December 5, 2013

A Year of Coming Out and Being Out

I always get really retrospective around the holidays, and for good reasons I suppose. Moving from Thanksgiving to Christmas and eventually the New Year marks a year of change, good and bad, and the beginning of new experiences. Looking back a year ago, I was living two lives. I had recently come out to my mom, which she was really receptive of. I expected nothing less since her best friend is gay; she had been an advocate of gay rights since I could remember, and she had always made sure that myself, my brother, and my dad were sensitive to using “gay” as a slur. I guess that’s mother’s intuition, as she wasn’t surprised when I told her. She thought that I might have been gay since I was three years old. In a way, this disappointed me. I wanted some sort of shock factor, not in a negative way but in the “holy shit, I didn’t expect that, that’s dope and I’m happy for you,” sort of way. Following my mom, I came out to all of my high school friends that I still associated with. I suppose this started a ripple effect in my life and the double life I was living was increasingly blurred. My brother took the news with ease, my fraternity was, and still is, extremely supportive.

The beginning of October marked the dreaded time to tell my conservative father. My mo had kept my secret for a year, and it was fed up with not having told my dad. I was accepted to an LGBTQ conference, O4UTC, for members of the community interested in technology. I was going to fly back to California, my home state, and spend the day with my parents on Sunday. I couldn’t just show up unannounced and my dad isn’t dumb, so it came time to burst out the doors, once again. My dad was, well, less than receptive. I expected that much, but it still hurt to see my fears materialize into reality. I quickly ran to my support systems and vented. My mom reassuring me that he’ll come around, in a few years.

This Thanksgiving break marked the end of my immediate coming out journey. I know it’s always a process, but for now I’m done telling people. My dad had instructed me not to tell any of my other family members and I didn’t. But, my social media outlets are pretty transparent. Family on my dad’s side saw an Instagram post of me in rainbow suspenders with a caption that outed me, #sorrynotsorry. Fortunately I went to Chicago, to my mom’s side of the family, for Thanksgiving and didn’t have to deal with that situation right away. In a similar fashion, tweeting was the outing mechanism. I assumed my cousins knew since they followed me, but they were dancing around the subject for days. Eventually I just said it, and as I thought, they already knew. What took my by complete surprise was when my aunt casually asked me over breakfast if I had a “boyfriend?” My jaw dropped as I looked back and forth from her to my uncle. The word “boyfriend” rang in my ears for minutes as the look of disbelief waned from my face. She informed me that my whole family knew, including my extremely Catholic grandparents. She assured me that no one cared and that everyone still loved me the same. This time, I didn’t care about the shock factor. As my personal astonishment subsided, I was happy I didn’t have to tell anyone anymore. My mom’s family sees me as me. I’m still Alex, the same as I have been.

For now, I’m happy with who knows and if anyone else finds out, that’s cool too. Being gay isn’t going to change for me anytime soon, or anytime at all. I’ve come to terms with myself and have countless people who really care about me. It’s been a whirlwind of a year in terms of personal growth and I’m excited to see what the new year will bring for me. Until next time.


December 2, 2013

What's in a Name

Once upon a time, I had just started dating my girlfriend Jacqueline. It was senior year of high school and my mom wasn’t quite used to me dating a girl yet.
I knew that; I expected most of her reactions – double takes, awkward pauses when someone at church asked her if I had a boyfriend, a slow sort of uncertainty when she asked me any question about my relationship.

She was good about it. She wasn’t really shocked to hear that I was gay even if she wasn’t quite ready for it. She might not have been delighted about it but she was never cruel or angry and she was always supportive, and I know that that is a blessed, lucky experience.
But as always, little golden accidents make the best stories.

Freudian slips are a natural part of life – little kids call their teachers “Mom” all the time, and all through high school I accidentally (and eventually on purpose) called Pep Rallies Prep Rallies instead.
So: senior year of high school. All my friends and I (and Jacqui) spent most afternoons at a little independent coffee shop near our high school. I lived near the coffee shop, so we ran into my parents as often as not.

