I'm sure that most Stanford students are able to read between the lines and recognize the distortion and innuendo that permeate so many articles in The Stanford Review, but John Abbott's piece in the December issue points to more universal concerns that deserve comment.
Members of the dominant culture rarely recognize the specifics of their own oppression. For example, left-handed people can list numerous manifestations of our society's right-orientation that right-handed people don't generally notice. Thus, minorities face the difficult challenge of trying to raise awareness in an environment that strongly favors ignorance.
To understand what it's like to be part of such a minority, imagine travelling back in time with your friends to discuss with Galileo how to convince people that the Earth rotates around the Sun. It seems perfectly clear to all of you, which only strengthens your group's sense of conviction. Yet when you try to explain it to others, they call you lunatics and heretics. As a result, you spend much of your time strategizing about how best to express your beliefs to others.
John stumbled upon such a discussion last October on the gay "bboard" (an electronic bulletin board available on campus computers) focusing on racism and the defacing of posters in Ujamaa.
I argued that because racism and homophobia are beliefs and not actions, they should not be automatic Fundamental Standard violations. Furthermore, I argued that when the eviction of Kenny Ehrman last spring for repeated abusive behavior (much of it homophobic) prompted some fraternity members to stand outside Otero wearing ski masks, their expression of anger was also not a violation of the Fundamental Standard because protest does not constitute harrassment.
I was feeling lonely as the only conservative arguing these viewpoints, so when someone lamented that I seemed to have no "positive and constructive thoughts or energy to contribute to this effort," I responded with the only liberal comments I made all quarter. Naturally, these were the only remarks quoted by a diligent Review reporter like John Abbott.
But John missed my point. I complained that the gay community's case is not
compelling when we magnify a small number of particulars, giving them an
inflated importance that even we know is inappropriate. This lack of
evidence is typical of the plateau all civil rights movements encounter at
the frustrating stage of, "Some of my best friends are
This feigned acceptance is difficult and often painful to break through because, contrary to popular myth, most gay people don't enjoy confronting and upsetting nongay friends. Thus, gay students hide their identity while skating on this thin layer of tolerance-without-understanding, learning to live with the resulting abuse. This creates a viscous circle where nongay people abuse their gay friends (often unknowingly), gay people play it safe and remain quiet, and the administration sees nothing but harmony and good will.
My advice was to bring the antigay feelings to the surface to show the administration how Stanford's atmosphere oppresses young gays. Although such actions require more determination and courage, I suggested to the energetic young radicals in our community, they are a better use of time and energy and produce a more effective explanation of our concerns.
John interpreted my advice as a call to "incite homophobic incidents." The sad truth is that gay people do so just by expressing their natural feelings. The moment gay people reject the etiquette of polite superficiality, they make nongay people uncomfortable by challenging them to notice the oppression they are so blissfully ignorant of.
Let me elaborate with examples from the time I spent as a Stanford graduate student:
Perhaps Stanford has improved in the six years since, but my guess is that things are even worse. A notable change, for example, is the emergence of enough eager beaver conservatives to spawn the caustic Stanford Review.
So despite the encouraging words of the Beta's current president and despite the Review's diction that tries to paint me and my advice as radical, I hope the community recognizes the simple truth that Stanford University is not a hospitable environment for gay people, particularly the housed fraternities and varsity teams, and that as a result, whenever members of our community find the strength to stand up for simple human rights, we end up "inciting incidents" among the John Abbott's of the world.
Let's just hope that we can manage to educate some of them before they graduate.
This part of my response to John Abbott's antigay piece in the December Stanford Review focuses on apparent misconceptions about gay organizations.
Consider the stories of two romantic freshman, one gay and one nongay (both fiction, although the second is, as they say in the movies, "based on a true story"):
Story 1: Our nongay freshman is looking for love and talks about it all the time with his buddies. They respond by constantly joking about who he is in love with this week, all part of being "one of the guys." After several disappointing failures that his friends help him weather emotionally, he finally finds the woman of his dreams: a sophomore in the same dorm.
Both his friends and her friends approve. They become the dorm sweethearts, the centerpiece of every dorm dance and the couple that people constantly point out with a tender sigh, especially the adult visitors who usually mumble something about being young again.
During Parents' Weekend the couple dines with all four parents, two of whom marvel over "How grown-up he is, making his own choices," while the other two sit mesmerized by "The way she shines now that she's in love."
Story 2: Our gay freshman doesn't usually let himself dream about love because it reminds him of the battle raging inside. But every time he is forced to lie about his attraction to women to remain "one of the guys," he longs for honesty, at least with himself. He finally accepts his feelings, calls for gay counseling, and joins a discussion group.
