DANGARAN AND MURCHISON: Building queer spaces

We are deeply and often painfully aware that, for many queer students, the “Gay Ivy” does not feel like home. Some have been made to feel less dateable because they are not white. Some have been made to feel invisible because they are not men. Trans students find themselves discussed, in conversation and print, as though they do not exist. And there are too few queer community spaces that are not segregated by gender or saturated with pressure to hook up. In this environment, it is easy to become frustrated and alienated.

One method that we’ve found helps to break the isolation is to find commonalities in individuals’ experiences within the queer community. In fact, we’ve found striking connections in exchanging our own personal histories.

Before his freshman year, Gabe met an alumnus who, like him, was transgender. The graduate said he had always felt welcome at Yale.  “It’s funny, though,” he said. “There was one other trans student in my time, and people would compare us, or even mix us up. But I barely knew the guy.” Gabe remembers being struck by the anecdote: How must it feel to be treated as interchangeable?

When Gabe got to Yale, he found that his friend was right: His new peers were welcoming and respectful. And yet, that first year, he felt deeply alone. When Gabe had changed his gender in high school, queer communities came to feel like his home base, and he had trouble finding those spaces at Yale. There was a group for gay men (which he wasn’t), one for queer women (which he wasn’t), and there were the sweaty, loud Co-op dances — exhilarating, but hardly the place to meet confidantes.

Daniel had a similar response when he first arrived at Yale: As an openly gay, Filipino-black student, he thought that LGBTQ groups offered support that he didn’t need. He didn’t want to be an activist and didn’t feel an urge to have conversations about his identity. But in his sophomore year, when he attended his first event for Prism — a group for queer people of color — he began to realize there were certain aspects of his identity that he had never discussed. He realized he had unknowingly suppressed parts of his identity beyond his sexual orientation: his working class background and first-generation status, to name a couple. He realized that he could have done with some support in freshman year, after all.

But here is a truth: Regretting a community you don’t have will not bring it into being. Here is another: You can have that community, one that embraces you in your entirety — if you take it upon yourself to build it.

For us, that has meant initiating discourse and starting organizations that bring together students who share our concerns, like Prism and the Resource Alliance for Gender Equity, a group that advocates for the needs of transgender and gender-nonconforming students. Building the type of communities we want has also required reaching out to other marginalized groups. Last semester Prism collaborated with member groups of La Casa and the Asian American Cultural Center to host discussions comparing cross-cultural differences in LGBTQ identities.

A shared drive for inclusivity and justice can be a powerful basis on which to connect. We also need spaces that celebrate queer community, at large, beyond the goal of finding a date or a fling. In our roles as Communication and Consent Educators, we’ve worked hard to create these spaces, hosting after-parties, social events and conversations on queer life at Yale.

Building the community we want takes work — but each of us has the power to do it. We can show up at queer-themed events during Trans Week, Pride Month and throughout the year. We can advocate against the structural barriers at Yale, like mandatory gender segregation in first-year and sophomore housing, by lobbying our college masters and offering testimonials to the Yale College Council. And we can hold one another accountable, gently calling out language and behaviors that marginalize or erase members of our community. Most of all, we can care for one another — enough to reach out across differences of background, politics and style; enough to speak up when we see someone hurting or getting hurt.

Most queer students at Yale do not have the luxury to simply be queer. We live at the intersection of identities, and we may feel we have to hide parts of ourselves wherever we go. This is a weighty injustice, one produced by structural racism, sexism and cissexism, among others — as well as by harmful patterns specific to Yale. It isn’t fair that we have to do the hard work of building the spaces and circles we want, when many students easily slip into ones that fit. But the time we spend lamenting what we don’t have is time that could be spent making what we want. Step forward, and you will find many others at your side, working to create a unified campus community. The task, and the power, is in our hands.

Daniel Dangaran is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. Contact him at daniel.dangaran@yale.edu. Gabe Murchison is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at gabriel.murchison@yale.edu.