this is part three of five in my women’s college blog series. to see the original description and disclaimer post, please click here! thanks for all your support, beautiful people! also, sorry for the major typo in yesterday’s title!
Probably the most comment i hear regarding my collegiate matriculation selection is one of a pejorative why i would ever, in-the-name-of-sanity, select to attend an all-female institution. Unsurprisingly, i have a lengthy and rather complicated reply that first must unpack the question (like a true Mount Holyoke Woman, assuredly). This answer, as you have no doubt gleaned, is one i am indirectly (but also directly) answering in these five posts illustrating facets to life here that i love.
However. This is, as the Buddhists would say, a question wrongly asked.
To begin: Mount Holyoke may exclusively admit women only, but not all of its students identify according to the gender binary, and some are in the midst of a sex change whilst at MHC. I am not going to speak to this, only because i do identify to both a female gender* and sex and therefore cannot understand the choice – in fullness – to make such a change. However, something that i adore about going to a woman’s higher education institution, and Mount Holyoke most specifically, is that there exists a powerful and supportive space for such exploration of identity to occur. Furthermore, MHC is part of a five-college consortium, meaning that students from the fellow four universities in the Pioneer Valley are welcome to take classes at my beloved college – including men. So, no, we’re no convent (i am quite fond of convents, though, and nuns in general!).
So this question? Besides being offensive in the more-often-than-not asked in a condescending way, is not exactly accurate. But we can’t all try to be PC 100% of the time, because then we end up singing about dandelions and never dealing with real problems. To deal with the issue at present: yes, i attend a women’s college.
But my eagerness to usurp the gender binary aside, let’s get to the subtext of this inquiry. Because, be real, at least 50% of the people asking this question (in my non-factually-based, completely subjective opinion) are trying to get at a bigger, perhaps perceived-to-be-non-politically-correct question. It’s crude, in my not-so-humble opinion, because what people really want to know is this:
ARE YOU A LESBIAN? Because only LESBIANS go to GIRLS SCHOOLS.
Now, to be perfectly fair, some people do not ask this question with this explicit desire in mind. But i’d wager the thought crosses every single person’s mind who has ever wanted to know why i prefer a college of “chicks.”
Yet I would argue there is the indisputable (but subjective) 25% of people who follow the question of why i chose a women-only school with one of two further inquiries. First, they might ask something leading, suggestive, or abysmally failing at subtlety, like “well how does that impact you romantically?” or, my favorite, “well how do you FEEL about being around ONLY GIRLS.” Then, there’s the ballsy, gutsy, go –getters who straight up demand to know my personal business: “So, you’re gay, right?”
To you who want to know if i like the ladies – an inference you made by my choice in going to one of the best educational institutions in the country, not because you’re interested, or want to know me better, but simply want to confine me in a box of stereotypes and prejudices, to prove a point – i’d like to politely tell you to
expletive! reevaluate a few things. Namely, how you respect your fellow human beings.
Yes, women who identify as something other than a Kinsey 0 do attend women’s colleges. Mount Holyoke is one of the safest spaces i’ve ever encountered, and yes, i support marriage equality and actively seek to fight homophobia as a social disease in all of its manifestations (in case you couldn’t already tell). I do not think whether i like men or women or both is anything to be shut up or ashamed of – i simply think its no one’s business but mine, and the people whom i choose to share it with.
Not out of shame, or fear do i say this; i prefer to remain mostly mute on my sexual preference because it’s for me to know. Maybe’s i am gay, and i just want to keep it to people who actually know me and prevent the inevitable anonymous hate comment (because that’s really brave, by the way, saying things online you’re too scared to say in real life). Or maybe i’m straight, and am using this soapbox as a platform to stand in solidarity with the thousands of people who identify somewhere on the spectrum of LGBTQ who cannot speak out of fear o f rejection, violence, pain and oppression. Perhaps, then, i’m somewhere on this scale and want to spare myself the endless judgements from all sides about conceptions of “bisexuality,” “pansexuality” or an otherwise queer identity. All are equally likely, and no, i’m sorry if this sounds hurtful (it’s not meant to be!), no matter how much i like you, it is on my terms to tell you such things.
