When I first read Andrew’s op-ed piece in the ‘Prince’ this week, then his resposting on Qmmunity, I was a bit distressed about his assumptions of what it means to be gay. Unfortunately, his assumptions are also held by many others in and out of the LGBTQ community, so I think it’s useful to address some of this confusion.
I should start by saying that I appreciated Andrew’s honesty in speaking about the ever present homophobia on this campus. Though there is great institutional support, many students would rather LGBTQ people be unseen and unheard, quietly left to the confines of the rainbow lounge in the LGBT center. A printed article describing this environment speaks to the strong desire for this to change. As someone who has been harassed in the ways Andrew describes, I appreciated that section.
My issue with the column, however, has to do with the descriptions of ‘homosexual expression.’ What is homosexual expression? Let’s deconstruct that phrase. A homosexual is someone desiring of sexual relations with someone of the same sex. So wouldn’t homosexual expression be acting upon those desires? Andrew describes the harassment (gay) male students at Princeton have experienced while making out with other males. He even goes on to note that the kind of harassment gay males endure is strikingly different from the kind endured by gay females. In fact, the harassment of gay females is more aptly described as over-sexualization and infatuation, neither of which are appropriate responses. This is a rather unfortunate double standard that I would hope one day changes. This is the homosexual expression to which he seems to refer.
However, he then goes on to describe homosexual expression more along the lines of gender expression:
“There has long existed a stereotype about homosexuals coming out of the closet: The Midwestern boy secretly stashes away some savings and quietly packs a suitcase so that, on his 18th birthday, he can announce to his corn-husking parents that he is gay and flee to New York or Los Angeles with nothing but his gayness”
What is this ‘gayness’ he’s referring to? I would venture to guess that he’s referring to a stereotypical effeminate or flamboyant gay male, perhaps clad in pink and vibrant in his movements. But those features are not integrally to one’s sexual orientation or preference. A male can be effeminate and attracted to females. Just as a burly male can be attracted to other males. One’s gender expression is not determined by one’s sexual orientation, and vice versa. Correlated perhaps, but certainly not causal.
This past Monday I saw a performance of ‘The Tempermentals,’ (which Prof. Dolan posted about on Qmmunity. The show also touched on the conflation between gender expression and sexual orientation. Harry Hay, one of the founders of The Mattachine Society in the 1950s goes through a transformation throughout the show, which ultimately ends in his starting another movement: The Radical Fairies. His insistence on being gay enough so that no one ever mistakes him for heterosexual again is in line with Andrew’s claim that “to be most successful, budding gay leaders at Princeton seem to believe they need to be the most straight. Gay. But not too gay.”
Regardless of one’s outness, he seems to imply that some gay people would like to suppress their ‘gayness’ for the sake of their student group involvement. Is he suggesting those people not make out with people of the same sex on the dance floor? Or perhaps just that women should wear skirts and men should wear dark colored Polo shirts. Either way, it doesn’t seem a very necessary discussion. Not every LGBTQ person expresses their gender in quite the same way, but that speaks nothing of their ‘gayness’ (as if there even is a ‘gay enough’).
It’s important to understand the distinctions between gender and sexual orientation and acknowledge that there are many varieties of LGBTQ people. I for one am content to simply allow a non-judged freedom of personal expression.