It’s a Gay Man’s World

It’s a Gay Man’s World

This article originally appeared in the Burman University Chronicle. You can read it on page 17 here.


Gay men have it all.

Let me explain myself.

I used to feel that, as a gay man, I never fully fit in. I tend to naturally gravitate towards women for socialization, and I rarely find myself hanging out with a bunch of guys. No matter how much time I spend with my favorite girlfriends, I often don’t feel like “one of the girls.” The same goes for guys—I can sit around with them and roll my eyes at all the sports- and car-related humor for hours, but I usually won’t ever feel like “one of the guys.” This used to leave me feeling alone and without a group to which I belonged, but over the last few years my perspective has changed considerably.

As a kid, long before I was aware of my sexuality, I felt constrained by my expected gender performance. For the newbie, gender performance is a term used to express how people portray and fulfill their expected gender role. Typical masculine gender performance could involve thoroughly competent physical ability, mastering activities such as hunting or carpentry, or automotive know-how. Typical feminine gender performance would involve things such as emotional openness, colorful dress, cleanliness, or perhaps a fruity perfume. This is what we expect from different genders, and I felt constrained by it as a kid. I wanted to sew, but I knew that sewing wasn’t high on the list of boy activities. The same went for my other hobbies at the time, such as gymnastics, drawing, playing my cello, and theatre. These were things I enjoyed and was good at, but because I knew they were not what was expected from me, I felt nervous about pursuing them seriously.

In my second year of high school I finally admitted to myself that I was gay. This had nothing to do with my hobbies, but was simply a long and intense experience of allowing myself to be honest. Once I could be open about my sexuality, I found the previous stress over fulfilling my masculine requirements ease away. I no longer identified with your average guy, but instead saw myself as almost a new, third gender: the gay man. Because people didn’t expect me to act like a “normal guy,” I stopped caring about my gender performance and was liberated to pursue the topics and hobbies that I was passionate about. What resulted was me succeeding at what I was good at instead of scratching by at what I was expected to be good at.

Being gay—or any sexual minority—can give you the freedom to pick and choose what hobbies and skills attract you most, not what is expected of your gender. This freedom, however, should not be restricted to the LGBT. It thrills me to see more straight men and women pursuing careers that are not stereotypically associated with their gender, and I hope more people are beginning to feel free to do what they are naturally good at.

I appreciate and respect the role of gender in our society, but I can’t help and imagine what a world would be like in which people only pursued interests based off of what they’re adept at. I don’t think gender is necessarily confining, and I recognize that gender has done an effective job at helping humans organize society for years. However, the liberty that comes with defining your gender for yourself is exhilarating, and I hope everyone is able to feel that freedom when pursuing their interests. For now, however, it really is a gay man’s world.

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The LGBT Experience at WWU

I wrote this piece for my university’s paper The Collegian. It highlights the emotional experience of an LGBT individual attending a middle-of-the-road Christian school. My feelings on this topic are intense and invested, and this paper has seen its fair share of softening and rearticulation. I share it here so that those who may not live near the WWU campus will have easier access to it.


In my experience, college is a time when many students are first beginning to figure out their identity. Learning who you are can be a challenging process, and it’s a time when many young adults need support and mentorship from those around them. Being LGBT adds a new dimension to this experience, and can be extremely isolating. For many, the knowledge of being LGBT comes before they are able to talk about it with anyone or find any role models to look up to. Not having the proper resources can be damaging, especially at the pivotal adolescent and young adult stage.

According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, LGBT individuals are more than three times more likely to experience a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.[1] The experience of coming out has also been documented to lead to PTSD, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse.[2] The mental distress results from not having an environment where one feels safe to express their identity, as well as not having adequate resources. Young adults who identify as LGBT need quality support not only from their peers, but also from their superiors.

Because of the policies that address LGBT issues at WWU on a case-by-case basis, many LGBT individuals at Walla Walla do not feel safe or represented. It may be confusing about what it means for WWU to be a physically and an emotionally safe place for minority groups, and why it is necessary. Consider this: in recent years, we have had several incidents of LGBT students being mistreated and receiving physical threats. In those situations, because WWU policy can be unclear or difficult to understand in regards to LGBT support, the students involved are afraid to seek help and do not feel safe in disclosing what is happening to them.

In approaching this article, I interviewed six LGBT individuals who are currently or have previously attended or worked for WWU to find out what their experience has been like. The recurring theme throughout all the interviews has been the need to be cautious about who you opened up to, as many students and staff members are not adequately prepared to be supportive and safe.

