“I cannot speak for all non-heteronormative people”

by Kyle Martz

Being what one could label a ‘high-profile,’ openly gay man at Whitman College has been a lesson in the complexities of diversity, tolerance and the differences between ideology and lived practice. I have found Whitman to be one of the easiest places to be queer-identified, or as I like to put it, “hypothetically queer.” At the same time, I have also learned what it means to be tokenized on this campus, to be seen more as a poster child for the post-modern, supposedly tolerant liberal world than as an actual person.

In order to understand the above statements, a couple of things about the state of GLBTQ affairs at Whitman should be noted. The queer community at this college is, contrary to what many people have intimated to me, quite small and fractured. There is not a lot of cohesion or visibility in the Whitman GLBTQ community, nor is there much in the way of tangible queer sexuality on campus.

I believe that part of the reason for this disconnected community is that it is easy enough for queer students to find acceptance within a straight, mainstream social group that they do not feel the need to connect with other queers. I also believe it is due to feeling uncomfortable with openly displaying their sexuality in front of those people who have accepted them as friends. For example, of all the queer couples currently on this campus with whom I am acquainted, none of them ever publicly show their affection for one another or demonstrate their status as a couple.
Same-Sex handholding on this campus is nonexistent, even on Same-sex Handholding Day.

Most of the queers I know would feel uncomfortable being visibly queer in front of the public at large on campus, and that leads me to my second point about GLBTQ life here: Though most students at this school are ideologically quite liberal and accepting of GLBTQ people, most that I know are quite unacquainted and inexperienced with actual queer people. They may support the idea of gay marriage, but when I have been physically affectionate with another man on campus, it has invariably caused quite a flurry of attention and excitement among those around me. People just are not used to seeing it or being around it, and it is, regardless of their political beliefs, quite odd and new for them; it’s “queer” for them, if I may make a bad pun. In that way, a queer Whittie learns what it means to be tokenized.

Throughout my entire freshmen year (and actually to this day), people have approached me with questions about my sexuality, wanting to hear ‘my story,’ wanting my opinion on the state of their sexuality and the questions it creates, and wanting me to act as a spokesperson for all GLBTQ people everywhere. While I certainly do not mind sharing my life experience in the interest of educating others, I cannot speak for all non-heternormative people, and the expectation that I can and should clearly demonstrates the lack of knowledge, experience and familiarity that much of the Whitman community has with queer people.

We are not all the same and my experience is a combination of many things, not just a result of being gay. Also, my sexuality has been the subject of more conversations with more people on this campus than my background, religion, personal beliefs and practices put together; my gayness is of more interest to the general public than my personhood. At least, that is my impression after nearly four years within ‘the Bubble.’

That said, I am not attempting to admonish the Whitman community or complain that we queer people are not accepted here. I think the experiences I have had are typical symptoms of any minority experience in a largely homogenous, insulated environment: which accurately defines the Whitman College community, in my opinion. I would like to see that change someday, but I find it more important that all of us remember that people are people first, regardless of our minority or demographic status, and that one should never make assumptions before doing their homework.