Now he's looking for love and wants to talk about it. He becomes the most chatty discussion group participant, but bites his tongue around dorm buddies who might not understand. After suffering through several disappointing failures without their support, he stops spending time with them altogether. Then when his support group attends a gay social, he meets a friendly sophomore from his dorm.
Eventually they fall in love. They limit, however, any public show of affection so as to preserve their secret. At the dorm dance they each feel compelled to ask a woman to dance, but they grin mischievously at each other and virtually ignore their partners. They don't go to any more dances, though, because friends notice the curious glances and ask worrisome questions about their "unusual bond."
Our freshman has always been close to his parents, so he writes them a letter reporting his self-acceptance and newfound happiness. They respond angrily that he is ruining his life. His divided loyalties and confused feelings are tearing him apart when a gloomy Parents' Weekend begins. After two days of grilling, he finally confesses his true love's name. His parents confront the other boy and denounce him for having corrupted their son.
The sophomore's parents arrive and are promptly told "the horrible truth." The two sets of parents argue about who's to blame, getting angrier by the minute, and eventually they hastily break off negotiations with the agreed settlement that their sons are never to see each other again. The freshman's parents force him to apply for a transfer to another school, so he forgets about romance for the rest of the year and spends his free time contemplating what he should do the next time.
Moral of the stories: Gay people have the same basic emotional needs as nongay people, but they often can't satisfy those needs in a world oriented towards nongay relationships.
Notice that my stories are about romance, not sex. While most people prefer to keep their sex lives private, we all feel the need to share our romantic lives. Hollywood movies, for example, depict the deeply-felt American emotion that the most magical moments of your life are when "you want to sing from the rooftops" that "I'm in love." As gay people, we need our own rooftops so that instead of getting the reply in the story above, the expected response of "That's just great!" bounces back.
This is the best explanation of why we need an organization like GLAS (the Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Stanford). Gay people need a safe space where they can be human and gay at the same time, without worrying about negative repercussions. Thus, the most important function of GLAS is to provide the haven and sense of community that gay people can't find in their dorms and fraternities.
For those concerned about gay politics, GLAS and its substantial ASSU funding should not be a target of attack. GLAS used to be political, but as a former member recounts in the following excerpt from a message posted last May on the gay bboard, it has undergone significant change:
...Three years ago, I was a frosh on the GLAS Steering Committee, a dwindling body of about 5 or 6 people. Meetings were nothing short of "verbally violent" (to borrow a phrase) shouting matches. Most gay undergrads I knew were ashamed of GLAS, even openly-gay undergrads...The general feeling was that GLAS was "too political," "too radical," "not our organization"...[but] some of us had a vision for change...Jeff Zimman came up with the idea to separate the political arm of the gay community so that GLAS could truly become a "community center"...[and] Stuart Reges [said] that he thought GLAS should never make any political statement about anything. At the time I thought he was being too extreme. Now I...[believe it] crucial to a unified, strong gay community...
Thus, GLAS has recently evolved into a politically-neutral organization. The proof of the change is evident in the glaring lack of particulars in The Review's attack, forcing them to desperately reach into ancient history to find a controversial speaker from over five years ago. The only recent GLAS activity they complain about is the showing of two critically-acclaimed films (perhaps the reporter mistook them for pornography). The effectiveness of GLAS' recent policy is evident from the hundreds of Stanford community members willing to pay for admission to quarterly GLAS dances, allowing GLAS to provide the events without using ASSU or University funds.
The idea of a gay organization is novel enough to some students that their minds are boggled by the multitude of gay groups at Stanford. In fact, being gay is such a small part of one's personality that a variety of organizations is inevitable. Furthermore, from outside an organization or community, one almost always underestimates the amount of internal diversity and the resulting need for central support (like a backbone) to hold the pieces together.
Thus, in answer to a request we've made for years, the University recently took a step that seems perfectly natural to us, although it has apparently alarmed some students. In June the Office of Student Affairs approved the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Community Center (LGBCC). It provides an umbrella of support for the gay community, helping the numerous organizations coordinate activities and acting as liaison with the University so that the spectrum of community views can be reported in the most objective manner possible. It will struggle a bit in its first year with a budget, unfortunately, much more modest than the amount reported in The Review.
To be fair, I must admit that conservatives who cling to the belief that gay people should be silent are justified in attacking the political organization spun off from GLAS (SOLGE, the Stanford Organization for Lesbian and Gay Equality) and the organization that presents a positive view of gay people to residences (GLPCG, the Gay and Lesbian Peer Counseling Group). If they examine the budgets of these two groups, however, I'm sure they will arrive at a figure not unlike the funding allocation for The Review.
I guess that I just don't understand the staff of The Review and the freshman they found who is concerned about "the debasement of the morals of the American society." If the combination
constitutes a threat to American morals, my only answer is, "Damn the morals, full speed ahead!"