Yesterday, my supervisor came to me and told me about an incident that occurred on campus that one of my student workers witnessed.
She was walking across campus and heard two men behind her making homophobic comments and she noticed them saying things like “he always dyes his hair weird colors” and “good luck with your conduct meeting this week.” For the record, I like to dye my hair. It was silver a few weeks ago, now it’s blue. It’ll be purple before long. Also, in my role on campus, I serve as a conduct hearing officer for Residence Life.
So my student put together that the men were talking about me.
I’m not at all shocked. In social justice, we talk about “passing privilege” a lot and while that typically applies to people who identify as people of color (meaning that they could pass for White) or as transgender folks (meaning that people do not mistake their gender very often), I think that it can also apply to other people in the LGBTQ+ community. For many of us, being able to “pass” as cisgender and heterosexual is about survival and in Arkansas, it was a part of every day for me:
- “Don’t strut,” I would tell myself. “Walk like a man.” And so I would walk like I was halfway trying to run–like I needed to beat all the people next to me. I made sure my feet were shoulders-width apart because men apparently need to take up all the space.
- “Don’t talk about being gay unless you know the person well enough.”
- I didn’t become very comfortable with the rainbow (in public) until I was already packing up to leave.
- I was extremely conscious of the way that I dressed.
- Being in public was a nuisance.
The truth is, I don’t pass as straight. People typically know as soon as I open my mouth to speak. I also walk a certain way, I have colorful hair (which I don’t really think is a “gay thing” but it is associated with gay people for some reason–especially lesbians I think), and I am so feminine. I don’t exactly exude masculinity. These things are not necessarily identifying factors for gay men, but they are the stereotypes and I fit them.
The reason I am tagging this with my Leadership Journal is because my already shaky confidence in my own leadership has been negatively impacted by this event. As someone who isn’t particularly demanding of respect or power, I find it hard to get those things (though, I’m not entirely sure that I want power). My presence doesn’t command respect and it’s something that I’ve known for a while. I used to wear contacts and shave my face entirely clean which made me look pretty young (meaning I looked like a 16/17 year old when I was a Junior in college) and that made it hard for people to take me seriously.
Now I’m finding that respect hard to earn because I don’t actively hide my identity because I didn’t think I had to any more.
And it makes me wonder, can someone be a (close-to) stereotypical queer person and be an effective leaders? Can I be taken seriously if I’m a feminine man? Can I express my gender in ways that make me feel comfortable and still make others feel like I should be respected?
I don’t know now.
For the record:
- The department of Residence Life, which is the department I work for, has been so supportive, even in just the one day since the incident happened. My supervisor and her supervisor have been amazing.
- It was wonderful to know that my student workers felt the way that they did when they heard the comments being made. It makes me feel like I may have had some kind of positive impact.
- I also realize that this incident is not entirely about me. There could have been queer students around when those slang words and homophobic comments were being thrown around and my heart goes out to those students. Often it feels like we, the LGBTQ+ community, are one big family and when one person is attacked (verbally or physically), it feels like we are all attacked.
- I’m still going to dye my hair purple.