Queer Corner: Privilege and Closets

Eugene Riordan

There are a lot of things on this campus that go unnoticed or overlooked. I’m sure if you read the title of this weekly column, you know what I’m about to talk about. But today’s subject is a little less obvious. In our everyday interactions with people, we constantly make assumptions and try to classify those around us, trying to fit them into neatly packaged boxes. These assumptions we have come preconfigured, and we’re hardwired from our earliest memories to expect certain things in interactions with people. Ever asked someone how their day was going, and have them reply with “horrible” and not know what to do? We expect certain things from people when we meet them, see them and interact with them.

One of those assumptions is almost always heterosexuality. It isn’t necessarily your fault that you assume this: when we’re young, we’re assaulted with notions of opposite-gender marriages, relationships and interactions. Men are taught to act a certain way with women, and both are expected to lust after each other at some point in their respective lives. We might be taught that there are those other people out there who aren’t “normal,” but rarely do we think of them. We grow up with this taught notion, and see it reflected in the society around us. So arriving at Colgate University, what else is one supposed to expect?

This prepackaged idea is called heterosexual privilege. Similar in application to white privilege, heterosexual privilege assumes that heterosexuality is the norm, and that all people and situations adhere to that norm. Girls have boyfriends, guys have girlfriends, and we’ll almost always jump to that conclusion. When you see two people of the same gender together, you assume that they’re just friends, and nothing more. These assumptions make for a societal standard toward which all people have to strive. But what happens when people don’t fit those norms? Do they become social outcasts?

Passing is something that hopefully everyone here does on their exams (good luck!), but also is something that people in the queer community do every day. For gays, lesbians or bisexual people it means fitting into the heterosexual crowd so well that everyone assumes they’re straight. This is either by them actively pretending (like when I go home and face my extended family) or because they don’t fit our conceptions of stereotypes (butchy ladies or flamboyant dudes). For transgendered people, it means people assuming that they are one gender, while they may identify with something entirely different. Passing is a direct result of heterosexual privilege, because people project this standard onto everyone they meet, forcing queer people to have to “Come Out” for people to recognize them as they truly are.

A lot of times it is just easier to pass, especially for queer people on this campus. Think about it: do you ever see two guys holding hands walking across the quad? Two girls kissing just before they head off to class after lunch in Frank? Two guys dancing at the Jug? Two girls cuddling on the quad on the few days that it’s nice? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, I’m impressed (even though girls are sometimes seen sloppily kissing at the Jug, it doesn’t usually mean they’re gay). Would it be weird to see these things happening on this campus? Some people just think public displays of affection are gross, so there’s that. But maybe Colgate doesn’t have any queer couples. We would see them if they were there, right?

I know my boyfriend and I wouldn’t be comfortable in any of those situations above. Maybe we have negative views of the campus, but it’s more the fact that we wouldn’t want to get shouted at, pointed at, whispered about or treated like a freak show, which we would be every time we were in public being a couple. Many of the other members of the out queer community feel the same way. Perhaps it’s not as bad as the queer community may think, but when we hear homophobic remarks and experience homophobic situations, we tend not to feel comfortable and safe. If the climate survey reports that “53 percent of Colgate students report hearing sexual orientation-based slurs such as ‘That’s so gay,’ ‘dyke,’ or ‘fag’ on a regular basis,” does this mean that we have an open and accepting campus?

The next time you walk across campus, think about what privileges you’re taking for granted. Maybe you’re going to a new movie (with straight main characters), or want to pick up a new book (with straight relationships), or want to go dancing (in straight couples). Challenge yourself to think in gender neutral terms. If you’re interested, google “heterosexual privilege” to see everything straight people automatically are afforded by society. It might surprise you.