Now, it’s worth noting that my parents had met Jacqui several times – they certainly knew her name. I saw my parents in the other room and we all went to say hi. They hugged me, greeted all my friends by
name, until my Mom got to Jacqui.

“Hi, Jackson,” she said.

And that was an awkward pause. Like the catch in your chest right after you fall flat on your back, a little forced moment of silence until she laughed.
“I don’t know where that came from! I was thinking about Jackson Pollack earlier, and I guess since you’re into art…”

What’s in a name?

It’s a good question. Obviously my mother hadn’t forgotten my girlfriend’s name. But she tweaked it just enough to be pretty unquestionably male.

Jacqui gets that kind of thing a lot. Just this past Saturday we went on a Thanksgiving hike – a frozen trail two miles up a mountain, but that’s another story altogether – and at a rest stop, a kindly old lady warned her that she was about to walk into the women’s restroom. Obviously she meant well, and she apologized upon realizing her mistake.

My mother, though, that was unique. I still don’t know what to make of it.
I saw it again over Thanksgiving. I was chilling with my favorite cousin, who is trans. He is not out as trans to his father’s side of the family – which is the side our relations are on. So I heard his “female” name half a million times over the meal. Considering the discomfort I felt, I can only imagine how he felt.

What is in a name?

According to my English teacher, a misfit name can lead to a crisis of identity, as in Faulkner’s short story “A Justice” and in Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day.”

“Ma’am,” and “Sir,” and misappropriations of our names often coincide with how we present. My name, Gabriel, is traditionally male, so it is misspelled and mispronounced as Gabriella more often than not since I present as fairly traditionally female – I have long hair, at least.

Maybe this anecdote doesn’t say anything significant about sexuality and society, but I think it speaks to our reaction to the disconnect between expectation and reality – or maybe I’ve just taken too many English classes.

What’s in a name?

Maybe nothing. Shakespeare wasn’t overly concerned, as long as the rose by any other name still smelled as sweet. But Faulkner’s Sam Fathers and Saul Bellow’s Tommy Wilhelm would beg to differ, as I would. I appreciate the androgyny of my name. Considering the assumptions I already face based on my gender, I like that someone reading an email from me or even an application can’t necessarily tell my gender by my name. In a situation where my gender is irrelevant, it’s not unnecessarily revealed. But names, nicknames, the way we choose to communicate with others, it’s all a part of our identity, our presentation. The way others react affects us, one way or the other – So I think I’m with Sam Had-


November 27, 2013

What I’m Thinking about on Hanukkah

For those who don’t know, Hanukkah is the Jewish celebration of the victorious Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE, in which a group of Jews formed an army in protest of Roman King Antiochus IV’s decrees forbidding the practice of Judaism, punishable by death. The story is framed as a miracle; a small, underdog army, the Maccabees, defeated the comparably overpowering Seleucid Empire. Often left out of the picture in the recounting of the history of Hanukkah, however, is the gory guerilla warfare that the Maccabees fought primarily against the Hellenized Jews, a faction that believed in assimilating to Greek and Roman culture and thus abandoning cultural ties to Judaism.

On Hanukkah, the Jewish community celebrates the courage and resilience of the Maccabees, for had they not defended their values and identity, Judaism as we know it would not exist today. There would be no Manischewitz, Bar Mitzvahs, or free Friday night dinners at the Freeman Center.

In some parts of the world, the LGBTQ community suffers at the hands of decrees no different than those of King Antiochus. Look no further than Russia. Our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are fighting a war on the streets in the name of identity. Plain and simply, they demand the right to be the people they deserve to be.

There are Hellenized Jews among us in our own community. Too often am I asked, “Well don’t you think it’s best to assimilate?” Some of the biggest enemies of the LGBTQ community are LGBTQ themselves. It’s unfortunate that many of those who share my identity, trivialize it.

