Freedom of (personal) Expression

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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.

2 Comments

This post makes a few assumptions about the article I wrote which are simply incorrect.

Nowhere in my article did I assert, nor did my comments implicitly rely on the assumption that gender expression was synonymous with expressing one's sexual identity. It is an interesting distortion of my argument to believe that in order to avoid 'curbing one's expression' one must fit a stereotypical profile. To the contrary: Princetonians tend to fulfill the 'successful stereotype' as a move away from what otherwise might mean a more individual personal expression that seems to deviate too far from the mainstream. Why? I maintain that many are socialized to desire a very specific type of success and convinced that in order to do so, one must fit a particular mainstream 'successful' image.

Actively expressing one's sexual identity when that identity is not heterosexual is a clear deviation from this mainstream and likely causes individuals at Princeton- poised as they are to obtain significant roles in society- to feel the need to curb such an expression. Why the assumption that this expression requires fulfilling a stereotype? What questions of 'gender expression' are raised when one individual holds their significant other's hand? Does it matter if it is a man holding his girlfriend's hand, or a man holding his boyfriend's hand? This is not a question of gender expression-- it is a question of sexual identity expression... and how often do we see two men or two women holding hands in a public space at Princeton?

The choice to abstain from participation in the LGBT community (however conceived; by dancing with someone of the same sex, by attending events sponsored by the LGBT center, etc.), is certainly a personal one and can be explained a variety of ways. I maintain in my article that it is pervasive at Princeton and likely for the reasons I have given: there is a greater tendency towards 'norms' and what is 'mainstream' as a perceived value in attaining a very specific type of 'success' that seems to be in such high demand at an elite institution such as this.

This means, then, that this is not strictly an LGBT issue (or strictly a Princeton issue, per se). In a now-famous article 'The Disadvantages of an Elite Education' Professor Deresiewicz claims that at Ivy league schools "The geeks don’t look all that geeky; the fashionable kids go in for understated elegance. Thirty-two flavors, all of them vanilla. The most elite schools have become places of a narrow and suffocating normalcy. Everyone feels pressure to maintain the kind of appearance—and affect—that go with achievement."

While my point was mainly about people feeling comfortable to express their non-heterosexual identities, I did try and contextualize the phenomenon. I think, as the quote indicates above, this contextualization speaks to the relevance of everything from 'crazy' hair styles to, yes, gender expression; they are important and, I believe, share similar causes...but I was certainly not conflating any of these things.

I have never heard of such a thing. Why would it harm you?

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