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.


November 11, 2013

Allie the Ally

I might not be lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer, but I have a coming out story of my own. My journey to outspoken allyship has been tumultuous and terrifying and wonderful and it has considerably shaped my identity. I recognize, of course, that it takes far more bravery to come out as queer than as an ally. Still, we face similar challenges as we announce ourselves to a world that is often less than eager to hear our shaking voices speak out for the first time. I believe that a significant portion of the common ground shared by allies and the LGBTQ community is formed in the places where our footsteps overlap on the long, arduous path to coming out. And so, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll retrace my footsteps.

I grew up in a strictly Catholic home, went to Church every Sunday, and said prayer before the pledge of allegiance every day starting in preschool. Every morning I woke up to the sharp, accusatory voices of blonde Fox News “analysts.” Every afternoon on the ride home from school I listened dutifully to the booming, self-righteous homilies of Rush Limbaugh. In the evening I swallowed the opinions of my parents along with my dinner and never questioned anything they had to say on issues of politics or religion. I adhered strictly to what they told me about homosexuality being unnatural and gay marriages being disrespectful to “real” marriages. It never struck me as odd when they said that my aunt lived with her “best friend” Patricia because “they save money on rent that way.” This all changed once I got to public high school.

For most people, high school is a time when peer pressure reigns supreme. You have to keep your head down, do what everyone else is doing, and hope you make it out alive. For me, however, it was a time of questioning the world, discovering new things, and challenging the norms. I had never met anyone who was anything but heterosexual and Catholic, but when I got to high school, I quickly made friends with people of all religions, political opinions, and sexual orientations. As it turned out, the world is a hell of a lot more interesting than I once thought. This both excited and frightened me. I had never been forced to defend my opinions before, and suddenly I was being engaged in discussions on contentious issues like gay marriage. As I obediently regurgitated the sermons of my parents, the words left my mouth in a voice that was not my own. The arguments I was making no longer made sense to me. But I didn’t yet want to disrupt the haven of indoctrination that was my home, so I decided to become silent on LGBTQ issues entirely. That was until I met Santiago, and he helped me find my voice.

 He came out to me in sophomore year. I was surprised by how little it changed the way I thought about him-- my charming, loud, wonderfully weird best friend. Not long after he told me, my parents were having yet another discussion on gay marriage. “Discussion” is a generous term—really it was a sanctimonious celebration of bigotry conducted by two products of their close-minded generation. Anyway, for a while I settled into my standard safety net of silence, daydreaming. Instead of the usual John-Krasinski-on-the-beach scene, however, I dreamt of something new. I imagined Santiago, at the altar with the love of his life, saying vows and preparing for a life of happiness and prosperity with his nameless prince charming. I realized that I had to do whatever I could to make this daydream a reality. So in that moment, I took a vow of my own: to break my silence. That night was the first of many shouting matches I’ve had with my parents over LGBTQ issues. That night, I came out as an ally.

It was scary at first, adjusting my entire view on the world and standing up to my parents, but I’m proud to have made this life-changing journey. I’m proud to identify with a group of people who fight for equality and love in a world where those concepts are so painfully undervalued. I’m Allie, and I’m proud to be an ally. 

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. If you would like to share your thoughts and experiences without disclosing your identity,  this is the perfect place to do that, so submit your anonymous posts for next week!

November 6, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Stealth Trans

On the first day of classes, I stopped by my favorite campus eatery to grab a quick bite before I headed off to my stats class. A couple of the employees murmured for a few seconds after I walked through the door. The cashier approached me, and asked “Did you have a sister that went to Duke?”

I'm a semi stealth transman at Duke. What does this mean? It means that about 80% of the people in my life have no idea that I'm a transgender man. The other 20% are folks I met prior to my transition. After a semester of transitioning, I took a leave of absence from Duke to fully adjust to my new life. Now I'm back a year later, no longer resembling the person I used to be.

It was two and a half years ago when I came across a couple hundred youtube videos of transgender men talking about their lives. I was studying abroad at the time, and I would spend hours at a park near my apartment watching video after video of these men discussing their transitions. I had known that there wasn't something “right” about my gender since the age of 6, but thanks to familial pressure and a education at an all girls catholic high school, I had learned to suppress whatever unresolved feelings I had about my gender at risk of creating trouble in my household and my community.While the notion of becoming who I always knew myself to be was empowering, it was not without many nights of deliberating. This was so much harder than when I came out as pansexual; my decision would have countless permanent life-long implications on almost every aspect of my life. Needless to say, I made the decision to go forward with my transition. When I came back to school that fall, I came out to everyone as a man.

I couldn't have asked for a better group of friends to come out to. I'm eternally grateful to the people who were by my side during the earliest stages of my transition; without them, I'm certain I would not be writing this to you all today. However, coming out as transgender at Duke was hard; and even “hard” is somewhat of an understatement here. As someone who prides himself on his reserved and private nature, what would normally be information that I wouldn't share with strangers was now something that I constantly had to explain to everyone: the students in my project groups for my classes, my professors, my fellow coworkers, and every new person that I met. After coming out I was met with a barrage of invasive questions, most of which I didn't even have the answer at the time. “So when are you going to have the surgery?”, “But how do you expect people to treat you like a man when you don't look like one?”, “Are you sure about this? You should see someone”. After 10 weeks of this, it was certainly time for a break. I left Duke for a year, continued transitioning, and spent my days surrounded by close friends whose presence nursed me back to health both mentally and emotionally.

