Sunday, November 11, 2007

Safe

The world is way too small.

I recently discovered Proceed at Your Own Risk, a great queer blog filled with insightful posts and pictures of extremely hot men. The blog had me at "hot men" but that "insightful posts" stuff really sealed the deal.

I was browsing through his posts when I read this one about the Faculty Senate at the University of Tennessee passing a new resolution which hopes to provide areas on campus where queer students can feel safe.

You see, I am an alumnus of The University of Tennessee at Knoxville and actually was one of the students who created what was at the time referred to as the Gay & Lesbian Student Union.

Not to toot my own horn (though if I could reach, I would never leave my apartment), but this was 1988, I was 18 years old (I'll save you the math, I'm 37), and in order for this union to be officially recognized by the university, a certain number of students (I believe it was 10) had to sign a document in favor of it's creation.

1988. I had barely come out of the closet. Sure, I was already sneaking into the local gay bar with a fake "Members Card," but I wasn't out to my mother. I wasn't out to anyone at my job. I wasn't out to a lot of my friends. And this was my hometown - - in the South, where secrets are rooted out and shared with the congregation over coffee during the social hour. If I signed this document, it was one step closer to God and everybody knowing I was gay.

But it was important. It was important for us - - gay and lesbian students - - to have this organization. So, I signed.

And immediately, I was one of the officers of the GLSU. An incredibly naive officer of a gay student union.

At our first officer's meeting, I read my first Advocate Magazine and when I saw an ad in the back that said, "Daddy Seeks Boy," I said out loud...

"Oh, this is so sad. This poor man has kicked his son out of the house for being gay and now he's trying to find him by placing an ad in the back of a gay magazine.

"Wait... There's a lot of these. Oh... OH!..."


That's how naive I was. And I continued to be naive. We all did. Only the naivety of a bunch of 18 year olds can lead them into the middle of UTK's Student Union and have them walk into a room clearly designated for gays and lesbians on a campus filled with people who not only think of homosexuals as "religious abominations," but also as punching bags when we "threw our fagginess in their face."

But God bless those meetings. We found each other. We found best friends and boyfriends and band members and occasionally a frat boy coming to terms with his true self. We found our voices.

And we bickered. And we fought. And the meetings became less radical and more "Oprah: After the Show." But just like so many things in gay culture, we may have strayed away from the union at times and we may have bad mouthed it and other members, but we knew it was there. For us. When we needed it.

Especially when a few of those initial members died, hard and fast, from AIDS complications. "Complications." Makes it sound like a tricky math problem and not the horrific plague that it is. But when The Plague took our own from us, we had that room and the love of friends to help us through the loss.

In time, I went from the safe haven of that one room to the safe haven of "The Theatre," which is just as pretentious and phony as it sounds. But still, there were queers there. And I could be myself.

The theatre brought me to Chicago. To blocks and blocks of a Gay Ghetto. To a place where I could hold my boyfriend's hand as we walked down the street - - as long as we walked on either Halsted or Broadway and didn't go south of Belmont or north of Addison.

And now, I live that ghetto. Or at least, what's left of that ghetto. These days, the night may still belong to the "thump-thump" of club music and porn star strippers, but the day belongs to the neo-yuppie mommies with their iPhones, their lattes and their double strollers. Amidst Mayor Daley's grossly phallic "Gay Pylons," these mommies all have that look on their face that seems to say, "Thanks so much for making it all so pretty, but that store window is really inappropriate for my child, so can you just go away?"

Still, I'm safe here. I understand the need to be in a safe place. But I'm a bit torn by the idea of gay and lesbian "Safe Zones" at my alma mater.

As UTK's newspaper, The Daily Beacon reports...

"The safe zones will offer counselling, opportunities to network with others, resources and encouragement.

"Rod Ellis, associate professor of social work and chairman of the Faculty Senate’s Faculty and Staff Benefits Committee, sponsored the safe zone resolution. He agreed coordination would be a key role of the safe zone.


"'Already established on nearly 200 campuses across the U.S., these centers offer supportive conversation, connection to campus resources, periodic support meetings and educational activities,' Ellis said.


"While the exact location of the safe zone has not been decided, Ellis said there are some defining characteristics of safe zones.


"'Safe zones are typically marked by clear symbols such as a purple triangle and are staffed by personnel who are trained to respond supportively to those who seek refuge,' Ellis said.


"Ellis said these staff members are often referred to as 'allies,' people who are not LGBTQ, but who are supportive of the special situations the population sometimes experiences."

