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ISSUE 119 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/14/2005

Sex on the Hill: It's not easy being gay

By Lisa Gulya
Arts Editor


Friday, October 14, 2005

Hey, hetero – think dating at St. Olaf is tough? Try being gay. As Lauren Ciechanowski wrote in a Messenger article last fall, "While the rest of the campus is working out of a dating pool, students that are not heterosexual are working out of a puddle."

But in all seriousness, as Coming Out Week wraps up, students should take the time to consider what it's like to be gay at St. Olaf. In her essay "Misogyny and Homophobia: The Unexplored Connections," Beverly Wildung Harrison writes, "In a homophobic church and culture, no homosexual or lesbian should be expected to ‘come out of the closet’ unless that person’s personal or professional integrity or survival requires it." In other words, when we celebrate Coming Out Week, it should not be seen as a chance to push people out of the closet, rather, the campus should take a closer look at how comfortable and necessary it is to be open about sexuality here.

Though I don't want to mislead readers with a very modest number of student responses, the small group of GLBT St. Olaf students I polled reported positive experiences. "I came out for the first time at Olaf and I've found it to be a positive climate," one senior woman wrote.

"To some it's easier to come out at St. Olaf since it is away from home and a different life," a junior man added. "One of my favorite times is when a group insulted me, and my group of friends and I simply responded, 'So what?'"

One junior woman did mention, however, the downside of being out on a small campus like St. Olaf. "Once you come out to a small group of friends, you're essentially out to the world," she wrote.

Public displays of affection (more commonly referred to as PDA), seem to be no problem, for women at least. A senior woman dating another woman reported "a few amusing double takes" but no strong reactions to tasteful PDA.

"PDA is totally possible within limits. I mean, straight girls hold hands and dance together and get drunk and make out anyway. We can get away with a lot more than guys can," a junior woman wrote.

Of course, being a GLBT student at St. Olaf doesn't mean all your dating complaints are original. "Dating sucks! Too many people are in the closet, and there's not enough to do in a small town," a junior man wrote.

Some people may wonder how a campus as traditional as ours has GLBT students who express, for the most part, a positive campus climate. Some conditions on our campus, such as a vocal conservative student population and a strong Christian community, set us apart from what others see as more progressive institutions. Some could even construe the St. Olaf climate as antagonistic to GLBT students.

Though one student mentioned a fellow student who chooses to stay closeted because of a conservative leadership position, other students report little discomfort. "I find much of the student body to be open-minded about homosexuality, regardless of religious or political background," a junior man wrote.

It is important to remember that sexual preference is not the only way that people identify themselves or the only lens they view the world through.

So, if you simply want to be a supportive ally, remember that your GLBT classmates often just need someone to listen. "Be there when you're needed. Sometimes the best thing for a GLBT person is to have a good friend," a junior man wrote.

Thinking about the GLBT experience at St. Olaf also pushes us to examine how our more traditional resident life set-up is exclusive. For example, Monday’s edition of the Star Tribune included an article about mixed-sex housing options at Macalester. But here we’re far from allowing mixed suites; our single-sex rooms and floors leave no space for gender fluidity. For example, where would a pre-operative transsexual live? And in society at large, heterosexual privilege exists, which is easy for heterosexuals to ignore. But just take a moment to consider what kinds of relationships you see portrayed in television, film and advertising. Same-sex couples are not only underrepresented in the mainstream media, but virtually absent. Or consider that same-sex couples are denied the right to marry. There are no engagement rings flashing on those fingers. But if there were, would those announcements be welcomed during class or rehearsal time as they are for straight couples?


Talk sex: Naked parties. Are they, by definition, sexual? Ever been to one? What did/would you do? Co-ed or single-sex? Let me know at sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu.


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