So what's it like being back now? I'm happy to report that after a year and some change into my physical transition, my life here is fairly average. The energy that I used to spend correcting and explaining is now used on cramming for tests and marathon sessions of playing FIFA13. I haven't been misgendered in well over 8 or 9 months. In the eyes of the law, I'm still a 5'9 brown eyed female who requires corrective lenses to drive, but that's going to change after a trip to the DMV soon. Besides cashiers taking my credit card and my DukeCard, I haven't had to come out to anyone in quite some time. Every time I've outed myself in these situations, the people in question have been accepting and apologetic for the most part. My Fridays are no longer filled with anxiety about being outed in public spaces; instead I'm back to twerkin at my favorite bars and kickin it with friends wherever the best drink specials are in this city.

I don't like the idea of “it gets better”, because in a lot of ways it hasn't. My relationship with my family has changed for the worst, I still deal with gender dysphoria from time to time, and living with an endless paper trail detailing my former life is stressful and overwhelming at times. However, I will say that my life here has gotten a hell of a lot easier. I'm back to living my life as a Duke student, balancing procrastination and academic stress like a champion.

Was it all worth it? There are some days where I have massive doubt about the answer to this question, but ultimately, the answer is always yes. Being a stealth transgender man at Duke hasn't always been a party. As I wrap up my last few months walking around this campus, I'm proud to be where I am now. There aren't words to express the feeling I get when I check myself out in the mirror before I head out in the morning. A lot of this experience has been brutal physically, emotionally, and mentally, but I'm still hanging in there.

With the support of my close friends, a small community of other trans folk, and various admins all across this campus, I feel really good about being here.

And isn't being here the most important part?

November 4, 2013

Christianity's Take on Homosexuality

I am a Christian, and I've heard all types of opinions from other Christians regarding homosexuality (when I say homosexuality, I am referring to all people who identify with the LGBTQ group). Reactions range from "I don't mind being around them, even though their lifestyle is sinful" to "I think gay people are going to hell" (yes, I've heard the latter stated explicitly - by a middle schooler). There are a precious few of us who do not find homosexuality abominable and in fact do not think homosexuality is a sin. I happen to be one of those people. The following statements are arguments I've heard from a variety of characters who, in my opinion, need to think about what they're really arguing for.

1. "Biblical sin" argument: "The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin."
The Old Testament Bible forbids working on the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12), permits the stoning of virgins (Deuteronomy 22:21), and frequently doles out death as a punishment for wrongdoings. The New Testament heavily implies that you should not have sex before you’re married (1 Corinthians 7) and states that women were created for the purpose of men (1 Corinthians 11:9). Most Americans today use neither the Old nor the New Testament to dictate their behavior; most of us are not abstinent, and hopefully all of us believe that women are equal to, rather than subservient to, men. Numerous discriminatory attitudes, among them male superiority and foreign oppression, are evident in the entirety of the Bible. Can it really be a reliable source of law or morality if it violates basic human rights (e.g. permitting slavery in Leviticus 25:44)? And in at least one famous instance where homosexuality is mentioned (Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19), the Bible is referring to rape. Is it possible that the authors of these stories had their own preconceptions regarding homosexuals and wrote their stories from a biased perspective?
2. "Homosexuality is a choice" argument (still assuming homosexuality is a sin):
Some Christians may say that homosexuality is a choice, meaning that a man or woman chooses to be attracted to people of the same sex (or of both sexes for bisexuals). If they wanted to, they could have chosen to be attracted to the opposite sex and therefore avoided committing a sin. If that's the case, then heterosexuality is also a choice, meaning heterosexuals choose to be attracted to the opposite sex rather than become attracted to the same sex. Most people giving this argument would be a tad put off by the suggestion that at any moment they could become attracted to someone of the same sex. In short, they would not consider heterosexuality a choice because they could never consider themselves able to "become homosexual." So this argument's out.
3. "Homosexuality is uncommon and therefore unnatural" argument: 
There are a lot of things that are uncommon that we don't consider unnatural. Only 13% of the American population is black. Only 0.2% is Native American. Does that mean that being Native American is unnatural because it is uncommon for most people to identify with a federally recognized tribe? Does that mean that the color of my skin (I am an African-American woman) is unnatural, because it does not match that of the majority’s?
4. "No harm done" argument: “I think being homosexual is sinful, but I’m not trying to ban their civil rights." 
This is merely excusing one's homophobia because he or she is not doing homosexuals any direct physical harm. However, this way of thinking is the foundation for laws that do violate their civil rights. Saying that you think "women belong in the kitchen" and then saying you're not against women having careers...well, you have the same mentality as the people that are against women in the workplace, don't you?
5. "Civil rights for homosexuals is not the same as civil rights for other groups of people" argument:
The real question here is, “Is sexuality an irremovable part of our identities?" I can't answer that yet. But I don't think it needs to be answered to know that the civil rights for people in the LGBTQ community should be protected. If there is something about an individual that can be used against him to justify physically harming him or making him feel ostracized, we typically make laws to protect said individual. A disability wouldn't necessarily be considered part of someone's identity, but there are laws protecting the disabled because they have been discriminated against. People are also discriminated for having a sexuality that is socially abhorrent; therefore, there need to be laws that protect them.

The question of homosexuality for Christians, indeed for other major faiths in the United States, should not be treated as a matter of lighthearted opinion but rather as a socially significant stand. I implore all people, in support of homosexuality or no, to recognize that prejudice against LGBTQ individuals exists, that their rights are being encroached upon, and that they need to be defended by U.S. law in job security, marriage, and social well-being.

November 3, 2013

Anonymous Posts

Hey all! We love hearing your voices. Here is the link for entering an anonymous post. They will be posted every Monday. Here are our anonymous posts for this week!

1: Where the hell are the queer greeks?

2: I'm so excited that anonymous posts are back!

3: I'ma need people to not stigmatize the Center anymore.