Symbols of privilege: Canada Goose, Sperrys, J. Crew and Grey Goose. As a white male from an upper-middle-class suburb attending an elite academic institution, I am living proof. Though we often associate privilege with a specific race, gender and socioeconomic status, there are some forms of privilege that aren’t as obvious as a silk shirt or, quite frankly, a penis.
Superficially, I represent the advantaged, but I also represent the disadvantaged 1.6 percent of the population that is openly gay or lesbian. Yes, I, a member of the “elite,” encounter abuse due to my homosexuality even in Ann Arbor. The University is ranked as one of the nation’s most liberal college institutions, yet I would argue that the student culture subconsciously remains homophobic, causing the persecution of gays on campus to appear somewhat invisible to the naked eye.
My first encounter with homosexual persecution at the University occurred before I was even a student here, during the winter of my senior year of high school when I was admitted to Michigan. To celebrate the acceptance into my dream school, I asked a longtime family friend, Adam — then a sophomore at the University — if I could come for the weekend and (sorry, Mom) party. Friday night I was ushered into an (unchaperoned!) apartment, given access to all the alcohol I wanted and thrown into a social scene unlike any lame high school party I had been to. Adam’s girlfriend and her friends came over, and after pre-gaming and getting acquainted with everybody, we left for a house party. At the house, I was again ushered into a sweaty basement with a DJ, beer pong and party lights. I partied as any hot-shot senior in high school would, standing quietly by the beer pong table, pretending to be super focused on the game to avoid talking to people.
The guy I was standing next to at the table turned out to be an exchange student from China. I was interested in his experience as an exchange student, so we talked for a while. Not once did thoughts regarding his sexuality cross my mind; I was simply focused on the conversation we were having. I gave him my number for a reason I can’t remember, maybe due to my innocence, maybe due to the impairment from the alcohol. Again, I didn’t think anything of it.
After the conversation ended, Adam replaced the exchange student at the beer pong table. “Thank God, I was getting worried there,” he said in my ear. Confused, I questioned what he meant. “You guys were talking for a while,” he accused. I immediately understood.
Adam had caught me completely off guard. I’d had conversations with guys before, but had never experienced this kind of judgment. After explaining to him that the guy was an exchange student, Adam then uttered, “You gave him your number,” in an attempt to prove my guilt.
We did not speak about the incident for the rest of the night, but as a result, I became nervous and avoided other conversations with guys, feeling my every move dissected by Adam’s gaze. The next time I visited Adam, I didn’t dare speak to other guys — only to groups with at least one female present.
That night I was introduced to a type of discrimination I had never experienced before. I was expecting some kind of eventual abuse for my homosexuality at college, but not this soon and not by such a close friend. An action that I had found so innocent — a conversation about Asia and its culture with a sophomore student from China — was taboo just because that conversation was with another man.
Throughout my freshman year at the University, I have been subjected to other subtle forms of hate and discrimination due to my sexuality. At my first frat party, I was told the more girls I hooked up with that night, the better chance I would have in being admitted to that fraternity. My roommate continually questioned why I never brought a girl back to spend the night and pressured me to do so. A night out was never complete unless you heard the casual insult “homo” or “faggot” at some party. Many of these offenders fail to realize that they are oppressing an entire community when they make these “meaningless” comments they forget to have said less than five minutes later.
Homophobia has been internalized by a large part of the University’s culture, and students subconsciously reveal it in ways that are still hurtful. The conversation between Adam and me was so quick, so discreet, but it was one of the most meaningful to me. Acts of discrimination, such as Adam’s, are acts of microaggression, and they are less visible (and even perceived as nonexistent) to the student body. The oppression of the homosexual community often seems like an invisible one; prevalent, but conducted so accidentally or thoughtlessly that it becomes naked to the human eye. I am an upper middle-class white male, and therefore I am part of the advantaged. But I am also gay. Just because oppression is not visible to the majority of the population does not mean it is less significant.
Daniel Dixon can be reached at email@example.com.