It’s not the assumption that i’m gay that bothers me – it’s the undercurrent that BECAUSE of this supposed sexual preference i chose to go to a college of all women. And that at such institutions, women just hop into bed with whomever, and that it is an enormous gayfest of liberal loving (which is a whole other slew of conversations about sexuality, and who defines how you govern your body, for another time).
Before coming to MHC, i literally had extended family contacting me with warning about the “dangers” of going to “that lesbian school.” They worried i might be converted into some heathen sexual practice with another woman. To me, this represents the ultimately offensive and deep-seated prejudice that is the hurtful undercurrent to all such personal inquiries: that being gay is bad, and identifying as something other than a heterosexual automatically makes one a “certain kind” of person. That, in knowing i’m this or that, helps one define me in a better light.
This is dangerous, friends!
To think that because lizzie is gay or straight i am defined by parameters based on stereotypes is to confine my very sense of self, my very identity. Maybe because i have short hair, you infer that i’m a lesbian – but what does this say to women who have long locks, dresses in an extremely effeminate manner, and appears by all (wrongly seated) standards to be quintessentially straight – when in fact, they are screaming-to-come-out-of-the-closet queer**? It tells them that because of a perception they can’t be who they are. And to say that all gay people are one way and all straight people another is tempting, surely, because it is organized and neat and keeps things “clean.” But it also inhibits the power of the human conscience, the miracle of ingenuity and creativity to defy boundaries. It is dangerous!
My frustration with this, then, is really two-fold in essence. Firstly, it is not a wrong, sick, gross, terrible, unholy, or otherwise bad thing to be with someone of the same gender or sex. Whether it’s by choice or biology or both, your personal values and moral code should not be imposed on someone else’s right to Love and marry and bear children. The. End.
Secondly, not all Mount Holyoke students identify as queer in some capacity; i would contend almost half are almost exclusively Kinsey 0s or 1s (that is to say, (mostly) straight/hereosexual). Again, as a good sociologist, i have to clarify that this is my personal observation based on the people i interact with, see, and have shared conversations with. This is not based on any kind of collected data. Still, my core friends at this school represent the wide spectrum of religions, ethnicities, nationalities, races, ability statuses, and sexual orientations. Straight, gay, somewhere in between, some unsure – it’s a blend. And i love it this way, because no one pushes more to think critically and question more deeply than my friends do, simply in being who they Are.
This perception held by so many that women’s colleges are “gay” schools is not an image i have any problem with. In fact, i think it says something beautiful and profound about the institution; it says that we are a truly, deeply safe space for all exploring their gender and sexuality identities. It says that we care, and care quite seriously, about the current plague of homophobia in this country and this world, and we seek to combat such prejudice. We seek to be the radical opposite of those who carry signs saying the divine hates the queer; we seek to be a place of radical, revolutionary, lived-in-our-bones equality. We are more than a celebration of identities – we are a living, breathing Community that is engaging these questions within our very selves, our boundaries, and creating something together. A space in which every woman and man and person somewhere in between is Safe. We embrace such a stereotype – we are reclaiming it to make it something wonderful, complicated, and pervasive. I wanted to be here, at this women’s college, so i could endlessly learn from these remarkable people, beyond-reckoning, brilliant people.
And that’s the beauty of Mount Holyoke; all are welcome, and all are meant to be highly respected.
current jam: ‘the pearl fishers’ bizet (i’m on a bit of a classical music/opera kick at present)
best thing in my life right now: coffee. and you.
*but a gender i am choosing to redefine.
**queer is not a pejorative term any longer; it has been reclaimed. for further discussion, inquire within!