At the end of my first semester at Harvard, I wrote my final essay for my freshman seminar on being queer. Well, more accurately, I was writing about Sappho and classicists’ icky history of removing the gay from Sappho and portraying her as just a gal with her pals in order to keep her work in the classical Greco-Roman canon, but those are kinda the same thing.
I’ve never been queerer in my life than I’ve been at Harvard. I come from a suburb in the Bay Area of California, which is the kind of place you’d think would be liberal as could be, because duh! California. But I wouldn’t be surprised if half the parents in our school district voted for Trump. We didn’t talk about queer people, except when glossed over as fast as possible or as the butt of a joke about toxic masculinity. I didn’t tell anyone I was queer in high school. I didn’t even tell my closest friends when I started dating a member of our friend group at the conclusion of senior year.
Then I came to Harvard, where I could say the words “girlfriend” and “any pronouns” and “queer” and no one would bat an eye. No pause, no awkward giggle, no immediate attempt to divert the conversation. People looked me in the eyes and accepted me.
They did more than silently accept me — they were bold in their allyship and solidarity. My Computer Science professor called my (now ex-) girlfriend my “hot French girlfriend.” One of my housemates last semester asked me with genuine care in his voice how to address people before learning their pronouns and how to ask for pronouns respectfully. When filling out an application to be a teaching fellow for a class, I made a passing comment about figuring out “how to subtly slip in the fact that I am gay,” to which one of my friends responded, “why do you need to be subtle?”
The tension between subtlety and outness is, of course, a cornerstone of the queer experience. Being vocally, unabashedly, look-at-me-once-and-it’s-so-obvious queer is important to me. (Once a girl at a party asked me if I was, verbatim, “not straight,” and I rode that elation for a solid week afterward). It’s my way of saying I am here and I have gone through so much strife, internal and external, to be here and so conspicuously queer in front of you, and I’ll do it again. But it’s not how I am everywhere. It’s definitely not how I am in my sleepy hometown. The volume of my queerness is directly proportional to how comfortable and safe I feel in a space. And I’ve never felt safer in my queer identity than at college.
Unfortunately, especially in the month of Pride, seeing those beautiful rainbow and leather-filled Pride Parades, homophobic people who don’t like to be called homophobic love to say, “I don’t find anything wrong with queer people! I just don’t like how they have to shove their sexuality and gender in my face all the time.”
How dare you.
Queer people blossom into their identities when they are put in caring, accepting environments. I know so many people from my hometown who switched high schools or left for college and came out as queer not long after. “Baby gays,” as they are fondly referred to within the queer community, burst into color-coded streamers when they find the words and communities to describe themselves as. They talk a mile a minute about gender and sexuality for all the years they couldn’t. Who are you to deny the power of expression to people who have spent their lives up to this point hiding?
There is so much joy in being loudly, freely queer. My friend from home sculpting the Venus de Milo with male genitalia at the pinnacle of her trans self-actualization journey. The bisexual triumvirate of my house last semester getting drunk and passionately advocating for WLW relationships. Completely painting the face of my dear friend who I lovingly refer to as “the most lesbian lesbian to ever exist” with giant rainbow stripes for the San Francisco Pride Parade that never happened. I have so much pride in my queer community. Every time I think of all the beautiful, strong, amazing queer people I know, and the community at large, it all comes flying out of me, over and over again: I’m queer. I’m queer. I’m so queer and I love it.
Christina M. Xiao ’24, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Eliot House.