Out to be the same
Georgetown's gay community has gained a lot—but what has it lost?
After a spate of hate crimes in 2007, the fall of my freshman year, many LGBTQ students organized the “Out for Change” campaign, which successfully demanded more support for and recognition of sexual and gender minorities on campus. These students fought for, and won, a full-time LGBTQ Resource Center and changes in policies regarding discrimination. Ever since, there has been a vast change in the gay life at Georgetown: many more people are out, there are gay leaders of student groups and there are gay members of all different types of organizations and teams. Furthermore, it has become a priority for many different organizations and institutions on campus to make the Hilltop a more welcoming place for gays and lesbians.
This, on one level, is a wonderful thing. Individuals should not be barred from pursuing activities and goals merely because of sexual preference. When I came to Georgetown, the gays actively sought each other out. Now gay people don’t feel the same need to cleave to others of the same identity. Most consider this a great gain—people do not have to limit themselves to a certain social group solely defined by their orientation. It is easy to conclude that we are well on our way towards the liberal democratic dream—people are free to choose the lifestyles they want, do the things they want, and be with the people they want. Mission accomplished.
But I wonder if something has been lost in this process. Maybe in the course of joining the rest of the campus and fully becoming Hoyas we have discovered that the grass is not much greener. Gays may be individually more integrated into campus life, but the gay “community” itself has become increasingly dispersed and fragmented. In my view, we should stop, take a look at what has happened over the past three years, and evaluate where we are today.
One thing I have increasingly noticed over the years is that Georgetown is an incredibly normative place. Students here look alike, dress alike and act alike. People who don’t fall into the mainstream—at the risk of over-generalizing—are judged and stigmatized.
When I was abroad, a friend decided she wanted to get a lip ring. Upon discussing it with friends who were still back at Georgetown—who reminded her that when she got back she would be “that girl”—she quickly recanted from the almost-faux pas.
Georgetown has a real lack of diversity, but not (necessarily) along the lines of race, ethnicity, or orientation. Those problems could be addressed structurally. Instead, the campus culture itself is hostile to anyone who would act differently.
This has at times taken on the extreme dimension of hate crimes. Without underestimating the horrendous nature of these events, I would say that in many ways such actions are less important than the small-scale, quotidian bitchiness of much of the student body—the snide comments, the cold shoulders, the weird glances for those who are “different,” and warmth and friendliness for those who conform.
It’s amazing how many people from so many different backgrounds can all look exactly the same. Polo shirts and boat shoes know no color or creed. This is probably due to a variety of factors, but among them is a lack of imagination. When the average Georgetown student wants to figure out what to do, they don’t ponder what would make them happy, or what seems exciting or aesthetically pleasing. They just look around to see what everyone else is doing.
Back in the day, when sexual orientation necessarily meant that one wouldn’t fit into the broader campus culture, a funny thing happened. The gay community no longer felt as much pressure to wear certain things, say certain things, and act in certain ways. Since we had already lost the game from the outset, there was no point in trying to keep playing it. And in hindsight, that was in many ways a great good. We were freer to do what we wanted, for no other reason than we wanted to do it.
Ironically, now that gays are more “accepted,” there is an added expectation that we will conform to all other aspects of Georgetown culture. We left the closet just to get in line at Georgetown Cupcake. This is partially the fault of gay rhetoric: “We’re just like you!” “Our love is the same as yours!” “Gays are just as a good of parents as straight people!”
Well, what if I don’t want to be just like you? What if I would prefer to remain as I was before, because you are boring, shallow, or inane?
This is the larger problem with the assimilationist approach. It necessarily implies that intolerance—cruelly keeping people from fully participating in the larger cultural life of whatever society—is the greatest evil, because we are all “equal.” Well, what if tolerance (which is still undoubtedly necessary) is not the only important quality in the world?
It turns out that being gay or lesbian (or bisexual, or transgender, or intersex, etc.) is not that important of an identity category. We’re really just bodies fucking other bodies. And you can tolerate people all over the spectrum of gender and sexuality, and still be an overall bad person. The problem with Georgetown’s approach to gay issues is that it is rooted in the assumption that gays want to be just like everyone else.
Notice how this implicitly avoids any sort of self-reflection or criticism of ‘normal’ people. Should gay people want to be like everyone else? Now that it’s available, many gay people have taken this route of “escape” and done exactly that—become just like everyone around them. This is why equality is not, and never can be, the goal. I don’t want to be equal to you. I want to do as I please.
I fear that we missed a great opportunity three years ago to make Georgetown a genuinely better place, instead of merely expanding the reach of the dominant campus culture. We didn’t make Georgetown any gayer. We’ve just made the gays more Georgetown-y.
So how can we attempt to make up for lost time? We have to change our mindset in terms of the way diversity, and campus life in general, operate. The end goal is not to give others a chance to recreate themselves in our image, but rather to encourage people to pursue a variety of activities, styles, and interests. To do what they find genuinely pleasurable—as problematic of a concept as that is—rather than bowing to a herd instinct and simply doing what everyone else does.
Only when we value people because they are deep, kind, bold, or interesting will we actually live in a diverse and improved campus. We have to find non-mimetic ways of being on the Hilltop. It is crucial to point out that these problems are not institutional, meaning they cannot be addressed by the staff and administration. They are student problems, caused by us. If anyone will make them better, it will be us. It is your (and my) responsibility. Until such a time, we really have done the gay community—and the Georgetown community as a whole—no favors.