Looking ahead to the new year, I have a wish. I wish that LGBTQ people at Duke made more of an effort to make this community feel like one. It’s easier said than done, but without our LGBTQ allies, we are defenseless in the war again the “Hellenized”. If you value your identity, the LGBTQ community at Duke, or mainstream LGBTQ culture, you can be a soldier in this guerilla warfare that’s taking place right on our campus. Your options are too numerous to ignore. Come to a Kickback Friday. Participate in the Drag Show. Sign up for a BDU committee. Hang out in the CSGD. Read and write for this blog!

At the end of the day, the choice is yours. You can be a queer Maccabee. You can say no to assimilation.


November 20, 2013

Coming Out Part 2

It has been a little over three years since I have been out.  I went through the steps of accepting myself, telling some close friends first, and then working up to telling my family.  That process could not have gone better for me; I remember my parents telling me that there is nothing I could do that would make them love me less.  I had the support of a great, loving group of people, and I felt strong with them behind my back, knowing they would always be there for me.
October of my junior year, I gave a speech in front of my entire high school about what it was like to come out and the two-year process that it took to build up the courage to finally do it.  My high school career from that point on was focused on one goal: not to care what other people thought about me, and for the most part, succeeded.  Granted I am from the San Francisco area of California where the culture tends to be very open and accepting, but I didn’t care when I heard someone say “look at that dude, he’s so gay.” They had their opinions, I had mine, and I would never see them again in my life, so why are they worth my time? Junior and senior year of high school were great for me. 
However, when I arrived at Duke, that mantra of not caring was harder to keep as a part of my life.  I found it really difficult adjusting to campus life here.  The overall mood of campus that I felt towards gay people on campus was tolerant but not accepting: it felt like people were ok with gay people being on campus, but not all too accepting of us.  The typical homophobic slurs “that’s so gay” and “what a fag” seemed to be said on a daily basis. 
Along with other personal reasons, I decided to transfer to the University of Southern California in hopes of finding a more accepting environment.  But, to my surprise, I did not.  I felt the exact same way about USC as I did about Duke. I felt just as uncomfortable as I did in North Carolina in Los Angeles.
Last year sent me on a process very similar to the one I had previously experienced in high school.  I had to accept myself as being gay all over again and that was something I could not change about myself, but had to embrace and love myself for, because otherwise, I would not be Connor.  I had lost track of my goal of not caring what other people think about me, and in reconnecting with this goal I realized this: it does not matter what place you are in.  You can be in the south or on the west coast and there will be bigots everywhere.  The location does not determine happiness.  What does is just not caring what other people think about my life, living my life for me, and surrounding myself with a loving group of people.  Upon my arrival back at Duke, I have done just that: I have amazing friends who give me the love and support I need and I have my life back on track. It is my life, not the life of the place I am located. 

November 18, 2013

Throwback Tuesday- Stereotypes

I'm going to get right to the point: stereotypes annoy me. All kinds. Yes, sometimes they are applicable to people, but I dislike when people automatically assume things.

For instance, the night of the Super Bowl, my common room was filled with people watching the game. I had so much homework, I only dropped in occasionally, but when the Saints had won, I was overjoyed. I had been rooting for them from almost the start of the season. Then, a friend of mine came in disappointed. She had been rooting for the Colts. When I told her I was happy for the Saints, she said "What do you know about football? You're gay." I'm sure she meant it in a joking way, but then I spent five minutes showing that not only did I know a lot about football, I'm also an athlete and have been one for 10 years. People don't bat an eyelash when I tell them I sing and love musical theater or Project Runway, but I tell them I'm into sports and suddenly that's so surprising, just because I'm a gay man.

