919) 966-3820. Ask to speak to the advice nurse and tell them you are a Duke student. You may also call the Trevor Project, a national hotline specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning youth (college students included). Their number is 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386).

December 10, 2011

Life can also be great!

Hello, everyone! I hope that the last few days of the semester are going well for you. As you know, I had decided to come out to my parents right after Thanksgiving Break. My reasons for doing so are many, but two of the biggest are the fact that I’m a terrible liar (so it was getting harder and harder to hide things from them), and my desire to tell them about my wonderful girlfriend. Well, I wrote them a letter and left it on my bed, with instructions to open it no earlier than 12PM, the morning that they took me back to the airport. I knew my flight would land at RDU around 10AM, so I wanted to have a bit of a time buffer before the call came – because, if you know my parents, they ALWAYS call when they want to talk to you, and they keep calling if you don’t answer. In case you’re curious, here’s the letter:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Maybe you’ll think that it’s strange for me to have written you a letter so soon after seeing you over my Thanksgiving Break. You would be right – it is strange. But it’s also necessary for me to write it instead of trying to say what I’m about to say out loud to you. Please know that I’m not trying to hurt you.

I’m queer: I like women and men and transpeople and people who don’t identify as anything at all. I don’t know how aware you have been of the fact that I’m not straight, but I wanted to tell you myself. I’m actually really scared of your reactions to this news, because I love you and I don’t want you to stop loving me. You’ve said some things in the past about gay people that have made me think that you hate us, that we’re dirty or criminals or subnormal. It hurts me when you say stuff like that, or agree with others who do.

In case you’re wondering, I’ve known for a long time. It was hard in middle and high school, because I felt as though I couldn’t talk to anyone about it without being hated or derided, and I didn’t even have the words to explain it anyway. I even hated myself for awhile. It took until I came to college to realize that I wasn’t alone, and that there were people in the world who wouldn’t judge me based on who I love. I am finally my whole self, and I am so much happier now than I ever was before. My one fear is that the real Jennifer will disappoint you, and that you will be angry or hurt.

I hope that you will take some time to consider what I’ve told you, and I want you to know that I’m no different from the person I was before. I just got tired of hiding the whole of that person from you. If you want to talk about it, we can. If you don’t, that’s okay too.

In closing, I want to say again that I love you. I hope you still love me and are proud of me.

Jennifer

So, my flight landed right on time, and Mandy (my girlfriend) picked me up from the airport. I knew I wanted her to be with me when the call came, so that I could have someone with whom I could either celebrate or cry. We hung out for several hours while I kept glancing fearfully at my cellphone. At around 3:30 in the afternoon, my phone rang; it was my parents. I answered it tentatively. Both of my parents were there, probably standing in the kitchen with the speakerphone on. My dad did most of the talking, but the gist of what they both said was that they love me, they’re so proud of me, they’re glad I told them, and they want to be part of my life. I was so happy that I couldn’t do much but smile and say “Thank you,” and Mandy (who was sitting nearby) was crying with joy for me. My parents and I talked for a little while longer about things (I didn’t tell them about Mandy that day, although I did so last week and they said they want to meet her, so yay!), such as who else in the family I could tell (my dad’s older brother). The whole call felt surreal in a wonderful way – I never expected such a response from my parents. There was no yelling or crying or sadness, and I’m so, so happy about it.

Coming out to parents isn’t an option for everyone. I had a back-up plan just in case things went horribly wrong, but that isn’t always a possibility. Furthermore, I was emotionally ready to tell them, which is something that nobody can decide for you. I wish all of you who are still waiting to tell your families the best of luck when (if) you finally decide to come out to them. Please feel free to talk to me about this if you like – jenn.morgan23@gmail.com.