One student, who spent more than six years at WWU, stated that they had difficulty in finding a staff or faculty member who they could talk to without fear of rejection. Several of the people I talked with remarked that they noticed a negative difference in the way they were treated by some staff and faculty members when they opened up to them. This is unfortunate, but because the university has few policies to support LGBT individuals, it is challenging for students to speak up and confront this sort of prejudice.

The lack of policy and stance from the university also affects non-LGBT students. One faculty member remarked that she has had students in her classrooms use the term gay in a derogatory way. Upon confronting these students, she had to explain to them why using the term gay in such a manner was hurtful and damaging to those who identified as LGBT. These students had not had to think about the meaning of their words, and university leadership and proper training in spaces such as JumpStart or in the dorms could have avoided the incident altogether.

One problem that many LGBT students face at WWU is finding peers who are also LGBT. WWU makes it very challenging for LGBT support groups to meet up and put on events. Many non-religious and some religious schools often have an official group called a GSA, or Gay-Straight Alliance. At WWU, we have a group called SFE, or Students for Equality. This group has not been able to become an official club, despite several attempts in the past to receive official recognition from the university. While this group still operates and puts on events, not being official makes it hard to find spaces to host meetings as well as advertise.

In one case, the school chose to approve a poster for an LGBT-oriented event but chose not to stamp the posters because they wanted individual staff members to still be able to take down posters if they were uncomfortable. This actively prioritizes the comfort of staff and faculty over the young adults on campus who desperately need support and community. In an event I planned myself, the event’s posters were taken down after miscommunication about prior event approval. When I asked what was wrong, I was told that some faculty feared the film we were to be showing was pornographic in nature and would cause miscommunication. The film is called Pride (2014), and I encourage you to watch it and find where the pornographic material is. You may be disappointed.

Several years ago, ASWWU had a program called Pods that allowed any sizable group of students who met regularly for one purpose to receive funding from ASWWU. This allowed many diverse interest groups to form on campus, one of which was an LGBT discussion group. When some leaders learned that there was an active LGBT Pod, the ASWWU Social VP for the year was pressured by a faculty member to get rid of that specific group. However, the Social VP refused. For unrelated reasons the Pods program was ended soon after.

The problem of protection and support extends also to staff and faculty. WWU does employ LGBT individuals, but those individuals are not able to openly express their sexual orientation. One former staff member stated that working at WWU means prioritizing a career over having a family. “At another school—like the CC or Whitman—you go home and that’s your life. But working for the university, that becomes everything. It becomes every part of your life.” It is important to recognize that WWU is unique from other public schools since it is a religious institution. As such, the university wants to ensure that their employees uphold the Adventist perspective in every aspect of their life. Thus, the experience of working at WWU as an LGBT individual could mean prioritizing work over personal life, which I think could potentially open doors for mental health concerns. Having a fulfilled personal life should not be restricted to heterosexual individuals. The current treatment of LGBT individuals by many SDA employers harkens back to the days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

I understand that hearing these incidents of prejudice can be hurtful and embarrassing to those who are connected with WWU. My goal is not to shame anyone into “doing better” or to attack any specific group. I simply want to show the pain experienced by many students due to the university’s lack of policy and support. While it can be hard to hear these things, it is important to recognize that the shame and fear experienced by the students directly affected by these events is much greater, and needs to be urgently addressed.

I believe that the way LGBT students are treated and responded to at WWU teaches them to be sheepish and to live in fear of their own identity. It is in the university’s interest to create safe places for these students so that we can openly discuss our experiences and begin forming a community of allies and LGBT individuals. Everyone benefits from diversity, and this will not only show support to our LGBT students, but unite and strengthen the campus as a whole.

If you are a student at WWU and need help finding resources for yourself or another LGBT individual, please feel free to email me at mason.neil@wallawalla.edu or contact the WWU Students for Equality group at wwu.sfe@gmail.com.

[1] https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ

[2] Ibid.

Stockholm, Introspection, and Lessons Revisited

Stockholm, Introspection, and Lessons Revisited

For the last two days I’ve been walking around Stockholm by myself and it has been absolute bliss. Scandinavia has successfully captured my heart and I promise this will not be my last visit.

