What’s in a closet?

Recent discussion has made me wonder about what closeted non-heteros want out of their BGLTQ organizations slash communities. Thus, an anonymous forum.

If you’re closeted, what kind of programming would you like to see? Support groups, confidential peer counseling, social events, discussions?

If you’re no longer closeted, did your campus organizations help you come out? How? Could the process have been helped by a stronger organization or community?

UPDATE: I wrote that first portion a little before midnight last night, so I didn’t flesh out my thoughts as well as I could have.

For background, this post comes as a reaction to recent discussion on my college BGLTSA’s open email list, which was prompted by an op-ed in our campus newspaper. Conversation has largely been dominated by out students and has mostly pondered how (or if) the BGLTSA should be better serving the needs of closeted students.

First, to address the article itself, and some of the things that have been said about college postings on Craigslist: Craigslist is by no way a representative sample of, well, anything. Dan Savage said it best on his podcast last week (the week before? I can’t really remember)–people who post to Craigslist often have very specific needs or desires. They’re not the same people showing up at clubs and bars, they’re not necessarily looking for a relationship, and they’re not necessarily going to call you the next night. It’s a self-selecting group serving a very specific purpose, and in the case of M4M and casual encounters (W4W to some extent, though I’d say it’s not nearly as pervasive), that purpose is casual, often anonymous sexual contact.

Now, the “bored at Lamont” and “masc Harvard jock” postings are part of that specific, self-selecting group–but they’re not all real Harvard guys. I know this is shocking. Men and women alike post to Craigslist under assumed identities (the recent Jason Fortuny controversy should serve as a good example) for fun, out of boredom, to protect their own identities, or because they get off on it. Of the remaining posters who are actually men at Harvard, I would guess a significant portion of them don’t actually plan to have a discreet sexual encounter in a Lamont bathroom. (A friend of mine makes a point of answering these ads, and although I suppose it could be in his approach, he’s never ended up hooking up with anybody as a result.) Some of them are posting for the reasons I listed above, and others are probably testing the waters to see what kind of men respond to such advances.

The bottom line? “Masc Harvard guys” are not the same population as closeted Harvard students. There may be overlap, but the two categories aren’t identical by any means.

Now, onto the BGLTSA. I honestly don’t think it should be altering its policies or events in a significant way. Granted, because I came out way before college, I don’t know what the experience of a closeted college student is like other than what I know from newly out women I dated as an undergrad. But when I came out, it was much more important to me to have the support of a network of friends and family than it was to have any kind of organization offering structured events and services. (I’ll admit that I stumbled upon the PFLAG website, but I later had a weird experience with a member of my local chapter that soured me a little on them as a group.) The people I knew who came out early in college depended more on organizations like the first year sexual orientation discussion group and CONTACT than on the BGLTSA.

This is already getting long, but I want to add that this discussion is getting conflated with the same old whining about how no one new comes to BGLTSA events. Closeted students aren’t going to come to BGLTSA events for a variety of reasons, and I think that’s okay. If you’re really disappointed with the scene, do something about it. Get off campus. Make contacts at other schools. Hang out in Boston. Go to Somerville or JP sometime. Ask your queer friends why they don’t “do the BGLTSA.” Create a new group. Run for the board. But do something.


4 Responses to What’s in a closet?

  1. Campbell says:

    Posted this on Ryan’s site:

    Ryan, many gay men will not associate with the BGLTSA, not because, as Leroy says, that they don’t feel the need to. Eike’s e-mail I think demonstrates that. Most gay people, also want to be around other gay people, not least for the purposes of physical contact. Gay men don’t associate with the BGLTSA because it stops them from being “normal boys.” Most of us, were, at some point in our lives, normal boys. Many of us played video games, watched sports, took girls to our first dances, made gay jokes in complete innocence with each other, etc. There’s something that we still like about that, something still beautiful in that. And people, above all, are motivated by what they find beautiful. Take for example, the e-mails that Josh Smith sends out on BGLTSA open, full of squiggles, smiley faces and colloquialisms. Josh Smith is definitely not straight, and it shows. Also note what he said about the gay UC candidate— “heh. he used “homosexual”… that says a lot to me… ” It’s so typical of the BGLTSA chair to do this. To most people on campus, this came across quite alright. The BGLTSA chair on the other hand, nitpicks about his use of language (could it be any gayer?). Why should it matter though? There seems to be a default position with the BGLTSA and it is one of, necessarily perhaps, activism. But there is another kind of activism, and it is just as important after Stonewall, and that is the quiet activism, which aims to let people be gay and still be normal, thus allowing them to pursue other ends, for example, their jobs, or perhaps boys who are flamboyant-averse. If we are to make a new world where gay people can be gay and still normal, then you need quiet activism also. In response to Leroy’s question as to why people never came to parties, yes, it is true, some people don’t want to be associated with organizations that formed solely for the purpose of sexual unity, and that is why gay students on campus meet each other through other gay-abundant student organizations, like Crimson Key, or the Crimson. Sometimes I wish I didn’t come out. I feel like Pinnochio, desperately wanting to be a real boy, only to find that irrevocably, that is not a possibility anymore. What a tragedy, to make a grab for certain options, only to find that others are closed.


    In response to specific questions as to what the BGLTSA should do, make a firm division between the social side and activist branches of bgltsa, and make sure that there is little overlap between the executives. BGLTSA should have its own social organizations, and the social branches should have their own, sometimes in less open (open being ie. Adams dining hall) circumstances. b) make sure the image of bgltsa on campus is not one that is so fringe. Sure, have your rainbow colored tassles and whatnot, but make sure there are also some very NORMAL events, such as trips to Salem, or to the ballgame even. This can be communicated with posters that aren’t too colorful and so on.
    I don’t know, I’m thinking out loud and aware that these ideas are kind of feeble. But it needs a beginning, something that will radically change the direction of bgltsa organisations in areas that are pretty pro-gay-rights already. I don’t know, but what I am sure about is the frustration of so many gay people at Harvard.

  2. pandanose says:

    Wow, grammar, you sure got me there. Let me guess–you’re the same person as “sigh”? Thanks for pointing out a common word usage error, but next time it’d be awesome if you’d contribute something to the discussion.

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