Maybe I'm just being a bit dense, but aren't the services that a "Safe Zone" would provide to queer or questioning students - - "supportive conversation, connection to campus resources, periodic support meetings and educational activities" - - aren't those services already available at any meeting of the Lambda Student Union?

And why do these gay students need straight "Allies" when other gay students could help them just as well? Or possibly more.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for more services and support for queer students. But shouldn't the ENTIRE CAMPUS be considered a "Safe Zone" for ALL students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation?

No. That won't happen at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, because at UTK, queer students and faculty are NOT protected by the university’s non-discrimination policy.

So, maybe a "Safe Zone" is a start.

I just thought I started that already. Nearly 20 years ago.

We've not come a long way, baby.

20 comments:

supertiff said...

what you said in the last segment is exactly what i started thinking at the beginning: safe "zone"? we need safe "zones"?

it's sad to think about, but at the same time...i don't know. maybe it's good to have a reminder that the rest of the country/world isn't living in as accepting of an area as i do.

it makes me feel sick, but maybe that's for that best. if there aren't people feeling sick, then who will make change?

p.s.
don't discount the things you did to bring change. or the things you will do in the future. or the things you do every day, right here on this very blog.

Stephen Rader said...

supertiff - Thank you for your kind words. It's odd to think that posting pictures of hot guys on a blog can do anything to promote change, but as you said, the rest of the country - - Hell, the rest of the world - - isn't as accepting as my 5 block Gay Ghetto.

Little by little, change will come, but only when all gays and lesbians live openly and honestly. And they can only do that when they feel safe. So again, maybe these zones are for the best.

Aaron said...

I second that! I wasn't even out until years after college (I was pretty much asexual back then), so I applaud you for having the courage to do what you felt you had to do. Many people wouldn't--they'd have stayed bottled up, married fat wives and become Baptist ministers trawling for cock in a back alley somewhere.

"Thanks so much for making it all so pretty, but that store window is really inappropriate for my child, so can you just go away?"

No, mommy, we WON'T go away--because we were here first, and made this neighborhood what it is now. Here's an idea: what say YOU move to Lincoln Park with all the other trixies where you belong? And you can have happy-happy play dates and soy lattes with all the other insufferable, delusional, SUV-driving mommies. Talking on your cell phones. While you drive.

Stephen Rader said...

Aaron - You know EXACTLY the mommies I'm talking about, don't you? They're like locusts in Boystown these days. It's not that their straight; it's the fact that they moved into a gay neighborhood that they now demand to be sanitized for the sake of their family. Well, this is OUR family and we like it just the way it is, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, the Trixies... the Trixies...

cb said...

Gosh, you and I are nearly the same age... but I was SO not even close to coming out in college. I was still trying to find that 'special girl' who would change my deep, dark feelings.

Stephen Rader said...

cb - Well, at that age, my father kept telling me (and this is an exact quote, by the way), "All you need is some good pussy and that'll set you straight."

That's as far as I got in the the "trying to find a special girl" category. :)

Mark in DE said...

Its a common misconception for gays and lesbians living in metropolitan, semi-liberal areas to think that the rest of our country thinks and acts much like they do. But the truth is that in MANY places (especially the rural ones) fags and dykes get beaten and killed every year. This will not change until GLBT folks are recognized with equal rights and equal protection under FEDERAL (not just state) law.

Mark

Java said...

I did a little reading on the 'safe zone' thing a while back. It was in connection with another university, but I don't remember which one. But the way I understood it, there were 'safe zones' all over the campus. Professors, faculty and staff could post a "safe zone" sign on office doors or wherever, indicating that the person was an ally, straight or not. And a glbt student (or other) would be able to feel safe from violence, persecution, etc. in that person's office/class or whatever. Ideally. So in that respect the safe zone idea makes sense. There should be a specific place somewhere on campus that is staffed with trained supporting individuals (gay and/or straight) that has links to resources for those glbtq folks needing more help or info. And a place to hang out safely, have meetings, support groups, social activities, etc. But that sounds like your student union at UTK.
IMHO

Stephen Rader said...

Mark - Precisely! And so many times, I wonder if the Gay Ghetto is keeping them out or us in? Is it doing more harm than good? I'm not sure.

Stephen Rader said...

java - If there were several of these "Safe Zones" throughout campus, then yes, I do strongly support their creation. But won't it be a great day when we don't have to think about a safe place for any of us because of our differences - - either real or perceived?

Yeah, I'm a dreamer. But that's ok, right?

Steven said...

