I’ve been out for three years, but it wasn’t until this weekend that I truly knew what it was like to be proud.
It’s not that I was ashamed of being gay — I openly shared the details of my romantic encounters with my straight friends and was happy to chat about cute girls with the guys. It never bothered me that the vast majority of my friends are straight, and in fact, it was something I celebrated. Being gay was just one part of who I am, I reasoned, and did not need to be my whole identity. Sure, I didn’t love being asked if it was possible for a lesbian to really lose her virginity, or if what we did could actually count as sex, but I chalked it up to well-meaning curiosity on the parts of my heterosexual peers.
But after spending last summer in San Francisco and befriending a trifecta of gay boys from Brown University (we called ourselves the “brown gays”) — I finally felt what it was like to have a group of close friends who were also gay. And I realized that much of my hesitation to become better integrated into the queer community here at Yale was due to fear. I feared being put into a box by my straight friends. I feared that if I cared too much about queer issues, I would be seen as polarizing or radical. I feared alienating the people closest to me, and I feared having politics that would make my friends uncomfortable.
This weekend, though, I saw the power of safe community space in upending my fears.
I spent three days at the IvyQ conference at Princeton University, where queer students from across the Ivy League and other schools gathered to mingle with each other and discuss LGBTQ issues within the context of a unified community. At one of the workshops I attended, queer activist Kim Crosby interrogated the famous Golden Rule, which says to “do unto others as you want done onto you.” But as Crosby pointed out, every person comes from a different set of experiences and expectations, and it is not fair to assume that a person you are interacting with wants the same thing as you do. Instead, she said, live with the rule “do unto others as they want done unto them.” And in order to figure out what people want, you must give them space to understand themselves, and then ask.
Crosby’s statement really resonated with me, and with how I understand the idea of privilege. I’ve never been comfortable with some of the language around white privilege or straight privilege, because I don’t think that straight, white males are inherently bad or oppressive. But the truth is, there are some challenges that certain groups of people will never have to face. I don’t think this is anyone’s fault: No one picks the body they are born into. But to really understand what others want “done unto them,” those in positions of privilege must give people the space to grapple with their community struggles.
For me, being around so many queer people at IvyQ helped me come to terms with some of the challenges that I, and other members of the LGBTQ community, face as we understand and celebrate our identities. In a world where heterosexual structures are the norm, it was refreshing to be in a space where I was no longer a minority, no longer part of a small community on the sidelines, and no longer had to feel different or afraid of who I am.
These spaces don’t need to be in the form of weekend-long conferences. They can be in a classroom in LC with the Queer Peer Liaisons. They can be at a table in the dining hall. They can be in a dorm room. And these spaces are not designed to exclude others; they are designed to include those who don’t feel comfortable elsewhere.
I don’t pretend that I can speak for other marginalized groups. I don’t even pretend to speak on behalf of all queer women of color. I can only represent the experience that I have and that I know. But what I can say is that for me, I needed to be in a queer community to take a step back and be proud of who I am, and to articulate that pride to myself and to the people around me, gay or straight.
Anjali Balakrishna is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact her at email@example.com.