Kalamazoo College's Student Newspaper
By Chelsey Shannon, Opinions Editor
Lately—and perhaps unsurprisingly—I’ve been thinking a lot about heterosexism, defined by the Dictionary application on Apple computers as “discrimination or prejudice against homosexuals on the assumption that heterosexuality is the normal sexual orientation.” This is not to be confused with homophobia, “an extreme and irrational aversion to homosexuality and homosexual people.” (Side note: this definition is intriguing; are we to infer that a less “extreme” aversion to gay people is not homophobia, or that a rational aversion to gays can exist? But that’s a whole other column). While it would be erroneous for me to claim that homophobia doesn’t exist here at K, I can say with reasonable confidence that heterosexism is a lot more prevalent.
Over my two school years minus three weeks here, I’ve attended a lot of sex- and gender-themed events. They’re kind of my jam. Initially, I was incredibly enthused that such events existed at all, and it took me a while to realize that oftentimes, these events had little to no mention of queer sexuality. More currently, I’m still enthused that these events exist; I’m aware that most people are straight, and thus discussion of straight sexuality is the most relevant to the largest amount of people. I don’t have a problem with that. What I do have a problem with is this gut reaction I’ve developed that goes something like this: “Oh, a sex-themed event? Well, I’ll go, and it’ll be interesting, but there won’t be anything I, as a queer person, can specifically relate to.” This isn’t true for every single event I’ve attended, and some matters/ethics/issues, such as consent, apply to all types of sex—but some sexual matters are distinctly straight, and others are distinctly queer. Both deserve voice, attention, and weight. Queer people also need to know about sexual safety on study abroad, or how to practice safer sex, or what an unhealthy relationship can look like in a specifically queer context. It’s not fair that as a queer person, I can and do attend these types of events, but am held at arm’s length, unable to fully participate in or learn from them because my sexuality is being overlooked.
Again, most people at K aren’t homophobic, but I do maintain that while K, as an institution and community, upholds an open, supportive attitude toward homosexuality, it is not always factored in as a salient possibility. The general attitude is that of a queer ally: that is, a supportive, uplifting, and accepting attitude, but not one that factors queerness into everyday life — one that doesn’t always see queerness as anything other than a political issue. Allies are fabulous and important, and I’m glad that this is part of the overarching attitude of campus. But it also true that most events and most places on campus are not completely comprised of allies—some people are actually queer, and some of these actually queer people are looking for real, deep inclusion in events, talks, and discussions. Some of these actually queer people want not to be nodded toward, or want not only to be talked about, but want to be heard from, to be asked and deeply considered as part of this community, as opposed to a token oppressed group to be touched on.
What can we do? For one thing, label things correctly, such as not saying “sex” when “straight sex” is more accurate—or, better yet, make concerted efforts to include a vast variety of sex in any given discussion. For another thing, reach out directly for queer voices and representatives in sex-themed events, panels, and discussions. And, for another, if you are an ally, keep in mind that while many other people at K are also allies, others are the queer people with whom you’re allying, and don’t forget to directly invite those voices, especially into predominantly straight spaces. Those are some starting points, and I’m sure there are many more. I’m not a sage; I’m just an observer. I happily invite more suggestions from all of you, queer and straight.