The same has happened to some of my lesbian friends. One was talking to her ex on Facebook and showed us a picture of her. This woman was very attractive, and one of the guys in the room, on seeing her, turns to my friend and says "SHE'S a lesbian? Damn, you can't even tell anymore." I turn to him, incredulous. No, believe it or not, you can't. In fact, you couldn't tell previously. Contrary to what I'm afraid is popular belief, outward appearance is not a good indicator of sexual orientation. I have met incredibly "feminine" straight men, and I've met gay guys that are more "masculine" than most straight ones. It just annoys me that people will typecast others just from looking at them. It's not fair. Another story, my friend Alicia from high school and I were at the mall, and a guy from our school came up and was hitting on her. She told him she wasn't interested, she liked girls. He says "You're a lesbian? But you're attractive enough to get guys."
I would've been really pissed off at him if I wasn't feeling so sorry. He picked the WRONG lesbian to say that to.

Just because people are homosexual does not mean you can immediately ascribe characteristics to them. Everyone is different, that's that. You shouldn't assume things about them. It's not fair.

-Tyler. February 11, 2010

November 17, 2013

Anonymous Posts

Every Monday on the blog we have  anonymous posts. If you'd like to write an anonymous post, you can submit one here. Also please see this link for our guidelines about anonymous posts. If you're unsure about the format of an anonymous post, you'll be able to find some here.

Today we don't have any anonymous posts, but we want to have yours! Anonymous posts are a great way to express your views without disclosing your identity or writing something very lengthy and they can be as informal as you like.

November 13, 2013

Coming Out

           For some reason, I thought that once I came out to my parents, our relationship would return to normal and we would all live happily ever after. I understand that being able to even entertain the notion of coming out to my family is a huge privilege, and I am incredibly grateful for that. However, my experience coming out was not as clean-cut and “easy” as I expected, speaking to the entrenched prejudice that our community sometimes faces at the hands of well-intentioned allies.

            In high school, when I started to come to terms with not being straight, I hid much of my life from my parents because I feared they would find out. I kept quiet about my friends (who were all girls), made up excuses when I went to gay clubs or events, and hid my love life from them. One time when my mother suggested that I had feelings for a male friend of mine, trying to “out” me before I was ready to be open, I felt so nauseous that I had to spend the entire day in bed. My father tried to force me to come out as well, physically cornering me in order to pop the question as I left for a jog – I had sensed what was coming and had literally evaded him for weeks – only for me to push him aside and run into the street to his screams (in French, so our neighbors wouldn’t know that his son is not straight): “I just want to know if you’re a homosexual!”

            I eventually came out to my parents my freshman year of college and accepted that they were only trying to be supportive, getting over these instances of insensitivity towards me, and many others. One day’s emotionally charged and very meaningful conversation about my identity, though, did not make up for years of lying to them. My sexuality since has basically stayed the same: taboo.

            My mom, despite all the love and support she showered on me the day I came out to her, has never once mentioned my sexual orientation to me. It’s been two years! Her only reference to people not identifying as straight occurs when she uses the word “queer” as a synonym for “weird” in everyday conversation. I cannot muster up the courage to tell her that that offends me. My dad, unfortunately, believes that I sleep with every single one of my gay friends from high school, and attempts to start a talk about safe sex whenever I leave the house to hang out with them. Maybe this is his way of coping with the dysfunction that my sexuality has brought to our relationship and addressing the aspect of my identity that hangs around like an elephant in the room all the time. Regardless of the reason, I still am not courageous enough to explain that I do not in fact have sex left and right, that he has really just been brainwashed by our society’s stereotype of gay men as promiscuous, hypersexual people, and that my sexual orientation is ultimately not inferior to his.

            In many ways, I feel like the years I spent in the closet, deceiving my parents and distancing myself so they would not find the truth out, have come back to haunt me in my attempts to restore normalcy after coming out. I do not feel comfortable addressing my identity around them, and they clearly struggle to broach the topic around me. I personally feel like I have to “come out” to them again, this time as a person who is comfortable enough to be militant about respectful treatment in a family setting.