Every year on Coming Out Day, at school meeting, I would sit with my friends and laugh and clap at the appropriate moments as students and teachers declared themselves straight allies or proclaimed their sexuality in front of the entire student body. Every year, my friends in the Gay-Straight Alliance would ask to me come up on stage and say something. Every year, I conveniently “forgot” to join them. Though I’ve been gay and aware since sometime very early in my Deerfield career, and though I’d known long before that I was supportive of people of all sexualities, I never stood on the stage at school meeting and I never said anything. As I look back on my time at Deerfield, this remains one of my greatest regrets.
I silenced myself about my sexuality–of which I was fully aware and accepting–throughout my Deerfield career. This was a mistake. I never even considered telling any of my friends or anyone else about the way I felt and sought instead to assimilate into the mainstream, heterosexual culture of leaving the Greer, getting parietals, hooking up with and “dating” boys who I knew I ultimately didn’t care about. I didn’t think about going to my senior prom with the girl I loved and I lied to my closest friends about my relationships.
While I regret my lack of integrity, ultimately, it didn’t hurt any of my friendships or myself in a lasting way. After graduation, when I finally told the truth, my friends were the same accepting, caring people they had always had always been. I remembered why we were friends in the first place. With some distance from Deerfield, in college, I realize that my friends’ attitudes reflect the attitudes of Deerfield students in general. I love college, but I miss Deerfield’s tight-knit community and I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunities it offered to me for love and acceptance. If I had given Deerfield a chance to know me, I think it would have supported me.
More importantly, I wish that I had stood up on the stage at least once, if not every year. I know that if someone who I respected in the Deerfield community had come out and provided me with a model by which to navigate my own process of explaining and understanding my sexuality, I would have felt much more comfortable. As a leader in the community, I had a responsibility to other students who might have felt scared, confused, or alone, to let them know that we were in the same situation and that I was there to talk. I know that there are many resources on campus for students who want to have conversations, but I wish I could have contributed myself to that list of resources. I wish I had been as brave as the students who got up on the stage this year– either as straight allies or to come out. I think I could have helped to create a better community and important discourse and I will always regret not seizing that chance.
Though I acknowledge that I was primarily responsible for silencing my sexuality, I do believe that homophobia still exists in the student body and in the administration. I heard or read “queer” used as an insult by fellow students, in person and on Facebook as a casual comment upon a photo, more times than I can count, and that is completely unacceptable. Words such as these can be deeply affecting. In a shocking case of discrimination, not to mention a deep invasion of privacy, one of my close friends was confronted about her sexuality by an administrator, who had seen her holding hands with another girl and felt compelled to ask my friend in a private meeting whether the two were in a relationship. Instances like these, which make students are made to feel as though they should be ashamed of or hide their sexuality, should not happen. The Deerfield community can only move forward from these attitudes and actions by a concerted effort towards discussion and understanding, or the culture of homophobia and of silence and shame around all sexuality will continue.
I believe that all identities have a place at Deerfield and that discourse surrounding these identities is a crucial step on the way to a more open, accepting community, and I believe that the responsibility for creating dialogue rests upon both administrators and students. Everyone in the community should work together to integrate discussion about different sexualities into discussion about other types of diversity–racial, socioeconomic, and religious, among others. Examining the points of intersection of the types of oppression different minorities experience- and how these are motivated by existing social power structures, authority figures, or even from internal, mental factors–can be enormously helpful in terms of both opening up discussion and creating solutions. I encourage all students to take part while they are still at Deerfield and caution anyone who may think about being silent to not make the mistake I did. Don’t wait until