Last night I sat in the Terra dining hall and discussed “Strange queers, queer strangers” with a few friends — not just any friends, queer friends. I have many — and contrary to the stereotypes splashed throughout The Daily these days, not all of us are shrill radicals or “sexual nihilists” or self-destructive Grindr torsos.
We distilled “Strange queers” into a few key arguments. Aside from not knowing that Scylla is the phallic one (Charybdis is the whirlpool — thanks, SLE!), the writer believes that Stanford is sharply divided between glittery aestheto-political extremists and macho-masochistic biotech bros. As such, he can’t seem to find anyone he doesn’t immediately disdain. Though homosexuality was once a charm, it has tragically become passé, second to his identity as a “morbidly brooding young man.”
Perhaps, emptied of all their anecdotal fluff, those arguments ring hollow. But doesn’t it seem reductive to divide the entire queer community into, well, a binary? And doesn’t the derision towards “self-hating gays” seem poorly placed amongst otherwise glowing praise of our fellow gays? Some genuine points of bitterness poke through the pomp: There is no queer community here, broadly defined. And despite the proliferation of queer people across campus, the population seems incorporeal, decentralized, inert.
Like the author of “Strange queers,” I grew up in South Carolina. I went to a Catholic school near Charleston, where I realized I was gay — to my chagrin — at age 12. Like the author, I went to boarding school — but I went to Connecticut, and specifically to come out of the closet. It was the right thing to do, but never once at a fairly large school were there more than three of us at once. Unlike the author’s, my experience in all-male dorms was unrelentingly lonely.
So when I came to Stanford, to California, I came to find my people. And in a strange twist of fate, I did not. There are more queer people on campus than I could ever have imagined. There are queer people in every every dorm and every classroom. But you’d never know it. Like the author, almost all of them are wrapped in a layer of straight society. For every glitzed-up queen and muscled mafioso on campus, there’s a crowd of completely disengaged queers for whom their sexuality is barely descriptive, let alone definitive. Sheltered and decadent, desensitized to their precarious status, they’d sooner identify as “morbidly brooding young men” than members of a globally persecuted minority. And in times like these!
I eventually made queer friends at Stanford. Many of them. The key was being open to people who aren’t carbon copies of myself. I stumbled into Terra sophomore year and learned a whole lot from people I very often disagree with. For a guy who never once questioned his gender, was it hard using they/them pronouns? Yes. Did it hurt? No. I also made friends with some “low-key gay” and questioning guys. I’ve been sure of my sexuality for nearly a decade — talking to people who still don’t know these things blows my mind. It’s hard dismantling internalized homophobia, but looking back on the way I felt in seventh grade, I understand why they’re hesitant to dive in headfirst. It’s a privilege to be part of that process for someone, and I assure you your disdain makes it no easier.
There’s a hurting under “Strange queers,” and I feel it myself. I know a smattering of queer people, and I wish more than anything we were a part of something bigger — I’d love to have a gay network broader than the nearest 50 Grindr accounts. There are precious few queer social clubs not further defined by racial/ethnic/gender/departmental parameters, and the lack of communication across them is a colossal waste.
Our writer came oh-so-tantalizingly-close to that — but then he missed. He doubts that a gay community ever really existed beyond “political action” (a weird way to spell “our freedom”), and laments that as a “morbidly brooding young man” (sorry, I can’t help myself!) he doesn’t fit any of the “molds” anyway. To be completely fair, there’s no Stanford Dead Poets’ Society — as far as they’ve let me know — but rather than channel this frustration into action, he takes it out on the happy queers with whom he so tragically can’t relate.
How horrible — how selfish, really! — to blame his own loneliness on people he only deigns to know. Is it the responsibility of my haute communist friends to dress down for your mom? Does it fall to the macho frat dudes to join your book club and be more “interesting” for you? Maybe the lack of a Gay Dead Poets’ Society is the fault of the absent Poets themselves.
That’s not to say the type is new. For every “fairy” sacrificing a career and a family to live in meatpacking districts, there were dozens passing through, enjoying themselves and melting back into society. So many at Stanford live in recently captured territory, living life out and proud, yet want nothing to do with the people who once held the line to make such a lifestyle possible. Those who can afford to leech off the hard-earned winnings of the queer community without the steep social costs always do.
What nerve, then, for people with no intention of creating communities for themselves to bemoan their absence! As if there aren’t countless ways to meet queer people of all stripes and persuasions here; as if Terra doesn’t have weekly social and educational events for anyone who wants to come; as if the Q-Spot isn’t constantly looking for queer events to fund! What nerve!
The Stanford queer population dwarfs the queer community. That’s not the fault of the people who try. If your Scylla and Charybdis were real, here at Stanford they are miles apart, and the bodies floating in open ocean are dead only for a lack of swimming. To blame your own self-serving disengagement on those living most visibly is remarkably — morbidly — lazy.
— Michael Carter ’19
Contact Michael Carter at mccarter ‘at’ stanford.edu.