You might think that the awful weather, the falling leaves, and the jack o’lantern decorations on storefront windows mean that October is drawing to a close. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong—what’s actually ending is Queer Awareness Month at Columbia. By this time of year, the queer-centric events schedule has pretty much run its course: Movies have been watched, talks have been talked, raves have been raved, and free food has been pillaged. All of it is fabulous, but pretty run-of-the-mill, as Columbia happenings go.
Except that it’s not. Because this is happening in New York City, where the AIDS crisis killed thousands of people and the Stonewall riots burst through walls of silence, where gay marriage is currently a legal institution. This is happening at Columbia, where countless generations of young people have had their first real introductions to sex and love and all the things that screw those things up. This is happening at a moment in history when acknowledging queer people publicly is as easy as glancing at a TV commercial or reading a political profile. And in the midst of “this”—all the openness and awareness and visibility that took so much work to achieve—we find ourselves in a time when “queer” might be evolving into something new, something more than the coexistence of two insoluble cultures.
Our parents’ generation was the one that first said it out loud. “Gay,” “queer,” “lesbian”—phrases that both segregated and acknowledged the presence of a sexual variance from the archetype. Before they raised us, they raised their voices, arguing and defending and declaring and acting as though being gay was a real thing, not just a whispered implication or a deathly secret. It was still a stereotype, still a label to be laid like crushing concrete over the intricacies of personal feelings, but however you looked at it, the label was there to be seen.
There’s no denying that the fight is still being fought. Queer people are everywhere now—on television, in movies, exhibited by celebrities and authority figures, and apparently even in subversive cartoons. Homosexuality has in many ways become a trendy quirk, a fashionable and yet tastefully understated accessory to your personality. The stereotype no longer stands out like a blaze of color on a dingy background. It has faded and blurred at the edges, seeping into the “normal” category into which society likes to package comfortable and nonthreatening things. Not everyone might like the gays or their newfound visibility, but no one can pretend they don’t exist.
So what’s the next step? If one gender-pairing can become two, can it go back to being one—or even none? Nowadays, sexuality is as flexible as a bendy straw, especially at a place like Columbia. College kids can sleep with, date, and horribly break the hearts of boys or girls without judgment or discretion: It’s not uncommon for a list of exes to include members of both camps. We’ve started to challenge the idea that a person must be either gay or straight, that people must pledge themselves to a banner and march under it for the rest of their lives. The “spectrum,” as it’s been called, is on the rise.
Our generation isn’t satisfied with awareness of the divide between queer and straight anymore. Sooner or later, someone is going to demand a Sex Awareness Month, and then we really will have moved on to the next level. Dissolving gender boundaries that, in terms of history, have only just been established may seem hasty in the extreme. But if someone made the effort to put the word “gay” into the everyday vernacular of the American public, then we should have the right to do whatever we want with our sexual terminology—including outgrow it.
The author is a Columbia College first-year.