I first came this far North just two weeks ago when I went through Oslo and Bergen. The majestic landscape of Norway is full of contrast, with lakes and fjords carved out by glaciers long before the presence of man. The stark region boasts a challenge; it dares humanity to survive, and the people have thrived. This is no easy feat considering the sky is dark by 4:30 and the only fresh food available is fish. I loved it so much I knew I had to return, and so two weeks later I find myself in Stockholm.

I planned the trip as a solo endeavor. I’m no stranger to being alone, and I find travelling by myself to be quite enjoyable. Four days alone in Paris are some of my best memories. Besides being a great opportunity for introspection, I’ve also found it to be much cheaper. There’s no need to cater to the needs of other people, and I can happily survive on the cheapest food available. I’m not very touristy and prefer walking the streets for a day instead of paying for tours and attractions.

The round trip ticket from Geneva to Stockholm was $100 and my housing cost $50 a night. (I splurged here, justified by the fact that my ticket was substantially cheaper than normal since I flew on Friday the 13th.)

I’m now beginning my third decade of life, and reflecting on the last two has occupied much of my thoughts over the last several weeks. The normal questions have all made their impression: Who am I?, What do I believe?, What do I want to do with my life?, etc. But the most revealing has been How has what I’ve been through shaped who I am? Most of my life I’ve been an easily identifiable extrovert. I thrive off of people. I love customer service. Seeing you smile makes my day. Yet more and more I find myself preferring my own company instead of making plans and going out. This transformation does not worry me, but it begs the question: Why?

I see my introversion beginning in high school. (I still label myself an extrovert, but with limitations.) At the age of 14 I had no reason to not trust people. I had not experienced betrayal, didn’t understand prejudice, and couldn’t comprehend those whom I trusted deliberately lying to me. High school managed to expose me to all of these experiences. I came out with a strong distrust of leaders and a bitterness towards a group I had previously considered family.

More happened during my freshman year of college to further convince me that people are not as they appear. I was quickly learning to remain silent when previously I had opened up, to not express what I felt inside, and to rely on myself.

These lessons are distinct outcomes from several life events, but are they singular to me? Is life not one long lesson in avoiding pain? Everyone starts as an innocent child with everything to loose. Sure, you can shelter yourself from what will come your way, but for what benefit—remaining delusional about reality?

I don’t doubt that I’m coming off as cold and bitter. I assure you I’m not. Here’s the crux of what I’ve learned lately: though I may not trust people like I did as a young child, though I may not want to surround myself with as many people, though I may choose more and more to remain alone, I shall remain warm. I can still be congenial and accepting, offering open arms to anyone who asks. I will not let life turn me into a hard person who then goes on to hurt others. I will be sensitive.

I am happy alone. I like myself. What hasn’t stopped me before will not stop me now.

A PNW Kid in France

A PNW Kid in France

The first time I experienced being the liberal minority was when I attended an ultra-conservative high school in Canada. I loved every second of it. Portions of my time there were very painful, but I learned to enjoy the entire experience. I also loved being the liberal minority. I’m not going to lie, it fuels my narcissistic ego. Students who had been more sheltered that I would come to me to ask about shady figures such as them and that movie or that book. I loved it.

But more intriguing than all the attention I received was the power it gave me. The authority figures did not understand me, and this gave me power over them. I love reading people and I don’t find it very challenging. Having a dean come into your room to “instruct you” verbally but cower from you physically is an unforgettable experience for a 15-year-old who craves attention and credibility. 

I got used to the role I played in being the liberal minority, and I believe this is part of why I have become even more liberal since I am no longer surrounded by ultra-conservatives. It’s my inner ego adapting to make more show. Don’t lose faith in my humanity quite yet. I believe in all the “agendas” I push, and I do truly support Bernie Sanders. It’s not all for show. 

Being on a new campus in France, mixing with a new demographic, I’ve run into a new side of being the liberal minority. Fear. It is not hard to tell that people here are intimidated by me. I’m tall and have yet to see anyone come within an inch of my height. I walk confidently. I have piercings (For some, this is a reason to fear. I perceive it more as a reason to like), including a septum ring. The other day when a young theology student asked me which religion I am an active member of, I gave an honest answer (I was raised Adventist, still appreciate many of the church’s teachings, but do not consider myself an active member.) and he seemed to pull back in fear.

My internal response is always this: “Chill bro. It’s usually you guys who judge me. I’m not doing any judging.”

The ultimate decision is whether or not I like being feared. 

Having power is exhilerating, but power through fear is not what I’m after. I like being sympathetic, approachable, and liked. Not feared. I guess they’ll just have to learn to trust a tall guy with metal in his nose.