During my first semester here at Columbia, I found myself in a room of queer and queer-friendly students and faculty discussing a question that I had never considered before—what do you like most about being queer? “What could I possibly like about being queer?” I remember thinking. Fortunately, another member of the group quickly enlightened me. Being gay, he argued, is just really fun.
Frankly, he is partly right. While we read way too many reports of suicides by LGBTQ-identified youth and instances of violence against LGBTQ and allied persons both in the U.S. and abroad, being a part of this community can indeed be exhilarating and rewarding. Here at Columbia, Queer Awareness Month is riddled with examples of how the LGBTQ community strikes an oft-incredible balance between discussing difficult issues and throwing a dance party. Just this month, QuAM hosted “Swing Both Ways,” an event intended to raise awareness of biphobia through free swing dance lessons. Beyond our campus community, openly transgendered Chaz Bono performed on Dancing with the Stars while his supportive mother, Cher, watched from the audience. On National Coming Out Day, “out” celebrities shared what they felt was so amazing and powerful about being open about their sexual and gender identities.
Mainstream American culture seems to have become quite comfortable with these slivers of LGBTQ culture—the existence of bisexuality, portraits of out and content LGBTQ individuals, and the trials of “coming out” narratives. Being honest about one’s sexual orientation and, to a lesser extent, gender identity, is no longer shocking. In the more liberal enclaves of this country, notably our campus, there is a certain expectation that gay people are as out and open about their sexualities as their straight colleagues are. In general, we sincerely want to believe that being gay is as normal as having short hair or a predilection for the color blue. A straight, cisgendered male friend once told me that he had no problem being perceived as gay. There is something extraordinarily liberating about being a young queer— or not—person at a university in New York City that can sometimes blind us to the hardships that queer people continue to face.
The truth is that no matter how much levity adorns our conversations on queer issues, holding an LGBTQ identity remains burdensome. For those who are newly out, there are questions about how to become involved in the queer community ranging from the aesthetic concern—what to wear to one’s first First Friday—to how to talk about being gay with a curious or, perhaps, confrontational roommate. We cannot forget that LGBTQ people have higher rates of mental illness than heterosexual people, and almost all LGBTQ-identified persons report experiencing harassment on account of their identity at some point during their lives.
While it is wonderful when straight allies express support for their queer brethren, adopting a queer identity often brings to light a unique set of questions and concerns. It is quite important that LGBTQ and questioning persons have access to resources able to appropriately address issues inherent to having a queer identity. These resources can take many different shapes, often arriving in the forms of friends and mentors. On campus, Queer Peers and Allies is a new initiative that provides a safe, confidential space for LGBTQ and questioning students to talk with other students about queer issues. Several times each week, trained queer and allied students are available to discuss coming out to friends from home or the difficulties of being in a queer relationship in an online chat environment. The queer community at Columbia is privileged insofar as we can safely be out and proud knowing that, in the event that we feel unsafe in the classroom or residence hall, there are resources in place to support us as students. But, for the personal issues that are unique to LGBTQ individuals, it is also important that there are venues for each of us to discuss these problems with empathetic listeners, because ultimately, being queer should, at least some of the time, be a lot of fun.
The author has been granted anonymity due to the fact that she is not open about her sexuality. She is a member of Queer Peers and Allies.