What a dire realization in your last sentence. Yet so true. Much of what you stated I can so relate. I only feel the misfortune of not allowing my college experience to "out" me. I became so closeted at college, mostly because I was a member of a 350-person marching band at the University of Illinois. It seemed like I saw someone from the band EVERYWHERE I went. So I became a gay recluse and escaping to the gay bar under the cover of the night. To do what you did would have felt like you had felt with EVERYONE finding out. Little did I keep in mind how large the student population was. And after graduation and moving back home, Boystown became my refuge. Albeit a somewhat long commute, but I felt like I was "home." With how much times have changed, I wonder how useful the Center on Halsted is in comparison to if they opened in the 80's.

Stephen Rader said...

Steven - I was accepted to Rhodes College in Memphis and I very much wanted to study there, but after I was accepted, the Admissions Counselor that I had said, "You're going to love it here. There are only about 1,000 students and everybody knows everybody."

That settled it. I couldn't go there. I needed to go to a campus where I could get lost and where "everybody" wouldn't know me.

As far as the Center on Halsted is concerned, I've been nothing but impressed by their work so far. It would have been extremely helpful to have them in the 80's, but thank God they're here now for all of us.

Aaron said...

I think the Gay Ghetto still serves its purpose...although we need to be open to straight allies, we also need to preserve our sense of community, which I don't think can yet survive if we're too diffused and spread out. That's where the Internet is very useful, because it gets information to people who wouldn't otherwise have access.

But it's also another reason to protect these "ghettos" from the straight gentry who want to flock to the city and pursue the folly of having children, then expecting the city to change to be more G-rated for the kids that WE'RE NOT responsible for. If they want bland and boring, they can move to Buttfuck, Nebraska or something. And you can be even THERE they'll have a gay neighbor. (Who's probably one of the best neighbors they could hope for.)

In other words, WE AIN'T GOIN' NOWHERE...

(Christ, I'm crabby today! And I don't know why...)

Stephen Rader said...

Aaron - I don't call that crabby. I call that "Tellin' it like it is!"

Bob said...

My sister got me a subscription to Details magazine. At first I was appalled, since I find it disgusting to tell anyone it's acceptable to spend $600 on a sweater. However, aside from a hot men, the magazine does feature gay-themed articles which have piqued my interest. Recently, there was an article about how the gay "ghetto" is considered tacky to next generation gays, and how assimilation is the desired state. So, not only is it latte soccer moms who are breaking down the rainbow connections, but gay couples who want to live in the suburbs and eschew the gayborhoods. What do you think of this? I'd be interested to hear your opinion.

And I greatly applaud your efforts in college. So amazing.

Also, if you ever consider moving, look at Andersonville. It's the new boystown. And it's much cheaper than Lakeview.

Stephen Rader said...

Bob - I am not someone who thinks that what I enjoy or want for my life is exactly what other people have to want or enjoy. I think that assimilation or "it really doesn't matter who you sleep with" is the ultimate goal. If young gays and lesbians have found that acceptance outside of the Gay Ghetto and it makes them happy, then I am happy for them.

And even with all the migrations in and out of our ghetto, I think there will always be enclaves. Sections where we can gather. Well, maybe not "always," but at least as long as I live on this planet.

Maybe it's just me and my age, but I wish that young gay people were more interested in our history. It seems like everyone, not just gay people but everyone, is looking forward and forgetting to look back. We celebrate 16 year olds and ignore those over the age of 60 when it should so obviously be the other way around.

So many times, the answers to our future problems lie in our past actions. But again, I think this is my age.

I never thought I would be old enough to think that I was different from someone younger than me. But I am. And I have to say it's a little unsettling. And also a little freeing.

It's just sad to see so much of what I think of as "gay identity" being softened or thrown out completely. I liked us when we were unknown. I liked us when we had wild sex and codes that straight people didn't know about and our own language. We're slightly more accepted now, but the price, I think, came at our uniqueness. Maybe that's the same for all minorities.

But in the end, if no one cares one way or the other what color you are, what gender you are, what age you are, what nationality you are or what physical limitations you have or who you choose to sleep with, then it's worth giving up a little of our uniqueness to live in peace.

UprightGuy said...

asked to help create our Ally program at work. They thought "who's a big queer and likes to talk?" Naturally I was first choice. I do thank you for an additional resource.

Stephen Rader said...

uprightguy - You're a big queer who likes to talk? SO AM I!!! Heaven help everyone else if we ever find ourselves in the same room!!!! :)

Bob said...

Great answer, Stephen.Those damn millennials: so entitled and selfish.

Stephen Rader said...

Bob - Yep, just like I was at their age. :)