Queer Corner: Sticks and Stones

Queer Corner: Sticks and Stones

I’ll be sure to ease you into queerness here at Colgate, so I’ll start off this week with something a little more general. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s the beginning to a new year at college! No matter how long you’ve been here, each year marks a fresh renewal of your own personal identity and the makeup of this community.

Don’t believe me? I know that each time the “first day of classes” rolls around, I’ve grown and changed a little bit (I have my big-boy license now and have to take out my own trash), and I modify the things that I do on campus to reflect this. You can too! Reinvent yourself if you need something different in your life (majors, clubs, wardrobe, etc.), and there is no better time than the present.

And with about 25 percent of our university being replaced each year with new recruits, the community is always changing. While the changes might be subtle, Colgate is a different place each year, and it is the people that truly make up the character and the community with which we all associate.

Do you even realize the power that entails? With almost 3,000 students, our community isn’t tiny, but it is small enough for individual people to make huge differences in the dynamic of the campus. If you don’t like something, you should be able to try and change it, and there are a multitude of options available for you to do just that (including creating your own Underwater Basket Weaving Club).

But even at a more basic level, the way you treat and interact with people creates and defines the Colgate community as we perceive it. The people you meet in your classes, your residences and walking downtown, all will be affected by what you say, or what you don’t say, in interacting with them. Small shifts in groups around campus have the potential to have widespread effects. Inversely, they might not affect anyone other than those in your immediate vicinity, but for you, that could mean a lot.

Treating people with respect and kindness is pretty much common sense. Thinking about the things you say and how they affect the people around you is something totally different. Our usage of the English language is riddled with words and expressions that can be offensive to different groups of people, even if we don’t mean them to be.

Even though this is a column about queer issues, it isn’t just about how you shouldn’t say that things are “gay” or “faggy.” “I got gypped,” and “That’s retarded,” are a couple of examples of phrases that may unintentionally offend someone, or be off-putting to people hearing them, no matter the setting (hint: gypped is referring to the Roma and Sinti people, also known as Gypsies).

The usage of “queer”  (in big letters at the top of this page) can especially be taken as offensive. When I was in elementary school, I remember people playing the game “Smear the Queer.” Many people today feel uncomfortable with the word because of past (and sometimes present) connotations of it, and don’t enjoy using the word or hearing it used in connection with the LGBT community.

But I use it as a form of inclusion, as a way of trying to fit the multitude of identities into one neat package. This in itself can be seen as a disservice to the community; reducing a spectrum of a population into one word that is supposed to encapsulate them all. But so is using the word “straight”  to identify the remainders. Is the duality really that stark?

My advice, then, is to be intentional and precise about what you are saying, even if you are talking freely with friends. I’m not saying to fiercely police yourself or to spoil the fun of language by reducing your available lexicon (lameskies). I’m just saying to try and rid your passive vocabulary of hate speech. I won’t go as far to try to convince you to use gender-neutral words at all times. That’s for a later article.

I will, however, encourage you to reflect on how you use your words in the contexts that you are in. Take ownership of your words, your language and the spaces you create. You are a part of a process of creating a Colgate community, and what you do and what you say matters a great deal. How inclusive or exclusive the larger community is, or even smaller communities within it are, depends upon your commitment to one or the other, consciously or not. You have incredible power. Be sure to use it.

Just remember to pay attention to your words. To you they may be meaningless. To others they may hold more weight than you can imagine.