Over the weekend I enjoyed the great pleasure of attending the Student Diversity Summit at Bentley University. The event was directed by Dr. Maura Cullen, author of 35 Dumb Things Well-Intended People Say.
Up until the Summit, I’d been having a rough go of it. People had been scrutinizing the methods my compatriots and I were using to bring about change on campus. I had been harassed. Students who had joined together in vocal solidarity had become largely unwilling to make more difficult commitments to the ideals they had declared their espousal of. A member of the administration, erroneously assuming that I speak for all LGBTQQIAA people on campus, sent me an email asking to sit down and discuss my opinion of things going on at PC these days regarding that community (and then proceeded weeks later to direct me to his receptionist in order to make an appointment). I’d heard people here discussing “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” as if it’s some progressive ideology, (when essentially all it does is get you fixating on and assuming things about your peer’s sexual activity). I was bitter that it was falling upon the shoulders of the queer kids in the room to ask all of the hardest-hitting questions.
But beyond this I had a gut feeling that people were looking at me as if my sexual orientation was a civic gimmick. Worse than being tokenized as the gay best friend, I was being tokenized as some sort of overzealous and eccentric political entity. It was alienating, and I was wondering where those who had proudly participated in Fighting for Academic Freedom had evaporated to, choosing now to refrain from entering the fray of righteous controversy.
So, harboring a toxic dose of isolating despair, I took my seat at the Summit on Friday. There were cheers and whoops and hollers about diversity and how our differences make us wonderful and beautiful and all of the stuff that by now I was too aloof in my misery to care about.
But then Dr. Cullen took the stage. With patient grace, kindness and modesty, she quickly went to work debunking my exasperation. Throughout the day she taught us all that our passion about this was part of a canon of advocacy that preceded us, that our allied status was not some special or exclusive social rank but something to be shared. She urged us to see the good intentions in others and to see them as potential allies even when their mode of participation may seem lacking. This was a tune I had not yet heard, and I began to think.
I began thinking about floor meeting my sophomore year opened with. The residence had to draft a community agreement. No one said anything about homophobic hate speech or slurs. I had been the target of hate speech before, and while I knew kids there knew I was gay and that most of them probably did not care, I still wanted something said. But I felt uncomfortable, like saying something would make me that awkward politically correct guy on the floor. So I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to be a buzz kill. Remembering my passive discomfort, I began to empathize a little bit with apathy.
I decided to write about this because I wanted to share the experience I had at the conference with all of you. Sometimes we need an epiphany to get ourselves back to work, so do with this what you will:
Folks, for people like me this isn’t a hobby. This isn’t a lifestyle: it’s a life. You aren’t a feminist, a queer liberationist, an environmentalist, or any of the dreaded “ists” if you are so merely by an internalized understanding of yourself. Advocacy is not state of mind: it is the spectrum of action that spans from speaking up at a floor meeting to prison and death. Sometimes we slip up in spite of our best intentions but we need to remember that we depend on one another; not so much to be saved but to be supported. So while it is my duty to look for an Ally in everyone, it is yours to see one in yourself. You have to earn your stripes, but I truly and honestly believe in you to do so. There’s still Tiger for justice in all of you. I see you, Tiger.