On a sunny football Saturday about two weeks ago, I was walking down East University Avenue with a few friends when I decided to share an amusing fact I had realized earlier that day: the only maize and blue shirt I had was one that read: “I love girls that love girls.” My friends and I laughed, but a male student sitting at a table on the street overheard our conversation and chose to yell at me, “Hey, me too! Hey, are you trying to lez out?” My friends, being as great as they are, responded with some choice words, and a sarcastic “Oh, I’m so happy we live in such a ‘progressive’ town.” Problem solved, right? Not quite.
I don’t think I can accurately describe the anger this stirred in me. To rewind a little bit, I think I need to explain that I only very recently became comfortable with my sexuality. Nine years of Catholic school plus a lifetime of sexual/sexuality conservatism in my broader families, precipitated by a hetero-normative and homophobic culture, left me suppressing my feelings for women for 19 long years of my life. It wasn’t until I moved into a co-op last year that I started to come to terms with the fact that I had always been queer, whether willing to admit it to myself or not.
Over the past 10 months or so, I’ve gone through an incredible transformation. I now feel that I have not only “come to terms” with my sexuality, but I actively celebrate it. Years of suppression morphed into pride and a comfort with myself that I never imagined I could experience. Sometimes I want to scream from the rooftops: “I’m a woman who loves women!” Because I really do, and I’ve never felt so proud of it.
Fast-forward to that day on the street wherein my fellow student asked me if I was “trying to lez out.” This language represents a male-dominated culture that fetishizes lesbian identities. Let me just say this to the male population at Michigan once: Lesbians are not here to serve your fantasies. In fact, we, and all women and people, are not here to serve your anything. We want nothing to do with you sexually. And, please, don’t even get me started on the confusion around bisexuality — if a woman likes both men and women, her/ze’s/their relationships with women still have nothing to do with you.
This situation has been eating away at me ever since it happened. What bothers me most about this language is that the University and Ann Arbor at large claim to be hubs of progressive ideologies, and, at the very least, claim to be accepting of all identities. However, I feel uncomfortable every time a class, club or meeting starts without asking people their preferred gender pronouns. For the record, though I disagree with the gender binary in general, I’m lucky enough to feel comfortable with the sex identity I was born into. But what about my transgender, genderqueer, etc. peers? I feel uncomfortable wearing my “LGBTQ” pride shirt to class and club meetings for fear that another club member or professor is homophobic. I feel uncomfortable with the large portion of Greek life on our campus that reinforces a heteronormative, and often patriarchal, society. To be fair, I don’t mean to blanket all of Greek life with generalizations. I merely mean to say that the system is based on antiquated understandings of sexuality and gender.
In a country that appears to have made great strides forward in the acceptance of queer identities, represented by the more than 50 percent of Americans who support same-sex marriage, I’m sad to say that I still feel uncomfortable and exiled on Michigan’s campus. Perhaps this is indicative of the nature of the argument for same-sex marriage: that it emphasizes tolerance and acceptance over a real understanding of the harmfulness of all binaries.
I have to say that I’m unbelievably lucky to live in the co-op I do, where it’s explicit that feeling comfortable to be oneself without judgment or harassment is the norm. For those who don’t have this privilege — all my fellow LGBTQI/A-Z individuals on this campus struggling every day — I’m with you. Pride is still our parade, so come yell from the rooftops with me sometime. It’s only through pride and solidarity that we have a chance of moving forward together. In my last two years here, I’m making it my point to say “no more” to this kind of behavior and thinking on our campus. Nineteen years is a long time to refuse your own identity. Join me in spending the next 60 years defending it.
Marion Berger is an LSA junior.