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ISSUE 118 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/22/2005

Silence of the L-word

By Jennifer Hancock
Staff Writer

Friday, April 22, 2005

We have all heard that St. Olaf has a sizable gay population, but what exactly does “gay population” mean? Are we talking about gay men? Lesbians? Both? For the most part, I think we are talking gay men. There are quite a few men here who are homosexual, out and pretty vocal about it. But what about St. Olaf’s lesbian population? Gay women seem to be few and far between here, or at least, they are less demonstrative and outspoken about their sexuality.

Throughout my four years at St. Olaf, I have often wondered why the campus’ gay women seem less “out” than the campus’ gay men. Originally, I thought it was particular to this college. However, after talking with a handful of “out” lesbian students, I uncovered an unexpectedly rosy picture of our campus. Although some of the women had experienced hatred and intolerance on campus, their experiences here have been largely positive.

One woman said her time here has been “amazing.” She went on to say that the dialogue about sexuality here is much more cordial than it is in the rest of the nation, citing the fact that even students with more conservative opinions about sexuality have been very accepting. “It is a blessing that the schism that exists in our nation does not exist at Olaf,” she said.

Why, then, if these women feel quite comfortable with their sexuality and their place in this community, do they seem less “out” than gay men? It may be that there are simply more gays than lesbians at St. Olaf. One woman had made a list of all the “out” gays she knew. “The ratio [of gays to lesbians on our list] is about 2:1,” she said.

One woman suggested that the bisexual female population might exceed that of the male bisexual population. “There are lots of bisexual women who don’t want to identify as such,” she said. “They would be more vocal if they knew there were more people like them.”

Another interesting reason why the lesbian population appears to be less “out” is connected to a national pop culture trend. I have long suspected that movies and television have made the “gay best friend” a cool “accessory” for women to acquire, and a few of the women I interviewed agreed.

As a young, liberal-minded, pop-culture-attentive group, many students at St. Olaf have grown more open to male homosexuality through television shows such as “Will and Grace” and “Sex and the City.” These shows have mainstreamed the stereotypical gay male so that when women meet what might be their first real gay man here at St. Olaf, they are quite accepting. Although not all gay men listen to Cher, talk about fashion or help women do their hair, many women have learned from television that a gay friend like that would be a lot of fun. They want a flamboyantly gay friend, like Jack on “Will and Grace,” who will always be ready with a joke and “jazz hands” to spice up a dull evening.

Despite their tendency to stereotype gay men as funny and effeminate, these shows have opened the door to a greater acceptance of homosexual men. A St. Olaf woman may meet a gay man on campus thinking she has found the token, media-portrayed shopping buddy and eventually establish a real, sincere friendship.

A similar situation has not been established for lesbians. There is no pop culture acceptance to open doors for them. Thus far, there have been very few television shows depicting lesbians who are certain about their sexuality, and the shows that do exist are certainly not as wildly popular as “Will and Grace.”

That is not to say that homosexual women want to become more culturally accepted by finding a media niche as gay men have. While increased acceptance is always a good thing, it does not and should not have to come through the exploitation of stereotypes in the media.

Unfortunately, the homosexual dating scene is as dull as the heterosexual one. Like heteros, campus lesbians are either “just friends” or are practically- married couples. There is no middle ground where people can just date. So if anything, we can all unite under the eternal truth that the dating scene here is just plain terrible.

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