I’ve never been one to try to live outside the box. In fact, it seems like those who attempt to live outside of the box are the most trapped by it. There is something to be said about the ability to identify yourself and fully admit to being all that you are. It’s kind of like if Harry Potter refused to wear his invisibility cloak, or when Tina stopped allowing Ike to dominate her. I hate to sound like Oprah (though I would freely accept her money), but authenticity is key. There’s a real honesty and power within people who live uninhibited by the margins in which society and biology have placed them. But just like peanut butter and chocolate, it’s easy for society to impose their invisibility all up in someone else’s visibility.
You may be asking yourself what I mean by that unseemly and dated pop culture reference. Don’t worry because I’m going to tell you, and I’m not going to use political references because you’re not the United States government but a Colgate student (and a good looking one at that). I have watched the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning/Queer (LGBTQ) community on this campus throw event after event working to avoid compromising what they feel is right and honest, while also trying to make it appealing enough for the rest of the student body to take notice. There is consistently low attendance – not because the events aren’t noteworthy, or of interest to students, but because “those events” are labeled before they’re even advertised. I’m not going to lecture anyone on how they should attend every event that may inspire you to open your mind, or that has the potential to move you and challenge your worldview. However, if you choose not to go to an event because of the box that another person may put you in, then you’re probably already in it. Not only that, but it can be really uncomfortable to learn that you’re living your life by someone else’s rules.
There are so many out students on campus who make their voices heard inside and outside of the classroom, and yet even when they put themselves out there, events, interesting speakers and significant LGBTQ awareness dates go unnoticed because of the fears of this supposed societal stereotype. No matter how “out” someone is, they cannot force you to see them. So, open your eyes to the differences – and I don’t mean sing “True Colors” every five minutes as an effort to showcase your eagerness to welcome the light that is life. Broaden your thinking to the reality that Colgate is full of students, faculty and staff with rich backgrounds and experiences.
I digress. Let’s say that’s not you and that you don’t shy away from events on campus because of silly social stigmas. In fact, you go to every event on campus because you can teleport (which would be necessary to attend every event on this campus). We’ll talk simpler. I would venture to guess that most times that you or your friends have referenced the LGBTQ community, you’ve mentioned the “gay community.” I’m bisexual and have been out for almost two years, so when people use the term “gay community,” I’m immediately excluded from a community to which I am very much connected. Although I understand how cumbersome acronyms or changing one word in your vocabulary can be, it still must be less awkward than unintentionally alienating individuals from one of their identities and from conversations on issues they are also facing. The reality is that we are totally incapable of judging one another because we all live by and expect the same inconsistencies from one another. We’ve gotten to a place where authenticity and vulnerability is shocking and rare. The answer isn’t that everyone should wear their hearts on their sleeves and cry all day, but the fact that vulnerability is always seen as weakness, and only by means of its extreme, is a problem.
As Paul Laurence Dunbar would say, “We wear the mask that grins and lies. It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.” We allow perceptions, assumptions and conceptions to become our own masks. Letting those around us determine our behavior and who we are. The reason that monikers, categories and classifications exist is to help us order the world in which we live, but the most striking feature of names is the power that they hold. So, why not empower yourself by naming yourself? It’s the indefinable that is intersectionality. Name not only your sexuality, but also your gender, race, ethnicity and every other aspect of self that defines you. Take back the false presumptions and preconceived notions imposed upon you and replace them solely with all that you are. It takes introspection and self-recognition, but no one said that it would be as simple as finding Dora the Explorer’s parents (who apparently don’t exist).
This naming and self-acceptance is part of what “coming out” is all about – a reclaiming of self and self-liberation. There’s more to visibility than the sincerity of one person; it relies also on receptivity of others. Don’t allow your own fears and discomfort to negate another person’s personal enlightenment, growth and honesty.
Each person is more than a porcelain veneer, and true visibility requires candidness from the whole of the community. So, take action and accept accountability for your community. As evidenced by the eminent Betty White, it’s never too late to realize your full “Golden” potential (or wear velour track suits).