Why there should be broader engagement with queer issues

Op-Ed by Vasomnoleak Ly

Being a queer person, I know the sharp, stinging edge of the word faggot. It’s been used to deride me before, and to a certain extent I’ve grown thick-skinned. The old cliché comes to mind here, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” and somewhere deep down I’ve internalized the saying, in a way deluding myself into believing it. This is why it came as such a surprise to me how once again being the target of the insult could have cut me so deeply, exposing old wounds I thought had healed over.

What shocked me most, however, was the fact that this incident happened at Swarthmore. I heard the slur not once, but three times, at the Paces party hosted by the Swarthmore Queer Union. At first, the sheer absurdity of the situation made me doubt my own ears; why would anyone at Swarthmore, or even the Trico, say such a thing? But hearing it repeated, directed at me as I was dancing with another male student, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I walked over to the source, a group of three individuals, and in the dark and without my glasses, stared into their faces. Too shocked to say anything, all I did was stare at the hazy image in front of me. They rushed out when the lights came on. Neither I nor anyone I was with saw who they were.

My issue of contention is not with the identities of the perpetrators; I don’t want an apology, nor do I want retribution. I can’t even say with absolute certainty that the perpetrators were Swarthmore or Trico students, but I feel this issue is important enough that it warrants attention from the school and student body. Anyone who’s familiar with Swarthmore knows that community here is not an intangible concept. At the core of this community is a set of values based on integrity, kindness, sincerity, and respect, and how those values manifest in the way students act towards one another on a daily basis. And when those values are violated, how are we students supposed to react?

How am I supposed to react?

I can remember feeling angry, disappointed and most importantly, violated. Being derided for expressing myself in a place that should have been a safe space is not a fun experience, and to those who may think that it’s a small offense, I can only say that this incident shook me because it has made me feel unwelcomed. All of us at Swarthmore know that this school is generally a welcoming and open place for queer people, but this positive aspect of Swarthmore can also lead us to forget that there are still negative sentiments towards queer members of our community from other members of our community. When queer events abound on campus, when open, passionate discussions about gender and sexuality are commonplace in and outside of classrooms, it becomes easy to forget that there are people on the fringe who are left out and disengaged from the dialogue about queer issues. Who are we leaving out? And why is there enough disconnect that prejudices against queer people can manifest in such inappropriate, hurtful ways?

It’s foolish to expect Swarthmore to be insulated from the anti-queer sentiments that pervade the world around it, especially considering that Swarthmore students are not blank-slates. Each of us came here bringing with us our own set of values and prejudices from home, and I would like to think that the time we spend here will make us challenge our previous notions. But in the meanwhile, I want to ask our community a question. How can we make the message clear, to those who are not currently hearing it, that integrity, kindness, sincerity, and respect should be universal, not contingent on a person’s gender identification, sexuality, race, or any other inherent aspect of that person?

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